Coco Palms Update

After my previous article, the Hawaii News Now website had an updated story about the fire at the Coco Palms. They have images from the County of Kaua’i showing the other buildind that burned:

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Source: County of Kaua’i via Hawaii News Now

This is the walkway between the two restaurant areas, straight downwind of the lobby seen in my previous post. It has another shingle roof supported by wooden arches. It also looks like the horizontal roof areas to the left burned as well, though I believe these were more like decorative façades.

Somebody has also posted impressive aerial footage of the fire, using a helicopter drone:

There is a lot of speculation about the fire, and according to The Garden Island, an investigation has been started. In another article, The Garden Island also says that the damaged buildings are being torn down right away.

Here are photos of this area that I took during a tour of the Coco Palms over a year ago. This is the same side as the photos above, with the decorative conch shell made of fiberglass.

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I have to respectfully disagree with Bob Jasper (quoted in the first linked article) about the beauty of this shell. The next image is looking back at this “breezeway” area from the other side, on a walkway right between this area and the main lobby. You can clearly see the wooden arch structure:

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Before anyone jumps to conclusions about the entire hotel burning down, most of the buildings in this area were cement and steel, often covered with stone. Only the architectural arches and decorative façades were wood, though I imagine the buildings were still damaged. However, much of the wood was likely unsound before the fire, and would’ve needed to be torn down during the renovation. The cement parts of the building would’ve need to be remodeled anyway, so hopefully that work can still proceed.

Here’s the restaurant, viewed from the breezeway, and if you look up through the deteriorated palm-frond ceiling, you see the skeleton of the building.

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However, the breezeway was certainly destroyed, along with two points of interest. First, this was the exact location for one of the iconic photos of Elvis:

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Second, the building still contained some art and woodwork that probably would’ve been preserved during the remodel–or at least auctioned off. It’s no Brancusi, but it’s prettier than the conch shell:

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Continuing the tour, here is main lobby, as it appeared after 20 years of neglect and exposure to the elements:

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The water warped the roof beams, leaving a gaping hole, and some of the roof even collapsed at the far end. So this building was a total loss even before the fire:

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But again, it had some interesting details worth preserving, if only in pictures now. Here is the reservation desk, a stone mantle of some sort, and the north window.

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I suspect that interesting art would’ve been preserved, or at least documented and recreated during the current remodeling proposal. But now with the fire damage, it will mostly likely just be scrapped or torn down. At least a copy of the window is preserved at the Aulani hotel on Oahu, which was certainly inspired by the Coco Palms.

Here is a view of the lobby roof that burned, and I think that the pedestrian bridge may have also been affected:

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And this is the lobby roof that I saw burning in my first post, most of it was doused by the firefighters:

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But while tragic, the fire spared much of the rest of Coco Palms. The wooden structures needed to be rebuilt anyways, but I heard the cement buildings were only going to be remodeled. Here are some more photos from the tour. As far as I can tell, none of these areas were affected by the fire.

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The main wings of the hotel are cement and stone buildings, and the rooms are still there, sitting empty for 20 years, some with their iconic clam-shell sinks (not Hawaiian at all). Many of the clam shells were auctioned off after the initial damage to the hotel.

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See, all it needs is some new wallpaper. On the other side of the lagoons were the cottages and more restaurants. They are all dilapidated and need to be removed. I think the idea is to keep and refurbish the one that Elvis stayed in, as a sort of museum. This is what’s left of the Elvis cottage (or maybe the one next to it):

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Elvis has definitiely left the building (or maybe he left it this way). Other wooden buildings around the lagoons have collapsed already from the termites and the wind and rain:

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Other ones still stand, though eaten by termites and in danger of collapsing: a storage shed for a restaurant, including the last menu, and the wedding chapel.

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The tour of the old buildings was fascinating, and Bob Jasper, the caretaker and tour guide, had lots of stories. Unfortunately, the tours may be the biggest victims of the fire. I doubt people will be allowed to walk around after all the fire damage and demolition.

UPDATE: In a Star-Advertiser article about the damage, Bob Jasper says the tours will continue, but obviously not through the breezeway area. He also made a video of the damage before and after the burnt lobby was torn down:



If you watch, you’ll see that the entire lobby was a loss and demolished. The breezeway arch was badly burned, but it wasn’t torn down, at least at the time of this video. The upper floor next to the breezeway also burned, but the lower floor with the restaurants is intact. In fact, in the video, you can still see the tile mural (at 19:40) and wooden panels (at 20:05). The article says the large conch shell will be rebuilt, but I’m not sure that’s necessary.

While looking for links, I found 3 videos that Bob made at the Coco Palms. He visits parts of the buildings not seen on the tours, including the roof and rooms around the breezeway that burned:





In the last video, he discovers some trespassers and yells at them to get out.

Coco Palms Burns

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog, but I have some breaking news. The old Coco Palms hotel, still derelict and pending redelopment is currently burning (as of 3:30 pm). As far as I could see, only the old wooden lobby building is on fire, the main cement buildings seem to be unaffected. It did look like a second building was burning, but I’m not sure which one.

Around noon, my wife saw smoke coming from the Coco Palms and traffic was backed up in the Wailua Beach area. From the Wailua Houselots neighborhood nearby, we could see the column of smoke. Click any photo for high resolution image.

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The local news sites had some first reports, though only the Advertiser had photos of actual flames.

http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/breaking/20140704_Fire_breaks_out_at_the_closed_Coco_Palms_hotel.html?id=265855151
http://khon2.com/2014/07/04/fire-flares-up-at-coco-palms-on-kauai/
http://www.kitv.com/news/crews-battle-fire-at-coco-palms-hotel/

Later I went down to look. I parked along the highway by the beach, and from one spot you could clearly see the one roof on fire. There was more smoke coming from the other roof behind, and perhaps the second building. I took the Coco Palms tour last year, and I think the restaurant on the lagoon is behind the lobby, so maybe that had a wooden roof that caught fire as well.

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Then I went around the old shops building by the road to where I could see the fire truck pumping water. From there, I could also see them start to spray the roof.

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One fireman wearing a dust mask told me to move back because the building had asbestos and the smoke might be dangerous. I was upwind of the fire, and never smelled the smoke, but I did move away. I figure the other buildings might cause turbulence and some smoke or particles might be swirling back at us. The firemen who were holding the hoses had full breathing apparatus:

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Back on the highway, I could see them spraying the flames I had seen earlier:

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Note the sign that says: “Be a part of the rebirth.” The news reports above say the fire is contained, but it seems they are not putting it out. It’s now 2 hours after I took those photos, and I can still see smoke rising (the first photo was actually taken last).

The lobby building that burned was one of the ones damaged in the hurricane. It had huge wooden rafters, and the hurricane damaged the roof. But since it was never repaired, 20 years of rains and moisture had warped the wood and left a huge gap in the ridge. So this building needed to be torn down anyway. Hopefully, none of the other building will be affected and the Coco Palms project to refurbish the existing buildings and reopen the hotel can continue.

Here is a shot of what the Coco Palms looks like now. This is a different part of the lagoon, and not the buildings that are burning. For some reason, it makes me think of the popular iPhone game Temple Run. You can imagine what it must’ve looked like back when it was open, and what it could look like again some day.

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Flossie is Coming!

For the first time that I’ve been living on Kaua’i (10 years this fall), a named tropical storm is predicted to hit the island. This image says it all:

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Click to enlarge. Source: Central Pacific Hurricane Center

The 2AM TUES mark is right on the island of Kaua’i. However, there are a few more details that are relevant:

  • Another map shows only a 20% chance of winds greater than 39 mph (62 km/h) on Kaua’i.
  • Hence, the storm is predicted to weaken to a tropical depression.
  • Previous storm track predictions showed Flossie passing over the Big Island and south of Kaua’i, so it could change track again.

Still, there is a TROPICAL STORM WARNING for all islands, and all ocean sectors around the islands. That makes for an all-red map:

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Source: National Weather Service, Honolulu Weather Forecast Office

Note that the Tropical Storm Warning includes the Flash Flood Watch. In addition to the winds, the storm is expected to bring 4-8 inches (100-200 mm) of rain to Kaua’i, with up to 12 inches (300 mm) on the windward side.

Needless to say, do not plan any hiking or swimming from today through Wednesday. Conditions can get rainy and streams start to run high by this afternoon. After the storm, trails will be muddy and the ocean will be murky from the run-off for a few days.

Koloa Zipline Is Awesome!

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About the same time that we moved back to Kaua’i, some friends of ours moved back from the Big Island. Derek had been working over there building a zipline course for his boss, and he was coming back to Kaua’i to build one for himself. So for the past two years, I’ve been hearing stories about him and his workers clearing the forest of 100′ trees, building platforms, stringing cables, and hiring guides. And last August, Koloa Zipline finally opened.

But my family and I had never actually been on a zipline before, so when he offered us a tour we said “yes, please.” I’ve been rock climbing and hanging on plenty of ropes (yeah, because I fall a lot), but my wife and daughter weren’t sure what to expect. They weren’t scared, just weren’t sure they’d enjoy the sensation. However, the guides were great and by the 3rd or 4th line, they loved it.

The day starts with a close-up of the Koloa sugar mill, where the zipline “baseyard” is. The zipline is partnered with Kauai ATV to run tours on the private Grove Farm land between Koloa town and the Ha’upu mountain ridge. Since the Lihu’e and Kekaha sugar mills are being torn down, this is the second to last of Kaua’i's now-closed mills, and the only one you can get close to. It’s actually very scenic, in a Mad Max sort of way (they still use it in movies).

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First, we all got fitted with harnesses and helmet, the same for kids as for adults. Both of them adjust to give a snug and safe fit.


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The harness includes the pulley that everyone has to carry around–this was the only thing that was a bit hard for my daughter, and I often helped her carry it (the 10 and 12 year-olds on the tour carried their own easily).
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Everyone then gets hooked up to a test line to feel what it’s like to hang from the pully and sit in the harness. Here one of the guides, Jesse, helps my wife. The handles on the pulley are optional, you can use them to “steer” your body, but you don’t need to hang on.
Then we all climb aboard the Pinzgauer 6×6 military transport. These were developed near my wife’s hometown in Austria, and I’ve seen several on Kaua’i. I think Kaua’i Backcountry Adventures uses them to take customers on the dirt roads as well. KoloaZipline-04
KoloaZipline-05 The rough dirt road leads across the former sugar cane fields and into the forest at the foot of the Ha’upu ridge.

Soon you arrive at the first zipline. For those that don’t know, a zipline is a cable strung between a higher starting platform and a lower landing platform so that you glide by gravity down the cable as you hang from the pulley. Some ziplines are attached directly to trees, but this forest is mostly fast-growing and brittle Albezia trees. My friend Derek is replacing some of the invasive species with native plants, and then he built all the platforms on erected poles with guy wires solidly anchored in the ground. Part of the fun is climbing up the various ramps and catwalks.

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The first line is relatively short so you can get a feel of zipping through the trees, as well as the clipping in, launch, landing, and unclipping. Here the first guide gets ready to go across and help with landings:

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Since you’re completely buckled in to the harness, you can hang in any direction. On the second line, the guide shows off his upside-down bravado:

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The second line is already an impressive length through the canopy above a small ravine. As invasive as it is, the tall vertical trunks of the Albezia are really photogenic:

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This line is already long enough to pick up some good speed, and in the photo above, you can see the guide holding a line tied to a traveler on the cable that will catch and slow down the rider. Ziplines are based on physics: adults are heavier relative to their size and build up more momentum to overcome wind resistance.


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My wife was a bit worried about the landing, either coming in too fast or too slow, but she quickly got the hang of it. Here she’s steering her body straight to reduce wind resistance and keep her speed up.
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Then the guide slows her down with the braking line, and she lands perfectly to stand up and unclip the pulley from the line.

The third line starts from a tall structure and skims a few trees before crossing another small ravine. The road on the right is the same that we drove up, but closer to the mountain. In fact just after the curve in the photo, the road goes through a tunnel to the Lihu’e side of the mountain. Grove Farm had sugar fields on both sides and needed a shortcut to get the cut cane to the Koloa mill.

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After a short but steep hike uphill, we get to the start of the 4th line, the longest so far and the 2nd longest of the course. It stretches an impressive 1700 feet (520m) to the next ridge. The guides hand out water bottles and we take a break after the short climb.

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Koloa Zipline allows children as young as seven, but they aren’t heavy enough to go by themselves. So my daughter was attached to the line in front of me, each on our own pully, and then we were clipped together. Here’s the procedure:


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As with rock climbing, the guide make sure everyone on the exposed platform, including himself, is clipped in to a safety line.
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The safety line holds my daughter while the guide puts my pulley on the line behind hers. By this point in the tour, she was excited at every start and really wished she could go by herself.

And here we are all clipped in safely and attached together, ready to step off the platform.

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Oh yeah, this is fun! You launch and then you pick up speed and you’re flying over the land:

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Later on, my daughter asked me to flip her upside down, and she loved that too. I managed to flip over myself, but that’s one thing that was inconvenient when doing the tandem zip. By now, my wife was comfortable in the harness and could trust the equipment to do the backward falling launch on the 5th line:

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After the long 4th line, the platforms are more out of the forest and give you some great aerial views. Toward the Ha’upu ridge:

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And toward Waita reservoir, the largest man-made lake in Hawaii. Beyond, you could see the deep blue of the ocean stretching to the horizon. We take a snack break up here on the ridge with all the great views:

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Then we continue on line number 7:

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KoloaZipline-23 For every zip, there is one guide at the launch, and one at the landing. But if you’re thinking about these things, how does the first guide to cross slow down, since there is no-one there to catch him? The answer is: the old tennis shoe trick, just like on a bicycle without brakes.

And finally, we get to the BIG ONE. The guides have been dropping hints about the grand finale, and now we can see it–sort of. It’s the longest zipline in Hawaii at 2600 feet (790m), that’s half of a mile. The cable crosses the marshy end of the lake and ends at a 100-foot ramp you can barely see in this picture:

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Needless to say, we’re loving it:

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I love this picture of us, so I’ll post it again. It looks like we’re just taking off over the trees and lake, as if we’re old pros:

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And if you squint, you can see us, the white dot, as we reach the landing platform:

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According to my camera, this zip is a whopping 48 seconds long. Doing some quick math, that means we average 54 feet per second (16.5m/s), or 37 MPH (59 km/h). That’s why the landing ramp is so long, so you have space to slow down if you come in fast.


Here’s the view of the landing area, and you can almost see the red starting platform way up the hill. KoloaZipline-28
KoloaZipline-29 This view was taken from a different angle and shows the length of the line across the swamp. Again, the launch platform is barely visible in the upper-right corner.

While we were waiting for the others to arrive, I wandered down by the lake where there are nice views that you don’t see every day with Ha’upu summit and reservoir in front of it.

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Then we were taken by regular van back to the baseyard to return the gear and chat with the guides. Thanks to their help to make everyone feel safe and comfortable, nobody got scared, and everyone was pumped up from a whole morning of adrenaline. They really love their jobs, and in the end, I really envy them.

Even before we got back in the car, my daughter started asking: “when can we go zip lining again?” And she hasn’t stopped for the past 2 weeks. No hesitation, no apprehension, she just loved it, and so did we. Let’s see–whose birthday is next, hers or mine?

Beach Geology

I have such a backlog of posts to write, but I’ll start with today’s photos. We went for a little exploring on the East Side of Kaua’i, starting at the north end of the bike path by Kumukumu (aka Donkey) beach.

There is a series of little coves to explore, however the paths in between (and the inland trail back) are getting overgrown and hard to find. These coves are more isolated, though on a beautiful Saturday like today, we saw people at every remote beach. Here’s an example:

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But that is not the subject of this post. We had some big swells recently, and the beach combing was quite good. But let’s just say the rest of my family has more fun looking for seashells than I do, so I started exploring the rocks instead. When I started paying more attention to the rocks and the shoreline, I noticed many different shapes and textures:

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I suppose this coast was created by several lava flows thousands of years apart. The first flow of dense lava created the black boulders that were eroded by the waves. Then a secondary eruption of lighter lava covered the boulders, and now they’re just being exposed again. This little formation in particular was striking, I’ve never seen such an orange-colored rock, and the eroded shapes were unique:

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When dense lava cools slowly and creates basalt, it can make hexagonal columns that look like large cobblestones from the top (like the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland):

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But what kind of cooling and erosion created this?

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Another part of the beach had lithified sand (essentially young sandstone) that was exposed in raised walls. I think this is formed when fresh water seeps through the beach, cementing the grains of sand together. Later, when the sea level changes (or the beach recedes), the hard cemeted sand remains. But in this case, the ancient sandy beach formed over basalt rocks, then was lithified, and is now a beach again:

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Here, there was a dark flow over the lithified sand, but I couldn’t tell if it was a later lava flow or a layer of lithified black sand:

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And a few steps further, the lithified sand contained chunks of ancient coral and seashells. The few seashells that you could see were definitely larger than today’s shell, so I wonder if they were thousands or millions of years old.

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And here, the red and orange flows contained only a few boulders and were weathered fairly smooth by the wind and waves.

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What is incredible is how the 3 processes of volcanism, erosion, and lithification are all overlapping and mixed together to create so many amazing combinations in just a mile or two of shoreline.