Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten Hawaii spots to visit in 2014

Okay, let's be real for a moment: It would be easy to do a blog called "1,000 Places to See in Hawaii Before You Die."  Hawaii is brimming with epiphanies of place, both grand and intimate. But, back to fantastyland, let's assume you are traveling through the islands and want see ten knock-your-socks off spots on the four major islands. We'll start in the north and head south, and presenting Hawaii's all-star attractions (though not all are tourist spots, per se.)

1. Waimea Canyon, Kauai
One look and you'll know why it's called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, a 2,000 foot deep, 12 mile long gorge of pinkish-orange rock accented by waterfalls and exotic plants. Scenic turnouts abound. You can walk to the bottom at the Kukui Trail. But the kicker for Waimea Canyon is getting to the top rim: From the top is an eagle eye view down to the tropical Kalalau Valley. And all along the ocean side rim of the canyon are trails out the Napali (The Cliffs) with awesome views.

2. Hanalei Bay, Kauai
Pictured above, Hanalei exudes astounding scenic beauty and aloha. A 3-mile crescent of fine sand is ringed by towering jagged green cliffs. After rains a dozen or more ribbonny white waterfalls dress it up. Hanalei Town is the essence of laid-back cool.

3. Windward Wild Beaches, Kauai
For about 30 miles on the east shore of Kauai (from Anahola to Princeville) are pasturelands with mountain views. Few people realize (since signs are scarce) that most of the wild beaches in Hawaii lie along this stretch. Many require a short hike down a steep hillside, but nothing small children can't handle. Yellow sand beaches, a dozen or more,  are home to monk seals and shorebird. Midway on the coast is the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. A light house set high on the most-northerly land in the main Hawaiian chain, offers views of whales, dolhins, monk seals, Nene birds, and many species of shorebirds. Admission is cheap, like two bucks.

4. Waikiki Beach, Oahu
Yes, Waikiki is kitschy and crammed with tourists and high-rises. But it is also real to the bone, with layers of Hawaiian culture along its tiki-torched boulevards. Diamond Head lords over the scene, and there are many parklands and beaches mixed in. Pardon the word, but Waikiki is iconic on a world-class level, like the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate, and Empire State Building. While you're there, be sure to make the short trip to Pearl Harbor to see the USS Arizona Memorial, which will make even cynics patriotic, at least for the afternoon. Punchbowl Memorial in Honolulu is also hallowed among American historic sites.

5. Windward Oahu
Circle counterclockwise by car from Waikiki and you'll reach the Windward Coast, where the jagged green Ko'olau Range gives way to the Pacific. You'll have to rub your eyes to check if this dreamy landscape is true. The H3 freeway circles back to Waikiki, one of the most dramatic rides in the U.S., as it penetrates the mountains like a missile.

6. Haleakala, Maui
The crater (technically the eroded valley) of this 10,000 foot high active volcanoe is laced with trails. It's a world unto itself. People like to go up for sunrise (Haleakala means House of the Sun), but the better bet is to drive up while it's light and check out sunset.

7. Hana Highway, Maui
A conga line of rental cars cram this serpentine road each day, so don't expect quietude, unless you leave early or late. More than fifty mossy one-lane bridges traverse countless streams, and dozens of waterfalls tumble from jungle creases. This is a trip you can take many times and see new things. Maui Trailblazer readers only slow down at sleepy Hana Town, and continue another twisty stretch to the Pools of Oheo, which are part of the lower section of Haleakala National Park.

8. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island
Geology happens in real time on the Big Island, which currently has two active eruptions within the Kilauea Volano's comples system. It's very weird to see the ground glowing red and flowing. But the park also offers rich tropical forests, with a symphony of birds. Thurston Lava Tube is the most well known place to see the green side of the volanoe. From visitor centers and overlooks are many smash-mouth views into the huge Kilauea Caldera, a portion of which is now emitting a tower of volcanic gas.

9. Saddle Road, Big Island
Newly paved and graded, this space-age highway cuts through 50-plus miles of volcanic wasteland, right between the two largest mountains on earth (measured from their bases): Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Most visitors head up Mauna Kea to see all the celestial observatories. But few people know you can drive up big, round Mauna Loa, where many of the earth's weather observatories keep an eye on global warming, and other events.

10. South Kohala Coast, Big Island
Drive for 40 miles north of Kona on the island's west shore  through an apocalyptic wasteland, with square miles of jagged barren lava daring anyone to set foot. But, all along the coast, a few miles in from the road, are oases of greenery with pristine beaches. This land is too new to be eroded by streams, so the coastal waters are gin clear. Many of the beaches are at destination resorts (with public access) and many are at state and county beaches. And many of these nuggets of paradise are a short walk from the well-known areas, waiting there for you to discover.

(The Trailblazer Travel Book guides for the Islands have all the details to explore this list---as well as the treasure map to the other 990 top spots!)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Big Island: Dipping in the Queen's Bath at the Mauna Lani Resort

All along the South Kohala Coast of the Big Island are anchialine ponds—where fresh water and saltwater surface just inland. This little beauty is tucked away a hundred feet or so from several lakelets at the backshore of the Mauna Lani Resort. "Queen's Bath" is a generic term for many such ponds you will find in the Islands, although it is also literal: Royalty would also bathe in them.

The stroll around the lakelets (big fishponds) is through a tropical arboretum, and is also next to a path through an ancient village site, with rock ruins and petroglyps. The beachfront at the Mauna Lani is also one of the best in Hawaii, with safe swimming and excellent snorkeling. You can also take a stroll to the also-posh Fairmont Orchid Resort, about a half-mile away.

If in the area on a full moon night, after howling, be sure to attend a free Talk Story (music and talk) hosted by Danny Akaka (son of the senator). It's held beachside (by the fishponds) at the tiny and charming Eva Parker Woods Cottage Museum. On the aloha scale, give it a big fat Ten. I wish I was there right now.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pololu Valley: Select an adventure on the Big Island

At the end of the highway on the northwest tip of the Big Island, Pololu Valley is the start of activities that range from a Kodak moment at the parking lot to a full-on, wild-and-wooly trek into some of the wildest country that can be reached in Hawaii.

The trail starts out along the backshore of Polulu Beach, at the foot of a large dune now grown over  with trees and groundcover. It then climbs seriously on a route that dips into and out of a series of rugged valleys on a 20-mile run to Waipio Valley, which is the end of the highway on the northeast tip of the island. The first two valleys, Honokane Nui and Honokane Iki, can be reached by prepared dayhikers (7.5 miles round trip, with 2,200 feet of elevation). But the rest of the trail is basically terra incognita.

The cliffs beyond Pololu Beach can be seen from the scenic turnout at the trailhead.

Though surfers can carry boards down to ride an offshore break, Pololu is not know for waterplay. Active families will have no trouble with the trail down, a wide switchback that drops about 400 feet over the course of a half mile. The green valley with a large pond is a tranquil sidetrip at the bottom of the trail. Complete directions in your Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer guide.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kekaha Kai State Park: Living the dream on the Big Island of Hawaii

The 1.5-mile drive across a hellishly jagged lava field north of Kona keeps some visitors away from Kekaha Kai State Park. Big mistake. The road has been improved (now it's only bad) and the beaches that await are among the best in the Islands.

The road ends at Kekaha Kai beach, with picnic tables and palms on a sandy peninsula, which requires no walking to enjoy. But most visitors at least make the quarter-mile stroll to Mahaiula Bay (pictured) and log some serious beach time inbetween snorkeling. This was once the site of a rustic resort.

The prize at Kekaha Kai are the Makalawena Beaches, a mile-long stretch of dunes and coves that begins about 1.25 miles from the parking. The first part of the hike is a scorcher, an open lava field that is part of the ancient King's Road. Makalawena sees a fair number of beachgoers, but there's plenty of room. Just at the backshore of the beach is the Makalawai Oasis, a little pond set amid a circle of palms. Sweet. Then, at the far end of the beaches (where a campround host is set up) is a sheltered cove that is excellent for safe swimming.  Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has details, beginning of page 72.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Aloha Trail: Beach Park dining al fresco in Hawaii

On any crowded beach in Hawaii in the late afternoon (say from 3:30 to 5) beach towels get shaken off and cars head back to the hotel rooms, as visitors prepare to shower before enjoying a tiki-torch dinner.  As the daytime scene comes to a close, another  gathering coalesces: Hawaiian families and visitors bust out the coolers and settle in for a relaxing dinner while daylight gives way to sunset and the starry night.

Step One: Obtain a Hawaiian plate dinner, or put together pupu picnic with sushi, Maui chips, and poki, plus a chilled beverage.

Step Two: Sit on beach and dine while the sunset turns to starlight.

Here are a few beach parks for each island where visitors can feel the aloha.

Kauai: Hanalei Bay (either Black Pot by the pier or City Pavilion in the middle of the bay). A two-mile curve of sand is framed by classic jagged ridges. On the west side, try Salt Pond Beach Park near Hanapepe, another curve of sand with a grassy backshore dotted with coco palms. Salt Pond is a good choice for visitors to Waimea Canyon who are headed back to Poipu.

Oahu: Tucked into the hubbub of north Waikiki are two treed parks that front white sand: Duke Kahanamoku and Ft. DeRussy. After sunset, fireworks shows blast off weekly from the Kahanamoku Lagoon at the Hilton, which is closeby. For a big-scale ohana picnic scene, head to Ala Moana Beach Park, just north of Waikiki. The renowned Ala Moana Shopping Center is across the street with many takeout food options.

Maui: Familes can head to the Kamaole Beach Parks in Kihei; nice lawns with gardens and trees, and smashing sunset views of sister islands. On windward Maui, Baldwin Beach Park is a good call, less touristy and reflective of the arty surf scene in Paia.

Big Island: It's hard to beat big sandy Hapuna Beach State Park. It's a zoo during sunny weekends, but quiet settles in at sunset and dusk. Wide paths swerve down to the beach, passing small picnic pavilions set in tall trees. On the eastside, pick up your libations in Hilo Town and settle into to watch local canoe teams finish the day at Bayfront Park.

For driving directions to all these places, go straight to the index of your Trailblazer Travel Book.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Condo shopping in Hawaii: Get more than you pay for.

Somewhere  between a little grass shack in Kealakekua and the penthouse suite in the Hilton lies the condo—a place to call your own that has all the luxury of a resort. Condos will appeal most to active visitors who get out and explore during the day and want a comfortable place to come home to at night. Here are some tips to get a good deal on condo, and not wind up with a lemon.

1. Book way in advance and negotiate with the owner, using websites like VRBO and Home Away.

2. Book in a "shoulder season" like spring and fall, when demand is low.

3. Buy in bulk: The longer you stay, the lower the price you will be able to negotiate. Perhaps you can share a month with someone else, or think big and stay for a month!

3. Travel with friends and split the cost of a larger unit. Half the cost of a 2 or 3 bedroom will be less than the cost of a one bedroom or studio.

4. Ask the right questions. Is this a top floor or end unit (more desirable)? How new are the furnishings (Hawaii is tropical, and mold and mildew smells exists is some older buildings)? Is is quiet? How close is the beach (or other features)? Most owners will gladly answer questions. An owner who is not forthcoming is a red flag for a unit that has shortcomings.

5. Spend a little more for a nice condo and then save money by eating in and not going to restaurants.

Of course, each island will have really nice condos, as well as some that suck. To find the nice ones, start by selecting the best regions:

On Kauai, Princeville on the north shore and Wailua on the east shore near Kapa'a are desirable locales. Poipu Beach is sunny (and therefore arid) with lots of choices. Give Suite Paradis a look for Poipu.

On Oahu, Waikiki is where most people stay; avoid Kuhio Avenue (unless you want noise and kind of tacky nightlife) and stay beachfront—or select a unit on the more residential backside of Waikiki along the Ala Wai Canal.

On Maui, sunny Kihei is good for families and couples who want to log beach time near restaurants and shopping. (Kihei has become better by comparison to Kahala, north of Lahaina, which has been overdeveloped.)

On the Big Island, most of the condos are on Ali'i Drive in Kona and Keahou—where traffic can be a hassle and beaches are few. Try South Kohala, where the last decade has seen the construction of beach villas at the backshore of destination resorts in Waikoloa, Mauna Lani, and Mauna Kea.

Once you have honed in on a desireable region and contacted specific owners, use sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor to see what other visitors have had to say. Use Google Earth to see what the physical address looks like from an aerial perspective.

All the Trailblazer guides have specific listings for condos and vacation rental agents. When planning your vacation, you may also want to download the Kindle edition of  No Worries Hawaii, A Vacation Planning Guide for Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The good life for free: Take a walk on Hawaii's (un)wild side

Hawaii offers many coastal and jungle trails into the wilds. But for those seeking laid-back luxury along the journery, try these paved paths that skirt high-end beach resorts (listed geographically from north to south in the Islands):

1. POIPU BEACH-GRAND HYATT, Kauai. Even when the rest of the Garden Island is taking a bath, strollers can normally find sun on the arid south shore. Beginning with the Sheraton, a path swerves along low-key (by Hawaii standards) resorts. You can cut through the greenspace for restaurants and shopping, or to take a gander at the weird Moir Gardens, a several-acre display of cacti. From Poipu Beach Park, a jogging path through condos and a greenspace ends at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, with Asian-inspired architecture and lush grounds that make it one of the world's premier destination resorts.

2. WAIKIKI BEACH, Oahu. Can't leave Waikiki off this list, although most of the hotels are glass towers. But you can drop in at the Royal HawaiianMoana Surfrider, and Halekulani for a touch of the golden years. The walk extends for a of couple miles to Kapiolani Park. Designer shops and gourmet eateries are sprinkled along Kalakaua Boulevard, the main drag.

3. WAILEA RESORTS WALK and KA'ANAPALI, Maui. Given that most of Maui's beaches are developed, it's not surprising that the Valley Isle has two great luxury beach strolls. The older development (1970s onward) to the north is Ka'anapali, where a Sheraton and Hilton bookend a mile-plus paved path. The Hilton's gardens are a respite, while some of the resorts (Maui Ocean Club) present a sea of flesh on lounges. Black Rock Beach at the Sheraton is where most of the action is (this place used to be called Dig Me Beach). A shopping center with multiple restaurants opens to the sand. Parking, at a series of lots, can be a hassle. Farther south in Kihei are the the Wailea Resorts, decidely more ritzy. The Grand Wailea is a worthy destination, with towering atriums and bloated Botero scultures. More than a half-dozen large public lots provide access to as many sandy coves.

4. MAUNA LANI-FAIRMONT and WAIKOLOA, Big Island. The South Kohala coast on the Big Island features a desert of black lava with a number of coastal oases, many featuring some of the best tropical resorts in the world. The walk from the Fairmont Orchid to the Mauna Lani doesn't offer much shopping, but rather striking coastal scenery along palms and coral-chunk beaches. The Mauna Lani Fishponds are a parkland unto themselves. Conversely, the Hilton in Waikoloa is like Disneyland, with a monorail, boat rides, a huge dolphin pool and man-made lagoon. Corinthian columns border a grand staircase that leads to the water. A path from the Hilton takes you along a wild coast with ponds (backed by new big bungalows) that eventually leads to the open sands of Anaeho'omalu Beach Park. The new Lava Lava Beach Club is an opportunity to sip rum drinks and munch pupus with your toes in the sand.

Trailblazer guides have more details on where to park to visit these resorts, as well as many others where you can enjoy the good life for free.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Hawaiian homage to Lou Reed: Take a walk on the wild(life) side

Sit a spell anywhere along the coast of a Hawaiian island and you're sure to see nature's creatures: seabirds, shorebirds, turtles, dophins, whales, and many species of fish and coral. But to add some juicy facts to natural observation, curious visitors can head to any number of attractions that (as they say) make learning fun.

Here, listed geographcially from north to south in the Islands, are four of the best:

1. KILAUEA POINT NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Kauai. On the north shore of the northernmost island  is a stubby pennisula that is home to a who's-who of marine life—land, sea, and air. Very dramatic setting, free binoculars for the long views, and admission is a few bucks. The historic Kilauea Lighthouse, a classic white cylincer, adds romance to the place. On the same day you may see whales, spinner dophin, monk seals, Hawaiian nene (state bird), laysan albatross, and a variety of soaring shorebirds.

2.  WAIKIKI AQUARIUM, Oahu. Not splashy (pun intended) in its presentation, but this University of Hawaii-run attraction has a beautiful setting—right below Diamond Head, opposite huge Kapiolani Park, and beside coral  reefs just a short walk from Waikiki. There's more going on than meets the eye, both in the aquariums themselves and the special programs offered to visitors. Mid-range admission.

3. HUMPBACK WHALE NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY, Maui. This place just keeps getting better. The best time to visit, of course, is during winter migrations. It's on the underrated North Kihei Coast, next to a beach park that features an ancient fishpond re-creation and a mile from a birder's walk along a boardwalk. Admission is free.

4. HAWAII WILDLIFE CENTER, Big Island. This center welcomes visitors, though it is not a tourist attraction, but rather the only hospital in the Pacific Ocean that treats injured birds—shore, sea, and woodland. Funded through private donations and volunteer help, HWC opened just this year. An interpretive area for visitors is outside the attractive building. And the setting is green Kohala on the northern nub of the Big Island. If visiting the center, also check out 'Iole Foundation, a mile away, with its historic  buildings and 2,400 acres of gardenscaped flora.

Trailblazer guides (Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island, No Worries Hawaii) have details on these places, as well as others that present the cutural and natural heritage of Hawaii.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Aloha State of Mind: Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii, USA, Planet Earth

There are palm trees and beaches at many places on the globe, but only one place to find Aloha, and that's right smack in the middle of the Pacific on the world's most remote outpost of Hawaii. Pictured here are the slack waters of the Hanalei River, just inshore of Black Pot Beach on Hanalei Bay. Head here in the late afternoon and stay for sunset. The Hanalei Pier protrudes several hundred feet, the perfect spot to watch surfers whiz by or see outrigger canoes heading into the bay. Black Pot is one of the places where Aloha defines itself—a state of being, a state of mind, where all seems right with the world and you would not want to be anyplace else.

Hanalei Bay, a two-mile crescent, is perfect for beachcombing or jogging. Classic jagged green ridges frame the scene. The town, with low-key surf shops and restaurants,  is a few lazy blocks away.

Check out Hawaii's best trail guides and discover the Aloha on MauiKauaiOahu, and the Big Island. If you want them categorized and are still trying to decide which island to visit, buy a copy of the No Worries Hawaii guidebook.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Snorkeling in Hawaii: Spend less, still get the best.

You don't need to rent equipment or spend on a special tour to see some of the best reef life in Hawaii. Much of the colorful coral is accessible from shore, including the majority of locales that are also reached via boats with paying customers. Hundreds of coastal reefs and beaches offer decent to excellent fish bowls—provided, of course, that the ocean cooperates with low surf. Exceptions: Molokini Island off Maui and Lehua offshore Kauai are two memorable tourist snorkeling experiences. And, scuba diving companies take people to numerous spots that are too far offshore. Trailblazer guides have dozens of snorkeling beaches on all the islands for the adventure traveler; safety tips are included in the text, as are spots fequented by tour companies.

If you don't pay to snorkel, then you are going to need fins, mask and a snorkel. If you don't already own a set, then for sure wait until getting to the islands until finding one. It makes little sense to rent equipment, since it's cheaper to buy if you are here for a week. All sorts of cheaper-than-renting equipment is available at ABC Stores, Whalers', Long's Drugs, and Wal Mart—places you will probably frequent to stock up anyway, and then won't have to worry about returning stuff when leaving. You can spend around $25 to $30 and be good to go.

Also, many vacation rentals—from individual condos to big resorts—have gear on-site for free. Ask them before signing on the dotted line. Check out Hawaii's best places to snorkel on Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island. If you want them categorized and are still trying to decide which island to visit, buy a copy of the No Worries Hawaii guidebook.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer for 2014: The ring finger says it all

This dancer stands on the Pele hula platform at the edge of Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. An erupting crater is in view, over the heads of the people who have gathered for the performance. Like her sisters in her halau (group), she has woven a bracelet from native leaves and made a dress from coloful fabric. The dance and chant are ready to unfold, telling the a tale of Hawaiian lore. For now the intricate and precise moves of the halau are still and at the ready, waiting, coiled in the delicate touch of her ring finger at the base of her thumb.

The third edtion of Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer is availabe now on and As the subtitle notes, it is full of outings on this massive island, taking readers to all the famous attractions, and also to hidden ancient sites and places far off the tourist radar. For adventurers, Trailblazer is a match made in heaven.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oahu's Windward Coast: Laid Back at Lanikai

If toasting flesh is on your mind, head for Lanikai Beach on Oahu's windward coast. Adjacent to Kailua Beach Park, this tony beach enclave attracts beachgoers with its powdery sands and dreamy aquamarine water. Near-shore snorkelings is superb. Don't be surprised to see pro photographers shooting models along the shore.

Adding to the glamor of Lanikai are seabird islands, including these two, Moku Nui (left) and Moku Iki. Not pictured offshore the beach park is Flat Island, a destination for kayakers and adventure snorkelers. Directions to the best accesses are in the new Oahu Trailblazer guidebook, available on Amazon.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Honolua Bay: Maui's Triple Play

Though the Honolua Marine Preserve on Maui's north leeward coast is best known for snorkeling, adventure seekers can also add a hike and surfing safari to the day's mix. From marginal roadside parking (show up early on primo days) a short walk through a botanical forest leads to the small bay with a rocky shore. After rains, a stream muddies the waters, but aside from that the water clarity is good.

You can take a peek from a turnout on the south side of Honolua as you approach from Kapalua. On the north side, a spur road leads out to the mouth of the bay, where surfers carry boards down a cliff to right-breaking waves that are among the best in Hawaii. The bluff at the bay's mouth is a perfect grandstand. From the surf parking, a road/trail skirts the cliff to Lipoa Point. You can walk a low shelf to water's edge to watch some spectacular wave action, and, on the calmest of days, find some nooks to take a dip and do more snorkeling. Maui Trailblazer has the deets, beginning on page 72.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hawaii: Easy to find the Sublime

There are moments when time stands still (or we realize that time is always standing still), when our bodies fuse with nature and peace ensues. These moments abound in Hawaii, and you don't have to climb a mountains to find them. Here are a few easy-to-get-to spots to find the sublime:

1. On Oahu, look no farther than Prince Kuhio Beach Park (pictured) right in the heart of Waikiki. High-rises and designer shops line one side of Kalakaua Avenue. But on the other side is the dusty-rose-colored Pacific, where surfers always ride the sun into the horizon. A free hula performance adds to the show, on the site where former Hawaiian royalty had their homes.

2. On Kauai, pull off at Wailua Bay, on the Kapa'a side of the Wailua River. A busy (for Kauai) intersection carries cars above, but below you will find local canoe teams putting in at the wide, placid river mouth--the first settlement of the Polynesians of ancient times. The sharp green ridge of the Sleeping Giant provides a backdrop.

3. On Maui, pull in at Olowalu Landing, a historic packed-earth protrusion that is off the highway on the way to Lahaina-Kapalua, which carries a conga line of rental cars. Sea turtles and whales cruise by the foamy shore and the West Maui Mountains reflect the sunset inland. (You'd never guess one of Maui's bloodiest battles took place here.)

4. On the Big Island, cruise south on busy Ali'i Drive, and keep right where the bypass road continues up the hill, carrying commuters with it. Here, at the Kuamo'o Battlefield—where piled stones mark the graves of those fallen at the last major battle in Hawaii—you will find a spot to watch waves do battle with at Kualanui Point. You are behind the sets, and very close, as they roll by to collide with the lava reef, an eternal conflict that the water will eventually win.

The Trailblazer guides have more directions to the sublime, both close to a parking spot and farther away.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shark Attacks in Hawaii

You don't want to hear someone yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theater and you sure as hell don't want to hear the scream of "Shark!" at a  beach. Neither event is likely, but the thought of a shark in the water while snorkeling is a lot freakier than thinking of flames at the movies.

The odds of a shark bite in Hawaii are nearly a million to one, and  dying from said bite happens in one in a hundred bites. Florida and Australia have five to six times more attacks. Still, a visitor did die this year in the Islands, bringing the total deaths since the 1800s to 23. You are way more likely to choke on a steak.

Still ... the odds of being a shark's snack increase greatly when you enter the warm Hawaiian waters where some three dozen species live. Only eight of these fish are normally seen near shore, most often the smaller Blacktip Reef Shark. Called "mano" in Hawaiian lore, sharks--and the aggressive Tiger Sharks in particular--were part of the test for young warriors, like Kamehameha, who had to jump from an outrigger canoe and wrestle one.  Great White Sharks, the so-called maneaters, have been sighted fewer than ten times in the last 60 years, although recent satellite-aided studies show the Whites regularly migrate to Hawaii.

Here's how to reduce to practically zero your chances of being bitten:

1. Avoid swimming at dawn and dusk, when water visibility is poor. Sharks bite people by accident (ooops), and can't see as well at these times of day.

2. Avoid murky water; see above.

3. Don't swim at a river or stream mouth, which deposits shark food into the ocean.

4. Take off the shiny watch and bling, which are thought to attract sharks. Same goes for bright contrasting swimwear.

5. Don't bleed into the water.

6. Try not to splash the surface too often.

7.  Don't swim when sharks are present and do not harass a shark. As if.

8. Hawaiian legend says that the shark gods bite when the Wiliwili trees bloom, which is in late summer and early fall. Scientist today think this is linked with the migratory pattern of Tiger sharks, which show up in the Islands as part of their 1,600-mile loop around the Hawaiian Archipelago.

9. History says, "Swim on the Big Island of Hawaii," which has only a few reported attacks. Maui "wins" with 42 attacks, followed by Oahu wih 35, and Kauai with 23---though Kauai's lower visitor rate and population make it riskier than Oahu. But in the last few years, the Big Island has become has seen a dramatic relative uptick in incidents. Attacks occur on all shores of the islands---not at particular hot spots.

10. Swim closer to shore. Most bites are 50 yards out or more.

The Takeaway: To avoid the dangers of vacationing in Hawaii, read the previous  Trailblazer  Hawaii post, and don't worry about sharks. Though you may want to re-read the shark-risk conditions just for fun.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Your Life: Don't Leave Hawaii Without It

Volcanoes, tsumanis, earthquakes, hurricanes: You want big time violent nature, come to Hawaii. Yet these destructive events are rare, and even more rarely do they take lives. Oddly enough, when someone dies on vacation in Hawaii —usually several accidental fatalities occur per month—it happens on beautiful days when people are out having fun. So, that's the good news: there's  nothing to worry about if you excercise good judgment and recognize common risks.

In no particular order, here are a few rules to live by that are peculiar to a place like Hawaii:

1. DON'T DROWN WHILE SWIMMING. The culprit here is rip current, which is caused by incoming wave water escaping through channels back out to sea and taking people with it. The higher the waves, the stronger the rip current. Some beaches are more dangerous than others, but all beaches can be dangerous on a given day. Rip current is visible from shore. The mantra is "when in doubt, stay out." Swimming at beaches with lifeguards also helps.

2. DON'T DROWN WHILE WALKING THE SHORE OR BEACH. Rogue waves and storm sets snatch people from bluffs and sloping sands. Stay back from big surf, wet sand and reef, and always keep an eye on the surf.

3. DON'T FALL FROM A CLIFF. Hawaiian ridges are often razor thin and near vertical. Rain creates slick surfaces. Try using a retractable hiking pole on mountainous climbs, and stay back from the margins of a trail, where tufts of greenery disguises drop-offs. Never try to climb, since the soils and rocks are unstable.

4. DON'T STRAY FROM THE TRAIL. Normally, this common rule is to protect nature from people, but in Hawaii the tables are turned. If you are going cross country or fighting your way through flora, turn back and go to a known point on a trail. If there's a safe way to get someplace, there will be a trail. The land swallows hikers up.

5. DON'T HAVE A CAR ACCIDENT.  Drivers should do their sightseeing while parked, and parked safely off the roadway. Many roads are narrow and curvy, with beautiful scenery and filled with other drivers who are gawking and stopping in the middle of the road.

6. DON'T GET SWEPT AWAY IN A STREAM. Tropical rains and steep ridges mean streams rise quickly and with force. Cars get swept away on spillways. Hikers get swept away on stream crossings.  Rain can occur inland, when it is sunny at coastal stream valleys. Always wait out a high rushing stream, even when inconvenient. It will subside. And when walking along streams, be aware of having to seek high ground.

Trailblazer guides for Kauai, Maui, Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii have practical advice and safety tips for all forms of adventure, and also have specific precautions for a particular beach or trail. Odds overwhelmingly say that you will not be harmed in Hawaii, beyond a sunburn or hangover. Still, better safe than ...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oahu's Olomana Trail: Hang on Tight

At four-plus miles round-trip with 1,600 feet of elevation, Olomana Ridge is not a killer. But to scale the three razorback humps on this stand-alone ridge is a definite thriller. This is the view from atop the first peak.

The going is plain vanilla uphill mud stomping until reaching the approach to the first peak, when hands are required.  Well-worn footholds and a tested safety rope make going up this initial hands-on section easier than it looks—though backing down is tricky. The second peak is doable for daredevils, but the third peak is downright dangerous, even for climbers with technical skills: some rocks and  footholds are unstable and dangerous.

When the day is done, head for nearby Kailua Beach Park on Oahu's Windward Coast to come down from the adventure. Oahu Trailblazer has details on pages 112-114.  The trailhead is on private property at the Luana Hills Country Club, but hikers are allowed to walk in.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Maui's Hana Highway: Why not Wainapanapa?

Traveler's on Maui's winding-and-waterfall-filled Hana Highway should slow down 2 miles outside of the little town and hang a left to Wainapanapa State Park. Its black sand beach is the best snorkeling and swimming place on the coast--unless the waves are cranking. From the beach, a coastal trail penetrates pandanus forest to the Kaupukalua Burial grounds, and other ancient sites.

The state park also offers a handful of rustic cabins, set in a tropical grove right on the coast. A trail leads from here to Hana, passing the Ohala Heiau on a several-mile adventure.

Visitors can also chill on a shorter trail to the Waianapanapa Caves, where freshwater pools await beneath mossy cliffs. Legend maintains these romantic caves were the meeting place for a princess and here lover, which was going along just fine until here husband put a brutal end to the tryst. In the spring, the waters turn red with the memory of her blood—or from tiny shrimp hatching, take your pick. Maui Trailblazer has more details on the state park, as well as other getaways on this popular coast.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Waikiki's 'Pink Lady' aging gracefully

With years to go until she hits the century mark (in 2027), the  Royal Hawaiian Hotel is still the blushing beauty at the center of  Waikiki.  Also known as the Pink Palace, the resort is next door to the older Moana Hotel, the first on the beach in 1901. The hotels were the glamorous getaways during the golden years of Matson's luxury passenger-ship voyages.

The Pink Lady is now boxed in by parking garages, high-rises, and designer shopping. But its courtyard remains a quiet respite.

And the hotel's interior spaces offer islands of calm away amid bustling Waikiki.

With all its charm, you'd think Hollywood would have shot the dickens out of the interior spaces and grounds of the Royal Hawaiian, but only five films can list the Pink Lady in its credits since 1931. "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" was in pinnacle in 1961, though many would argue that "Goin' Coconuts" topped it in 1978.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Setting up a "dream date" with Hawaii

Everybody has a different fantasy of the ideal Hawaiian vacation. One person's good time is another persons boooooooring. Some people know exactly what they want, while others want to be surprised. That's why NO WORRIES HAWAII, a vacation planning guide for all the Islands, has a simple yet ingeneous self-test that makes sure you pick the right island, stay where you will be happiest, and find the stuff that pleases.

The self-test divides the attractions up into 36 categories: beaches, snorkeling, hiking, viewing wildlife, experiencing nightlife, museums, golf, family picnics—and a lot more. For each category, readers are asked whether they "gotta have it" on their vacation, or whether "it would be nice," or they really don't care. The answers are keyed to several hundred of Hawaii's specific locations, which in turn tell the reader which island is best. NO WORRIES HAWAII also has money-saving tips on booking a vacation, as well a ways to save on expenses in Hawaii without skimping on good times. Safety tips and visiting strategies are also included.

NO WORRIES HAWAII works for first time visitors who are a bit overwhelmed by decisions, and also for returnees who know what they like, but want to do something different.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hawaii Big Island: Creation in Real Time

It's not hard to figure out where the fresh lava has closed the road in Kalapana. White arrows lead over the smooth ('pahoehoe') sections of oily-black crust. But the going gets tricky when looking for where the red-hot lava is surfacing on any given day. Many people bring flashlights and head out at night in search of the glowing rivers of lava.

Several hundred homes have been torched and buried since the Pu'u O'o flows began more than two decades ago, but lady luck smiles on some buildings, leaving them marooned in a sea of black rock.

A few miles from the current hot spot is Kalapana Bay, which was filled with lava, but is now showing new growth. Some palms were planted by locals, speeding up the natural process, but Mother Nature is also doing the job on her own, as ohia trees and ferns are sprouting toward the sun. New land and life is appearing at ocean's edge.

Wave action is pulverizing lava, mixing it with coral and gradually mixing with new organic materials to make soil. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has details on where to go to see today's Eden--as well as safety tips and advice.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Maui's Makena State Park: A Tail of Two Beaches

Though throngs of tourists and locals fill several huge lots at Makena State Park, the beaches retain a wide-open and wild vibe, with fine sand, foamy waves and a backshore that rests below the lower green slopes of Haleakala. Most people head to Big Beach, nearly a mile long. A shore break invites skim boarders, while snorkelers flipper around the point on the north side. The sunsets are fab, with a view of Kaho'olawe (island) resting on the horizon.

Little Beach is, yes, much smaller. It's also magnet for people hankering to expose bare bottoms to the Hawaiian sunshine. Though nudity is unlawful of all beaches in the Islands, you'd never know it after making the steep walk over the point at the north end of Big Beach to this sister cove. Spinner dolphin, perhaps into people watching, are known to circle around offshore. Separating the two beaches is Pu'u Olai, a historic volcanic cone that gives you a view of the coastal spectacle from about 350 feet.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Somewhere, Over on Maui

It's still the USA, but another world awaits in the Land of Maui. .

Then grab your Maui Trailblazer and follow the red-cinder road.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Twin Falls Botanical Preserve: Choice Tropical Fruit on Maui

Don't stop at Twin Falls Botanical Preserve, at the beginning of the Hana Highway, if you plan on making the daytrip to the Pools of Oheo. Better to plan on spending half a day here exploring eight waterfalls with pools, connected by trails through wild botanical gardens. Be forewarned: Weekends can be a zoo, ecpecially during peak tourist times. People swing from ropes and jump from cilffs of varying heights. Some of it is pretty hairy, so newcomers should not get too zany. The popular stop is at what was formerly the Twin Falls Fruit Stand. At the very least pull in and bag some apple bannans, papaya, and avos. And if they are still taking donations, you might want to toss them a few bucks. There aren't many private lands that are as visitor friendly in Hawaii. Maui Trailblazer has more details on page 119.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The easy way to Big Island's blue lagoon

At the north end of 2-mile-wide Kihilo Bay, Blue Lagoon is a luminescent streak of turquoise that is difficult to resist. The best way to get there via the signed Kihilo-Huehue trail is on page 65 of the Kauai Trailblazer guidebook. Once reaching the water most people wade the channel to the spit on the other side. You'll pass sprawling dollops of lava and brilliant blue inlets, sunbathing salt-encrusted large turtles and others gliding through the water.

The lagoon was part of a massive fishpond built by Kamehameha the Great in 1810, which was considered an engineering marvel by early Western visitors. Walls 8-feet high and 20-feet wide formed a deep-sea fishpond that was nearly two miles around. An 1859 Mauna Loa eruption, which created Lae Hou Point that you can see to the north, destroyed much of the pond.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pokai Beach Park: Hawaiian Homeland

Pokai Beach Park has the safest swimming on the West Side of Oahu. Weekends bring a flood of locals with lots of huli huli chicken on the grill. In the late afternoons on weekdays, the bay is the training ground for outrigger canoe teams. The park was named for Pokai, a navigator among the first Tahitian voyagers who arrived as early as 200 AD. Full directions to the neighboring Kuilioloa Heiau are in the new 2013 Oahu Trailblazer.