Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hawaii's Coolest Beach Parks

Like all "Best" lists, this one must be taken with a grain of sand. There are hundreds of awesome beach parks and beaches in Hawaii. But, okay, let's assume you are on one of the islands and looking for a place where locals and toursts alike hang out at sunset and all feel happy about having the good sense to be in Hawaii. (Listed from north to south.)

1. Black Pot Beach Park, Hanalei, Kauai: The signature Hanalei Pier (pictured) has been featured in many movies, and this stretch of sand most recently is where George Clooney et. al. took a stroll in "The Descendants." Hanalei Bay has several miles of walkable sand. Surfing and canoeing provide entertainment. The nearby town is the place to pick up a libation and watch the sunset turn into a starry night.

2. Sans Souci Beach, Waikiki, Oahu: In the shadow of iconic Diamond Head and just off the glitz of Wakiki, this small run of powder sand attracts well-healed locals and visitors on a beach stroll. The huge greenspace of Kapiolani Park is right across the street. Chill here, or walk down to catch the nightly hula show at Prince Kuhio Park--in the heart of Waikiki.

3. Baldwin Beach Park, Paia, Maui: This former sugar workers camp is now a magnet for islanders ready to kick back after a long day. Body boarders like the shorebreak in the middle of the bay. Walks include a sandy trudge (pictured) to Baby Baldwin Beach, which features a reef-protected pool that is alway safe for swimming. A rustic trail leads the other direction to uber-funk Paia, where fine dining and good eats await. Baldwin is not far from Hookipa, the windsurfing capital of the world.

4. Bayfront Park, Hilo, the Big Island: A long greenspace with a bandstand in the center lies just across the street from delightfully dilapidated Hilo Town. Canoe clubs stroke the near-shore waters, which are protected from tsunamis and high waves by a huge breakwater far offshore. A short drive or long walk gets you to expansive Liliuokalina Gardens and tiny Moku Ola (Coconut Island). A footbridge arches toward the small island, which sports a ring of palms like a tiara. You look across the bay to Hilo, with the giant volcanos of Mauan Loa and Mauna Kea rising to nearly 14,000 feet inland: Talk about a sense of place.

Good directions to all these beaches are in the Trailblazer Travel Books. Find them on,, or your favorite indie bookstore.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Learning to hula

Here's a tip: If atttending the sort of tourist-oriented free hula show that usually takes place in shopping centers, don't sit near the front row. Such seats are reserved for those who want to be dragged from the seclusion of being a spectator into the bright light of being a performer. It's all in good fun. Although the shopping center shows are performed in the authentic hula styles, they are to be distinguished from other offerings where the onlookers are meant to stay in their seats. Hula is a many-centuries-old method of dance—accompanied by chants and percussion—that memorializes the events of Polynesian culture. On each island are hula halaus, which are groups of men and women, young and old, who perpetuate the tradition. Statewide competitions are held, most notably the Merry Monarch Festival on the Big Island.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

He Haw! Hike or Bike to Kauai's Donkey Beach

Not long ago, Donkey Beach on Kauai’s Coconut Coast was a surfers’ hangout and sometimes nudie beach reachable via a coastal pineapple road or an unmarked path down through the cane fields. Though still a quiet place to spend the day, the beach is now on the tourist map right off the new (2009) Kealia Coastal Bike Path, a paved route with several arty bridges that hugs the coast for several miles from Kapa’a Town, and only a mile or so from Kealia Beach. A signed trailhead with fancy paved parking lot makes Donkey a short trot (less than a mile round-trip) for hikers.

The waters are normally too rough for swimming, but surfers take on a choppy inshore break, as well as a right-slide off the bay’s south point. An unpaved trail continues to little-seen House Beach and then for several miles to Anahola. Be Aware: All Hawaiian beaches are public spots, so keep your pants on.

Complete walking and driving directions in the Kauai Trailblazer guide.
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Friday, September 21, 2012

If you're Maui bound, take the eco-friendly Trailblazer

A guide for families and outdoor adventurers alike, Maui Trailblazer 2012 covers all of the island, and includes day trips to the neighboring islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Molokini.

Clear directions and concise descriptions lead to all of Maui's well-known attractions, as well as to hidden discoveries that Trailblazer readers have come to expect.

137 hikes and strolls to tropical rain forests and remote valleys, coastal bluffs and lava caves, Haleakala crater and the Hana Highway, cascading waterfalls, beaches, ridgetops, towns, whale-watching perches, historic sites, and archeological ruins.

Among the 44 snorkeling spots are hike-to coves and the secret places that tour boats go.

Kayakers can pick from about 20 put-ins.

Surfers can select from 38 beaches and decide whether to boogie, board, or body surf. Onlookers will find the best places to watch the surfers, windsurfers and kite-boarders ride the big ones.

The text is complimented by 10 maps and 240 photographs, including a four-page color insert.

Nine driving tours take readers to all the attractions, natural wonders, and historic sites.

A Resource Links section provides numbers for free visitor information and recreational outfitters, as well as hand-picked accommodations and local restaurants to suit every budget and taste bud.

A Best Of section lets you pick the right activity to suit your mood and the day. Appendices include free hula shows, farmer's markets, what to pack, climate, history, fauna, and a Hawaiian glossary.

This new and completely revised fourth edition for 2012 includes a Trailblazer Kids section for adventuring families.

Available at,, Barnes and Noble, Powell's or your favorite Indie bookstore.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Iki not Icky on the Big Island

It's a shame to visit the Big Island and not take the Iki Crater Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a four-mile loop that drops 400 feet into a side crater of Kilauea Volcano. You start out in the lush ohia-and-tree-fern forest on the south rim of the crater and then make your way across broken tabletops of pahoehoe (smooth) lava that seep steam. The crater is active though it has not blown its cork since 1959.

The trail climbs again into the rain forest and joins the Crater Rim Trail on an undulating journey with a variety of songbirds providing the soundtrack. Iki Crater is among the best of many excellent hikes in this section of the Big Island. For a complete rundown, see pages 125-133 of Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Goatspotting on Kauai

Among the rules to ensure safety when hiking Kaua'i's NaPali Coast is this: Never follow a goat trail.

These smug critters like to chill at the terminus of the Awa'awapuhi Trail, the most popular among the down-and-up, out-and-back trails on the ridges that lead seaward from the upper edges of Waimea Canyon. Provided you manage your time and avoid foul weather, the treks are safe for the careful hiker, unless you  sprain the shutter-finger snapping pictures.

Find driving directions to the trailhead in your Kauai Trailblazer guidebook.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wild Blue Yonder: Maui

Head to Kanaha Beach Park on Maui's windward coast to see some of the world's best adrenaline-juice junkies go kiteboarding, zipping airborne on a sail with a surfboard clipped to their feet. The trick for the boarders (among many tricks, including having the cohones to do it) is to have the right amount of sail for their body weight so that they can swing above big waves in a pendulum motion, and not go lifting off into the Pacific skies. These guys and wahines come from around the world.

Windsurfers also like Kanaha, as much almost as they do the glamor-puss spot for this sport, Hookipa, which is a few miles down the coast. You won't believe how close it is to the airport, though it's not on main roads. See the Maui Trailblazer guidebook for more.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Snorkeling Anahola, Kauai

The pointed peak in the Anahola Mountains that rises above this bay is named Kong, as in King (since it looks like the ill-fated ape in profile), but that movie was not filmed on Kauai, but instead the peak's downslopes were featured in Jurassic Park. (The local joke is that everyplace in Hawaii has been in either those dinosaur films or TV's Hawaii Five-O.)

A two-mile strip of band of yellow sand rims the bay, broken in the middle by the usually slack waters of Anahola stream. Coral reefs make for better-than-decent snorkeling, but shallow water and rip current (during higher surf) are drawbacks. From this side of the Bay, at Anahola Beach Park, a dirt track skirts a wild coast through Hawaiian Homelands, making for a non-tourist getaway hike. Driving directions in the Kauai Trailblazer guidebook.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Crawling Kauai's Nualolo RIdge

Most people think exploring Kauai's roadless Napali (The Cliffs) coast means driving to the end of the road on the north shore and embarking on the 11-mile odyssey that is the Kalalau Valley Trail.

Not so. Some of the best hikes begin on the other side of the island, off the road that climbs alongside Waimea Canyon to Koke'e State Park.

From this mountainside direction, the cliffs radiate out in ridges, like spokes of a wheel, separated by valleys about 2,000 feet deep. All are reachable via 4WD roads/trails. One of the best, the Nualolo Cliff Trail, begins very near the state park visitors center, a 7.5-mile roundtrip trek through native subtropical birdlands that drops about 1,500 feet along the way---and reaches a red-cinder lookout that will curl your toes (though it's not inherently dangerous).

A connector trail links the Nualolo to its sister ridge, the Awa'awapuhi Trail, also spectac. (Ask locally before making this loop, since the connector trail sometimes gets thrashed by heavy rains.) See pages 163 and 168 in Kauai Trailblazer.