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.