Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Surfer Alert: Kauai has a North Shore, too!

The North Shore of Oahu has four world-surfing tour beaches, and is known as the best board-riding coast in the world. But go north from there to the north shore of Kauai, and you'll find the best breaks that nobody knows about. Drive to posh Princeville and, just before the St. Regis Resort, look down from the guardrail to see the uniform rollers coming into Hideaways and Pali Ke Kua. Both spots have viewpoints for spectators.

Stand-up padders (called beach boy surfers in Hawaii until recent years) like Pu'u Poa Beach at the resort. It's just around the river mouth from Hanalei Bay.

Black Pot Beach, right at Hanalei Pier, has one of the best beginner breaks in Hawaii. You can walk out the pier and watch boards whizzing by. In the middle of Hanalei Bay is Pine Trees, the home surf for pro Bruce Irons and his brother, the late Andy Irons, who was a world champion.

Farther off shore the Hanalei River mouth is Bowls, a fave among short-boarders and SUP'ers alike. When the epic winter swells arrive, two monster breaks appear even farther out: Queens and Kings. In 1992, legendary surfer Titus Kimimaka flew into Kauai, saw Kings going off, and hurried from the airport to Hanalei and became the first person to ride the 50-foot behemoth. Beyond Hanalei, at Haena Beach Park, is an off-shore reef break called Cannons (boom!).

Locals in the know head to Kalihiwai Bay, where a point break creates a wave machine. The trick is to bail out before the surf hits the cliff. A guardrail right above the bay is a great viewing spot. Tip: Get advice from the locals before going out, since they protect their surf turf.

Kauai Trailbazer has details on all the breaks on the island, as well as the best places to watch.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Road to Hana: Proof that life is a journey, not a destination

On a typical morning on Maui a commuter-style convoy of rental cars embarks on the serpentine Hana Highway, crossing dozens of one-lane bridges before reaching the quiet town and then pressing on to the Pools of Oheo at the lower part of Haleakala National Park. Then they turn around for the long drive back to Kihei and Lahaina. 

An alternative: Consider exploring the Hana Highway as a day unto itself, and leave the drive to Hana for a second day—and on that day continue around south Maui and make a circle instead of doing the return run. That way you can see places like the Keanae Arboretum (above) and the village of Keanae.

Most of the lush forest reserves along the Hana Highway go unseen by visitors.

Don't get suckered into stopping every time you see cars parked. Maui has a lot of monkey-see, monkey-do tourism. This tropical coastline is full of trails to call your own.

Before jumping in the car, take a look at Maui Trailblazer, which has dozens of places to see along the way that are not on the tourist radar. Indpendent, active travelers wishing to create their own adventures will find this guide to be essential.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Big Island's Pololu Valley is like Kauai's Kalalau only without the people

The green nub on the north end of the Big Island—Kohala— that points toward Maui is a million years older than the island's southern volcanic slopes, whose shores are being widened by fresh lava right now. That means Kohala has deep tropical valleys and ridges with waterfalls and no roads—like Kauai's Napali Coast.

The road ends a few miles past the quaintly weathered town of Hawi, and from there a wide, steep trail (400 feet down over .75-mile) drops to Pololu Valley. A rocky beach fronts a huge freshwater pond encased by lush grasslands.

For most visitors, Pololu is the destination. But a trail leads up the other side on a wild-and-wooly, 20 mile run to Waipo Valley, which is at road's end on the east side of Kohala. Hearty hikers can make the first two or three valleys, though slides and tree falls can make the route sketchy. You'll find old walls and other ruins. Unless Tarzan or a knowledgeable guide is along, you'll want to turn around at the third valley over, Hokonoiki. (Most trekkers approach this coast from the Waipio side, on the Muliwai Trail.)  Directions in your Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Start your Hawaiian vacation in Portland

Many independent-minded people head to indie bookstores to buy Trailblazers, the best-selling guides by an independent publisher. The result will be a vacation as unique as your fingerprints.

It's worth a trip to Portland just to spend hours roaming around Powell's. Inside is a city block of books—stairways and corridors leading to color-coded rooms of tall shelves—where all the top-line best-sellers are alongside new and used books that truly cannot be found elsewhere. Lost and confused? No problem. Powell's staff are knowledgeable and everywhere.

Trailblazer Travel Books have been in print for 25 years, with multiple new editions to keep the content fresh. Full of juicy details and orgainzed like a Swiss Army knife, these publications are just the ticket for people who think for themselves. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hawaii's surefire cure for the Blues

Winter gets old. Especially in April. But the good news is that right now is low season in the Islands. So anyone who is feeling deeply blue can book a cheap trip to take the deep blue cure. 

Though jumping off rocks is generally not a good idea, these bluffs at Kauai's Mahaulepu Beach are safe. The urge to leap is nearly magnetic. 

A mellower blue immersion is to be had at Oahu's dreamy Lanikai Beach on the Windward side. Check out the nearby tiny islands via kayak, or float around the near-shore.

King Kamehameha took a fancy to Hanauma Bay (several miles south of Waikiki on Oahu) and for years it was reserved for his retinue. These days, busloads of visitors head down the steep paved trail to explore the aquamarine waters. Full disclosure: The photo is what Hanauma looks like when it's closed, and at times the place is a zoo. 

Trailblazer guides have specific directions to many dozens of beaches with just the right shade of blue.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Rough it in luxury on the Big Island's South Kohala Coast

The post-apocalyptic view seaward from the highway north of Kona—square miles of jagged slag heaps of black lava broiling in the sun—gives no clue of the oases that lie in pockets along the coast. Lush greenry rims anchialine ponds, where brackish fresh water rises from a vast aquifer. 

Fabulous destination resorts, like the Four Seasons, Mauna Lani, and Mauna Kea, mix cultural history with gardenscapes. 

A canoe hale and sundial just south of the Four Seasons speak of the Hawaiian's seagoing heritage.

Coral sand beaches buffet near-shore lava reefs—a perfect combo for beachcombers who want to take a dip.

Sea turtles have this place dialed.

The understated Beach Tree Pool at the Four Season is a somnolent fusion of land, sea, and air.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has all the details on South Kohala—the hikes, snorkeling pools, and resort strolls,  plus parking and access tips.

Monday, March 27, 2017

An Island Style vacation: Don't let Yelp bite you in the butt

Months of planning and thousands of dollars go into a Hawaiian vacation, so it's easy to understand that people want to 'see all the best stuff' and not miss out. Of course that means, in part,  going to Yelp and TripAdvisor, humma humma humma, to find out what the best stuff is. And then locating it and putting it on the day-to-day, hour-by-hour vacation schedule.

This strategy has several drawbacks. The main one is that visitors may well miss what has made people fall in love with the Islands, namely, living 'Island Style.' (See the bottom of this post for the best definition of 'Island Style.'

Part of an Island Style vacation is knowing when to depart from an itinerary and follow your instincts to something that looks cool.

You also want to go with the flow on a given day, let your mood dictate events, even though you may have had different plans. The weather in a given locale also should help decide the day's outing.

There's no rush. Hurrying to the next attraction often puts you in a crowd of people, who are doing the same thing. 

We all love our smartphones and the Internet. But remember that everyone is looking at them, so that what's 'best' may not turn out that way, mainly because too many people are there.  Each island has its 'tourist commute,' i.e., normal times during which hoards of people do the same things. Island Style means getting outside that pattern.

We (authors of the Trailblazer guides) have spent many years exploring just about every beach, trail, resort strip, and attraction on all the Islands. Sometimes we wonder if we know less than some dude who has been sitting at (for example) Pokai Beach Park on Oahu staring out to sea that whole time.

Trailblazer guides present many choices for active and independent travelers who want to find a place to call their own and let Hawaii work its magic.

What is Island Style?  Take a listen:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lahaina State of Mind

Maui's Lahaina has the perfect beaches, historical sites, and a fun run of shops and restaurants—adding up to one of Hawaii's best walk-around towns.  Baby Beach (above) has good snorkeling and plenty of room to drop a beach towel.

The harbor hosts pleasure yachts, fishing boats, and the ferry to the outer islands of Molokai and Lanai. Inland are the green chasms that give Maui its nickname of the Valley Isle.

The big banyan tree (to the left of the light beacon) hosts an art fair and a zillion birds that flit around in the shade of its canopy of branches.

Most of the buildings are reminders of Lahaina's racous whaling days in the late 1800s. Newly arrived missionaries teamed up with local ali'i (Hawaiian royalty) to building a stone prison (now a museum) that fostered law and order.

Lahaina delivers as a vactation party town, but you can always find a private moment by casting a gaze seaward toward Lanai. Maui Trailblazer has the details on the town's attractions, plus the beaches, hikes, and sights nearby.

Friday, March 17, 2017

This may be Kauai's top hike:

Kauai has many hikes that score a perfect 10—and you just can't get better than sublime. But the Awa'awapuhi Trail may get the top vote among many visitors. It's freaking breathtaking. 

Just the facts: The trailhead is at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet at the upper rim of Waimea Canyon. Distance is 6.5 miles, round-trip, with an elevation loss of 1,700 feet, though ups-and-downs make the climbing closer to 2,000 feet. The first leg of the journey penetrates a bird-rich, dry forest wilderness called the Napali-Kona Forest Reserve. More tweeting is done here than in Silicone Valley.

The termius looks straight down 3,000 feet from a Napali ridge to a little valley that is part of Napali Coast State Park. Reachable only by sea, this zone was inhabited well into the 1900s by native people.

Careful hikers and goats can venture onto a viewing knob that heightens the experience (pun intended)—though drop-off hazards are present, and this side trip is not recommended for acrophobics. 

Prepare for a for-real day hike (rain gear, food). Hiking poles will help on steep, slippery sections. Hearty families can make it. Though on the tourist radar, Awa'awapuhi doesn't get hammered like Kauai's other top hikes.

For more details, and for  perfect-10 hikes you've never heard of, check out Kauai Trailblazer

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The real Hawaii? Look no further than Kauai's Anahola

Thanks to Prince Jonah Kuhio and the Land Act of 1895, Anahola was one of the first places where native Hawaiians could 'own' land (999-year leases) that had been taken away in the U.S. annexation. These days, visitors can instantly know what it's like to live "Island Syle."

Anahola Beach Park has good, reef-protected snorkeling, with the Anahola Mountains as a pleasing backdrop.

From the beach park, you can walk the surf line for a few miles along a strip of yellow sand all the way to Aliomanu Bay. A county campground and cottages lie along a backshore of ironwoods and coco palms. That pointed peak in the ridge is known as "Kong," after the mythical movie gorilla. Some scenes from the film were shot here.

Community events take place on selected weekends, but normally the place is ultra laid back.

Locally run Kumu Camp Retreat offers some of the best rustic lodging in Hawaii. Just offshore the camp is Pillars, where body boarders ride a foamy shorebreak near a decrepit pier.

The Anahola River splits the long bay in two. Slack waters provide a fresh water pool for toddlers and waders. The upriver kayak is a mellow adventure. This rural coast of Kauai has many nooks to be discovered by inquisitive tourists. Check it out in Kauai Trailblazer. (Note that discount prices are available on brand new books; see the PayPal link at the top right of this blog.)