Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hamakua Coast Cruising

Extending north from Hilo for about 50 miles, the Hamakua Coast is one of the best tropical greenery drives in Hawaii, especially if you take the numerous opportunities to veer off the new highway and twist through segments of the old blacktop.

The Old Mamalahoa Highway is often through a tangled tunnel of drippig flora, passing gushing streams and several waterfalls, such as Umauma Falls (pictured), on a short side trip to a botanical garden. The highway also features sugar-shack towns—more than you can find anywhere else in Hawaii—like Honomu (pictured) at the southern end of the route, just off the main highway on the way to Akaka Falls State Park.

Set at 1,000 feet or more above sea level, Hamakua is not a beach-lovers drive. The only place to get down, at Lapahoehoe Beach Park, is a wave-battered seascape known infamously as the place where the "sea went beserk" in 1946 and a tsunami took the lives of 32 people, including 21 school children.

You can easily spend a long day exploring Hamakua's offerings, but few visitors do, since the Big Island is, well, big, and vacations are short. You could spend another whole vacation just heading mauka the highway, up to the lower slopes of Mauna Kea, to several state forest reserves. A four-wheel drive helps on some of these excursions. Pages 169 through 176 of Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer covers the place in detail.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami headed toward Hawaii .... WHEW!

It has been reported that an earthquake has struck Chile with 1,000 times the force of the tremblor that hit Haiti in January creating a severe threat of a tsunami in the Hawaiian Islands. The wave is due to hit at about 11:00 this morning. For an update check out or the latest USGS or Pacific Tsunami Warning Center postings.

Okay, now it's nearly sunset, Brah, and after a day of excitemnt with everyone heading to high ground and buying water, Top Ramen, and t.p., it turns out that the tsunami waves were not of the same as those of years past——when South American earthquakes across the ocean reamed Hilo Bay.

Still, Aloha Nui to the people of Chile and Hawaiian prayers go to all those in need there.

Shows to go you that in Hawaii, and the Big Island in particular, one day you can can be grooving at the beach (see yesterday's post) and the next day you're running from a would-be watery grave. This seems like a good time to point out that this side of Hilo is also the Mauna Loa side, and therefore at the highest risk of getting lava flow from that massive, active volcano.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hilo's fabulous swimming parks

You can't call Hilo's run of awesome beach parks a secret. They are afterall lined up in plain sight along the shore of Hilo Bay—Onekahakaha, Carlsmith, Leleiwi, Richardson Ocean Park—within a couple miles of town and just a few miles apart. But very few tourists see them and get to enjoy huge, man-made (and man-enhanced) swimming ovals, all perfectly safe with beautiful tropical greenery at their backshores. Sure, there's not the run of golden sand, but there are lawns, gardens, and enough sand to call a beach.

Why then are these beauties overlooked (thanks for asking)? Well, it rains in Hilo so perfect days are not the norm, not many tourists stay on this side of the island, and when they do come here they are headed to Puna, to Kilauea Volcano, or to take a long saunter around the historic town, with its vintage streets and bayside parks. Hilo's swimming parks are right on a main road, but it is a dead-end road that represents a detour for tourists.

On sunny days, particularly weekends, Hawaiians for sure  find these places, and the placid pool waters ripple with jumping keikis, beach towels carpet the shore, and the scent of hulihuli chicken wafts from grills into the warm Pacific air. When Hilo's beach parks are popping, make a spot for yourself and the kids, and you will get to know not only the lovely waters but also get to soak in some Hawaiian aloha along with the sunshine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Maui: hike, snorkel, surf, drive .... and EAT!

Whether splurging on a honeymoon or trying to feed the sunburned family from the spare change jar, Top Maui Restaurants is going to come in handy. Foodie journalists James and Molly Jacobson live on the island and have sampled the goods of virtually every restaurant. This book is well written, friendly advice from locals who know their stuff. No sense in taking potluck with the pocketbook when you can dip into their exhaustive compendium for frank appraisals and recommendations. Their guide is market fresh (the newest edition is 2010), but for morsels hot off the hibachi, the Jacobsons host a website and blog (

In order to work up a Haleakala-sized appetite, pack Maui Trailblazer close to the Top Maui Restaurants. Talk about hand-in-glove. Hike, snorkel, surf, and sightsee yourself silly, and then check out the most-enticing nearby eats.

Okay, you're right all of this sounds like advertising. But you're hitting the Visa hard to have fun in a limited amount of time on Maui, so it does make sense to follow the tracks of people who love the island and spent a lot of time scoping the place for you—rather than sorting through the slick brochures, wandering around, and hoping for the best. There is ALOHA on Maui, and you will find it in the pages of these books.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Right here in Lanai City

For the price of a whale watching cruise from Maui, you can jump on an Expeditions Ferry in Lahaina or Ma'alea and also spend a day on the island of Lanai, the former pineapple patch that now sports two fabulous resort hotels. The ride takes an hour, with sunrise on the way over and, if you time it right, sunset on the way back. In the winter and early spring you are virtually assured of numerous whale sightings.

From the newly spiffed Lanai Harbor, pay the 10 bucks and jump aboard a resort shuttle that will take you to both the beachside Four Seasons at Manele Bay and the stately Lodge at Koele, which sits like an English manor inland amid a beautiful arboretum.

In between these luxury contrivances is real-to-the-bone Lanai City, Sanford Dole's pineapple town. The pineapple fields lie fallow, but the sleepy grid of worker's cottages remain, encircling the town's signature grassy park and grand Norfolk Pines. A number of quirky, old-timey shops ring the park, and just up the rise is the Hotel Lanai. While the folksy accommodations may not be the reason to make the trip, the hotel's gourmet restaurant lures foodies from Maui.

The need to "get away from it all" may not be foremost during your vacation on Maui, but a day cruise escape to Lanai will feel like another week wedged in sideways--in a good way.  For hikes and driving tours on the island, consult your Maui Trailblazer guidebook.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Blowhole blow out

Imagine if you will the next scene here at the Nakahele Blowhole on the north coast of Maui, the one where all that water comes whumping down and the woman in white is sitting on her butt wondering what happened. And she's better off than the guy a week earlier who was even smarter and got a closer look at the pent-up ocean water and wound up being blown backwards, suffering a compound leg fracture, and enjoying a helicopter ride that was not for sightseeing. And both of these tourists are better off than the two from a year earlier just down the coast at the Bellstone Pools (natural ocean-side soaking tubs) who were swept Jacuzzi-like by a freak wave into the froth and were never seen again.

Moral of the story: You know the moral of the story. The ocean is a big bad dude and people get whacked on vacation on the nicest of days while having fun. The good news is that the ocean is not dangerous at all if precautions are taken.

The Nakahele Blowhole, a rapid-fire sea geyser created when incoming waves blast through an opening in the roof of a reef overhang, can be viewed safely from a number of vantage points. The 1.5 mile round trip hike begins at either of two unmarked trails on scenic highway. Page 74 of Maui Trailblazer has the details.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kauai's Kamokila Village

Drive up the Wailua River a few miles and take the steep road down to your left across from Opaeka'a Falls to Kamokila Village, where you will travel back in time---at least to 1995 when a gaggle of well-known Hollywood Stars (Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey) collaborated to make the underrated science fiction movie, Outbreak. Even so, the former bang-bang movie set is not a tourist trap. Thanks to the infusion of dough from Hollywood, the family who operated the village for generations was able to rehab the grounds and restore the recreated Hawaiian village that had been smashed by Hurricane Iniki a few years earlier.

Admission is cheap, and they're not going to charge you just to drive down and take a look. The several-acre grounds contain authentic Polynesian structures, set fetchingly amid a tropical greenery alongside the wide Wailua River. Just enough stuff without being overwhelming. This is also one of the best places in Kauai to rent a kayak, since you don't need to haul the craft anywhere or hook up with tour guides. Their easy-entry dock is not far from one of the island's best natural attractions, Fern Grotto, which is a state park, even though private paddle boats conduct tours there.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The mighty Kalalau

What the sign could also add is that it's 11 long miles to the end, with no potable water, with trailside greenery that disguises sheer drop-offs, exposed to turbulent onshore winds, and when it rains, which is often, if you can call some of these deluges simply "rain," the whole grand landscape turns into a snotty pudding and you will cling like a wretched beast to the nearest wisp of a bush and wonder if the whole island is going to turn before your eyes into a brown stain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Sort of.

Okay, you get the idea. When embarking on Kauai's Kalalau Trail along the fabled Na Pali (The Cliffs) coast, be sure to adequately equip your pack and wear real shoes. A hiking pole is a godsend. So, if indeed you are prepared and take care in foot placement, the Kalalau is a cakewalk, not even in the top ten in a list of Hawaii's most hairball-dangerous trekking trails.

Still, even fittest of big-league hikers should not plan on making the 22-mile roundtrip to the trail's terminus at the Kalalau Valley. Each mile on the Kalalau walks like two. The good news is that you begin to pick up fab vistas after only a half-mile, so there's no need to turn this trail into an all-day escapade to do it justice.

Many people do the 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach, the only place the trail reaches sea level until its ending point. The more adventurous go inland another two miles from the beach to Hanakapiai Falls, a classic white ribbon in a tropical jungle--an 8-mile hike that, again, will feel like twice that distance. See photo on page 30 of the 2010 Kauai Trailblazer. All Kidding Aside: This beach is very dangerous in the winter, and drownings occur. Also, you have to cross a stream right at the beach, and this has also proven to be fatal to hikers during flash flood conditions.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Staying On Oahu

Let's be real, you're not going to find a little grass shack on Oahu, an island the size of Kauai only with a mil-plus peeps compared to Kauai's 60,000. To find your little getaway on this island, the best bet is to lock down a room in the sky in one of Waikiki's high-rises, where you'll find the quietude of concrete and be an elevator ride down to great beach and city walking. The museums and attractions of downtown Honolulu are a short shuttle bus away, and the splashy stuff of Waikiki, Ala Moana Park, and Kapiolani Park are within flip-flopping distance. Buses serve Oahu attractions, like Pearl Harbor, Polynesian Cultural Center, and Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. It's also easier to venture out from Waikiki to see the rest of Oahu (make sure your hotel has parking and find out the cost!) than it is to come into Waikiki or downtown Honolulu from elsewhere. You can get anywhere on the island in a day.

Pictured here is the Pink Lady, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, circa 1927, the hangout for passengers during the glory days of cruising on the Lurline and other Matson liners. It's next door to the other grande dame of hotels, the Moana, which dates from 1901. Of course, these preserved ladies are surrounded now by gleaming towers, including a new one by Trump on the Waikiki Beach Walk, as well as a long run of haute courture shops, eateries, and purveyors of souvenirs along palmy, torch-lit Kalakaua Boulevard. Spread throughout the Waikiki grid (5 by 10 blocks between the beach and Ala Wai Canal, are Aqua Boutique Hotels, which vary greatly and offer many choices for the independent traveler.

Oahu Trailblazer has strategies for visiting the island, including thumbnails on other places to stay (Windward, North Shore, West Side), including recommendations of specific accommondations.

Aqua Bamboo & Spa, 922-9473; Aqua Aloha Surf & Spa, 923-0222; Aqua Waikiki Tide, 922-1616; The Equus, 949-0061; Aqua Palms & Spa, 947-7256; Aqua Waikiki Wave, 922-1262; Best Western Coconut Waikiki, 923-8828; Aqua Continental, 922-2232; Aqua Waikiki Marina, 942-7722; Aqua Waikiki Beachside,931-2100; Island Colony, 923-2345; Park Shore Waikiki, 923-0411.
Aston Pacific Monarch,, 823-9805
Breakers,, 800-426-0494
Halekulani,, 800-367-2343, 923-2311
Hilton Hawaiian Village,, 949-4321
Hyatt Regency Waikiki,, 923-1234
Ilima Hotel,, 923-1877
Kahala Mandarin Oriental,,739-8888
Kai Aloha Hotel,, 923-6723
Marriott Waikiki Beach,, 922-6611
Moana Surfrider,, 922-3111
Ohana Islander Waikiki,, 923-7711
Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach,, 923-0711
Pacific Monarch,, 923-9805
Queen Kapiolani Hotel,, 923-9805
Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki,, 949-3811
Royal Hawaiian, Sheraton,, 923-7311
Sheraton Waikiki,, 922-4422
Waikiki Beach Tower,, 926-6400
Waikiki Grand,, 923-1814
Waikiki Prince Hotel,, 922-1544
Waikiki Resort Hotel,, 922-4911

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Guide Me

A trip to the aptly named Big Island is like visiting five islands in one, literally, since it is comprised of five separate volcanoes that have joined together over a million years making it twice as large as the rest of the eight principle Hawaiian Islands combined. Two of the volcanoes, Mauan Loa and Mauna Kea, rise to nearly 14,000 feet, but measured from their underwater bases they are the world's tallest peaks.

A trip across the length or breadth of this big pile of land takes longer than an interisland flight and would be better compared to a trip around the planet, since you could pass through 11 of the earth's 13 possible climatic zones. This place is diverse. Amazing when you think about it, this recipe for Creation: Squirt umpteen zillion tons of molten lava up from the sea, add rain, sun, air, and time—est viola!

Whales, dolphins, red-hot lava, quaint shops, ancient temples, rain forests, prehistoric petroglyphs, wild coral beaches, luxury resorts, sugar shacks: you can pick and choose a vacation. All this can seen a bit daunting, especially for first-timers, who may fly into kitschy Kona on a voggy day (volcanic smog), drive across barren lava through butt-jammed traffic, and wonder why they forked over all this dough to come to Hawaii. But fret not. No sirree Bob. Pick up a copy (preferably on the Mainland to help plan) of Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer to find strategies for visiting the island, where to stay, and places to have fun that suit your interests. No Worries Hawaii, also a Trailblazer Travel Book, in addition helps plan vacations to all of the Islands.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Once and Present Place to Be

In the early 1900s celebrities and Hawaii's gentry used to gather at a now forlorn estate, just south of the Mauna Lani Resort on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island. To get there you need to park on the highway in the middle of a lava field and march toward a grove of coco palms. Awesome coral-sand snorkeling in gin-clear water awaits.

Francis I'i Brown, once the Great Gatsby of the Big Island, was the grandson of the distinguished John Papa I'i, who was counsel (guru) to Hawaii's first three kings--all Kamehamehas--and later recorded his experiences in seminal history books. His grandson, Francis, owned what later became the Mauna Lani Resort. He also purchased this 15-acre retreat at Keawaiki Bay and over the next decade hosted all-night drinkathons with the likes of Babe Ruth, Mae West, and Bob Hope. Recently, the retreat is where author Paul Theroux kayak-camped and wrote about it in The Happy Isles of Oceania.

In 1956 Francis Brown sold the estate to his grandson, and subsequent generations have installed a now-rusted 10-strand barbed wire fence around the oasis of coco palms and modest block cottages. Page 63 of Hawaii The Big Island Trailblazer has the details. There are several snorkeling spots, as well as coastal trails along chunks of white coral and black lava.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lyon Arboretum ... it's grrrrrrrreat!

The razor-back Ko'olau Range lords over metro Honolulu, and pocketed into its midsection is Manoa Valley, home to 200 lushly planted acres that have been a research facility for the University of Hawaii since 1918.

The patio behind the gift shop at Lyon Arboretum is a perfect elevation above the valley floor--high enough so that the gardens slope downward in the foreground, while the rippling green ridge of the Ko'olaus rises to envelope the grand scene.

Lyon is unquestionably among Hawaii's best tropical gardens, giving you the option of hiking, strolling, or finding a place to veg-out, pun intended.

Intent on taking the tourist trot to nearby Manoa Falls, many visitors miss this beauty. And, while the falls hike is for-sure worth the footsteps, other close-by trails offer choices for visitors. You can head up the stream in Lyon, into relatively unkempt flora, to Aihualama Falls. Or, by taking a fork in the road heading into Manoa Valley, find the trailhead for the view hike to Pu'u Pia, which is tucked away in a tangle of neighborhood streets.

This trail leads indirectly to the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail, which takes you on a whole lot of up to Mount Olympus, the granddaddy of Ko'olau hikes. Oahu Trailblazer has the deets.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Some enchanted evening

Not all of the best things in life are free. It will set you back a pretty penny to stay at the Fairmont Orchid, just down the coral-sand beach from the Mauna Lani Resort, which are two world class resorts set in an oasis on the South Kohala Coast of the Big Island.

On the other hand, all of Hawaii's resorts have beach access since all beaches are public. So indeed, a moonlit dip at the Fairmont's Pauoa Bay (above) is a freebie. After towelling off, stroll the torch-lit grounds and think about how smart you are to be in Hawaii. If the moon is full, head to the Mauna Lani to take in a "Talk Story," an unforgettable outdor show featuring Polynesian traditions and song hosted by Danny Akaka.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Home of the Fire Goddess

Sure, it's called Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, but the government boys are itinerant renters on this land, paying dues to its fickle landlordess, Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. Over the centuries, Pele has been working her way southward through the island chain, starting on Kauai, where her fiery impulses are all but forgotten in verdant valleys, to Oahu's Diamond Head, which is clearly a crater, then on to Maui's towering Haleakala, which is still considered active, and finally at her recent lodging, Kilauea Volcano, where even stodgy scientists know that on any day they may end up running for their lives from one of her temper tantrums.

The latest outpouring of noxious gas occurred in Pele's primary residence, Halemaumau Crater, is a depression within the much larger Kilauea Crater, which itself is an opening on the east rift of the much larger Mauna Loa, a nearly 14,000-foot-high shield volcano. The 2009 burst came in the wee hours of the morning, thankfully, since no visitors were on an overlook platform that was blown to bits. Since then, vog (volcanic smog) levels have increased on the island, and have periodically closed off major sections of the park. At times within the last century or so, Halemaumau has been a "dazzling lake" of lava, and also home to sudden earth shifts that have dropped the crater floor a hundred feet or more.

Further down the east rift is Pu'u O'o, a crater that has been spewing lava since 1983, including 43 fountain bursts reaching as high as 1,500 feet. In 1997, this cone had grown to more than 1,000 feet above its opening, when a catastrophic collapse lowered the height by 825 within 24 hours. It's a long drive and possibly a long walk (depending on flows), but tourists can head out at night to see the glowing stream and falls.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Like a Pig in Paradise

Only rarely do little piggies (Polynesian boars) become beloved pets and get to attend surfing events, like this little guy at Kauai's Pinetrees Beach in Hanalei. More often they attend special events like a luau, where they are the guest of honor, albeit wrapped in leaves and buried in coals.

The boars are not native to the islands, but were brought here in sailing vessels, both those of the migrating Polnesians and later the European trading ships. Cows, chickens, and goats were often fellow passengers.

Over the years, many boars and goats escaped their pens and people's dinner plates and now root around in the lush, steep slopes of the mountains on all Hawaiian Islands. Since these places are also sources for human water supplies, hunting is encouraged by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources. These hunting grounds, many beginning at the cul-de-sacs of residential neighborhoods on Oahu, have proven to favor the pigs. Even hunting dogs get lost in plant-choked, rumpled topography, and populations of the wild animals are stable.