Hawaii Day 1: Sea turtles, cats, and noms

June 18, 2019 • 12:45 pm

I have arrived, and yesterday spent my first full day on Oahu. It was a good day, too, greeting my favorite cat, seeing green sea turtles haul themselves out of the surf to bask in the sand on the island’s North Shore, and having a great Hawaiian plate lunch. Here’s the drill.

I was greeted by my favorite cat, Pi, a rescue gray Persian who’s been shaved down because of the heat:

He looks a bit like Grumpy Cat, or rather, the oatmeal flack Wilford Brimley, but Pi is a real sweetheart. I love him to bits.

Wilford Brimley:

After breakfast (a rare bagel and lox for me), we headed for Laniākea Beach, famous as a spot on Hawaii’s North Shore where Hawaiian green sea turtles haul themselves out of the surf to bask on the beach. We were lucky enough to see two of them engage in this endearing activity.

Here’s the location of the trip, but instead of taking the “middle road” to the north, we drove east to the road along the island’s east (windward) coast and then around to Laniakea:

The shore road is gorgeous, and, in the morning, is not too crowded with tourists. Along the way is the famous island called Mokolii, but better known as “Chinaman’s Hat” (don’t judge me; I didn’t name it that):

The beach was already crowded when we arrived by 10:30, but we found a parking spot, got our snorkel gear (I did a wee bit of snorkeling, though the fish were sparse), and headed to the beach. Here it is, and a lovely beach it is, too:

When we saw these signs we knew we were on the right track:

The Hawaiian green sea turtle is just a local population of the endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), which lives and feeds (on algae, seaweed and jellyfish) in Hawaii, but breed, I was told, in some “sub-aleutian islands” about 500 miles to the north. They attain reproductive maturity at about 25 years old, and can live up to 100 years.

During the breeding period, they lay several clutches of about 100 eggs each. Given this, and that they can reproduce about every other year for at least 25 years, and add to that the fact that, in a stable population, each female will leave only two reproductive adults, you can see that the mortality rate is high: well over 99%.

The turtle watchers (volunteers who keep people away from the beached and swimming turtles, and kudos to them), told us that they tend to come ashore at about noon. We laid out our towels and waited. Turtles hadn’t shown up for the past few days, but we lucked out.

Sure enough, about noon a juvenile turtle (they told us it was probably a female, 10-15 years old) hauled itself slowly and painfully out of the water and onto the beach. A sequence:

Can you spot the turtle off the beach?

Here it is!

Using its flippers (what Steve Gould would call an exapatation), it hauled itself slowly and painfully onto the beach, stopping above the wave level:

They have such beautiful eyes, which gave rise to the name of this one (see below):

Researchers recognize the turtles by the pattern of scales around their eyes, which is unique, though some turtles have been microchipped to study their migration. The Turtle Guardians have signs for some of the most frequently-visiting animals, and so this one was Maka Nui:

Finally, it rests, closes its eyes, and soaks up the sun:

Here are three videos of the hauling-out:

Of course the tourists and beachgoers gather round, but are kept away from the turtle by an orange rope with a radius of about ten feet, adhering to regulations:

As we left, another juvenile female came ashore:

Snorkeling, sunning, and photographing turtles makes you hungry, and fortunately we were in one of the best Hawaiian plate-lunch places on Oahu, the Waihole Poi Factory, which makes its own fresh poi. Here’s the place, which, as you can see, is unprepossessing. But what treats come from within!

Lunch: kalua pig (the Hawaiian version of barbecue), laulau with chicken wrapped in taro leaves, fresh poi, lomi-lomi salmon (lower right: raw salmon mixed with tomato and onions, and a white hunk of haupia (coconut gelatin).

If you’re on the east side of the island, don’t miss the Waihole Poi Factory!

Self aggrandizing photos: me snorkeling at the top (middle bottom), and photographing the turtle (photos by Nilou):


35 thoughts on “Hawaii Day 1: Sea turtles, cats, and noms

  1. On a stormy night many years ago I had the privilege of watching a turtle lay eggs on a beach in Trinidad. As dozens of ping-pong ball size eggs fell one by one into the hole it had dug I was overwhelmed by a unique mix of awe and enchantment. If you ever get the chance to see the same please do, you won’t regret it.

  2. Along the way is the famous island called Mokolii, but better known as “Chinaman’s Hat” (don’t judge me; I didn’t name it that):

    There are plenty of similar names around the world.

    On the skyline of many views of Staffa (of Fingal’s Cave and the “Hebridean Overture” by Holst?) there is “Dutchman’s Cap” . On the map, it doesn’t look terribly odd, but when seen from a little above sea level it is distinctive. (Image)

    “Bac Mòr” is the Gaelic name. It’s almost completely surrounded by cliffs, and most of it’s land area is at the level of the “90ft” raised beach, a consequence of post-glacial rebound.

    There was another “Dutchman’s Cap” island. It disappeared (save for a wave-washed reef) on 26 or 27 August 1883. You can work out where it was a couple of km NE from.
    Whether Dutch men actually wear caps that shape, today, in 1883, or whenever Bac Mòr acquired the nickname, seems pretty moot.

    There is another similar name tickling the back of my memory, but it’s not coming out to play.

  3. Great pix, thanks for sharing!

    I like that last pic, where it looks like tourists have to stay at least 5 meters away from Prof. Coyne! An endangered species?

        1. If there’s a scene with more exquisite timing (by three great American film actors, under the direction of the Coens), I damn sure dunno what it is.

    1. Not there. You had a choice of rice or poi, and that was no choice for me. I LOVE poi, and you simply can’t get it on the mainland unless you want to buy water-reconstitutable poi powder.

    1. Sorry for the repeat.

      With apologies to Ogden Nash, sometimes posting a comment to WordPress is like “pouring ketchup from a bottle/First none’ll come out, then you get double.”

  4. I find that the double entries occur when I take some time or stall during a comment. Must try to rush it.

    The Chinaman’s hat is at the north end of Kaneohe Bay. Most likely PCC took the Pali or Liki Liki over the mountains to the east side and then up Kamehameha Hwy (830) and then 83. It is a tricky business looking at the google map to see the detail. My question for PCC is – over on the leeward where you are staying, do you have air conditioning?

      1. mmmm. Not yet, but maybe July and Aug. might not be so good. I can see why the cat would need a shave.

        Of course, over in Kaneohe we had no air conditioning but I knew some on the other side there who had window units. They would use them when it got bad but not too much – very costly.

    1. “It is a tricky business looking at the google map to see the detail.”

      Well PCC’s map (in the post) shows definitely the wrong route. Hint: You can fix that (in Google) by clicking on the route shown and dragging it to a spot on the desired road.


  5. My daughter was delighted about 14 years or so ago we were snorkeling at that beach and a turtle refused to stay 3 meters away as it was trying to eat the ‘algae’ off my leg (otherwise known as my hair…).

    1. My son recently surfed in Mexico (Puerto Vallarte area) amongst giant sea turtles (the size of a car, he said??)

        1. Here’s the location of the trip, but instead of taking the “middle road” to the north, we drove east to the road along the island’s east (windward) coast and then around to Laniakea:

          I just took a look at that route with the “Terrain” display turned on. Looks like a fun trip, but that NE-facing arc of cliffs makes me wonder about the slope stability.
          Slope stability is a recurring question for volcanic islands. The 22 December 2018 flank collapse of Anak Krakatoa rather underlined that point with over 400 deaths. My memory told me there was evidence of something nasty off the North side of the Hawai’i archipelago, and it seems to be so. Something on the order of 300 cubic km in one big lump, and probably the same volume again in harder-to-count small lumps.
          Not a good day to have been on a north Pacific coast. Probably well prehistoric.

  6. Wonderful series of photos. I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. While snorkeling on Maui, I was delighted to see many green sea turtles, but never on land. Loved the videos!

  7. I lived in Kahaluu,from 1970-72, in a house on the side of the mountain above the road around the windward side of Oahu, with a clear view of “Chinamans” hat and an ancient Hawaiian “fish pond” which was just offshore to the coast of Kaneohe bay.

  8. I always love your holiday pics Jerry, and these are no exception. What a treat to see those turtles too!

  9. Thought you might get a kick out of this … a real “tourist” outlook on seeing sea turtles!! But he did take lots of really nice photos! And a few videos (at bottom).

  10. Sadly when my uncle was in the Seychelles as a doctor, when he left – late 70s I think – he was presented with a turtle shell, polished up. He would much rather they had left the turtle in the shell…

  11. I find it wonderful that people take the time to tell the turtles apart by sight!

    “Here’s the place, which, as you can see, is unprepossessing”

    – Sometimes those are the best sort of place to eat, as it can then be all about something fun or different to eat, rather than pumping money into decor.

Leave a Reply to Keith Douglas Cancel reply