Niihau island

NIIHAU is the westernmost and seventh largest of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands in the US state of Hawaii.  The Island is about 4.9 million years old, making it, geologically, younger than the 5-million-year-old neighbouring island of KAUA’I.  NIIHAU consists of one extinct volcano that had a large landslide to the east.


The Island is relatively arid and because it lies in the rain shadow of Kaua’i and lacks the elevation needed to catch significant amounts of trade wind rainfall, Niihau therefore, depends for its rain on winter KONA storms, when more northerly weather systems intrude into the region.  As such, the Island is subject to long periods of drought.  Historical droughts have been recorded several times, one in 1792 by Captain James Cook’s former junior officer George Vancouver, who had been told that the people of Niihau had abandoned the island because of a severe drought and had moved to Kaua’i to escape famine.

Niihau island

As an arid island, Niihau was barren of trees for centuries  ——– Captain James Cook reported it ‘treeless’ in 1778.  Aubrey Robinson, grandfather of current owners Bruce and Keith Robinson, planted 10,000 trees per year during much of his ownership of the island.  Robinson’s afforestation efforts increased rainfall in the dry climate.  Island co-owner, Keith Robinson, a noted conservationist, preserved and documented many of Niihau’s natural plant resources.  The Island is designated as a critical habitat for the OLULU, an endemic and endangered species of Hawaiian LOBELIOID.  AYLMER ROBINSON, a Pritchard palm tree, named for Keith’s uncle Aylmer Robinson, is an endangered  species native to Niihau.


Several bird species thrive on Niihau.  Intermittent PLAYA lakes on the Island provide the KOLOA MAOLI (Hawaiian duck).  The critically endangered MONACHUS SCHAUINSLANDI (Hawaiian monk seal) is found in high numbers on Niihau’s shores.  Niihau’s secluded shoreline offers them a safe haven from habitat encroachments.  “Conditions here are better than the Government refuges of the North western Hawaiian Islands,” according to Robinson.  When the Robinsons originally purchased Niihau, no monk seals were present, because they lived in the north-western part of the Hawaiian Island Chain (NECKER & MIDWAY Islands).  They have been relocated to the main Hawaiian Island Chain by NOAA Fisheries over the past 30 years, and some have found homes on Niihau.

Big game herds, imported from stock on MOLOKA’I RANCH in recent years, roam Niihau’s forests and flatlands.  Eland and Aoudad are abundant, along with Oryxes, wild boars and feral sheep.  These big game herds provide income from Hunting Safari Tourism.

Niihau island Hawaiian seal

Approximately 80% of Niihau’s income comes from a small Navy Installation atop 1,300ft-high cliffs.  Remote-controlled tracking devices are used for testing and training with Kaua’i’s Pacific missile Range Facility.  Modern missile defence tests are conducted at the site for the US and its Allies.  The Installation brings in millions of dollars a year and provides the Island with a stable economic base, without the complexity of tourism or industrial development.  The sale of shells and shell jewellery is an additional source of income.  Niihau’s beaches are known for their PUPU (tiny shells) that wash onto shore during winter months.

Niihau island ranch sheep

Species used for shell leis include Momi, Laiki or rice shells and Kahelelani.  The shells and jewellery are so popular that Governor linda Lingle signed a Bill in 2004, to protect Lei POPO O NIIHAU from counterfeiting.  A single intricate Niihau shell lei can sell for 1000s of dollars.

Many residents of Niihau were once employees of Niihau Ranch, farming cattle and sheep until the Robinsons shut down the operation in 1999.  It had not been profitable for most of the 20th century.  Honey cultivation was also no longer viable by 1999.  KIAWE Charcoal was once a large-scale export, but aggressive Mexican price competition ended that as well.  Mullet Farming has been popular in Niihau, with ponds and lakes stocked with baby mullet which reach 9 to 10 pound apiece before being harvested and sold on Kaua’i and O’ahu.
Niihau’s owners have offered half-day helicopter and beach tours of the Island since 1987, although contact with residents is avoided and no accommodations exist.  Since 1992, Hunting Safaris provide income via tourists who pay to visit the Island to hunt eland, aoudad and oryx, as well as wild sheep and boars.  Any meat the hunters do not take with them is given to the village.

World’s stunning volcanoes

With fiery molten channels that stretch far below the surface, volcanoes connect us to the very core of the Earth.  Active or dormant —— they resonate with an energy and beauty beyond that of mere mountains.  Their violent origins also tend to create “stunning natural landscapes” that attract sightseers from around the world.


SANTORINI, Greece :  Best known for the stark white-painted buildings that cling to is multi-coloured cliffs, this Greek island is the remnant of a VOLCANIC CALDERA, formed around 1600BC, when one of the largest eruptions, in recorded history, wiped out most of the island, including some of the original settlements.. Today, Santorini attracts visitors who are eager to admire what’s left.  To feel how majestic it is, you have to sail inside (the CALDERA) and stand at a balcony on the edge of the cliffs at sunset.  In particular, visitors should seek out the “uninhabited” NEA KAMENI which lies within the flooded SANTORINI CALDERA.  The Caldera is itself a kind of ugly black-brown blob in the centre of a picturesque, truly gorgeous caldera.

Mount Mayon

MOUNT MAYON’S steep cone is built from many layers of lava flows.  The “perfect hyperbolic shape underlines (its) threatening posture.  The ash and lave flows are just the “cherry on the top”.


MOUNT KILIMANJARO & NGORON CRATER, Tanzania :  MOUNT KILIMANJARO, at its dizzying height of 5,895m, is Africa’s tallest mountain, an also the Continent’s tallest volcano.  It is unique in the fact that it has 3 “volcanic cones”


MAMENZI & SHIRA (both extinct) and the highest one KIBO which is still active and lets off occasional steam and gases.  NGORON CRATER, the world’s largest crater used to be a towering peak (4,500-4,800m tall) until it collapsed on itself. Today it is 22.5km in diameter and 610m deep —— a unique environment for local wildlife.  Waterfalls coming down the caldera irrigate green pastures and fill a lake, at the bottom, full of flamingos and a huge fauna on its shores : lion, hippos, buffalos, zebra, gnus and rhinos.

Mount Kelimutu

MOUNT KELIMUTU, Indonesia :  It’s 3 “mysterious crater lakes” attract both scientists and visitors to the island of FLORES in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.  One lake is “emerald green”, another “dark red” and the third “pitch black.”  Scientists say the colours come from the chemical reaction that occurs when the “volcanic gases” meet the “lake’s minerals.”  The eeriness, surrounding the lakes, which according to lore is a “reservoir of souls” remains, despite the scientific explanation of the colours.

Mount Kilauea

KILAUEA & MAUNA KEA, Hawaii :  The youngest volcano, in Hawaii —— KILAUEA, has been erupting continuously since 1983, so much so that the lave falls straight into the sea, creating fantastic forms of lack rocks and insane smoke clouds.  At the other end of the spectrum, MAUNA KEA, is around 1 million years old.  It sits dormant, still impressing with its sheer size rising 4,205m from the sea.  It is both incredibly beautiful and home to secret treasures, including a “sacred frozen lake” near the summit, accessible only by a 6-mile, 10-hour round trip.  You can find snow in the winter and almost zero crowds.


MOUNT FUJI, Japan :  Perhaps the world’s most famous symmetrical strato-volcano is Japan’s MOUNT FUJI, which has served as a muse for many artistic creations through the centuries.  It is the “national symbol” of Japan —–snow-capped, looming in the distance, cherry blossoms in the forefront.  Not only is the mountain itself beautiful and mysterious, but the AOKIGAHARA forest on the north-west base of the mountain also inspires the imagination, as many local folk tales describe the demons and goblins that haunt within..  At least, the mountain itself remains a safe haven ——- the low-risk active volcano hasn’t erupted since 1707.  Its symmetrical cone serves as a dramatic backdrop to Tokyo.


Opah fish

OPAHS, also commonly known as moonfish, sunfish, kingfish red-fin ocean pan and Jerusalem haddock, are large, colourful, deep-bodied PELAGIC LAMPRIFORM fishes, from the family LAMPRIDIDAE, from the Greek “LAMPRID” meaning “brilliant” or “clear.”
OPAHS are frequently caught as “by-catch” in many long-line tuna fisheries.  OPAH is becoming increasingly popular in seafood markets.  It first became popular as a “sushi” and “sashimi” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The meat is lightly flavoured and lends itself well to a variety of preparations, principally SAUTE.  OPAH flesh has a light-ping to orange colour, but turns white when cooked.  It is popular in Hawaii, especially in restaurants.  An average of 35% of an OPAH’S weight is consumable, with the remaining 65% being bones and thick skin.
OPAHS are deeply-keeled, compressed, discoid fish with conspicuous colouration (deep red-orange grading to rosy on the belly), with white spots covering the flanks.  Both the “median” and “paired” fins are a bright “vermilion”.  The large eyes stand out, as well, ringed with golden yellow.  The body is covered in minute “cycloid scales” and its silvery, iridescent guanine coating is easily abraded.  OPAHS have enlarged pelvic fins with about 14-17 rays, which distinguish them from superficially similar CARANGIDS.  The snout is pointed and the mouth small and toothless.


They are the first fish discovered to be “completely warm-blooded”.  Most fish have body temperatures that match the surrounding water.  A small number of them can warm specific parts of their bodies.  Swordfish, marlins and sailfish can, temporarily heat their eyes and brains, sharpening their vision when pursuing prey.  Tuna and some sharks, including the mako and the great white, can do the same with their swimming muscles, going into “turbo mode” when they need to.  But, none of these can heat their “entire bodies”.  Their hearts and vital organs stay at “ambient temperature”, so, while they can hunt in deep, cold waters, they must regularly return, to the surface, to warm their innards.  The OPAH as no such problem.  It can “consistently” keep its entire body around 5 degrees Celsius warmer than its environment.  When an OPAH was dissected, it was discovered that the gills contained a “beautiful and intricate tangle of red and blue blood vessels called RETIA MIRABILIA, Latin for “wonderful nets” —- and they are the secret behind the “heating system” of the OPAH.
The OPAH’S “wonderful nets” are in its gills, and that makes all the difference.  The blood vessels carrying “warm” blood from heart to gills flows next to those carrying “cold” blood from the gills to the rest of the body, warming them up.  So, while a tuna or shark might isolate its “warm muscles” from the rest of its “cold body”, the OPAH “flips this arrangement”.  It “isolates” the “cold bits” (the gills) from everything else.  The OPAH’S brain is warm. Its muscles are warm.  And, perhaps, most importantly, its heart is warm —— A FIRST FOR A FISH..  That is why OPAH can stay deep down, because they are “specialised” for living deeper than other predators.

Opah steak

There’s nothing about OPAH that says “fast-moving predator”.  Tuna, sharks and swordfish are “fast-moving predators” and accordingly, their bodies look like “streamlined torpedoes”.  By contrast, the OPAH looks like a “big, startled Frisbee”, with thin red fins stuck on “as an afterthought”.  It is pretty (silver body and red fins) and big(up to 2 metres long), but is it fast ?  It was discovered that the OPAH is an “active predator” and it has a trait that no other fish possesses ——- IT IS WARM-BLOODED.  They are able to maintain their eyes and brain at 2 degrees Celsius warmer than their bodies, a phenomenon called “cranial endothermy”.  This may allow their eyes and brains to continue functioning during deep dives (50-400m) under water. ———–Squids and krill make up the bulk of the OPAH diet.  Their primary predators, aside from humans are large pelagic sharks.  They are believed to have a low population resilience.
The OPAH is a “comically beautiful fish” ———— AS BIG AS A CAR TIRE & SHAPED LIKE ONE.

Natural wonders in the USA

There are many natural wonders in the United States, but I will note down a few of them.
(1) CALIFORNIA : Land of Giants : Some Redwood trees tower higher than300ft. and stand taller than a 30-floor building.  There are 30 Parks in the 132,000-acre Redwood National & State Park system.  300 mls, north of San Francisco, lies a 32-mile stretch of road called AVENUE of the GIANTS, filled with more than 50,000 acres of Redwood trees, some of which have been proud sentinels for 2000 yrs.
(2) ALASKA: Ice on the move : 100,000 glaciers are thinning Johns Hopkins and Margerie glaciers are advancing.
(3) ARIZONA : Grand Canyon : World’s largest canyon, stretches 277 mls long, 18 mls wide and a mile deep.
(4) ARKANSAS : Crater of Diamonds : State Park —It birthed the nation’s largest diamond —-40.23 carat Uncle Sam.  37-acre search field sits on top of a volcanic pipe, and is the only public site in the world, where you can dig for diamonds, to your heart’s content.
(5) ALABAMA : —Wild River : Sunny Gulf Coast beaches.
Rocky Mountain National Park
(6) COLORADO : The Highest Ground : More than 60 peaks, stand higher than 12,000 ft in Colorado’s ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK.  Altitudes range from 7,500 ft to more than 14,000 ft.
(8) DELAWARE : Migration Station : Hook National Wildlife Refuge is the resort of choice for discerning waterfowl.  More than 150,000 ducks and geese stop here in October and November, as they migrate between their homes.
(9) FLORIDA : Gator Central : Visit Shark Valley, in Everglades National Park, to see alligators.
(10) GEORGIA : Untamed Island : Everything about Cumberland Island is wild.  Georgia’s largest barrier island, is home to 9,800 acres of wilderness.  Feral Horses are its most famous inhabitants, and the island, is also, home to alligators.  Largely undeveloped, the island has fewer than40 habitable residences, a historic inn and an African Baptist Church, dating back to the late 19th Century.  Late John F. Kennedy, Jr and Carolyn Bessette were married there in 1996.
(11) HAWAII : Fire & Water : The volcanic action in Hawaii is 70 million in the works, and is responsible for creating the Hawaiian Islands.  Two, of the world’s most active volcanoes, KILAUEA & MAUNA LOA, are located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  From the sea floor, Mauna Loa climbs 30,000ft, making it taller than Mount Everest.  Mauna Loa is the world’s largest Volcano.  Kilauea has been erupting regularly, since 1983, spewing molten lava, that has added more than 550acres of new land to the BIG ISLAND.  Watching glowing lava slither into he pacific Ocean, at night, creating clouds of steam, on contact, is a sight you won’t forget.
(12) IDAHO : Saw-tooth Solitude : Saw-tooth range, in Idaho’s mid-section packs plenty of adventure. A jagged skyline, of 50 spiky peaks, over 10,000ft high, gives the range its name.