Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Big Day: Getting married in Hawaii

 On most given days, especially weekends, you'll see a bride and groom hand in hand on the beach with their photographer and assistant in tow going through all the canned poses. The dress train is spread out carefully on the sand, the light carefully weighed and snap, the moment is preserved for posterity. The wedding party takes their turn in front of the camera, big smiles, romance is in the air, no wonder Hawaii is America's number one honeymoon destination.

Here are a few links to help you plan:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cacti? Oahu's Koko Crater Botanical Gardens

Say "Hawaii," and not many people think "cactus," but that's what you'll find at the Koko Crater Botanical Gardens in southeast oahu, an acre or two of the prickly stuff in fantastically weird forms that would impress Pixar animators: barrels and spires and twisting figures, some like a giant squid that took a nose dive into these arid soils. (Actually, the west side of all the islands is very arid, getting around 10 inches of rain yearly, and cacti grow also in the wilds.)

The 1,000-foot-high walls of the crater, which lies just inland from the crowded snorkeling site of Hanuma Bay, form a near circle around the 60-acre garden and create nifty acoustics for the zillion birds and dart about. And it's not all cactus. At the entrance (free admission) are another couple acres of bougainvilleas and plumera that combine for a perfumy explosion of color when they bloom in the spring. (Leis are made from plumera.) The homeward leg of the garden's two-mile loop trail is through a nation of palms, including Hawaii's only native, the loulu, and exotics from Madagascar and Africa—bushy, fernlike, fanned, and fronded—all clattering in the breeze that always seems to stir the crater's warm air. See page 92 of Oahu Trailblazer.

For the bird's eye view of the crater, and a cool-quirky hike, try the Koko Crater Stairs, the trailhead for which is across the highway from Hanauma Bay at Koko Crater Regional Park. You climb to the top (those 1,000 feet) on steps made of railroad ties that were part of a a World War II-era radar installation. Those with a fear of heights will get sweaty palms in one section, but it's not dangerous if you watch your step. See page 88 of Oahu Trailblazer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Razorback Pu'u Kanehoalani

The wall of the Ko'olau Range breaks up as you drive the northeast shore of Oahu, as sharp ridges jut toward the sea. The photogenic Pu'u Kanehoalani ridge cleaves the 4,000 acres of Kualoa Ranch, which has been the site for many movies, such as Godzilla, Mighty Joe Young, and Jurassic Park. You can tour the ranch on horseback, ATV, or open-air jungle vehicles.

Next to the ranch on the ocean side is Kualoa Regional Park, with a long sandy beach on a peninsula that points toward Mokoli'i Island (Chinaman's Hat), a tiny, near-shore island that is a destination for adventure snorkelers. Walk down the beach for supreme privacy to Secret Island, which is not really an island but feels like one since historic Moli'i Fishpond lies just through the flora at the backshore. In ancient times, say 1100 AD, Chief Kahai from this area completed a round-trip canoe sail of about 5,000 miles to Tahiti, bringing back numerous seeds that were to establish the valley's life-giving farms. Centuries (!) later, even the vessels of Kamehameha the Great would lower their sails as a sign of respect for the chief when passing Mokoli'i' Island.

Had enough? If not, head to Tropical Farms, about a half-mile down the road. This is one of the old-timey family resorts that is disappearing from the islands. Tropical flora surrounds a gallery-gift shop that features bottomless sample bowls of a dozen different kinds of macadamia nuts, plus an urn of Kona coffee. See page 127 of Oahu Trailblazer.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Waikiki Sundown

The ocean is the heart of Waikiki—for surfers, canoeists, beach-boy paddlers, and even thousands of visitors leaning on the rails of a luxury liner far offshore watching the sun's last rays highlight the high-rising skyline—the constant, calming ocean. Inner Waikiki buzzes with glitz, a video game of restaurants, attractions, and shopping swarmed by sunburned souls darting about with vacation expectations.

It's all unified by the ocean. Step to the shore and take it all in one more time, every time.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Duke

On the short list of the koolest kats who have ever lived is Duke Kahanamoku—Olympic swimming champion (medaling in events from 1912 to 1924), surfing legend, and the ranking royalty on Waikiki Beach during the post-War golden years in the 1940s and 50s. Go to Duke’s Restaurant & Barefoot Bar at the Outrigger Waikiki (or at Kalapaki Bay on Kauai, pictured below) and you’ll see walls of photos of the Duke with JFK, Will Rogers, John Wayne (wannabe Duke in Hawaii), Shirley Temple, Amelia Earhart, Ed Sullivan, and just about every celebrity from the period, along with other shots with his surfing buddies and calabash family of greater Honolulu.

At Kuhio Beach Park in the heart of the hubbub is a bronze statue of the Duke, his muscular arms outstretched as a greeting of Aloha to all. Farther down the beach is the War Memorial Natatorium, a 100-meter pool encased by an Art Deco structure, built in his honor in 1927 as part of a bid for the Olympics. The games never came, but Duke and fellow swimming great Johnny (Tarzan) Weissmuller put on a show there.

Duke’s family owned 40 acres in Waikiki where the Hilton now stands, and a cozy beach park is named in his honor. The Kahanamoku’s didn’t get rich on the deal, but the Duke was the kind of rich that is beyond money. With all the hoopla, he was man without apparent ego. “Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha,” Duke said. “You’ll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it and it is my creed. Aloha to you.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

North Shore Kites

The Mokuleia Coast, west of Oahu's fabled big-boy surfer beaches, is now a big draw for kiteboarders as well as traditional surfers. The Wainae Range borders the coast, offering hiking opportunities.

Families love this remote coast for weekend outings.  This "real" north shore is much less populated to the famed surfer's North Shore, which begins several miles away.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wahiawa Botanical Garden

One of five botanical gardens operated by the city and county of Honolulu, Wahiawa is the best family freebie on the way from Waikiki to the North Shore. A new (2006) visitors center, footbridges, and walkways punctuated with benches and vintage lamp posts create a restful route through 27 acres of mature trees and flowering plants, all of it spanning a stream ravine.

Most visitors miss the gardens since they are a mile or so off the main road, and instead are lured into the friendly tourist trap of nearby Dole Plantation. See page 191 of Oahu Trailblazer.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The scorching sands (pun intended) of Oahu's Eternity Beach

Pressurized white ocean foam bursts from an opening in the lava reef at the Halona Blowhole, a scenic overlook on the southeast tip of Oahu.

Walk to the other end of this popular parking lot to look down on Eternity Beach, where movie stars Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, perhaps inspired by the ocean's activity, staged their iconic love scene in the 1953 Best-Picture-winning "From Here to Eternity." A short walk gets you down to the torrid sand. Kerr, Lancaster, and the great Montgomery Clift (move over James Dean) were nominated for acting Oscars, but cast-mates Frank Sinatra and pre-TV-mommy Donna Reed were the ones to win, in a supporting role. The blowhole is also the grandstand to see whales in the winter and the islands of Maui, Lana, and Molokai, on clear days.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pipeline: Between Water and Hard Place

What makes that huge barrel at Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore is incoming, deep-water waves that runs into a shallow, sharp reef. This bodyboarder finds the arc along the avalanche of water that zips him along. Should he wipeout, a common sight at Pipe, the best thing that happens is a struggle for air. Broken boards here keep local surf shops in business. The famous break is close to shore, a bonus for spectators and photographers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Old Pali Highway

The Nu'uanu Pali (cliff) was not the place to be in 1795, when the invading army of Kamehameha the Great used newly acquired cannons, along with the more prosaic assortment of clubs and spears, to drive Oahu's defending forces up the valley and over the edge. In 1897, when the first Pali Highway was built, engineer John H. Wilson and his crew found more than 300 skulls at the base of the cliffs. Today, the scenic overlook of Windward Oahu is invaded daily by fleets of shuttle buses and armies of picture-snappers. When the new (1957) highway was constructed, the remaining old section became a quick getaway for hikers from the overlook. The jungle is swallowing up the road. More serious hikers can continue down to connect with the Mauanwili Trail, a 10-mile, lush contour under the looming Ko'olau Range, or branch off and under the new highway on a quirky trek to Likeke Falls.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Honolulu Festival Grand Parade

When 50,000 Japanese visitors arrive in March, 10,000 of them musicians and performers, even Waikiki jumps a notch or two on the fun-o-meter. It’s Honolulu Festival Week, people! Ala Moana Mall (the size of the Titanic) cordons off a 3-story interior plaza, the convention center becomes a six-ring circus, and byways of Waikiki transform into stage sets. Much of the entertainment is the cherry-blossom, low-key dance we Westerners think of as Japanese. But a lot of the show is a more tribal folk-art, and the range is all the way to Asian hip-hop.

All of this (forgot to mention the block-long food fest of battling hibachis) is but a prelude to the closing parade, where the high-stepping, top-end dance troupes and towering inflatables and bombastic floats take the whole deal out on a roaring up-tick. Then throngs on the sidewalk, five-deep along Kalakaua Boulevard, are released into the Waikiki dusk on a quest to begin the evening.

The Grand Parade is culminated with the performance of Honolulu Daijayama. Daijayama is a huge dashi weighing over two tons. You can hear the fire bells ringing from a distance as the dashi is pulled down Kalakaua Avenue. The fireworks from the dragon illuminate the evening sky. The spectators cheer and shout as the majestic image of Daijayama, spitting fire and scattering smoke throughout Waikiki, approaches. This is the tail end of the parade. Until next year.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ode to the musubi

Somewhere in Hawaii, you’ve just gassed up the car at the convenience store and now your own stomach needs fuel. Pepperoni stick? Ritz and peanut butter? Cornchips? No way, Brah, this is a no-brainer. You wrap your fist lovingly around a nice fat musubi (rhymes with “gotta be”) a soft cylinder of lightly rice vinegared sushi rice topped with a slender slice of fried Spam, wrapped in a delicate sheathing of nori (seaweed) and often sprinkled with a whisper of furikake (ground sesame and other stuff).

Don’t forget to take the plastic wrap off first! You’re out maybe a buck-fifty, a pittance to enjoy one of the pillars of Hawaiian cuisine. Musubi na ka oi! Hail musubi!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Honolulu's Chinatown

The new brick entrance to Maunakea Marketplace gives way to an old-world bustle of agrarian commerce and exotic knickknacks, just part of a 20-square-block section of Honolulu’s Chinatown that could be a set for noir films. Across the alley is Oahu Market, more of the same, only more of it, where growers and fishermen stock an sprawling array of countertops with the island’s freshest bounty, an overload of quirky items that will be new to tourist taste buds—pickled, sweet, salty, smoked, spicy, and combinations thereof.

 Historic stone buildings from the 1800s give way to dashes of Art Deco at the Hawaii Theater, doors open to Asian art importers and herbalists and waterfront junk shops, and also a few seedy bars (anyone for midday boilermakers at Brandy Lee’s Black Pearl Lounge?) Chinatown is a city within the city, nudged right up to the gleaming skyscrapers and palm-shaded plazas (and more historic buildings) of downtown Honolulu.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tantalizing Tantalus

The lush Moleka Trail to Herring Springs is one of a dozen among the interconnected Tantalus Trails that lie just above metro Honolulu. Make it a driving tour on a 10-mile tropical loop road, stepping out for strolls at the arboretum, at the visitors center, a scamper up to Tantalus Summit, or the panorama of Waikiki and Diamond Head from Pu’u Ualaka’a Stare Park Lookout. Or strap on the boots and boogie on the Manoa Cliff Trail or a long loop through Makiki Valley. Options to da max.

Also on the loop road is The Contemporary Museum, with its smash-mouth view of the city, and nearby is Punchbowl, aka The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the green bowl of an ancient volcanic crater that is now a vast shrine to soldiers who have died in Pacific wars.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Moanaluna Valley

Moanaluna Gardens is at first glance merely a quiet greenspace near a freeway—except for the legions of shuttle busses that discharge Japanese tourists who by the tens of thousands (yearly) saunter and skitter over to have their pictures taken at the “Hitachi Tree,” the leafy starlet of television commercials for the electronics corporation. Other trees here grow in media obscurity. Even the ginormous monkey pod tree that Ripley’s Believe it or Not called the world’s most beautiful. Even its neighbor, a Buddha tree with historic roots in Ceylon. King Kamehameha V’s summer cottage beside a koi pond and taro field is where many garden-goers will wind up sitting awhile.

The bell-ringer in this neighborhood is the Moanaluna Valley trail, which follows a stream and seven stone-arch bridges that where once part of an estate (see page 67 of Oahu Trailblazer).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ssssst! Sandy Beach is Oahu's hot spot

There's room to spread out along the half-mile of fine sand and rolling breakers at Sandy Beach, which lures frisky teens and college kdis from Metro Honolulu to bodyboard, hook up, baste the tan, and trumpet car stereos. On sunny weekends, when the conditions are prime, the place amps. Bring your own shade, or retreat from the scene to the north end of the beach where grass and a few trees add to the tranquility. Next stop up the coast (a coastal walk from the far end of Sandy) is Irma's, which also draws surfers, but is more known for its tidepools.

For the current surf forecast, conditions, forum and photos go to SwellInfo.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Skydive Oahu

"When people look like ants - PULL. When ants look like people - PRAY." - anon

An activity to definitely get your pulse rate racing is tandem skydiving. The Hawaii Pacific Skydiving Center on Oahu's North Shore is a great place to test your courage. For $178 you'll be assigned a certified jumper and tandem dive 14,000 feet. Digital photos and videos are an extra $190. The views are, of course, stunning and the thrill, the rush, the opportunity to float through the air or scare yourself to death (pardon the pun), is for sure an experience worth trying once.

If you chicken out there's a host of other things to do along the Mokuleia Coast. Windsurf, biking, and hiking to name just a few. Begin your journey on page 176 of the Oahu Trailblazer.