Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kauai's Napali Coast: How to find the wilderness beyond the people-jam at the Kalalau Trail

The northwest coast of Kauai—which is itself the most northwesterly of the major Hawaiian Islands—is roadless and wild, where knuckle-sets of 2,000-foot-high cliff heads greet the pounding Pacific. At road's end past Hanalei is the Kalalau Trail, beginning its rugged, 11-mile journey to the Kalalau Valley, a pilgrimage for pig-hunters, adventure hikers, and erstwhile hippies. At peak times, nearly 500 people per day take a shot at the Kalalau, more visitors than at any state park in Hawaii other than Diamond Head. Parking can be a pain, and the first two miles of the trail can be a circus of wildly unprepared tourists.  

Many options exist for visitors wanting to find the unpeopled places of Napali.

Most of the acess to Napali (The Cliffs), is way around on the other side of the island, off the highway that climbs above Waimea Canyon. On this road, most visitors go gaga (as well they should) at the pink-and-green walled canyon to the interior—and few visitors are aware that a dozen or more state forest roads and trails take off from the ocean-side of the highway. These routes go out ridge tops, which are separated by valleys and end at cliffs with birds-eye views. 

You don't need a helicopter to get a look from the sky. Treks are from 6 to 10 miles, roundtrip, with an elevation drop of 1,200 to 1,700 feet on the way out. Mountain bikers can go nuts (though more popular trails, like the Awa'awapuhi and Pihea (which goes around the top of Kalalau Valley) are for feet only. 

Kauai Trailblazer has many tips on how to avoid hassles when visiting the popluar Kalalau Trail, including nearby options. You'll also find directions and descriptions of the many routes less traveled in the upper regions of the Napali Coast.  Final note: on the opposite side of the island from the Kalalau Trailhead, the cliffs end at Polihale State Beach—with Polihale Ridge towering above.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

An Oahu Fantasyland: The Seven Bridges of Moanalua Valley

Many 'secret' hikes in Hawaii are on the tourist radar, but not so for the enchanting (for real) saunter into Moanalua Valley, which begins at the back end of a neighborhood park in central Oahu not far from a freeway. A cobblestone road and decrepit bridges swerves through a wild tropical garden in the former estate of Samuel M. Damon—who was bequeathed the valley by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great granddaughter of Kamehameha I.

Though engulfed by greenery, the route is easy-walking, especially compared to some other valley hikes into the Ko'olau Range.

The road ends after a couple miles, becoming a trail used by pig hunters that eventually becomes ensnarled ed by flora and too steep to hike. BTW: On some weekends, hunters may be present, as indicated by signs at the park's trailhead (stay out). For access information, call Moanalua Gardens at 808-834-8612 (these gardens, several miles from the neighborhood park trailhead, are not among the island's most spectacular, albeit the home of the "Hitachi Tree," which was featured in a TV commerical in Japan and is visited by busloads of tourists. ).

Hawaiian habitation predated the Damon family's ownership by centuries, as evidenced by Pohaku Ka Luanne (Stone of the Old Woman). The 10-foot long, egg-shaped stone is etched with petroglyphs. Other ancient artifacts are also on site. 

Damon's children built homes in the valley, but only remnants remain. Moanalua Valley in recent decades was slotted for the trans-Oahu H-3 Freeway, but preservation groups banded together to re-route the project. Oahu Trailblazer has more details on this hike, beginning on page 65.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

King's Trail is a walk on Maui's wild side

Not far from where the road ends beyond ritzy Wailea, the rugged King's Trail begins its 12-mile run along the island's arid and out-there south coast. The trail dates from King Pi'ilani in the 1500s, though it was reconstucted by Governor Hoapili in the early 1800s—and more recently by park officials. The "King's Trail" is sort of a generic term for trails that encircle all the Islands, known for going straight as a string, rather than following contours.

The trailhead is near the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Preserve, and at the site of  Keoneoio Village, a 65-acre historic district. Numerous lava-rock shelters, walls, and foundations remain.

Stickery kiawe trees and wisps of sand soften the hundreds of acres of a'a lava flows (the kind piled up like broken shards, through which a tank could not pass).

Kanaio Beach is two-plus miles along the path. A little rocky and hard to get to, yes, but the swimming is very good with clear waters.

After several miles, the King's Trail gets rougher, so bring heavy boots and prepare for a wilderness experience. Hardcore hikers can do a car-shuttle hike to Manawainui Gulch, reachable via a long drive up to and around the backside of Haleakala. 

Maui Trailblazer has details on these wild lands of Maui, on pages 29-31, and 164-173. The south coast of Maui won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it offers solitude and exploration virtually free of tourists and the scenery is spectacular, with Haleakala rising from sea level to 10,000 feet.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Maui's Bellstone Pools and Nakalele Blowhole: Only beauties when they are sleeping

Nothing quite spoils a family vacation like having a wave sweep someone away and into the depths of the deep blue sea. So, first rule when visiting the very cool Nakalele Blowhole and Bellstone Pools is to stay well back from the reef edges and watch wave action for at least 15 minutes. High surf can be present during calm days. If the reef around the pools is wet, take that as a clue that sporadic surf is jumping the reef and stay out.

On calm days the pools (known as 'Olivine Pools' to some), are a world-class freebie. This photo shows one of a half-dozen soaking tubs, spread out over a couple of reefy acres. Colorful fishies and sea flora lie beneath clear water.

It's a tough, steep hike down to the pool (the price of admission) from an obscure turnout on Maui's north shore, near the ancient Bellstone—a hog-sized rock than has rested here for centuries. When struck at the right place with the correct object, the rock emanates a hollow, metallic sound.

Several miles up scenic Highway 30, the Nakalele Blowhole is a well-known roadside attraction, and rental car clusters normally mark each of the two trailheads. The rough trail down drops about 200 feet over .75-mile. Most people stand farther back than these visitors, but they thankfully have the sense not to have the ocean at their backs—the double whammy.

Again, these folks weren't in any real danger, but you can see how someone who stood closer yet could be knocked down and then floated back into the blowhole—gulp—which is an opening in the ceiling of an underwater cave in the reef. Multi-colored, weirdly formed rocks surround the margins of the reef, nice perches to sit and catch a little spray on hot days.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on these places (pages 74-79), and others on this rural coastline. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Oahu's Waikiki is not (just) a tourist trap

While you will not find a little grass shack, a stroll along 2-mile long Waikiki Beach is a trip through Hawaiian history. To be clear, WKK is sort of Las Vegas minus the gambling, plus the ocean, with some 10 square blocks packed with high-rises, bars, restaurants, fashion shopping, and ticky tack stores that cater to sun scorched tourists just off the jet from Omaha, LA, or Tokyo. But this same ground not long ago (and for centuries before that) was home to the Ali'i (Hawaiian royalty), as evidenced by huge Kapiolani Park next to Waikiki, which was bequeathed to the people by King Kalakaua in honor of his wife. Real Hawaiians flock to the beaches daily, to frolic in the warm water under the watchful brow of Diamond Head.

Surfing is a tradition dating back hundreds of years, yes, even before the Beach Boys. The entire historic stroll along the beach is accented with historical plaques and statues, including these surfers with a monk seal, and also one of Duke Kahanamoku, surfing legend and Olympic champion swimmer.  Not far from the hubbub is the Waikiki Aquarium, operated by the University of Hawaii, where you can get some serious eye-contact with the monk seals (an endangered species, and Hawaii's only native mammals).

This guy may look like an accountant, but his family dates way back in Hawaiian history, and the conch shell that sounds at a nightly beachside ceremony is a call to his ancestors to further the Polynesian cultural traditions.

Theres' nothing like the beach at sunset to cap the day. Although Oahu has its urban corridor, finding aloha is not hard. First-timers on a budget might consider this island, since cheap rooms can be found, and you don't really need the added expense of a rental car or flight to an outer island.

Oahu Trailblazer has details on Waikiki, Honolulu, and the rural reaches of Oahu. If trying to decide which island is best for you, get ahold of No Worries Hawaii, a vacation planner with a self-test that makes sure you make the right choices.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Kaua'i's Moloa'a rhymes with Ahhhhhhhh

Kauai's northeast coast has a wealth of wild beaches, so pleasure seekers may not find Moloa'a (mo-lo-ah-ah) Bay on the first visit, or even the second. The big curve of sand cleaved by a fresh stream is two lush miles down a rural road, a couple turns off a country highway. In the past, "no parking" signs near beach homes dissuaded visitors, but those days are gone and the vibe is total aloha. At the far end of this beach, a trail leads up a bluff into a bird sanctuary with views of the deep blue sea.

Few people head the other way around the bay, a beachcomer's stroll along a reefy shore break. At the far end of the bay are the Moloa'a Baths—pools and channels in an onshore coral reef that are favored by reef fishermen and snorkelers. As is the case with all beaches, be cautious when the surf is up, since high surf equals stronger rip current.

Don't forget to nose around the backshore (while avoiding people's yards), where gardens and torpical orchards add some soothing green to a day a the beach. Kaua'i Trailblazer has the deets on this sweet bay, as well as more than a dozen wild beaches along this 20-mile-long adverturer's paradise.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Big Island's Waipio Valley: A short walk to a world apart

On the lush north nub of the Big Island of Hawaii, Waipio Valley is an adventure into the past, where young Kamehamea spent his youth surfing a wild beach and roaming one of the richest agricultural terraces in the Islands. Lush in Hawaii means 'wet,' so plan on getting your feet wet.

As seen from a lookout at road's end, Waipio appears as a faraway land, its beach cleaved by a swift-flowing stream. At the cliff at the far end of the beach, the Muliwai Trail begins its switchbacking ascent into the roadless north coast, where wilderness is wild for real.

The road down requires 4WD vehicles or a ride with a one of the local tour companies. On the other hand, you can just walk down: it's only 500-feet down over 1.5 miles, not bad considering the destination.

A hidden hike in Waipio leads to the taro fields that have been cultivated for many generations, often by the same families. The trail is sort of hard to find, since you begin by walking a  water-washed road the looks like a streambead.

Waterfalls, including twin ribbons of Hi'ilawae Falls, accent cliff walls that hem Waipio in on three sides. The road down crosses over the top of Kaluahine Falls. Once at the beach, you can rock-hop to the right to get a point-blank look from the bottom (although standing at the bottom of waterfalls is not a good idea in Hawaii, since rocks and debris sometimes fall with the water).

Hawaii the Big Island Trailbazer has more details, beginning on page 31.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cruising the Kapa'a Coastal Bike Path

Pedaling the Coconut Coast of Kauai (the east shore) has quietly become one of the top attractions in the state. Decades in the making, the Ke Ala Hel Makalae ("path that goes by the coast") swerves a dreamy dozen-or-so miles, from the wild beaches in Ahahola to the north, through the beach cottages of funky Kapa'a Town, and ending (for now) at the huge family fantasyland of Lydgate Beach Park.

The heart of the path, in Kapa'a passes several beaches, including Pono Kai Beach, so bring your snorkel and fins along for the ride.

Intrepretive signs accent the route, telling of the town's past lives as a pineapple center and sugar cane grower. A half-dozen new, Decco footbridges cross canals, streams and ravines—including the slick new bike lane across the wide Wailua River from Kapa'a to Lydgate, which used to be a major pain for cyclists at this busy T-intersection. 

There are plenty of places to hit the brakes for eats and beverages, both in Kapa'a and at the Coconut Marketplace.

Beach cruiser bikes may be rented at several places in and around Kapa'a. A good choice is Coconut Coasters, centrally located and right on the path. They offer a range of wheels, including three-speeds with nice cushy seats.

Although the official path doesn't go much farther north of Donkey Beach, adventure seekers can continue on old cane roads and paths past cute House Beach, and all the way to Anahola. On the south end, you can ride beyond Lydgate on a sandy side road several more miles to Kauai Beach.

Kauai Trailblazer has all the details on the Kapa'a Coastal Bike Path, as well as many other rides on the Garden Island—by far the best cycling island in Hawaii, and one of the top spots in the world for mountain bikers.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hiking on the Hana Highway

A conga line of rental cars forms at midday on Maui, as tourists line up to twist and turn for 40 miles of one-lane bridges and waterfalls along the way to the quiet town of Hana. Driving isn't the only attraction. The Hana Highway presents many opportunites to wander into the rainforest, but you have to know where to look. Wahinepe'e Falls, for instance, is hiding in plain site up and behind a  well-signed botanical garden.

The Waikamoi Nature Trail is also easy to find (though parking can be a pinch) but not many visitors know about Kolea Road, which branches off the main trail to make a loop through a bamboo forest.

Many of the trails in the Ko'olau Forest Reserve, which borders the highway for about 10 miles, have limited access, but there are enough options to satisfy the advenurous visitor. Maui Trailblazer has all the details to find the hidden spots—and not just the 'hidden spots' that everyone knows about.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Magic hour in Hawaii: Priceless (doesn't cost one thin dime)

Movie directors (not a rare sight to see a crew filming in Hawaii) call it 'magic hour,' the time right around sunset when the light is right to lend a dreamy unreality to a scene. For visitors in the know, magic hour is the time to be kicking back with pupus or a plate dinner and a beverage—and ease on into the evening.

Late in the afternoons, say 3:30 to 5, parking spaces start to open up at the beach, as the sun-scorched set starts to think about getting a shower and heading out to dinner. Even those who delay the ritual to hang in there for sunset, take off when it's over, only to wind up waiting for a table somewhere else.

For an evening to remember—and one that meets the budget—try bringing  your dinner to the beach in the late afternoon, watch as people scurry off, and then mellow out as the day becomes sunset, and wait for the stars to appear. You may get in the habit of it. 

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