Monday, August 29, 2016

Many treasures are hidden on Maui's Hana Highway

The Hana Highway—with its umpteen one-lane bridges, countless curves, rain forests, and waterfalls—is a rite of passage for Maui visitors. In fact, if you begin the journey at prime time, say 10 in the morning, you are likely to be in a conga line of rental cars competing for parking spaces at turnouts. 

But if you start at an off time, and concentrate on the journey (rather than the destination of Hana and the Pools of Oheo that lie beyond in the lower section of Haleakala National Park) you can find a day's worth of adventure and solitude—including this jaunt to Wahinepe'e Falls (above) and Lupi Road (top photo).

Tangled in the jungle of the Ko'olau Forest Reserve are roads and infrastucture of the island's water-conveyance systems, some of which date from sugar cane days.

Public access is limited to some of the areas. Maui Trailblazer has the details on how to get permits, if needed, and specific directions to a dozen or more spots on the Hana Highway that most cars drive right on by.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Woof! Woof! Barking Sands Beach is one of Kauai's big dogs

Thousands of visitors rave about the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast, and about Waimea Canyon, 'The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.' And rightly so. But do yourself a favor and don't leave Kauai without making a trip to Barking Sands Beach at Polihale State Park. The surf can be treacherous, but at one spot, called Queens Pond (above), a protective near-shore reef provide a safe spot (normally) to get in the water—and also a sweet curling break favored by local surfers.

Huge dunes and a wide swath of sand runs for 20-plus miles around Mana Point all the way to Kekaha—but since 9/11 the government boys have much of it blocked off to beachcombers because of the Pacific Missile Range Facility that lies just inland. Still, you have several miles to pound sand. The intervening beach is called Barking Sands due to the 'woofing' sound the dunes make when built up sand slides.

The entrance to the state park is 3 miles in from the end of the highway is west Kauai. The road sometimes floods in the winter, causing a closure, and is almost always slow going with puddles, potholes, and ruts. From this sign at 'monkeypod junction,' Polihale State Park facilities are about 1.5 miles to the right and Queens Pond is .25-mile to the left.

Walking to the right at Polihale gets you to the base of 2,000-foot-high Polihale Ridge, one of a dozen ridges that radiate out from the rugged, roadless north shore of Kauai, beginning where the road ends at the Kalalau Trailhead and ending here. You can access the Polihale Ridge Trail from the road to Waimea Canyon. Misty winds rise up the face of the cliff, which in Hawaiian lore is the place where the spirits of the dead were said to head to the next world. Keen eyes will spot a mountain goat way up there, more often than not.

Several picnic pavilions provide shade, a scarce commodity on these wide-open sands.

Though this tent is set up for day use, a campgound on top of the dunes that runs for about a half-mile—the best beach camping in Hawaii if solitude is what you seek. Kauai Trailblazer has more details on Polihale State Park, and other wild places close by.

BTW: Using the Navy's arcane permit process, you can apply (and pay $25) for a guest card, though it is probably less of a hassle to visit Cuba. On the other hand, if you plan ahead a couple months and you can be one of the few to see all of Barking Sands, and also some Hawaii's best wildlife seascape. Local surfers are all over it. A background check is included in the application process. Call 808-335-7936 or click

Monday, August 15, 2016

Here's a tree-hugger's trail on Maui with a zillion birds and zero tourists

Maui has the fewest open trails among the Hawaiian Islands, so these hikes on the lower slopes of Haleakala are a find. You can choose several options in the Makawao Forest Reserve on the Kahakapao Loop trail, racking up about 6.5 miles and gaining around 500 feet in elevation.

The reserve is located not far down the mountain from the Maui Bird Conservation Cener, and the native-and-planted forests are full of our chirping, feathered friends. 

Much of the forest doesn't scream "Hawaii," but you will find lush exotics growing in the creases of the slopes.

Makawao Forest Reserve, along with Waihou Springs Forest Reserve, which is not far away, serve up generous portions of  commodities that can be lacking on more popular trails: peace and quiet and solitude.

Norfolk Pines were planted by crews of early European sailing vessels, since their straight trunks make for good masts and spars.


After a long rendevous with nature, head to the nearby town of Makawao (rhymes with "oh wow") for a cold beverage, grilled steak, or veggie wrap. The quaint town is well worth a walk-around. Maui's cowboy heritage will be evident among the shops. Maui Trailblazer has directions to all the trailheads as well as a walking tour of the town.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Big Island's Kohala: Kind of creepy land of comets and kings

Though Mo'okini Heiau (temple) on the north nub of the Big Island was designated in 1935 as the state's first national historic site, it now rests forlorn and isolated. Winds scour barren slopes and Maui looms across the often-choppy channel. 

The first stones were laid  in 500 AD, and construction was completed in about 1200 AD. Many forms of religious practices took place here, including human sacrifices. Mo'okini has been presided over continuously by generations of kahunas (priests), and the prohibition against visiting the site was lifted only a couple decades ago.

Heiaus appear these days as rock walls and platforms—the stuctures that once stood atop are now gone. Superstructures of poles fastened by twine and covered by thatched leaves were weather-tight, and thick matting made the floors comfortable.


A thousand years after the heiau was established—and a quarter-mile down the coast—is the site of perhaps the most significant event in Hawaiian history: the birth of King Kamehameha, the baby who would be king. Oral history tells of a celestial event that lit up the sky that autmun night, which scientists have since pegged as the passing of Haley's Comet in 1758. The baby king—the 'Lonely One'—was birthed here in secrecy to avoid assassination by rival royal families on the Hilo side of the island, who had different ideas about who should rule.

With several other developed national parks on the island,  Mo'okini Heiau and Kamehameha Birthplace are pretty much off the tourist radar. Only a weathered plaque marks the spot. The dirt tract that reaches the site can be approached from the north or south (Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has detailed directions). Being here evokes a sense of timelessness that is hard to describe.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The complete Hawaiian vacation makeover

Vacations can be like parties—lots of fun and abandonment that can take a toll on the body and require time to recover from. Then again, a vacation in Hawaii, though all about pleasure, can be a recovery of your senses, leaving you with a feeling of rejuvenation.

Spas and hot tubs are part of any feel-good enterprise, and many hotels can set you up. Or, visit the Puna coast on the Big Island (not far from Hilo) and you can spend the day at Ahalanui Warm Springs Park (a county freebie)  luxuriating in warm water. The Big Island has several natural hot springs.

Essential to self-improvement is intentional "doing nothing." A lounge chair in the shade with vast blueness to stare at and white-noise waves rolling in is sure to reset the mind—if you stick with it long enough.

Thus relaxed, it's time to focus on the complexities of the natural world. Beachcombing and shell collecting will fill that need. Decorative shells can be found at numerous beaches, including Charo's on the north shore of Kauai.

Since "we are what we eat," try binge-consuming fresh juice and fruits.

But don't forget to add some greens. Sunshine (farmers) markets are common in the islands. You'll find little stands in front of people's houses, neighborhood gatherings where you can stock up, and also island-wide events where you can  make a day of it—like the Maui Swap Meet, the Aloha Stadium Market and Chinatown on Oahu, and the Hilo Farmers Market.

Swimming is exercise that relaxes, sort of an active massage. Mix some water play into the daily regimen and feel your joints and muscles ease.  Swimming pools will do the trick, but immersion in warm Hawaiian saltwater is an upgrade for the senses.

It's not hard to find Edenlike places to hike in Hawaii. The Kalalau Trail (above) on Kauai is one of the most popular, but every island has numerous places to escape into greenery and get your heart pumping.

Trailblazer guides are brimming with places to hike and snorkel, as well as farmers markets, gardens, retreats, and quiet cultural sites. When you visit Hawaii for a week or two, you can take the experience home, not just as snapshots, but actually infused into your body.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

I'll be watching you: Hawaii's lifeguards are among the world's best

The best way to have a safe day at the beach in Hawaii is to make sure you are under the watchful eye of one of these dudes, a Hawaiian lifeguard — trained to act swiftly to save lives. Every day, somewhere in the Islands, these guys (also called 'watermen' in Hawaii) risk their necks to save someone else's.

When conditions are adverse, lifeguards normally post signs up and down the beach. But don't count on it. Lack of signage doesn't mean the water is safe. The overriding beach safety rule is: When in doubt, don't go out.

Quads, surfboards, helicopters, and skidoos are all called into to play at a moment's notice.

Most beaches in Hawaii do not have lifeguard stations—but many do. Although lifeguards won't want to engage in long conversations with visitors, don't be afraid to ask them about conditions. That's what they are there for. 

Trailblazer guides for each island list beaches with lifeguards on duty. The books also have detailed safety sections that list possible hazards for each beach, as well as trails.

For some quick general guidelines go to

A woman from Germany is happy to hug her husband on land, after lifeguards plucked her off a channel in the reef at Anini Beach in Kauai. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Luxury for free in Hawaii

Hawaii's destination resorts are pricey, $500 a night and up, up, up. But to visit them is free. And many of the best resorts have museum-quality artwork, entertainment, exhibits, special events, botanitcal gardens, and poolside architecture that will curl your toes. The Grand Hyatt Kauai (above) features a man-made saltwater lagoon, set alongside a sprawling pool.

Using pools is of course limited to guests, but hotels commonly will offer paid day passes. On the other hand, all the beaches in Hawaii including those in front of resorts are open to the public.

The resort strip in Wailea features several high-end resorts, all linked by an oceanside path that extends several miles to the beach parks in adjacent Kihei.

The pool at the Grand Wailea seems to sprawl over acres and is bordered by lawn sculpture. 

Wailea has five public access parking lots. Same goes for the similar resort strip of Ka'anapali north of Lahaina on Maui, which also has a long walking path. The view at the St. Regis Princeville on the north shore of Kauai is mind boggling. South Kohala on the Big Island has quite a few fabulous resorts that have an entrance gate—Mauna Kea, Mauna Lani, Fairmont Orchid and the Four Seasons. The Hilton in South Kohala is like Disneyland. On busy days the entrance gate is a minor obstacle, if you know how to play it.

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or directly from the publisher at 

Trailblazers have all the tips on visiting dozens of resorts in the Islands—all freebies.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sleeping Giant: A Kauai Classic

The supine profile of the Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) lords over the length of Kauai's Coconut Coast (the east shore). Seen here from a lagoon at Smith's Tropical Plantation, the Giant resembles an Easter Island statue—his big nose is in the middle, with chin to the right.

Three trailheads will get you to the top, all coverging near the summit. That's his chinny chin chin (above) to the left, a dangerous side trip to a spot that is just a step from a free fall. But the main trail is not hazardous, even though hands are necessary for one short stretch, where the hiker is pictured above.

The mountain is part of a ridge cleaved by the Wailua River (seen above meeting the sea), by far Hawaii's biggest. On the opposite side of the river rises Kalepa Ridge

The ocean-side trail climbs just over 1,000 feet (four miles, round-trip) giving up blue water views all the way.

From the Giant's nose (the top) is a 360-degree view, with Mount Waialeale inland and Kong (Anahola Mountains) to the east (pictured above).

The mountain-side trail is the shortest, and perhaps most-scenic route, if you appreciate  tropical flora. The beginning  traverses a grove of stately Norfolk Pines. This route is 3.25 miles round-trip, with a gain of some 775 feet. The third trailhead, on the west side, covers 5.5 miles round-trip with a gain of 925 feet—but the main reason to take this trail is to enjoy a bridge over Opakea'a Stream and the Vista Hale picnic pavilion, which is .75-mile from the trailhead.

Kauai Trailblazer has further details on these trailheads, as well as many others. Well-known trails, such as the Kalalau, attract hoards of visitors, leaving dozens of other great hikes relatively free of foot traffic.