Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sleeping Giant: Kauai's Wake Up Call

Sleeping Giant Hike Kauai Hawaii view

Nounou Mountain, above Kauai's Coconut Coast, looks like the head of a huge Easter-Island-style statue in repose, and locals have always called it the Sleeping Giant. His nose is the summit, with the chin to the right, and a downward sloping forehead to the left. 

The summit hike is a not-to-miss half-day adventure: 3 to 5 miles roundtrip, and up to 1,000 feet of gain, depending on which of three trailheads you select.

Norfolk pines Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

The east side trailhead is the shortest and probably most scenic route. The lower portion penetrates a grove of Norfolk Pines, which were coveted for their use as masts on the sailing ships in the old days. 

The west side trail is almost a mile longer, and has ocean views all the way with plenty of sunshine—which can be a good or bad thing.

Boulder bluff climb Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

A picnic shelter that is less than a half mile from the top gives up great views, and some hikers think this is the end of the trail. But press on, since the most thrilling and scenic parts are not far. A couple of trail sections require a hands-on approach and may dissuade the casual hiker.

Rootbound trail Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

Wet conditions are common on the Sleeping Giant trail. Roots provide a stairway of sorts.

Steep climb up Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

The trail is not dangerous but you want to be mindful of footing and aware that greenery disguises drop-off hazards.

Sleeping Giant trail summit view

You don't want to slip off this stretch between the Giant's nose and chin (in the distance). And, by the way, many people scramble out to the chin on the way up to the summit and are one-step away from a fatal free-fall in so doing.

Wailua River view from top of Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

The view from the top. The Wailua River is to the right—the spot from which the top photo in this blog was taken.

new trail friends Barcelona Adelaide Peru Israel

True, the Giant is a fave among locals. But the rest of the world is also well represented: Sharing the picnic view bench at this moment were hikers from Israel, Australia, Peru, and Spain, plus two from the Big Island of Ama'reeka.

Recommended: Bring hiking poles for Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai Hawaii

Tips: Hiking poles are a huge help on rainy days, but having two poles is not recommended for this hike since a spare hand is often needed to grab the strawberry guava saplings along the trail for support. Wear dark shorts, since you are bound to take an unexpected sit down, and plan on getting shoes muddy.

Kauai Trailblazer has all the details and directions for this classic hike. For sale on Amazon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hawaii's Hottest Ticket is to where the Action Isn't

Anyone who has been to the Islands recently will tell you traffic and crowds at popular destinations are a hassle. Seriously. For real. But the hassle is avoidable. The trick is to get to the many destinations that are out of the Yelp-o-Sphere, without having to sacrifice scenic values to do so.

One of these places is the trail out of Pololu Valley on the Big Island. People walk to the beach but not many know the trail leading to the roadless escarpments on the northern coast.

Going to places that aren't crowded makes some people feel like they are missing out. Not true. Pack a sense of independence in your suitcase and you will be rewarded.

Maui's Hana Highway draws a conga line of rental cars competing for roadside turnouts. The Kaupo Coast (much of it now part of Haleakala National Park) is wide open and undeveloped.

It's natural to want to see the "top" attractions. They got to be popular for good reason. But a slight turn of the wheel (if you know where to go) will get you someplace just far enough out of the buzz, like this lesser known route on the Hana Highway.

The Big Island's Waipio Valley has been attracting nature lovers since Kamehameha the Great surfed there as a boy. Few people realize that if you zig where everyone else zags, you will find yourself in the seldom seen taro field farther up the valley.

The Lyon Arboretum is sitting there in plain sight, not far from Waikiki Beach. But most people follow the tour-bus crowd to nearby Manoa Falls. Lyon has acres of wild gardens and its own falls.

Same goes of Kekaha Kai State Park in Kona. A fair number of people find the place, but it has its more hidden crannies of perfection.

The Keahua Arboretum in Kauai has a couple of trails that get hammered by TripAdvisor devotees. And they are excellent walks. But the  Powerline Trail, less than a quarter-mile away, is a botanical wonderland that you will have mostly to yourself. In fact, it's comforting to run into other people in the thick of things.

No Worries Hawaii is a vacation planning guide 20 years in the making. Using a self-test to gather your preferences, the book finds the right island for you, as well as the specific places and attractions you are looking for. Money saving tips and safety advice are also included, as well as the lowdown on private tours.

Trailblazer Travel Books—one for each island—are for independent, active people. They cover all the main attractions, as well as the little known trails, cultural sites, and coastal access spots. Read one before you go and hit the ground running. You won't find splashy gold stars or brochure-type writing. But you will find jewels to call your own away from the throngs. They're all sold on

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Kauai's Silver Falls Ranch is Horsey Heaven

Although the first rodeo champs in the America were Hawaiians, horseback riding is not among the postcard images normally associated with the Islands. But it should be. If you like riding horses, or have thought about giving it a try, head for the magnificent Silver Falls Ranch on the North Shore.

Who's happier here, the horses or the horse people? Karly and tawny Ohia (above) would call it a tie.

The ranch and adjoining property are several hundred acres—which border the 15,000 acres of the Halele'a Forest Reserve. About 80 acres are a manicured botanical garden. Framing the scene are the fluted slopes of Mount Namahana and its adjoining jagged green ridges. It's surreal.

The cascade that is Silver Falls serves up a prime swimming hole. Riders are served lunch here.

Silver Falls Ranch is organized, clean, and neat as a pin.  

Manager Donna Hunt keeps the place humming. The ranch accommodates riders of all sizes (unlike some other stables) and experience levels. Rides are up to a half-day in length. Most trips skirt the Makaleha Caldera, the volcanic origin of Kauai—though you'd never guess it by looking today at the lush wetlands.

Big Blue, by all appearances, loves his job.

The ranch can also set up private outings. Donna says hiking may also be offered in the future, but for now the only way to see the place is from the saddle. 

Often enough, throughout the history of Hawaii, people with a ton of money buy up land and gate it off from the public. Silver Falls Ranch is a shining exception, owned by people with a vision to make Kauai a better place for everyone.


808-828-6718 (7:30 am to 5:30 pm HST)

Office hours:
7:30 am to 5:00 pm HST
2888 Kamookoa Rd, Kilauea, HI 9675

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The 'back door' to Oahu's hidden North Shore

Most people who venture out of Waikiki to see the fabled North Shore of Oahu want to see the Mt. Rushmore of pro-surfing beaches: Haleiwa, Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset Beach—and then drive back. They miss out on the wild, scenic stuff that ironically is in proximity to Turtle Bay Resort, the only resort community on the rural North Shore.

Just beyond Sunset is Velzyland (above), where a renowned surfing wave on a dreamy beach has special appeal for surfers from around the globe. Larger-than-life surfboard shaper Dave Velzy was at the center of the sport's rise during the Beach Boy days of the 1960s. The myth lives on here.

A system of trails and a snorkeling beach is about a mile south of the resort, at Kawela Bay

Spend the day in the surf and sun.  Repeat as necessary.

Kawela's trails meander beside huge banyans and other behemoths.

Kulima Cove is a sweet scoop of sand with decent-to-good snorkeling. Miles of open beach await in the reverse direction of this picture. A little keiki (kids) cove is less than a half-mile down from Turtle Bay Resort (whose architects may have been inspired by shoe boxes).

These fellows, as one might expect, inhabit the waters off the resort's seaside walkways, sharing the scene with surfers. Oahu Trailblazer has more details on finding nooks of the North Shore.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Maui has a North Shore too

Once you pass the Ritz Carlton in north Kapalua, the road becomes instantly rural. One of the first stops is the Honolua Bay Marine Preserve. Tour boats take paying customers here, but you can snorkel for free. 

A short trail enters a jungle gardenscape. You should know: The beach is rocky, and a stream will muddy the waters after it rains. Roadside parking fills up early. 

The point on Honolua's north tip is one of the better—maybe the best—surfing wave on Maui. Forsure, it's one of the better places to watch surfers in Hawaii.  A dirt road reaches the point and a short walk takes you to a ringside seat on a cliff.

The Nakalele Blowhole is a popular roadside attraction—or rather, a short hike from the road. There are two trails. The stupid thing to do here is get close to the opening or stand with your back to the surf. People have died here. Same goes for the Bellstone (Olivine) Pools, which are just down the road. Any day when surf breaches the reef is a dangerous day. Watch for 15 minutes before determining safety. No kidding.

Few visitors visit the two trails that lead into the mountains—the best-kept secret on this coast.  The Ohai Loop Trail, along the ocean bluffs, is on the tourist radar—though seldom crowded.

Kahakuloa Head ("tall lord") lords over the small village of the same name. The road down is a narrow, white-knuckler. You'll want to avoid the school bus coming up. In town are a couple quaint churches and tasty banana bread stand. Driving up from Kahakuloa Village (more narrow road) gets you to a trail leading to a whale watching nook below the head—in its saddle with the little pu'u (volcanic cone). Turn-out parking is unsigned.

Due to the number of tourists on the road, you will want to go with the flow, i.e, drive in the clockwise direction, north from Lahaina. The narrow, cliffside highway continues to Kahalui. Avoid the north shore during rains.

Maui Trailblazer has the details on the best way to visit the rugged north coast.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Big Island: C'mon over, the Air is Fine!

For the first time in more than 30 years, Kilauea Volcano is not spewing vog—volcanic smog—and the air is pure and clean everywhere. The nastiness of vog has not been widely publicized, even though the air quality has been worse at times, in places,  than L.A. in the early 1960s. People were not only gasping in Kona, but also on Maui and Oahu, and even as far as the north shore of Kauai. 

Now Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park in Kona is feelin' the blues again.

People 30 years old and younger on the Big Island had lived their lives seeing precious little haze-free sky—depending on the wind conditions. Today, these kids at Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo can sniff the clean stuff along with sea turtles.

Improved air quality is a silver lining to the destruction that lava flows in 2018 brought to the Puna (east) Coast, where many miles of shoreline we buried in molten lava and hundreds of people were displaced and homes destroyed.

The most lethal force currently on the loose on-island is Hilo's Wailuku ('destructive waters')  River, which comes down the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

It's time to kick back and enjoy untainted paradise on the Big Island. Until the volcano blows a cork again, which could be five minutes from now or years into the future.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer is your ticket to explore the island's wild blue yonder.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Kauai Triple Play, Every Day: Snorkel, Hike, Culture

Filling out a daily schedule is not a tough task on Kauai (or any of the Islands): Find a beach to snorkel and hang out, find a trail into a tropical forest, and seek to soak in some Hawaiian culture. Hideaways Beach (above) in Princeville is a good place to punch the snorkel ticket.

The Powerline Trail (above) that extends from above Kapa'a to the North Shore is a spectacular hike that sees little use, given other trails in the vicinity. Hiking the whole trans-island route is a challenge, since it is overgrown in the middle. A better choice is to do an out-and-back from either of the trailheads.

You really can't set foot anywhere in Hawaii without being immersed in cultural traditions. A family favorite is the Smith's paddleboat tour up the Wailua River to Fern Grotto. The Smith family has operated the boats—as well as a tropical garden and luau—for more than 60 years. Kayaking is also a popular way to see the wide Wailua.

Trailblazer Travel Books provide an inexhaustible menu of triple-play-day options for all the Islands.