OHE June 7, 1999 (Kaipapau)

Date: Mon, 7 Jun 1999 12:32:57 -1000
From: Nathan Yuen (nyuen@lava.net>
Subject: The Waters of Kaipapa'u 

(a version of this has been posted to the newsgroup "soc.culture.hawaii")

Yesterday, 16 of us in the HTMC trail-maintenance crew toiled to clear the trail for the upcoming hike to Kaipapa'u Gulch in Hau'ula. In addition to myself, the group included Bill Gorst, Jay Feldman, Ralph Valentino, Jason Sunada, Deetsie Chave, Lynn Agena, Grant Oka, Georgina Oka, Carmen Craig, Jim Pushaw, Kris Corliss, Ginger Osborne, Larry Osborne, Dusty Klein and Charlotte Yamane. Many thanks to Ralph, Bill and Charlotte who saved us considerable effort by ferrying us to the trailhead which starts behind the large water tank above the roads that are beyond the KFC in Hau'ula.

Soon after starting the hike, we encountered a bone-dry streambed. Kaipapa'u is one of those streams where only the upper portion normally carries water. Unless flood conditions exist, the volume of water is insufficient to reach the coastline. As a result, the water seeps into the streambed and joins the groundwater to finally emerge in the sea. But in the distant past, Kaipapa'u apparently once carried significantly more water--there are sources that say ulua (jack cravelle) from the ocean were known to force their way over the sand bank at the mouth of the stream and travel up Kaipapa'u.

Rock hopping our way up the dry streambed, we chopped protruding christmas berry branches that blocked the way. As we left the streambed and climbed up a bank, we encountered large stands of dark-green lauae ferns which I could not resist crushing in my hands to release the maile-like scent. What a beautiful fragrance! After crossing the streambed several times, we reached the first of several wide-open sections (perfect for camping) covered with a lovely bed of wavy honohono grass and shaded by huge old mango trees overhead. We also encountered a manmade rock wall covered in a shaggy green moss (which in combination with the old mango trees--a sign of former habitation) attested to the fact people once populated Kaipapa'u.

As we made our way deep into the gulch, rain clouds were blown in from the sea and dumped their moisture on us several times. Fortunately the showers were brief and insufficient to cause any flash flood or landslides. One section of the narrow gulch contained impressive dike formations that protruded almost vertically a hundred or more feet into the air on either side. Reminding us of the tragedy at Sacred Falls almost a month ago, we decided that if the dike gave way at that very moment that we would run to hug the side where the rocks were falling in the hope that the rocks would fall over us. This assumes of course that we could determine when looking up which side of the narrow gulch was falling and that the rocks would not bounce off the far wall back to us.

The deeper we penetrated the gulch, the wetter greener and lusher it became. One section of the gulch was just stunning with many large light-green ekaha (bird nest ferns) growing as epiphytes on the branches of trees and on the boulders alongside the stream--what a beautiful sight! As we continued deep into the gulch we finally reached the section of the stream where water actually flows. We lingered at several little pools to see the native sand-colored o'opu (gobi) up to six inches long and a number of juicy-looking malaysian prawns with long pinchers. We even saw a native dragonfly with an iridescent light-blue spot on its abdomen dart about over the surface of the water.

After rounding the final meander in the seemingly endless gulch, we finally reached our goal! Falling 75 feet over a sheer rock wall, the water plunged into a charming little pool! While the dry conditions in recent months greatly reduced the amount of falling water, there was still more than enough water to maintain the pool at its base. And it was just beautiful to see the dark-green fronds of swordtail ferns, maiden's hair ferns, and branched spikemoss dangling over the lovely mountain pool.

After eating lunch, Georgina, Lynn, and I could not resist the allure of the water. The water felt so cool and refreshing as we waded into the pool. Diving to the deepest part where I could not touch bottom, I swam under the waterfall to feel the force of the plunging water. I then noticed a little protected overhang behind the waterfall where I could see through the falling water--what a neat little place! As we enjoyed the cool refreshing waters, an exceedingly bold (and fresh might I add) prawn sneaked it's way up to Georgina and pinched her behind! Leaping straight up several feet above the water, she darted out of the pool in what must've been but a mere fraction of a second. :-)

While we were at the pool, Jim noticed a strange little slug-like like creature at the bottom of the water. While it looked like a common garden slug, this creature was snail-like in that it appeared to have a sort of primitive shell on its back. The creature was beige in color with a beautiful mottled black pattern on the shell. Anyone have a clue what this unusual creature is?

Leaving the waterfall, we headed back out the gulch. On our way out, we eavesdropped on a note we found on the trail left by Charlotte for Deetsie that divulged the location of a rare and unique peahi fern. Following her instructions, we found the fern growing on a rock with runners just like lauae but the peahi is different in that it has broad tri-pointed fronds with an unusual fish scale-like pattern. What a lovely fern!

Anyway... as we made our way out it rained again making rock hopping a slippery undertaking. But we nonetheless enjoyed ourselves and eventually made our way back to beach park by Pounder's Beach to meet Mabel Kekina for refreshments. And we were extremely lucky because Mabel made two desserts--a strawberry shortcake that melted in your mouth and an incredibly onolicious chocolate brownie that was to die for. What a wonderful little expedition into Kaipapa'u Gulch!

Addendum From: Nathan P Yuen (nyuen@lava.net>

Some of you may be interested to know that Sam Gon of the Nature Conservancy repsonded to my public post to "soc.culture.hawaii" and identified the slug-like creature to be the native succinid snail. He also goes on to share his speculation on that rare peahi fern we saw.

Hi Nathan:

Great trip journal, as usual! Your writing inspired me to respond, below...

To me, it sounds like one of our native Succinid snails that happened to fall into the water from vegetation on the surrounding cliffs. It would survive for a long time underwater, but would eventually drown unless it crawled back up to the surface.

What a lucky experience to encounter the peahi fern. This is a relative of laua`e, and if the leaf is crushed or bruised, it gives off the same delicious odor. The fern that we call laua`e was first described in Hawaii in the early 1900s, so it is not native, but like many other lei plants, adopted into Hawaiian culture. Yet in a 15th century chant, laua`e is mentioned in the first line:

Mapu ka hanu o ka laua`e
Mapu no_ i ka poli o Kawaialoha...

the fragrance of the laua`e wafts
Wafting indeed to the bosom of Kawaialoha...

If that which we call laua`e is introduced, what were the Hawaiians of the 15th century referring to? I believe it is the very fern that we call peahi today. The reason I feel this is that the chant mentioned above is one related to Wainiha and northern Kaua`i. It mentions many Wainiha place names, for example, Mauna Hina, halfway up the valley. Not long ago I was fortunate to explore the upper reaches of Wainiha; dropped off by helicopter at the head, and boulder-hopping downstream. It was amazing: native `ohi`a forest running from ridgetop to stream bottom, with native ferns and shrubs of every description: mamaki, ma`oloa, etc., etc., But under all of this native verdure, on runners winding about the stream boulders just away from the water's edge were peahi ferns in great abundance. So many of them were there that I could carefully pick a single frond from each plant, walking downstream, and soon I had enough to weave a fragrant lei. The smell of this lei was identical (perhaps a bit better!) to that of laua`e, and when I returned to Honolulu later that week, I took the lei to kumu John Lake, who underwent the `uniki ceremony years ago under the tutelage of Aunty Maiki Aiu Lake. His class was the laua`e class, and to present the lei, I chanted the "Mapu ka hanu o ka laua`e" chant.

Peahi is rare nowdays in the lowlands, but it is in a few places like upper Wainiha still very common. In the ancient past it was no doubt common down to near sea level, and available to Hawaiians for lei-making. No longer common today, we make use of an introduced fern, and few people today even realize that it is not native.

That's fine, of course, its fragrance is also beautiful, but to wear a lei of the true native laua`e is that much more special for it!



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