Laupahoehoe Point. A Study in Textures

Beneath the cliffs of the Hamakua Coast on the northeast side of the Big Island of Hawaii is Laupahoehoe Point, today a public park but in years gone by, the location of a small but thriving township.   Laupahoehoe means “leaf of pahoehoe lava” which is fitting as this small peninsula owes its existence to volcanic activity (indeed that’s true of the Hawaiian Islands more broadly).

A study in textures

It is a landscape of rocky beaches constantly being pounded by the sea,  with trees (ironwoods I believe) tenaciously holding on to the rocky ground.    Whilst the area is scenic in a classic sense,  it was the details in the landscape that caught my eye (I admit to being a sucker for such subject matter).     The combination of rocks,  timber,  bark and fallen pine needle-like foliage makes for an interesting study in textures.

Image processing

In the first image, I took some liberties with the colour values giving a slight boost to colour saturation and vibrancy in Lightroom but then warming the whole image up with the toning function.       I set both the highlight and shadow toning to 40 points at a saturation of 20%,  an effect that I’ve used repeatedly of late so I’ve now saved it as a develop module preset.   In addition to the toning,  I used a graduated filter to lighten the left third of the image which originally was too dark for my taste.

Timber and rocks, Lauapahoehoe Point, Hawaii. The tree roots are embedded in the rocks and in some cases the rocks are embedded in the timber of the tree trunks.
Tree Trunk and Rocks, Laupahoehoe Point, Hawaii.
Rocky Beach, Laupahoehoe Point, Hawaii. The beach consists predominately of lava rocks, many of them worn smooth by the constant action of the sea.

Recovering highlights

Rocks,  vegetation and the sea,  a constant battle between natural elements.    The above picture provided some processing challenges mostly related to the huge contrast range in the original image.    Highlight recovery was required to get some detail back into the foaming white wave,  localized exposure adjustment and brightening were required in order to get some detail back into the shaded cliff faces.  The difference between the original and the finished image was over 4 stops.

Beach at Laupahoehoe Point, Hawaii.
Laupahoehoe Point.

April Fool’s day 1946

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that the location was once the site of a thriving township but not today.    On April Fool’s day 1946 an earthquake near the Aleutian Islands triggered a tsunami that struck the coast of the Big Island killing some 159 people in the town of Hilo and dozens more at other points along the coast.    The township of Laupahoehoe was destroyed with heavy loss of life.   There appears to be some conflict on the actual numbers lost at Laupahoehoe,  some sources put the figure at 24 some at 35.   At least 20 people were swept out to sea and their bodies never recovered.    Many who died were children on their way to school.    One survivor recounted years later that on the fateful morning,  his school friends exclaimed that there was “no water in the ocean”.    He dismissed the claim believing it to be an April Fool’s Day joke.      At the time of the incident, there was no warning of the impending disaster.   Following the incident,  the town of Laupahoehoe was relocated to higher ground and the Tsunami Warning System was established.

Tsunami warnings

2 days after visiting this location I was in the town of Hilo on the east coast of the Big Island when the Tsunami warning sirens were activated.   I was in my hotel room at the time and unsure as to whether there was in fact a true emergency.   Wandering downstairs to the reception desk to enquire,  I was rather nonchalantly informed that,  yes,  the town of Hilo was being evacuated due to a reported earthquake off Japan with a resultant tsunami expected to hit the Hawaiian Islands.    Fortunately,  given the distance from Japan to Hawaii there were several hours available before the wave hit.    It was quite an eerie experience,  packing everything into the hire car and driving to higher ground,  then spending the entire night sitting in the car in the carpark outside Walmart listening to updates on the radio.    It was known/estimated down to the minute when the wave would hit and it was a case of waiting and counting down.

Given the distance from the epicentre and the resultant early warning,  I don’t believe there were any fatalities in Hawaii,  and I was certainly never in danger,  merely inconvenienced.   Nothing like the horror experienced by the people in Japan.  It did however make me far more mindful of the possibilities.    A few days later I was driving along a coastal road on the island of Kaua’i.  The road had the beach along one side and steep hills and cliffs along the other.    Driving along this road for about one hour I thought,  if there were to be such an event here,  there would be insufficient time to turn and escape back along the road.   It occurred to me that the only prospect would be to find a driveway to a private property on one of the steep hillsides,  drive as far as possible up it and then get out and keep walking uphill.   Such thoughts would never have occurred to me prior to those events.

Media for entertainment, not news.

The other thing that the episode impressed upon me was the lack of credibility of many news broadcasting services,  be they television,  radio, newspapers or other.    Whilst sitting in that Walmart carpark listening to the countdown on the radio at 3 o’clock in the morning,  it was reported over the local radio station (which did an excellent job of keeping people updated) that cable television news services in the USA were running alarmist stories that Hawaii had been “smashed by the tsunami”.    Those reports were being broadcast well over an hour before the first wave got to any of the Hawaiian Islands!    I learnt long ago to treat anything reported in the media with scepticism,  this experience simply reinforced that attitude.    ~KD.