Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's not a dream, it's Haena Beach, Kauai


With the jade fingers of Makana reaching to the sky and white hot sand leading to the warm aquamarine waters, Haena Beach is dreamlike. If only dreams were that good! Haena is the site of Tunnels snorkeling beach, one of Hawaii's best coral reefs, and just down the road at Makana is Limahuli National Tropical Garden, an opportunity to take a stroll through "earth's Eden." For the more adventurous, just two miles away from the garden is the end of the highway and the beginning of the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile trek along the island's famous seacliffs-the Napali coast.

On the other hand, if you hit the right day at Haena, the smart thing to do may be to chill out and soak it all in.

The alluring beauty of Kauai's north shore, as depicted in the 1950s movie South Paciic, is what helped create the post-WWII tourist boom in the islands. In the movie, Makana is called "Bali Hai," a name that stuck.

Crowds can appear along this normally sleepy coast when the weather is optimal. For parking and other tips on finding seclusion, check out Kauai Trailblazer, pages 29-34.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hawaii's Five Top Temples: history in the here and now


Although Hawaii has many fine museums and cultural centers, much of the story of the Ancient Polynesions is told in the wilds, where it took place. Some sites are national, state, or county parks, but others lie unsigned in the hinterlands of the islands.

Among the hundreds of lava-stone temples, called heiaus (HEY-ows), are the "five best," listed below (not listed in any particular order). When constructed, the heiaus had elaborate wooden structures, made of poles fixed together by leaf-twine, frond roofs, and floors made soft by woven mat layerings. The structures withstood hurricane force winds and torrential downpours. Heaius served various purposes, included traditional houses of worship, but also as shrines to everyday pursuits, such as fishing, navigation, and even surfing.

Note: It goes without saying, but if visiting an ancient site on Hawaii, take care not to disturb anything. Also remember that to Hawaiians, these are not historic sites, but still-living edifices to the Hawaiian way of life.

1. Kauluolaka Heiau, Kauai. Located on the north shore below the beginning of the Kalalau Trail, this hula platform is revered as a birthplace of the native dance.

2. Kaneaki Heiau, Oahu (pictured). Makaha Valley on the island's Wainae Coast is where King Kamehameha's forces gathered to prepare for what was an unsuccessful final attempt to invade Hawaii (a hurricane did them in at sea). The temple, on private land, may be visited for free, but only at certain times.

3. Pi'ilanihale Heiau, Maui. Rising like an Aztec temple from the jungle, this temple is on the grounds of a national tropical botanical garden near Hana.

4. Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Park, Big Island. Artisans are normally on hand lending more authenticity to this preserved place of refuge with numerous structures. A trail leads to another former coastal village.

5. Mo'okini Heiau, Big Island. King Kamehameha was born at this windswept monument on the north shore that has a big view of Maui. The future king was spirited away as an infant to avoid harm from his enemies.

If visiting ancient sites is chief among your reasons for visiting Hawaii, then the Big Island is the place to be. No Worries Hawaii, a planning guide, has lists of the top five, and top 20, best places for 36 different categories, such as surfing, wild beaches, hiking, and ... everything. (NWH has a self-test that helps you select which island is best for you and your travel mates.)

Trailblazer guides for each island give details on all ancient sites listed, as well as tons of more stuff.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kiteboarding Hawaii: Find a Ringside Seat



It was only a matter of time. Surfing has been around for centuries, a sport of Hawaiian Royalty, including the big guy himself, King Kamehameha I. Windsurfing—with a mast and sail fastened to a surfboard—is of more recent lineage, having begun a few decades ago in Maui and then spreading to the seven seas. Kiteboarding? It still looks like some machination of the future.

These dudes harness into a sail (that is calculated to body weight so as not to simply jerk them into the wild blue yonder) and head out over the waves, lofted skyway and making pendulum sweeps over the breaking crests. If headed to Hawaii, you gotta check it out:

1. On Kauai, the best view spot is Fuji Beach in Kapa'a, where a near shore reef allows for a pretty mellow take off. (The photo is from Haena Point on the north shore, a less frequent kiteboarding venue. Wave action and complicated reefs make for treacherous current.)

2. Mokulei Beach on Oahu's North Shore (west of Haleiwa and the famous surfing breaks) is the hot spot for kiteboarders. A narrow strip of sand with an onshore break makes entry tricky, so make sure to stay well back and give these guys room.

3. Maui, no suprise, is the best place to see kiteboarders in the Islands. The center of it all is Kanaha Beach Park, which is tucked away not far from the airport on Kahalui Bay. Farther down the shore at this same beach park is also a prime venue for windsurfers. Kiteboarders, ever seeking new stuff like their surfing compartriots, also have taken to tiny Waiehu Beach Park, on the other side of the bay north of Kahalui.

4. On the Big Island, kiteboarders capture the fierce winds at Kapalaoa Beach, just south of Anaeho'omalu Bay (A-Bay), which is near the Hilton Waikoloa.

Trailblazer guides have further details on where to watch kiteboarders, as well as surfers and windsurfers on all the islands.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Get small in Big Island's Kalopa State Park



With 600 lush acres, trails for both strolling and hiking, and well-kept cabins for rent, Kalopa Native Forest Reserve State Park is high on the list—if not at the top—of Hawaii's mountain parks. It's easy to miss, located almost three miles from the highway along the north end of the Big Island's Hamakua Coast (the northeast). Most tourists at this locale are making a beeline for Waipo Valley. Bring your outerwear. Kaplopa is set at 2,000 feet in elevation and receives enough rain to keep the forest green and growing. A huge lawn with picnic tables and exotic gardens surround the cabins (which are available for rent), so the park works as a lunch break followed by a family stroll. Adjacent to the cabins is a larger network of trails in the forest reserve, where colorful birds zip through a towering canopy of non-native trees like blue gums, as well as the natives, such as koa, ohia, and the loulou palm (Hawaii's only fronded native). Lava gulches, about 300 feet deep, add geologic interest and tell of the presence of Mauna Loa, located another 12,000 feet uphill from Kalopa. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has hike descriptions and information about renting the cabins.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Slip sliding away on Maui's Haleakala


With a trailhead at 10,000 feet, hikers may feel gleefully airborne when descending on the Sliding Sands Trail into the vast eroded valley pocked with volcanic cones on Haleakala volcano. A network of colorful paths interconnect several rustic cabins and geologic wonders, like "the bottomless pit." Many hikes wind up with double-digit round-trip miles and nearly a half-mile in elevation loss. The Halemau'u Trail begins at a slightly lower elevation on the other side of the valley, but also makes a big drop.

A word of advice: On the way down remember that you have to come back out. High altitude and temps that can range from scorching to freezing in one afternoon can make the chore more difficult. You can get well into Haleakala on a shorter day hike without turning it into an ordeal. Check with rangers about renting a cabin and staying overnight on the longer hikes; if you haven't planned ahead, you may get lucky and nab a cancelation. Maui Trailblazer, pages 156 to 160, details a number of hikes in Haleakala National Park.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hawaii Snorkeling SafetyTips



Sadly, swimmers die about monthly in the near-shore waters of Hawaii, almost all in situations that are totally avoidable. This is not the sort of fact that is up front in slick travel brochures and magazine articles. Every beach can be unsafe for swimming on a given day.

Okay, good news: Follow a few rules and the aquamarine waters of paradise pose no threat to you or your family.

1. Big waves mean dangerous conditions. All that incoming white water needs to go back out, and it does so in swift channels called rip currents. Rip currents often run paralell to the shoreline, and then escape in blue channels through openings in the reef, or through flat, riffling between breakers. You can see rip currents from the shore, mostly easily from an elevated viewing spot. When waves are high, conditions are dangerous. The mantra is: If in doubt, don't go out.

2. Not all wave action means treacherous rip currents. Throw a stick in the water to see where it floats. When you are in the water, check to see which way you are drifting. Swim against the current during the first part of the swim, so you will swim with it coming back.

3. If caught in a rip current, stay calm. This can be difficult, but many swimmers exhaust themselves and drown while trying to combat an overpowering current. Rip currents are near-shore events that release you immediately once beyond the wave action.

4. Wear a mask and fins to maximize visibilty and swimming power.

5. Swim at beaches with lifeguards (called watermen in Hawaii; they are among the world's best).

Watch the surf for many minutes before deciding how close is safe. Rogue waves come infrequently, but they do arrive. When walking the shore, keep an eye on the waves. You can outrun waves easily—if you see them. Being swept away at the shore is the most common way people drown in Hawaii.

All Trailblazer guides come with all sorts of outdoor-adventure safety tips, as well as the particular safety concerns about a given trail or beach. They are available on Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Kauai's tucked away Anahola Beach

From the pages of the Kauai Trailblazer adventure guidebook, trailhead 24:
"ANAHOLA BEACH PARK
Hike, Snorkel, Surf

What’s Best: Stop in for a swim on the locals’ side of the bay, taking in views of the Anahola Mountains in afternoon sun. Parking: Take Hwy. 56 past Kealia. Turn makai on Anahola Rd., past mm13. You’ll see a right-turn lane at a guardrail and a right-arrow sign. Drive .75-mi. to white-rock sign and palms noting the beach park. Veer left, and continue to the end of road.

Hike: Anahola Beach Park to: Anahola Stream (1.25 mi.) or Pahakuloa Point (2.5-mi., 225 ft.)

Anahola Beach Park is the home beach for the Hawaiian community of Anahola. To Anahola Stream, go left on the beach, with its beautiful views of the Anahola Mountains, seen through a healthy grove of coco palms. You’ll pass the camping area long before reaching the wide mouth of the stream.

For Pahkuloa Point, take the dirt road just beyond beach parking, past picnic tables through ironwoods. On a gradual rise amid trees, the road rounds Kahala Point and then breaks open to grassy slopes. Avoid spur roads left and, about .5-mile from the trailhead, and you will reach rock-and-sand Lae Lipoa Beach, which you can walk instead of the road. At the end of this beach, follow the road as it ascends inland, passes another small rocky beach, and reaches the point. From here, you’ll see across a cliffy cove to where fishermen can drive in from Kealia.

Snorkel: The waters off Anahola Beach Park are shallow and the water clarity is normally above average. But you’ll have decent snorkeling in this relatively safe swimming area. The beach has sandy entry points and a good swimming lane that extends toward the river. Be Aware: Under high surf conditions, currents can be a problem.

Surf: The reefy right-break off Kahala Point toward the beach park is sometimes called Unreals. The real draw here, for body boarders mainly, is Pillars, about halfway between the beach park and the stream. To drive there coming from the highway, turn left on Poha Road and go .25-mile to the beach. You’ll see the abandoned pillars of a pineapple pier offshore. Be Aware: Pillars can have a nasty break onto a shallow sand bar." Kauai Trailblazer can also be ordered on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com