What would you load in a canoe if you were crossing the ocean to a place no one had ever been before?
Somewhere around 300 A.D., people in the Marquesas Islands far more brave and far less equipped than Christopher Columbus 1,100 years later strapped two hand-hew canoes together and headed off across the ocean to a place no one inhabited: the Hawaiian Islands. It’s not like some couple threw a dart on the map and decided to go there on vacation; they traveled over 2,500 miles of open sea – like going from New York to Reno – guided by the stars and found the islands. Those vessels, called Hokulea, carried everything needed to live in the islands, especially plants. These original explorers loaded up 27 varieties of plant – now called Canoe Plants – plus 4 varieties of animals (jungle fowl, rats, dogs, and pigs). You can see those plants at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve.
A short drive, or walk, to the east from Ke’e Beach and the head of the Kalalau Trail, the Limanhuli Garden sits on the south side of the road. One of five in the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Limahuli is the best place on the island to get a sense of what life used to be like. When you first enter Limahuli, you will see this house, the Hale Noa.
Once you park, you will go to the Visitor’s Center to pay $20 per person for an adult pass and receive an excellent, 52-page guide. They recommend taking 1.5 hours, but I’d encourage you to take longer. One of Kauaui’s mottos is, Try Slow. You can also book guided tours.
The first area – known as the Canoe Garden – is an archaeological site dating back 700 years. By this time – roughly the time of Columbus setting out on his first voyage – Kauai had already been inhabited 1,100 years and this 1,000 acre Limahuli valley was a premiere settlement. The Limahuli Stream is diverted through this series of terraces where the Canoe Plants are on display. The most important plant in the history of Hawaii is the Kalo, or Taro, plant which is grown in standing water. It has long been the staple of the Hawaiian diet from which the popular poi is made.
The Limahuli Stream cascades down the right side of this valley and there is a nice bridge where you can set up your camera on a tripod to photograph the water. If you want to blur water that is moving down a stream like this, you must set your camera on a tripod and slow the shutter speed down to at least 1/4 of a second. I also want as much of the image in focus as possible so my aperture was set at f22. The higher the aperture number, the greater the depth-of-field (area that is in focus). Also, I used a circular polarizer that helps cut down the glare of water which I mentioned how to use in my previous article.
Once you leave the Canoe Garden, you will enter the Plantation Era Garden. After Captain Cook – the first recorded European to hit the islands – arrived in 1778, many new plants were introduced. Mango, papaya, pineapple, plumeria, and brightly colored orchids. If you like photographing flora and fauna, this is a part of the garden you will love. I change my camera settings when I photograph flowers to a larger aperture like f4 for 5.6. Aperture openings that size create a smaller depth-of-field which means certain parts of the image will be in focus and the other parts out-of-focus. This effect is desired with close-up photography (known as macro photography) because it isolates a subject against a background. Notice in the image below how the background is out-of-focus? This makes the image pop more. If you can’t set your camera manually, there is usually a setting for flowers; use that, it will automatically open the aperture.
My wife, Christine, captured this image and intentionally broke the rule-of-thirds which places the object at one of the intersections of an image divided into vertical and horizontal thirds. When you break this rule of third, you are making a statement about the flower; you are now following the rules of portraiture which places the subject right in the center of a photograph. Think of this images as a head-shot; the close-up portrait of a person; they are always centered.
In addition to giving you a booklet to guide you on your walk, there are numerous descriptive signs along the way. This image of the sugar cane was captured in the Plantation Era Garden. Sugarcane was once the most profitable exports on the island, but it has now been replaced by coffee and seed corn.
It was assumed for years that the Hala Tree was a non-native plant introduced by the ancient settlers. The leaves are used for a variety of purposes like the roof on the Hale Noa pictured earlier, woven together to make sails and a multitude of other uses. A few years back, a large volcanic rock fell from a cliff and split open. Inside, they find a Hala plant that pre-dates human settlement by thousands of years.
As you continue through the forest part of the trail, you crest in an open area that is an ideal spot for a picnic.
This vista overlooks the ocean and the famous Makana – also known as Bali Hai – which was made popular in the movie South Pacific. In ancient times, the ‘oahi – fire throwing ceremony – took place on Makana as young men scrambled to the top and launch light, dry logs out over the ocean. Air currents carried the fire-sticks up to a mile across the ocean. One of the most popular places to photograph Makana, or Bali Hai, is several miles away in Hanalei Bay. I’ll show you in a later where, and how, to capture that image.
Keep an eye out for whales; this is the place during January of each year where whales arrive and put on a show.
As you walk back down to the entrance, I would encourage you to turn around and take in the beauty before you get in your car.
Walking through a garden like this is like walking through history. Pause as you leave and let your imagination take you back to children playing in the stream and people hunched over the taro plants, tending to them like they were part of the family. Imagine the fire-sticks hurling across the ocean and men loading hand-hewn canoes to go fishing in the sea.
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