Friday, March 8, 2019

So you're going to Kauai? Read this first.

new Kauai Trailblazer guidebook

The new 21st anniversary edition of Kauai Trailblazer is now available on Amazon.  Check it out here.

Trailblazer Guides are geared toward independent travelers who have a sense of adventure. The books cover all the well-known activities, as well as places to call your own. Get out the yellow highlighter and give KT a look before your visit: you will hit the ground running at the airport.

Activities (like hiking, strolling, snorkeling, biking, surfing) are organized by geographic region, so no matter where you are on the island, you'll find all there is to do nearby. Things that are near each other on the book's pages, are also close-by in the real world.

This guide is content rich and packed with details. Driving and parking directions are very specific. You also get safety tips for the hazards you might encounter. A Best Of section lists top choices. A Trailblazer Kids section makes vacation planning easy for families. Want to visit the places where Hollywood movies have been filmed? You're covered.

At the top of the must-do list on  Kauai is to get up-close-and-personal with tropical gardens. On the wild Powerline Trail South (above), you may wind up speaking plant-talk by the time the hike is over. You can also find tamer ways to immerse in greenery, like visiting one of the three National Tropical Botanical Gardens on the island. Kauai Trailblazer offers many ways to journey into the botanical world, from family strolls to wilderness treks.

Kekaha Beach Kauai Trailblazer

Kauai has by far the most hike-to beaches in Hawaii—a couple dozen or more. But there are also many drive-up beaches with long stretches of open sand, like Kekaha Beach (above). Kekaha is almost always sunny even when rain falls elsewhere. Another miles-long beach is Barking Sands, at Polihale State Park. Kauai's fabled sea cliffs rise a couple thousand feet at the backshore.

Makauwahi Cave Reserve Kauai

Trailblazers are also known for attention to cultural and historic sites, as well as attractions that tell the island's natural history. Above is the Makauwahi Cave Reserve—the largest cavern and fossil deposit in the state. It's only recently been opened to the public. On the north shore is the place to see whales and shorebirds: the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.  Take a free tour of the lighthouse. 

Visitors who enjoy poking around in the mysteries of the past will find directions to ancient sites and heiaus (temples)—some of which are state parks, and others that are overgrown and hidden. (Of course, take care not to disturb any of these sacred places.)

Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

The Sleeping Giant Trail above Kapa'a is only one of many places to get high. Many of the mountain trails are in the Yelp-zone and well-frequented, but you will be surprised how many choices the guide offers to get off the beaten track.

Kauai's Farmers' Markets

With Kauai all around you, don't forget to put some of the island inside you. Farmers markets ('sunshine markets') take place daily. KT lists them all. Alongside the luscious heaps of organic fruits and vegetables are locally produced wellness/beauty products, fresh juices. flowers, crafts and artisan foods. Farmer's markets are the place to meet the locals and stock up on all the goodies.

You can also cruise rural roads to find 'honor stands,' where you stuff money in a slot and drive away with: bananas, many kinds of citrus, avocados, coconuts ... 

Hanapepe Swinging Bridge

Trailblazer also takes you to the cool walk-around towns. There are many. In Hanapepe, you can stroll the old-west-style main street's galleries and restaurants, and then cross the Swinging Bridge to take a walk on the rural side. 

The art scene on Kauai is thriving. Here is a taste of island style shops to explore: Yellowfish Trading Company and The Ohana Shop (Hanalei); Magic Dragon Toy and Art Supply (Princeville); Hunter Gatherer (Kilauea);  Kauai Coffee (Coconut Marketplace); Kukuiula Village (Poipu); Warehouse 3540 (Lawai);  Storybook Theater, JJ Ohana and Blu Umi (Hanapepe); and Koke'e Museum (Waimea Canyon).

explore Kauai with Trailblazer


Friday, February 22, 2019

These days, the Garden of Eden is on Kauai

To find the Biblical, life-giving Garden of Eden, you'll need to deep-dive into historical and religious research materials. But to find where this garden exists today, you'll need to get on a plane to Kauai and head to the South Shore Visitors Center for the National Tropical Botanical Gardens.

Here, you can tour two of the nations five gardens: Allerton and McBryde

National Tropical Botanical Garden, Lawai, Kauai

In between these two botanical dreamscapes is the beating heart—and thoughtful brain—of the facility, the horticultural nursery. Every day, endangered plants are literally given new life by manager Ashly Trask (pictured above) and other horticulturists, who painstakingly plant tiny seeds and provide conditions for them to grow. The new plants are then re-introduced in the gardens, including a third NTBG garden, Limahuli, which is on the north shore of Kauai.

Sometimes the work is downright heroic. The alula plant (upper right above) was down to its last gasp until workers repelled down a cliff on the Napali Coast to pluck one of the last known survivors. The alula has flourished in the nursery and replanted elsewhere, including conservatories around the world.

Volunteers are welcomed:

National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai

The 200-acre McBryde Garden covers the upper portion of the Lawai Valley. The place is pure eye candy, most of it under caring cultivation. But there's more than meets the eye: garden workers install GPS tags to keep track of individual plants and trees, and then corollate that data with detailed weather information to hone in on optimum conditions and gain knowledge.

On the lower left above is an authentic canoe hale (hay-lay), one of the accents in the Polynesian 'Canoe Garden.' Growing here are the 30-or so plants and trees the Hawaiian brought with them on their 2,500-mile sailing canoe voyages some 1,500 years ago. The valley is cleaved by Lawai Stream. 

McBryde's Biodiversity Trail takes you on a stroll through the history of plants on earth over the last 4.5 million years. Interpretive signs tell the tale without being overly wordy, and the mist tunnel coveys what words cannot.

National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai

If you walk too fast, you will miss details. There is too much to perceive at a glance—everywhere. The Spice of Life Trail is a side trip into a world of glistening fronds and flowering shrubs. Usually, the only soundtrack will be provided by birds and running water.

National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai

Though much is to be learned from the garden's displays, most visitors will find that the experience is the best teacher.

Allerton Beach, NTBG

Allerton, the more famous of the two gardens, is the 80-acre lower portion to the Lawai Valley. It was the stomping grounds for Queen Emma, and later for Robert Allerton who bought the place. Allerton and his lifetime companion, Gregg, planted botanical "rooms," with fountains and statuary. The Allerton Estate is known also for being the site for TV's Fantasy Island, as well as a number of Hollywood movies.

The visitors center offers several options for guided tours. Independent travelers can take a bus to McBryde for a self-guided walking tour. Admission fees not only provide a memorable day's event, but also go to support the people who are actually getting their fingernails dirty to keep plants on the planet.

National Tropical Botanical Garden

4425 Lawai Rd, Koloa, HI 96756

Read more about them here:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sleeping Giant: Kauai's Wake Up Call

Sleeping Giant Hike Kauai Hawaii view

Nounou Mountain, above Kauai's Coconut Coast, looks like the head of a huge Easter-Island-style statue in repose, and locals have always called it the Sleeping Giant. His nose is the summit, with the chin to the right, and a downward sloping forehead to the left. 

The summit hike is a not-to-miss half-day adventure: 3 to 5 miles roundtrip, and up to 1,000 feet of gain, depending on which of three trailheads you select.

Norfolk pines Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

The east side trailhead is the shortest and probably most scenic route. The lower portion penetrates a grove of Norfolk Pines, which were coveted for their use as masts on the sailing ships in the old days. 

The west side trail is almost a mile longer, and has ocean views all the way with plenty of sunshine—which can be a good or bad thing.

Boulder bluff climb Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

A picnic shelter that is less than a half mile from the top gives up great views, and some hikers think this is the end of the trail. But press on, since the most thrilling and scenic parts are not far. A couple of trail sections require a hands-on approach and may dissuade the casual hiker.

Rootbound trail Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

Wet conditions are common on the Sleeping Giant trail. Roots provide a stairway of sorts.

Steep climb up Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

The trail is not dangerous but you want to be mindful of footing and aware that greenery disguises drop-off hazards.

Sleeping Giant trail summit view

You don't want to slip off this stretch between the Giant's nose and chin (in the distance). And, by the way, many people scramble out to the chin on the way up to the summit and are one-step away from a fatal free-fall in so doing.

Wailua River view from top of Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

The view from the top. The Wailua River is to the right—the spot from which the top photo in this blog was taken.

new trail friends Barcelona Adelaide Peru Israel

True, the Giant is a fave among locals. But the rest of the world is also well represented: Sharing the picnic view bench at this moment were hikers from Israel, Australia, Peru, and Spain, plus two from the Big Island of Ama'reeka.

Recommended: Bring hiking poles for Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai Hawaii

Tips: Hiking poles are a huge help on rainy days, but having two poles is not recommended for this hike since a spare hand is often needed to grab the strawberry guava saplings along the trail for support. Wear dark shorts, since you are bound to take an unexpected sit down, and plan on getting shoes muddy.

Kauai Trailblazer has all the details and directions for this classic hike. For sale on Amazon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hawaii's Hottest Ticket is to where the Action Isn't

Anyone who has been to the Islands recently will tell you traffic and crowds at popular destinations are a hassle. Seriously. For real. But the hassle is avoidable. The trick is to get to the many destinations that are out of the Yelp-o-Sphere, without having to sacrifice scenic values to do so.

One of these places is the trail out of Pololu Valley on the Big Island. People walk to the beach but not many know the trail leading to the roadless escarpments on the northern coast.

Going to places that aren't crowded makes some people feel like they are missing out. Not true. Pack a sense of independence in your suitcase and you will be rewarded.

Maui's Hana Highway draws a conga line of rental cars competing for roadside turnouts. The Kaupo Coast (much of it now part of Haleakala National Park) is wide open and undeveloped.

It's natural to want to see the "top" attractions. They got to be popular for good reason. But a slight turn of the wheel (if you know where to go) will get you someplace just far enough out of the buzz, like this lesser known route on the Hana Highway.

The Big Island's Waipio Valley has been attracting nature lovers since Kamehameha the Great surfed there as a boy. Few people realize that if you zig where everyone else zags, you will find yourself in the seldom seen taro field farther up the valley.

The Lyon Arboretum is sitting there in plain sight, not far from Waikiki Beach. But most people follow the tour-bus crowd to nearby Manoa Falls. Lyon has acres of wild gardens and its own falls.

Same goes of Kekaha Kai State Park in Kona. A fair number of people find the place, but it has its more hidden crannies of perfection.

The Keahua Arboretum in Kauai has a couple of trails that get hammered by TripAdvisor devotees. And they are excellent walks. But the  Powerline Trail, less than a quarter-mile away, is a botanical wonderland that you will have mostly to yourself. In fact, it's comforting to run into other people in the thick of things.

No Worries Hawaii is a vacation planning guide 20 years in the making. Using a self-test to gather your preferences, the book finds the right island for you, as well as the specific places and attractions you are looking for. Money saving tips and safety advice are also included, as well as the lowdown on private tours.

Trailblazer Travel Books—one for each island—are for independent, active people. They cover all the main attractions, as well as the little known trails, cultural sites, and coastal access spots. Read one before you go and hit the ground running. You won't find splashy gold stars or brochure-type writing. But you will find jewels to call your own away from the throngs. They're all sold on

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Kauai's Silver Falls Ranch is Horsey Heaven

Although the first rodeo champs in the America were Hawaiians, horseback riding is not among the postcard images normally associated with the Islands. But it should be. If you like riding horses, or have thought about giving it a try, head for the magnificent Silver Falls Ranch on the North Shore.

Who's happier here, the horses or the horse people? Karly and tawny Ohia (above) would call it a tie.

The ranch and adjoining property are several hundred acres—which border the 15,000 acres of the Halele'a Forest Reserve. About 80 acres are a manicured botanical garden. Framing the scene are the fluted slopes of Mount Namahana and its adjoining jagged green ridges. It's surreal.

The cascade that is Silver Falls serves up a prime swimming hole. Riders are served lunch here.

Silver Falls Ranch is organized, clean, and neat as a pin.  

Manager Donna Hunt keeps the place humming. The ranch accommodates riders of all sizes (unlike some other stables) and experience levels. Rides are up to a half-day in length. Most trips skirt the Makaleha Caldera, the volcanic origin of Kauai—though you'd never guess it by looking today at the lush wetlands.

Big Blue, by all appearances, loves his job.

The ranch can also set up private outings. Donna says hiking may also be offered in the future, but for now the only way to see the place is from the saddle. 

Often enough, throughout the history of Hawaii, people with a ton of money buy up land and gate it off from the public. Silver Falls Ranch is a shining exception, owned by people with a vision to make Kauai a better place for everyone.


808-828-6718 (7:30 am to 5:30 pm HST)

Office hours:
7:30 am to 5:00 pm HST
2888 Kamookoa Rd, Kilauea, HI 9675

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The 'back door' to Oahu's hidden North Shore

Most people who venture out of Waikiki to see the fabled North Shore of Oahu want to see the Mt. Rushmore of pro-surfing beaches: Haleiwa, Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset Beach—and then drive back. They miss out on the wild, scenic stuff that ironically is in proximity to Turtle Bay Resort, the only resort community on the rural North Shore.

Just beyond Sunset is Velzyland (above), where a renowned surfing wave on a dreamy beach has special appeal for surfers from around the globe. Larger-than-life surfboard shaper Dave Velzy was at the center of the sport's rise during the Beach Boy days of the 1960s. The myth lives on here.

A system of trails and a snorkeling beach is about a mile south of the resort, at Kawela Bay

Spend the day in the surf and sun.  Repeat as necessary.

Kawela's trails meander beside huge banyans and other behemoths.

Kulima Cove is a sweet scoop of sand with decent-to-good snorkeling. Miles of open beach await in the reverse direction of this picture. A little keiki (kids) cove is less than a half-mile down from Turtle Bay Resort (whose architects may have been inspired by shoe boxes).

These fellows, as one might expect, inhabit the waters off the resort's seaside walkways, sharing the scene with surfers. Oahu Trailblazer has more details on finding nooks of the North Shore.