Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

WHAT is a Taro?

Native Hawaiians used to eat a lot of taro. It’s a root vegetable a bit like a potato, and has many varieties. Some can be pounded into poi, a purplish paste that is nothing like mashed potatoes. Poi has a strange sour taste that I didn’t really enjoy. And the letters are all right next to each other on the keyboard, which freaks me out.

But all you fans of Fritos and Lays are probably thinking, “it’s like a potato, can you deep fry it?”

The answer is, YES! (Though the sage among us know, you can deep-fry ANYTHING, even if sometimes you shouldn’t).

Hawaiian Chip Company Sweet Potato and Taro Chips

There are many Hawaiian taro chip brands, most of which are craft makers of small volumes of chips. Supposedly the taro is very delicate and requires a lot of attention to cut and fry it right. From the tastiness of these taro (and sweet potato) chips, I won’t dispute the hand-craft methods, though the price of over $4 per medium sized bag makes them a specialty item and definitely not for everyday snacking.

Closeup of Sweet Potato and Taro Chips. The Taro is the white/purple one on the right.

You might have had taro in a bag of Terra Chips. All I can say is, the Hawaiian Chip Company chips that I had were even better than your average Terra Chips. The crunch could fell a hundred year oak, and the taste could knock Hercules on his back. If you go to Hawaii, do try some!

By the way, for those following my one-a-day posts, this one counts as June 3rd. Though for me, there was no June 3rd – I crossed the International Date Line while asleep, and jumped from June 2nd to 4th!

Question of the day: have you ever tried Terra Chips? What did you think of ‘em?

Posted 12 years ago at 3:06 pm.

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Top Attractions on Oahu

I’d been on Oahu, in Honolulu, for a few days. But when I came back through for just one day on June 2nd, I decided to rent a car. My reasoning: if it was going to cost me $20 to have some stupid luggage company hold my big backpack for the next 14 hours (because there are NO storage lockers at Honolulu airport), I might as well spend a bit more to get a car, and just lock my bag in the trunk.

I saw a lot in one day. Pearl Harbor, the Dole pineapple plantation, Sunset Beach, and many small towns around the island. Here’s what amazed me most from Pearl Harbor: the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. Even today, Arizona survivors who pass away from natural causes ask to be buried on the old ship, alongside their shipmates who were killed in the Japanese attack on that fateful day.

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

I’m not a big history buff, but when I confront it in real life, I’m always absorbed by the truths of our past, and by the bravery of those who took part in such memorable events. The Pearl Harbor site has many ships, subs, and weapons for our viewing and education. I was struck by the Kaiten, the Japanese one-man suicide attack torpedo. What bravery and valor must have been required of a Japanese soldier to climb into such a machine? It reminds me that not every culture has the same views and values.

Next I moved to lighter themes. Sunset beach had very calm waters, and “big wave” surfing on the north shore was pretty much over for the season.

Sunset Beach on Oahu, Hawaii

Later I tried a Shave Ice (not shaved, don’t ask me why), which was delicious. I also found some Taro chips in the Shave Ice shack – more details on that tomorrow! I made it to the Pali viewpoint as well, to get a grand overview of the Honolulu area. Just imagine what this island must have been like before giant concrete buildings cropped up everywhere.

View from the Pali Lookout on Oahu

What do I recommend from this day? Everything.

  • The Dole plantation is great for botanical photos and for kids (think giant hedge maze), though it’s not cheap.
  • Pearl Harbor is fascinating for the historical aspects.
  • The beautiful beaches of the north shore of Oahu are quite a change from crowded Waikiki.
  • Shave Ice is delicious; I recommend to get it with the sweet beans.
  • The view from the Pali Overlook is truly amazing, even on a cloudy day.

Don’t think you can see it all in one day by bus; I would have never made all these stops without renting a car. Enjoy Oahu!

Tomorrow, read about my thoughts on Taro chips. Mmm…

Posted 12 years ago at 3:35 pm.

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Pineapple Park

Hostels in Hawaii vary a lot by island. On Oahu, the Waikiki hostels are plentiful and full of people to hang out with. But on Kauai, there are only a few hostels, which mostly didn’t look up to par for me (either zero security, or insane manager). I did stay in Camp Sloggett on Kauai, a cool campsite/bunkhouse which was deserted when I stayed there. On Big Island, there are a good number of hostels, and again they are rather empty in May.

Here’s a view of Pineapple Park Volcano, a great facility where I had some nice conversations with the owner, Doc Holliday.

Pineapple Park Volcano hostel on Big Island

Doc has hostels in Hilo and Kona (Captain Cook) as well. I stayed two nights at the Kona hostel and it’s also a very impressive facility as hostels go: lockers (bring a lock or rent one), free wifi, great (clean!) kitchen, clean rooms & showers.

One thing I’d mention: the Volcano place is mostly set up for large groups of researchers or students. If you plan to go there, be aware you might be the only one. It’s a bit remote and there’s no internet. But I enjoyed the solitude and relaxation for a couple days, and heard great stories from Doc.

Now, if you’re with a large group and plan to cook in (not go out to bars), the Volcano hostel would be the perfect place – it’s nicely set up and Doc has everything (grill, pizza ovens, refrigerators, even a scenic pond with what I think are taro plants).

Pineapple Park Volcano - grounds overview

It’s a little damp indoors, but surprisingly little mold/mildew. The whole place is very well kept. Location: about half an hour from Hilo, and half an hour from Volcanoes National Park. Allow about an hour to get to the lava viewing area at the end of Highway 130.

Thanks, Doc, for an excellent stay, cool Hawaii stories, and great coffee in the mornings! If I come back to Hawaii, I expect we’ll meet again at Pineapple Park.

Taro plants in the Pineapple Park Volcano pond

Posted 12 years ago at 3:59 pm.


Coffee and Flowers

After making it up Mauna Kea, I relaxed for a few days while recovering from the cold. On the drive back to Hilo on June 1st, I stopped at few touristy places along the way.

In Kona, there are dozens of small, independent coffee farmers who cultivate their crops largely by hand. The place I stopped is Lions Gate Farms, a small plantation with coffee and macadamia nut trees. Like everywhere, they offer free samples of their products, and I’m sure many of the tourists (who aren’t backpackers with no space) go home with some tasty foodstuffs. I really liked the dark chocolate covered coffee beans, might order some online later – muhahaha.

Here’s a shot of the farm:


And a close-up of some coffee beans on the branch, for those who’ve never seen ‘em before:


Coincidentally, I am eating Kona coffee glazed macadamias as I write this.

Driving north from Kona toward Volcano takes one through some areas that look a bit alien.


I guess these are recent lava flows from Mauna Loa (though there are several active volcanoes within an hour’s drive). There are miles of this strange scrub-brush & lava moonscape.

Next stop was to be my lodging at Pineapple Park Volcano (a fantastic place with a really interesting owner – just not very many guests there). But I got distracted on the way by Akatsuka Orchid Gardens:


My first thought was, okay, what… $20 to see some orchids… but no, it’s free! This is really a big store, where you are welcome to just walk around and take pictures (as I did) without buying. There were almost as many orchid varieties as I saw in the Singapore botanical garden, just placed on tables for sale instead of planted in gardens along winding paths.

Here’s a $20,000 orchid, prized for its symmetry:


At the end of the day I had a yummy slice at Pizza Hawaii and Deli. The proprietor is actually from Richmond, VA, and used to live about 3 blocks from my house on Ellwood Avenue! The California Gourmet and Bacon Ranch really took me back to Brick Oven in Charlottesville (Helen of Troy and Johnnycakes), so this place is now in my Top 3 pizza restaurants in the world. Next to Brick Oven (the best pizza restaurant in the world), and the Pacific Crest Grill in Truckee, CA.

Everyone seems to have internet ordering nowadays. You can order Lions Gate coffee & mac nuts, Akatsuka orchids, and even Pizza Hawaii online! Now, if only Pizza Hawaii delivered to Munich. (Or Auckland, where I sit as I write this).

Posted 12 years ago at 3:33 pm.

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Hypoxia at Thirteen Grand

Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, measured from the sea floor. Not the highest, mind you, but the tallest from base to summit. Its peak is at 13,796’.

Most people come to Mauna Kea, spend a half hour at the visitor center (about 9,000’), and drive straight up to the summit where most of the world’s finest astronomical observatories are located. Then they get altitude sickness: headache, nausea, shortness of breath, the whole bit.

That seems too easy to me.

Instead, I decided to climb up from the visitor center. The trail is a bit over six miles, and almost a mile of vertical. This was complicated by the cold I was coming down with, but I figured if that slowed me down enough, I’d just turn around.

Here’s a view of Mauna Loa on my way up. The younger sister of Mauna Kea, she is the largest volcano in the world by mass. There’s one larger volcano in the known universe, but that’s on Mars. See the web of different colors on the side? Those are lava flows from about every 20 years, going a long way back. She’s overdue to erupt again. Apparently I climbed Mauna Loa in a previous life, in 1834. The summit is 13,679’, deceptively high because the mountain has such gradual slopes.


As I climbed, I wondered at the lack of signs showing how far along the trail I was, or how high I was. I guess some other hikers had the same thought. But apparently they had a GPS, because they left me this:


At this point, my nose was running like a faucet. I felt a bit lightheaded, but that could have been from the cold or the steady uphill climb. One thing I’ll note about the hike: I’d heard it was rocky and the footing was bad. WRONG. Most of the hike is on sand-like dirt, so it’s a bit like climbing up firm sand dunes.

A few short sections were rocky, or made of pumice stones like those in a gas grill. I didn’t have any problems there, although I could see how someone that is not too coordinated to begin with might have issues after getting hypoxic from the altitude.

As I neared the top, the trail split and I gambled on which path was the real trail. I crested a hill and saw Lake Waiau –  “placenta lake,” where native Hawaiian chiefs used to throw their firstborn son’s umbilical cord to give the child a place in the afterlife as chief. I didn’t get any closer than this, because I didn’t want to go downhill and then back up again.


Shortly after turning around at the lake, I saw some telescopes over the crest of a hill! Now I finally believed the mantra I’d been repeating for the last four hours: “I’m 80% sure that I’ll make it to the top.” You can also see a representative (if less sandy) section of trail here. It’s not so bad, eh?


After a bit of a walk up the road (because the trail stops), I came to one final, sandy hill, higher than the last of the telescopes. The wind was whipping at 30-40mph+ (that’s 60kmh+), and it was a few degrees above freezing. With the wind and the slight hypoxia, it was so cold my fingers went numb in under 30 seconds.

As I neared the peak, I was unbelievably excited to have made it. Now I know how people feel when they summit Everest or a similar peak. I swear the tears dripping down my face were from the wind in my eyes, though.


After hitchhiking back down to the visitor center, I waited around for sunset on top of a nearby ash cone. This strange slantwise effect must be due to the mountain’s shadow.


Hiking up Mauna Kea was one of the hardest things I’ve done.

My hike was probably made much tougher because of this cold. I’ve been battling it for two days since Mauna Kea, though fortunately it isn’t too bad. Nevertheless, I may have lost the desire to hike up any 7000m or 8000m peaks someday. I’m not sure that 22,000’ and above is the place for me, sans oxygen.

But you never know… maybe I’ll change my mind. Anyone want to sponsor an expedition?

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:30 pm.

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Black Sand and Sea Turtles

On May 30th I had to let my blisters heal (all that hiking in Kauai!), so I could try for the summit of Mauna Kea the next day. Here’s what I managed to see while lying low. Black sand beaches at Punalu’u on Big Island:


The black sand is actually volcanic pumice ground up by the action of the ocean. It only lasts a few hundred years after the eruption. Eventually the soft pumice will be gone, and the beach will no longer be black sand.

This particular beach is a feeding ground for sea turtles. It took a while for me to spot this one, even with a local pointing it out. The turtles look like rounded rocks until they surface for air, which is every few minutes when they’re feeding.


This guy in Kailua proves that you can stand up on a bodyboard.


I capped off my lax day with sunset at a pier in Kailua. This sailboat couldn’t have been lined up any better if I’d anchored it there myself.


Tune in tomorrow to see if I make it to the summit of Mauna Kea unaided. 13,796 feet, and the hike from the visitor center is close to a mile of vertical. It’ll be a challenge, considering I’m coming down with my first cold in over two years!

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:00 pm.

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Down the Barrel of an Active Volcano

Kilauea is pretty quiet right now. But that didn’t stop me from getting some good shots around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island on May 29th. First, I had to laugh at this sign in the area for viewing steam vents and sulfur deposits.

Beware of earth cracks

Here are some cool sulfur crystals in an area where gases are constantly rising out of the ground. The smell reminded me of riding to altitude in the Otter with a certain skydiving friend of mine. You know who you are.

Sulfur crystals by a gas vent

Next I headed to Kilauea. During the day it’s just a smoking crater in a massive volcanic cone area. While that’s very cool, it doesn’t compare to the nighttime view (long exposure with tripod using the Nikon D90):

Kilauea at night

This is just the glow of the lava (which you can’t see) lighting up the smoke plume and the clouds that are rolling in.

I also drove down to the end of highway 130, where most activity in the last few years has taken place. Ever since the volcano started erupting outside the national park, there have been issues with access. Now they have a security company that corrals tourists to keep them a) safe and b) off private property. On the way to the county’s “viewing area” I passed this sign:

For Sale: 2 lots, oceanview

Take it how you will. As funny as I found it, the guy who’s trying to sell a chunk of land that is solid black lava probably isn’t too amused.

The old viewing area was overrun by lava three weeks ago (if only I’d been here then!). Now you can only go as far as the last point where the lava crossed the road. Unfortunately that’s pretty far from the active flows, which are pretty limited this week anyway. There’s not even much running into the ocean right now.

Most of the lava is pooling up on a hill, on private property, and not really flowing anywhere. If you try to approach it (and do get past security), you risk breaking through into air pockets in recently-cooled (and broken-glass sharp) lava or melting your shoes on still-warm flows. I might have chanced it during the day with some precautions, but my itinerary didn’t allow time for it.

Here’s the best shot I got from the viewing area at night:

Molten lava at the Highway 130 viewing area

Keep in mind this is a crop of a 200mm zoom photo, long exposure on a tripod. Probably only 2 or 3 people a day bring the right equipment and know-how even to get this distant photo. The flow you can see is probably 1-2 miles away. The glow on the horizon is clouds being lit up by the new area where lava is pooling. It’s not what I’d hoped for, BUT it is a photo of molten lava! Check that off the RTW list – haha.

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:59 pm.


Seven Ziplines

When someone says “zipline,” I think of the childhood deathtrap we built in my friend Scott’s backyard, made from one piece of 3/4” nylon rope that we got on sale. It started 40 or 50 feet up in a tree and was held tight to a 4×4 clothesline post with a boat winch. I’ll never forget the sound a (non-locking) carabiner makes as it picks up speed down the rough windings of a cheap nylon rope.

But, I tell you… when a business makes their livelihood from ziplines, they are a bit more serious, and a lot more safe.

I believe it was seven, the number of steel-cable ziplines at the Kauai Backcountry Adventures course. First we geared up:

Gearing up at Kauai Backcountry Adventures

Next, we were taken out into the woods in a serious all-wheel-drive vehicle, to a zipline course over a beautiful forest valley below Waialeale, the highest mountain on Kauai. I was not too stressed, as I figured this is WAY safer than skydiving…

Beautiful view over Kauai Backcountry's zip course

The operation seems quite safe, and they replace the lines (thick steel cable) far more often than OSHA requires. Our guides were really cool, and Chris & Misty really made the day by telling us Kauai stories and jokes. Besides keeping us safe, they showed us how to look cool:

Chris zipping at Kauai Backcountry

I’ve got some videos, but no capability to process them on my netbook. Here’s the next best thing, a view down the zipline:

A bird's-eye-view down the zip course

One of my fellow zippers, getting crazy on the exit:

Getting sideways on the zipline exit

Here’s our guide Misty, looking quite relaxed.

Misty looking relaxed at Kauai Backcountry

And, one last epic view of what you’ll be zipping over:

Scenic forest view of the zipline course

If you’re up for some adventure in Hawaii, I definitely suggest to do a zipline course! I was really entertained by the cool guides at Kauai Backcountry Adventures, and from what I hear, they have the best scenery of any zip course. So, if you’re looking for a bit of adrenaline, give them a try – you won’t regret it!

In case this isn’t enough excitement, I’d recommend skydiving. I didn’t try any of the DZ’s on the islands (as I didn’t have my gear, and am very un-current)… but most of them advertise 13,000’ tandems (avoid the low-alti 10,000’ Cessna places). If the zipline views are this good, just imagine the view from 13,000’ with no obstructions!

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:33 pm.


The Most Dangerous Trail

I read a blog that listed the Kalalau trail as one of the world’s most dangerous hiking trails. The Kalalau trail starts in northern Kauai (at the end of the road) and heads up the beautiful Na Pali coast for eleven miles. On May 27th, I only hiked two miles of it, then went up a similar trail for another two miles to the massive Hanakapi’ai Falls. The first section had wonderful views of the Na Pali coast, and the second part to the falls was a bit like being in the world of Avatar.

Here’s the view of Ke’e beach where the trail starts, taken just a few minutes into the climb:

Ke'e Beach, at the start of the Kalalau trail

On the way there, I thought, this isn’t so bad. A bit rocky, but nothing too serious.

Then, just as I arrived at the falls, it rained for one hour.

Hanakapi'ai Falls in Kauai

That little bit of rain was all it took. On the way back, every stone was a slippery potential ankle-breaker. Every patch of dirt became the slipperiest mud known to man. And the stream crossings, which I’d been able to rock-hop across before, were like hopping across polished spheres of greased marble.

Fortunately I made it without injury, though I did choose to wade across one of the streams. My Merrell shoes dried pretty fast when hung in front of the A/C unit at the Kauai Sands Hotel. (note: a pretty low-grade 70’s hotel, with a closed-down restaurant, but it was cheap).

Back to Hanakapi’ai falls. As I mentioned, it was raining. Fortunately there was a rock overhang where one could get a good view and stay dry. To give you an idea of the scale, this is a panorama image made up of SEVEN wide-angle shots on the widest zoom setting. This falls is massive.

Panorama of Hanakapi'ai Falls in Kauai

One can swim there as well. It was a bit cold and rainy for everyone there, though. Even too cold for the twenty-somethings in bikinis and sandals (Hi Stephanie!). I suspect if it’s not rainy, the pool at the bottom of the falls is full of carefree bathers.

I’d recommend the hike to anyone with an adventurous spirit and good fitness. Loose sandals = bad, though you might be OK with tight, closed-toe sandals. It’s best to pick a day when it hasn’t just rained, and isn’t forecast to rain. Of course, in Hawaii, that means anything less than a 50% chance of rain… because it seems there is always a chance of showers. At least they’re warm and gentle most of the time, and leave beautiful rainbows behind!

Next, read about ziplining across a lush tropical valley, on my last day on Kauai!

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:31 pm.


Beaches of Poipu Kai

May 26th was a day for me to relax, after several weeks of almost non-stop action. I cooked a tasty breakfast at The Villas at Poipu Kai, where I ate on the porch looking at the distant mountains:

Tasty breakfast with Blair's Death Sauce

Afterward I headed to the beaches and found some nice views.

Poipu Kai beach

Lava stone beach at Poipu Kai

Here’s the bodyboarding hotspot, just five minutes from where I was staying in Poipu Kai:

Bodyboarding beach at Poipu

And I met these cute chicks on the beach.

Cute Kauaian Chicks

You have no idea how hard it is to get such a good picture of chickens. At least they’re everywhere in Kauai so there are plenty of opportunities. A local told me that they are a special breed of chickens that is very rare so they’re somehow protected. And since there are no mongooses on Kauai (I think it was mongooses?), which were introduced on the other islands to combat snakes, the chickens pretty much have free reign. Wild.

This cool beach right across from Brennecke’s restaurant & bar has a sand bridge connecting the main island to a rocky/sandy outcropping. It’s pretty sheltered and great for snorkeling, if all the people with snorkels are any evidence (I was too lazy to get in the water).

Sand bridge beach at Poipu

Finally, here’s the Spouting Horn!


As the waves come in, they pressurize a cavity in the porous lava rock. All that pressure gets forced out this inlet, shooting a spray of water several meters in the air. Quite an interesting geological formation.

I’d say Poipu is the perfect destination for a beach vacation. There’s a lot to do in the area, great restaurants, and excellent weather. If you give it a try, or if you’ve already been there, let me know about your experience!

Next up: a huge waterfall in a remote location. Four miles of strenuous (and as I found out, potentially dangerous) hiking from the nearest road!

Posted 12 years, 1 month ago at 3:38 pm.

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