Thursday, October 19, 2017

Is this Hawaii's sexiest beach?

Dreamy Lanikai Beach on Windward Oahu is pure eye candy, with cupcake islands just offshore its silky sands. Flowering shrubs line the paths from an uber-cool beach cottage community. Don't be surprised to see a professional fashion shoot going on. Commercial photographers love this place.

Add some real-life spice to the day by stroking a rental sea kayak to the seabird sanctuary islands of Mokolea and Moku Manu, or back off a little and go for Flat Island (not pictured), which is much closer—you can swim there with a mask and fins. 

Or not. 

Kailua Beach Park is a kissing cousin to Lanikai, via a short walk. The scene amps a bit here, with a huge lawn to host other fun-sun activities (like these kite-boarders prepping to take off).  There's plenty of shade and picnic tables along a wide greenspace. A cold brew, ice cream, and other gotta-haves aren't far away. 

Get driving directions in your Oahu Trailblazer. It's about an hour away from Waikiki.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hawaii: A Complete Personal Makeover in Four Easy Steps

You can spend a pile in Hawaii hiring personal guides to take you places. Or, pick up a Trailblazer guide before your trip and check out all the outdoor tours you can do for free on your own time. Do this stuff and you will come home a different person. It's as easy as one, two, three ... four!

1. HIKE: Choose from coastal beach walks and jungle treks—or do both at the same time on Kauai's Kalalau Trail. Hikes range from family strolls to full-on treks, and include all the popular trails as well as places you will have virtually to yourself. All the Islands have excellent trails, including populated Oahu.

2. BIKE: Take a leisurely bike path or go for the gusto into a tropical forest, like this one among many on the Big Island's Stainback Highway.  (Renting a bike is a cheap thrill.) Kauai and the Big Island are the choices for cyclists.

3. SNORKEL: Tour boats anchor in Maui's Coral Gardens, but you can flipper there on your own as long as the surf's not up. All the islands have excellent snorkeling, although Maui and the Big Island have more of the state's top spots.

4. SURF: Listed are all the breaks for all levels, including places to stand-up paddle (SUP). The best places to be a spectator are included. You will want to seek instruction (listed in Trailblazer guides) if learning to ride the waves. Kauai, Oahu, and Maui have good beaches for beginners.

Trailblazer Travel Books are brimming with ideas, both outdoor sports and all the cultural attractions. There's lots to do. Get a copy in advance of your trip and then break out the yellow highlighter.  Once in Hawaii you'll be ready to take the plunge.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Puttin' on the Ritz: A surprisingly wild side of Maui

The six small bays on Maui's northwest coastline were in ancient times the domain of Chief Pi'ilani. These days he would hardly recognize the place, since it is cheek-to-jowl with condominiums and mdi-range resorts for several miles—all the way from the north end of Ka'anapali to Kapalua.

Then, when you least expect it, the coast opens up to the most wild and open hikes on this part of the island, walked by few visitors. From popular Kapalua Beach (above), a coastal trail takes you to the Hawea Point Shoreline Conservation Area and then on to rugged Ironwoods beach.

Just north of Ironwoods (a.k.a. Oneloa Bay), is the fabulous Ritz Carlton Hotel, which is set well back from the shoreline out of respect to the Honokahua Burial Site.  Between Honkahua and the ocean is Makaluapuna Point, a place to view shorebirds, whales (during the winter), and waves doing battle with the reef.

The point is known locally as "Dragons Teeth," due to the long row of sharpened tufts of whitish trachyte—big choppers, four-to-six feet high.

From Dragons Teeth, you drop to the sands of D.T. Flemming Beach Park. Though the main beach for the Ritz, this is a locals' hangout, where the body boards are flying on the weekends and huli huli chicken is smokin' on the grills. 

There are quite a few nooks to call your own on this coast. Maui Trailblazer has the details for independent, active travelers.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Living Large for free in Hawaii

Not all of the best things in life are free—some of them cost a freaking bundle. But in Hawaii you can get a day-long taste of the good life without having to pay for it. Here are some public paths that pass along the grounds and beaches of some of the finest destination resorts in the world.

1. POIPU BEACH-GRAND HYATT, Kauai. Even when the rest of the Garden Island is taking a rain bath, strollers can normally find sun on the arid south shore. Beginning with the Sheraton, a path swerves along low-key (by Hawaii standards) resorts. You can cut through the gardens for restaurants and shopping, or to take a gander at the weird Moir Gardens, a several-acre display of cacti. From Poipu Beach Park, a jogging path through condos and a greenspace ends at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, with Asian-inspired architecture and lush grounds that make it one of the world's premier destination resorts.

2. WAIKIKI BEACH, Oahu. Can't leave Waikiki off this list, although most of the hotels are glass towers. But you can drop in at the Royal HawaiianMoana Surfrider, and Halekulani for a touch of the golden years. The walk extends for a of couple miles to Kapiolani Park. Designer shops and gourmet eateries are sprinkled along Kalakaua Boulevard, the main drag.

3. WAILEA RESORTS WALK and KA'ANAPALI, Maui. Given that most of Maui's beaches are developed, it's not surprising that the Valley Isle has two great luxury beach strolls. The older development (1970s onward) to the north is Ka'anapali, where a Sheraton and Hilton bookend a mile-plus paved path. The Hilton's gardens are a respite, while some of the resorts (Maui Ocean Club) present a sea of flesh on lounges. Black Rock Beach at the Sheraton is where most of the action is (this place used to be called Dig Me Beach). A shopping center with multiple restaurants opens to the sand. Parking, at a series of lots, can be a hassle. Farther south in Kihei are the the Wailea Resorts, decidely more ritzy. The Grand Wailea is a worthy destination, with towering atriums and bloated Botero scultures. More than a half-dozen large public lots provide access to as many sandy coves.

4. MAUNA LANI-FAIRMONT and WAIKOLOA, Big Island. The South Kohala coast on the Big Island features a desert of black lava with a number of coastal oases, many featuring some of the best tropical resorts in the world. The walk from the Fairmont Orchid to the Mauna Lani doesn't offer much shopping, but rather striking coastal scenery along palms and coral-chunk beaches. The Mauna Lani Fishponds are a parkland unto themselves. Conversely, the Hilton in Waikoloa is like Disneyland, with a monorail, boat rides, a huge dolphin pool and man-made lagoon. Corinthian columns border a grand staircase that leads to the water. A path from the Hilton takes you along a wild coast with ponds (backed by new big bungalows) that eventually leads to the open sands of Anaeho'omalu Beach Park. The new Lava Lava Beach Club is an opportunity to sip rum drinks and munch pupus with your toes in the sand.

Trailblazer guides have more details on where to park to visit these resorts, as well as many others where you can enjoy the good life for free.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lost or misplaced your soul? Try looking for it in Hawaii

Hiking the rainforest and snorkeling  the coves by day, then treating every night like a party: That's the way to do Hawaii. But many visitors will discover a side benefit to their vacations, namely, peace of mind. It comes in many forms in the Islands.

The Trailblazer guides include directions to many dozens of spiritual spots on each island. No Worries Hawaii, a vacation planning guide, provides a prioritized summary of the best churches, holy places, and heiaus (Hawaiian temples).

Here are a few places to go where you may find yourself along the way.


The 88 Holy Places of Kobo Daishi (above), now part of the Lawai International Center near Kalaheo, are miniature stone houses set on a steep hillside. Brought from Japan and emplaced about a century ago, the Buddhist-inspried shrines were swallowed up by greenery until 'rediscovered' and refurbished by this nonprofit group about a decade ago. At the end of the road on the north tip of the island, the Kauluolaka Hula Temple is the ancient birthplace of hula in Hawaii. On an unmarked trail, the temple consists of grassy platforms below cliffs just above the crashing waves at the Napali Coast. Since the wildly popular Kalalau Trail and Ke'e Beach are nearby, most visitors miss this wonder. Anyone who has driven through Hanalei will likely remember the green-painted Waioli Hui'ia Church, where a gifted choir plays to a packed house on Sundays.

But on any day, don't miss walking across the vast lawn to the grounds of the Waioli Mission House (above), whose buildings date from 1841 and are set next to taro fields and a 3,000-foot-high jagged ridge known as the 'birthplace of rainbows.'  Yow.


Similar to the peaks of north Kauai, the razorback Ko'olau Range hangs above the Valley of the Temples on Windward Oahu.

The valley features ornate mausoleums of some of Oahu's well-to-do families, but the centerpiece is the Byodo-In Temple (above). A large koi pond reflects the image of the temple, which is a replica of the 900-year-old original in Kyoto, Japan. Pay your respects to an 18-foot-tall Buddha of the Western Paradise, enjoy a serene cup of tea, and gong a huge bronze bell to rid your mind of temptations (can't hurt to try).

Set off busy Nu'uano Avenue in Honolulu, the Royal Mausoleum (above) is an unexpected sanctuary. Most all the Hawaiian ali'i (kings) are buried here, at the only place in the Islands where the Hawaiian flag flies unaccompanied by the Stars and Stripes. A coral-block chapel with an all-koa-wood interior has been presided over by the same family since the early 1800s.

You'll need to pack a sense of adventure to find the Kaneaki Heiau (above), which is up Makaha Valley on the rough-hewn west side. This 13th century restored temple beside a stream is only a ten-minute walk, but it's located within a gated community and only open on certain days—Oahu Trailblazer has the deets on visiting.


On the delightfully forlorn south coast, not far from the one-horse town of Kaupo, sits the charming Huialoha Church (above). Drive or walk down .25-mile, to grassy flats fringed by cocopalms,  just above wild Haleki'i Bay. The Big Island looms across a channel. Vandals recently did damage to the church, which dates from 1859, but locals have formed a nonprofit group that has brought it back to life in stunning fashion. On the opposite side of Maui, just off the Hana Highway, is Kaulanapeuo Church. Poetically sited on a clearing in the jungle, the church's thick walls rise to a tall steeple that has stood since 1853. Miles north on the windward coast, and centuries older, is Kukuipuka Heiau, which radiates vistas in all directions. Restored in recent years, this modest enclosure is a short walk up a hill very near the Waihe'e Ridge Trail. (BTW: You could spend a whole vacation checking out the quaint churches on Maui.)


Location, location, location. The Wood Valley Temple (below) rests in the verdant Kau Forest Reserve near Pahala, about 40 miles south of the barren expanses of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Dali Lama has visited this tranquil retreat, and you can too.

Farther north in Kona on the steep slopes of Honaunau, the well known Painted Church (below) has big views of Kealakekua Bay. Father John Berchman Velge adorned the Catholic Church's wooden walls with tropical-themed Christian murals in 1898.

The several-acre garden grounds feature breadfruit, Norfolk pines and flowering shrubs. Near Kawaihae about 50 miles north of Kona, the immense Pu'ukohola Heiau (below) will impart a sense of the majesty of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Ironically, the best look at this National Historic Site is not from park service trails, but from across a little cove at nearby Kawaihae.

At the heiau's dedication ceremony in 1791, Kamehameha the Great's rival cousin, Keoua, and his retinue were killed in a scuffle. Whether Big K planned the attack, or it transpired from unforeseen events, is open to historical interprepation.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Best Hike in the Universe: Kauai's Alakai Swamp

The most popular hike in Hawaii is the Kalalau Trail, which starts on the north shore and squiggles the Napali (cliffs) for 11 miles before ending at the Kalalau Valley (above). But the best hike in the universe (at least there is none better) starts at the rim of the valley, just above Waimea Canyon, and travels four miles through a rainforest swamp to a platform (the Kilohana Overlook) that is perched on a 4,000-foot ridge.

The first section of the trail will dissuade the casual hiker. 

A water crossing can present a problem during heavy rains, but it is usually a cinch.

So lace up your mud shoes, bring a hiking pole, and make sure the waterproof jacket is packed.

Most of the Alakai Swamp trail is a breeze, thanks to a fantastic boardwalk.  Stairs, ramps, and bridges—it's magic.

One trail junction is clearly signed, a side trail that comes up from Koke'e State Park. The rainforest was a respite for Queen Emma, who made many journeys into the greenery to find solace after the death of her husband, King Kamehameha IV. You need to stop in places to pick up the details of the plant life.

The last part of the trek is over the boggy, dwarf vegetation of the swamp.  The biggest danger on this hike is wandering off the boardwalk—if the fog rolls in you are pretty much screwed. Even big-time hiking guides do not venture across the swamp. 

Kauai Trailblazer has more details on this hike and many others above and into Waimea Canyon—this place is an adventure hiker's wonderland, and many of the trails see very few tourists.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Waves are thugs: Never turn your back on one

Strolling the surf line with your sweetie in Hawaii is near the top of the list of life's pleasures. But you don't want this picture postcard to turn into a crime-scene photo: It only takes one wave to wipe you out, and it happens more frequently than tourism commissions want to publicize. 

The fellow above (at the far end of Lumahai Beach on Kauai), is watching the action, so he was able to turn on a dime and run like hell when the foaming water came rushing in.

This couple got off with just wet shorts and a few laughs when the sand suddenly became water. When the surf is up, you want to stay well back from where the sand is wet, and always deep an eye on the breakers. Fortunately, you can move faster than they do if you react in time.

The Queen's Bath on Kauai is a lovely place to soak in pools in the reef, when the swells are flat. On this day, even being on this reef is suicidal. This couple is just above the impact zone, but still in a dangerous position. When out on the reefs, stay well back from wet areas, and watch the waves for many minutes before deciding a walking route. On high-surf days, a freak rogue wave will arise that is lethally larger than its companions.

The good news is that the ocean is totally safe if you use good judgment. Trailblazer guides have sections on how to read the dangers on the shore, in the surf, and on the trails. Additionally, the specific hazards associated with a trail or beach are noted. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dateline Kauai: Living the wild life at lovely, lonely Larsens Beach

The northeast shore of Kauai has a couple dozen undeveloped beaches, but if you can only see one, head for Larsens. It's a three-fer, really, since the first long stretch is followed by two more beaches that are separated by low-lying points.

Flip flops will aid on the short trail down from the parking area, but barefoot is the way to go thereafter.

One of your beach mates is bound to be a Hawaiian Monk Seal, since they like to sunbathe here. Be Aware: Good manners and the law require keeping a distance of 100 feet from these endangered mammals—the only ones native to the Islands (unless you count a species of bat). This shot was taken with a telephoto.

Sea turtles, less common on Kauai than the other islands, also join the party at Larsens'.

Journey's end is Kepuhi Point, where waves do battle with a sculptured point. Guess who's going to win.

Laysan Albatrosses nest in the ironwood trees on the hills above the shore. Of course, this chick is earthbound, but mom and dad are the B-1 bombers of bird world, able to fly far across the seas without rest. But even the adults need a good run to make their awkward takeoffs (hence the nickname 'gooney birds'), making these creatures vulnerable to dogs. Albatrosses are not freaked by people—they nest on the golf course fringes in Princeville—but you want to give them space.

Larsens is known as a treacherous swimming beach, but you can find safe places to get wet. Kauai Trailblazer has the details for visiting here, as well as the other unsigned, unpopulated beaches up and down the coast. Be Aware: Although nudity is against the law on all beaches in Hawaii, you may see a naked person tucked into the backshore along the way on some days.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cruisin' Oahu's "other North Shore": A scenic drive that won't drive you crazy

If you seek where the action isn't, pick a weekday and head north on Oahu's Windward (eastern) coast. For much of the drive, sandy beaches are right out the windshield and the country road is wide open. At the southern end of the drive (i.e., going north from busy Kailua), the Byodo Temple in Valley of the Temples is a Zen-like respite under the jagged Ko'olau Pali (cliffs). Several beaches, like Kahalu'u Beach Park pictured above, await  a barefoot stroll.

You may recognize Pu'u Kanehoalani (above) as a backdrop of  Hollywood movies and TV productions. It forms a south boundary to Kualoa Ranch, where adventure sports are also a big draw.

Locals love Kualoa Regional Park, for camping, outrigger canoeing, and snorkeling to the park's signature landmark, Mokoli'i Island (also known as Chinaman's Hat). You can also snorkel at Secret Island, which is not an island but a strip of sand between a freshwater pond and the shore. 

As is often the case in rural Hawaii, remnants of the sugar cane days are there for the sleuthing.

Inland on this coast are several jungle-valley-waterfall parks that aren't really parks yet: The land has been allocated, but park developments are in the early stages. But you can drive around and take a peek. Waikane Valley Nature Park is mainly for four-legged folks for now.

You could spend the day or three at Ahupua'a O Kahana State Park—beaches, trails, local-kine cultural sites, like the Huilua Fishpond (above). An ahupua'a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah) is a section of the island—mountain forests, stream, agricultural terraces, and coastal waters—around which all Hawaiian villages were built. This park is a large one, dedicated to preserving the Hawaiian way of life.

The Polynesian Cultural Center (below), also showcases traditions, though in a much splashier way. The PCC, in the sleepy town of Laie, is one of the top tourist attractions in the Islands. 

Several of Oahu's better beach parks are not far from Laie, like Pounders, Kokololio, and the huge Malaekahana State Recreation Area. Several hikes into the pali see few tourists, like the cheap-thrill jaunt on the Laie Falls Trail. Parts of the coastline are a rugged home to shorebirds, like Laie Point (above).  BTW: Unless you are feeling particularly suicidal, don't join the local kids who jump from the tawny cliffs on the point.

Continuing north, the highway curls through vintage Kahuku and reaches the famed North Shore; look for the tour buses pulled out at Sunset Beach.

Oahu Trailblazer has many more details for independent, adventurous travelers.