Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kauai's Mahaulepu: A dreamscape so close, yet so far away


Only a few miles separate Mahaulepu from the Grand Hyatt and the busy resort strip of Poipu Beach on Kauai's arid south shore. But those miles are on a hellishly potholed dirt road that dissuades many rental car drivers from making the trip. Hawaiian monk seals (above) avoid the traffic and arrive by sea to bag rays. (Federal law and good manners require giving Hawaii's only native mammals a wide berth.) 

Kawailoa Bay (above) marks the end of the road, at a beach with very good snorkeling.



A trail skirts the bluff away from Kawailoa Bay. You can also go the other way on the beach from Kawailoa around a sandy point (shown above) to Gillin's Beach, where a long strip of sand and a protective reef draw sunbatheres and swimmers.  (Actually, you can walk from the Grand Hyatt Poipu to Gillin's Beach on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail.)



CMJ Stables, on the dirt road to Mahaulepu, offer a chance to visit the remote shores from high in the saddle. Ironwoods provide shade and shelter all around the area.


Local kids take the plunge from (sort of) low cliffs at the outer edges of Kawailoa Bay. As a rule, jumping from a cliff into the ocean is not recommended for visitors.



The coastal trail crosses open grasslands amid portrait-quality seascapes.



The trail ends with a steep downhill section that drops to Haula Beach, a deep scoop of sand that is often unsafe for swimming. A sketchy trail climbs through the Haupu Forest Reserve to the peak (above right) that affords a view of Kipu Kai Beach. Featured in the Descendants movie, this beach is on private property and only reachable by sea.

For driving and hiking directions, consult your Kauai Trailblazer guide. See the right column of this blog to order it.





Monday, February 13, 2017

You won't see this anywhere else in Hawaii: The Waiopae Tidepools


Yes, there are other saltwater pools in reefs with good snorkeling, but not this many spreading over so many acres on the Big Island's Puna (east) coast. The Waiopae Tidepools Marine Life Conservation District is its own place.

Smooth (pahoehoe) lava surrounds most of the pools, so you end up swimming and then walking over low lava sundecks. Coral heads grow farther out, but visibility is better closer to shore. Water depth is around four feet or shallower, depending on the tide. Swimming is normally safe, but watch out for big waves breaking over the outer reef. The tidepools are growing zones for all sorts of marine life.




Some parking is right on the rough shore, surrounded by beach homes, but the easier and more scenic choice is to park in a shaded neighborhood just beforehand and take a pretty access trail for a short distance. Either way, your three bucks will be well spent.

Travel Tip: Don't confuse these tide pools with the Kapoho Pools and 'Champagne Pool,' which are just up the road. 



The marine district swim is part of a full day of adventuring in Puna. The best hot lava hikes are down here—as is the most underrated drive in Hawaii: the Kehena-Pohoiki Scenic Coast. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the details (there's a lot more to do).







Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hawaii's Most Dangerous Adventure Sport? Take a guess.



Those who guessed surfing, hang gliding, skydiving, sailing, mountain biking, ziplining, kite boarding, windsurfing, kayaking, bodysurfing, deep sea fishing, or hiking jungly ridges or volcanoes are all wrong. 

The most dangerous activity in Hawaii is beachcombing. Yes, walking along seashore minding your own business is when you are most likely (though still highly unlikely) to become injured or bite the big one while on vacation in the Aloha State.


Waves are the primary culprit. Higher waves mean a wider lethal 'impact zone' on the beach and on coastal bluffs and reefs. An increase in wave height also means a stronger rip current. The Hawaiian Islands are small specks of earth surrounded by thousands of miles of deep blue sea. Their shorelines are nuanced, each beach unique, making the conditions hard to read.

The good news is that you are in absolutley no danger if you keep an eye on the ocean and stay well back during high surf. The wet zone in the above photo would be a danger zone, during higher surf. You want to stay on dry sand.




Hazard signs are posted at the entrance to virtually every beach. People tend to ignore them, especially since many of the dangers are not present on most days. Every beach has safe days and days when caution is warranted. 




Atlhough this dude is watching the surf, here at the far end of Lumahai Beach, he is in a position where he will need to run like hell when a rogue wave breaches the rock. Normally, people get in trouble when walking in the wet zone during high surf days. A larger wave comes and swamps them to the knees or waist, and, while they are struggling with the back-surge of the receding wave, the next one comes along and finishes the job. People are also swept off rocks by waves and surging swells. Doesn't matter if you are Michael Phelps. 

People who read and heed the safety tips in Trailblazer Travelbooks are far less likely to be harmed while on vacation. The tips also cover hiking, surfing, snorkeling, and biking. And these are not merely blanket cautions, but the specific dangers associated with specific places. It's not the big stuff like hurricanes and volcanoes that reek havoc, but the little things that visitors aren't aware of.





Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Guarantee a dream Hawaiian vacation for $8.99


If you're spending a ton of money on a Hawaiian vacation, make sure it's the one you want. No Worries Hawaii has a simple-but-ingenuous self-test that matches who you are and what you want with what each island has to offer. Listed are 38 top reasons people go to Hawaii (resort beaches, beginner snorkeling, cultural sites, tropical trails, golf, whale-watching, volcanoes, biking, etc.) and asks: Is this something to "gotta have," "would be nice," or "don't care." The results of the test tell you which island is best.


The specific Top 5 and Top 20 for each category (wild beaches, historic sites, snorkeling lagoons, etc.) are listed, for the state and for each island. Of course, every island has beaches, trails, and surfing, and so on, but certain islands excel in particular categories. 



Once you select an island, it's time to pick out a locale (luxury resort, country cottage, mid-range beach condo, quaint town, beach cottage, etc.).  No Worries Hawaii gives the atmosperic details on what each area is like—and which areas you may wish to avoid. Once you've picked a specific locale, you can select from hundreds of hand-picked options to find a place to stay in that locale.



No Worries Hawaii has many money-saving and time-saving tips on how to enact your vacation—depending on your "vacation style" and who you are traveling with. The books tells you how to save on tours (sailing, helicopters, zip lines, snorkeling, sightseeing), and which tours give you a bang for the buck. You'll also want to pay attention to the safety tips in NWH, which literally can be a lifesaver for you and your family.

No Worries Hawaii is a companion guide to the Trailblazer series, which includes a book for each islands. The authors have been traveling to Hawaii for more than 30 years, and have distilled their experiences into this photo-rich, comprehensive planning guide. 

You can purchase the No Worries Hawaii ebook at Amazon (Kindle) or Barnes and Noble (Nook).








Saturday, January 28, 2017

Eating the sunshine in Kauai


When you visit Kauai, give your body a treat and put some of the island in your mouth. Every day, somewhere on the Garden Island, you will find at least one "Sunshine Market," where growers present tropical fruits, veggies, and herbs from small gardens and backyard trees.  


Bring your own bags and some dollar bills—and show up for the opening bell.


Flowers are also on hand to brighten the day.


Sure, you can grab a soursop or mango and eat it on the spot. Or you can select something prepared. 


A few locals offer craft works, as well as music to complete the shopping experience. Kauai Trailblazer has the times and locales for all the outdoor markets, as well as places to find roadside fruit stands. 



Monday, January 23, 2017

Best Places to Camp on the Beach in Hawaii


You need a permit to camp on the beach, or anywhere else in Hawaii, and many of the sites will be more of a communal experience than a communion with Ma Nature. 

Generally speaking, to find a more remote camping experience, you'll need to head to higher elevations or strap on a backpack and trek into the hinterlands. But there are exceptions. Here are the best places to pitch a tent at the beach in relative solitude, and still be near your car:

OAHU: With a million-plus people, you wouldn't think that Oahu has more wild beaches and accessible, undeveloped beaches than any other island except Kauai. On the north side of the windward coast is Kualoa Regional Park (above), which has a large open campground facing Mokoli'i Island (Chinaman's Hat), and a second campground in the trees near a beach called Secret Island. The jagged ridge inland is Kualoa Ranch, an exotic locale for tourist tours, TV and movie productions. North of this park—and just north of the Polynesian Cultural Center—is huge (nearly 40,000 acres) Malaekahana State Recreation Area, a tract of forest with a sandy beachfront that features tiny Goat Island just offshore.




MAUI: Not much beach camping on Maui, but the two spots you can choose from are among the best in the state. Few among the thousands of tourists who make the daily pilgrimage to Hana and the Pools of Oheo section of Haleakala National Park realize a sweet campground (above) lies near the visitors center. A grassy bluff rims little Kukui Bay, next to a heiau (temple) at Puhilele Point. A second very scenic campground is a few miles before you reach Hana, at Waianapanapa State Park. A black sand beach has very good snorkeling, and a long coastal trail passes the rockwork of several cultural sites. You'll have company during the day, during the Hana vacation commute, but solitude awaits when the sun goes down.



BIG ISLAND: County beach parks and mountain campsites are numberous on the Big Island. but none offer the natural elbow room you will find at Whittington Beach Park (above). Its decrepit pier tells of the park's history as a rugged port during the sugar producing era. Whittington is just north of South Point, in the surprisingly lush Wood Valley region, about 35 miles south of the headquarters of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Other camping choices await on the green Hamakua Coast, going north from Hilo. Two are county beach parks in dramatic settings that are prime choices on weekdays: Kolekole and Lapahoehoe. On the other side of the Big Island—north of the resorts at South Kohala—is obscure Kapa'a Beach Park, hidden away at a whale-watcher's cove a mile north of the more popular Mahukona Beach Park. The pier at Mahukona has some of the best snorkeling on the island, and that's saying something.


KAUAI: The miles-long beach at Polihale State Park (below) is the most out-there coastal camping in the state. The Napali Coast, the roadless quadrant of cliffs and valleys that features the Kalalau Trail, comes to an abrubt end at Polihale Ridge, where in ancient times the spirits of the departed left this world for the next. The catch: A remote location—at the end of the road beyond Waimea Town—and a three-mile potholed entrance road that sometimes floods in the winter. For tamer, if cozier, camping, Kauai's countybeach parks are numerous. Among the best (scenic, swimming, nice beach) are Salt Pond, Lydgate, and Anini.



Trailblazer guides have more details on these places, plus all of the campgrounds and rustic lodging listings in Hawaii.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

One step beyond: Bliss awaits at the Ke'ei Seapool


Ke'ei Village on Kealakekua Bay is off the tourist radar, and the Ke'ei Seapool is a step or two beyond that—for many, an immersion into private bliss. The village is a mile down a bumpy road between two popular attractions: Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park.

Ke'ei is one of a handful of remaining authentic villages in Hawaii, though you will not find the "little grass shack" that is depicted in the well-known song about Kealakekua. Blue tarps cover modest possessions, cottages are weatherworn, and, on weekdays at least, only a groggy dog or winsome cat are about. On weekends, locals enjoy a surfing scene at the beach with salt-and-pepper sand and clear waters. Mark Twain made it here in the 1800s, and his descriptions of the board riders whizzing along on foamy waves are among the first writings about surfing.

The seapool is almost a mile from the village, around the smooth lava of Palemano Point, which forms the south mouth of the bay. The partially man-made enclosure was built by members of a school camp,  just inland in a palm grove. In 1782, the thorny backshore of this coast is where Kamehameha the Great, under the tutelage of his mentor Kekuhaupio, defeated an army from the Hilo side and etched his first victory on the way to becoming a legend. Kekuhaupio was born in Ke'ei  Village.

Check out Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer for more details on exploring this region.














Sunday, January 15, 2017

The four-mile hike to Hanakapiai Falls on the Kalalau Trail is a ball-buster


Only Diamond Head above Waikiki Beach sees more visitors than the Kalalau Trail, which begins at road's end on Kauai's north shore. Most touristy hikes are a cake walk, but not this one.

The first two miles of the Kalalau have been rebuilt in the last few years, though footing is still tricky in many places. Views of the famed Napali ('The Cliffs') open up after just a half-mile, revealing the rest of the 11-mile route to the Kalalau Valley. Permits are required to continue beyond the first two miles at Hanakapia Beach, but you can head upstream from the beach for another two miles to the Hanakapiai Falls—making for and eight-mile round-trip adventure hike.  Fit hikers may think they can bang it out in a few hours, but think again, because this thing hikes like 12 miles—a reality you can see etched on the faces of the mud-splattered returnees at the trailhead.



Falling, getting lost, and drowning at Hanakapia Beach are among the most popular ways to die on the Kalalau Trail. But the most lethal opportunity is getting swept away while crossing Hanakapiai Stream. The state has plans to alleviate this hazard by installing an 80-foot-long footbridge in the next year or two, eliminating not only deaths but also numerous helicopter rescues of hikers who get caught on the wrong side of a flash flood and have the good sense to wait it out.



The trail upstream is rugged in many places, crossing the stream several times. Plan on wearing shoes you can get wet and muddy.


You could make a lot of money renting hiking poles at the trailhead. Retractable hiking poles are a godsend on many hiking trails, particularly on the Kalalau.


The falls deliver the scenic goods with a 200-foot white ribbon splashing into a pool encased by a green amphitheater.


The water is chilly and rarely hit by direct sunlight, but taking a dip can be the cherry on top for this adventure. BTW: Another hazard to avoid is getting below the falling water, which often enough will contain rocks and debris.

Fit families and adventure hikers can make this hike without incident and will love it. But be prepared, with food, water, and outerwear—and stay back from the margins of the trail, avoid a fast running stream, and don't go near the water at the beach.  Consult your trusty Kauai Trailblazer guide for more info:







Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hot-foot it with Pele at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


With all the possible ways for tourists to become injured or worse, you have to applaud rangers at the Big Island's Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for keeping the gates open. So far so good: Only a few deaths have been recorded since Pu'u O'o (on the east rift) blew her cork in 1983, followed by a big eruption in Halemaumau Crater in 2008.  The Halemaumau blast—from a crater within the larger Kilauea Crater—obliterated a visitor overlook and Crater Rim Drive around the park has been closed ever since.

Besides hot lava (which melts rocks), toxic fumes, crumbling cliffs, earth cracks, and heat exhaustion are all dangers to avoid.


This is the lady behind all the fuming, Pele, the volcano goddess who has worked her way down the Island chain from Kauai, leaving lava lakes in her wake. Kauai is now green and Eden-like, eroding into the sea. On the Big Island, hundreds of acres of new land has been created, and new growth  of ohia trees and ferns are coming up through cracks in the black lava right now.



HVNP has by far the most wilderness to be found in Hawaii. You need to prepard to venture into areas like the Kau Desert south of Kilauea Volcano.




Pele, and other Hawaiin deities, are honored at a centuries-old hula platform right on the rim of the Kilauea Crater. Check the schedule and go if at all possible. This isn't a tourist show, but Hawaiian culture in real time.



Though its last eruption was in 1959, Kilauea Iki Crater still leaks steam from broken tabletops of smooth lava. The 4-mile loop trial, which drops 400 feet, is one of the more memorable hikes in Hawaii.



Right across the road from Kilauea Iki is the Thurston Lava tube, a family tourist trot not to be missed. Stairs and a railed path drop into a tree-fern and ohia tree forest that is a bird-watcher's delight. The path continues through the dark tube—with a diameter of 12 to 15 feet, and 200 yards long. Lava tubes happen when a crust forms over the top of a stream of lava, while the flow continues underneath—the flow eventually stops and drains the tube.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has details on all of the above, plus much more in and around the park.















Friday, January 6, 2017

High as a kite at Maui's Kanaha Beach Park


Just 5 minutes out from a side road from the airport in Kahalui gets you to a happening beach that's pracitically unknown to tourists. But some of the world's best kite-boarders are all over it, and they provide a colorful spectacle.  Strapped to a surfboard and harnessed to a kite (that has enough lift to get them airborne without going bye-bye) these guys and girls frolick and fly over breaking waves, with the West Maui Mountains in the background looking like another island.



Big Kanaha Beach Park has and arboretum of huge beach trees and picnic pavilions that draw locals and families. Windsurfers also love Kanaha, also the real action for that sport is just up the coast at Hookah, er, Hookipa Beach Park.





This is windward (east) Maui, so whitecaps are common, but big waves are held in check by long Spartan Reef, which is well off-shore.



Head to the right (as you face the water) and you will find some of the best little sandy nooks to spend a quiet day at the beach—not easy to find on Maui.  You can walk around a palmy point, passing beach homes just inland, and reach the long stretch of open beach at Spreckelsville. A near shore small reef creates a sweet keiki (kids') beach.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on this non-touristy run of coast from Paia to Kahalui.