MAHAULEPU -- In May and June of 1986, Chuck Blay hiked most of
Kauai's 111-mile perimeter to study the geology and sedimentology
of the shoreline.
A self-described naturalist with a doctorate in geology, Blay
initially was interested in the island's beaches.
However, he soon became intrigued by the variation of the
shoreline in different parts of the island.
What particularly struck him were the lithified sand dunes here
in southern Kauai, some rising 80 feet above the rocky coast.
Delving into research, Blay had learned that the dunes record the
history of sea level changes over the past 350,000 years.
For him, that was the beginning of what has become an enduring
fascination with the area.
Blay moved to Kauai in 1995 after a 25-year career as a teacher,
researcher and consultant in Indonesia, Ecuador and throughout the
The following year, he founded The Edge of Kauai Investigations
(TEOK) and its subsidiary, Kauai Nature Tours, which offers
educational hikes to magnificent wilderness regions such as
Mahaulepu, which Blay regards as one of the "shining jewels of
Kauai's natural wonders."
Here, the aquamarine ocean provides a brilliant contrast to the
ocher-limestone cliffs and ledges that border it. Patches of
vegetation -- including beach naupaka, ilima, akulikuli,
pohinahina, pohuehue, pau-o-Hiiaka, Australian pine, kiawe and
lantana -- brighten black lava and strips of cream-colored
"The main thing [Kauai Nature Tours] offers is interpretation of
the natural history and cultural past of the areas where we take
people," Blay said. "We don't do van tours; we hike. Hiking enables
you to touch, smell, hear, even taste the environment in addition
to seeing it. There is nothing like being face-to-face with
Because Mahaulepu lies smack-dab in Hawaii's trade-wind belt, it
is refreshed by warm, moist breezes most of the year. Old-timers
say this is where Kauai takes its breath.
Kauai Nature Tours' Mahaulepu Coast Nature Walk covers the
2.5-mile stretch from Keoneloa (Shipwreck) Beach to Kawailoa
According to Blay, this area harbors a trove of historical,
geological and archaeological treasures.
The region's geological history is documented by its dramatic
sand dunes; Kauai's oldest volcanic rocks (more than 5.1 million
years old), which make up the base of Haupu Ridge; and lava flows
and cinder and spatter cones estimated to be 250,000 to 1.5 million
Hawaii's largest limestone sinkhole, Makauwahi, is located in
the oldest of the lithified dunes. The sediments of that sinkhole,
which have been excavated by scientists from New York's Fordham
University and the Smithsonian Institution, reveal a 9,000-year
"The most amazing aspect of that study, which is ongoing, is
that it provides a record of the character of the natural
environment -- flora, fauna -- before humans discovered Hawaii, and
then a detailed account of the impact of the first human
occupants," Blay said.
"This is one of only a handful of such localities in the world
that displays such a record, and it doesn't paint a pretty
picture," he added.
Numerous land snails and plant and bird species disappeared
within tens to a few hundreds of years after the arrival of the
first Polynesian voyagers to Mahaulepu around the year 800.
"I don't blame the first settlers for the impact; they were just
humans doing what they needed to do to survive," said Blay. "But
that's why we need to learn how to better coexist with our
Archaeological and anthropological history is represented by
rock walls and platforms, stone fence lines, sand-dune burial sites
and mounds of boulders that likely are remnants of houses and
The largest concentration of petroglyphs on Kauai is located
along the Mahaulepu shoreline, albeit on slabs that are buried
beneath several feet of sand most of the time.
Book it: Kauai Nature Tours
Place: Pick-up in the Poipu area or meet at Poipu Beach
Days: Available upon request.
Time: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Cost: $87 for adults, $54 for children ages 6
through 12. Tour includes bottled water and lunch.
Phone: (808) 742-8305 on Kauai or toll-free at
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