Thursday, April 29, 2010

A sure thing at Poipu

Even when the surf gets choppy, novice snorkelers can go fish peeping at Poipu Beach, the resort strip on the southern coast of Kauai. Sun is also likely even during major storms since this arid coast gets less than 20 inches of rain per year - compared to around 40 FEET in the center of the island. Driving directions, kayaking and surf spots start on page 119 in your Kauai Trailblazer guidebook.

For lodging with a range of guest services click on Suite Paradise (owned and operated in Kauai) to find discounts on studios, condos, beach homes and villas. You can get deals on Hertz compacts and reduced prices at local style restaurants and acres of golf courses.  Along with luxurious properties at affordable prices, you'll also find sports and outdoor beach gear, tour planning advice and a daily dose of genuine aloha.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kilauea Volcano: Not Big Bang Theory

Hawaii's volcanoes don't explode rock, fire, and pumice into the sky like the Icelandic volcano (with a looooong name) but rather result from the earth's hot magma oozing from a gigantic crack in the ocean floor and piling up to the surface, and then far into the sky. Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island are nearly 14,000 feet--and measured from their bases, they are nearly 40,000 feet high. That's a lotta lava.

Kilauea volcano, perched on the downslope of Mauna Loa, has been erupting for over a decade along its rift zone. The slow torrent of melted rock has destroyed many homes and forests—as its courseway and eruption sites vary—but people thankfully have time to get out of the way. The toxic gas cocktail it emits can kill if you get too close, but is "only" a smog to the locals, called vog (volcanic smog). Airliners need not fear.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lahaina: Authentic Tourist Town

Maui's Lahaina will please both seekers of Hawaiian culture and history and those wishing to be serenaded by Jimmy Buffet while taking a moonlit stroll to buy an aloha shirt with matching puka shells. It's a place to realize a Hawaiian vacation fantasy, and to learn about King Kamehameha, David Malo and how the Hawaiian Kingdom formed and then was shaped by the onset of the raucous whaling industry and the advent of Christian missionaries. Many of the historic buildings are now museums, standing beside galleries and coconut bars.

Lahaina was always an action spot in Hawaii and it still is. While it's not a sleepy place, it is now quaint compared to Maui's other sunny-side resort options of Wailea, Ka'anapali, and Kapalua. You won't find a long run of sand, but beaches on the north and south side of town are excellent for snorkeling, especially with kids.

The lively port is the take off for whale watching, sailing and sports fishing, as well as ferries to the outer islands of Molokai and Lanai. The sprawling Banyan tree (planted in 1873) creates a giant umbrella that a hosts artists and musicians.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Still long ago in Waipio

The descent into Wapio Valley on the northern green nub of the Big Island of Hawaii really is a trip back in time, with little having changed since Kamehameha the Great surfed here as a boy and the Polynesian voyagers tended taro fields. The country blacktop that is Highway 240 ends at Waipio Lookout, where a comically steep concrete one-laner (4WD only!) hugs a mossy cliff face to the streamside bottomland. It's a 20 minute walk, down about 500 feet.

Most visitors head to the rough beach to watch surfers ride Kamehameha's waves. Adventure seekers boulder-hop right at the beach to look up at Kaluahine Falls or go left to make a stream crossing and head up the switchbacks of Muliwai Trail into the wooly wilderness. A few people (some in rented Jeeps or on horse-drawn tours) go left, up Waipio Valley, making a stream crossing through a jungle, passing fishponds, more falls, and a few laconic wild horses.

But very few tourists find the "back door" to the valley, since you need to take a leap of faith at a second stream crossing by walking up the "stream," which becomes a road after a few hundred feet. This path is the time travel. Sure, stick-frame shacks have replaced woven hau huts, but the taro fields date from antiquity, in many cases tended by the same families. The road hugs one side of the valley in a tropical arboretum and the view across the fields is of Wapio's steep walls laced with strands of falling water. The whole escapade takes but a few hours, but by the time you make it back up to the lookout the mental time will seem like a century.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kauai's McBryde Garden: Eden preserved

McBryde Garden, pocketed into a lush stream valley on Kauai's sunny south shore, is often overshadowed by its neighbor, Allerton Garden, the beachfront oasis that has been a set piece for many Hollywood movies as well as TV's Fantasy Island.

But many independent travelers may prefer the unguided tours at McBryde, free to wander this sprawling dreamland of native plants and trees, a spice garden and clusters of exotics, all spread along a stream that is spanned by a bamboo bridge and punctuated by cascades, pools, and a gazebo. No one will have trouble finding a spot to sit and be mesmerized by nature.

The subtext of this sylvan beauty is McBryde's aim of scientific research. Rare and endangered plants are cultivated and preserved. (Several years ago, National Geographic Magazine did a spread on one plant that was was literally saved from extinction by a botanist who hung from a cliff on Kauai's north shore to grasp the last of thee species.) McBryde hosts volunteer days for visitors who are interested in helping out.

Together, McBryde and Allerton comprise two of the country' five National Tropical Botanical Gardens—and visitors don't have to choose between them. Stop by the visitor's center in Lawai, across from Spouting Horn, where shuttle buses embark on daily tours of both.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Anini Beach, the ticket for a reunion

Okay, Craig and Julie from Seattle: the answer is Anini Beach on the north shore of Kauai.

The question? This couple with two kids e-mailed us, seeking a good place in a quiet beach front setting where their sibs and kids could gather with their parents for a family reunion. They stressed the need for a peaceful surround, and didn't care about the proximity of restaurants or shopping, etc.

Anini has no resorts or commerce, just a two mile run of reef-protected sand that offers safe swimming and snorkeling (when the usual precautions are heeded). Vacation rentals here tend to be large single family dwellings on large lots. Princeville Resort is a couple miles away, and a dinner outing to Hanalei is only 6 or 7 miles.

BTW: For a complete list of beach-cottage-type locales (along with all the other possibilities, such as mid-level family resort beach towns, country cabins, swank resorts, etc.) take a look at No Worries Hawaii, which is a vacation planning guide for all the islands.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Power hiking Kauai

The Powerline Trail (don't worry, you will hardly notice the electrical transmission lines) cuts across a center section of Kauai, 13 miles right up the gut, connecting the north shore at Princeville to the east shore, above Kapa'a.

The Kapa'a trailhead (pictured) begins at an arboretum and is engulfed by greenery of the downslopes of Mount Waialeale, an undulating ascent to the ridge that is the trail's midpoint.

From Princeville, the trail overlooks the Hanalei River valley and climbs up ferny forest lands that were given a crew cut by Hurricane Iniki almost two decades ago.

Gung-ho cyclists and seasoned trekkers can do the Powerline in a day, but the better option is to sample an out-and-back from each trailhead. Everyone should plan on getting shoes splotched with red Kauaian mud. Gear up for this one, including a hiking pole. You'll find detailed directions in your Kauai Trailblazer guidebook.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Keanae Arboretum

This family freebie is about halfway along Maui's Hana Highway--a chance to get out of the car and breathe the oxygen exhaust on a stroll through a forest of tropical trees and flowering shrubbery.

Hang a left not far down the road and roll down to Keanae Village, a sleepy settlement that gets bashed by huge waves. You'll also find some fresh water pools nearby. This place is worth the trip, and not just as a stopover on the way to Hana.

Friday, April 2, 2010

On Maui, out-there is where it's at

Laulima Organic Farms on Maui couldn't be any farther, geographically or metaphorically, from the swank beach resorts of Ka'anapali and Wailea. You need to take the twisty highway all the way to Hana, then venture farther to the Pools of Oheo, and then still several miles beyond to reach the 13-acre homespun garden, lush to the max. From there the road does continue around the island, a white-knuckle narrow road often closed by slides and always a study in pothole formation. But most visitors backtrack in the conga line of rental cars to end a long day.

Here the coffee is grown on site, as is the yummy stuff for smoothies, which customers can blend themselves using a cycle-powered blender. The sugar is juice mashed from cane. Eat and drink here and you put the land into your body.

This is Kipahulu, once a major settlement on Maui, in the seagoing days—when the village changed hands between the ali'i (chiefs) of this island and those of the Big Island, which is nearby across a channel. Kipahulu is one of those places beyond the beyond, around the bend, over the hill, far enough so that when you arrive you settle back and feel you have finally arrived at the center of things.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kauai hiking tips

If you're heading our way, here are some important words of advice taken from the pages of the 2010 Kauai Trailblazer guidebook:

"People have been walking here for centuries: If there is no trail already, you can’t get there … That nice green embankment may be tangled grass and air: stay back from drop-offs … Carry an equipped day pack on hikes more than a mile or two … Drink plenty of water … Don’t trust rocks with footing: they break free … Use a hiking stick … Never walk downhill with your hands in your pockets … Boink! Be aware of falling coconuts … At hike-to beaches, make sure to memorize where you enter the sand: finding the trail on the return trip can be difficult …

Use hunting trails on weekdays and wear bright colored clothes … If you see hunters, don’t hide behind bushes and snort or squeal … Even bloodhounds get lost on Kaua‘i: follow the trail, not your nose … Backtrack the moment you get lost or lose the trail … Don’t hike alone … Give right-of-way to a 400-pound pig … If the sun rises on a clear Waialeale, head for Waimea Canyon … Bring something warm when hiking Koke‘e … Go south and west to look for sun in the winter … You’re in the tropics: protect your skin … Drink more water …

Loose rocks fall with waterfalls; don’t dawdle beneath one … On black rock beach trails: follow the mud and sand left by the flip-flops of your predecessors … Flash floods happen on sunny days too, when it’s raining inland: stay alert in stream beds … A high stream will subside, so wait a couple hours rather than make a dangerous crossing … Know the halfway point of your hike, and plan for enough time to get back … Heed No Trespassing signs … Public right of way on the coast is all land and rocks below the vegetation line, as a rule of thumb … Let someone know if you’re taking a long hike … You need a permit to camp anywhere or to sleep on any beach … Hikes on Kaua‘i take longer than you expect, due to tough conditions and astounding scenery; add an hour for every four hours you think it will take."

Wishing you a safe and happy Hawaiian Island journey!