In 1854, William and Jane Shipman arrived on the Big Island, overdressed and intent on passing along the word of God to the locals. Very soon after their arrival they produced little Willie Herbert, who went on to buy the 70,000 acre ahupa’a (ancient land division) of Kea’au, where he made several fortunes growing sugar and coffee and fruit. At some point, he sold off a chunk of land that later became the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm. You may recognize the brand from the overpriced mini fridge found in better hotels everywhere. But we can’t blame Shipman for that. And his son Herbert singlehandedly saved the nene goose from extinction, so we have to give the family some kudos there.
Something Willie left behind is a rather lovely plantation house by one of the only white sand beaches on the island, which fringes a cove of water in extraordinary shades of green and blue. There is a road to the house, of course, but it’s private. The only access to the beach is an ancient path through the forest, the Historic Puna Trail. So four of us brave souls put on socks and real shoes and headed for the trail.
One of the fascinating things about the Big Island is its diversity. We passed different types of foliage, from what looked almost like Southwestern scrub to towering banyan trees to bits and pieces of other parts of the world that I’d seen but couldn’t name, so many sights that looked almost like other places but not quite. And some defied description.
If you look closely, you can see the Swiss Family Robinson hopping among these branches.
There really should have been a nice Japanese lady arranging ikebana in this.
The path was fairly flat but very uneven, often paved with random scatterings of stones or interwoven tree roots or blocked by sludgy mud puddles that had to be skirted. It took us 2.5 hours to reach the beach and by then my legs had turned into noodles and my bunion was pounding. The beach was just as lovely as its reputation, but I was too tired to care about much except the return hike, which loomed at the back of my mind like an axe murderer lurking in the shadows behind an open door.
“I will not whine,” I repeated to myself, again and again, as we made our way back along the trail. And I didn’t, although after a while, I stopped counting the things that hurt and tried to count the ones that didn’t. When that got to be too difficult, I went into Clydesdale mode: clop clop clop. Just keep moving. And if you need to sit down on a mossy rock and sob for a couple of minutes, so be it.
As we plodded along, a young couple passed us, both very young, very pretty and very barefoot. One by one, we looked at each other to make sure we’d seen that right. Perhaps they were earth lovers, believers in touching the land and thereby being one with the universe. More likely they were too stoned to realize how much their feet hurt. I kind of wished I was.
We finally made it back, of course, but none of us ever want to return. That is, unless the Shipmans invite us to use their private road. And while they’re at it, I wouldn’t mind a nice cup of tea and some finger sandwiches.
It’s a trek worth making, but plan on taking your time, pack a lunch, and if you can make yourself twenty years younger before you hit the trail, that would help a lot.
As they say:
He who climbs Mt. Fuji once is wise.
He who climbs Mt. Fuji twice is a nitwit.