He ‘Ohu Ke Aloha; ‘A‘ohe Kuahiwi Kau ‘Ole
Love is like mist; there is no mountaintop that it does not settle upon
“… as the sun shining in his strength dissipated the clouds, we had a more impressive view of the stupendous pyramidal Mauna Kea, having a base of some thirty miles, and a height of nearly three miles. Its several terminal peaks rise so near each other, as scarcely to be distinguished at a distance.”
“These, resting on the shoulders of this vast Atlas of the Pacific, prove their great elevation by having their bases environed with ice, and their summits covered with snow, in this tropical region, and heighten the grandeur and beauty of the scene, by exhibiting in miniature, a northern winter, in contrast with the perpetual summer of the temperate and torrid zones below the snow and ice.”
“The shores along this coast appeared very bold, rising almost perpendicularly, several hundred feet, being furrowed with many ravines and streams. From these bluffs, the country rises gradually, for a few miles, presenting a grassy appearance, with a sprinkling of trees and shrubs.”
“Then, midway from the sea to the summit of the mountain, appeared a dark forest, principally of the koa and ʻōhia, forming a sort of belt, some ten miles in breadth-the temperate zone of the mountain.” (Bingham at first sight of the Islands, 1820)
And when you think about high elevation places in the Hawaiian islands, of course you have to talk about that basic dichotomy between the lower elevation places where people live.
And in old times, the lower elevations would have been called the Wao Kanaka. Wao being a word that means “zone” and “Kanaka” being a person. So the Wao Kanaka is a zone in which people belong.
When you rise above that zone, you enter into a realm in which all of the living things there are not there because of human activity. They flourish as the result of the activity of the gods, or the Akua. And so that zone is called the Wao Akua. And the transition from Wao Kanaka to Wao Akua is not taken lightly. (Gon)
The Islands’ peaks are considered the piko (summit or center of the land) and are considered sacred. The places upon which clouds nestle are considered wao akua, the realm of the gods. Clouds cover the actions of the gods while they walk the earth. The higher the piko, the closer to heaven, and the greater the success of prayers. (Maly)
Let’s look at Hawaiʻi’s peaks, the highest point on each Island as we move down the Island chain.
Niʻihau – Pānīʻau (1,281-feet)
Ni‘ihau was formed from a single shield volcano approximately 4.89-million years ago, making it slightly younger in age than Kaua‘i. It is approximately 70-square miles or 44,800-acres. It’s about 17-miles west of Kauaʻi.
Pānīʻau, the island’s highest point, is 1,281-feet; approximately 78% of the island is below 500-feet in elevation. Located inside Kauai’s rain shadow, Ni‘ihau receives only about 20 to 40-inches of rain per year. Ni‘ihau has no perennial streams. (DLNR)
Kauai – Kawaikini (5,243-feet)
Geologically, Kauai is the oldest of the main inhabited islands in the chain. It is also the northwestern-most island, with Oʻahu separated by the Kaʻieʻie Channel, which is about 70-miles long. In centuries past, Kauai’s isolation from the other islands kept it safe from outside invasion and unwarranted conflict.
Near the summit (Kawaikini) is Waiʻaleʻale; in 1920 it passed Cherrapunji, a village in the Khasi hills of India, as the wettest spot on Earth (recording a yearly average of 476-inches of rain.)
Oʻahu – Kaʻala (4,025-feet)
The Waiʻanae Mountains, formed by volcanic eruptions nearly four-million years ago, have seen centuries of wind and rain, cutting huge valleys and sharp ridges into the extinct volcano. Mount Kaʻala, the highest peak on the island of Oʻahu, rises to 4,025-feet.
Today, only a small remnant of the mountain’s original flat summit remains, surrounded by cliffs and narrow ridges. It’s often hidden by clouds.
Molokai – Kamakou (4,961-feet)
The island was formed by two volcanoes, East and West, emerging about 1.5-2-million years ago. The cliffs on the north-eastern part of the island are the result of subsidence and the “Wailua Slump” (a giant submarine landslide – about 25-miles long that tumbled about 120-miles offshore – about 1.4-million years ago.)
Kamakou is part of the extinct East Molokai shield volcano, which comprises the east side of the island. It and much of the surrounding area is part of the East Maui Watershed partnership and the Kamakou Preserve. A boardwalk covers part of the rainforest and bog to protect the hundreds of native plants, birds, insects and other species there.
Lānai – Lānaihale (3,337-feet)
The island of Lānai was made by a single shield volcano between 1- and 1.5-million years ago, forming a classic example of a Hawaiian shield volcano with a gently sloping proﬁle. (SOEST) The island of Lānai is about 13-miles long and 13-miles wide; with an overall land area of approximately 90,000-acres, it is the sixth largest of the eight major Hawaiian Islands.
“At the very summit of the island, which is generally shrouded in mist, we came upon what Gibson (an early (1861) Mormon missionary to the islands) called his lake – a little shallow pond, about the size of a dining table. In the driest times there was always water here, and one of the regular summer duties of the Chinese cook was to take a pack mule and a couple of kegs and go up to the lake for water.” (Lydgate, Thrum)
Maui – Haleakalā (10,023-feet)
Haleakalā was thought to have been known to the ancient Hawaiians by any one of five names: “Haleakalā,” “Haleokalā,” “Heleakalā,” “Aheleakalā” and “Halekalā.” (Hawaiʻi National Park Superintendent Monthly Report, December 1939)
Haleakalā is best known in stories related of the demi-god Māui; he is best known for his tricks and supernatural powers. In Hawaiʻi, he is best known for snaring the sun, lifting the sky, discovering the secrets of fire, fishing up the islands and so forth. (Fredericksen)
Kahoʻolawe – Lua Makika (1,477-feet)
Kahoʻolawe is the smallest of the eight Main Hawaiian Islands, 11-miles long and 7-miles wide (approximately 28,800-acres;) it is seven miles southwest of Maui. The highest point on Kahoʻolawe is the crater of Lua Makika at the summit of Puʻu Moaulanui, which is about 1,477 feet above sea level.
Located in the “rain shadow” of Maui’s Haleakalā, rainfall has been in short supply on Kahoʻolawe. However, nineteenth century forestry reports mentioned a “dense forest” at the top of Kahoʻolawe. Historically, a “cloud bridge” connected the island to the slopes of Haleakalā. The Naulu winds brought the Naulu rains that are associated with Kahoʻolawe (a heavy mist and shower of fine rain that would cover the island.)
Hawaiʻi – Mauna Kea (13,796-feet)
Nani Wale ʻO Mauna Kea, Kuahiwi Kūhaʻo I Ka Mālie (Beautiful is Mauna Kea, standing alone in the calm) expresses the feeling that Mauna Kea is a source of awe and inspiration for the Hawaiian people. The mountain is a respected elder, a spiritual connection to one’s gods. (Maly)
A significant pattern archaeologists note in their investigations is the virtual absence of archaeological sites at the very top of the mountain. McCoy states that the “top of the mountain was clearly a sacred precinct that must, moreover, have been under a kapu and accessible to only the highest chiefs or priests.” (Maly)
ʻĀina mauna, or mountain lands, reflects a term used affectionately by elder Hawaiians to describe the upper regions of all mountain lands surrounding and including Mauna Kea. (Maly)