Chickens and Dirt: How Hurricane Iniki Produced One Kauai Icon and Exploited Another

Few would argue Hurricane Iniki was nothing less than a horrible natural disaster. It struck mainly the island of Kauai in the summer of 1992, leaving behind a path of destruction and caused almost $2 billion in damage. It was the most powerful storm ever to hit the Hawaiian Islands in recorded history, becoming a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds up to 145 mph.

Iniki also inadvertently affected Kauai in two interesting ways.

The Garden Isle is known for its reddish earth. The iron oxide in it literally rusts from the prodigious rainfall that typically befalls Kauai. The soil is responsible for giving Waimea Canyon its distinctive color. In fact, waimea in Hawaiian means ‘reddish water.’

waimea canyon

The rust can perniciously and permanently stain furniture and carpeting. For that very reason, the townhome where we were staying asked guests to remove their shoes before entering. The soil can also tarnish clothing, as a silk screen company discovered when its inventory of white T-shirts was ruined by Iniki. But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Shrugging its shoulders, the company decided to use the red dirt as a dye. The shirts became an instant success, the company now called Red Dirt Shirts. Would you believe that one bucket of dirt is enough to ‘stain’ 500 shirts?

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Visitors will see these shirts all over Kauai.

That’s not all they’ll see. Strange as it seems, there are wild roosters and hens all over the place—yes, feral chickens. Brightly colored, they make you wonder where they came from. When Iniki laid waste to Kauai, it tore apart the island’s chicken coops and loosed the birds into the wild. They’ve been proliferating ever since, now numbering in the thousands. Generally, islanders ignore them though some regard them as pests. Others have suggested that the chicken be Kauai’s ‘official’ bird. If nothing else, they feast on Kauai’s giant centipedes about whose sting famous island tour book author Andrew Doughty writes in The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: “You won’t die (but might wish you had.)”

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Waimea Canyon (Waimea, HI)

waimea canyon

(click to enlarge)

I know I was bowled over when I first laid eyes on Waimea Canyon more years ago than I care to count. I was no less impressed when I saw it again yesterday. Nicknamed Grand Canyon of the Pacific for obvious reasons, it is a testament to the power of water erosion and faulting. The view above is from the Lookout in Waimea Canyon State Park. Waipo’o Falls can be seen at the extreme left.

The Tree Tunnel of Koloa (Kauai, HI)

This one-mile-long canopy of eucalyptus trees lines Maluhia Road north of Koloa and Poipu, a beautiful grand entrance to Kauai’s South Shore.

Mosquito ‘Fever’ in Hawaii

I’m not surprised, but it was inevitable that public fear of the Zika virus has caused heightened fear of dengue fever in Hawaii. I saw a poster (below) at Lihue airport in Kauai yesterday that gave pointers on how to eliminate mosquitoes to protect against dengue, transmitted in Hawaii by the two mosquito species that transmit Zika. Like Zika, dengue has been around for a very long time. Alarming also is that there has been a recent outbreak of dengue on the Big Island.

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(Image from

Botanical Ordnance: Cannonball Tree

A more fascinating tree I’ve never come across. It’s more commonly known as the cannonball tree because its russet-colored fruits are shaped like and almost as heavy as cannonballs and give off an explosive sound when they fall and hit the ground. The fruit pulp inside is bluish-gray and attracts wild animals which eat the seeds that get propagated through droppings. The balls are attached to woody extrusions from the trunk. In big clusters around the tree trunk, they look odd.

The other surprise is the strangely beautiful flower. The petals have a magenta and peach color. Some of the stamens, blue-violet with yellow tips, look like sea anemone tentacles that protrude from the tip of a hood-like structure, while less showy and shorter stamens line the inside in a ring pattern. Unlike the fruit pulp which give off a stench, the flower has a pleasant perfumy aroma.

For obvious reasons, these trees are generally not planted where people are expected to be walking below. I saw this specimen growing in Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu and another one at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Papaikou near Hilo.

Both fruit and flowers grow from woody appendages

Both fruit and flowers grow from woody appendages

Fallen cannonball tree fruit

Fallen cannonball tree fruit

Honolulu Aquarium’s Giant Clams

As aquariums go, Honolulu’s in Waikiki may be small, but it is no less interesting than others twice its size. It has several captivating specimens, all of which inhabit the Pacific Ocean. The collection includes several species of giant clams (Tridacna gigas). When I first saw one there, I couldn’t tell it was a clam. I was looking for colossal shells when I should have focused my attention on what was there. All I could see was the beautiful mantle, which is actually a colony of single-celled algae (zooxanthellae) that do the job of feeding the mollusk through photosynthesis. Amazingly, the clams need no additional food to stay alive. The mantle looks like a huge, purplish cloud ear fungus. That these algae can organize themselves into this amazing organism is beyond belief.

Equally splendid was the exhibit for syngnathids, the fish family to which seahorses belong. While seahorses are always fun to watch, other members of the family in tanks were more fascinating, probably because they’re rare. I’d never seen seadragons before. Leafy seadragons look like floating seaweed, which as it happens is part of their camouflage. The species in the aquarium is the weedy seadragon, which is not as “leafy.” Pipefish look like small, colorful cousins of eels with pointed snouts. I may have been witnessing a mating ritual where a pair of them seemed to be involved in a courtship dance.

Weedy seadragons

Weedy seadragons



Tropical Fruit Bowl

At the KCC Saturday Farmers Market in Honolulu, we wanted to buy fresh fruit. Even an apple banana or papaya would have sufficed. But we hit the jackpot at a stand that was selling tropical fruits. There were lots of nicely arranged fruit. What struck my eye were plastic tubs of mixed, cut-up fruit, none of which I had ever eaten before. The one I selected consisted of lum kai mango, dragon fruit, Hong Kong pink guava, Egyptian pear guava and mamey sapote. Whether all were grown in Hawaii, I can’t say, but I can say we enjoyed them for breakfast on the following day. They were exotic, intensely flavorful, and full of edible seeds—an experience.