Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Kauai Trailblazer: Your personal tour guide

 Kauai Trailblazer gide

If you plan to get out and explore Kauai on vacation, pick up a copy and give it a good perusal before you leave home. The island's top attractions (like the Kalalau Trail, Waimea Canyon, and Poipu Beach) are easy to find—you really don't need a guidebook.

But to find the aloha of old Hawaii, you'll want some help. The authors have been exploring Kauai for over 20 years, and the fruit of their efforts is organized efficiently in their top-selling adventure guide. 

Here are a few examples of where you can find the aloha: Lawai Center (88 Holy Places of Kobo Daishi), Anaina Hou Community Park, Taro Patch, and the Hula Temple. Kauai is Hawaii's best island for wild, hike-to beaches, and KT has directions to all of them, as well as many off-beat trails. You'll also find all the  town strolls (like Hanapepe, Hanalei, Kapa'a, Koloa, and Lihue).

The Kalalau Valley, pictured above from the top of Waimea Canyon, sees scads of tourists. But there are dozens of other breathtaking ridge hikes in the area that you will have virtually to yourself. For independent and active visitors, Kauai Trailblazer is essential outdoor gear.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Akaka Falls: More than just another roadside attraction on the Big Island

For sure the half-mile loop hike at Akaka Falls State park is a tourist trot, complete with sightseeing buses and paid parking. But it's also one of the best waterfall-and-botanical hikes in Hawaii.

The park is a four-mile drive up from the quaint town of Honomu on the south end of the Hamakua Coast (the northeast quadrant of the island.) Besides Akaka's 440-foot freefall of whitewater, the hike also takes in Kahuna Falls, which spews from a side-canyon, and a profusion of tropical greenery alongside Kolekole Stream.

Stairways, bridges, and paved sections make for easy going. If you show up in the morning, say before 10, you'll have the place mostly to yourself.

Hamakua is the lush coast of the Big Island, with many streams and valleys, with jungly sections of the Old Mamalahoa Highway that offer opportunities for side trips—rugged coves, beach parks, and old sugar-shack towns. You can also take roads up the mountain (the 'lower' slopes of Mauna Kea) to vast forest reserves. This isn't the coast for a day at the beach—surfing, yes, but swimming, no) but Hamakua is dripping with eye candy.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the details on Hamakua's hidden attractions, on pages 169 to 176.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Luxury sniking on Maui's Wailea Coast

'Sniking' is for adventure fiends who can't decide whether to spend the day hiking or snorkeling: You can do both at the same time! And you won't find a better spot to snike in style than Maui's Wailea coast, where a paved path meanders 2.5 miles past several high-end resorts  and a half-dozen sweet snorkeling beaches.

At the far (north) end of Wailea, the path (now the Eddie Pu Trail) continues past the little harbor at Kihei and through that town's trio of family beach parks—Kamaoles I, II & III. Kihei doesn't have the glam of Wailea, but's beaches are at least as good. 

A half-dozen Shoreline Public Access parking lots are squeezed in between the resorts (the Grand Wailea is top dog, but the Four Seasons patrons may argue that point). Ulua and Mokapu beaches are among the middle beaches. The easiest spot to park is on the south, at Polo Beach Park, which adjoins the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort. (Maui Trailblazer has details on where to park all along this coast.)

Gear for luxury sniking needn't be excessive. Flip flops are the shoe of choice, an alternative to barefooting the sand. A mask and snorkel are a must, and swim fins much preferred. The Wailea beaches are crescents separated by low-lying points, where most of the fishies hang out. And, a credit card is essential gear for adventuring inland for libation—one of the benefits for sniking on the unwild side of Maui.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Far Away on a 2-minute Photo Safari to Hawaii

This visual sampler is just an appetizer to the lifetime feast of aloha-style adventurtes that are presented  in the Trailblazer guides to the Islands. (Tip: view it full screen.)


To find an experience to call your own, buy one of our guides to the beaches, tropical forests, and cultural sites that make up Hawaii. Aloha awaits whenever you choose to come and find it.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Oahu's famous Diamond Head has an unrecognizable face

With a rippling green ridge that emerges from the skyscraper profile of Waikiki, Diamond Head is one of the world's iconic visions. Though it indeed sparkles, it was calcyte crystals and not diamonds that caused Bristish sailors to misname it in the early 1800s. The Hawaiian name is Leahi, because its shape is similar to the fin of a yellowfin tuna.

When making the one-mile, 550-foot pilgrimage to its summit, you won't know where you are until reaching the top to gaze down upon the Honolulu beachfront. What appears as a lush peak from Waikiki turns out to be the uppermost portion of an oval-shaped crater that is tilted at an angle. The crater floor is 350-acres of dryland scrub and parking lot, part of Hawaii's most poplular state park.

The oddball summit trail,  remnants of a former military installation, is a series of switchbacks, stairways, tunnels, and even a squiggle through concrete pillbox. The quirkly route is matched by the assemblage of daily visitors, ranging from fully equipped trekkers to the ill-prepared foreign tourist in platform sandals. The going is slow on narrow sections.

Oahu Trailblazer has tips on the best time to see Diamond Head, as well as lesser known hikes in the Honolulu region (like the kick-ass climb to Koko Crater).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Big Island National Historic Park that has it all---except lots of tourists

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park covers several miles of coast just north of Kona, but most visitors don't find it.  A huge lava flow around 1800 covered what were King Kamehameha's agricultural gardens, but what remains offers a full day of fun for today's adventure seekers: good snorkeling, private beaches, shoreline trails, surfing, petroglyph fields, and a huge re-constructed fish pond. You'll also find (if you know where to look) a freshwater Queen's Pond in the middle of the lava flow, which is surrounded by rock mounds that are a mystery to anthropologists.

The southern entrance to the national historic park is at Honokohau Harbor, where you can also watch   deep sea fishing boats come and go in search of marlins.

A heiau (temple) and safe swimming cove, Aiopio Fishtrap, is very near the southern entrance.

So is a canoe hale, constructed using traditional materials and methods. The petroglyph field (which contains a rare etching of a rifle) is not far down the coast. The mysterious mounds and Queen's Pond are off the trail, about 1.5 miles up the coast. At the northern entrance to the park (drive or walk there) is Kaloko Pond, with a newly built lava-rock wall 20 feet wide and 750 feet long. Restoration of the huge fish pond began in 2006. Surfers love the break at this northern entrance.

The Kaloko-Honokohau Historic Park visitors center is reachable from the highway, midway between the north and south entry points. Check it out to pick up information, but you won't want to access the park from here: trails go across sun-scorched lava to places more easily reached from the other entrances.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has detailed driving and hiking descriptions. Be Aware: The park contains burial mounds and cultural sites, so take care not to disturb anything.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Trailblazer Travel Books: Medicine for the body & soul

A literal lifetime's worth of adventure awaits at some of the world's most beautiful and interesting places. Trailblazer guides are for the active and independent traveler, full of descriptions and directions to  outdoor wonders, along with historic and cultural sites. Have fun, and be fit and free!

Our guides can be purchased on, Barnes and Noble or get an autographed copy at our website headquarters,

Monday, April 20, 2015

"Rainbow factory" on Kauai's north shore

Maybe a pot of gold is too much to expect, but a beachful of golden sand is a sure thing on Kauai's several-mile run of coast from Haena Beach Park and around Kepuhi  Point to Charo's Beach. During the winters, normally in the afternoons with a few clouds in the sky, seeing a rainbow is a near certainty.

High surf is also fairly common. Stay well back of these big boys—away from sloping wet sand. Always keep an eye on waves if you're walking anywhere near the foam line. 

Kiteboarders like the wind inside the reef at Charo's (named for the oddball TV star from the 70s who had a restaurant here, today the site of Hanalei Colony Resort).  Currents here are normally treacherous during the winter.

Rainbow hunters are often joined by sea shell seekers, who harvest tiny 'Ni'ihau' shells along the high-water line. There are many places to park along this stretch of coastline, which includes Tunnels, the popular snorkeling beach. Kauai Trailblazer has specific directions to several shoreline access spots where you won't find crowds.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dream Big: Virgin to Hawaii!

Starting in November, Virgin America will be flying to Oahu and Maui. They're taking reservations now.  The news may give Hawaiian Airlines some competition. We like Hawaiian for their on-time reliability and friendliness: Your vacation starts when you board the plane. 

Other airlines that get you there: Delta, United, Continental, China Airlines, All Nippon Airway, American Airlines,  Allegiant Air, Air Pacific, Air New Zealand, Air Canada, and our least favorite, Alaska. Most airlines fly into Honolulu (Oahu), where you then take a connector flight to a neighbor island. Finding a direct flight to your island will save a few hours vacation time. If you're shopping for flights, does a good job comparing airlines and prices.

A few vintage shots for how it used to be.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maui's Hosmer Grove: A retreat from Haleakala

Near the entrance to Haleakala National Park, Hosmer Grove is skipped by most visitors who are intent on getting to the 10,000-foot-high summit of the park. But when fog and rain hammer the higher elevations, the forest retreat is a perfect fall-back option. The little campground and trailhead parking is a half-mile off the main road.

A nature loop (less than a mile), sguiggles through a forest of cedar, pine, spruce, and leafy trees planted by forester Ralph Hosmer a century ago. Native trees and shrubs dominate the second half of the loop, where you are most likely to see our feathered friends.

The big score for birdwatchers is the i'wii—easy to spot among all the green. Near Hosmer is one of the park's best-kept secrets, the Supply Trail, a 500-foot climb over 2.5 miles that reaches the well-known Haleamu'u Trail. Haleakala's low-lying native plants are on display. Hosmer is also the trailhead for the Waikomo Ridge Trail, but you need to arrange a visit with the Nature Conservancy to see this spot (check at park headquarters near the entrance). 

Driving directions in Maui Trailblazer.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Connecting hot lava to natural hot springs: The Big Island's sublime drive in Puna

For more than a dozen miles, the Kehena-Pohoiki Scenic Drive in Puna (the far southeast of the Big Island) penetrates an astounding coastal gardenscape. And unlike other coastal cruises in Hawaii, this one doesn't twist in and out of valleys, since the island hasn't had time to erode and form streams. The country lane besides sea-washed bluffs is is a tree tunnel of breadfruit, palms, pandanus and many others right out the the tropical tree-finding manual. 

At one end is Kalapana Bay, where vistiors can venture into lava wastelands to view red-hot flows from the island's current eruption. Not far from Kalapana is 19-Mile Beach (guess where it is), a black sand beauty that requires a scamper down a steep trail. (That shorebreak pictured above can be dangerous; use caution.)

The scenic drive transitions to a huge ironwood grove that marks rustic Mackenzie State Park, and then Isaac Hale (ha-lay) Beach Park, home to surfers and a nice little hot pool. Ahalanui Warm Pond Park, one of the best freebies in Hawaii, is a couple miles after that.  And then, a few miles later where jagged fields of lava make up the shoreline, is the oasis that is the Kaphoho Bay Seapool, where tepid, crystal clear waters are a fountain of youth.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more information on these and numerous other cool places in remote Puna.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

The easy way to the Big Island's 'Blue Lagoon'

From a scenic turnout at mile marker 81 on Highway 19 north of Kona, Wainanali'i (Blue) Lagoon beckons irresistably: a turquoise streak amid a grove of cocopalms. Most visitors park at a nearby turnout and take a mile-plus trail that drops 200 feet through a hot forest of stickery Kiawe trees, which affords a decent opportunity of getting lost.

A slightly shorter, flatter, and more scenic route is about a mile away, down a state park road. You drive down about .75-mile and park at a locked gate on a road that is open to foot traffic. Not far down the road is the Kihilo-Huehue trail and punches out to a black sand beach, where you hang a right (pass the remarkable home of cosmetic king Paul Mitchell) and reach Blue Lagoon.

Dozens of sea turtles haul out on the rocky shores of the lagoon, which was actually a huge fishpond built by King Kamehmeha the Great in 1810. In 1859, a stampede of lava from faraway Mauna Loa did a number on the pond, but the turtles don't seem to mind. The water is chilly and milky is places, due to underwater intrusions of fresh water, so the better swimming is at Kihilo Black Sand Beach—reachable via the same state park road. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the deets, beginning on page 64.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How not to die while having fun hiking in Hawaii

Tsunamis, hurricanes, molten volcanos, and big-scale earthquakes are all part of the weather forecast at times in Hawaii. But Mother Nature's big events, thankfully, take few lives these days.

Yet, about once a month, it seems, someone dies on land or in the sea while recreating in the tropical paradise that is Hawaii. Most of these tragedies, and a litany of accidents, happen on postcard-days to people who are not really aware of the danger. The good news: The risk of harming yourself is virtually zilch if you play it safe.

Here's some tips for safer hiking in Hawaii.

1. Bring retracable hiking poles. As is the case when using swim fins when in the ocean, hiking poles give you a leg up (pun intended) while navigating on land. Coming down narrow, rutted, rocky sections of a typical ridge trail can be tricky, especially when rain makes the red earth slick.

2. Stay on the trail--and only hike on an established trail. Bactrack to a known point if you lose the trail. This rule, usually meant to protect flora from too many footprints, in Hawaii protects hikers from getting swallowed up by the jungle. The terrain is way too steep and choked with greenery (or piles of lava, or earthcracks, let's say) to make off-trail hiking anything but bad idea. If it is possilbe to hike somewhere (that is also not on private property), a trail will already exist.

3. Don't rock climb. Even good climbers will have a problem on the crumbling, unstable escarpments in the Islands—even when these cliffs are free of snarls of plantlife. Erosion happens in real time.

4. Don't cross a fast-moving stream. Downpours bring flash floods to narrow valleys. Cars even get swept to sea from quite a distance inland. So, avoid hiking in heavy rain, and if you do get caught on the wrong side of the stream, wait it out: the water will subside. If hiking in a valley with a rising stream, get to high ground, pronto.

5. Stay back from big surf while hiking ocean bluffs. Surf fluctuates during the day, and big surf can roll in that is not otherwise associated with a storm front. Keep your eye on the waves, and stay well back of any rocks or reefs that are wet.

6.  Be alert for drop-offs (keep the kids in tow). On mountain hikes, ferns and shrubbery are so dense that they appear to be solid ground, when in fact the plants are diguising a  clifface. You have to go out of your way to make this hazzard dangerous, but it is routinely possilbe on lush trails.

7. Equip your daypack and take it with you, even when you may not plan on taking a long walk. Trails have a way of inticing you farther than planned. Be aware of time. If you get caught out at night, with no adequate light to hike by, stay put. The higher elevations of all the islands, but particularly Maui and the Big Island, can be cold. On Mauna Loa, for example, heatstroke and hypothermia are possible within a few hours (though neither is likely with proper outerwear).

8. When entering the ocean, the over-arching safety maxim is, "If in doubt, don't go out." The same can be true for hikes. If a hike starts to creep you out for some reason, back off.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Launiupoko: This is why Maui is called the 'Valley Isle'

A drive along the base of the West Maui Mountains—all the way from Iao Valley State Park near Kahului around to Lahaina—reveals the yawning green valleys that give Maui its nickname. Access is limited, so visitors with a sense of adventure will appreciate the off-beat hike into out-of-the-way Launiupoko Valley, not too far south of Lahaina.

The hike begins at an unmarked trailhead in a new housing development, up the mountain from Laniupoko Beach Park. The trail, used mainly by local equestrians, starts out as a mundane ascent, but then transitions to a contour road that gives up big ocean views. Hikers then start into the valley on a weedy road (pictured) that becomes a trail along a water conveyance ditch. This trail then degrades to a pig-path into the deep dark green—not advisable for hiking.

At the end of the contour road is a reservoir that will be a worthy destination for people wanting to kick back.

Launiupoko Valley is an ahupua'a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah), the fundamental subdivision of land where villages were established. Whether large or small, a wedge-shaped ahupua'a contained the essentials necessary to sustain life: A mountain forest,  valley and stream, agricultural terraces, and a coastline.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on Launiupoko and other places to escape the tourist drumbeat on Maui.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kauai hiking update: Kahili Mountain Park trails are closed

Two trails in south Kauai—a thrilling-but-risky trek up razorback Kahili Ridge, and a tame stroll to a Norfolk pine forest—are no longer open to hikers. Landowner Knudsen Corporation, which has owned a large chunk of the island since 1872, has decided to close the trails and prohibit access.

The rustic cabins of Kahili Mountain park, adjacent to the trailheads, may also be closed. Previously a Seventh Day Adventist School on site leased the land from Knudsen, and used income from the cabins to help support the school. Hikers for years were able to hike these trails on private property by asking permission at the cabin administrative offices.

Trail status in Hawaii is always in flux, due to both man-made concerns and events created by Mother Nature.  Visitors should always heed signs and use common sense when determining whether a trail is safe or advisable.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oahu's Manoa Falls: Touristy, for sure, but it delivers the scenic goods

Lots of people make the 1.5-mile round-trip hike to Manoa Falls, a classic tropical white ribbon falling down a 200-foot cliff. As the sign indicates, don't dawdle under the water. Local tour companies charge unsuspecting tourists to get here, even though the trail is public, easy to find, and just a few minutes up Manoa Valley from Waikiki.

Footbridges and staircases (elevation gain is 800 feet) penetrate a fairyland of tropical greenery along the way, making getting there at least half the fun. Hot tip: While you're here, don't forget to visit Lyon Arboretum, which is right next to the trailhead. Most people miss this place. You can wander century-old, well-kempt gardens or take a wilder path up to Aihualama Falls, and have the place to yourself. The Ko'olau Range rises above, framing the Manoa Valley.

Oahu Trailblazer has more details on these and other nearby hikes.