Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pools of Oheo

About 15 miles past Hana—on a highway section that squirms through waterfalls and greenery—visitors come to the end-point of a long day trip: The Pools of Oheo at the Kipahulu sections of Haleakala National Park, at the coast. Under optimum conditions (dry, sunny weather) the pools are a zoo, filled like a public pool with frolicking bathers. On other days (after heavy rains) brown water churns over the cataracts and becomes an extreme hazard to anyone who ventures near. Swimmers have been flushed to the sea.

Back in the Hippie Days, these bedrock tubs were known as the Seven Sacred Pools—although there are more than seven. Most visitors take the trail from the visitors center to the pools that are below the highway bridge. Harder-to-reach pools (though not as nice) are upstream the bridge.

One of Hawaii's best waterfall hikes begins at the bridge, a hike through bamboo forest over two steel bridges in a stream gorge to two falls, the Falls at Makahiku and Waimoku Falls. Long sections of boardwalk make for fast going. The roundtrip to bag both falls is a little over four miles and around 1,000 feet of elevation gain. A few other trails and beaches are worth a look at Kipahulu, but most people have to turn the rental cars back toward Kihei or Lahaina if they want to get back anywhere near cocktail time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Big & Beautiful

The two large parking lots at Makena State Park's " Big Beach" fill up on most days, but surf-and-sun lovers have plenty of room to spread out along its nearly mile-long, deep swath of sand. A mild shorebreak and enticing offshore view of Kaho'olawe island add to the charm. Inland is a grove of beach trees and the high-rising slopes of Haleakala at Ulupalakua Ranch. Developers have been lusting after this place (a few miles south of ritzy Wailea) but so far locals have slowed down the inevitable.

Next to Big Beach, reachable by a short trail over a point, is Little Beach, which attracts dolphins who apparently like to gawk at the hoard of nude sunbathers carpeting the sands with their beach towels. (Nudity is prohibited on all Hawaiian beaches, but so is speeding on California freeways.)

Next to Little Beach—access is via a dirt road through kiawe trees—is Oneuli (Black Sand) Beach, where snorkelers can easily swim from shore to check out a spot that is the destination for commercial tours. Rising above Oneuli Beach is Pu'u Olai, a 350-foot-high volcanic cone that affords a panorama of Maui's "Gold Coast." The trail is a bit of a scramble, but not dangerous. See page 33 of Maui Trailblazer.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Watching Whales in Hawaii

It's darn near impossible not to yell "thar she blows!" when an 80,000-pound humpback surfaces from the blue waters of Maui. On the shore, everyone freezes their attention. Strangers talk to strangers. The whales are a mesmerizing force of nature—and Maui is the best island from which to spot them during their winter-spring migration, when they complete their journey from their Alaska feeding grounds to have babies. (This shot was taken from a Lanai-bound ferry in late March.)

Although you can spot whales around all the Hawaiian Islands, the big mammals seem to love the waters between Maui and its neighbor island of Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe, which are all part of Maui County and once (before eons of erosion) were united in a single island called Maui Nui. The breaching, lolling, and cavorting of the whales can be viewed from land at Papawai Point, Olowalu Landing, and Kahakuloa Head—among many other spots—but many visitors choose to hop whale-watching cruise. Many companies sail out of Lahaina, but you can also jump aboard at Ma'alaea Harbor and Kihei Boat Ramp. The daily ferries to Molokai and Lanai (from Lahaina and sometimes Ma'alaea) are a way to both whale-watch visit another island for the day.

Newborn calves weigh about 3,000 pounds, and each whale has a uniquely marked fluke (tail fins). Whale hunting had diminished the species from tens of thousands down to only about 1,000 in 1966, but their numbers have been on the rise ever since. When snorkeling, you can at times hear their sonic songs under the water. The Pacific Whale Foundation in Ma'alaea and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in North Kihei are just two of the many place on Maui to learn more about these big creatures.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Maui Tropical Plantation

Maui Tropical Plantation's 60 acres sprawl from the base of the West Maui Mountains, planted with an orchard of tropical fruit trees and flowering shrubs, and surrounding a large pond that is home to feedable fish and quacking ducks. The grounds feature a big gift store, no-nonsense restaurant, and a monkey cage. Kids will love it. You are free to roam much of the grounds, or see it all on a 40-minute tram ride (about $11 for adults, $4 for children).

This is the kind of place that used to seem cheesy and touristy. In light of today's big-time developments on Maui, the plantation is now a relaxing throwback and an old-timey good time. See page 95 of Maui Trailblazer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

White knuckles to Kahakuloa Village

The Hana Highway in south Maui gets all the raves as a driving adventure, but if you really want to grip the wheel for dear life try heading north of Lahaina on Highway 30 to Kahauloa Village. You won't need a four-wheel-drive, but a car about 2-feet wide would be nice on the two-mile section that dips into this authentic Hawaiian village—especially when the school bus is motoring along. Fortunately, most of the traffic is heading clockwise and most everyone cooperates to let single file lines head by.

Kahakuloa's wood-frame buildings and electrical lines belie the lifestyle here that is very much like the old times. The village is an "ahupua'a," a section of land along a stream with a beach frontage and agricultural terraces that extend up the mountain. Not many tourists stay here long (no parking, plus everyone's anxious about driving out) but one memorable stop will be Ululani's Shave Ice (a trailer right on the road), plus a couple of scenic churches—the Kahakuloa Protestant Church and the Francis Xavier Mission. You can't miss 'em—really.

You can spot the village location from far away Paia and Kahului, since rising above at the shore is the shark-fin shaped Kahakuloa Head, aka, the "Tall Lord." An easy-to-miss turnout on the way out of the village is the place to park for at up-close look at the head and take a short hike to one or Maui's secret whale-watching spots. In the winter they cruise by close enough to hear the exhales. One of the island's seabird islands is also in view. See page 78 of Maui Trailblazer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Po'olenalena Beach

This sweet swim-and-sun beach isn't quite the locals' hideaway it once was, since mega beach villas have been built in the kiawe forest along Makena Road—between the resortville beaches of Wailea and the popular Makena State Park, aka, Big Beach. But Po'olenalena is still pretty much off the tourist radar and remains a place to see how locals enjoy the surf and sand, especially on weekends.

A new paved and gated parking lot makes it easier to find but the real score is Little Po'olenalena Beach, which lies just to the north of the larger beach, reachable via a short trail over a low lava reef. Not far down the road is Makena Landing, with its historic church nearby. Check it out on page 37 of Maui Trailblazer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

House of the Sun

A lot of people get up at the crack of dark to make the commute up 10,000 feet (the steepest roadway in the world for its horizontal distance) to the top of Haleakala volcano, so that they can behold sunrise—huddled inside a Plexiglass viewing octogon and freezing their tushies off. This is okay, as long as you bring outwear. But one problem is the early start time doesn't let you check the weather, and thick clouds often sweep the top, making this "House of the Sun" more like the House of Sand and Fog.

So, to see the sun next to the earth's curvature, try a late afternoon run, when you can take in one of the many awesome hiking trails that interconnect the 19-square-mile, 3,000-foot deep crater (technically a valley, say the scientists). Whenever you come, Haleakala National Park is a must-do on Maui—a monument that stands tall alongside any of the parks in the American Southwest.

The Sliding Sands Trail is perhaps the top choice for adventure hikers, as it drops down over pink-yellow sand and among a series of pu'us (volcanic cones), connecting with other routes that lead to the three, for-rent rustic cabins inside the big mountain. Just make sure you don't get suckered down too far, since it can be a trudge coming out at this elevation. The the stone visitors center at White Hill, almost to the top, is also on the A-list. Then head up the road to the viewing area at Red Hill Summit (Pu'u'ulaula) and watch the sunset. You can always play the vid in reverse and say it was sunrise.

Hot tip: The Skyline Trail, part of state parks and not the national park, is not shown on the park map and not signed on the main road. Virtually no body goes there. It goes down the west rift of the volcano, making you feel airborne, and also has an ocean view, which you don't get scampering Haleakala's interior trails. See page 156 of Maui Trailblazer.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Olowalu Escape

In 1790, what was left of an army of Maui warriors who were slaughtered in Iao Valley escaped by taking a trans-island trail that popped out here, at Olowalu Valley on the west shore of West Maui. Today, tourists in the know can escape what can be maddening traffic south of Lahaina by pulling a short distance off the road to Olowalu Landing. A few locals gather after work and on weekends, but this place is a quick getaway for visitors who appreciate quietude and beauty.

The site of a sugar mill in the 1860s, the landing has a lawn and nicely treed shoreline, the spot to bag some rays before heading into protected snorkeling waters (most tourists swim at a busy roadside beach nearby). Kayakers also put in at the landing. The short walk out to the end of the compacted-earth structure leads to a viewing bench, where whales and turtles cruise by.

Inland—on a road behind renowned Chez Paul Restaurant—is a short walk to Petroglyph Hill, etched with primitive drawings. The trailhead to Olowalu Valley is also on this road, although the overgrown path is very hard to follow. See page 58 of Maui Trailblazer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Slippery Waters, Swinging Bridges

For a Tarzan-quality thrill without a ton of effort (3.5 miles round-trip, 250 feet in elevation), head for the Waihe'e River ("slippery waters") on the northern windward coast of Maui. The Waihe'e Valley Plantation, a private agricultural concern, has opened the jungled gorge up to hikers, who pay a modest admission fee (around $6 for adults, $2 for kids) to hike the trail that was once the daily commute for agricultural workers. About midway on the route, you cross the river on two suspension bridges—one 125 long, the other some 175 feet—before the trail ends at a lovely waterfall-pool created by a deceipit dam. Upstream is a view of the 3,000-foot-high amphitheater carved by the river, often draped with a ribbony falls. This hike, one of Maui's best, is a positive example of a landowner working with the public to provide access to a long-popular hike, rather than closing it down as is often the case. See page 89 of Maui Trailblazer.  UPDATE: This hike was closed by landowners in 2012, and is likely to still be closed.

Monday, June 8, 2009

ihi'ihioiehovaona Kaua Church: Part of Maui's Hana Highway side trip

This little church with a big name sits is a large lawn below the tall walls of the Haleakala's Ko'olau Gap, the centerpiece of the quiet seaside village of Keanae. The village, about halfway along the fabled Hana Highway is a good choice for day-trippers not wishing to make the whole twisty drive to Hana. In addition to the village, with its coastal lava stacks and river pool, visitors can visit the nearby Keanae Arboretum, a (free) soothing stroll among towering tropical exotics as well as native trees and plants.

Then check out the two quaint churches (St. Gabriel's and St. Augustine Shrine) in the close-by village of Wailua, where few tourists venture. When the weather is fair and dry, visitors can also take a dip in the Sapphire Pools, which are tucked away below the highway and usually not crowded. Don't count on lunch in Keanae, since there's no commerce to speak of, but you'll want to snag a petite loaf of Aunty Sandy's righteous banana bread at the Keanae Landing Fruit Stand.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Boys & Girls & Waves ...

... a time-honored combo that yields constant motion, especially when the frothy wedges are rolling to Lower Paia Beach Park on Maui's windward side. It's local kine action, drawing shortboarders and bodyboarders to ride the ocean, as well as coastal hikers and joggers who like a scenic path that goes to Baldwin Beach and beyond. Only two blocks away is funky-arty Paia, where you can traipse for a veggie burrito or fish taco. Although not for beginners exactly, Lower Paia Park is known for being not-too-hairy, unlike the big-boy waves at other venues on this coast that draw tow-surfers, windsurfers, and kiteboarders.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wailea Deluxe

A paved path connects the five beaches of ritzy Wailea, all curves of golden sand separated by low lava finger-reefs and flanked at the backshore by the lawns, gardens, and poolside paraphernalia of some of the world's most highly rated destination resorts.

The Four Seasons and Fairmont Kea Lani aren't too shabby, but the architecturally wondrous Grand Wailea (pictured here) is the choice to wander about and check out sculpture gardens, theme-park pool, and museum quality artwork. Then haul the book and snorkel gear down to one of the always-safe beaches and live the good life for the day. The coast walk, round trip, is nearly four miles, and can be extended to double that if you take the Eddie Pu Trail north to the Kamaole Beach Parks (three of them), which anchor the more prosaic tourist town of Kihei. But you really don't have to walk far at all, since a half-dozen parking lots provide access for the public.

Iao Needle

Iao (rhymes with "meow") Valley State Park is on Maui's tour-bus circuit, and its signature feature, the Needle, is an easy walk on a paved path. Shutterbugs go wild. Still, the place delivers the scenic goods and is a sure thing for visitors: In addition the Needle-viewing platform, families can bag a botanical garden and take another short trail up the stream and envision where, in 1790, the invading forces of Kamehameha the Great from the Big Island drove Maui's warriors into a slaughter, their fallen bodies actually blocking the flow of the stream and creating its subsequent name, Kepaniwai, "damming of the waters." (Only a handful of the Maui guys escaped, via a treacherous trail that pops out on the other side of the island at Olowalu Valley; see page 58 of Maui Trailblazer.)

On the way to the state park, which is only two miles from county seat of Wailuku, are two other noteworthy stopovers: Tropical Gardens of Maui, with a 25-year growing history, features a bridge over the stream and a cheap ($5) entry fee. And, about a mile before road's end is Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, a family freebie, with banyans, coco palms and other tropical flora surrounding replicated structures that represent the main cultural threads of Hawaii's history: Polynesians, Chinese, Japanese, New England, and Filipino—the whole calabash.

The hot tip for adventurers is the short trail that leads from the Iao Needle viewing pavilion at the state park. Hop the rail and follow a well-worn trail up the valley (the escape route of the warriors) on a stand-alone ridge that separates two stream valleys. After only a half-mile (you have to be careful of drop-offs and slips, but the trail is not inherently dangerous), you double back a short distance on the ridge to a viewing spot that rivals any in Hawaii. The streams rush far below, and give way—on both sides—to steep cliffs that are often laced with waterfalls. Up the valley is a tree-filtered view of the Iao Tablelands and downstream is a blue-water view of Kahului Bay. From here, it's tempting the try the trail to Olowalu, but don't: The route is very overgrown and dangerous. See page 91 of Maui Trailblazer.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Windsurf City, Planet Earth

Just south of Paia on the windward (east) coast of Maui, is Ho'okipa the world capital for windsurfing. The sport was invented here (locals will claim) and much of the equipment, like renowned Simmer sails, is designed in laid-back, organic-hemp Paia.

The windsurfers, coming from all points on the globe, flock to the north end of Ho'okipa and ride a channel in the reef out to leap the wall of waves that near-constant trade winds push over long Spartan Reef. The other end of the beach is home to board surfers, who capture a right-break into the dimple bay of the beach park. Spectators have it made, since bluffs overlook both spots. The long narrow parking lot that connects the two venues at Hookah, er Ho'okipa, is the place to be after work and on weekends to take in the scene. Take a look at page 104 in Maui Trailblazer.