Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Trick or Treat: Maui's north shore is a mixed (scary) bag of goodies

Once past the Ritz Carlton Resort headed north from jammed-packed Kapalua on Maui, the scene instantly changes to a rural highway hugging the coast for about 30 miles—all the way around to Wailuku on the other side of the island. Near the start of this journey is one of its highlights, the Honolua Marine Preserve, where two little bays serve up some good-to-excellent snorkeling. After rains, Honolua Bay can be murky with stream runoff.

At the outer point of Honolua Bay is one of the better surfing venues in Hawaii, where a world-class wave machine sends a uniform right-breaking curls toward the shore. The point is a grandstand for spectators. You can also take a short walk out to Lipoa Point, a spot for adventure snorkelers and birdwatchers.

The Nakalele Blowhole is a well-known tourist stop. Two trails lead down to the geyser-like opening in the reef. The Ohai Loop Trail (easy) and Eke Crater Trail (hard, if you do it all) are nearby—not seen by many visitors.

This sign is no joke. Same goes for the dangers at the Bellstone (aka Olivine) Pools, which are soaking tubs just down the highway.

The road around the north shore is routine narrow and curving for the most part. But for several miles, through quaint Kahakuloa Village, "narrow" becomes white-knuckle skinny with steep drop-offs.

Anchoring the east side of the village is Kahakuloa Head, a landmark that can be seen from Baldwin Beach Park and other spots on the windward (east side). The head's summit, and also the top of the volcanic hillock next to it, can be achieved by careful hikers.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on these spots, as well as other attractions on this wild shore, most of which are off the tourist radar.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kauai's Coconut Coast is where Hawaii's first Royalty chose to live.

The Coconut Coast of Kauai, its east shore, is cleaved by the Wailua River, by far the largest in the state, and it was chosen above all other locales in the Islands to be home of the Ali'i (ruling class) for many centuries. Beaches are not spectacular, but many are just right for swimming families. This reef-protected pool is just north of the river mouth.

In ancient times, seven heiaus (temples) were built, beginning at the coast and extending inland toward Mount Waialeale, the rainiest spot on earth (around 40 feet per year).

Heads up! A falling coconut is no joke. 

The coconut was one of the 23 'canoe plants' that voyaging Polynesians brought with them to start life in their new world. The white meat is delish, of course, but coconut water is refreshing and nourishing—during WWII, coconut water was used for transfusions on wounded soldiers when plasma supplies ran low.

Wild Donkey Beach is one of several hike-to spots on the coast.  It's bordered by the Kapa'a Coastal Bike Path, a paved route that runs for many miles, through the town and along a wild coast. You won't find a bike path like this anywhere else.

Going north from Kapa'a begins a run of a dozen or more wild beaches, most unsigned and reachable only by foot—like this little oasis near Anahola.  Inland from Kapa'a are several great mountain trails, including the Sleeping Giant and Waialeale Blue Hole. You'll also find quite a few mid-range resorts on the Coconut Coast.

Aside from being a cool place unto itself, the Coconut Coast is convenient to visit Kaua's other hot spots, like the Napali Coast on the north coast, and the Koke'e Museum above Waimea Canyon on the south coast. Kaua'i Trailblazer has tons of details for independent travelers.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Big Island's Hamakua is like Maui's Hana Highway without the hassle

Maui's Hana Highway hugs a jungled coastline, crossing mossy one-lane bridges, botanical gardens, and umpteen spewing waterfalls. The Big Island's Old Mamalaoha Highway on the Hamakua (northeast) coast does pretty much the same thing—only without the traffic jam of rental cars. 

The trick is to take side-trips from the higher-speed Highway 19 (on the run from Honoka'a south to Hilo) onto the hardly-used sections of the old highway. In places, vines hang down nearly to your windshield and leafy sprays are at arm's length out the side windows.

A few miles off the highway is Akaka Falls State Park, offering a chance to take a .5-mile loop trail through a tropical garden, passing two waterfalls.

Akaka Falls is a classic, dropping about 500-feet through a split in a cliff.

Though the raising sugar cane days are over in Hamakua are over, about a half-dozen sleepy towns remain,  like Honomu (above). In several other towns you will find intact enclaves of sugar-shack communities. 

Umauma could be the cover shot for Waterfalls Magazine (if there was one). The triple-decked cascade is near three botanical gardens, including one of the best in the state—Hawaii Tropical Botanical gardens.

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer has more details on Hamakua—there are numerous beach parks as well. Most people zip along this coast on the way to someplace else, without realizing a fabulous destination is at hand.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Everybody's gone surfin' at Waimea Bay

The North Shore of Oahu boasts the Mt. Rushmore of pro-surfing venues—Pipeline, Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay—where real-life beach boys and girls ride unreal waves. The shore also has a few dozen other named surfing breaks. The place is Surf City, Planet Earth.

When epic surf rolls in, 25-feet and up (way up) you won't see anything like Waimea Bay. Breaking surf closes out the mouth of the bay, the kind of waves that make beachcombers tremble—and make the best surfers of the world paddle out to meet the challenge.

On normal days, Waimea has a big swath of sand, nice park amenities, and a wide stream that  creates a pool at the shore. The Waimea Valley Arboretum and Botanical Garden lies just inland. 

The shorebreak can be huge, the main event on some days. But the real surfing action is at the bay's mouth. You can park at the church (pictured above) and take a ringside seat on the bluff.

Yearly—but only if surf is 30 feet or so—Quiksilver surf company hosts a big-wave surfing event in the name of the great Eddie Aikau. Surfers fly in from around the world at the spur of the moment. Aikau was a North Shore legend waterman (lifeguard) and surfer, who heroically gave his life in an attempt to save the life of crew mates on the maiden voyage of the Hokulea (authentic Hawaiian sailing outrigger) when the craft was disabled in a storm. Aikau was lost at sea, as he left the boat on a surfboard to get help. The crew survived.

Throughout the Islands you'll see "Eddie Would Go" bumper stickers.

The scene changes on the north end of the North Shore. Snorkeling is excellent at several wild beaches.

Anchoring this part of the North Shore is the Turtle Bay Resort, with condos, a golf course, trails, and lots of open spaces.

Oahu Trailblazer has all the deets on the notorious North Shore, a place that is really down to earth.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A short trip to the Top of the World

Mauna Kea on the Big Island is easily the highest mountain in the world—about 43,000 feet when measured from its base that lies about 5 miles below sea level. The next tallest is MK's kissing cousin, Mauna Loa, which lies not far across a volcanic saddle.  A shrine marks the the space in between the peaks.

At 9,000 feet in elevation is the Onizuka Center for Astronomy, where telescopes are set up outside for looky-loos. It takes a four-wheel drive vehicle to travel the remaining 8 miles to the summit. To avoid altitude sickness, you should always stop at the center for an hour or so, rather than driving directly up.

If you go up on a guided tour, make sure they give you the half-hour it takes to make the half-mile round-trip to the top of the red mountain. To Hawaiians, who trekked up from sea level, Mauna Kea was the sacred portal to the heavens. 

The celestial observatories, thankfully, are atop a sub-peak next to Mauna Kea. 

About a dozen observatories, staffed by international scientists, take peeks from the peak. Most are not open to the public, but the University of Hawaii's, as well as the Keck, will let you in for a view. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the details on visiting this mind-blowing place on earth. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hardly anyone goes to one of the Big Island's best snorkeling spots

Abundant marine life, scenic backshore, clear water, easy entry*, shower, and great parking: why do so few people snorkel at  Mahukona Landing on the Kohala coast? Probably because the Big Island is big, and people don't stay long enough to get beyond the over-Yelped other snorkeling venues. And deep waters may be a little spooky for beginners.

Manta rays (harmless) and octopi join the usual suspects of reef life. Fish love the encrusted propeller and boilers that remain from a 1913 shipwreck.

Decrepit remains the the sugar-cane heydays skirt the backshore of the concrete landing, which dates from 1930. Mahukona Beach Park is steps away, and tiny Kapa'a Beach Park is just a mile or two up the coast, both spots with some of the best coastal camping in Hawaii. Headed south from Mahukona is a mile-long trail to Lapakahi State Historical Park (pictured below), site of a thriving village in the 1400s.

*Mahukona Landing can be hairy in high swells. Water breaking onto the concrete is a sign of an unsafe day. A ladder makes it easy to get in and out. If you find yourself in high swell, watch the surf and time your exit between swells. 

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has specific directions to popular as well as lesser-known snorkeling beaches. Specific safety precautions are noted.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Foodie Alert: Bring Kauai home from your vacation

Selfies and snapshots make for good memories, but for a more internal impact, try eating island-grown goodness during your visit—your body will be beaming with Hawaii for days. There are outdoor markets daily on Kauai, offering exotic fruits and veggies, as well as flowers.

Bring your own shopping bags and dollar bills, and show up at the appointed time, since some of the stuff goes fast. Usually, vendors don't dicker on price.

The effect is immediate if you drink the fruit on the spot. Have you  tried a soursop mint!

Many of the vendors have large gardens with quite a variety, but at some stands are just the offerings from a backyard tree.

Okay, not all the treats are organic. But you might find that apple bananas (above, right) are just as tasty as a chocolate.

Since most of the sugar cane fields are defunct in Hawaii, pineapples are now a principal export fruit.

Trailblazer guides list all the outdoor markets for all the islands, as well as the best neighorhoods to cruise for street stands. Stock up during the first day or two of your vacation and you're set.

Need help locating these markets? Here's a link:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

How the history of Hawaii foretells the future of the Earth

There are eight main Hawaiian Islands, created by erupting lava in a universe of ocean, just as there are eight planets (sorry Pluto) adrift in space. Hawaii is easily the world's most isolated landmass, and the last to feel the footprints of humankind—by the Marquesans from Polynesia around 200 A.D.

The Marquesans were followed by the dominant Tahitians in 700 A.D. Using celestial navigation, these mariners sailed 2,500 miles across unchartered seas in outriggers, carrying livestock and 23 "canoe plants." The Tahitians made the 5,000-mile round-trip journey for five centuries, bringing with them more plants and animals and people. Then, around 1200 A.D., these return voyages stopped, and the for the next 500 years (count 'em) the Hawaiians were alone on their island planets in the middle of the Pacific—all 65-million square miles of it.

Kings Trail

Why did the migrations stop? Some say it's all about the ahupua'a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah). An ahupua'a is the section of land required for Hawaiian villages to exist—it is a stream valley with agricultural terraces that open to a beach and is fringed by mountains and forests. An ahupua'a has all the ingredients for life. Once all these prime villiages were established, newcomers were unlikely to be welcomed.

Petroglyphs on the Big Island

We will never know what would have happened to Hawaii had Captain James Cook and his crew not arrived in the late 1700s—the last place on earth to be 'discovered' by Western Civilization. In subsequent decades, the Hawaii population was decimated by diseases. In 1898, the U.S. unlawfully annexed the internationally recognized Hawaiian Nation.

But an alternate-universe history of Hawaii may not have been all that rosy. Upon Cook's arrival, the population of the islands was nearing a million, not that far below what it is today. Inter-island wars had persisted for a couple of centuries. Although the armies (men and women) of the ruling class, the Ali'i, were astounding physical specimens, early reports by Westerners tell of common people malnourished and living in fear of the kapu, a system that brought justice in the form of a swift club for minor rule violations. Kamehameha was on his way to conquering all the Islands (though Kauai has never been defeated in battle ), and perhaps he would have succeeded, bringing peace and homeostasis to the Hawaiian Nation, but no one knows for sure.

Fish Pond at Mauna Lani Resort

In Hawaii, Aloha means many things—but it also means one thing: people living and working in balance with nature to sustain life in perpetuity. The Hawaiian understanding of sealife, plantlife, and building habitable space out of the jungle is complex. It is based upon sustaining the ahupua'a, which in turn sustains the Islands. The ability to grow is limited, and the ability to consume is finite. Many centuries may pass before the earth reaches the state that Hawaii was in the late 1700s. But today's Earthlings would be smart to study the Hawaiian way of life—which was (is) extremely practical and organized, yet synced directly with art and religious beliefs.