Monday, January 31, 2011

Packing Light for Hawaii

Even before airlines started charging for checked bags, Hawaii was a good place to cram everything in a carry-on. The following assumes you are an outdoor type planning to hike and swim during a two-week stay.

Flip flops (called slippers in Hawaii) are the go-to shoe that locals spend 90 percent of their time in, when not barefoot. Get a high-end model with a good foot bed (Teva makes probably the best). Note: The sandal type strap on shoes (Keen, Teva, etc.) can be a problem when used at the beach. Once they get wet, sand gets in and tears feet to shreds.) Great selections and variety are here; wait until you arrive to buy.

You'll want a lace-up low cut for hiking and the plane. These can double as a dress-up shoe, though you will very likely get them muddy. Don't worry about Gore-tex, since you will dunk the shoe entirely on stream crossings.

Hawaii is not a dress-up place. For fancy restaurants, men may wear long pants and women skirts, but not necessary. Make sure to get "dri-fit" synthetic tops: they are lightweight, breathable, and dry fast after rain or in-room washings. Bring both long and short sleeves.

A retractable hiking pole is very useful on mountain trails that tend to be steep and slick.

Swim fins and a mask can be easily purchased in Hawaii, cheaply, at a Wal-Mart or Long's Drugs. It's also easy to buy board shorts (men's swimsuit), swimsuits, and rash guards (an optional top worm for snorkeling and surfing).

A Gore-tex lightweight parka or shell is very necessary for hikes of any length, especially the higher elevations (Haleakala on Maui; Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island; and Waimea Canyon on Kauai).

Hat and sunglasses, of course, are a must.

Bring a lightweight daypack (your second carry-on) and get organized on day one. Include Band Aids and anti-biotic oinment. Cuts need to be washed and treated right away. Avoid exposing cuts to freshwater. Women and men alike can use their pack as a "purse" when getting in and out of the car, as well as on the trail. Always have extra food and water (never drink stream water), as well as the usuals, like Swiss Army knife, LED headlamp, Ibuprofen, sunblock, lip balm. Leaving valuables in the car is not recommended, especially on Oahu. And too often, you may find yourself going farther than you initially planned, so get in the habit of hauling the pack.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kauai's Queens Baths: Neptune goes Berserk

The Queens Baths are seapools in the lava reefs below the posh, golf-course resort of Princeville on the lush north shore of Kauai. Hawaiian royalty did indeed take dips in these pools, as well as other freshwater ponds and tide pools at various locations throughout the Islands.

When seas are calm, the pools are a dream. On days like this, when 20-foot waves are exploding, they are a nightmare. These onlookers left safely, but they might not have if a rogue wave (the occasional giant among sets) came calling. Numerous fatalities have occurred here. Normally they happen on nice days, not like this one, when things appear safe but swimmers fail to take into account the rise and fall of the swells during a given day.

Always watch for at least 15 minutes before going out onto a reef; never go out on rocks that are wet with sea water; never turn your back on the waves. See the Kauai Trailblazer guidebook for more on the baths, and on ocean safety.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's Free to Be, Under the Sea, On Maui

Maui has the most swimming beaches of all the Hawaiian Islands, ranging from places to take the family for outings with the sand buckets to full-on scuba excursions. Among the excellent snorkeling spots are several where independent people can easily swim from shore to places that tour companies charge a pretty penny to take people.

Check out: Oneuli (Black Sand) Beach, which is part of Makena State Park; Turtle Town, or Chang's, which is not far away via a Shoreline Public Access; Olowalu, in West Maui, where the pros anchor just off shore; and Coral Gardens, near Olowalu, which requires a little swim and the right conditions but is fabulous. Maui Trailblazer has more specifics.

One place you will want to hop a ride—and it is totally worth it—is Molokini Island, a marine sanctuary that is several miles offshore. Gin-clear, fish-filled waters are protected by the tiny crescent-shaped island that was once a volcanic cone.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stone-Age Tweets: Big Island Petroglyphs

On the Big Island of Hawaii are numerous fields of smooth lava (called pahoehoe) where carvings tell the stories of the day, ranging in importance from profound historical events to a proud father announcing a birth. Some depict the sails of the first European vessels and rifles in the late eighteenth century and others go back even farther than the arrival of the first Polynesians in the second century.

Although the rock etchings are found on all Hawaiian islands, the Big Island has by far the most charted sites, many in public parks. The Big Island has the most appropriate smooth lava to work with, and the ground has not had the added eons (5 million years in the case of Kauai) to erode or be covered by plants and soil. This offering is from a history park near the Mauna Lani Resort in South Kohala. Adventurers can find unpublicized petroglyphs by exploring likely places. For listings and directions, see Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Big Surf Hawaii

Waves with 20-foot faces slammed the west and north shores of Oahu and Kauai yesterday, making it a bad day to swim but a good one to find a spot well back from the shoreline and watch the explosions of white water.

Surfers rode the moving mountains on Oahu's North Shore—but the waves weren't quite large enough to hold the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. And Eddie alert had gone out the previous day. On Kauai, the action was at Queens on Hanalei Bay, where jet skis aided in getting surfers out to the big ones.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

As Hawaiian as Apple-Banana Pie

Farmers Markets around Hawaii all sell tart-sweet apple bananas harvested from local plants (they do not grow on trees). Prices range from $1.50 to $3.00 depending on the size of the hand. Oddly they don't darken or turn to mush during baking, which draws out the apple flavor of the bananas.

This patriotic recipe comes from WWII when Hawaiian households could supplement their rations with backyard fruits and vegetables.


10-12 firm ripe apple bananas
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cinnamon

crust for top and bottom

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare your favorite pie crust and line the bottom of a standard pie plate. Mix the sugar, cornstarch and spices. Cut peeled bananas into 1/2 inch slices, coat with lemon juice and toss with other ingredients. Assemble the pie, cut several slits in top crust and sprinkle with sugar, bake for 45 minutes. Make sure pie sits on baking pan to catch bubbling juice that sometimes escapes. Sure, try a little Rosalita vanilla or haupia (coconut) ice cream on top.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"The Sky is Falling" Kauai, says NWS

Yesterday's rainstorm brought havoc to the island. Polihale State Park road was entrenched in mud, Kapaa suffered power outages, a landslide at Lumahai disrupted traffic and the Ke'e Beach lifeguard tower was forced to close. For the clincher, thousands of islanders accidently received an automated message, "This is your Kauai Civil Defense. The sky is falling." Later the correct message came through reporting a flash flood warning. Click here
for the island's current weather report.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kauai's Papa'a Bay: Best Things are Free (for most)

Papa'a Bay is a sandy cove with a stream, backed by palms and ironweed trees, just the sort of place that causes people to space out in their workaday cubicles all across America. You may have seen it before. Harrison Ford's plane "crashed" here in the movie "Six Days, Seven Nights." The director, Peter Guber, liked it so much he bought it, erected a mansion called Tara, and closed the access road historically used by locals. Arrests were made during a "walk-in."

Now Guber is gone like driftwood at high tide, having sold the joint for 28 million in 2009.

And, more significantly, you can get to Papa'a Bay for free, thanks to a public access (see Kauai Trailblazer for details). Beginning near the Aliomanu Beach parking lot, the access involves a 20-minute walk along a bluff, down a fairly steep hillside, and then a boulder-hop for 300 feet or so. Though doable for families, the access is difficult enough to keep crowds away. Surfer's like the outer beak and swimming is excellent.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Adventuring on Kauai: Use a Guide with Experience

This NEW 2010 FOURTH EDITION of the Sprout's top-selling guide is packed with new and updated activities, dozens of fresh photos, and a special Trailblazer Kids section for families headed to Hawaii's adventure island. Popular among independent and active travelers, Trailblazer guides are known for their user-friendly format, readability, and sharp graphics.

You'll find all the mountain ridges, tropical gardens, beaches, coves and lagoons, jungles, rivers, historic landmarks and cultural sites, coral reefs, ancient ruins, and coastal bluffs-all the places to get wet, muddy, and have fun on Kaua'i. Less energetic visitors will appreciate the book's driving tours, which hit the headliners along with the island's out-of-the-way charms.

The authors have spent years exploring Kaua'i, and it shows. A Resource Links section gives visitor information and cultural contacts, recommended recreational outfitters, museums and attractions, Hawaiiana shops and hula shows, as well as a hand-picked list of restaurants and places to stay. Safety precautions and traveling tips are not to be overlooked, and a Best Of section lets you select among activities to suit your mood.

119 hikes and strolls to mountain ridges, tropical gardens, beaches, jungles, coves, reefs, historic landmarks and ancient ruins, swamps, craters, forests, coastal bluffs and tide pools, towns, canyons, waterfalls and river valleys.

68 beaches, including 22 reachable only by trail.

42 snorkeling pools, both the island favorites and hidden coves.

61 mountain bike rides along forest, coastal, and countryside trails.

27 kayaking waters: 13 rivers and streams, 14 bays and lagoons.

36 surfing spots, including the best places to watch.

10 maps and 175 photographs including a new four-page color insert.

Driving Tours, featuring heiaus, wildlife sanctuaries, cultural and historical sites,tourist attractions and natural wonders.

Resource Links to recreational outfitters, stables, golf courses, camping, transportation, accommodations, local-style eats and shops - Appendices of Hawaiian words, place names, movie locations, hula performances, farmer's markets, weather, flora, history.

Accuracy and organization are Trailblazer Travel Book trademarks. A host of new photos and trail updates have been added to make this book ready for your action-packed 2011 Kauai vacation. Available online at and

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Picking the right vacation rental in Hawaii

Bummahs! Nothing worse after all that planning and anticipation to show up in Hawaii and find that the "cozy beach cottage" turns out to be a moldy shack held up by termites. Sure, this photo is a joke but you can guard against disappointment by following a few guidelines:

1. Use the Internet and make sure to examine photos. Places that show a lot of pictures of nearby sites, rather than the rental itself, should send up a red flag. The Internet also gives you a record of what's been said, when dealing with the landlord/management. and are two good sites with lots of listings.

2. After initial contacts, call the actual place in Hawaii. This is a good way to get a read on "the aloha." If you only get a disembodied voice or an 800 number, that's a sign of poor management. Most people in Hawaii are friendly and honest; if someone doesn't have time to talk to you, that's an indication of something to hide or lack of caring about the rental.

3. Ask the right questions: Questions will vary according to what's important to you. Is the rental quiet (TV's, traffic, barking dogs, Zumba classes)? How recently was the room renovated or built? Is there mold or mildew smells, bedbug history (which are more prevalent in the Tropics)? What floor is the room on (top floor is preferrable)? Ask about the specific locale: location to other units, proximity to the beach, stores, pool. What are the amenities? How large? Don't be afraid to ask. If someone is impatient, or doesn't know, that's a sign of problems when you arrive.

4. If you have friends you can stand, you will get a much better deal by sharing a larger more expensive unit than renting a smaller unit for yourself.

5. Use the listings in No Worries Hawaii, a Vacation Planning Guide for Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. You'll find good rental agents (who will treat you like the client), specific rentals and resorts, and a complete rundown on the vacation locales in Hawaii, i.e., luxury resort strips, rural beach cottages, mid-range family hotels on the beach, mountain retreats, quaint towns, etc.

6. Ask friends where they have stayed; once you've zeroed in on a place, use the Internet to read reviews. Tipadvisor is a good place to check out reviews. Read them with a grain of salt. Someone may love a place, or hate it, for a reasons that are not in line with your likes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Andy, We Hardly Knew Ye

It will be a long time before friends on the north shore Kauai forget local boy Andy Irons, a world-champion professional surfer who died of an as-yet unknown illness late last year. Perhaps one day a statue will be built, but for now homemade tributes have been placed along the lush highway from Hanalei to Haena, an outpouring of feeling for one of the best to ever stand on a board.

Andy's brother Bruce, also among the best professional surfers, lives on to carry the Irons' name. A surfing competition for local kids, which the brothers sponsor, will be held later this winter at Pinetrees Beach on Hanalei Bay.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Kona's Keauhou

Heading south from Kailua Town, just as busy Ali'i Drive swerves uphill and heads toward the remote south Kona Coast, you want to to veer right into Keauhou Bay: This is where Kamehameha III was born—a small bay with good snorkeling, local canoeists, and where low-key charters depart for various seagoing adventures.

You can also take off north and south on coastal trails along rugged lava to see some big-wave action. The last great battle among Hawaiians took place just south of Keauhou, when Kam III backed the queens (one of whom his mother) and ended the male-dominated Kapu system of punishment that had ruled the emerging monarchy for centuries.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cruising Kauai: Nawiliwili Harbor

A cruise ship might not be everyone's idea of a great time. But even confirmed independent land lubbers can get a charge out of watching one of the gigantic vessels crank up the engines and make for the open Pacific, with the Hoary Head Ridge rising above Kalapaki Bay as a backdrop.

There are two supreme photo-op spots: Kuki'i Point inside the bay is a small lighthouse reachable from a public path off the golf course behind the Kauai Marriott. At the mouth of the bay is large Ninini Lighthouse, a more private, rugged locale that lies at the end of a dirt road, also not far from the resort (Ritz Carlton plans to build near here). Grab a bottle of wine. The ships normally depart at 5, convenient for sunset lovers. See pages 105 and 107 in Kauai Trailblazer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hawaii Travel Tips

1. Go to Hawaii
2. Spend a little more on a nice room, and cut back on restaurants
3. Always call the desk/reservation person in the Islands (as opposed to an 800 number someplace else). You can tell much about the Aloha of the place over the phone.
4. If you plan to hike, bring a retractable pole--Hawaiian trails are often slick and steep.
5. Ocean safety: When in doubt don't go out. High waves ALWAYS indicate increased rip tide.
6. Freebie: The best luxury resorts often have museum quality art and cultural exhibits.
7. Get takeout and have a sunset dinner on the beach.
8. Most hiking and snorkeling tours go to places that are free to the public. Make sure your tour goes someplace special.
9. You can find the best deals on rooms by booking well in advance---or at the last minute.
10. Get a copy of No Worries Hawaii: It's full of freebies, trip planning advice, safety necessities, and includes a self-test to decide which island is right for you and your travel mates (along with specifics on accommodations, attractions, and where to go to see the best of what Hawaii has to offer.