|Story by Jon Letman
Illustration by Rob Siemers
For Kaua‘i artist and cartographer Rob Siemers, a map is more than a piece of paper with place names and contour lines; it’s a snapshot of a land alive with forests and mountains, beaches and bays. And also history.
Over the past decade Siemers has designed and refined what are arguably the most detailed, informative and user-friendly maps of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Island in pocket atlas format, painstakingly drawing every dotted line, squiggle and curve by hand. Each map includes detailed information on recreation, historical and cultural resources, topography, watersheds, geology and of course roads in meticulously rendered panels and sub-maps. Hawaiian place names are translated alongside a brief language primer, so anyone can quickly gain a basic understanding of the natural and human elements that define the Islands. Once, if you wanted to navigate the streets of Kapa‘a, find your way to a remote heiau (temple) and determine the borders of ahupua‘a (the land divisions of old Hawai‘i), you had to consult three different maps. No longer.
Siemers, an avid outdoorsman and traveler, designed his maps to be fact-packed guides that he hopes will inspire both locals and visitors to learn more about Hawai‘i than a normal road map could tell them. The key, he says, is to make something very technical appear simple. “There are tens of thousands of objects that need to be placed on these maps, but they still have to make sense. The enjoyment I get out of it is the combination of art and science.”