Hawaii: A Waterfall of Stars

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Pololu Valley – Photo by Becca Tarnas

When you arrive on Hawaii by night your first impression is the stars. The land is dark and only instinct and memory remind you that the ocean is to your left as you travel north along the coast. Diamond stars bejewel the sky, the Milky Way a blazing band through the darkness. Our first night we were ushered into the welcoming arms of family, met at the airport with orchid leis, and brought to stay up in Waimea. It has been seven long years since I was last here, and for my partner Matt it is his first time on the island. We awoke the following morning to the sound of banana leaves rustling in the wind right outside our bedroom window, and our first meal was fresh papayas and apple-bananas from the grove my uncle has planted all around his house. I want our time here to be a drinking in of experience: of sights and sounds, tropical tastes and cultural variety, rich emotions and the beckoning call of the unexpected. I am open and ready for what this volcanic land has to teach us.

First thing in the morning one of my cousins came to meet us and take us to the Waimea Coffee Co. where we got to try White Mountain Kona Coffee—perhaps the most perfect coffee I have ever tasted, without a hint of acidity and thus requiring nothing to supplement its superbly smooth taste. No wonder it costs $58 a pound! Happily caffeinated, my cousin took us to our first beach visit of the trip, a secret little beach we had all to ourselves (except for the appearance of a spear-fishing octopus hunter who emerged in camouflaged gear from under the turquoise waters) a little ways off of Mau’u Mae Beach. Lying on that first beach I kept having to remind myself that there was nothing more that I had to do than just lie in the Sun, swim in the waters, and let go of all the planning and scheduling and millions of other thoughts that are always flying around my mind. Hawaii reminds you to release all agendas. And since it was our first day we figured we ought to go to a second beach, so we spent the later part of the afternoon at Anaeho’omalu Bay, watching the Sun and horizon slowly begin to approach one another as the wind picked up and whipped across the surface of the waves.

For our second full day another one of my cousins, who grew up here on Hawaii, brought us up over the hills behind Waimea over to Pololu Valley, one of the three valleys that extends like fingers from the north of the island toward the ocean. The beginning of our drive was through the dryer landscape of grasslands and sparse trees that extend north of Waimea, but as we descended down the further side of the hills the vegetation became richer and more lush, the grasses tall and the trees filled with colorful flowers and enormous tropical leaves. Streams ran through the small valleys at the turns in the road and banyan trees hung their curious roots in search of new fertile places to take hold. We drove through the small town of Kapa’au before arriving at the top of Pololu Valley. Gazing out over the ocean from the lip of the valley, seeing where the waves meet the base of plunging green cliffs and the mouths of black sand beaches, I felt like the beauty of it actually hurt when I tried to fully take it in. Wonder is too small a word to describe what I felt at this piercing intersection of beauties.

Photo by Matt Segall
Pololu Valley – Photo by Matt Segall

The three of us hiked down the steep, turning path into Pololu, past guava trees, flowering vegetation, and several towering trees bedecked with large yellow blossoms. At the floor of the valley the black sand beach gave way to stands of ironwood trees hung with rope swings, that felt like a tropical enchanted forest. The ground was covered in needles and soft green plants, and small crevasses at the base of some of the trees could easily pass for fairy doors. A stream ran out from the heart of the valley, and many different species of bird careened over the brackish waters and the marshy vegetation. After wandering on the beach and through the trees, swinging on the ropes and photographing the rock cairns piled precariously by the crashing waves, we re-ascended to the valley’s edge and bid farewell for now to Pololu. Hopefully we will be able to return to this area soon, to explore one of the other two valleys, Waimanu or Waipio, when the time is right.

69s Beach
Beach 69s – Photo by Matt Segall

On our way home we made a brief stop in the town of Hawi, to get ice cream cones at the local coffee shop. Not only am I trying to eat every tropical fruit I can get my hands on while here, but also macadamia nuts in as many culinary forms as possible—so while I tried the macadamia ice cream, Matt got the white chocolate ginger and my cousin got lemon cream. Why is eating one’s way through one’s travels so much fun? Each morning since coming here we have started our days with homegrown bananas and papayas, accompanied by mango and lychee, and toast with white kiawe honey from my uncle’s bees. And from there our days have unfolded with avocado salads and carrot-ginger juice at Lilikoi Café in Waimea, bi bim bop and Thai ice tea with coconut milk at the local farmers market, fresh poke (raw fish salad), fish tacos and margaritas at the Plantation Grill in Kawaihae, local ginger and coconut brews from the Big Island Brewhaus, and still I know each day will open up more culinary adventures.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Kawaihae Harbor Photo by Becca Tarnas

On our third day we spent the afternoon at a favorite beach for locals, known as 69s, that is shaded all along the shore by small groves of trees the grow right up to the water’s edge. Like in Pololu, rope swings hang from the branches, these swings right over the incoming surf. Before we knew it the day had passed us by, and we met up with my cousin and her boyfriend for dinner and sunset out at Kawaihae Harbor. The sunsets here have been beyond words, more colors than a painter could dream to mix in her pallet. One might say you could taste the sunset, it is so rich and complex.

I always say it is better to travel with locals because you get taken to the places a tourist would never imagine to go, or you can have free access to places a tourist would pay a fortune to visit. So we spent the rest of our night enjoying an epically beautiful swimming pool at one of the coastal hotel resorts, and soaking in a hot tub beneath a swath of stars that peaked through the shifting night fogs.

Photo by Matt Segall
The Waterfall – Photo by Matt Segall

We seem to be alternating each day between hiking and beach lounging, so yesterday one of my cousins, my cousin’s boyfriend, Matt and I hiked up above Waimea to a series of pools and waterfalls. After climbing through thick, spongy kikuyu grass we first went to one of the smaller swimming holes above the larger waterfall and swam through the cool red waters. Waimea means “red water” and we could clearly see why the town had been named for the waters that flow through this land. After a couple hours we went to the larger pond at the base of the tallest waterfall we encountered that day, a circular pool surrounded by grey lava rocks and an abundance of ginger plants. We watched as my cousin’s boyfriend climbed up the side of the waterfall and made the thirty foot jump into the waiting waters below. I didn’t feel I had it in me that day to try a similar jump, but perhaps I will work up the courage the next time we go here, or perhaps when we go to the cliffs down at South Point.

We have been here less than a week, and yet have already had the good fortune to have seen so much. And yet there is always so much more to see, so many places we still plan to go: Mauna Kea, Hilo, Volcano National Park, Puako, Hi’ilawe, Maui. . . So there will be more writings and photos to share, I promise.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

3 Replies to “Hawaii: A Waterfall of Stars”

  1. Hi Becca,

    I LOVE your writing about your journey in Hawaii. And the photos by you and Matt are beautiful and perfect illustrations. I wondered as I read what the wild ginger plants look like. I don’t recall ever seeing a real, live, wild ginger plant! I also saw quite clearly and chuckled at the image of the surprise appearance of the diver in camouflage hunting octopus!

    Your following passage has direct personal relevance for me at this time: “Lying on that first beach I kept having to remind myself that there was nothing more that I had to do than just lie in the Sun, swim in the waters, and let go of all the planning and scheduling and millions of other thoughts that are always flying around my mind. Hawaii reminds you to release all agendas.”

    I very much look forward to reading about your continuing Hawaiian adventures. Best to you and Matt!

    Aloha, Cheryl

  2. A lovely intro…

    “When you arrive on Hawaii by night your first impression is the stars… We awoke the following morning to the sound of banana leaves rustling in the wind right outside our bedroom window”

    … so refreshing, simple and vivid.

    The photos are amazing Becca.

    You are no doubt living the life that few of us can only conceive; one would have to hire an accountant to record that which you have to be gratiful for…

    Warm Regards,


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