Sunday, March 29, 2015

Connecting hot lava to natural hot springs: The Big Island's sublime drive in Puna

For more than a dozen miles, the Kehena-Pohoiki Scenic Drive in Puna (the far southeast of the Big Island) penetrates an astounding coastal gardenscape. And unlike other coastal cruises in Hawaii, this one doesn't twist in and out of valleys, since the island hasn't had time to erode and form streams. The country lane besides sea-washed bluffs is is a tree tunnel of breadfruit, palms, pandanus and many others right out the the tropical tree-finding manual. 

At one end is Kalapana Bay, where vistiors can venture into lava wastelands to view red-hot flows from the island's current eruption. Not far from Kalapana is 19-Mile Beach (guess where it is), a black sand beauty that requires a scamper down a steep trail. (That shorebreak pictured above can be dangerous; use caution.)

The scenic drive transitions to a huge ironwood grove that marks rustic Mackenzie State Park, and then Isaac Hale (ha-lay) Beach Park, home to surfers and a nice little hot pool. Ahalanui Warm Pond Park, one of the best freebies in Hawaii, is a couple miles after that.  And then, a few miles later where jagged fields of lava make up the shoreline, is the oasis that is the Kaphoho Bay Seapool, where tepid, crystal clear waters are a fountain of youth.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more information on these and numerous other cool places in remote Puna.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

The easy way to the Big Island's 'Blue Lagoon'

From a scenic turnout at mile marker 81 on Highway 19 north of Kona, Wainanali'i (Blue) Lagoon beckons irresistably: a turquoise streak amid a grove of cocopalms. Most visitors park at a nearby turnout and take a mile-plus trail that drops 200 feet through a hot forest of stickery Kiawe trees, which affords a decent opportunity of getting lost.

A slightly shorter, flatter, and more scenic route is about a mile away, down a state park road. You drive down about .75-mile and park at a locked gate on a road that is open to foot traffic. Not far down the road is the Kihilo-Huehue trail and punches out to a black sand beach, where you hang a right (pass the remarkable home of cosmetic king Paul Mitchell) and reach Blue Lagoon.

Dozens of sea turtles haul out on the rocky shores of the lagoon, which was actually a huge fishpond built by King Kamehmeha the Great in 1810. In 1859, a stampede of lava from faraway Mauna Loa did a number on the pond, but the turtles don't seem to mind. The water is chilly and milky is places, due to underwater intrusions of fresh water, so the better swimming is at Kihilo Black Sand Beach—reachable via the same state park road. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the deets, beginning on page 64.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How not to die while having fun hiking in Hawaii

Tsunamis, hurricanes, molten volcanos, and big-scale earthquakes are all part of the weather forecast at times in Hawaii. But Mother Nature's big events, thankfully, take few lives these days.

Yet, about once a month, it seems, someone dies on land or in the sea while recreating in the tropical paradise that is Hawaii. Most of these tragedies, and a litany of accidents, happen on postcard-days to people who are not really aware of the danger. The good news: The risk of harming yourself is virtually zilch if you play it safe.

Here's some tips for safer hiking in Hawaii.

1. Bring retracable hiking poles. As is the case when using swim fins when in the ocean, hiking poles give you a leg up (pun intended) while navigating on land. Coming down narrow, rutted, rocky sections of a typical ridge trail can be tricky, especially when rain makes the red earth slick.

2. Stay on the trail--and only hike on an established trail. Bactrack to a known point if you lose the trail. This rule, usually meant to protect flora from too many footprints, in Hawaii protects hikers from getting swallowed up by the jungle. The terrain is way too steep and choked with greenery (or piles of lava, or earthcracks, let's say) to make off-trail hiking anything but bad idea. If it is possilbe to hike somewhere (that is also not on private property), a trail will already exist.

3. Don't rock climb. Even good climbers will have a problem on the crumbling, unstable escarpments in the Islands—even when these cliffs are free of snarls of plantlife. Erosion happens in real time.

4. Don't cross a fast-moving stream. Downpours bring flash floods to narrow valleys. Cars even get swept to sea from quite a distance inland. So, avoid hiking in heavy rain, and if you do get caught on the wrong side of the stream, wait it out: the water will subside. If hiking in a valley with a rising stream, get to high ground, pronto.

5. Stay back from big surf while hiking ocean bluffs. Surf fluctuates during the day, and big surf can roll in that is not otherwise associated with a storm front. Keep your eye on the waves, and stay well back of any rocks or reefs that are wet.

6.  Be alert for drop-offs (keep the kids in tow). On mountain hikes, ferns and shrubbery are so dense that they appear to be solid ground, when in fact the plants are diguising a  clifface. You have to go out of your way to make this hazzard dangerous, but it is routinely possilbe on lush trails.

7. Equip your daypack and take it with you, even when you may not plan on taking a long walk. Trails have a way of inticing you farther than planned. Be aware of time. If you get caught out at night, with no adequate light to hike by, stay put. The higher elevations of all the islands, but particularly Maui and the Big Island, can be cold. On Mauna Loa, for example, heatstroke and hypothermia are possible within a few hours (though neither is likely with proper outerwear).

8. When entering the ocean, the over-arching safety maxim is, "If in doubt, don't go out." The same can be true for hikes. If a hike starts to creep you out for some reason, back off.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Launiupoko: This is why Maui is called the 'Valley Isle'

A drive along the base of the West Maui Mountains—all the way from Iao Valley State Park near Kahului around to Lahaina—reveals the yawning green valleys that give Maui its nickname. Access is limited, so visitors with a sense of adventure will appreciate the off-beat hike into out-of-the-way Launiupoko Valley, not too far south of Lahaina.

The hike begins at an unmarked trailhead in a new housing development, up the mountain from Laniupoko Beach Park. The trail, used mainly by local equestrians, starts out as a mundane ascent, but then transitions to a contour road that gives up big ocean views. Hikers then start into the valley on a weedy road (pictured) that becomes a trail along a water conveyance ditch. This trail then degrades to a pig-path into the deep dark green—not advisable for hiking.

At the end of the contour road is a reservoir that will be a worthy destination for people wanting to kick back.

Launiupoko Valley is an ahupua'a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah), the fundamental subdivision of land where villages were established. Whether large or small, a wedge-shaped ahupua'a contained the essentials necessary to sustain life: A mountain forest,  valley and stream, agricultural terraces, and a coastline.

Maui Trailblazer has more details on Launiupoko and other places to escape the tourist drumbeat on Maui.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kauai hiking update: Kahili Mountain Park trails are closed

Two trails in south Kauai—a thrilling-but-risky trek up razorback Kahili Ridge, and a tame stroll to a Norfolk pine forest—are no longer open to hikers. Landowner Knudsen Corporation, which has owned a large chunk of the island since 1872, has decided to close the trails and prohibit access.

The rustic cabins of Kahili Mountain park, adjacent to the trailheads, may also be closed. Previously a Seventh Day Adventist School on site leased the land from Knudsen, and used income from the cabins to help support the school. Hikers for years were able to hike these trails on private property by asking permission at the cabin administrative offices.

Trail status in Hawaii is always in flux, due to both man-made concerns and events created by Mother Nature.  Visitors should always heed signs and use common sense when determining whether a trail is safe or advisable.