Friday, March 29, 2013

‘Iole Foundation: ‘Kamehameha’s Land’ keeps on giving

A walk around the lush 2,400 acres of the ‘Iole stream valley on the north Kohala coast on the Big Island—apart from being a fantastic way to spend a day—is also a stroll that connects centuries of Hawaiian history. In the offing are miles of trails through tropical gardenscapes and an organic macadamia-nut orchard; a tour of a historic homestead, church, and school (the second-oldest buildings on the island); and an oh-wow zipline that is arguably the best in the state. All the activities are managed the by nonprofit 'Iole ("ee-oh-lay") Foundation. For a summary, check out ‘Iole Hawaii. All visitors need to check in at the office-visitors center and sign-up for a free permit to explore grounds.

During the times of Kamehameha the Great (born a few miles from here in 1758), ‘Iole was the horn ‘o plenty for the king’s armies and retinue, supplying taro, bananas, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, and other Polynesian staples. Called an ahupua’a (“a-hoo-poo-ah-ah”), this traditional division of land had become overgrown over the decades, but this year a group of young men cleared the stream and planted taro and other crops in the manner of their Hawaiian ancestors. The group (‘Ōhua O Nā Kia‘i No Nā Keiki O Ka Āina; The Protectors for the Children of the Land) teaches the traditions to school children, who are a part of another community group, Ocean Warriors, formed by Elizabeth (Buffy) Pickett.

Close to the new garden terraces, a traditional canoe hale ("hah-lay," an A-frame) has been constructed, using time-honored methods employed by a group of Hawaiian men who have built similar structures throughout the islands.

Set 1,500 feet above the coastline, the land in 1841 became the homestead for Protestant Congregationalist missionary Elias Bond and his wife Ellen Mariner Howell. “Father and Mother” Bond dedicated Kalahikiola Church in 1855 (faithfully restored in 2010 after damages caused by an earthquake in 2006) and Kohala Girls School in 1874 (which is being restored to be turned into a conference center). Guided walking tours, available by reservation, really do bring history to life.

Ziplines have sprung up all over Hawaii, but few if any can match the startling scenery of this one operated by Big Island Eco Adventures, which crosses the jungled stream gulch in breathtaking lifts that drop about 1,000 feet overall. The beginning of the adventure is a 200-foot-long suspension bridge that crosses a waterfall. What also makes this ride the best, however, are the safety features and skilled guides who take all the work and worry out of the experience for participants. Another unique feature are the interpretive displays at each station that feature the artwork of John D. Dawson and insightful monographs on local culture and natural history written by Kerry Balaam.

Takeaway: ‘Iole is a model of aloha and community synergy. The grounds (on the way to Pololu Valley past Hawi) are a must-stop for anyone who loves Hawaii.

Open daily 8:00am – 4:00pm. 53-496 ‘Iole Road, Kapa’au, HI 96755

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Airfare to Hawaii: how to save

Based on 2012 fare records, the best time to buy a ticket (non-holiday) is 49 days prior to your departure for Hawaii. Buying a ticket 200 days ahead is as costly as last minute fares. Christmas, Thanksgiving and high season (winter) expect to pay more so start shopping early. Want to know which day to buy your ticket: Tuesday afternoon since domestic sales launch late Monday and are then matched by rivals. We like for their comparison and trend data and Hawaiian Airlines aloha spirit, always a happy ride across the Pacific. For more tips on packing and getting ready for your Hawaii trip, read the No Worries Hawaii planning guide.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hawaii Hotels: buying luxury on sale

Never pay full price for fabulous. Money saving tips when booking an accommodation in Hawaii:
1. Travel during non-peak seasons, which are Fall and Spring (after Spring break).
2. Book 6 to 8 months in advance---or book at the last minute. Resorts don't want to see rooms go vacant.
3. Get a room with a kitchenette and eat fewer meals in restaurants. Apply the money you save to your room.
4. Get a room with a garden or mountain view, rather than ocean (for extreme skimpers only).
5. If you have friends or relatives you can stand, book a place together. Half the cost of a larger unit will be far cheaper than all the cost of a smaller.
6. The longer you stay, the less you pay. For this to work, you need to stay three weeks or longer.
7. Once you make a booking, don't confirm for a day or so, long enough to see if changing the dates a day or two either way will save money on airline reservations.
8. Without being rude, ask if you are getting the lowest rate ("is this the best you can do?"), or if there are any lower rates available - hotel/corporate club rewards points, bankcard/AmEx/airline rewards, etc. Compare rates offered on and let them know you found a lower rate. Can they beat or match it?

This isn't really a money-saving tip, but it is always a good idea to call the resort that you plan to visit beforehand to check out the "aloha factor" over the phone. If you get a harried customer service rep on the Mainland or India, you may not be in for the best experience in Hawaii. On the other hand, talking to a person in Hawaii will let you know much about the warm welcome you will receive as a guest. Normally, desk people in Hawaii are very friendly and are happy to answer questions. If you get a room in Hawaii that is dissappointing to you, feel free to politely inform the desk. They will take care of you in almost all cases. For more island insider info, read the No Worries Hawaii planning guide.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Do you love me Pipeline Surfergirl?

The Banzai Pipeline (Pipeline, or just plain Pipe) is a long barrel breaking on a shallow near-shore reef at Ehukai Beach Park on the North Shore of Oahu. An inspiration for Surfer-Joe songs and movies of the 1960s, the picture-perfect curl is on the circuit among the big-boy breaks of the world professional surfing tours.

In 2006, the wahines arrived, holding the first ever professional event on the women's tour at Pipeline—and they've been rolling with the wave ever since. Pipe breaks both left and right (the back door) and produces those triumphant moments when surfers, hidden in the barrel for a moment, spit out in the spray and slice toward shore. Or not. The curl routinely claims even the best and is a notorious board-breaker.

The Pipeline Women's Pro 2013 is hitting again now through March 22. The event will feature an Open division, as well as a Bodyboard, Longboard, Junior Pro Women and Men categories. Some surfers will be competing in all divisions and the best athlete wins the gold ring. Defending champion Bianca Valiente will try to reconquer the title.

For all the action on North Shore Oahu, consult your Oahu Trailblazer guidebook.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

All in the Family for "Dolphin Dad" at Hilton Waikoloa Resort

Cole Figeuria, a trainer at Dolphin Quest with a degree in psychology, didn't realize he'd be making waves when Keo gave birth to a new calf, Lehua, last September right in front of him. Lehua's birth went on YouTube, which went viral, and then did a cannonball when it aired on the edgy TV comedy, Tosh.0. (Dophin Quest globally has had nearly 30 dolphin born in their care, and 3 alone last year at Dolphin Quest Hawaii.)

Life is pretty much back to "normal," for Cole and fellow staff, including Cole's wife Alex, and a host of other dedicated young people with degrees in marine biology and other disciplines. Of course a normal day at Dolphin Quest is fantasy island for most people. Set amid the Disneyesque grounds, the swimming mammals' home is a palmy ocean pool, where visitors can sit on a shaded lawn to watch the splash-filled encounters and also look in on day-to-day family stuff, like feeding time. Several times each day, human families and kids get in the pool with their personal trainer and have face time with dolphins---an encounter usually lasting 45 minutes, but participants report memories that last a lifetime and a new connection with the natural world.

Dolphin Quest also has a facility at the Kahala Resort on Oahu, and in Bermuda. The dolphins don't slap beach balls around or do “tricks”, but rather exhibit interactive behaviors that showcase their natural abilities. DQ is known for participating in a variety of research projects that range from newborn dolphin development and growth, sample collection, and funding research grants for universities and affiliated organizations involving marine mammals in the wild.

Cole is currently training one of the older females (Iwa, 42) who sporadically shows signs of vision loss. As a preventative measure, he is teaching a new protocol that would help staff to maintain her high level of health care if she were to lose her vision. The new program involves Iwa responding exclusively to touch commands on her body so that she will be able to communicate and work with the trainer. The pink cup on Cole's shoulder is used to temporarily block vision in Iwa's good eye to simulate blindness and condition her to respond to the new tactile stimuli.

It's tempting to adopt a "Free Willy" attitude and lament that DQ's mammals are not frolicking in the open sea. Cole and others completed an expansion to their saltwater pools. But when they opened the gate, none of the mammals wanted to go through, and days of reinforced trials were needed to get a few to move to the new world. The casual observer might be entertained by the big "fish" swimming with people, but a closer look reveals a lot of love among fellow mammals going on below the surface.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mauna Loa: Take a drive up to Mars!

Many visitors head up Saddle Road in the middle of the Big Island of Hawaii and then farther still to see the celestial observatories atop Mauna Kea; a four-wheel drive is highly recommended. But sitting unnoticed across the Saddle is the 17-mile drive to Mauna Loa, the world's second highest peak (measured from its underwater base, it is 56,000 feet tall, only about 100 feet shorter than Mauna Kea). The newly paved one-lane road swerves and undulates through an apocalyptic battlefield of a half-dozen different eruptions that have take place during the last 150 years: smooth (pahoehoe) lava, jagged piles of a'a lava, some of it dusty with age and some acres still oily black and fresh; and with a range of colors including grey, chalk, chocolate cake, and dark brick red.

Tip: The first quarter mile of the road was left unpaved and is full of potholes, but the remainder is smooth.

At the long curved top of Mauna Loa are the assemblage of weather stations and astrophysical monitoring devices that keep a watch on global climate change, among other events.

The paved road to these structures is now gated, but you can arrange for a tour by calling 808-933-6965. Parking at the top is also for the trail that leads to the peak: 6 miles, one way, with a gain of 2,500 feet. Not bad, but altitude is an issue, since you begin at over 11,000 feet. The mountain's slopes, created by zillions of tons of lava piling up are not steep, averaging about a 12 percent grade. This big dome effect makes Mauna Loa easily the world's most massive peak, with 100 times more cubic feet than Mainland volcanoes like Rainier and St. Helen's (even before it blew its cork). Complete driving directions can be found to Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea peaks in your Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer guide.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Big Island Surfing: Pohoiki

The Big Island isn't known for surfing, but when an east swell rolls into Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna, the waves get covered with shortboards. The break is mostly left, off the breakwater that creates a boat ramp into little Pohoiki Bay. The concrete-and-rip-rap structure is also the spot to sunbathe an spectate. You get a view right down the barrels.

The beach park is also known for a small natural warm pool that lies at the backshore in the middle of the bay. Surfers also like the reefy break called Bowls, which is off the park's picnic tables. The scene really amps up on weekends at Isaac Hale (HA-lay), when teens and families come down from all over Puna (the east quadrant of the Big Island) and Hilo. About a mile away is Ahalanui Pond, a county park with a huge man-enhanced seaside pool that features water geothermally heated to 90-degrees-plus.

BTW: Pohoiki Boat ramp is where people leave for lava-viewing boat tours these days, since the viewing site shifted a couple years back from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, to Kalapana Bay in Puna. You can also walk to the lava flows; Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has details.