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.

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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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Friday, December 26, 2014

Maui's blowhard can be a serious party pooper

Nakahalele Blowhole on Maui's north coast is a sure crowd-pleaser—who doesn't like to see whitewater exploding 50 feet and higher from an opening in the reef?—but visitors are advised to stay back at risk of serious injury or death. That warning should seem obvious to all but the yahoos among us. But what is not obvious is to stay back and also stay away from the ocean side of the sea geyser, since sleeper waves can jump the reef and knock bystanders for a loop.

Two trails lead down to this well-known, but unmarked roadside attraction, the longer of which is the most scenic (at mile marker 38) since a melange of colorful geology is thrown in to the mix. A half-mile farther, the second trailhead, from which the blowhole is visible, is a switchback down a steep embankment. Several of the trails along this undeveloped coast see few tourists; Maui Trailblazer has more details.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Star in your own movie at Oahu's Kualoa Park.

With razorback ridges sloping into clear blue waters, Kualoa Regional Park and adjacent Kualoa Ranch have star quality—the setting in fact for dozens of Hollywood movies ranging from Godzilla to 50 First Dates. Most people zip by on the way to the Polynesian Cultural Center on Windward Oahu. Don't be one of them. 

Kualoa Big Island Hawaii

The park's signature feature is tiny Mokoli'i Island, a.k.a., Chinaman's Hat. The island is a premier snike (snorkel-hike), featuring a 600-yard swim followed by a scamper up to the 200-foot summit. This pic was taken from Secret Island, a dreamy beach that is a short hike from Kualoa Park's camping area. A large ancient fishpond borders the strip of sand, making it into an 'island,' a destination for paid tours, which you can easily reach for free.

On the way to the park (just south) is old-timey Tropical Farms, a family run attraction that serves up free coffee and bowls of macadamia nut samples. Tropical Farms is a sure thing if you need gifts or souvenirs. Just inland from the park is Kualoa Ranch, where much of the movie making takes place. The front deck of the ranch is the best place on this coastline to grab a meal (sandwiches, Asian buffet) with a view. Their giftstore also gets high marks. You can roam the grounds and say 'howdy' to the horses, or sign up to see the surrounding 4,000 stunning acres via horseback, ATV, or jungle vehicle.

For driving directions consult your Oahu Trailblazer guidebook.

Oahu's best selling adventure guide

Monday, December 15, 2014

Way Down South on the Big Island of Hawaii

The Hawaiian Archipelago—1,600 miles long and comprised of 130 islands–comes to an end at South Point, where the deep blue sea rolls for 2,500 miles southward before any land breaks its surface. This photo is looking north from the canoe ladders, modern renditions used by today's fishermen, following in the barefoot steps of ancestors from centuries past. Today's anglers are mindful of the Halalea Current off the point, named for the chief who was swept away here and never seen again.

The land (the east rift of Mauna Loa) slopes gently to the tippy tip of South Point, making for an easy stroll that passes the Kalaea Heiau (temple). A more popular walk from South Point is to wild Green Sand Beach, a 5-mile roundtrip excursion. Visitors with limited time may want to skip that one and check out the Kahuku Trailhead that is across the highway from the spur road that ends at South Point. Kahuku is the newest section of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You'll find volcanic formations for sure, but green slopes and tropical forests are the main attraction at Kahuku.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more details, beginning on page 117. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Kauai's Mahaulepu: A close-in getaway on the sunny south coast.

Mahaulepu (ma-ha-oo-lep-oo) is only two miles from the Grand Hyatt along the resort strip of Poipu Beach. But the two miles is via a dirt road that is one ghastly pothole, which dissuades most rental cars. And from the remote parking area, an unmarked trail extends for another mile, a route taken by few beachgoers. The takeaway: With deluxe hiking and snorkeling, Mahaulepu is among the top adventure attractions in Hawaii.

You can avoid the drive from the Hyatt by taking the 2.25-mile Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, which hugs the coast and passes the large remains of the ancient Ho'ouluia Heiau (temple). Whales and shorebirds enhance the scenery. The trail joins the parking area at Gillan's Beach (very good snorkeling) and continues over low-lying beach flora that is buffered by ironwood groves.

This unnamed cove is halfway from Mahaulepu to Haula Beach, a larger embayment that is just below the hill in the background of this picture. From Haula begins a rugged ascent into a the Haupu State Forest Reserve—where you get a bird's-eye view of private Kipu Kai Beach that was feature in the movie, The Descendants.

The rugged road to Mahulepu ends at Kawailoa Bay. The snorkeling and swimming in excellent. The endangered Hawaiian monk seals like to haul out here and sunbathe.  Let Kauai Trailblazer guide you there.