Monday, July 9, 2018

Best Hike in the World? Take the Queen's path into Kauai's Alakai Swamp


The trail from the top of Waimea Canyon follows the rim of the Kalalau Valley, drops into a botanical wonderland (Alakai Swamp), and ends at a platform looking 4,000 feet down to Hanalei Bay. It's a mind-blower. The stats: Round-trip of 7.5 miles, with 1,000 feet of elevation.



The Pu'uokila Overlook is the end of the road and the start of the trail (called the Pihea Trail at this point). You get a big long look down to the Kalalau—reachable only via a hairy 12-mile trek that begins way around on the north shore of the island and follows the Napali Coast.



One section of the Pihea Trail is hands on. Hiking poles will help. You'll also want to bring outerwear for possible rain and cooler temps.



Once in the swamp a miracle happens, in the form of a boardwalk spanning miles through tropical gardens.



Staircases connect portions of the boardwalk.



The trail tops out and flattens for the last mile or so, through dwarf vegetation and frequent fog. Leaving the boardwalk here can be a fatal mistake. The swamp gets about 40 feet of rain per year. This section ends at the Kilohana Overlook, with the airborne view of the north shore. If the fog is in, be patient, since it often parts, revealing a heavenly look through clouds.



The trail into the swamp approximates the journey of self healing taken by Queen Emma and her retinue, after the death of her husband, King Kamehameha IV, and their young son Albert. Hula dancers performed ritual dances along the way out of respect for the life-giving plants. A yearly event at Koke'e Museum commemorates the queen.



Set in a large meadow in forestlands, Koke'e Museum is the place to start and end hikes around Waimea Canyon. It's one of the top museums in Hawaii.  To find all the other great hikes and beaches on the island, pick up a current copy of Kauai Trailblazer at the museum.

















Thursday, June 21, 2018

Wot?! Glitzy Oahu is home to a wealth of wild beaches


With nearly a million residents—more than double the other Hawaiian islands combined—Oahu is known for the high-rise resorts and kitschy/designer shops of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu. But—surprise!—this island also has the most miles of undeveloped coastline with accessible beaches.

Even Oahu's  fabled North Shore, with its world renowned surfing beaches, is a long run of sand with practically no resorts and a rural backshore. Protruding to the west of this coast the Mokuliea, a ten-mile stretch of open beaches with the Waianae Mountains as a backdrop. This coast served as a set for the TV program Lost, much of it at sleepy Makaleha Beach Park.




Windward Oahu, known for the sexy beach parks of Kailua, also has its hideaways. South of Kailua is Waimanalo—a huge recreation area and beach park. At the southern tip of the windward coast are several enticing beaches, including the eye candy that is Makapu'u Beach Park (above).

Most visitors venture north of Kailua to see the Polynesian Cultural Center, the most popular tourist attraction in the state. This northeast coast also features numerous quiet parks. Three with plenty of room to roam are Kualoa Regional Park, Ahupua'a O Kahana State Park, and Malaekahana State Recreation Area. Small islands off this coast are bird sanctuaries, a couple close enough to snorkel to.


\

Oahu's West Side—the towns of Waianae and Makaha—may be a little rough around the edges for many tourists. But true adventure seekers will be rewarded. Just north of Makaha (the famous surfing beach) is Makua Beach, where the movie Hawaii was filmed. And beyond Makua are the wide-open sands of Yokohama Beach and the trailhead for the 3-mile hike to Kaena Point State Park, a nature preserve.

Oahu Trailblazer has details needed to find the dozens  of beaches and natural areas that await at the fringes of the the island's glitz and glam. 













Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ba-Boom: Maui's Big Volcano is Still Active

Maui volcano Haleakala

Haleakala (House of the Sun) hasn't passed gas since 1790, but volcanologists consider it "active," meaning a new eruption would not be a shocker. For now the crater (technically it's an eroded valley) at the summit is part of a national park open to hikers. The mini-crater shown above, called a pu'u (poo-ew), is one of many in the interior.


Maui volcano hiking

The Sliding Sands Trail is the main route down. The options are enticing, but remember, you'll have to hump it back out and the lack of oxygen at 10,000 feet makes that difficult.


Haleakala sunset view Maui

Clouds come and go. If you get socked in, wait awhile and you might get lucky.


summit view Haleakala Maui Trailblazer

The views seaward from the summit are astounding. On some days, Haleakala pokes well above a marine layer of clouds.


Haleakala summit Maui

Red Hill Summit is the tippy top. Seeing the sunrise from the visitors center has become so popular that reservations are now required. Don't fret: Sunset is just as good, maybe better, since you don't need to drive up in the dark into uncertain weather and freeze your nose off. 


Haleakala Highway Maui Trailblazer

For years, the downhill ride from the summit was a  tourist excursion. Nowadays, the tours begin well down from the top. Don't fret II: If you want a unique experience, rent a mountain bike and take the Skyline Trail down from the top to Polipoli State Park. The dirt road down is free of vehicles. Maui Trailblazer has the details on this little know route, as well as other tips on how to enjoy a visit to Haleakala National Park.






Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Big Island's Mauna Loa: A Mellow Drive up the Most Massive Mountain in the World.

Mauna Loa volcano

Measured from its base below the ocean's surface, Mauna Loa is well over 40,000 feet high, making it easily the world's second tallest (Mauna Kea, not far away is 400 feet taller). But this shield volcano (made from lava roiling up from the earth's core, bursting from the ocean surface, and making a big pile) is by far the planet's most massive, with 100 times the volume of Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier.

The current Kilauea Caldera eruptions are taking place well down the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa.


The drive to the Mauna Loa trailhead near the top climbs 4,500 feet over about 18 miles. When the road was paved a few years back, workers left the first quarter mile unpaved, presumably to deter curious tourists.



The road provides smooth passage through a sea of lava from several eruptions that took place the late 1800s and in 1935. The volcano is very much considered 'active.'

lava volcano hawaii

To avoid altitude sickness, and for kicks, you should stop for maybe an hour on the way up and take a stroll. Pick a spot with pahoehoe (pah-hoy-hoy) lava, which lays out like brownie batter, rather that the sharp slag heaps of a'a (ah-ah) lava. 



Add water and sunshine and life begins anew.



Views get big as you climb: To the north are Mauna Kea, Hualalai Volcano and Maui's Haleakala.




The Mauna Loa Observatory is at road's end, where weather stations manned by scientists from around the world conduct experiments and collect data. This is where the depletion of the ozone layer and carbon dioxide buildups have been recorded for decades. The folks don't mind if you walk up there, but don't be a pest since it is not a tourist attraction. Once-weekly tours are available, however.

With boardwalks connecting metal building and trailers, and weird installations scattered about, the observatory is the 'poor cousin' to the cityscape of gleaming celestial observatories across the saddle on Mauna Kea. Far fewer (practically zilch) visitors see Mauna Loa.





A 12-mile round-trip hike with 2,000-plus feet of gain sounds more doable than it is. Lack of oxygen is pronounced, and you can freeze and fry on the same day. Since Mauna Loa is so round, you don't see the summit as you climb. You can also approach from the south side of the peak—at the Mauna Loa Lookout—but this is not advisable these days with Kilauea blowing its cork.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more details of exploring the volcanic highlands.





Thursday, May 10, 2018

When Mother Nature is a spoilsport, head for Poipu Beach on Kauai

allergen gardens Poipu kauai

Rain can put a damper on your Kauai vacation, but you can (almost) always find sunshine and blue skies on the arid south coast—at the resort strip of Poipu Beach. But Poipu is not all arid and beach: Two of the nation's five National Tropical Botanical Gardens are here, including Allerton Garden (where TV's Fantasy Island was filmed, along with several movies) and the sprawling McBryde Garden (above). The gardens have a visitor center, with no admission charged, that offers a third choice if you don't have time to visit the main attractions.


spouting horn kauai trailblazer

Across the highway from the visitor center is Spouting Horn, where busloads of tourists arrive to watch seawater blast geyser-like from a hole in the reef. A garden trail skirts the coast from here for a half-mile, to the entrance gate to Allerton.


Kauai Sheraton Hotel

The resort strip of Poipu, anchored by the Sheraton, is not as crowded as others in the Islands, though it gets jammed up on weekends. Poipu Beach Park on the east end of the strip is a family fave. Snorkeling and surfing are both good. Hawaiian monk seals (an endangered species) often haul out to sunbathe amid sunburned visitors.


kauai hyatt hotel

A short walk from Poipu gets you to one of the best destination resorts in the world, the Grand Hyatt Kauai. A man-made saltwater lagoon sits just inland from the ocean, and a Disney-esque pool is a few steps away.


shipwreck beach Poipu kauai

From the top of Makawehi Bluff at the Hyatt is a view of Shipwreck Beach, popular among local surfers. People jump from the bluff. Saner people embark on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, which begins here. Wildlife, sesacapes, and ancient sites highlight the sandy route.




After about a mile, the Heritage Trails drops down to Mahaulepu Beach, where kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling are options. You can also drive here from the Hyatt, via a hellishly potholed road.




From Mahulepu, the trail continues for another mile to Haula Beach, a wild beauty. For more details, check out Kauai Trailblazer.  A lot of fun stuff is hiding in plain sight.
















Monday, April 30, 2018

The best of Hawaii on the cheap

hawaii trailblazer paradise

The best things in life are free—or they cost a boatload of money. A trip to Hawaii is a prime example. You can spend a zillion bucks reserving a destination resort, booking tours, and sampling Pacific cuisine. Or, you can get ahold of a Trailblazer guide before your trip and learn how save a lot.

Of course, the best example of frugality-meets-luxury is going to the beach. Kekaha Kai State Beach (above) is one of a hundred spots that don't cost a dime.


maui waterfall

Hiking to waterfalls is also a priceless experience that is totally free. Trailblazer guides have details on all the hikes, many of which are also frequented by paying customers with tour guides.


doris duke

Many of the snorkeling destinations used by snorkeling tour companies are accessible from shore by individuals. Other prime snorkeling spots (like Cromwell's Cove on Oahu, above) are known mostly to locals and readers of Trailblazer guides.

Waimea Canyon

There's nothing wrong with paying admission to support the many tourist attractions and museums in the Islands. But travelers on a budget can also have fun visiting the places that don't charge admission. There are many.

Booking a room is another opportunity to save money. For the best rates, book far in advance—or at the last minute. If you stay longer, you will be able to negotiate a better rate. Room rates are lower in the spring (if you avoid spring break for students) and fall. Another way to save money is team with friends or relatives and share a larger place—more bang for the buck per person.

You will save the most money by not eating in restaurants. You can still buy local foods and stock up on fruits and veggies at roadside stands and 'sunshine markets.' Trailblazer guides list them all. Hawaiians use beach parks to dine al fresco, and you can too.  Pack up a dinner to go and watch the sunset fade to starlight.

In addition to the guides for each island, visitors may also want to take a look at No Worries Hawaii, a vacation planning guide that is full of details for booking a trip, and tips to make the most out of your vacation. This book contains a 'self-test' that matches your desires and expectations with the reality of what's available in Hawaii. All guides mentioned are sold on Amazon.com.










Monday, April 23, 2018

This Lyon's roar is a whisper




Oahu arboretum vista

It's a short hop from the bustle of Waikiki Beach—and right next to the always-buzzing Manoa Falls trailhead—but Lyon Arboretum is delightfully where the action isn't.



The botanical garden's 200 acres were planted a hundred years ago, and today offer a hike into an organized, fanciful jungle. The jagged green Ko'olau Mountains encircle the scene.



Don't walk too fast, since you will need a keen eye to pick up a fraction of the detail. 



Lyon has been a research facility run by the University of Hawaii since 1953. To see the whole place requires nearly two miles of walking, with more than 200 feet of elevation gain.



hawaii arboretum Oahu


On the other hand, you can lollygag around paths near the visitor center and gift shop, or find a bench and  travel with your eyes alone. Oahu Trailblazer has more details on Lyon Arboretum and all the botanical gardens on Oahu. You could plan an entire vacation around visiting them.











Saturday, April 14, 2018

Finding the lost beaches of north of Kona

Big Island Trailblazer adventure guide

The view flying into the Kona Airport is of a never-ending landscape of scorched black lava, often hazed by volcanic smog. It's not anyone's idea of paradise.  Post-apocalyptic is more like it.

Wrong. Look again: The South Kohala Coast, covering thirty miles north of Kailua-Kona, has many of the best swimming beaches in the Islands, most of them wild and some of them home to the best destination resorts in the world (spaced miles apart and with fabulous grounds to go with their beaches).  

Pictured above, Beach 69 (Waialea Beach) near sleepy Puako is one of the best, with waters for both snorkeling and surfing, and plenty of shade at the backshore. (No! Beach 69 refers to the number on the telephone pole that told you where to look in the old days before it was made a signed state beach.)


stand up paddle SUP

You can thank all that bleak lava for the clear waters in South Kohala. The fresh earth hasn't had time to erode into streams to muddy the waters. Instead of streams, brackish freshwater pools appear all along the shoreline. The lava reefs provide protection for paddle boarding at Kikaua Park (above) and numerous places in South Kohala.


beach babes Hawaii

After crossing rolling lava, the oasis of greenery along the coast is welcome.


Hapuna Beach Hawaii Trailblazer

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area (above) is the biggest on the Big Island. Located at the north end of South Kohala near the Mauna Lani Resort, this place is jumpin' on the weekends since it's the go-to getaway for refugees who drive over from the Hilo side. Picnic pavilions are perfect.


Hawaii Outside Beach

All beaches are public places in Hawaii, so there's no problem taking a dip at a resort—though using lounges, etc., is discouraged.



Some resort roads are open, just like beach parks. Others have an entrance station, where visitors are required to pick up a free public access permit. The catch is that parking is limited. The uncatch is that Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has details on how to get permits and find alternate access even on busy days.