Saturday, February 28, 2009

Closer to Kong

“Kong” is the locals’ name for the pointed peak in Anahola Mountains of east Kauai, since it looks much like the mythical ape, forever watchful seaward. Its real name is Kalalea, meaning “prominent,” even more apropos since it has been featured in movies ranging from South Pacific to Raiders of the Lost Ark—but not in King Kong.

A hunter’s road above Kealia Beach makes for an easy-walking view of the mountain, as monkey pod trees provide a towering overstory with birdsong creaking limbs as a soundtrack. Trekkers can take side routes across a stream gully and attempt to reach “hole in the mountain,” but the trail has become very overgrown since the crescent-shaped opening in the ridge was slammed shut by a slide in the 1990s. This is a leisurely walk, dangerous only because the remote parking is known as a place where bad boys snatch cars. Weekends also bring hunters and a few dirt bikes. So, to commune peacefully with Kong, your best bet is early on a weekday.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lydgate a sure thing for families

With a huge man-made swimming area that is safe on the surfiest of days and acres of lawn with play areas, the historically situated Lydgate Park can lay claim as Hawaii’s best beach park for families. The big play sets at Kamalani Playground back the swimming beach and just down the bike path is a several-story Play Bridge, with chutes and ladders that could accommodate a couple classrooms of scurrying youngsters. Several picnic areas provide respite from the beach scene.

History buffs can check out the ruins of Hikina’akala Heiau, which sits nearby on a grassy rise at the mouth of the Wailua River. Built by the ancient ali’i— Hawaiian royalty—this was the first of seven temples built along the river heading inland to Mount Waialeale, the “birthplace of all waters.”

For a more vigorous break from the beach scene, hikers can take off on a several-mile beachcombing expedition. You can follow the back path and then drop to the sands of wild Nukoli’i Beach, a favorite among net fishermen and the occasional endangered Hawaiian Monk Sea.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cruising the Boardwalk in the Swamp

The Alakai Swamp is the world’s highest, resting at 4,000 feet—situated between the top of Waimea Canyon and the upper lip to the Napali coast at Kalalau Valley, and at the backside of Mount Waialeale, the wettest spot on earth. Talk about a sense of place! Before the miles-long boardwalk was put in—a fanciful array of staircases and ramps—venturing into Alakai was life threatening. Dense tropical flora, whiteout fog, and heavy rain and cold temperatures combined for a knockout punch to anyone who wandered from the trail.

The boardwalk is now a lifeline and an opportunity for hearty hikers to venture into a remarkable complex and beautiful tropical garden. The best trail, the Pihea, begins at the edge of the Kalalau (see Feb. 5 of this blogspot), traverses the swamp with a 400-foot down-and-up stream crossing and, (gee, forgot this part), ends at the Kilohana Overlook—a platform perched at the edge of the 4,000-foot-high Wainiha Pali with a view down to Hanalei Bay. You need to catch the right day to see the view. But, even with all of its scenic neighbors, Alakai Swamp is an otherworld unto itself, so if you find yourself on this boardwalk, make sure to pause frequently and let this place sink in. Just don't wander from the boardwalk and sink into this place.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Got Aloha at Ke’e Beach?

Lovely Ke’e Beach is a reef-protected pool right under the Napali Cliffs—located at road’s end, which is the beginning of the famed Kalalau Trail. For these reasons, it gets a lot of action from tourists.

Until about a year ago, there wasn’t even a lifeguard station at Ke’e. Now, along with a new lifeguard station and a mind-boggling array of signs—some of them homemade—has hit the beach, and, ironically, spoiling the scenic beauty and spirit of aloha that they are trying to protect. The trail to one of the island’s most sacred spots—the Kauluolaka Hula Heiau (temple)—has been closed by both homemade signs put up by locals and an official-looking sign, citing “severe weather,” although the weather does not affect this trail. (The trail goes inland and up, away from high surf.)

In an effort to protect this spot, it has been closed off to visitors, inclduing those who respect it as much as anyone and who have traveled thousands of miles to pay their respects. Only selected persons can visit the anciet hula site—“selected” by whom is the question. For sure, tourists need to understand the ground rules, to protect both themselves and the cultural and scenic resources of Hawaii. But making tourists feel unwelcome is not the best strategy, especially in light of a one-third drop-off in tourism that hit the islands earlier this year. Hopefully this overreaction in the form of an outburst of signs and unwarranted closures is temporary, and true aloha will be restored at Ke’e Beach.

Before visiting, check out the beach safety tips in Hawaii's green guide, Kauai Trailblazer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Slipslidin' Away

Rain on the Kalalau yesterday didn't deter hikers. The vibram highway attracted enthusiasts in all shapes and sizes with one thing in common: mud slathered shoes. The only ones with clean feet were the babies high in their backpacks. Here a hiker heads back to Ke'e Beach and his steak dinner after the 11 mile, 8 hour trek.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kilauea Falls Wannabe Trail

When Harrison Ford made nice talk with Anne Heche in the1998 schmaltzy adventure comedy, Six Days, Seven Nights, Kilauea Falls looked much like the baby Niagara pictured here: a fifty-foot high, 150-foot wide white curtain falling into a swimming oval nearly 200-feet across. (In the scene Heche feels some kind of serpent under the surface—how Freudian.)

During heavy rains, the river becomes a torrent to be avoided. These days, locals looking for a swim get to this beauty via a shared easement through private property, and not on a public trail. The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge Expansion Act of 2004 authorized the purchase of 234 acres of land, including Kilauea Falls— and a public access to a trail is part of the plan. The feds are good to go, but—this is a big but—monies need to be authorized and deals have to be struck with individual landowners.

For now, the best way to see the falls is to rent the Harrison Ford movie.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Celebration of Waimea

About 10,000 people showed up in Waimea, as they have for 30 years now, to celebrate the astonishingly eclectic history of Hawaii’s most-ancient settlement. Seems like half the people were part of the show—two days of live music, a ukulele competition, a keiki ice cream contest, canoe races, craft demonstrations (including a rare shell necklace workshop by pure Hawaiians from Ni’ihau island), zingy food booths put on by nonprofit groups, all sorts of gift and art tables, an enormous kids’ play area, and a full-blown rodeo. (Hawaiians were roping doggies before their American counterparts, and the first champ crowned in Wyoming was from Hawaii.)

The wide-ranging events appropriately match Waimea’s history: The ancient people, the Menehunes, constructed canals here nearly two thousand years ago. Centuries ago, after the Tahitian migrations, this was the capital of Hawaii. The first European contact, by Captain James Cook in 1778, was on the banks of the Waimea River. King Kamehameha’s superior forces never conquered this island, in a standoff led by Kauai's King Kaumualii that lasted decades, Russian empire builders landed here in the 1800s, followed by whalers and missionaries. The growth of 19th century agricultural pursuits in rice, cattle and sugarcane brought people from many nations of Europe and the Pacific.

All of Waimea Town is designated historic; but as the annual celebration demonstrates, this place is one tight community that lives in the present.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kahili Ridge 1, Hikers 0

Sometimes the mountain wins. With about 1,700 feet of vertical over less than a two-mile accent, the hike up to razor-back Kahili Ridge in south Kauai is a bit of a workout, but not one to dissuade fit hikers. But when gusty winds and sheet rain punch through the Koloa Gap, bringing clouds that turn the scenery to whiteout fog, it’s time to sound the bugle and make a hasty retreat.

On the upper reaches of the buttress shoulder that leads to the ridge, the trail narrows to about 18 inches, not wide enough to feel comfortable with only ferns at the margins of sheer drop offs to either side. Going up, you can hunker down in the wind and use a hiking pole to keep climbing. Coming down is the real hazard, as rain turns the red earth into a slick toboggan run and gravity is definitely not your friend.

In the lower half of the descent, branches of scrub strawberry guava are a welcome hand to hang on to. You win, mountain, we’ll be back on a day when you aren’t so pissy. Or better yet, we’ll loop around to your other side and take the road-trail from Alexander Reservoir, where all your huffing and puffing carries less of a threat.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Kalalau Trail

Sure, the Kalalau Trail can make you feel like skipping. The 11-mile groove in Kauai’s roadless Napali Coast is one of the world’s most popular and scenically staggering hikes. But it is also demanding. Even big-league trekkers who knock out 20-plus miles in the Rockies or the Sierra will not make the Kalalau Valley on a round-trip day hike. Slippery footing, an undulating trail, and steep drop-offs call for caution and a slower pace.

If hiking the Kalalau, bring big-boy boots or lowcut Gortex athletic shoes, a hiking pole, plenty of food and water, and prepare for sun and rain.

You don’t need to do the whole trail to get the thrill since spectacular views of the coast are achieved after only a half-mile, and the trail’s best beach (though treacherous for swimming) along the way, Hanakapiai is two miles in. A great waterfall lies two miles upstream from this beach, via a trail through a jungle valley. For most adventurers, the eight-mile round-trip falls hike will fill the bill.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sunshine Markets

Every day, somewhere on Kauai, tourists and locals alike line up with a fistful of dollars and empty bags ready to descend on folding tables loaded with organic fruits and vegetables fresh from backyard gardens. Hanalei, pictured here, has markets on Tuesday and Saturday.

Sellers range from single-item folks sharing the bounty from their pet tree, to communal efforts offering a wide range of herbs, greens, veggies and fruits. You won’t find this stuff in local supermarkets, and the price is right. Half of the items at Sunshine Markets will be foreign to visitor’s palates, tasting of egg, chocolate, or a fusion of citrus. Also on hand are honey, goat cheese, orchids, noni products, heliconia bouquets, paintings, photography and handcrafted jewelry.

Eat from Sunshine Markets during a two-week vacation and your body will feel the aloha upon your return to the Mainland. See page 229 of Kauai Trailblazer.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Limahuli, same as it ever was

In essence, not much has changed over the last several centuries at Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Garden. To keep it that way has taken much work by dedicated people over that same period. The valley in the shadow of Makana Ridge holds all ingredients for sustainable life: trees and game in the mountains, a stream that nourishes terraced gardens, and a beach with all the fruits of the sea. In ancient Hawaii, all land was divided into villages based on these all-provided wedges of land, called an ahupua’a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah).

In 1875, after centuries of habitation by the Polynesian migrations, the land faced drastic change as the western world reached these shores. Fortunately, a couple dozen Hawaiian families got together and purchased the property. After a 1964 action by congress, Limahuli became one of the nation’s five tropical gardens, although it is supported through private donations and revenues from (reasonably priced) tours.

The garden features native Hawaiian plants, some of which are found only on Kauai, as well as Polynesian introductions. Find the right spot to sit in Limahuli and you see and feel time, along with a mind-boggling landscape. See page 31 of Kauai Trailblazer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Anahola Aloha

Floating in a sun pool at Anahola Beach Park on a holiday. Snorkeling is great in the clear turquoise water. Can it get any better for families in this Hawaiian community?

The Anahola Mountains in the distance, with a main peak known locally as Kong, have been shown in many movies, from South Pacific to Jurassic Park—but not in King Kong. From this beach park you can walk the coast for a couple miles in either direction. One way leads to Kealia Beach, the other to Papa’a Bay, via Aliomanu.

Just down from this floating pool is Pillars, a surfing spot at a historic pineapple pier. Beyond that is the Anahola Stream, an opportunity for kayakers to paddle inland. See page 69 of Kauai Trailblazer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sweet Secret

The word was out at Secret Beach as a sweet northeast swell turned the bay into a perfect wave machine. With lava-rock reefs close to shore, these guys can pick up a point-break without making a monster paddle. The break was rough on boards, breaking two and sending riders home early.

Secret (Kauapea) Beach is next to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, the lighthouse for which lords over the bay.

A variety of seabirds strafe the white water behind the surfers, and it is common to see whales breaching and the local spinner dolphins cruising by offshore.

Surfers must carry boards down a trail and hoof it across a long stretch of sand to catch these combers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cruising the Coconut Coast

In 2008, miles of beachside trails, abandoned pineapple roads, and coastal walkways were merged into one, miles-long super-duper paved path that is a dream for cyclists, joggers and strollers. A half-dozen gleaming footbridges span canals and a dozen pavilions invite a scenic pullout.

The fun way to see the coast is to rent a snazzy beach cruiser bicycle (three-speed Treks with foot brakes and a nice cushy seat) from Coconut Coasters, located about midway in the path. Local entrepreneurs Spark and Melissa Costales opened shop about a year ago, when the multi-million dollar spruce-up was completed, and business has pedaled right on through what was a slowdown in the overall tourist economy in Hawaii. It’s the new fun thing.

Going one direction, you ride by a wild whale-watchers shoreline, pass Kealia surfing beach, and then continue past a decrepit pineapple pier to where the paved route ends at Donkey Beach, which is not reachable by car. The other way on the path leads to the backshore of Kapa’a, with family parks, low-key resorts, and family beaches. This is one of Hawaii’s most underrated and reasonably priced adventures. Many tourists drive by the storefronts of Kapa’a and don’t realize the delights of this coast, which was planted with several coconut groves by Hawaiian royalty. Plans are in the works to extend the path for a few miles on both ends, eventually connecting the airport in Lihue with Anahola, some 17 miles.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The essence of life in paradise

With a gentle curve of sand, a palmy backshore, and a protected pool of tropical water, you’d think that Salt Pond Beach Park in west Kauai has all the ingredients for fantasy living. But the real essence of life is just over the dune, in what looks like red mud flats. Here you will find the salt ponds of Hanapepe, known as Waimaka o Hi‘iaka (Tears of Hi‘iaka). The source for these ponds is a system of underground springs that provide the brackish water.

The salt ponds are cared for by kapuna (elders) of the area who are assisted by their ‘ohana (extended families) in a process of communal stewardship that is handed down from generation to generation. When the crystallization process is finally complete, the sea salt is gathered, rinsed, and then dried in the sun. Three or more salt harvests take place during the arid summer months. Some of each harvest from the Salt Ponds is imbued with stronger medicinal properties by dying it with ‘alaea, a form of volcanic red earth that is gathered from the highlands. Kaua‘i’s iron-rich earth is said to possess the mana (spiritual power) of the ‘alaea. As it ages, this red salt becomes more potent, yet mellows in flavor.

European trading ships in the 1800s on their way to the Orient stopped in to stock up and thereby avoid dire health consequences. In addition to good old Sodium and Chloride, this salt contains some 80 minerals. Salt is only surpassed by oxygen and water in being necessary for survival.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Ancient Polynesian voyagers brought with them chickens. So did Filipino sugar cane workers, centuries later. When Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992, coops were blown to smithereens, freeing barnyard birds to mate with those in the wild, and producing today’s plethora of proud and free creatures, who rejoice in song every day beginning around 2 a.m. The colorful birdies, including this one at Kukuiolono Park in Kalaheo, have had no natural predators. Until now.


1. While driving, keep on the lookout for a chicken that recently, regardless of its intentions, failed to make it across the road.
2. Thus tenderized, your dinner is ready to be decapitated, plucked, and gutted.
3. Place chicken in pot of boiling water, along with a medium-sized lava rock, one bundle of wiliwili twigs, and Hawaiian sea salt.
4. Boil for four hours.
5. During cook time, enjoy your favorite cocktail beverage.
6. If chicken remains tough, eat the rock and twigs.
7. Enjoy!

Actually, some people do eat these birds, after boiling for a mere two hours, and claim they are tasty enough, if a bit stringy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hideaways in plain sight

Near the entrance of the super-posh Princeville Hotel (closed for renovation until July 2009) is a short, rugged trail with rickety stairs and rope that leads down to Hideaways Beach. The trail is just enough hassle to keep most tourists away. Surfers and snorkelers alike can enjoy this dreamy crescent of sand encased by cliffs, with ironwood trees and palms at the backshore.

At the end of the beach is another short, but hands-on, trail over a black-rock point through pandanus trees to Kenomene Beach, another hidden beauty. At both beaches you may be joined by green sea turtles or a Hawaiian monk seal (endangered species) who arrive via a different route. For directions, see page 42 of Kauai Trailblazer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Earth's Eden

Three of the nation’s five National Tropical Botanical Gardens are on Kauai, including the McBryde Garden, pictured here. McBryde specializes in preserving and studying Hawaii’s native plants, as well as those brought by the Polynesians in their sailing canoes, beginning well over a thousand years ago. Researchers at McBryde have literally saved unique plants from extinction.

McBryde shares the Lawai Valley with Allerton Garden. An uber-rich banker’s son from Chicago, Robert Allerton, along with his companion, John Greg, bought the valley in the 1930’s from Queen Emma. They toiled there for more than 30 years, building fanciful botanical “rooms,” which feature statuary and fountains. Allerton’s 1964 trip to D. C. caused congress to charter the national organization—which is relies entirely on private donations and grants. Allerton Garden was the set for several movies, including Jurassic Park, and also the place where “Da Plane!” lands in TV’s Fantasy Island. Several highly regarded tours are available. See page 124 of Kauai Trailblazer.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beach Boy Ahoy

Beach boy surfing, which is done standing up on a heavy long board with a paddle, has become the hot new thing in wave riding, after taking a 50-year hiatus from the golden years of its inception at Waikiki Beach. Even in flat water, beach-boy style is a full-body workout, as paddlers must use their toes and ankles to grip the board’s rubber matt while stroking the water and maintaining balance. Sideways maneuvers become very difficult on wave crests, and often the surfers are sent flying. Big-wave tow-surfing king Laird Hamilton uses paddle surfing in his workout regime in preparation to surf Hawaii’s epic waves, 50 feet and higher. Many newcomers opt to get beyond the breaking sets and paddle the boards like a stand-up kayak.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Smith’s Tropical Paradise beside the Wailua River has been serving up healthy doses of genuine Hawaiian aloha, along with their kalua pork, for more than sixty years. At Smith’s, it’s not a show, but a way of life. Visitors have options. A kitschy classic is the boat cruise up the placid river to Fern Grotto, where your crew sings the Hawaiian Wedding Song, and then continues the serenade on the homeward journey. Their very underrated botanical gardens surrounds a lagoon and features the all-stars of the Hawaiian plant world and an admission fee that is family friendly—only six bucks for adults. In the evenings, the Ambassador of Aloha, Kamika Smith, presides over the luau and even croons a few tunes while guests partake of pork and drain an open bar. A short walk leads to the outdoor theater with its own lagoon that reflects the bombast of a volcano and the shimmying and stomping forms of gaggles of Polynesian dancers. You may enter his paradise a haole (stranger), but you will leave a kama’aina (adopted local).

Friday, February 6, 2009


The Sleeping Giant, or Nounou Mountain, is a stand-alone precipice rising above the Coconut Coast of Kapa’a. With three different trailheads, this 4-mile round-trip, 1,000-foot scamper is a fave exercise hike for locals and adventurous visitors. The profile of the giant (with forehead to the left and chin to the right) is an east shore landmark. The main trail ascends to the head, while a side trail follows a skinny ledge to the hair of the chinny-chin-chin. Sweaty palms time. From the top is a 360-degree panorama, but the real show is of the Wailua River, Hawaii’s biggest waterway by far. Its source is Mount Waialeale, the “birthplace of all waters,” which receives 400-plus inches per year. Ancient Hawaiian Royalty settled this river valley first, and used the top of Sleeping Giant to survey the location for seven sacred heiaus (temples) that were sited along the river from the coast to the base of the mountain.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Between the valley and a wet place

The Pihea Trail, which begins where the road ends at the top of Waimea Canyon, is a lumpy and often rain-slicked strip of red dirt that rims the top edge of the Kalalau Valley. But you can’t get there from here without a hang glider—the famed Kalalau Trail along the Napali coast starts on other side of the island. After flirting with the edge of the valley, the Pihea Trail drops away inland and morphs into a mind-boggling boardwalk that crosses Alakai Swamp through a tropical rainforest—before reaching an overlook (4,000 feet up!) of the Hanalei Valley. That’s Kauai. You can’t make this stuff up. For detailed directions see trail no. 69 on page 168 in your Kauai Trailblazer guidebook.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Canoe Practice Kukuiula Bay

Stroking toward the sunset, these paddlers have to give it all they have to clear the rock jetty of Kukuiula Bay near Prince Kuhio Park. Outriggers are based on the design of early Polynesian craft, sans the sail. You'll see school kids, adult clubs, and hardcore racing teams taking to the waters all over the islands, part of living Island Style.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Go to pro surfing events on Oahu’s North Shore, Brazil, California, and even Australia and you’ll see hats, shirts, and board stickers emblazoned with this word, sprinkled in amongst the big names of surf wear and gear. Pro champs Andy and Bruce Irons are among the volunteer devotees. All the stuff originates from this guy, Kauai boy, Saa Tamba Ginlack who for ten years has operated from his narrow storefront next to Kojima’s market in Kapa'a. All of Saa’s clothing and handcrafted boards come from here, as he has thus far avoided franchise offers and Internet-based sales. If you want to catch Tamba mania, you need to walk through the door here. Tamba is a state of mind, an ohana formed around the aloha of Kauai and its forever rolling waves.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Hawaii State Flower

Such a peaceful day, the beautiful hibiscus bush outside is striking a perfect pose. Some interesting facts: the native yellow hibiscus (endangered), aka Pua Aloalo or Ma'o-hauhele wasn't designated the official state flower until 1988. Up until that time all varieties and colors were considered official and used on posctards and advertising material. Red is very common on all the islands, the pink one shown an unidentified hybrid. If you're on Kauai, we strongly recommend taking a tour of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sleepy Anini Beach

Saturday brings out the locals. The Anini Beach Park is the perfect setting for birthday parties, overnight tent camping, shell gathering, airmatress bobbing or taking in the rays, sunscreen slathered, of course. Surf, chop and wind was down, the world in chaos seemed millions of miles away.