Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dateline Kauai: Living the wild life at lovely, lonely Larsens Beach

The northeast shore of Kauai has a couple dozen undeveloped beaches, but if you can only see one, head for Larsens. It's a three-fer, really, since the first long stretch is followed by two more beaches that are separated by low-lying points.

Flip flops will aid on the short trail down from the parking area, but barefoot is the way to go thereafter.

One of your beach mates is bound to be a Hawaiian Monk Seal, since they like to sunbathe here. Be Aware: Good manners and the law require keeping a distance of 100 feet from these endangered mammals—the only ones native to the Islands (unless you count a species of bat). This shot was taken with a telephoto.

Sea turtles, less common on Kauai than the other islands, also join the party at Larsens'.

Journey's end is Kepuhi Point, where waves do battle with a sculptured point. Guess who's going to win.

Laysan Albatrosses nest in the ironwood trees on the hills above the shore. Of course, this chick is earthbound, but mom and dad are the B-1 bombers of bird world, able to fly far across the seas without rest. But even the adults need a good run to make their awkward takeoffs (hence the nickname 'gooney birds'), making these creatures vulnerable to dogs. Albatrosses are not freaked by people—they nest on the golf course fringes in Princeville—but you want to give them space.

Larsens is known as a treacherous swimming beach, but you can find safe places to get wet. Kauai Trailblazer has the details for visiting here, as well as the other unsigned, unpopulated beaches up and down the coast. Be Aware: Although nudity is against the law on all beaches in Hawaii, you may see a naked person tucked into the backshore along the way on some days.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cruisin' Oahu's "other North Shore": A scenic drive that won't drive you crazy

If you seek where the action isn't, pick a weekday and head north on Oahu's Windward (eastern) coast. For much of the drive, sandy beaches are right out the windshield and the country road is wide open. At the southern end of the drive (i.e., going north from busy Kailua), the Byodo Temple in Valley of the Temples is a Zen-like respite under the jagged Ko'olau Pali (cliffs). Several beaches, like Kahalu'u Beach Park pictured above, await  a barefoot stroll.

You may recognize Pu'u Kanehoalani (above) as a backdrop of  Hollywood movies and TV productions. It forms a south boundary to Kualoa Ranch, where adventure sports are also a big draw.

Locals love Kualoa Regional Park, for camping, outrigger canoeing, and snorkeling to the park's signature landmark, Mokoli'i Island (also known as Chinaman's Hat). You can also snorkel at Secret Island, which is not an island but a strip of sand between a freshwater pond and the shore. 

As is often the case in rural Hawaii, remnants of the sugar cane days are there for the sleuthing.

Inland on this coast are several jungle-valley-waterfall parks that aren't really parks yet: The land has been allocated, but park developments are in the early stages. But you can drive around and take a peek. Waikane Valley Nature Park is mainly for four-legged folks for now.

You could spend the day or three at Ahupua'a O Kahana State Park—beaches, trails, local-kine cultural sites, like the Huilua Fishpond (above). An ahupua'a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah) is a section of the island—mountain forests, stream, agricultural terraces, and coastal waters—around which all Hawaiian villages were built. This park is a large one, dedicated to preserving the Hawaiian way of life.

The Polynesian Cultural Center (below), also showcases traditions, though in a much splashier way. The PCC, in the sleepy town of Laie, is one of the top tourist attractions in the Islands. 

Several of Oahu's better beach parks are not far from Laie, like Pounders, Kokololio, and the huge Malaekahana State Recreation Area. Several hikes into the pali see few tourists, like the cheap-thrill jaunt on the Laie Falls Trail. Parts of the coastline are a rugged home to shorebirds, like Laie Point (above).  BTW: Unless you are feeling particularly suicidal, don't join the local kids who jump from the tawny cliffs on the point.

Continuing north, the highway curls through vintage Kahuku and reaches the famed North Shore; look for the tour buses pulled out at Sunset Beach.

Oahu Trailblazer has many more details for independent, adventurous travelers.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Big Island's Mauna Lani Resort is a vacation within a vacation

When visiting the Big Island, do yourself a favor and spend a day or two at the Mauna Lani Resort on the South Kohala Coast—the grounds cover square miles, with several  snorkeling beaches, historic sites, and lush freshwater ponds set in a tropical arboretum. This place an island unto itself.

The Nanuku Inlet (above) is a chest-deep, protected cove right in front of the resort's modernistic beachfront suites. 

A stroll south reaches Beach Club Beach (above), which has some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island. Big coral heads reside not far offshore, including one called Turtle Mound that is well known among fish. You can take a coastal trail  from here—alongside a golf course set in an expanse of jagged lava—to 49 Black Sand Beach. Shell seekers will like the swimming.

When built in 1972, the Mauna Lani set the standard for preserving cultural sites. Its 30-acre Kalahuipua'a Village Historic Park contains numerous building relics and petroglyphs.  If you are on-island during a full moon, mark your calendar to attend a Twilight at Kalahuipua'a (formerly 'Talk Story'), an evening of  music and local lore held at the bungalow that is the Eva Parker Woods Museum.  Hosted by Danny Akaka Jr., this is quietly one of the top events in Hawaii.

Behind the tiny museum are several lake-sized fishponds set among a variety of leafy tropical trees. A seawall runs along the shoreline and paths weave among the ponds.

One seawall leads to a birdwatching hut in the middle of a pond—surely one of the most tranquil spots on earth.

The Mauna Lani Queen's Bath, nearly a century old, is tucked away on the edge of the ponds. Easy to miss.

Almost forgot: A path north from the Mauna Lani reaches the dreamy Fairmont Orchid Resort. Fronting the Fairmont is Pauoa Bay, a small aquamarine cove that begs for a quick dip. The trail continues, leaving resort world and entering kiawe forests of Holoholokai Beach Park—perfect for a picnic and home to a huge petroglyph preserve.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the specifics on how to get to and around the Mauna Lani, as well as the other destination resorts of the South Kohala Coast.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

If wild is your thing, then Kauai is king

Vacationers in search of undeveloped natural beaches must go to Kauai: On a 20-plus mile run of coastline from the Coconut Coast (east shore) to Princeville (before dropping down to the tourist-packed Hanalei), you will find more than two-dozen beaches that are essentially wild. Most of these treasures are reachable only by trails that are unsigned. Hard to believe, but it's true.

Kilauea Bay (above) is visited mainly by surfers and kayakers. The long curve of sand lies down a dirt road, not hard to navigate with a rental car. A short walk over a low-lying point gets you to Kilauea Iki Beach, which is totally private.

Kauai Trailblazer—now in its 20th anniversary edition—has specific directions to all these wild getaways, many with obscure access points. Getting to pristine Pila'a Beach involves a a short-but-steep hike from a rural road, and then a shoreline rock-hop for about 20 minutes—really 'out there.'  Even in Princeville, with its condos and golf courses, you will find trails to hidden spots like Sea Lodge Beach and Kenomene (Pali Ke Kua) Beach

Be Aware: Hiking poles will help on some steep trails. And always be mindful of wave action and ocean currents at these beaches, since you are on your own. Kauai Trailblazer notes the specific hazards for each beach, and also has a section on how to read rip currents.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The yin and the yang of Waikiki Beach

Most people think of Oahu's Waikiki Beach as a kind of Las Vegas, minus the casinos, plus the ocean. And that view is true. The two miles of sand—from Ala Wai Harbor to the foot of Diamond Head—is essentially artificial, a grid of high-rises, designer shops, and tiki torch bars that sprang up when a canal was dug inland to turn what was a swamp into a resort destination. The wall-to-wall scorched flesh at the shoreline seems anything but the "real Hawaii."

Yet Diamond Head Crater is WKK's money shot, and it speaks of Oahu's ancient volcanic lineage. More recent, but still historic, times are plain to see along swank Kalakaua Boulevard on Waikiki Historic Trail, which describes the beach's remarkable past. For centuries, the high ground at Waikiki was home to the Ali'i (royalty), and King David Kalakaua in 1877 bequeathed 200 acres right next to Waikiki beach to the Hawaiian people. Kapiolani Park, named for Queen Kapiolani, is tree-studded refuge: quite a quiet contrast to the buzz of the beach scene. 

Another contrast to the tourism lies right at your fingertips, or, rather, toe tips, since sailboats can pick you up  on the sand. The world changes dramatically on the watery sheet not far offshore.

The big shift in viewpoint happens at twilight, when the beach empties—particularly right after the sunset show. While most visitors are showering in their rooms and thinking about beverages and coconut shrimp, the local surfers are showering with their boards at the beach spigots. The center of things for this magic hour is Prince Jonah Kuhio Park. Not far from the statue of Prince Kuhio is one of Olympian and surfing legend, Duke Kahanamoku, whose open arms welcome you to the tableau.

Oahu Trailblazer has the deets for visiting Waikiki on foot. The place will live up to its postcard images, but also reveal the Old Hawaii you would not expect. 


Friday, August 18, 2017

Here's TV's 'Fantasy Island' in Real Life on Kauai

Nostalgic TV fans may recognize this view of Allerton Garden as the home of Ricardo Montalban and friends on Fantasy Island. In real life, these beachfront acres were the home of John Allerton, who bought the property in 1937, and lived there with his lifetime companion, John Gregg Allerton. The two men constructed fanciful fountains and cultivated rich plant life to create one of the nation's five National Tropical Botanical Gardens.

A second NTBG is adjacent inland: McBryde Garden. Guided tours are offered for Allerton, but guests are free to roam McBryde, a dreamland of native plants and trees, as well as spices and exotics that are spread along the pools and cascades of Lawai Stream. 

The misted tunnel of the Biodiversity Trail is way cool, especially on hot days.

Dedicated to research, McBryde has the largest collection of Hawaiian flora in the world. 

This is the perfect place for families to wander in wonder. 

Patrick Doughery's Birthday House, woven from local trimmings, was created in 2014—not as a permanent installation.

Scientists are credited with bringing Alula (above) back from the abyss of extinction. A field researcher had to hang from a Napali cliff on the north shore to retrieve one of the few remaining plants.

Kauai Trailblazer has more on these gardens, as well as the island's other NTBG, Limahuli, and other botanical treasures.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hiking Hawaii: What you need to know to not screw up

To stay safe, even fit, experienced trekkers need a crash course on trail hiking in the mountains and jungles of Hawaii. First of all, even popular trails are going to have rough patches. Bring retractable hiking poles and expect slippery rocks, undulating surfaces, and steep portions where hands will be required.

Greenery alongside trails can disguise steep drop-offs. Don't step off into the snarls, and watch the kids.

If you lose the trail, or the going gets gnarly, turn back to a known point. Even hunting dogs with big bazooka noses get lost in Hawaii. Don't use GPS or a map to try to reach a destination cross country. Stay on the trail and follow your feet. If it's possible to walk someplace in Hawaii, someone has done it before you. Plant life will swallow you whole. Cracks in the earth, created by volcanic activity and hidden by flora, are lethal booby traps.

Speaking of hunting dogs: Always yield the trail to a wild pig.

Stream crossings can be mellow one minute, and rise up the next. Cloud bursts may happen inland when it's sunny where you are. If you find yourself on the wrong side of a swift stream, wait it out. The water will subside. Don't cross. 

BTW: Though this spillway makes it easy to go shoeless, you might as well keep them on , since crossings can be numerous (and the water will clean the mud off!). No sense in bringing waterproof boots, since you are likely to dunk them higher than ankle deep.

Travel in pairs, or at least let someone know you are headed out. Make sure to allow enough daylight for your return. 

Don't even think about rock climbing. Almost all cliffs and mountainsides are very unstable. Many trails have drop-off hazards.

Keep in mind that hiking times for a given distance will be about double in Hawaii, due to poor footing—and stopping to gawk at the scenery.

Trail conditions can change overnight due to landslides, tree-falls, and erosion. If you feel the trail ahead is unsafe, then it is. Turn around. Many people 'go for the gusto' on Hawaiian trails thinking they are in some sort of adventure Disneyland. Common sense is your friend.

No poisonous snakes or spiders to fret about, but muddy surfaces are common. Wear dark shorts and don't forget those hiking poles.

Equip your daypack with all the essentials and bring it with you even if you're going on a very short hike. You might start out on a little exploration jaunt and be drawn in farther than you intended. 

Trailblazer guides are full of parking and trail directions, safety tips, and the specific hazards that may be present for each hike. Virtually every danger is avoidable.