Sunday, March 29, 2015

Connecting hot lava to natural hot springs: The Big Island's sublime drive in Puna

For more than a dozen miles, the Kehena-Pohoiki Scenic Drive in Puna (the far southeast of the Big Island) penetrates an astounding coastal gardenscape. And unlike other coastal cruises in Hawaii, this one doesn't twist in and out of valleys, since the island hasn't had time to erode and form streams. The country lane besides sea-washed bluffs is is a tree tunnel of breadfruit, palms, pandanus and many others right out the the tropical tree-finding manual. 

At one end is Kalapana Bay, where vistiors can venture into lava wastelands to view red-hot flows from the island's current eruption. Not far from Kalapana is 19-Mile Beach (guess where it is), a black sand beauty that requires a scamper down a steep trail. (That shorebreak pictured above can be dangerous; use caution.)

The scenic drive transitions to a huge ironwood grove that marks rustic Mackenzie State Park, and then Isaac Hale (ha-lay) Beach Park, home to surfers and a nice little hot pool. Ahalanui Warm Pond Park, one of the best freebies in Hawaii, is a couple miles after that.  And then, a few miles later where jagged fields of lava make up the shoreline, is the oasis that is the Kaphoho Bay Seapool, where tepid, crystal clear waters are a fountain of youth.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more information on these and numerous other cool places in remote Puna.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The easy way to the Big Island's 'Blue Lagoon'

From a scenic turnout at mile marker 81 on Highway 19 north of Kona, Wainanali'i (Blue) Lagoon beckons irresistably: a turquoise streak amid a grove of cocopalms. Most visitors park at a nearby turnout and take a mile-plus trail that drops 200 feet through a hot forest of stickery Kiawe trees, which affords a decent opportunity of getting lost.

A slightly shorter, flatter, and more scenic route is about a mile away, down a state park road. You drive down about .75-mile and park at a locked gate on a road that is open to foot traffic. Not far down the road is the Kihilo-Huehue trail and punches out to a black sand beach, where you hang a right (pass the remarkable home of cosmetic king Paul Mitchell) and reach Blue Lagoon.

Dozens of sea turtles haul out on the rocky shores of the lagoon, which was actually a huge fishpond built by King Kamehmeha the Great in 1810. In 1859, a stampede of lava from faraway Mauna Loa did a number on the pond, but the turtles don't seem to mind. The water is chilly and milky is places, due to underwater intrusions of fresh water, so the better swimming is at Kihilo Black Sand Beach—reachable via the same state park road. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the deets, beginning on page 64.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How not to die while having fun hiking in Hawaii

Tsunamis, hurricanes, molten volcanos, and big-scale earthquakes are all part of the weather forecast at times in Hawaii. But Mother Nature's big events, thankfully, take few lives these days.

Yet, about once a month, it seems, someone dies on land or in the sea while recreating in the tropical paradise that is Hawaii. Most of these tragedies, and a litany of accidents, happen on postcard-days to people who are not really aware of the danger. The good news: The risk of harming yourself is virtually zilch if you play it safe.

Here's some tips for safer hiking in Hawaii.

1. Bring retracable hiking poles. As is the case when using swim fins when in the ocean, hiking poles give you a leg up (pun intended) while navigating on land. Coming down narrow, rutted, rocky sections of a typical ridge trail can be tricky, especially when rain makes the red earth slick.

2. Stay on the trail--and only hike on an established trail. Bactrack to a known point if you lose the trail. This rule, usually meant to protect flora from too many footprints, in Hawaii protects hikers from getting swallowed up by the jungle. The terrain is way too steep and choked with greenery (or piles of lava, or earthcracks, let's say) to make off-trail hiking anything but bad idea. If it is possilbe to hike somewhere (that is also not on private property), a trail will already exist.

3. Don't rock climb. Even good climbers will have a problem on the crumbling, unstable escarpments in the Islands—even when these cliffs are free of snarls of plantlife. Erosion happens in real time.

4. Don't cross a fast-moving stream. Downpours bring flash floods to narrow valleys. Cars even get swept to sea from quite a distance inland. So, avoid hiking in heavy rain, and if you do get caught on the wrong side of the stream, wait it out: the water will subside. If hiking in a valley with a rising stream, get to high ground, pronto.

5. Stay back from big surf while hiking ocean bluffs. Surf fluctuates during the day, and big surf can roll in that is not otherwise associated with a storm front. Keep your eye on the waves, and stay well back of any rocks or reefs that are wet.

6.  Be alert for drop-offs (keep the kids in tow). On mountain hikes, ferns and shrubbery are so dense that they appear to be solid ground, when in fact the plants are diguising a  clifface. You have to go out of your way to make this hazzard dangerous, but it is routinely possilbe on lush trails.

7. Equip your daypack and take it with you, even when you may not plan on taking a long walk. Trails have a way of inticing you farther than planned. Be aware of time. If you get caught out at night, with no adequate light to hike by, stay put. The higher elevations of all the islands, but particularly Maui and the Big Island, can be cold. On Mauna Loa, for example, heatstroke and hypothermia are possible within a few hours (though neither is likely with proper outerwear).

8. When entering the ocean, the over-arching safety maxim is, "If in doubt, don't go out." The same can be true for hikes. If a hike starts to creep you out for some reason, back off.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Launiupoko: This is why Maui is called the 'Valley Isle'

A drive along the base of the West Maui Mountains—all the way from Iao Valley State Park near Kahului around to Lahaina—reveals the yawning green valleys that give Maui its nickname. Access is limited, so visitors with a sense of adventure will appreciate the off-beat hike into out-of-the-way Launiupoko Valley, not too far south of Lahaina.

The hike begins at an unmarked trailhead in a new housing development, up the mountain from Laniupoko Beach Park. The trail, used mainly by local equestrians, starts out as a mundane ascent, but then transitions to a contour road that gives up big ocean views. Hikers then start into the valley on a weedy road (pictured) that becomes a trail along a water conveyance ditch. This trail then degrades to a pig-path into the deep dark green—not advisable for hiking.

At the end of the contour road is a reservoir that will be a worthy destination for people wanting to kick back.

Launiupoko Valley is an ahupua'a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah), the fundamental subdivision of land where villages were established. Whether large or small, a wedge-shaped ahupua'a contained the essentials necessary to sustain life: A mountain forest,  valley and stream, agricultural terraces, and a coastline.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on Launiupoko and other places to escape the tourist drumbeat on Maui.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kauai hiking update: Kahili Mountain Park trails are closed

Two trails in south Kauai—a thrilling-but-risky trek up razorback Kahili Ridge, and a tame stroll to a Norfolk pine forest—are no longer open to hikers. Landowner Knudsen Corporation, which has owned a large chunk of the island since 1872, has decided to close the trails and prohibit access.

The rustic cabins of Kahili Mountain park, adjacent to the trailheads, may also be closed. Previously a Seventh Day Adventist School on site leased the land from Knudsen, and used income from the cabins to help support the school. Hikers for years were able to hike these trails on private property by asking permission at the cabin administrative offices.

Trail status in Hawaii is always in flux, due to both man-made concerns and events created by Mother Nature.  Visitors should always heed signs and use common sense when determining whether a trail is safe or advisable.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oahu's Manoa Falls: Touristy, for sure, but it delivers the scenic goods

Lots of people make the 1.5-mile round-trip hike to Manoa Falls, a classic tropical white ribbon falling down a 200-foot cliff. As the sign indicates, don't dawdle under the water. Local tour companies charge unsuspecting tourists to get here, even though the trail is public, easy to find, and just a few minutes up Manoa Valley from Waikiki.

Footbridges and staircases (elevation gain is 800 feet) penetrate a fairyland of tropical greenery along the way, making getting there at least half the fun. Hot tip: While you're here, don't forget to visit Lyon Arboretum, which is right next to the trailhead. Most people miss this place. You can wander century-old, well-kempt gardens or take a wilder path up to Aihualama Falls, and have the place to yourself. The Ko'olau Range rises above, framing the Manoa Valley.

Oahu Trailblazer has more details on these and other nearby hikes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Miloli'i: A Big Island fantasy for free

Honomalino Beach, a 20-minute walk from the Kona Coast village of Miloli'i, is the sort of place people dream about when thinking of Hawaii. Spinner dolphins frolick offshore of a black-sand beach. Snorkeling is good and the currents are generally safe—although a drop-off at the shoreline may come as a surprise.

A grove of cocopalms provides plenty of shade and ambiance at the backshore. The village is five miles down a winding road, about 32 miles south of Kailua-Kona. Miloli'i is an authentic fishing village—definitely not a tourist town. Some visitors may be put off by the haggard look of the place, a blessing really, since it is seldom crowded.

The easy-to-follow trail pentrates a thicket and passes an ancient fishing shrine and cemetery on the way to the beach.

The little church of Hauoli Kamanao is the beating heart of the community, where you may see an event on weekends. Slack key great Iz performed one of his last concerts in Miloli'i, and (as if you need to know) some scenes from the forgettable Elvis movie Girls, Girls, Girls! were shot here in 1962. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more details.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Haleiwa: Oahu's Surfing Capital of the Universe

Every island has a north shore, but there is only one North Shore, where the best surfers in the world come to ride dozens of classic breaks. Among the famous waves are four that are on the pro sufing world tour: Sunset, Pipeline, Waimea, and Haleiwa. The unassuming Haleiwa (holly-ee-vah) Town is the center of it all.

Haleiwa  Beach Park is on the opposite end of town from the pro surfing beach. This beach is perfect for beginning surfers, beach potatoes, and for strollers who want to hike around a palmy point to hidden Police Beach.

The little bridge in the center of town is postcard material—but also the gateway to the bay and ocean for outrigger canoes. Clubs and races are part of the town's fabric. These are the home waters for some of Hawaii's best women paddlers, including Haleiwa Jane Duncan.

The town itself is strung along a mile or two, weather-worn frame buildings. Grand plans to develop the North Shore have been defeated by locals, and Haleiwa retains a low-key rural vibe of benign neglect. The place began as a missionary settlement in 1832 (one of Hawaii's earliest) and in the late 1800s became a weekend getaway for the well-heeled from Honolulu, who rode a railway that was built to haul sugar cane. For sugar these days, try one of Haleiwa's shave ice joints.

Located at the North Shore Marketplace, Patagonia may be best known for top quality mountain gear and clothing but this place is one of the best surf shops anywhere. Inside you'll see photos and memorabilia of women's longboard surfing legend, the late Rell Sunn who helped set up the shop in 1994. For a tour of all the surfing beaches on this coast, consult your Oahu Trailblazer adventure guidebook.

click here for

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hawaii beach parks that have it all: Kalihiwai, Kauai

In terms of wild-and-scenic tropical beaches, Kauai's north shore is tops among the islands—and second place is distant. With all there is to do on Kauai, most visitors miss this little sandy bay with a wide stream and good surfing, which is fine by the locals who call Kalihiwai home.

Ask surfers from all around the Islands, and they'll tell you the point break at Kalihiwai (kah-lee-hee-why) is a world-class wave machine, even if the wave sometimes curls around and does a head-on with the cliff.  Visiting surfers might want to friendly up with the locals before heading out.

The long curve of sand is good for family wave play. The backshore is an ironwood grove with palms, so shade is not a problem. Kalihiwai Stream enters the bay opposite from the point break, but this zone is well known to boogie boarders for several tiers of shore break. During periods with no rain, the stream is blocked by a sand dam at the beach, creating a lagoon swimming pond, with green, clear water. Kayaking upstream is a trip to Southeast Asia, albeit a quick one.  

You can watch these guys (including Titus Kinimaka and his hui) and wahines (Bethany Hamilton is sometimes around) from a turnout at the guardrail right above the beach.  There's not much room on the shoulder—watch out for both the drop-off and passing cars. 

Kauai Trailblazer has more details on Kalihiwai, and all the other pieces to this coastal puzzle.

Monday, January 26, 2015

No Worries Hawaii: Does the groundwork so you don't have to!

No Worries Hawaii is a vacation planning guide for all the islands. A self test lets you pick through things to do in the Islands (below is one of 38 categories), and gives you specific details. The guide is also full of money-saving tips (room, flight, car, freebies), as well as safety precautions every visitor should read. From visualizing a trip to making it happen: The authors have combed Hawaii for more than 20 years, and this books sums it up.

A few sample pages from our vacation planning guide for Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. 

NWH is packed with information will be helpful for an upcoming trip to Hawaii. Buy a copy on Amazon or order directly from us at  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Oahu's unlikely Eden: Wahiawa Botanical Garden.

You could spend a month or more touring Hawaii's tropical gardens, which include four National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and still be impressed by this 27-acre offering hiding in the middle of Oahu. Wahiawa Botanical Gardens, just a little off the main drag that is an appendage of Schofield Barracks, is far superior to the amped-up tourist trap of Dole Plantation, just a few miles down the road on the main way to get from Waikiki to the North Shore.

Walkways and staircases weave about a stream valley. The gardens were planted in the 1920s, as an experimental arboretum for sugar growers.

Wahiawa is overgrown and profuse,  a place to wander without getting lost. Admission is free, and during the weekdays you will have the place pretty much to yourself.

The upper portion of Wahiawa is stately and parklike. As with any botanical garden, try to stay still awhile and notice how long it takes to see the details emerge.

Kaukonahua Stream, the longest watershed in Oahu, really rips after big rains—exciting to view from the garden's suspension bridge. Oahu Trailblazer has more details on the rest of the island's county-run gardens, as well other private offerings.

Friday, January 23, 2015

#LetHawaiiHappen: Hawaii Convention and Visitor Bureau's New Campaign

Trailblazer guides for KauaiOahuMauiMolokaiLanai, and Hawaii Big Island reflect the thousands of miles and the many years we've spent in search of the real Hawaii. 
In order to 'Let it Happen' when you reach Hawaii, first 'Make it Happen' by checking out a Trailblazer before you leave. Then spend your vacation having fun, rather than searching for it.  Find our books at

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Waihe'e Ridge: Maui's best tropical ridge hike.

Maui ranks last among the four major islands when it comes to venturing high-and-wild into tropical flora to obtain vistas. But it still has several outstanding mountain hikes outside of Haleakala National Park, and enough hiking to occupy an adventuring vacation. First-timers will want to try the Waihe'e Ridge, excerpted below from Maui Trailblazer. MT also has details on several lesser known routes into the West Maui Mountains, including treks near Lahaina and the north coast.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Honolulu: Walk through living history

Only a few miles from the tiki torches of Waikiki sits downtown Honolulu, one of the best walk-around cities in the U.S.A. The Ali'i Hale (a.k.a Judiciary History Center) is a freebie, where you are greeted by a life-sized (the guy was larger than an NFL lineman) King Kamehameha I. Across the street is Iolani Palace. Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, was imprisoned in her own bedroom here after the unlawful overthrow of the nation in 1893 by U.S. business interests. The Royal Hawaiian Band (together since the 1800s) plays a free concert every Friday at noon.

Aloha Tower, near the bay, is a good place to start a visit, and has been since it was built in 1926. The elevator ride to the top is another freebie.

The city if full of historic buildings amid sleek skyscrapers and plazas with swaying palms and fountains. Its Chinatown is a trip-within-a-trip, to exotic fresh produce markets, inexpensive restaurants, film-noir bars and shops. Several art and history museums are also packed in, including the Honolulu Academy of Art, with a world-class collection. 

Oahu Trailblazer has all the details for a full-day in Honolulu. There's a lot to see on Oahu, but to really know the place, you need to pound the pavement downtown. Shuttle buses connect with Waikiki.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wild: Places you may not see Reese Witherspoon in Hawaii

Reese Witherspoon is no stranger to Hawaii, logging beach time on Oahu near Kualoa Ranch and riding a surf board at Hanalei Bay on Kauai. But in between her outdoor outings, the star of the hit movie Wild hangs at some of the Islands' most luxurious resorts. Logging beach time in Hawaii is a good idea, but so is taking a walk into the wildnerness. Here are places to escape into adventure, without have to do a alot of planning.

1. KAUAI  Thousands of people hammer the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile trek into a remote valley on the Napali Coast—so the first few miles are more like an amusement park than wilderness. For the getaway, head up to Waimea Canyon on the west side, and try the Alakai Swamp Trail, Awa'awapuhi Trail, or—to truly strike out on your own—take one of several trails out the lesser know cliffs, like Polihale and Miloli'i. Kauai Trailblazer has description for dozens of wild walks.

2. OAHU  With a million people on a fairly small island, Oahu  surprisingly has the most jungle-ridge hikes in the state, into the Ko'olau and Wainae ranges. Many of the treks begin in neigborhoods but launch quickly into the deep green. For the most out-there experience, head for the Mokuleia Coast on the north coast. Parking can be tricky for some of these trails. Oahu Trailblazer has details.

3. MAUI  Haleakala National Park—both the peak and the lower Pools of Oheo section near Hana—offer popular trails into wild lands. And for good reason: awesome. But to get away from the tourists, head for the desertlike south side of the volcano, and take the Kaupo Trail. Or, on the extreme north coast, two roads climb toward Eke Crater and other green crags in the West Maui Mountains. Get directions in  the Maui Trailblazer.

4. BIG ISLAND  Twice as large as the other islands combined, the Big Island is the ticket to ride into the wild. On the north end, where it's cliffy and green, trails lead into Waipio Valley and Pololu. On the south end, Mauna Loa (by far the most massive mountain on earth) has many trailheads into the backcountry, both along the coast and up at 13,000 feet. From Saddle Road, you can drive up to the world climate observatory at 11,000 feet. You can also reach the peak from the Mauna Loa Lookout, up from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has directions to a dozen more jaunts into mother nature.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

You must get back to your little grass shack, and everywhere else, in Kealakekua

Plan on spending a day or two at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii—they will be days to remember. The quick visit will involve a trip to the State Historic Park, site of a huge heiau (temple) that was the first stop for Captain James Cook and his crew in 1779. Across the bay (and reachable via a hike down from the highway above) is Cook Monument, which was the captain's last stop. Snorkeling is excellent at the monument, and also from the rocky beach at the historic park.

On the other end of the bay from the monument is Pu'uhonua o Honounou (ho-now-now) National Park.  Sprawling grounds feature intact ancient sites and trails lead south the the national park through an old village site along a wild coast. In between these tourist anchors are two of Kealakekua's hidden charms: litttle Manini Beach Park (from which the above picture was taken), and Ke'ei Village where few tourists venture—even though Mark Twain wrote about it and King Kamehameha's mentor hailed from here. And (almost forgot!) right next to the national park is Two Step, maybe the best shore-diving snorkeling spot in Hawaii.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more details, pages 96 to 104. Almost forgot II: On the way down to Kealakekua is the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative where you can get jacked-up on samples of Kona's finest brews. They also offer the region's big fat macadamia nuts - these things are addictive.

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