Monday, April 25, 2016

Fifty shades of blue and green: A Study of the Beaches of Hawaii

The colors of the sea, sky, and island swirl in a mix of blues and greens—and just when you've got it figured, along comes a cloud and the photo changes. And it's time to begin another long look. From Kikaua Point Park in South Kohala on the Big Island, Mauna Kea rises from the horizon like another island (which it once was).

Lanikai Beach on Oahu's Windward side is always cool and easy on the eyes. Although several islands are visible (and reachable via swim or kayak), the rise of land from this angle is Kaneohe Peninsula.

The welcome shade of green palm fronds accent the portrait at Kekaha Kai State Park, just north of Kona on the Big Island—a literal oasis of blue fenced in by vast fields of scorched black lava fields. 

The blue-green theme rules at Kauai's Pu'u Poa Beach at the St. Regis Resort in Princeville (below). But the backshore on the north shore here is the antithesis of scorched: Jagged green ridges of Hawaii's wettest mountains are a jungle of plant life. 

These guides continue the story.  Start your engines, start exploring with Trailblazers!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Free 'outdoor classes' in Hawaii

You can spend a pile in Hawaii hiring guides to take you places. Or, pick up a Trailblazer guide before your trip and check out all the outdoor tours you can do for free on your own time.

Having fun and getting fit is  as easy as one, two, three ... four!

1. HIKE: Choose from coastal beach walks and jungle treks—or do both at the same time on Kauai's Kalalau Trail.

2. BIKE: Take a leisurely bike path or go for the gusto into a tropical forest, like this one among many on the Big Island's Stainback Highway.  (Renting a bike is a cheap thrill.)

3. SNORKEL: Tour boats anchor in Maui's Coral Gardens, but you can flipper there on your own as long as the surf's not up.

4. SURF: We've got all the breaks for all levels including SUP. (And also all the best places to be a spectator.)

Trailblazer Travel Books are brimming with ideas, both outdoor sports and all the cultural attractions that complete a vacation in Hawaii. There's lots to do. Get a copy well in advance of your trip and then break out the yellow highlighter. The books are organized by geographical area (rather than by activity) so you won't have to do a lot of flipping through pages. Once in Hawaii you'll be ready to take the plunge.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Want beaches and reasonably priced resorts? Try Maui's Kihei

Decades ago, southwest Maui was dubbed the "Gold Coast" by real estate copywriters, as a string of condos and resorts sprung up along the shoreline. To be honest, it seemed sort of tacky. But now, as the construction cranes seemed to outnumber palm trees during the ensuing years in West Maui north of Lahaina, Kihei seems downright kitsch—and a great choice for families seeking fun in the sun and sand.

The town is full of no-nonsense eateries and beach after beach. On the south end of Kihei is Wailea, a swank resort strip with a miles-long path providing access to five excellent beaches.

But at the heart of the scene are Kihei's three sweet family beach parks: Kamaole I, II, and III. The three are connected by short paths and each has very good (and safe!) swimming.

Keawakapu Beach, a locals' fave, connects Kihei's beaches to those of Wailea. A jogging path strings together these pearls. Bargain hunters should check out North Kihei and Ma'alaea Harbor, which have their own beaches, and are close enough to all the others, as well as being located logistically to explore the rest of the island. Maui Trailblazer has way more details on planning a trip to Maui, and guiding you once you are there.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Traveling with kids in Hawaii is a natural

Trailblazer Travel Books—for all the islands—have special Trailblazer Kids sections, for activities, beaches, attractions, and trails. Most of the fun is free.

Lydgate Park, Kauai

Canoes Beach on Maui, (top pic) just north of Kihei's Kamaole Beach Parks, specializes in kid-sized surf waves. It's right next to Kalama Parks, often the site of weekend events. One of the best beaches in Hawaii for the young ones is Kauai's Lydgate Park. A huge man-made ocean swimming pool is the main attraction, but the park also has a large lawn with playsels and an enormous Play Bridge, a five-level, maze-like structure that can accommodate a bus load of scurrying kis.

Dolphins and children are natural best buds. Dolphin Quest, on the Big Island and Oahu, offers learning programs. But you can also get up close for free: On Oahu, visit the Kahala Mandarin Oriental; on the Big Island check out the huge ocean side pool at the Hilton Resort in South Kohala.

Of course, sand and gentle surf provide and undending source of amusement. Trailblazer books list all the beaches that are kid-safe. (Though a watchful eye is always necessary.)

There are no rules against learning while having fun. The tide pools at the beach park just outiside of Pu'u Hononua O Honaunau National Park south of Kona are a sure thing.

Aside from up-close looks at dophins, the Hilton Resort on the Big Island serves up a Disneyesque boatload of attractions. Boats voyage the resort's canal, and a monorail travels its extensive grounds.

Sea turtles sunbathe on all the islands, but on the Big Island the slow-moving reptiles are a commonplace sight.  In Hawaii, children are called "keikis" (kay-keys), the same name given to young banana shoots, which each year provide the food necessary to sustain life. Parents traveling with kids are always welcomed into the community.  Still not sure which island to visit? Consult your No Worries Hawaii ebook.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Making the most of 7 Days on Maui

One: Twin Falls Botanical Preserve, at the beginning of the Hana Highway, is on the tourist radar, but you can find places to call your own. There are actually a half-dozen falls with swimming pools, most of which visitors never see.

Two: Baldwin Beach Park on windward Maui near Paia is the perfect place to hang out—beachcombing, surfing, snorkeling, and surfing all combine to say aloha.

Three: Where the resort strip ends in West Maui just north of Kapalua is the Honolua Marine Preserve. Tour boats bring paying customers, but it's easy to get there on foot. As a bonus, you can watch surfers ride one of the better waves in the Islands off the point (from which this photo was taken).

Four: Ka'anapali Beach still has the buzz carried forward from its heydays in the 1970s, when it was called Dig Me Beach. Yeah, baby. Black Rock, right in front of the Sheraton, attracts jumpers all day long, and the snorkeling is good. A beach path along the resort strip's gardens and pools provides an opportunity for excercise while people watching.

Five: Lahaina was Kamehameha's choice for the capital of the islands. The king's big footprints, along with historical thread from the missionary and whaling periods, are evident along the town's quaint streets. Bars, restaurants, and shops make the place hop. All sorts of tour boats depart from the harbor, along with ferries to the neighboring islands of Lanai and Molokai.

Six: Haleakala National Park is lofted at 10,000 feet. Its Red Hill Summit viewing kiosk attracts a throng of sunrise seekers, but this is a chilly proposition. Try sunset. The Sliding Sands Trail into the crater (technically an eroded valley) is the park's centerpiece, but remember when hiking into all that magificance that you need to hike back out.

Seven: Iao Valley State Park in Wailuku gets hammered with tour buses, and most visitors walk the steps to see the signature Iao Needle. There's room to roam in a botanical garden, as well as on an unsigned trail that departs the park at the Needle to a spectacular viewing spot in the adjacent state forest reserve.

Maui Trailblazer has details on visiting all of Maui's well-known wonders, as well as place to call your own for the day.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Oahu: Two great places to swim with the turtles and fishies

Hanauma Bay, not far south of Waikiki is by far the most-visited snorkeling venue in the Islands. But that doesn't mean it's a must-do. It can be crowded and the visiting protocol is a hassle—plus the snorkeling isn't that great close to shore. Two nearby alternatives are Makai Research Pier (at the peninsula in the photo above), and little-known Cromwell's Cove.

Makapu'u Beach Park (above) is on the way to Makai Pier, a spot to enjoy a dreamy picnic and watch  surfers. The pier is where the yellow submarine manned by crews from the Hawaii Underwater Research Lab (HURL) expolore offshore waters. You can easily swim from shore amid sea turtls and schools of colorful fish. You can walk out the pier beforehand to scope the scene.

Cromwell's Cove is a really cool man-made enclosure set right below (I mean there it is!) the Shangri La Mansion of the wealthy socialite Doris Duke. (Cromwell was her husband.) The parking for the cove is in a suburban neighborhood, and a walk with a short rock-hop is required. Only high school kids frequent this place (making weekdays a better choice for solitude). This photo is taken from steps that lead into the clear water. From the same parking, you can also walk right (Crowell's is left) to Ka'alawai Beach, which is the strip of sand you can see just above the wall in the photo.

Oahu Trailblazer has more deets on these places and all the other spots to find quiet, beautiful spots on Oahu. Surprisingly, populated Oahu has more undeveloped beaches than Maui.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Keanae: Heaven halfway to Hana

The Hana Highway is one of Maui's tourist rituals.  Play it wrong, and you can spend the day stuck in a conga line of rental cars fighting for parking spots. One easy way to play it right is to do the drive in two days. On the first day, only go as far as Keanae Village and Nahiku. A turnout at mile marker 17 gives up a portrait quality view of the lava peninsula on which the village sits.

Swimming beaches are not the thing at Keanae, but this little cove is popular among kayakers in search of supreme scenery.

Lava stacks, a product one of Haleakala's more recent eruptions, constantly do battle with ocean waves. Spoiler alert: the ocean wins.

In the middle of Keanae's greenspace is its signture landmark, dating from 1860. It's called (get ready) Ihi'ihioiehovaona.

Aunty Sandy's is as close as you will get to haute cuisine. Better buy two of the petite loaves before driving away and wishing you had another. Nearby are two freshwater swimming spots: Sapphire Pools, which are near the highway turnoff, and Keanae Pools, which are formed at the river mouth not far from the church. 

The Keanae Arboretum is one of the best family hikes on the island, and trekers can keep going up the valley. Next to Keanae is Wailua Village, where practically no tourists stop, thereby missing two quaint churches (St. Gabriel's Church and St. Augustine's Shring) as well as a smashmouth view of taro fields surrounded cliffs and Upper Waikani Falls.

Maui Trailblazer has details on to find places to call your own on the Hana Highway—all hiding in plain sight.

Friday, February 26, 2016

How not to die while hiking on vacation in Hawaii

Yesterday, rescue workers searched from morning into the dark of night to find a young father from Chicago who was swept into huge waves from the notorious Queen's Bath off the north shore of Kauai in Princeville. The group entered the area in spite of numerous warning signs and epic waves--up to 40 feet. The wife was crumpled  in despair on the bluff above the tidal shelf all day, looking out at the violent ocean in vain.

Virutally every accident fatality in Hawaii can be avoided. Deaths are heartbreaking for visitors and locals alike. Rescue workers, as well as locals, make heroic efforts to save people almost everyday. Last week, bystanders jumped into shallow waters off Pearl Harbor on Oahu to free a young boy from a helicopter that was forced to make a hard landing. (Please see our blog from February 15 on ocean safety.)

Walking on land in Hawaii can be equally as dangerous as entering the ocean. On the other hand, you are perfectly safe if you take precautions:

1. Watch out for drop offs. Many ridge and coastal trails skirt sheer cliffs. Greenery along the trail disguise the hazard. Stay well back and watch the kids.

2. Stay on the trail. This maxim is to protect hikers, not the environment. The flora is way too lush and deep to cross. In places, the flora also hides earth cracks underneath that formed during volcanic activity long ago. If there is no trail, you can't walk there. If you lose the trail, retreat to a known spot. Forget about trying to go cross-country with GPS. Watch your feet and follow the trail.

3. Bring retractable hiking poles. Many trails are very steep, narrow, and slick after rains. Trails are not built on traverses like Mainland trails, but rather are there because the topography dictates the only possible route.

4. Don't cross a fast stream. Flash floods in Hawaii have been known to cross roads and sweep away cars that attempt to cross. If you get caught on the wrong side of a stream, wait it out. The water will subside. If in a stream valley, be mindfull that fast-moving water may rise and you will have to seek high ground. During rains, staying off the trail is the best bet.

5. Don't rock climb. Even technical climbers with skill will face undue risk trying to scale rocks and cliffs in Hawaii. The ground is unstable.

6. Equip your pack. Bring a rain shell, plenty of water, headlamp, and food.

Trailblazer guides for the island have detailed chapeters on how to stay safe in Hawaii. Specific precautions are given for the locale of each hike and beach. You don't need to be overly fearful of the great outdoors here—but learning how to read the risks is a must for all visitors.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This art/gift gallery on Kauai REALLY IS one-of-a-kind

Afficiandos on Hawaiian fine art could search the entire state without finding a gallery like Koral and Moku's Ohana Shop in tiny Wainiha on the north shore of Kauai. And most visitors will drive right on by without knowing what they are missing.

Start with the people and place: In jungly Wainiha Valley, on the other side of two one-lane bridges well past Hanalei, live pure-blooded Hawaiians who can trace their heritage back several centuries.  Up this river valley until the late 1800s lived a 65-person colony of the folkloric Menehune—descendants of the Marquesans who are thought to have inhabited much of Hawaii beginning in the second century, well before the second-wave of Polynesians arrived from Tahiti nearly a thousand years later.

Koral and Moku, a striking couple who fittingly opened their labor-of-love gallery on Valentine's Day, both were born in Wainiha, not far from the rickety storefront (that also houses the time-honored Wainiha Store and the closet-sized Sushi Girl, which draws people from all over the north shore). Moku is of Hawaiian descent, going way back to the ali'i (royalty).

Though rooted in Hawaiian tradition, Ohana Shop's collection is a modern send-up of fine art. Koral has assembled the work of artists mainly from Wainiha and the north shore, but also from other connections  elsewhere on Kauai, the neighbor islands, and even a few pieces from Tahiti, where she and Moku travel.

Koral's jewelry is on hand, and so are prized necklaces by native people of Niihau, hand-crafted, surreally painted mini-surfboards, photographs, paintings, t-shirts from Molokai with impressions of endangered species, and ancient-style Hawaiin spearheads shaped from native wood by Moku's father (also named Moku, who has cared for nearby Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Garden for many years).

Every piece of art in the gallery has a story. The stories combine to tell a larger story of Hawaiian tradition and this young couple whose efforts are inspired by a wish to support their friends and community. The gallery is a gift-in-waiting for all visitors to Kauai. This is the sort of gallery you may enter  because you wish to support them, but you will end up buying something because the work is just plain fabulous.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How not to die in the ocean while on vacation in Hawaii

Not to be Donny Downer, but you should know that once each month somewhere in Hawaii a tourist dies in an ocean-related accident. It's heartbreaking and totally avoidable, in theory. Here's a blueprint for keeping yourself and your loved ones safe:

1. Watch out for rogue (or 'sleeper') waves. Larger than the other waves in a given set, rogue waves knock people down at the shoreline or sweep them from a reef. Large waves can arrive on otherwise calm days. How to avoid: Always keep an eye on the surf, since you can move faster than a wave at the beginning of its break and quick reactions save lives. When walking a beach, stay back from where the sand is wet, and same goes for reef walking, since a wet surface indicates wave action. When surf is very large, stay way, way back.

2. Watch our for rip current. Rip current always exists when waves are present, and the higher the waves, the stronger the rip current. Rip current is where the ocean water of incoming waves is returning back to sea, usually in a channel that is the path of least resistance for the water. How to avoid: On beaches with reefs near shore, you can see rip current as blue channels going out through an opening in the reef, an outbound stream. On beaches with a near-shore break, rip current is visible as a rippling channel going out where waves are not breaking, or are low breaks. Indentify the channel before entering the water. Stay away from the channels. Where you choose to enter the water, throw in a stick to see which way it moves. Once in the water, look down to see if you are drifting. Swim into a slight current at the beginning, so that you will swim with it on your return. Stay close to shore.

3. Body surf or boogie board with caution. Head and neck injuries are common, especially if body surfing (which is really a lost art). Even if head injuries are not fatal themselves, they can result in drowning How to avoid: Limit your wave play to foamy waves that have already broken, or are not breaking with a curl. As a wave is breaking, look to see if sand is being sucked up at the base of the wave, an indication of a shallow water hazard. Ask advice before boogie boarding.

4. Make a smart reaction to trouble: If something goes wrong, you can still walk away safely. Many deaths occur because people make the wrong moves once they are in trouble. Have a safety plan: If two people are together, leave one person ashore to watch the swimmer (and they can also watch your stuff). Know where you are and carry a cell phone. Hawaiian watermen (lifeguards) are among the best in the world and respond quickly almost anywhere on the island. Best of all (duh) swim at a beach where watermen are present. If you do get caught in a rip current, do not panic and wear youself out. Rip currents are near-shore phenomenon, and they release you offshore. Never swim into a rip current to defeat it, but rather swim sideways from the direction of the current.

The mantra for water safety in Hawaii is: If in doubt, don't go out. Err on the side of caution. Even strong swimmers will be powerless in an angry ocean. Wearing a snorkel and fins greatly improves your safety and mobility in the ocean.

Trailblazer Travel Books (for each island) have safety tips and hazard warnings for the land and the sea. These generalized safety tips and supplemented by warnings that are specific to each beach and trail. You don't need to be overly frightened of the ocean, but give it respect.