Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hawaii Hotels: free advice from those in the know

A few tips to save money on high-end accommodations:

1. Book well in advance—or at the last minute.

2. Stay as long as you can. You can get 25 to 50 percent discounts on condos if you stay a month or more.

3. Opt for garden view, instead of beachfront. You'll still hear the ocean, and many garden rooms will have flowers and birdsong out the window.

4. If you have friends or relatives you can stand, go in together on a larger condo. Half of a 2 bedroom will be much less than a 1 bedroom.

5. Don't be afraid to negotiate price and ask about special rates.

6. You can find condos through VRBO, TripAdvisor, Home Away, etc., that are close to luxury resorts, but less expensive. Remember: You can always tour the big resorts, even though you are not a guest (though they frown on outsiders using pool facilities). All beaches are public.

7. Get a place with a kitchen and save money on restaurants, which you can spend on a better room.

The Grand Hyatt near Poipu Beach on the south side of Kauai offers several fine dining choices, including a romantic dinner beside a lagoon.

If you're spending for high-end luxury, and bringing kids, make sure to check out the resort's pool set up. Many of the top hotels have water-park-like pools. 

The Grand Wailea on Maui has a sprawling pool and gardens, with sculptures and fountains. Many newer hotels, however, don't spend the dough on grounds.  Some on the north end of Maui, at the backshore of resorts on South Kohala, and at Kapakai Bay on Kauai are like luxury barracks—nicely appointed rooms, but no grounds or common areas. Most resorts on Waikiki are high-rises, with not much in the way of grounds (exceptions include the Hyatt and the venerable Royal Hawaiian, a.k.a., the Pink Lady).

The Grand Hyatt's pool is Disney-esque, and sits beside a large manmade saltwater lagoon.

More ideas to match your budget to your hotel in the No Worries Hawaii guidebook. Overflowing with traveler tips for each Hawaiian island. Take it with you on your Kindle.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Waianae: The most scenic Hawaii coast that few tourist see.

Not one in a thousand among the visitors to Oahu get out to see one of the most beautiful, wild coastlines in all of Hawaii. Steep bluffs of the Wainae Mountains give way to lush Valleys and long sandy beaches. To to get here, visitors must drive through the disenfranchised towns of Nanakuli, Wainae, and Makaha, which are a little rough around the edges even for locals from elsewhere on the island.

But the truth is, the West Side has a heart of gold. Just hang out at Makaha surfing beach on the weekends. And beyond Makaha begins an undeveloped coast (including this beach where Michner's Hawaii was filmed) and ending at long Yokohama Beach. At Yokohama, the road ends and a rugged trail (once the bed of a narrow-gauge railroad) continues 2.25 miles to low-slung Kaena Point, the northwest tip of the island. Laysan albatrosses and other seabirds love it here.

To check out the West Side, first take a look at Oahu Trailblazer, pages 200 to 213. You really haven't seen Hawaii until you've seen this place.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Getting High in Hanalei

The Okolaheo Trail rises about 1,400 feet over two-plus miles from the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. The trailhead is near the Hanalei River,  about two miles from the town. 

Leave the GPS in the car—only one route is humanly possible—but bring along some hiking poles, since the rooty-and-muddy ascent presents many opportunities to get the seat of your shorts dirty.

Along the way to the summit are a few level spots with views of Hanalei Bay. The summit itself is surrounded by ti plants, but you do get 360-degree views of the river valley and ocean. Okolaheo is called 'The Moonshine Trail' since a rustic liquor was made from the ti plants in the old days. 

Complete directions in your handy Kauai Trailblazer guidebook.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Seven (or Eight) Stages of Aloha

From the pages of the "No Worries Hawaii" guidebook:

People really do say “aloha” in everyday speech in Hawaii. Aloha means good-bye, hello, compassion, love—all  that. The word derives from the Hawaiian words “alo,” meaning front or face, and “ha” meaning the essence or the breath of life. As in ancient times, some Hawaiians today will touch foreheads saying, “alo,” and then breathe out saying “ha,” thus exchanging life’s breath. Don’t worry, this isn’t something expected of you at the car rental counter. But you may well feel the aloha by the end of your stay in Hawaii, so don’t be afraid to say it. Aloha is Hawaii’s gift to the world.

Months and perhaps years of expectation have just endured the daylong whirlwind-and-doldrums of airports, baggage claims, and lines. Your underwear is ill-fitting and you are dehydrated. You have arrived. Small quirks in your room’s appointments loom as major setbacks. Have a cocktail immediately and put your bare feet in the warm Pacific. 

The day rises and you’re in Hawaii. Equip your day pack and get the car organized. Next come trips to the stores to stock up on all the stuff and beach gear. This is a preparation day, as your mind catches up to your body. Find a quiet place for afternoon and sunset. Repeat the end of Stage One.
Stage Three:  EXPERIENCE
Now come the Oh Wows. A half-day on the trail or sightseeing, and a half-day at the beach. Your head fills with new images of the islands. You’re looking forward now, and see no end. Stages One and Two are jettisoned.

Stage Four:  IMMERSION
Repeat Stage Three. Different sides of the island, the gardens, waterfalls, reefs and beaches, the museums, restaurants, and historical sites. You keep taking them in. It’s a bit overwhelming. Was that just yesterday?
Stage Five:  REACTION
After days of immersion, you begin to shed your skin. Your body has cycled through, literally taking in the molecules of Hawaii with each breath and swallow and footstep. You have nicks, bites, and sunburn. This bodily reaction naturally follows immersion.

Somewhere, it happens. You’re not thinking about it. At this moment you feel all the forces of nature working dynamically, harmoniously, infinitely. It’s always this way, but you have just noticed. You hear the rustle above and look up to see light on the banana leaves. You always knew it would be like this, but you could not have anticipated the feeling. Stage Six, in some cases, will be accompanied by Going Native, i.e., tying a sarong around your head and having a gin fizz with breakfast because why not? Or taking a dip in the moonlight for the same reason. 
You get it. You have come to know these remarkable people, the Hawaiians, and how they lived for centuries with respect for the aina, the land, and with a sense of sharing for all eternity. You know this is a Pollyannaish historical view, but it seems now like a beacon for the future, for your future. This realization of aloha, in some cases, will be followed by the corollary, Let’s Buy Real Estate. 

As any Hollywood screenwriter will tell you, the trick to creating high drama is to build a “ticking clock” into the plot. In many cases this is a literal clock, a time bomb, but more often it’s the upcoming date of the big game, the waning days before the disease is fatal, the deadline set by a mobster, the day that the parents get home, and so on. On the movie of your vacation, the ticking clock that creates high drama is the hour of your departure. The feeling of aloha—let’s get away and live here forever, what’s life for anyway? —is heightened by the fact that you have to leave.

Before you sell the ranch and move, consider renting for a while. The eighth stage of aloha, with no time limit to create dramatic tension, is wide-ranging and can include island fever, personal fulfillment, dread of mosquitoes, mildew and termites,  and longing for the mainland. Hawaii has seen ‘em all. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living the wild life at Kekaha Kai State Park on the Big Island

If flying into Kona, check out the aquamarine sandy coves studded by palms that are not far north of the airport. That's Kekaha Kai (formerly 'Kona') State Park, some 1,600 acres of oasis enclosed by vast lava fields—and it should be at the top of your list of wild tropical beaches to visit.

The 1.5 mile drive into the park is over a hellishly rutted rocky road, lots of slow-speed swerving required, but it's not half as bad as it used to be. The beach park nearest the parking has picnic tables and rest rooms, but sees the fewest visitors among the three beaches nearby. A quarter-mile trail from the parking area leads to Mahaiula Bay, a palm-fringed cresent with good snorkeling and decent surfing off the north point of the bay.

From Mahaiula, a string-straight path with stepping stones leads to the state park's showpiece, Makalawena Beach. A long sand dune backs a half-mile run of sand, with a picture-perfect kids' cove at the far end. Halfway along Makalawena is Makalawai Oasis, a brackish pond tucked just over the dune. If you're into contemplating the cosmos, this is the spot.

Kekaha Kai is an all-day affair. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the deets on pages 72 to 75, as well as all the low-down on other hard-to-find surprises on the South Kohala Coast.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Keanae Arboretum: A family tree-hug on Maui's Hana Highway.

Halfway to Hana and right on the sleepy highway, the Keanae Arboretum is the perfect spot for everyone to pile out of the car and commune with trees from all over the planet. A wide, easy-going path will suit anyone from toddlers to grandma.

A few flowers, like red ginger and heliconia mixed in with the leafy giants. A stream flows alongside the exotic forest, which was planted in 1971.

A native Hawaiian and Polynesian garden begins where the wide path ends, with papayas, bananas, and taro planted in the traditional way. After this garden, adventure trekkers can strap on the mud shoes and head into the forests—though make sure you keep the way out in the back of your mind as you venture in.

Keanae Village is just around the bend from the arboretum, as is the village of Wailua, which features two tiny historical churches and taro fields encircled by towering cliffs.

Visitors to Maui may want to do the Hana Highway in two days, seeing the sights as far as Keanae on one day, and then pushing to Hana and beyond on another. Maui Trailblazer has a detailed description of the route on pages 119 to 137. Check it out before you go, since much of the stuff is hard to spot.

View Ke'anae Arboretum in a larger map

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Koke’e Museum: The beating heart of Kauai's high country

Koke'e (ko-kay-ay) Museum is quietly one of the top attractions in Hawaii. It's also the take-off point for dozens of woodland hikes, forays into Waimea Canyon (the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific'), and airborne treks onto the lesser known ridges of Kauai's notorious Napali Coast.

Inside are natural history displays, cultural artifacts, and several exhibits—including an eye-popping 
presentation of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Iniki's 227 mph winds in 1992. Admission and advice are free, but a donation will be appreciated. Next door, you can grab a lunch or beverage at the rustic Koke'e Lodge.

The museum offers inexpensive maps of the area, as well as a variety of more detailed publications (astute observers may notice Kauai Trailblazer). As you drive up to Koke'e State Park from west Kaua'i, Waimea Canyon drops off immediately to the right of the highway, while a dozen of the Napali ridges (including well-known Awa'awapuhi) fan out on the left like spokes on a wheel. Past the park, at the end of the road, is the breathtaking Pihea Overlook Trail that encircles the top of Kalalau Valley and—extreme value added—connects with the boardwalk into Alakai Swamp.

The museum is set in a large,  meadow at a cool few thousand feet above sea level. A large network of trails extend from the museum grounds into woodland forests that are a dream for birdwatchers and mountain bikers. 

In October, Koke'e hosts the Queen Emma Polynesian Festival, a hula performance. Queen Emma—after the death of her husband King Kamehameha IV and her son, Albert—would take her retinue into the woodlands and Alakai Swamp. The Queen was accompanied by hula dancers who performed rituals out of respect for life-giving plantlife. The annual October festival is unforgettable—worth planning a trip to Kauai to see.

The many dozens of hikes and bikes in the area are described in Kauai Trailblazer guidebook.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Some breathing room at Waikiki

You won't find a little grass shack on Waikiki Beach these days, but wide-open spaces, and even solitude, are a short walk away.

Queen's Surf and Sans Souci beaches are just to the south of the high rises and fashion shops.

Directly inland from these beaches is the sprawling greenspace of Kapiolani Park, 200 acres in the shadow of Diamond Head that in 1877 were bequeathed to the public by King Kalakaua in honor of his wife, Queen Kapiolani. Soccer games, frisbee, and community events are ongoing. The park is home to the Waikiki Aquarium, art-deco War Memorial Natatoium (swimming pool built in 1927), and Waikiki Zoo. Walk another twenty minutes from here to discover serenity at two little known beach parks, Makalei and Kaluahole. Lack of on-street parking keeps the crowds away.

If you really want to escape the hubbub, several sailing cruise companies invite you aboard for a short cruise. Touristy, yes, but the cruises are indeed a quick getaway that offer a view of Oahu from the ocean. For the full effect, try a sunset sail.

The Oahu Trailblazer guide includes walking tours and maps of Waikiki and Honolulu to help you get around.