Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why not Waianapanapa State Park, Maui?

After navigating the numerous one-lane bridges and cliff-hugging turns of the Hana Highway and then the reaching open green slopes, many visitors are hell bent on continuing to Hana Town. But a better idea is to hang a left on a short detour to Waianapanapa (why-nawpa-nawpa) State Park—among the best in the state, all factors considered. A centerpiece of the park is Black Sand Beach, which has the best snorkeling in this part of Maui, in spite of a near-constant shore break. (If waves are more than a foot or two, use caution, since high wave action creates rip current.) 

The Waianapanapa Caves are reachable via a short loop trail. Mossy caverns create excellent fresh water swimming pools. In the spring, the hatching of tiny shrimp turn the waters red, which, according to legend, occurs to symbolize the blood lost by Princess Popoalaea when her husband (not a good candidate for Dr. Phil) did her in after she was discovered here with her lover. 

A trail—part of the ancient King's Trail—leads north from Black Sand Beach past the ruins of heiaus and an ancient burial site.

South of the park, the trail skirts Waianapanapa's rustic cabins (for rent) along lava stacks that do battle with waves. The route continues several miles to Hana, passing the Ohala Heiau along the way.

Final thoughts: 

1. The campground is among the best in Hawaii. 

2. On the road into the park, keep your eyes peeled for honor fruit stands, which alone are a reason to take the side-trip from Hana Highway.

More good stuff to do along the route in your Maui Trailblazer guidebook.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hear the sound of one hand clapping in Hawaii

Even among the devout, the thought of going to a church or temple while on vacation in Hawaii may seem like a downer. Think again. The Islands are dotted with spritually inspired,  knock-your-socks-off beautiful places that in a few minutes will impart a long-lasting emotional lift. Religions from all over the globe have put edifices here, both little and large, in locations to suit any movie director. And tucked away everywhere (as in everywhere) are the remains of centuries-old Hawaiian heiaus (temples), both grandiose and decrepit, that were dedicated to the various aspects of the Polynesian way of life.

The Trailblazer guides include directions to many dozens of spiritual spots on each island. No Worries Hawaii, a vacation planning guide, provides a priorized summary of the best churches, holy places, and heiaus—as well as best mountain trails, surfing and snorkeling beaches, swank resorts, shopping, walk-around cool towns, and adventure treks.

Here are a few places to get your Zen on:


The 88 Holy Places of Kobo Daishi (above), now part of the Lawai International Center near Kalaheo, are miniature stone houses set on a steep hillside. Brought from Japan and emplaced about a century ago, the Buddhist-inspried shrines were swallowed up by greenery until 'rediscovered' and refurbished by this nonprofit group about a decade ago. At the end of the road on the north tip of the island, the Kauluolaka Hula Temple is the ancient birthplace of hula in Hawaii. On an unmarked trail, the temple consists of grassy platforms below cliffs just above the crashing waves at the Napali Coast. Since the wildly popular Kalalau Trail and Ke'e Beach are nearby, most visitors miss this wonder. Anyone who has driven through Hanalei will likely remember the green-painted Waioli Hui'ia Church, where a gifted choir plays to a packed house on Sundays.

But on any day, don't miss walking across the vast lawn to the grounds of the Waioli Mission House (above), whose buildings date from 1841 and are set next to taro fields and a 3,000-foot-high jagged ridge known as the 'birthplace of rainbows.'  Yow.


Similar to the peaks of north Kauai, the razorback Ko'olau Range hangs above the Valley of the Temples on Windward Oahu.

The valley features ornate mausoleums of some of Oahu's well-to-do families, but the centerpiece is the Byodo-In Temple (above). A large koi pond reflects the image of the temple, which is a replica of the 900-year-old original in Kyoto, Japan. Pay your respects to an 18-foot-tall Buddha of the Western Paradise, enjoy a serene cup of tea, and gong a huge bronze bell to rid your mind of temptations (can't hurt to try).

Set off busy Nu'uano Avenue in Honolulu, the Royal Mausoleum (above) is an unexpected sanctuary. Most all the Hawaiian ali'i (kings) are buried here, at the only place in the Islands where the Hawaiian flag flies unaccompanied by the Stars and Stripes. A coral-block chapel with an all-koa-wood interior has been presided over by the same family since the early 1800s.

You'll need to pack a sense of adventure to find the Kaneaki Heiau (above), which is up Makaha Valley on the rough-hewn west side. This 13th century restored temple beside a stream is only a ten-minute walk, but it's located within a gated community and only open on certain days—Oahu Trailblazer has the deets on visiting.


On the delightfully forlorn south coast, not far from the one-horse town of Kaupo, sits the charming Huialoha Church (above). Drive or walk down .25-mile, to grassy flats fringed by cocopalms,  just above wild Haleki'i Bay. The Big Island looms across a channel. Vandals recently did damage to the church, which dates from 1859, but locals have formed a nonprofit group that has brought it back to life in stunning fashion. On the opposite side of Maui, just off the Hana Highway, is Kaulanapeuo Church. Poetically sited on a clearing in the jungle, the church's thick walls rise to a tall steeple that has stood since 1853. Miles north on the windward coast, and centuries older, is Kukuipuka Heiau, which radiates vistas in all directions. Restored in recent years, this modest enclosure is a short walk up a hill very near the Waihe'e Ridge Trail. (BTW: You could spend a whole vacation checking out the quaint churches on Maui.)


Location, location, location. The Wood Valley Temple (below) rests in the verdant Kau Forest Reserve near Pahala, about 40 miles south of the barren expanses of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Dali Lama has visited this tranquil retreat, and you can too.

Farther north in Kona on the steep slopes of Honaunau, the well known Painted Church (below) has big views of Kealakekua Bay. Father John Berchman Velge adorned the Catholic Church's wooden walls with tropical-themed Christian murals in 1898.

The several-acre garden grounds feature breadfruit, Norfolk pines and flowering shrubs. Near Kawaihae about 50 miles north of Kona, the immense Pu'ukohola Heiau (below) will impart a sense of the majesty of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Ironically, the best look at this National Historic Site is not from park service trails, but from across a little cove at nearby Kawaihae.

At the heiau's dedication ceremony in 1791, Kamehameha the Great's rival cousin, Keoua, and his retinue were killed in a scuffle. Whether Big K planned the attack, or it transpired from unforeseen events, is open to historical interprepation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Maui's (sort-of) hidden (extremely) beautiful Po'olenalena

The southwest coast of Maui, called the Gold Coast in the old days, truly is a treasure trove of safe-and-scenic beaches. In the north end are the darling triplets of family beach parks, Kamaoles I, II, and III. These beaches connect via a shoreline trail that continues to the glamorous array of beaches along the Wailea Resorts, five or six sandy nooks with good snorkeling and backed by swanky resorts. A paved path connects them all, with a half-dozen or so public parking lots along the way.

On the south end of Wailea, the path ends at Polo Beach and the Fairmont Kea Lani. From there, most visitors go south on the main road, making a beeline for Makena State Beach, better known as Big Beach.  Don't do that. Stay on the coastal road and make your way to Po'olenalena (poo-ooh-leena-leena). New, modern beach homes have detracted from the country vibe, and even a sign has been erected. But still, this sweet beach sizzles with a local scene. If you walk to the right at the beach via a trail, you'll find Little Po'oleena Beach (pictured above), just over a low lava reef and not visible from the larger beach.

Po'olenalena has room to roam and shade along the backshore courtesy of stickery kiawe trees. You can beachcomb south and pick up routes that go all the way to Pu'u Olai which are the cinder cones at the north end of Makena. Maui Trailblazer has more details on how to find a spot to call your own on south Maui, even on busy weekends.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Big Island's Place of Refuge: Escaping into Prison

South of Kailua-Kona, and at the southern end of Kealakekua Bay is is a mouthful of syllables known as Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Park, a.k.a., Place of Refuge. Though this is the most spectacular, similar places can be found throughout the Islands, where miscreants, vanquished combatants, and anyone else on the bad side of the the Ali'i (royals) could flee to avoid punsihment. When you're on an island and justice is a swift club, people hustle to get into prison.

The national park has many remnants from ancient times including the Great Wall from the 1500s, which is 1,000 feet long, 10-feet high and seven-feet thick. These days, especially on weekends, you'll find Hawaiians practicing traditional arts, like canoe making and weaving.

Also on site is Hale O Keawe, where the bones of some two-dozen Ali'i were interred. Adjacent to the park on the south is an ancient village site and a trail that goes for miles, some of it part of a huge cobblestone ramp, part of an old road. On the north side of the park is Two-Step, which offers some of the best snorkeling in the Hawaii, if you don't mind crowds on idyllic weekends.

You can spend a couple days exploring all the cool stuff at Kealakekua. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the deets, pages 96 to 104.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Maui's beaches: from resort-world to wild in a few steps

In West Maui (actually the north part of the hour-glass) the sandy beaches are backed by condos and resorts, from Lahaina going north to Ka'anapali and Kapalua. Kapalua Beach (above) is known as "America's Best Beach," although the national magazine press that bestowed that title is a bit dated. In recent years, contruction cranes seemed to outnumber palm trees along the coast, and crowds can be a hassle. Still, Kapalua delivers the goods for snorkelers, and hikers can take an obscure trail both north and south along the shore.

Development ends north of Kapalua at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. The resort is set well above the coast (to preserve an ancient burial site that is surrounded by a golf course). A short path leads down to D. T. Flemming Beach Park, a locals' beach known mainly for body boarding. A trail from the park takes you out a low-lying point which features 'Dragon's Teeth'—a five-foot high formation with sharpened tufts of whitish trachyte.

The coast is totally wild north of Flemming, though sand beaches are scarce. The main attaction is Honolua Bay, with a marine preserve for snorkelers and a point-break for surfers that dishes out some of the best-riding waves in the Islands.

Surfers need to navigate a steep trail to get to the wave machine. Specators can relax at a cliff right above the action, one of the best places in Hawaii to watch surfers.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on how to find beach access in West Maui that is hidden among resorts and condos, and directions to find the wild attractions on the north coast of the island. It's available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com and select independent booksellers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kauai's Napali Coast: How to find the wilderness beyond the people-jam at the Kalalau Trail

The northwest coast of Kauai—which is itself the most northwesterly of the major Hawaiian Islands—is roadless and wild, where knuckle-sets of 2,000-foot-high cliff heads greet the pounding Pacific. At road's end past Hanalei is the Kalalau Trail, beginning its rugged, 11-mile journey to the Kalalau Valley, a pilgrimage for pig-hunters, adventure hikers, and erstwhile hippies. At peak times, nearly 500 people per day take a shot at the Kalalau, more visitors than at any state park in Hawaii other than Diamond Head. Parking can be a pain, and the first two miles of the trail can be a circus of wildly unprepared tourists.  

Many options exist for visitors wanting to find the unpeopled places of Napali.

Most of the acess to Napali (The Cliffs), is way around on the other side of the island, off the highway that climbs above Waimea Canyon. On this road, most visitors go gaga (as well they should) at the pink-and-green walled canyon to the interior—and few visitors are aware that a dozen or more state forest roads and trails take off from the ocean-side of the highway. These routes go out ridge tops, which are separated by valleys and end at cliffs with birds-eye views. 

You don't need a helicopter to get a look from the sky. Treks are from 6 to 10 miles, roundtrip, with an elevation drop of 1,200 to 1,700 feet on the way out. Mountain bikers can go nuts (though more popular trails, like the Awa'awapuhi and Pihea (which goes around the top of Kalalau Valley) are for feet only. 

Kauai Trailblazer has many tips on how to avoid hassles when visiting the popluar Kalalau Trail, including nearby options. You'll also find directions and descriptions of the many routes less traveled in the upper regions of the Napali Coast.  Final note: on the opposite side of the island from the Kalalau Trailhead, the cliffs end at Polihale State Beach—with Polihale Ridge towering above.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

An Oahu Fantasyland: The Seven Bridges of Moanalua Valley

Many 'secret' hikes in Hawaii are on the tourist radar, but not so for the enchanting (for real) saunter into Moanalua Valley, which begins at the back end of a neighborhood park in central Oahu not far from a freeway. A cobblestone road and decrepit bridges swerves through a wild tropical garden in the former estate of Samuel M. Damon—who was bequeathed the valley by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great granddaughter of Kamehameha I.

Though engulfed by greenery, the route is easy-walking, especially compared to some other valley hikes into the Ko'olau Range.

The road ends after a couple miles, becoming a trail used by pig hunters that eventually becomes ensnarled ed by flora and too steep to hike. BTW: On some weekends, hunters may be present, as indicated by signs at the park's trailhead (stay out). For access information, call Moanalua Gardens at 808-834-8612 (these gardens, several miles from the neighborhood park trailhead, are not among the island's most spectacular, albeit the home of the "Hitachi Tree," which was featured in a TV commerical in Japan and is visited by busloads of tourists. ).

Hawaiian habitation predated the Damon family's ownership by centuries, as evidenced by Pohaku Ka Luanne (Stone of the Old Woman). The 10-foot long, egg-shaped stone is etched with petroglyphs. Other ancient artifacts are also on site. 

Damon's children built homes in the valley, but only remnants remain. Moanalua Valley in recent decades was slotted for the trans-Oahu H-3 Freeway, but preservation groups banded together to re-route the project. Oahu Trailblazer has more details on this hike, beginning on page 65.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

King's Trail is a walk on Maui's wild side

Not far from where the road ends beyond ritzy Wailea, the rugged King's Trail begins its 12-mile run along the island's arid and out-there south coast. The trail dates from King Pi'ilani in the 1500s, though it was reconstucted by Governor Hoapili in the early 1800s—and more recently by park officials. The "King's Trail" is sort of a generic term for trails that encircle all the Islands, known for going straight as a string, rather than following contours.

The trailhead is near the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Preserve, and at the site of  Keoneoio Village, a 65-acre historic district. Numerous lava-rock shelters, walls, and foundations remain.

Stickery kiawe trees and wisps of sand soften the hundreds of acres of a'a lava flows (the kind piled up like broken shards, through which a tank could not pass).

Kanaio Beach is two-plus miles along the path. A little rocky and hard to get to, yes, but the swimming is very good with clear waters.

After several miles, the King's Trail gets rougher, so bring heavy boots and prepare for a wilderness experience. Hardcore hikers can do a car-shuttle hike to Manawainui Gulch, reachable via a long drive up to and around the backside of Haleakala. 

Maui Trailblazer has details on these wild lands of Maui, on pages 29-31, and 164-173. The south coast of Maui won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it offers solitude and exploration virtually free of tourists and the scenery is spectacular, with Haleakala rising from sea level to 10,000 feet.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Maui's Bellstone Pools and Nakalele Blowhole: Only beauties when they are sleeping

Nothing quite spoils a family vacation like having a wave sweep someone away and into the depths of the deep blue sea. So, first rule when visiting the very cool Nakalele Blowhole and Bellstone Pools is to stay well back from the reef edges and watch wave action for at least 15 minutes. High surf can be present during calm days. If the reef around the pools is wet, take that as a clue that sporadic surf is jumping the reef and stay out.

On calm days the pools (known as 'Olivine Pools' to some), are a world-class freebie. This photo shows one of a half-dozen soaking tubs, spread out over a couple of reefy acres. Colorful fishies and sea flora lie beneath clear water.

It's a tough, steep hike down to the pool (the price of admission) from an obscure turnout on Maui's north shore, near the ancient Bellstone—a hog-sized rock than has rested here for centuries. When struck at the right place with the correct object, the rock emanates a hollow, metallic sound.

Several miles up scenic Highway 30, the Nakalele Blowhole is a well-known roadside attraction, and rental car clusters normally mark each of the two trailheads. The rough trail down drops about 200 feet over .75-mile. Most people stand farther back than these visitors, but they thankfully have the sense not to have the ocean at their backs—the double whammy.

Again, these folks weren't in any real danger, but you can see how someone who stood closer yet could be knocked down and then floated back into the blowhole—gulp—which is an opening in the ceiling of an underwater cave in the reef. Multi-colored, weirdly formed rocks surround the margins of the reef, nice perches to sit and catch a little spray on hot days.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on these places (pages 74-79), and others on this rural coastline. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Oahu's Waikiki is not (just) a tourist trap

While you will not find a little grass shack, a stroll along 2-mile long Waikiki Beach is a trip through Hawaiian history. To be clear, WKK is sort of Las Vegas minus the gambling, plus the ocean, with some 10 square blocks packed with high-rises, bars, restaurants, fashion shopping, and ticky tack stores that cater to sun scorched tourists just off the jet from Omaha, LA, or Tokyo. But this same ground not long ago (and for centuries before that) was home to the Ali'i (Hawaiian royalty), as evidenced by huge Kapiolani Park next to Waikiki, which was bequeathed to the people by King Kalakaua in honor of his wife. Real Hawaiians flock to the beaches daily, to frolic in the warm water under the watchful brow of Diamond Head.

Surfing is a tradition dating back hundreds of years, yes, even before the Beach Boys. The entire historic stroll along the beach is accented with historical plaques and statues, including these surfers with a monk seal, and also one of Duke Kahanamoku, surfing legend and Olympic champion swimmer.  Not far from the hubbub is the Waikiki Aquarium, operated by the University of Hawaii, where you can get some serious eye-contact with the monk seals (an endangered species, and Hawaii's only native mammals).

This guy may look like an accountant, but his family dates way back in Hawaiian history, and the conch shell that sounds at a nightly beachside ceremony is a call to his ancestors to further the Polynesian cultural traditions.

Theres' nothing like the beach at sunset to cap the day. Although Oahu has its urban corridor, finding aloha is not hard. First-timers on a budget might consider this island, since cheap rooms can be found, and you don't really need the added expense of a rental car or flight to an outer island.

Oahu Trailblazer has details on Waikiki, Honolulu, and the rural reaches of Oahu. If trying to decide which island is best for you, get ahold of No Worries Hawaii, a vacation planner with a self-test that makes sure you make the right choices.