Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lahaina, Maui: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Lahaina Maui Hawaii harbor

In 1802, his immense eminence King Kamehameha the Great, fresh from battles that made him ruler of all the southern islands, made Lahaina his capital city and kicked back here for years while legions of craftsmen built 1,000 war canoes (the peleleu fleet) in preparation to conquer Kauai. (Disease and bad weather foiled two invasions, and a treaty was signed instead.)

These days, Kamehameha would not recognize the unrelenting assemblage of condos and resorts that line this coast at Ka'anapali and Kapalua. But he could still call Lahaina home, where the historical threads from the 1800s are alive and well. Lahaina Harbor (above) docks all manner of whale-watching and fishing boats, as well  the ferries to the islands of Lanai and Molokai.  A year after the great king's death in 1819, both missionaries and whalers arrived in Lahaina. Kamehameha II (Liholiho) joined forces with the missionaries to control the raucous whalers and establish order.

Pioneer Inn Lahaina

Built 120 years ago, the Pioneer Inn near the harbor has hosted guests ranging from Jack London to Jackie Kennedy.

Lahaina bike traffic

Front Street along the water is a stage set for eateries, bars, galleries, and tourist shops. It's busy all day and jumping at night.

Lahaina history Maui

Baldwin Home Museum was the residence of missionary Dwight D. Baldwin for 30 years, beginning in 1836. Hawaiian ali'i (royalty) and sea-weary mariners enjoyed the family's hospitality. 

Lahaina Chinese Joss House

Not far away on Front Street, the Wo Hing Museum dates from 1912, when it became a refuge for Maui's Chinese population.  In back is a rustic cookhouse, which is now a small theater that shows films of life in the Islands made by Thomas Edison around 1900.

Lahaina Maui courthouse

The old courthouse is now the Lahaina Heritage Museum, a one-stop shop that encapsulates the history with artifacts and displays. It's a trip unto itself.

Lahaina Square banyans

Banyan Tree Square in the heart of town hosts events for local artisans and is a gathering place for tired tourists. Its vast umbrella of limbs is an aviary for hundreds of song birds. The trees were planted in 1873 to celebrate Lahaina's 50th anniversary.

coco palm drive Lahaina school

Drive inland (and up) for a few miles and you'll reach the gardenlike grounds of Lahainaluna High School—the oldest high school in America, west of the Rockies. Views are superlative.

Lahaina first house museum

On school grounds is Hale Pai, where Hawaii's first newspaper was printed in the early 1830s.

Lahaina beach Maui

You are never far from the ocean in Lahaina. Pu'unoa (Baby) Beach on the north end of town is a locals' fave.

Lahaina Buddah Monastery

Looking onto the waters of Pu'unoa Beach is the 12-foot-tall Buddha statue at the Jodo Mission. It was erected in 1962, to commemorate a century of Japanese presence in Hawaii. Workers from Japan fueled the growing sugar cane industry.

There's plenty more to see in and around Lahaina Town. A new 2018 edition of Maui Trailblazer is your ticket to ride.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The high-and-lowdown on Oahu's cuckoo Koko Crater

Koko Crater Diamond Head volcano

Kissing cousin to the more-famous Diamond Head volcano, Koko Crater sits right across the highway from the most popular snorkeling venue in Hawaii (Hanauma Bay). Beginning at a parking lot for Koko Crater Regional Park is a trail like no other: Hundreds of railroad-tie steps go skyward 1,200 feet over 1.25 miles to the top. The route follows the remnants of a WWII-era tramway that transported workers to a radar installation.

Waikiki Oahu Trailblazer Hanauma Bay

You get a good look at his improbable trail from a turnout before reaching Hanauma Bay from Hawaii Kai east of Waikiki. Hot tip: Try this adventure early or late in the day to avoid getting fried by the tropical sun.

hike Oahu

Steel grating at the summit provides a viewing platform. That's Hawaii Kai, just west of Koko Crater.

Oahu hiking outdoors adventure travel

Though not as hairy as many Oahu ridge hikes, you'll want to avoid leg fatigue that may cause a tumble. One section, with wider separation over a gully, is safer when using your hands.

botanical Hawaii gardens cactus

The view south from the summit is into Koko Crater Botanical Gardens, where an unlikely assortment of cacti and palms is mind-blowing in its own way. Unless you brought a parachute, you'll need to continue past Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach to reach the garden's entrance. 

Oahu Trailblazer African birdwatch

A 2.25-mile loop trail through the 60-acre crater floor passes a forest of plumeria trees (blooming in spring), Disney-esque cacti, native wiliwili  trees and loulou palms, as well as palm imports from Africa and Madagascar.  Birdsong provides the narration. Admission to the garden is free.

Hawaiian gardens Hawaii tourist

Hemmed in by curving 1,000-foot walls, the crater floor can be hot. Morning and evening hours are best.

beach vacation  surfing  boogie board

Speaking of hot: Sandy Beach, east of Koko Crater, lures surfers, body boarders, and sunbathers from both sides of Oahu. On the weekends, the scene amps to da max.

Oahu Trailblazer has more details on the the east side of Oahu—the island's pleasant surprise.

Oahu guidebook

Monday, February 5, 2018

Perfecting the Art of Beach-Combing in Hawaii

donkey beach kauai hawaii trailblazerhawaii

Sure, it looks easy. Just like you can learn the way chess pieces move in five minutes. But to be a grand master of walking where surf meets the sand, a lifetime of dedication is required.  Here are the rules to keep in mind. (Above is Kauai's Donkey Beach.)

hawaiibeaches Baldwin beach Maui bikinis

No set uniform is needed. But barefoot walking is a must, giving yourself a foot massage and smoothing the tootsies as you go. And always carry flip flops (called 'slippers' in the Islands), to navigate rough sections between beaches and stickery spots at the backshore.

Don't wear strap-on sandals. Sand gets in the straps and, especially when wet, rubs your skin raw in no time. These beach-combers at Maui's Big Beach are obviously seasoned veterans.

Waikiki waikikibeach hawaii Oahu trailblazerhawaii

You can't lose the trail beach-combing. But should you wander inland into the wilds, like hubbub of Waikiki, be prepared by stuffing some cash in your swimsuit. It's waterproof.

Yokohama beach Oahu trailblazerhawaii

If you get stuck on hot sand trying to make it away from the beach (and you spaced out and didn't bring flip flops), dig down a few inches to where the sand is cool. No need to hot-foot it. Repeat the process until reaching shade—which is scarce at Yokohama Beach on Oahu.

When the surf is up—more than a few feet—stay well back of the waterline and even the wet areas left by receding waves. This is especially necessary where sand slopes steeply to the water. This day on Kauai's Charo's Beach isn't particularly dangerous, but people get swept out and often die in Hawaii when walking too close to the shore when waves are large.

Charo's is a beach known for shells, so a serious beach-comber always keeps an eye out for the treasures.  Hawaiian sand usually is coarse and soft at the shoreline, unlike many Mainland beaches where the surface close to the shore is firm and flat. Your feet churn through a workout.

windward Oahu  lethawaiihappen

When on longer excursions—like walking from Makapu'u Beach Park to Makai Research Pier on Oahu's Windward side—be sure to take a daypack with water, food, sunblock, and enough clothing to layer against a change in the weather.

Lanikai beach  Oahu

Of course, walking is only one beach activity. Plan ahead by wearing a swimsuit and throwing a mask into your pack. You can take a quick snorkel-swim. And then take a break by watching surfers and kite-boarders. Oahu's Lanakai Beach always has a lot going on.

Most importantly, never give up and always seek new adventures. Get ahold of a Trailblazer guide.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kauai's Waimea Canyon: Too trippy to imagine

Waimea Canyon by itself—a twelve-mile-long, 3,000-foot deep gash called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific—is just your run-of-the-mill freaking amazing. Several overlooks on the way up from Waimea Town are national-park quality. The Kukui Trail drops to the bottom (cacti and century plants, river), and several trails dance along the rim, like the one to Polihale Falls (above).

Waimea Canyon Kauai Hawaii KauaiTrailblazer

The road up the rim of Waimea Canyon ends at two overlooks of the Kalalau Valley. This is the spot trekkers reach after a 12-mile slog along the rugged Napali ("the cliffs") Coast from the north side of the island beyond Hanalei Town (around the right side of the above photo). 

This Kalalau Trail gets hammered by footprints. What few people realize is that the roadless Napali continues to the left of this photo, eight or more other cliff-and-valley features. You can walk out all of them. The most famous is the Awa'awapuhi Trail, but other hikes are also spectacular, ending at beach vistas from 2,000 to 3,000 feet up.

alakai swamp kauai hawaii trailblazerhawaii

You're not done: From the last overlook, the Pihea Trail skirts the lip of the Kalalau Valley—and then drops via miles of staircases and ramps through the rainforests of the Alakai Swamp and ends at a platform (called Kilohana) that looks down from 4,000 feet onto Kauai's north shore.

kokee museum kauai hawaii trailblazer

But wait, there's more: Forested bird lands lie between the top of the canyon and the edge of the valleys—more miles of trails and mountain biking roads in Koke'e and Waimea Canyon state parks. The best place to make sense of all this is to head to the Koke'e Museum, among the very best in the state. Staff know the area well (you won't find park rangers around) and the gift store is maybe the best on the island.

Kauai Trailblazer has all the details. It takes a few trips to get a handle on this adventure wonderland.  Be Aware: It can be nippy up here, so bring outerwear and equip your daypack.

kauai trailblazer guidebook

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Oahu's Maunawili Falls: A short trip to the 'Heart of Darkness'

Maunawili Falls Oahu Trailblazer Kailua hiking

The 3-mile round-trip (375 feet of elevation) to Maunawili Falls may spec out as a cakewalk, but it walks more like a jungle trek a la Conrad's novel, upon which the movie Apocalypse Now was based. The trail starts in suburbia on the east side of the Ko'olau Range not far from Kailua on Windward Oahu. The neighborhood scene changes from the jump, as tropical flora swallows you up.

hiking Oahu Hawaii

Imbedded flat stones are a traditional Hawaiian method of improving footing.

Oahu Trailblazer hiking trails

Some short sections of the trail are a breeze.

hiking Maunawili Falls trail

File the "No Trespassing" warning under "not necessary." King Kong would have trouble off trail.

Footwear is a personal choice. Whatever yours is, plan on getting them wet and muddy. As is the case for most jungle hikes in Hawaii, it's easier to leave shoes on when crossing streams. Plan on washing them after the hike to avoid an unpleasant stink.

Maunawili Falls Oahu Trailblazer directions

Rain on this day turned the water brown. A second falls lies above, but it takes a four-point scramble. 

Most visitors to populated Oahu will be surprised at the number of trailheads leading to waterfalls and ridges of the Ko'olaus and Waianae Mountains. Oahu Traiblazer guides you to all of them.

Oahu Trailblazer cover

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Why do few visitors see one of the very best coasts in Hawaii?

puna_hawaii_big island trailblazer

Puna, the big nose of the Big Island that points east, is by any measure one of the best places to visit in the state, but not that many people see it since the island is so ... big (larger than all the other islands combined). 

While rental cars jam places like Maui's Hana Highway, you can cruise virtually solo on the Kehena-Pohoiki Scenic Drive. It begins at the south end of Puna, about 25 miles from Hilo. Hikes to see flowing lava begin nearby, at Kalapana Bay.

Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

The hot spot on the water is Isaac Hale (hah-lay) Beach Park. Surfers love the left-break off of the park's breakwater and you can walk out for grandstand seats. 

Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

Behind the community cottage at the beach park is Pohoiki Warm Spring, a natural warm pool created by the Big Island's geothermal goings on. 

tree tunnel Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

The tropical tree tunnel leads to a huge forest of Ironwood trees MacKenzie State Park, home to one of the best coastal campgrounds in Hawaii.  No beach here, and monster waves can pose a threat along the bluffs.

A large warm pool—a fabulous freebie—is a few miles down the road at Ahalanui Warm Pond Park.  A grove of coco palms invite a picnic at this county park.

hot pool Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

Greenery gives way to lava lands as you head north in Puna. The pocked topography at the coast creates a unique snorkeling park. At Waiopae Tide Pools are a dozen or more swimmable depressions, rich with coral and fish.  Waiopae is a Marine Conservation District.

Just north of the pools is Cape Kumakahi, the eastern most tip of the Big Island—the air here has been measured as the purest on the planet. A short walk through the slag heaps (the coast was extended by a half-mile by a 1960 eruption) brings you to a winning swimming hole. The tepid waters of the Kapoho Bay Seapool (a.k.a Champagne Cove) are crystal clear.

Lava Tree State Monument Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

When looping inland back towards Hilo, you'll want to pull in at Lava Tree State Monument.  A .75-mile path weaves through lava statues created when a high-tide of lava came through in the 1700s. When the flow receded, some of the hot stuff congealed on the trunks of ohia trees, and remained as columns when the trees burned away. Songbirds provide a raucous soundtrack to this sort-of eerie stroll.

More details and stuff to see in Puna await in (click here to buy yours): Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer