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Viewing the Mysterious Hawaiian Petroglyphs

May 22, 1988|LYNNE MULLER | Muller is a Pittsburgh free-lance writer and photographer

Placards say that a 19th-Century missionary, the Rev. Lorenzo Lyons, witnessed a procession of spirits on the trail, and that night marchers still tread the path at certain times of the year. As at Puuloa, it is kapu to leave the trail here; there's real danger of being struck by errant golf balls.

On Lanai, finding the petroglyph sites is a challenge. Lanai has only 20 miles of paved roads, no traffic lights and one 10-room hotel, although two more are scheduled to open late this year. Not all Lanaians are happy about it.

Residents Worried

We rented a Jeep, necessary for sightseeing, from Oshiro's, and asked directions to the Luahiwa Field. Only after he was convinced that we wanted to do nothing but see and photograph the petroglyphs, a man there gave us instructions.

Residents want to keep the petroglyphs safe for more generations; little remains of Hawaiian history--masks, headdresses and tapa cloths--have not survived. Many petroglyphs have been defaced by vandals, careless people doing rubbings, or photographers trying to make the images stand out more clearly.

All roads radiate from Lanai City, and we lurched south on Road 441 through pineapple fields. Three miles, two hours and one breakdown later, covered with red dust, we found the petroglyphs.

They are slightly south of a water tower on the side of a steep hill, above red roads crisscrossing at different levels.

We struggled through tall grass, grabbing handfuls of it for support, and stumbled across 20 boulders getting up the hill.

Glyphs Are on Boulders

Unlike the lava carvings of the Big Island, all Lanai's glyphs are on boulders. We saw representations of dogs, horses, an outrigger canoe and a man with a gun.

The Kukui Point glyphs are easier to find, but there's a lot of rough riding between them and Lanai City. We took Route 44 northeast over the dry hills, where there is a wonderful view of Molokai seven miles away, to Shipwreck Beach.

There we turned left on a gut-wrenching dirt trail to the remains of an old lighthouse. About 100 yards farther on are several boulders, partly hidden by bushes. Here are carvings of chickens, dogs and bird-men, which may represent supernatural beings or royalty wearing feathered helmets.

The petroglyphs in Nuuanu Memorial Park just north of Honolulu should be among the most accessible in the Islands, but mosquitoes and a renegade taxi driver had us longing for the broken-down Jeep in Lanai's isolated pineapple fields.

Nuuanu Park, site of a Japanese cemetery with a magnificent pagoda, is well-known on Oahu, but we showed the driver a map and pointed to our destination. He insisted we really wanted Queen's Park, farther north.

Firmly, we told him to exit just past the pagoda. "You don't want to go there," he said, turning around in his seat as we passed the pagoda going 75 m.p.h. He was astonished when we asked him to go back.

Through the Gates

"Tourists go to Queen's Park!" he yelled, exasperated. Telling him to turn off his meter finally did the trick.

We walked through the cemetery gates and down the hill to the lush banks of an idyllic stream. At the base of the cliff in a small cave protected by an iron gate were two muscled men and a dog. Then swarms of mosquitoes attacked.

My mana had run out.

I nursed my bites while my family slid down another slope directly below the cemetery to see dogs and human figures as large as a foot across, carved on basalt boulders.

Here too all was quiet and peaceful, even on the outskirts of Hawaii's largest city. There was only a faint hum from the distant traffic. Or was it the mosquitoes?

For more information, contact Hawaii Visitors Bureau, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90010, phone (213) 385-5301.

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