Friday, May 25, 2012

Sleeping in the Volcano on Maui: the Holua Cabin

The Holua Cabin in Haleakala Crater is set at around 7,000 feet, so better throw hiking boots and outerwear in with the flip flops and aloha shirt if you plan on taking this adventure. Nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose, will join you at this chilly oasis set amid a jumble of lava—including a few tubes that attract cave explorers. You can also visit Holua on a day hike: Some people start at 10,000 feet near the summit and take the Sliding Sands Trail across the crater (okay, it's technically a valley dotted with volcanic cones) and emerge at the Halemau'u Trailhead, which is farther down the road to Haleakala. This option is 11.5 miles. You can also start at Halemau'u, which makes for an 8-mile round-trip hike.

Holua is one of three cabins (the other two are the Paliku and Kapalaoa) that are administered by the National Park Service. Call up to 90 days ahead to make reservations—or try at the last minute (808-572-4400; or Google "Haleakala cabins," to reach the park service site). Cancelations create openings quite frequently. The cabins are sparsely appointed, so you will need a sleeping bag along with warm clothing (though in the daytime it can be hot). At night, the stars are like spotlights. The park's website has quite a list of dos and don'ts. Cost is $75 (per cabin), or $60 if you call three weeks ahead of your visit.

Maui Trailblazer has details on these hikes, as well as many others in the Haleakala National Park.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Baldwin Beach: spend the day, end the day

When on Maui, find a way to pull in at Baldwin Beach Park, a few miles south of the windsurfing town on Paia on the windward (east) coast. Locals do. A grove of swaying palms presides over a loooooong curve of soft sand that was in the early days the backyard of Henry P. Badwin, one of Maui's "Big Five" sugar kings descended from missionary families. Though most of the mills have shut down, descendents of the cane workers still gather at the picnic pavilion to talk story (the Hawaiin way to chew the fat and reminisce). They are joined by others in the sundown crowd who enjoy a favorite libation as body-boarding surfers try an on-shore break. Clouds often hang over West Maui, which appears as another island. But kicking back is only one option.

Beachcombers can head about a mile along undeveloped coast to Lower Paia Beach Park, passing wild Montana (a.k.a. State of Mind) Beach along the way, frequented only by fishermen on a rocky bulwark and the occasional European-style sundbather tucked away on the sand. Going the other way on the sand is a shorter stroll to Baby Baldwin Beach, which can be reached directly via another access point. A near-shore curving reef there creates a long, shallow swimming oval that is perfectly safe, 24/7. Mommies with kids and everyone elese looking to swim with the fishes can drop their towels on the uplsope of sand. Ironwood trees provide an option in the shade. Trekkers can continue all the way from Baby Beach to Kahaha Beach Park, which is a haven for windsurfers and kite-boarders. Maui Trailblazer (a new fourth edition came out in May) has more details on this sweet spot.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Five Best Beach Parks in Hawaii

Hawaii has hundreds of beaches, so to name the five "best" is sort of dumb. But let's not let that be a hindrance. Let's say you want to park the family for the day at a beach that has: lifeguards, good swimming, picnic tables, restrooms, and other options, like good walking and historical sites. And realiably good weather.

On Kauai, head to LYDGATE PARK, at the mouth of the Wailea River on the islands Coconut Coast (east shore). A huge man-made swimming oval is protected from the breakers, and even has enough fish to make for good snorkeling. The lawn, playsets, and picnic pavilions of Kamalani Playground are next to the beach, as is the Hauola Refuge, a cultural site. A short walk away is the enormous Play Bridge, with several stories of stairs, ropes and ladders. Miles of open sand invites beachcombers. Also on Kauai: Poipu Beach Park and Salt Pond Beach Park, both with the goods for a family day.

On Oahu, let's go with KAILUA BEACH PARK, on the windward side. Kayaking to Flat Island, just offshore, adds a splash of adventure to this popular park, which also has acres of gardescaped picnic areas and white-powder sand. Snorkeling is good, but a little better at sexy Lanakai Beach, adjacent to Kailua. Also on Oahu: Many acres of lawn and huge trees draw the locals to Ala Moana Beach Park, just across the yacht harbor on the north end of Waikiki. Magic Island, a man-made lagoon, provides safe swimming, and many people like to lap swim along the protected shoreline of the park. A deluxe mega mall is just across the palmy boulevard. It's also hard to beat Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park on the north shore, which has all the amenitites, plus a world-class surf scene.

On Maui, families flock to the KAMAOLE BEACH PARKS (picture below), three of them side-by-side in the family resort town of Kihei. Each park has very nice shaded picnic areas. The beaches are scoops of sand, punctuated by lava points that provide fish habitat for excellent snorkeling. Lots of take-out eat options are nearby, as is a coastal trail that continues south to the five beaches of the Wailea resorts. Also on Maui: Pu'unoa Beach (Baby Beach) in Lahaina is short on facilities, but the swimming is fabulous and offshore islands provide a hypnotic view. On the windward coast, near hippy-dippy Paia, is Baldwin Beach Park, which could very well be in the "top five." A sweet baby beach, long beach walks either way, and good boogie boarding attact a wide range of visitors.

The Big Island has a ton of very different parks, but a popularity contest would be won by HAPUNA BEACH STATE PARK, on the north end of the South Kohala Coast. Picnic pavilions line a path that drops through trees and gardesn to the island's largest sand beach. The best snorkeling is a walk (or short drive) at Wailea Bay (a.k.a. Beach 69) also a state beach. A coastal trail also reaches the lovely sands of Mauna Kea Beach, at one of Hawaii's premier resorts. Also on the Big Island: You can't beach Kahalu'u Bay in Kona for family snorkeling. On the Hilo side are three beach parks that would top the list, IF sunshine were more frequent there. Not far from town on the shores of Hilo Bay, are Carlsmith, Onekahakaha, and Richardson Ocean Park. All have protected swimming, beautiful backshores, and a great family beach scene.

Alright. We fudged and only name four as "best," along with lots of honorable mentions. You get to decide the fifth, and it may not even be mentioned above. Pick up a Trailblazer Travelbook and give it a read before visiting Hawaii. There is a lot of beach exploring waiting to be had.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Breaking into "Jail" on Hawaii's Big Island

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park is where vanquished warriors and violators of the kapu system (the king's rules) could voluntarily go to escape other punishment. When justice is a swift club, people run to break into jail.

Many of the historic structures (including a 1,000-foot-long wall from the 1500s) remain at the park, which is south of Kona on Kealakekua Bay. On many days, native Hawaiians are on hand demonstrating ancient crafts, such as canoe building and weaving of mats.

Right next to the site on the north is Two Step, one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. The name derives from the natural stairs in the lava reef that lead swimmers into gin-clear waters. On the south side of the national park is Pu'uhonua Beach Park and the Ki'ilae Village site, an excellent choice for a picnic followed by a coastal trek. And all of this is just a few miles via a connector road to Kealakekua Bay, with its own snorkeling, historic sites, and the surfing village of Ke'ei.

For more on this family getaway zone, check out Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer, beginning on page 96.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Oahu's North Shore: Surf City

Every island has a north shore, but there is only one North Shore, on Oahu, known to surfers around the world. Within a few miles along the surprisingly rural Kamehameha Highway are four breaks that hold competitions on the world pro surfing tour: Haleiwa, Waimea Bay, Pipeline (pictured), and Sunset Beach. Waves with 10-foot faces are common, especially in the winter, and frequently the walls of foaming water reach 30-feet and higher.

Spectators are free to pull in and watch the world's best surfers for free. When the waves are right, they will come. Haleiwa town has plenty of parking at Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park, but the break is a little far offshore for optimum viewing. Just down the road at Waimea Bay (yes, the one named in the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA,") has a big parking lot, but it fills up fast when the big waves arrive. Spectators head for the mouth of the bay (you can park at a nearby church) to watch the show from a bluff.

A bike lane connects near by Pupukea (town) to Pipeline (at Ehukai Beach Park) and then Sunset Beach, which is only a couple miles. Beach cruiser bicycles are available for rent, cheap, making for a lazy way to check out the scene. Pipeline has sand that slopes down to a near-shore reef break, a natural grandstand for spectators. Tour buses pull off at Sunset Beach, since there is a big turnout. Sunset gets a lot of looky-loos, but it's not among the best places to watch.

For details on the best places to surf, and to watch the big boys and girls challenge the waves, check out Oahu Trailblazer. (All the Trailblazer guides list the best surfing in the Islands, as well as the best place to have a seat and behold.)