A Mimosa-Replacing, Hawaiian Beer for Breakfast

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Beer drinkers get the short end of the stick when it comes to breakfast and brunch. The other weekend, I cracked a beer at 10 a.m. and my friend, wielding a mimosa, looked at me funny. Apparently it’s okay to drink champagne or vodka in the morning, but not beer?

If that’s true, then why do they make coffee and fruit beers? Seriously, many beers taste great in the morning, and people hung up on what time the clock tells are missing out on a chance to expand their horizons.

My current favorite Hawai‘i-brewed choice is one you can find in most major grocery stores on O‘ahu: the Pineapple Mana Wheat from Maui Brewing Co. It explodes with pineapple and fruit flavor and is refreshing like a tropical juice blend, going down smooth and offering the kind of thirst-quenching power you want first thing in the morning.

In terms of taste and style, it’s basically the beer-drinker’s mimosa. The flavor of the beer mirrors the sweetness and drinkability of the juice, and the bubbles are swapped out for beer suds, providing the same mouthfeel of carbonation. Overall it is less tart/acidic and, in my opinion, finishes cleaner.

And like the mimosa, it tastes like it’s good for you, which goes a long way for morning morale.

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How to Make An Old-School Seated Coconut Scraper

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 Having a bench-style grater on hand makes shaving coconuts efficient and relaxing.

The Thai are often credited in historical explanations of the coconut grater, attributing its invention – or at least its gained popularity – to the use within kitchens across the country. To be sure, these tools were used, in some form, by all people across Asia and Polynesia. Today, they come in all different versions, from simple, handheld scrapers to more mechanical, modern graters.

Someone – maybe a Thai, maybe someone else – decided that they could be much more efficient, and certainly more comfortable, if they use a seated, bench-style grater to clean out coconuts. Ultimately, it became one of the more popular styles, and for anyone that’s ever cleaned a coconut with a handheld tool, one use is sure to show why.

It’s a simple concept. A person sits on what is essentially a small bench, and the physical, metal grater is fastened to the edge of that same bench, which comes to a point at the end. The user sits astride the bench and grates the coconut, using the hard brown shell as protection from the sharp metal teeth. The shredded coconut drops into a bowl below the grater.

There’s a beautiful sense of simplicity to the device that makes it as much of a home decor item as it does a useful tool. They are very straightforward to make, even for the mechanically challenged. Here, we provide instructions, along with a quick-and-easy coconut milk recipe. Let the (green) curry cookoffs begin.

Step-by-Step Instructions to Build a Seated Coconut Scraper

1. Buy a coconut grater, like the one pictured. Amazon sells them for less than $5. You can look for them in Chinatown or general stores, but they are hard to find.

2. Select and purchase wood. The higher quality you use, the more stable (and good looking) your scraper will be. A one-by-six inch board is sufficient for the bench.

3. Cut the 3 pieces of wood – the top bench and two legs – to the desired length. Usually, two feet is a comfortable bench length. The height of the legs depends on your measurements.

4. Cut the bench board so that it tapers down to a point at one end. The width of the point should be the same size as the width of the metal grater. You can be creative in designing how the bench tapers down to the point. If you don’t own or have access to a saw, ask your local hardware store to cut it for you.

5. Screw the legs into the bench. Screw the grater onto the pointed edge of the bench. Add fasteners as needed for stability.

6. Add flair to your bench with carvings or design details. Get shaving.

Quick and Easy: How to Make Homemade Coconut Milk

1. Shave coconut.
2. Measure out 2 cups of water for every cup of coconut shavings.
3. Bring water to the brink of boil. Remove from heat and pour into blender.
4. Add coconut shavings to water. Let it steep for a few minutes.
5. Blend shavings and water on high for 2-3 minutes.
6. Strain mixture with a cheesecloth.
7. Use immediately or refrigerate. The coconut milk will separate after a night in the fridge. This is normal. Let it reach room temperature and stir before using.

Volcanic Eruption: On the Front Lines at Kilauea Military Camp

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Last week, I had the chance to stay at Kilauea Military Camp in Volcanoes National Park. It’s not a base, it’s a recreation center built by the military as a leisure-stay facility for its members on leave. Generally, it’s not open to the public – only active and retired military can stay. But there are a few loopholes. I’m here with a group tour, which was able to arrange an overnight as part of the Road Scholars Program.

I’m actually a guide on the tour, not a guest. Guiding has long been an interest of mine – partly stemming from the investigative story I did on guides in the Grand Canyon – and I sought out the opportunity to do it part-time in 2018. I see it as travel writing in person. I’m able to directly interact with the guests, explain things that interest me, and help them learn, explore, and experience.

Kilauea Military Camp is set up like a small village. It has the feel of a campus, a central cafeteria, bar, and game room within a short stroll of the cottages. As the crow flies, it is only two or three miles from Halemaumau Crater. At night, I can see the smoke from campus, the fiery lava exhaling like a chimney next door. It feels like I’m on the front lines or something, with an eerie sense of impending doom. Its looming presence, its power, its tinted-red color, humble me as I walk in its shadow.

Next door, beside the Visitor Center and the Jagger Museum, is the source of the smoke:

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Halemaumau Crater. Photo by Ryan Popiel.

Halemaumau Crater is known for its lava lake shown above. It’s been there since 2008, part of Kilauea’s ongoing 35-year eruption that began back in 1983. When you visit at night, you can catch glimpses of splattering lava (bring binoculars if you have them) and learn about the history and observation of the volcano at the Jagger Museum.

As for a stay at Kilauea Military Camp, you’ll have to take my tour.

The Softer Side of Haleakalā

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Coastal campsite at Kīpahulu in Haleakalā National Park.

Burning sunrises. Barren landscapes. Massive basins. These are the images that come to mind for most people, who see Haleakalā from near its summit. But I had not thought about those things in some time. At my campsite at Kīpahulu, each and every rock was smothered in bright, green vegetation, very much alive and well and welcoming.

The road to Hāna has been well-traveled for a long time, and more recently, tourists have taken to driving the complete circle, continuing south on Highway 360 until it turns into 31 – the Pi‘ilani Highway – to get back to the middle of Maui. This has made the backside of Haleakalā National Park and the Kīpahulu Reserve a hot spot of sorts, heavily visited considering its remoteness.

I myself have driven this route several times, and I won’t knock it – it’s a spectacular drive. Yet on this most recent adventure, I craved more. With all the drive-by tourism happening, what was it like to stay out there, to wake up there? I found this typically busy area to be a whole new world at off hours. Almost eerie, like visiting a school when class is not in session, but in a good way.

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Many of the hikes out there, like the bamboo forest at the beginning of the Pīpīwai Trail – can get crowded. But wake up at sunrise, put on your shoes, and wander to the trailhead? I was in and out and back at my tent for coffee before I saw another person hit the trail. To stand amongst the tall trees, observing the way the individual bamboo stalks stood together to form one unit, with not another soul in sight, was a special thing. No one taking pictures. No one talking. No one to share the energy with – the ultimate conversation between man and nature. I would return again for that opportunity alone.

As for the campground itself, it’s a fantastic combination of lush, green wilderness, craggy sea walls, and rhythmic ocean. Find a spot on the cliffs. Enjoy the stars. Hit the trail first thing, and absorb what it was like hundreds of years ago, before tourism.

The Rundown on Hawai‘i Lava Boat Tours

Limited Permits, Lucrative Business

Also, Unbelievably Spectacular 

This clash of the titans is a spectacle for customers and a cash cow for operators.

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A lava boat approaches the flow. Photo by Lava Ocean Tours.

I could remove my hat and glasses. The smoke that billowed into the sky was so thick that it partially blocked out the sun, diffusing its brightness and cooling its heat. In front of me was the source of the smoke: a smoldering, weeping stream of hot lava falling into the sea. I could hear the hiss of the hot meeting the cold, the water smacking into the side of the short cliffs, colliding with the lava. I could see the explosions of orange and red, the way the water turned grey from the sediment.

Down the coast, I could just barely make out the people standing on the cliff. They had walked four miles or so to get to that point of closure. There was a time when you could see the lava entering the sea from there. But not anymore. The course changed, and today they can only see the plumes of smoke rising up in the distance. For now, a boat is once again the only way to see the lava enter the sea, up close and personal.

I’m a hiker at heart, but when I learned this to be true, I decided it was a good excuse to (finally) pony up for one of the infamous lava boat tours. Sitting there near the railing, staring deep into the mesmerizing lava, floating upon the melodic sea, watching this clash of the titans, I began to understand what the fuss is all about, why demand for lava boat tours is consistently high, day in and day out.

“We don’t have to market ourselves,” one employee of a company told me.

Over the course of my tour, and in chatting with others thereafter, I also began to understand that this lava boat thing is big-time business. Take, for example, one company that runs a 49-person vessel. It charges an average of $200 per tour (prices vary slightly based on time of day), and runs four trips per day. That’s approximately 200 seats per day at $200 per seat for a gross income of $40,000 per day, or $280,000 per week. A smaller company runs a six-person boat, charging about the same per seat. If they sell out, they gross $4,800 per day, or $33,600 per week.

But the most shocking part of all this is not the big bucks — it’s the limited opportunity to get a piece of the pie. Only four permits are issued by the State to do lava tours, and those permits are valid indefinitely, meaning the humongous demand is showered upon a lucky few.

One boat captain told me that the permits are so valuable that the company recently turned down a $2 million offer for it. Because the permit has no looming expiration, the only risk is mother nature, if the lava turns off. Though it may change course, and go through periods of more or less drama, the captain said, it’s unlikely lava will stop finding its way to the sea altogether. (Although it has been known to take time off — there was a gap between the last flow in 2013 and when it reached the sea again in summer 2016).

The permit includes the right to launch commercial activity out of the Pohoiki boat ramp at Issac Hale Park. It is the only public boat launch within reasonable distance of the lava flow. From there, it’s a 30-45 minute ride to the flow, depending on the boat. Two-hour tours give customers about 30 minutes of face time with the lava.

Given the amount of money at stake, and the dramatic nature of the lava earlier this year (remember the firehose?), it should come as no surprise that many unlicensed, non-permitted tours have emerged, eager to bring unknowing tourists to the flow. Over the past year, news records show several crack downs on such vessels by the Coast Guard in an attempt to uphold the integrity of the permits and to ensure safety, including fines of up to $60,000.

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The lava meets the sea. Photo by Wake and Wander.

One person who works for one of the tour boat companies told me they got into the business by doing illegal tours “way back when.” They said tourists would approach them in the harbors and offer to pay them to go out on their fishing boats.

Illegal activity and operators is a topic that’s near and dear for me. The only other time that I’ve seen hot lava up close and personal was on a walking tour a couple years ago that turned out to be an illegal tour (An Accidental, Illegal Hike to Hot Lava, Wake and Wander Hawaii, Issue 1). It’s not a good feeling when it happens to you. But at the same time, as an outgoing traveler myself, I can understand the appeal of jumping on a local’s fishing boat, feeling like you’re getting a unique adventure.

I can also understand the frustration surrounding the limited and lasting nature of the four permits. Despite the work of the State and the Coast Guard to reduce illegal activity, a simple online search reveals that there are more than four companies offering the lava boat tours. On one hand, you blame them. They are breaking the law, end of story. On the other, can you blame them? State and the Coast Guard to reduce illegal activity, a simple online search reveals that there are more than four companies offering the lava boat tours. On one hand, you blame them. They are breaking the law, end of story. On the other, can you blame them?

Some people have suggested that more permits be given out, or that the current permits be split up. For example, instead of 4 companies making 4 trips per day, allow 16 companies to make one trip per day, so that more people can benefit and overcrowding can still be avoided. The Department of Land and Natural Resources said in order for that, or anything else, to happen, legislation would have to be passed to change the existing administrative rules. No word on what would motivate them to start the process. So far, the illegal activity hasn’t.

As we floated in front of the lava flow, the captain instructed us to reach down into the water. When I did, it felt like a hot tub. The temperature gauge on the boat read 102 degrees. The wind pushed the smoke across the sky. I could still feel the heat coming off the flow. I could still hear the hissing when the water hit the lava.

From a distance, safety seems to be straightforward: Keep back from the lava, stay out of the smoke clouds. But there have been incidents. Lava rock explosions — which aren’t exactly rare — have flung debris onto the bows of boats. Deltas have collapsed without warning. And that whimsical, magical smoke? It’s poisonous gas — sulfur dioxide. If the “vog” bothers you when it blows through the islands, imagine what a concentrated amount can do.

One benefit, in theory, of the four-permit system is that it’s easier for regulatory agencies to uphold safety standards. Training and controlling the actions of four companies is more manageable than a dozen companies, for example. People argue that the point is moot, however, so long as illegal tours are motivated to operate.

I thought a lot about the politics of lava. I find it very interesting, this whole tourism thing, and the complicated decisions that must be made. But seriously, I advise you, enjoy the perspective of the politics, but don’t let it cloud your mind. I mean, really, does someone witnessing one of the world’s greatest spectacles — hot lava pouring into the sea, creating new land, shining bright in the twilight hours — needed anything else to write home about?

As we cruised back from the flow at twilight, I let my mind focus on what was in front of me, not the boat or the crew behind me. At some point, lava battled the sea along every inch of Hawai‘i’s coastline, every inch of every island. It’s quite literally and quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for visitors and residents alike. We’re lucky to be here to see it, and whatever the future holds for the lava-boat drama, my hope is that, in the end, everyone still feels compelled to board one. That, I think, is a goal we can all agree on as travelers and adventurers.

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Lava tour at sunset. Photo by Lava Ocean Tours.

If You Go – The Rundown on Lava Boats

Only four companies have permits to launch commercial activity from the Pohoiki boat ramp and access the lava flow at Kamokuna. The permit is valid for one vessel only, but that vessel can operate multiple trips per day. Only four companies have permits to launch commercial activity from the Pohoiki boat ramp and access the lava flow at Kamokuna. The permit is valid for one vessel only, but that vessel can operate multiple trips per day.

In general, each of the four companies offers a sunrise, mid-morning, afternoon, and sunset tour time. All companies go to the same place and all companies charge approximately the same price: Between $180 and $250 depending on the time of departure. Sunrise and sunset tours are at the higher end of that range.

Boat sizes between companies vary and dictate the experience you will have. Some can be as large as 50 passengers, others as small as six. The larger boats reduce travel time and are more stable with an elevated view, good for those who are easily prone to seasickness. Smaller boats provide more individual contact with guides and put you closer to the water.

The four permitted companies are Lava Ocean Tours, Moku Nui Lava Tours, Kalapana Cultural Tours, and Hawaiian Lava Boat Tours. All offer a discount if you pay cash as well as kama‘aina and military discounts. Consider the early and late tours. Arriving at sunrise allows you to see the lava glow in the dark as it transitions into daylight. Sunset “golden hour” tours allow you to see the transition into dusk.