Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kona's Kekaha Kai: Hellish Road to Heaven

The South Kohala coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is a scorched slag heap of sharp lava, the last place you'd think to wander looking for luxury. But fasten the seat belt on the rental car and inch along the 1.5-mile rutted road (its condition varies) and you will be rewarded with three beaches worthy of world-class destination resorts—Kekaha Kai State Park.

The first beach, Kekaha Kai, is a beach park with picnic facilities, right at the parking lot. Mahaiula Bay (pictured) requires a walk of less than a half-mile, to a classic sand crescent rimmed by palms and other beach trees. The third beach, Makalawena, is a round-trip walk of about two miles across a sun-baked rocky path, but the walk doesn't prevent it from being the most popular. Makalawena's charms include a little oasis pond, decent surfing, and a long run of sand backed by dunes. There's also a nice keiki pool—a protected swimming area inside the reef that is great for kids.

For more details, see page 72 of Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oahu's PCC: Not a Beat Down

In spite of being the top-grossing (by far) among all private attractions in Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center on Windward Oahu is a long way from being a tourist trap. Tickets are pricey, but worth it. On the many-acre grounds you'll find the real-deal in Polynesian dance, artwork, crafts, and music, from the cultures of Oceania.

The place is operated with the help of BYU students, who beam with Aloha. Don't think learning center (though it is), but imagine more a three-ring circus set in a beautiful tropical garden with waterfalls and a lagoon.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Iao Valley perch

You don't have to walk far in Iao Valley State Park—1.5 miles round-trip, with 250 feet of elevation—to get to one of the most stunning views in the Hawaiian Islands. The route leaves from the touristy lookout of the Iao Needle and quickly attains a narrow ridge top that drops away to deep stream valleys on two sides (to the waterfall-laced, Wall of Tears on one side and the Kapilau Ridge on the other).

Iao Valley is where Kamehameha the Great in 1790 used newly acquired cannons and brute force to drive Maui defenders into retreat. The stream, Kepaniwai, means "damming of the waters," and the blood from fallen waters was said to have turned the waters red. Some of the Maui men escaped via a treacherous cross-island route to Olowalu Valley.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ho'okipa, Maui: Windsurfing Capitol of the World

With multiple breaks off Spartan Reef and near-constant Trade Winds, Ho'okipa Beach Park has been home to the best windsurfers on the planet Earth ever since the sport when airborne in the 1980s. Championship competitions are held here (the grassy bluffs at the park's north end are a perfect grandstand) and much of the equipment, including Simmer sails, are designed in nearby Paia.

Paia reinvented itself in the the early 80s, when the studly new wave sport married the fetching waves of Ho'okipa. The fading Old West wood-frame plantation cottages and sugar shacks got a new coat of paint, as the sandy-footed set created a demand for a host of low-key tourist shops—boutiques, hemp-reggae wear, surfer-Joe outfitters, espresso Internet cafes, galleries, and seafood grills. The with-it epicenter for Paia is Mana Foods, where tribe members of organic enclaves and the dressed-down gentry seek whole-grain goodies and stimulated conversation. Maui Trailblazer has details on page 106.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Getting Swallowed by the Land

At popular Mainland parks, hikers are advised to stay on trails to avoid destroying a fragile ecosystem. In Hawaii, the tables are turned and the smart money is on the flora to take its toll on hikers foolhardy enough to venture off trails. Dense snarls of greenery make it impossible to find your way back to a trails after straying only a short distance. Throw in a little rain or fog and you can become rapidly, hopelessly lost. Forget about GPS. Steep topography won't let you find a route, even if the direction is clear. To complete the horror show, add the hidden promise of earth cracks and lava tubes that will mail you to nowheresville.

Here are a few tips to stay safe.

1. Stay on the trail. People have been walking these islands for centuries and if there isn't already a trail, forget about getting there. If you lose the trail, or it becomes difficult to follow, backtrack immediately.

2. On ridge and mountain trails, don't step to the side even to take a picture unless you are careful. The margins of a trail are often just ferns and grasses that disguise a free-fall.

3. Many less popular trails are unsigned. As you proceed, look back occasionally to memorize your return route. Use sticks or rocks as marker arrows (and scatter the markers upon your return).

4. Note your departure time for a hike, and make sure to begin your return when you have used up less than half the remaining daylight. Bring a flashlight.

5. When hiking in groups, stay together.

6. Always bring an equipped pack, with food, water, and extra clothing.

7. Don't let the kids stray.

8. Read No Worries Hawaii for independent traveler itinerary ideas and advice.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Slip Sliding away on Maui's Haleakala

With a trailhead at 10,000 feet, hikers may feel gleefully airborne when descending on the Sliding Sands Trail into the vast eroded valley pocked with volcanic cones on Haleakala volcano. A network of colorful paths interconnect several rustic cabins and geologic wonders, like "the bottomless pit." Many hikes wind up with double-digit round-trip miles and nearly a half-mile in elevation loss. The Halemau'u Trail begins at a slightly lower elevation on the other side of the valley, but also makes a big drop.

A word of advice: On the way down remember that you have to come back out. High altitude and temps that can range from scorching to freezing in one afternoon can make the chore more difficult. You can get well into Haleakala on a shorter day hike without turning it into an ordeal. Check with rangers about renting a cabin and staying overnight on the longer hikes; if you haven't planned ahead, you may get lucky and nab a cancelation. Maui Trailblazer, pages 156 to 160, details a number of hikes in Haleakala National Park.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Laid Back Laie Falls, Oahu

Surprisingly, populated Oahu has more wild hike-to falls hikes than any of the other Hawaiian Islands. This little beauty, Laie Falls on the northeast coast, is used mainly as an exercise jaunt by students of nearby BYU Hawaii. It makes a good add-on before or after a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The round-trip hike is about 5.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet—with an option to continue another 3 miles and 800 feet to the Ko'olau Ridge. You begin through a leafy birdland over eroded red-dirt roads, climbing to a view spot amid a stand of Norfolk Pines. The last traverse is a trail-tunnel through a thicket of strawberry guava trees. A rope aids the last hundred feet down to the stream, but it is not difficult. A second pool and falls lies just below those pictured here. See Oahu Trailblazer page 151 for the deets.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Andy Irons gets First Place, Billabong Pro Tahiti

We congratulate Hawaiian Andy Irons on his second career win at Teahupoo on September 3. The former three-time World Champion is back defeating former rival Kelly Slater in the semifinals. With this win he moves from number 18 to number 7 on the ASP World Title Race rankings.

"I feel like I'm back," said Irons. "I have to thank ASP for giving me the wildcard back here. My whole dream was to come back and just win one contest, and I've done that now. I want more. And to win at Teahupoo, it's my favorite wave in the world. It's a very special win."

The world tour next goes to Southern California for the Hurley Trestles on September 12.

View teahupoo, Tahiti in a larger map

Thursday, September 2, 2010

NEW: Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer

A revised and updated Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer (Where to Hike, Snorkel, Surf, Bike) with be off the press by September 10. Apologies to those who have been searching for this title and have found it sold out.

The quickest way to get the book during the next few weeks is to contact us directly: (The new cover shot is a fisherman heading home at sunset, near the Mauna Lani Resort on the South Kohala Coast.)