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 and 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.