Up Towards Palehua




Written by Michael Adno
Photography by Chris Mottalini



orty million years ago in the north Pacific Ocean at the edge of the pacific Plate, volcanic magma pushed 132 islands out of the ocean floor. These make up the Hawaiian archipelago which extends from the Big Island to the Midway Atoll some 1,400 miles away. The basalt formations that breached the ocean’s surface became the eight major islands that we know as Hawaii. Towards the northern edge of the Hawaiian Islands lies Oahu, previously believed to be formed by two volcanoes, Waianae and Koolau, but now known to be made of up three. The third, Kaena, was discovered in 2014 after submarine pillow lava was found between Oahu and Kauai; a lava that only forms underwater. Waianae and Koolau are both estimated to be close to three million years old and their shields — named for their low profile and size which resemble a laid down shield — come to form the island of Oahu: Waianae accounts for the western side and Koolau the eastern. Along the Waianae ridge, urban development spreads from Honolulu outward toward the reticulated hills and valleys between Waianae and Koolau, stroking the Island’s edge. Some of the island’s greatest landmarks were born of these volcanoes, tuff rings and calderas; remnants of later volcanic stages and erosion coupled with the growing acreage of lava flows.


At the southern fault of the Waianae ridge, a winding set of hills climb toward Palehua. Along this ridge, some of Oahu’s greatest cultural heritage sites remain. Palehua has been recognized as a site of pre-western contact in Hawaii. A set of outcrops and rock alignments mark the constellation of Pleiades, which rises above the horizon during sunsets from late October through November. This marked the beginning of the Makahiki festival, a time to celebrate the year’s harvest before the high seas and rains came, to withdraw from war, and to give thanks to Lono, the male god of rain and fecundity. The word Pa-lehua takes up “Pa” — an enclosure — and “lehua” — thought to be derived from the native Hawaiian tree, the Ohia Lehua. This thirsty tree bears a verdant flower, named after the Hawaiian god Pele’s forlorn love of a warrior named Ohia. Toward the top of the ridge, there stands another grouping of manmade structures — separated not only by distance, but by some hundreds of years — two cabins which were designed by the famed architect, Vladimir Ossipoff.


Read the full story in Issue 07 on newsstands now.