Koa: The Big Island’s Treasured Wood

Koa Pig Board Horizon Guest House Hawai
Pig board showing example of 'compression or fire' very rare even for curly koa

To the casual visitor, Hawaii is sunshine and beaches. But it’s more than that. If you visit often, or for long enough, or are lucky enough to live here, you’ll discover a unique product that is grown only in Hawaii (endemic) – and no, it’s not taro, lilikoi, or even lychee: it’s Acacia koa, simply known here as koa.

Koa stand Horizon BnB Kona Coast Hawaii
Plant stand by Russ Johnson

In ancient times, it was so prized that it was made kapu, prohibited for anyone to possess except for the royal class (ali’i). Upon the death of King Kamehameha in the late 1700’s, the kapu was removed, allowing all Hawaiians to possess this unique wood.

Koa bowl 2 Horizon Guest House Hawaii Big Island
Classic Hawaii bowl or umeke

Similar to black walnut and known for its hardness and extraordinary beauty, the Hawaiians found a wide range of uses for koa, from canoes to household dishes and utensils. When malihini settlers arrived, they discovered that it is also a ‘tonewood’ and could be used to make stringed instruments, such as the ukulele.

Koa Pen Horizon Guest House Hawaii Big Island
Curly koa ball point pen

Koa trees can attain a height of 50-75 feet and a trunk circumference of 20 feet. They are one of the fastest-growing Hawaiian trees, capable of reaching 20-30 feet in five years.

Koa wood Horizon B&B Hawaii
Detail of fine-grained koa

Ideally adapted to volcanic conditions, the larger Hawaiian islands supported huge forests of magnificent koa trees. However, the introduction of cattle, and the resulting clearance of huge swaths for pastures, severely reduced it’s habitat.

Koa trees are not endangered and recent restrictions on cutting, and protecting the seedlings from grazing cattle, sheep, and goats, have increased its population.

BUT! The only koa that can be harvested are dead or decaying koa trees on public lands.

Koa wood Horizon Guest House Hawaii
Headboard, part of 4-poster bed patterned on King Kamehameha’s bed

It can take more than 25 years before a seedling grows into a tree large enough to be useful. In the meantime, it’s a premium wood selling for as much as $150/board. A fine piece of koa furniture, such as a dining table will set you back as much as a small car. There are several galleries on the Big Island that showcase koa pieces, Hawaii Treasure Mill and Harbor Gallery among others.

Quilt koa Horizon Guest House Hawaii Big Island
Quilted bedspread in koa leaf pattern by Sig Zane
Koa bowl Horizon Guest House Kona Coast Hawaii
Curly Koa
Author: Angus Meek

All about Big Island Lava and the Hawaiian Diamond

A'a and Pahoehoe Big Island Horizon BnB
A'a and Pahoehoe lava

Hawaii is a series of islands composed, primarily, of lava. Lava isn’t all the same. Two main types are A’a (ah-ah) and pahoehoe (paw-hoey-hoey). There is also a third type, but you’re not likely to encounter it as it forms during submarine eruptions, this is called ‘pillow’ lava.

The dynamics of a lava flow generally dictate which type of lava forms. A’a lavas are associated with high discharge rates and steep slopes, while pahoehoe flows are associated with lower discharge rates and gentle slopes. Geology aside, pahoehoe is usually darker and a’a tends to be lighter and brownish to reddish. The reddish comes from oxidation of the iron to iron oxide.

Pahoehoe tends to be smooth. You can generally walk on it without shoes. A’a on the other hand is chunky and sharp  – think of the sound you’d make when trying to walk on it bare foot!

Two Steps Big Island Hawaii Captain Cook Horizon Guest House
Two Steps

If you snorkel at Two Steps, only minutes from Horizon Guest House and adjacent to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, or Place of Refuge, you’ll find yourself walking over smooth pahoehoe before entering the water.

Black sand Horizon Guest House Honaunau Captain Cook Hawaii
Black sand

When the lava is broken up into fine grains we end up with a black sand. However, when the mineral olivine is present in large enough quantities, and is packed into a sedimentary formation, natural erosion creates a green sand beach.

In the photo below is the ‘famous’ Green Sand Beach – also called Papakōlea Beach. This unique beach is located about two miles from the southern most point of the Big Island, South Point, and is approximately an hour’s drive south of Horizon Guest House.

Green Sand Beach Big Island Hawaii Horizon B&B Captain Cook
Papakōlea Beach

Papakōlea Beach is one of only four green sand beaches in the world, the other three are in Guam, Galapagos Islands and Norway.

The cliff in the background of the photo is a loose, sedimentary formation containing a relatively large amount of olivine as fine crystals. The green crystals are mixed with black (lava) and white (coral/shells) sand and, as a result, some patches of sand are greener than others.

How to get there

To get to Papakōlea Beach involves a drive and a hike (but it’s well worth the extra effort).

  1. Take the road to ‘South Point’ between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11 (between Kona and Volcano Village). Drive to the small harbor at the end. On the left hand side there is a car park.
  2. Walk from the car park to the ocean and take the road to the left (facing the water, toward the east). Follow the road with the ocean on your right for approximately 2.5 miles. At this point you will be above the beach. Next, make your way carefully along the lava cliff on the west side of the bay.

Tip: Leave early and try to make the trip on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

You can see in the next photo how green the olivine sand is. There is also a lava rock with olivine occlusions, and a bracelet made from larger olivine crystals.

Peridot Horizon BnB Hotel Captain Cook Hawaii
Olivine sand and lava

Fun fact! A type of olivine is peridot (also found in meteorites) and is a gem quality stone. Peridot is also referred to locally as ‘Hawaiian Diamond’. Found in only a fraction of the olivine deposits, it is the birthstone for the month of August.

Strange but true! When lava is ejected into the air, it can form an usual solid lava that has an uncanny resemblance to petrified wood. These samples below came from the Hualalai mountain, which is the mountain you see when you land at the Kailua-Kona airport.

Solid lava Hawaii Big Island Horizon Guest House
Solid lava almost identical to petrified wood!
Author: Angus Meek

Kealia Ranch Store

The Kealia Ranch Store is famous for its shaved ice, and it’s definitely worth a stop to check out their stock of local arts and crafts – and snacks!

The Kealia Ranch was originally founded in 1915 and is still operating as a working cattle ranch today, with stock of Hereford and Angus cattle. They supply grass-fed beef locally, and also farm cacao and coffee on the ranch. The ranch is located less than a mile from Horizon.

What you'll find

You’ll find local snacks, including ‘ulu chips (made from breadfruit), assorted dried fruit (mango, pineapple, plum, lemon and ginger), locally-made pepper jelly, honey (produced on the ranch) and Kona coffee.

You can even buy beef direct from the ranch! (Perfect for grilling out for dinner at Horizon). Includes, rib eye, t-bone, sirloin, chuck and porterhouse.

Locally made arts and crafts.

Shaved ice

Choose from a great variety of flavors, add ice cream and then toppings of your choice. Fruit popsicles are also available.

There is a wide range of Kealia Ranch apparel.

They also stock some beautiful koa products, including cutting boards.

Browse their stock of unique, locally made arts and crafts – perfect for gifts.

The Kealia Ranch Store is less than a minute’s drive from Horizon – perfect for a shaved ice on your way back from the beach, or browsing for a gift.

When and where?

The Kealia Ranch Store is open Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday, 9:30am – 4:30pm.

86-4181 Mamalahoa Highway, Captain Cook, HI 96704

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In the orchard at Horizon: what we grow to harvest

We have a large variety of fruit trees that we grow here on the property. Growing conditions on the Big Island are perfect for almost everything although some varieties can be tricky and the harvest unpredictable.

Avocados

We have two varieties, the sharwil and the kahalu’u. Avocado season begins around June and runs through November/December.

Bananas

We are currently growing apple bananas in our vegetable garden. Bananas grow year round.

Jaboticaba

We have one jaboticaba tree. The tree produces a black plum. It takes 12-15 years to get your first harvest! Makes great syrups and jams. Flowers once a year, around September/October.

'Ulu (breadfruit)

Fruits all year. Great in a stir fry or even in pancakes!

Lemons

We currently grow Meyer lemons and these grow year round.

Lilikoi (passionfruit)

Lilikoi or passionfruit, grows on a vine and can produce fruit year round depending on rainfall.

Limes

We grow Tahitian seedless limes. These grow year round.

Lychee

Usually produces fruit in late summer but can be unpredictable. Some years there is a good harvest, other years we can have almost no fruit at all.

Mangos

We have a few mango trees in the orchard, including the Keitt mangos which can grow quite large. The quantity of the fruit produced can vary year to year.

Oranges

We grow six varieties of oranges, including navel and tangelo. We have oranges fruiting almost 9 months out of the year.

Papaya

Papaya grow year round here and we have many trees on the property. They are also a favorite of Cleo and Ele who are particularly good at finding fallen papaya (and eating them too, of course).

Pineapple

It can take up to 18 months to get your first pineapple, but it’s worth it! We are currently growing just the white pineapple (sugarloaf variety). Produces fruit in late fall.

Pomelo

The ancestor to the grapefruit, this huge fruit is usually ripe in the fall.

Rambutan

The rambutan is a cousin to the lychee. It’s a hairy red fruit with white flesh and a stone. The tree produces fruit in September.

Starfruit

Starfruit is available year round but tends to produce a greater quantity in the fall.

Almost all of this fruit will appear on the fruit platter for breakfast, depending on the time of year!

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South Kona Fruit Stand

The South Kona Fruit Stand has been a fixture in South Kona for a number of years. They grow and sell their own produce as well as serving smoothies, coffee and sandwiches.

The fruit stand is located just south of the intersection of Highway 11 & Highway 160). Their distinctive signs will give you forewarning of where to pull over. Take note – it’s a one way entrance and a one way exit. There is also easy parking.

What you'll find

You’ll find a wide variety of homegrown produce (depending on the season), some familiar snacks, and some homemade baked goods (try the lilikoi bars!). They also do made-to-order sandwiches.

Outdoor seating is located above the parking lot and is accessed by a path that runs alongside the main shop.

The South Kona Fruit Stand is a great little fruit stand and a great addition to the South Kona community. It doesn’t have the wide selection of fruit available at some of the bigger farmers markets but it makes up for it with a unique local charm of its own.

When and where?

The South Kona Fruit Stand operates everyday except Tuesday. Open 10-5pm Mon, Wed, Thurs and Fri & 10-4pm Sat and Sun.

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Restaurant review: The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill

The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill is a South Kona institution. Popular with locals and tourists alike, Korner Pocket is in Kealakekua close to Highway 11. Open every day, they also do a Sunday brunch. A great place to stop on your way south!

We arrived for lunch mid-week and there were plenty of tables. There is also easy parking in the parking lot in front of the restaurant. You can choose to eat inside or outside where there is a covered lanai. The service was great and the menu has some great options. 

Of course it is a sports bar and this is well-catered for with nine TVs and two pool tables. It can be a little noisy inside but there is a great outdoor lanai with seating which we found to be perfect. 

The menu

Korner Pocket uses fresh, grass-fed beef for their hamburgers, served on locally-made fresh buns. They also offer – slow-cooked prime rib, spicy poke nachos, fish and chips, tacos and salads, as part of an extensive menu.

What we ordered

(Above) Blackened Ono Sandwich $16.95 – Lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion & aioli on a French brioche bun with a side salad.

(Above) KP Patty Melt $14.95 – Toasted rye, sautéed onions and Swiss cheese.

We took advantage of the outdoor seating which is to the left as you walk into Korner Pocket from the main parking lot entrance (the outdoor seating is located behind the screen in the photo below).

The fish sandwich was delicious and perfectly cooked as was the KP patty melt. 

The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill is a great place to grab a quick lunch, or to watch the game, or to simply spend the afternoon or evening having a leisurely meal. 

Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill

81-970 Haleki’i Street 
Kealakekua

Hawaii 96750

Ph. 808 322 2994

Hours: Mon – Thurs 11am – 8pm, Fri – Sat 11am – 9pm, Sun 9am – 8pm

https://kornerpocketkona.com

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Strawberry Shortcake with Baked Oats

This is a breakfast cake! A unique take on a strawberry shortcake, made with oat flour (easy to make yourself). This cake is a great way to prep tasty breakfasts for the week ahead.

Ingredients

Cake

5-6 Large Strawberries (Mashed)

4 Dates (soak in hot water for 5 minutes, drain & then mash)

2 Cups Oat Flour

1 Cup Almond Flour

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsp Baking Powder

3/4 Cup Oat (or Soy Milk)

A Pinch of Salt

 

Cashew Protein Whip

1 Cup Vanilla Yoghurt

2 Scoops Vanilla Protein Powder

1/2 Cup Cashews (soak in hot water for 10 minutes, and then drain)

2 Tbsp Agave (or choice of liquid sweetener)

1 tsp Cinnamon

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a square baking tray.

Make your own oat flour in the food processor or blender. Super easy and quick!

Mix together all the ingredients for the cake. The mixture should be thick and slightly sticky.

Pour mixture into the baking tray and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool completely and slice in half horizontally.

Make the cashew whip. Place all the cashew protein whip ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth.

Place one layer of the cake in the bottom of a container, top with half the cashew protein whip and then add the other layer of cake, and then the remaining whip on top. Set in the fridge for 3 hours.

Garnish with a sliced strawberry and a dash of cinnamon! Can be stored in the fridge for 4-5 days.

We hope you enjoyed making this breakfast cake!

How did your breakfast cake turn out? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Amazing Nēnē – the Hawaiian Goose

Nene
Photo credit: Jack Jeffrey

The state bird of Hawai’i is the Nēnē. It is also the rarest goose in the world – in fact it’s one of the most endangered waterfowl species on earth. Efforts to increase the nēnē population are ongoing and have been successful.

History and decline

The nene are a close relation to the much larger Canadian goose and first migrated to the islands approximately 500,000 years ago. Since their arrival they have adapted to their environment, developing padded toes and claws – most likely in order to navigate the lava rock terrain.

At one time during the 1700s the population of the nēnē likely exceeded 25,000. However, due to changes brought about by the arrival of the Europeans (such as agriculture changes to the environment, and the introduction of predators) the population went into decline. 

The decline of the nēnē was almost permanent. By the turn of the 20th century nēnē were only found on the Big Island and by 1950 there were just 30 birds still alive.

The Nēnē

The nene is a medium-sized goose. They grow to about 25 inches and have a black head, gray/brown body, and webbed feet. They can be found in volcanic areas, alpine grasslands, and in pastures in rural locations. They can live in locations from sea level to 8,000 feet. There are now populations of nēnē on all major Hawaiian Islands. Their diet consists of leaves, seeds and various fruits. Their breeding season runs from October to March. The nēnē mate for life and their nests are built on the ground, making them vulnerable to predators. The nēnē young remain flightless for the first 4-6 weeks.

Nene chicks
Photo credit: Beverley Goodwin / Flickr

Nēnē predators

Dogs, rats, cats, pigs and the mongoose, are all predators of the nēnē. Indirectly – cattle, pigs and goats affect the nēnē by altering their physical environment and potentially disrupting access to food. Management of nēnē populations on Maui now include predator control initiatives such as fences.

Check out this fantastic video of the Nēnē by Mark at AviBirds.com 

State bird

The nēnē became the state bird in 1957. Nēnē, in Hawaiian, means “to chirp, as a cricket; to croak… whimpering, as a sleeping infant.” It is pronounced ‘nay-nay’.

Breeding programs

By 1990 more than 2,000 nēnē had been returned to their native habitats as a result of captive breeding programs. The program at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park also focused their efforts on controlling predators and improving the conditions of the nēnē’s habitat. As a result of programs like this, and on other islands (Maui, Oahu and Kaua’i), there are now approximately 3,200 nēnē in Hawai’i. 

Rainbow-Nene

Where to see them

The best place to see the nēnē on the Big Island is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. They are often seen on lava fields, in the Crater Rim Trail area, and also near the road itself (Crater Rim Drive) – keep an eye out for the ‘Nēnē Crossing’ signs!

You might also see them on the Pu‘u Wa‘awa‘a ʻŌhiʻa Trail (just north of Kona) – for more information https://hawaiibirdingtrails.hawaii.gov/birding_hotspot/puu-waawaa-halapepe-and-ʻohiʻa-trails/

The nēnē population continues to be monitored but still faces significant challenges to their survival from the many introduced predators.

Further reading

There are many birds to discover on the Big Island. Check out our blog on some of our favorites – Top 7 native birds on the Big Island

And for more details on birdlife on the island explore Hawaii Birding Trails.

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Chocolate Cherry Bars

Perfect for the holiday season, these chocolate bars are sweet, chewy and snack-size. These bars can be made with different types of preserves but we went for cherry because it’s such a great combination with chocolate.

This recipe is a variation on a Bob’s Red Mill recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Bars. We used Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour but other brands work just as well.

Ingredients

1½ cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

1 cup Rolled Oats

½ cup Wheat Germ

½ cup Brown Sugar

1 tsp Baking Powder

½ tsp Salt

1 cup melted Butter

10 oz Cherry Preserves

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

½ tsp ground Cinnamon

1 cup Chocolate Chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9 x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, oats, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Add melted butter and stir until the consistency of a crumbly dough.

Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

In a bowl, combine cherry preserves, vanilla and cinnamon and then spread evenly over the mixture in the pan.

Sprinkle chocolate chips and the remaining mixture over the preserves.

Bake until the top layer is brown and the preserves begin to bubble. Approximately 35-40 minutes.

Cool completely before slicing.

We hope you enjoyed making these chocolate cherry bars.

How did your bars turn out? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Mighty Hawaiian Avocado

Everyone loves avocados. Hawaiian avocados have a delicious, rich, creamy flavor and are packed with healthy oils. The Hawaiian climate makes growing avocados easy and they’ve become one of Hawaii’s favorite exports.

200 avocado varieties

There are over 200 different avocado varieties grown throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Cross-pollination is responsible for the proliferation of the avocado varieties. But it’s the Hawaiian climate that’s the reason for why many believe Hawaiian avocados are some of the best in the world. The microclimates and the fertile soil often produce very large avocados with significantly higher amounts of healthy oils. The avocado season usually runs from September to May of the following year.

The main variety of avocado grown in Hawaii is the Sharwil variety (above). Originally from Australia, the Sharwil has a velvety smooth, creamy texture. This variety is often exported to the mainland. They have a classic pear shape and we grow this variety here at the guest house. It grows very well along the Kona Coast.

Did you know that you can freeze avocados?

All it takes is a little preparation and you’ll be eating avocados all year round. First, cut the avocado in half and remove the seed. Smear some lemon juice on the open flesh of each cut half. Wrap each half with plastic cling wrap, careful to make sure it’s entirely sealed. Place the cut halves of the avocado in a freezer bag and seal tight. Freeze and enjoy avocado anytime!

Butter avocados

Perhaps our favorite avocado is the Kahalu’u variety (below), also known as the butter avocado. This variety has a buttery, creamy texture and can grow to twice the size of the average Sharwil variety. The season for the Kahalu’u is from late October to December. We have a Kahalu’u avocado tree here at Horizon. This season we have seen some huge avocados from our tree, many over 1.5 pounds each!

Other popular varieties grown in the islands include the Malama, Yamagata, Greengold, Beshore and of course the popular Hass. The Hass is a smaller avocado with a pleasant flavor but overall contains less oil content than the other Hawaiian varieties. Many of the Hawaiian varieties were named after the families of farmers who discovered the seedlings.

Most avocado trees are not grown from seed but are grafted, a process in which part of an existing mature tree is cut and placed in a rootstock. This process means that there remains consistency in the quality of the fruit with the new trees. The first time yield for an avocado tree is 8 to 12 years, but there is nothing like the creamy, rich texture of the mighty Hawaiian avocados – they are well worth the wait.

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