Monday, June 27, 2011

Waimea Bay: Surfin' USA

Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu has been a premier venue for top surfers since the Beach Boys gave a shout out in the 1960s. Each year—if the conditions are right—the best big-wave surfers in the world test their mettle on waves 30-feet or higher at the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau competition (known as "The Eddie"). Waimea is also on the pro-surfing tour, among the North Shore's big four, along with Haleiwa, Pipeline, and Sunset.

The shore break at the bay also hosts surfing competitions. The popularity of Waimea leads many visitors to believe that it's safe to surf. Not so. The shore break can be lethal, and only yesterday a 60-year-old woman was is critical condition after a near drowning. Waves breaking at the shore are particularly dangerous for bodysurfers, who suffer neck injuries.

Always ask a lifeguard about water safety before getting in. Conditions vary each day. One sure way to spot a dangerous shore break (aside from sheer size) is to look for sand being drawn up the face of the wave before it breaks. The sand is an indication of shallow water, and all of it comes crashing down, along with your body and tons of water.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer Now on Kindle

The Pu'u Loa petroglyph field in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the adventures waiting to be discovered in Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer—which is now available on Kindle and other devices. The carvings in smooth lava ("pahoehoe") depict births, historical events, and anything else that the first Polynesians wanted to record. About a half-dozen such fields are to be found on the Big Island, some of them unsigned in remote coastal regions.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trailblazer Kids Get Their Own Pages

A page from the Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer's Trailblazer Kids section. There is a special chapter for family activities in all the Trailblazer Travel Books.

Mahalo to SFGate's Hawaii Insider for referring to this blog in their coverage of the Big Island's Kalapana Beach. Go to the Insider to catch up on news of places and programs that offer good economic value as well as those that express social values such as environmental protection or the preservation of Hawaiian culture. If you are a Hawaii-phile living in the Bay Area or Northern California, the local events listed are sure to interest you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cool Down in Hana Town

Whoever said getting there is half the fun, may have underestimated the Road to Hana. Many tourists who make the adventure along 50-plus miles of serpentine highway with its dozens of white-knuckle, one-lane bridges may be disappointed when arriving at sleepy Hana Town. It's not another Lahaina, but rather a rural enclave with few shops and restaurants. Much of the excitement is indeed on the way—a day's worth of fun in itself—and in exploring the beaches and trails that extend for about 10 miles (of more twisty road) on the other side of town.

But still ... Hana has much to love. Its pier is perfect for a quick dip or snorkel, as well as being the trailhead for a short hike to the head that was the birthplace of Queen Ka'ahumanu. On the other side of the head is Red Sand Beach, a protected cove below a cinder cone that has excellent swimming when the conditions are right. You'll also want to visit Hana's homey museum, and the grounds of historic Hotel Hana Maui, where low-key luxury has been perfected. Across from the hotel is the trail to Fagan's Cross, a mile-long walk up several hundred feet to a viewpoint.

Nearby Waianapanapa State Park has forested hiking trails, as well as perhaps the best coastal camping in the state. On the other side of town is Hamoa Beach, a good-sized bay with sandy beach that is clearly the best along the coast for many (many) miles. Hotel Hana Maui guests use this for their beach fix. And, of course, down the road from Hana is the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park, which features the Pools of Oheo (formerly the "Seven Sacred Pools") and the superlative hike to Waimoku Falls (see your Maui Trailblazer for directions).

So, the takeaway: Have fun on the way to Hana, and consider doing the highway on one day, and saving the sights around Hana Town for a second day. To really get to know the place, you'll want to stay overnight, since the ambiance morphs in the late afternoon when the conga line of rental cars heads back to other parts of Maui.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thirty-Year Cycle of Life on the Big Island

In 1983 the Pu'u O'o crater on the East Rift of Kilauea Volcano began spewing massive lava flows into the ocean on the Big Island. Some 200 homes have been destroyed by the slow-moving flows from the world's largest shield volcano.

Kalapana Bay, once home to a palmy beach park, was entirely filled in with molten lava. This fish (pictured) was fried and fossilized. Now, about 3 decades later new grasses, ohia, ferns, and palm trees are growing up from the cracks in the rocks. At the shore, relentless waves are grinding the black lava into sand. One the Big Island of Hawaii, evolution—or creation of virgin life—happens in real time, not over the eons.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Makaha Rules Oahu's Beach Scene

Oahu's North Shore—home to Pipeline, Sunset, and Waimea Bay—is known world-wide as the capital of surfing. But ask the pros who dominate the North Shore and many will tell you that the real heart of surfing is on the West Side at Makaha Beach Park. Here, surfing is a way of life that spans generations. At Makaha is a wave machine that rolls huge sets onto scorching sands.

Makaha is home to Oahu's royal surfing family led by Richard Buffalo Keaulana, his two sons Brian and Rusty, and other world-class surfers. Brian, pictured here teaching his tandem skills to a gymnast from the Mainland, is a legendary waterman (lifeguard), whose pioneering work on jet skis has saved many lives. He has been an advisor and actor in several Hollywood films. Each year in January since 1976, Makaha hosts Buffalo's Big Board Surfing Classic, a potpourri of events ranging from six-man canoe surfing to trick-riding on long boards. The Buffalo is unlike any other surfing event.

The west coast of Oahu becomes an undeveloped beachscape as you drive north from Makaha. Scenes from the movie Hawaii were filmed here at Makua Beach. The Farrington Highway ends at a long sandy beach at Yokohama Bay, where a trail to rugged Keana Point begins. The West Side may be a little gritty for some visitors, but others will rave. See Oahu Trailblazer, beginning page 200 for the ins and outs.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kauai's Moalepe Trail Ain't Nothin' for a Hound Dog

In the uplands of Kapa'a on Kauai's east side, the Moalepe Trail makes a 6 mile swath through the lush lowlands of Mount Waialeale and connects with the Kuilau Ridge Trail in the Keahua Arboretum. Piece of cake. Family walk. But if you stray from the trail, conditions become downright dangerous in a heart beat. Greenery at the edges of the trail in a couple of places disguises steep drop-offs, and everywhere the flora is just too dense to walk—and even if you could fight through it, staying oriented in that tangle is impossible.

Even the hunting hound dogs have trouble finding their way out after chasing a wild pig into the bush. (Hunting is encouraged because the pigs destroy the watershed, and also because the critters make a tasty addition to a luau.) So, the word is, "stay on the trail," not so much to save a fragile ecosystem, but to save your skin. Having said that, hikers will encounter no danger on this beautiful rain forest walk. There are several options. See Kauai Trailblazer pages 82 and 84.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Oahu Beyond Waikiki

A forest of resort skyscrapers towers above nightclubs, designer shops, tourist traps, restaurants and an artificial beach lined with acres of sun-sensitive flesh on Waikiki Beach. Diamond Head looks down on it all. Shuttle buses venture out to Hawaii's top attractions: Pearl Harbor, Bishop Museum, Polynesian Cultural Center, and Hanauma Bay. Yes, Waikiki delivers the goods for a tropical vacation.

But what surprises most visitors are the miles of sandy beaches of Oahu—more accessible coastline than any of the Hawaiian islands—and the number of state park trailheads into two mountain ranges, again, more than any other island.

Surprising, too, is the North Shore. Most everyone has heard of the "Banzai Pipeline," but few realize how rural the coastline is at the "surfing capitol of the world." A two-lane highway fronts a largely commercial-free shore, paralleled for many miles by a bike lane. Connected to North Shore is the Mokuleia Coast, which is essentially wild. Similarly, the north end of the Windward Coast (on the other side of the North Shore) is a wide-open run of recreational beaches and a few sleepy towns.

Oahu has about ninety percent of Hawaii's million-plus population. It's not exactly laid back. Honolulu is dynamic and humming with activity. But there's another face to the place awaiting anyone who wants to venture out from Waikiki in a rental car—and nothing is more than an about an hour's drive.

Many of the best hiking trails are close to metro Honolulu. Oahu Trailblazer is organized into 54 different "trailheads," which include hikes to gardens and waterfalls, snorkeling spots and beach walks, as well as all the better known attractions. Before you rule out Oahu and head to Maui again, pick up a copy on, or and take a look.