Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hula Tells the History of Hawaii

For Mainlanders today, hula calls forth images of dashboard bobble-head dolls and boozy late-night scenes in tiki bars. Those kitschy pictures have grown out of post-WWII tourism. But hula dancing, which is accompanied by chants and song, is as old as the islands themselves. The graceful movements of the dancers tell the stories of Polynesian ancestors who came to the islands more than 2,000 years ago—and pay tribute to the plants, animals, and places of Hawaii that have allowed the people to sustain their way of life for centuries.

Hawaiians did not have the written word until the Western world showed up in the late 18C, and hula chants were the living, breathing way to keep record of the culture. For about 50 years in the 19C, Hawaiian royalty embraced the Christian views of the missionaries who had arrived, and hula was forbidden. But the dances were kept alive underground. Recent decades have seen a dramatic re-emergence of the traditions, and schools (hula halaus) are prevalent on all the islands.

The dancers here perform at the historic Pele hula platform at the rim of the Kilauea Caldera at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Just down the highway in Hilo, the Merrie Monarch Festival in the spring hosts a dancing competition and performance attended by hundreds of performers from throughout the islands. Tickets are hard to come by.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kauai's Taro

Taro is one of the two dozen plants that comprised the "canoe garden"—the plants that the migratory Polynesians brought with them on their 2,500-mile voyage in sailing outrigger canoes from Tahiti and other islands in the South Pacific.

The roots are pounded into a purplish paste called poi, a staple of traditional luaus and often the brunt of yucky jokes. Mainlanders may wish to try taro chips as an introduction to the plant, since crispy fried grease and salt translates to any taste buds.

The taro fields at the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge pictured here are the largest in Hawaii. Many of the workers these days come from a small island near Samoa, following the route that the original root took some 1,500 years ago.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Natural Steam Baths in the Big Island's Wild East

Puna—the far east of the Big Island between Hilo and Volcanoes National Park—is wild country, where land is lush and cheap, since it is a high-risk zone for volcanic eruption. Pahoa is the 'captiol' of Puna, a gathering spot for organic farmers and denizens of the rain forest.

Just down Highway 130 from Pahoa (near mile marker 15) are the Pahoa Steam Caverns. It's rustic, for sure. But adventure hedonists can take a short walk through ferns and ohia trees to a jumble of rocks where hot steam rises. You'll find two 12-foot diameter, 8-foot deep indents to sit a spell and absorb mineral moisture from deep in the earth.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Double Dipping on Maui's Keanae Peninsula

The Keanae Peninsula is about halfway along the Hana Highway, formed when a zillion cubic feet of lava blew out the west side of Haleakala's Ko'olau Gap and fanned into the ocean. Although on this day rain made the conditions less than ideal, Keanae serves up to spots to take a dip in fresh water:
Shown below is near the village where the stream flows along the cliff and meets the river at a gravel bar, forming the Keanae Pool. It's huge.

The second spot, known as Sapphire Pools, is hiding in plain site just below the highway at the turnoff to the village. You need to climb down to it, but the trail is not bad. A deep pocket of bedrock makes for clean, clear water, even on a day like this. When the sun make a direct hit, the water is sapphire blue.

If swimming is not in the cards, be sure to take a stroll around the Keanae Arboretum, a freebie just off the highway a mile before the village turnoff. Exotic trees plus a Polynesian garden await. The seascape at the shoreline in Keanae is wild, where statuesque columns of jagged lava take on breaking waves.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Scenic Trail to Big Island's 'Blue Lagoon'

At the north end of 2-mile wide Kihilo Bay (on the South Kohala Coast), Blue (Wainanali'i) Lagoon is a luminescent streak of turquoise that lures hikers from a scenic viewpoint on the highway. Many walk an unmarked trail from near the turnout—largely because one rental car tends to attract another, and people figure it's the thing to do. The round-trip hike is a little over 2 miles, dropping 200 feet through an arid kiawe tree forest that provides ample opportunity to take a wrong turn.

A second route to Blue Lagoon follows palms trees along a black-sand beach past a couple luxury homes and historic cottages, and involves no climbing. You begin by taking a state park road that is about a quarter mile from the scenic viewpoint. This option includes a visit to a fresh water pool used by ancient Hawaiians.

Blue Lagoon is turtle city. Many of the creatures haul out here, turning salty-white on the rocky shoreline, and then taking a slow dip in the water, which turns their shells a glistening amber-green. The "lagoon" is actually part of a massive fishpond built by Kamehameha the Great in 1810 and considered and engineering feat by early Western visitors.

Swimming here is a novelty, but the snorkeling is not among the Big Island's best: underground fresh water intrusion makes it chilly and a silty bottom can make visibility only fair. See Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer page 65 for more details.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Maui's Family Friendly Beaches

Kamaole Beach Parks—there are three of them side-by-side—have safe swimming and snorkeling, and plenty of sand and shaded picnic tables: The perfect combination for families looking to spend a relaxing Hawaiian vacation. The beach parks front Kihei on Maui's "Gold Coast," the arid southwest side. Though not exactly quaint, Kihei does have a number of mid-range condos and resorts, plus restaurants that are easy on the budget.

From Kihei Boat Harbor families can also hop a boat for a three-mile ride to the tiny crescent island of Molokini, which has some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. A coastal path (the Eddie Pu Trail) goes south from Kihei to Keawakpu Beach and then on to the paved path that runs along the shoreline of the swank resorts of Wailea.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wet Walk to Big Island's Valley of the Kings

Only 4WD vechicles are allowed down the steep road to Waipo Valley on the Big Island--but trekkers can walk down in about 15 minutes. At the bottom, several hikes are possible, including a beach stroll to a waterfall or backcountry trail. But the best hike may be up valley, into taro fields that are a glimpse into ancient times. The trail starts up a stream—you need to walk in water—but then transitions to a beautiful rural road. See Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer for the deets.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Face Time with Flipper on Oahu

The staff at Dolphin Quest have introduced many humans to dolphins at the Mandarin Oriental Resort in Kahala, which is on the opposite side of Diamond Head from Waikiki on Oahu. Families can sign kids up for swimming sessions. An easy way to see the show is to take the short walk from Waialae Beach Park; see page 57 of Oahu Trailblazer. Dolphin Quest runs a similar operation at the Grand Hilton Waikaloa Resort on the South Kohala Coast of the Big Island, where visitors can watch the show from a grass embankment.

To see our brothers and sisters of the sea in the wild, try Kealakekua Bay and Honomalino Beach on the Big Island. On Kauai, a spinner dolphin pod likes the waters off Secret Beach, which lies below the Kilauea Wildlife Refuge. The waters off Salt Pond Beach Park and northern Kekaha Beach, both on Kauai, are also known as dolphin habitat. Snorkelers are often joined by dolphins not far off Hulopoe Beach Park on Lanai, which is a day trip by ferry from Lahaina on Maui. For more specifics on where to see dolphins—as well as other wildlife in the sea, air, and land—consult No Worries Hawaii, a vacation planning guide for all the islands.