Friday, February 26, 2016

How not to die while hiking on vacation in Hawaii

Yesterday, rescue workers searched from morning into the dark of night to find a young father from Chicago who was swept into huge waves from the notorious Queen's Bath off the north shore of Kauai in Princeville. The group entered the area in spite of numerous warning signs and epic waves--up to 40 feet. The wife was crumpled  in despair on the bluff above the tidal shelf all day, looking out at the violent ocean in vain.

Virutally every accident fatality in Hawaii can be avoided. Deaths are heartbreaking for visitors and locals alike. Rescue workers, as well as locals, make heroic efforts to save people almost everyday. Last week, bystanders jumped into shallow waters off Pearl Harbor on Oahu to free a young boy from a helicopter that was forced to make a hard landing. (Please see our blog from February 15 on ocean safety.)

Walking on land in Hawaii can be equally as dangerous as entering the ocean. On the other hand, you are perfectly safe if you take precautions:

1. Watch out for drop offs. Many ridge and coastal trails skirt sheer cliffs. Greenery along the trail disguise the hazard. Stay well back and watch the kids.

2. Stay on the trail. This maxim is to protect hikers, not the environment. The flora is way too lush and deep to cross. In places, the flora also hides earth cracks underneath that formed during volcanic activity long ago. If there is no trail, you can't walk there. If you lose the trail, retreat to a known spot. Forget about trying to go cross-country with GPS. Watch your feet and follow the trail.

3. Bring retractable hiking poles. Many trails are very steep, narrow, and slick after rains. Trails are not built on traverses like Mainland trails, but rather are there because the topography dictates the only possible route.

4. Don't cross a fast stream. Flash floods in Hawaii have been known to cross roads and sweep away cars that attempt to cross. If you get caught on the wrong side of a stream, wait it out. The water will subside. If in a stream valley, be mindfull that fast-moving water may rise and you will have to seek high ground. During rains, staying off the trail is the best bet.

5. Don't rock climb. Even technical climbers with skill will face undue risk trying to scale rocks and cliffs in Hawaii. The ground is unstable.

6. Equip your pack. Bring a rain shell, plenty of water, headlamp, and food.

Trailblazer guides for the island have detailed chapeters on how to stay safe in Hawaii. Specific precautions are given for the locale of each hike and beach. You don't need to be overly fearful of the great outdoors here—but learning how to read the risks is a must for all visitors.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This art/gift gallery on Kauai REALLY IS one-of-a-kind

Afficiandos on Hawaiian fine art could search the entire state without finding a gallery like Koral and Moku's Ohana Shop in tiny Wainiha on the north shore of Kauai. And most visitors will drive right on by without knowing what they are missing.

Start with the people and place: In jungly Wainiha Valley, on the other side of two one-lane bridges well past Hanalei, live pure-blooded Hawaiians who can trace their heritage back several centuries.  Up this river valley until the late 1800s lived a 65-person colony of the folkloric Menehune—descendants of the Marquesans who are thought to have inhabited much of Hawaii beginning in the second century, well before the second-wave of Polynesians arrived from Tahiti nearly a thousand years later.

Koral and Moku, a striking couple who fittingly opened their labor-of-love gallery on Valentine's Day, both were born in Wainiha, not far from the rickety storefront (that also houses the time-honored Wainiha Store and the closet-sized Sushi Girl, which draws people from all over the north shore). Moku is of Hawaiian descent, going way back to the ali'i (royalty).

Though rooted in Hawaiian tradition, Ohana Shop's collection is a modern send-up of fine art. Koral has assembled the work of artists mainly from Wainiha and the north shore, but also from other connections  elsewhere on Kauai, the neighbor islands, and even a few pieces from Tahiti, where she and Moku travel.

Koral's jewelry is on hand, and so are prized necklaces by native people of Niihau, hand-crafted, surreally painted mini-surfboards, photographs, paintings, t-shirts from Molokai with impressions of endangered species, and ancient-style Hawaiin spearheads shaped from native wood by Moku's father (also named Moku, who has cared for nearby Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Garden for many years).

Every piece of art in the gallery has a story. The stories combine to tell a larger story of Hawaiian tradition and this young couple whose efforts are inspired by a wish to support their friends and community. The gallery is a gift-in-waiting for all visitors to Kauai. This is the sort of gallery you may enter  because you wish to support them, but you will end up buying something because the work is just plain fabulous.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How not to die in the ocean while on vacation in Hawaii

Not to be Donny Downer, but you should know that once each month somewhere in Hawaii a tourist dies in an ocean-related accident. It's heartbreaking and totally avoidable, in theory. Here's a blueprint for keeping yourself and your loved ones safe:

1. Watch out for rogue (or 'sleeper') waves. Larger than the other waves in a given set, rogue waves knock people down at the shoreline or sweep them from a reef. Large waves can arrive on otherwise calm days. How to avoid: Always keep an eye on the surf, since you can move faster than a wave at the beginning of its break and quick reactions save lives. When walking a beach, stay back from where the sand is wet, and same goes for reef walking, since a wet surface indicates wave action. When surf is very large, stay way, way back.

2. Watch our for rip current. Rip current always exists when waves are present, and the higher the waves, the stronger the rip current. Rip current is where the ocean water of incoming waves is returning back to sea, usually in a channel that is the path of least resistance for the water. How to avoid: On beaches with reefs near shore, you can see rip current as blue channels going out through an opening in the reef, an outbound stream. On beaches with a near-shore break, rip current is visible as a rippling channel going out where waves are not breaking, or are low breaks. Indentify the channel before entering the water. Stay away from the channels. Where you choose to enter the water, throw in a stick to see which way it moves. Once in the water, look down to see if you are drifting. Swim into a slight current at the beginning, so that you will swim with it on your return. Stay close to shore.

3. Body surf or boogie board with caution. Head and neck injuries are common, especially if body surfing (which is really a lost art). Even if head injuries are not fatal themselves, they can result in drowning How to avoid: Limit your wave play to foamy waves that have already broken, or are not breaking with a curl. As a wave is breaking, look to see if sand is being sucked up at the base of the wave, an indication of a shallow water hazard. Ask advice before boogie boarding.

4. Make a smart reaction to trouble: If something goes wrong, you can still walk away safely. Many deaths occur because people make the wrong moves once they are in trouble. Have a safety plan: If two people are together, leave one person ashore to watch the swimmer (and they can also watch your stuff). Know where you are and carry a cell phone. Hawaiian watermen (lifeguards) are among the best in the world and respond quickly almost anywhere on the island. Best of all (duh) swim at a beach where watermen are present. If you do get caught in a rip current, do not panic and wear youself out. Rip currents are near-shore phenomenon, and they release you offshore. Never swim into a rip current to defeat it, but rather swim sideways from the direction of the current.

The mantra for water safety in Hawaii is: If in doubt, don't go out. Err on the side of caution. Even strong swimmers will be powerless in an angry ocean. Wearing a snorkel and fins greatly improves your safety and mobility in the ocean.

Trailblazer Travel Books (for each island) have safety tips and hazard warnings for the land and the sea. These generalized safety tips and supplemented by warnings that are specific to each beach and trail. You don't need to be overly frightened of the ocean, but give it respect.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lanikai: Hawaii's Sexiest Beach?

Dreamy Lanikai Beach on Windward Oahu is pure eye candy, with cupcake islands just offshore silky sands. Flowering shrubs line the paths from an uber-cool beach cottage community. Don't be surprised to see a professional fashion shoot going on. Commercial photographers love this place.

Add some real-life spice to the day by stroking a rental sea kayak to the seabird sanctuary islands of Mokolea and Moku Manu, or back off a little and go for Flat Island (not pictured), which is much closer—you can swim there with a mask and fins. 

Or not. 

Kailua Beach Park is a kissing cousin to Lanikai, via a short walk. The scene amps a bit here, with a huge lawn to host other fun-sun activities (like these kite-boarders prepping to take off).  There's plenty of shade and picnic tables along a wide greenspace. A cold brew, ice cream, and other gotta-haves aren't far away. 

Get driving directions in your Oahu Trailblazer. It's about an hour away from Waikiki.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

You can watch pro surfing superstars for free in Hawaii

Professional surfers chase waves all around the planet, but few among them would dispute that the primo breaks are in Hawaii, more specifically, the North Shore of Oahu. Watching a competition—some of which are championship contests equivalent to the Super Bowl —is one of the great freebies in sports. And even when an event is not scheduled, provided the surf's up,' you can find a place on the sand to some of the best in the business. Here are some of the best seats for spectators on each island.


Back door and front doors opening at Pipe

Along a ten-mile stretch of the North Shore is the 'Mt. Rushmore' of the World Pro Surfing Tour: Sunset Beach, Pipeline (Ehukai Beach Park), Haleiwa, and Waimea Bay. Connecting the four, as well as two-dozen other named breaks, is rural Kamehameha Highway, paralleled most of the way by a bike path and country lane. Equally well-known among the big boy (and girl) surfers is Makaha Beach on the West Side.  Some tourists may be put off at first by the rough-edges of Waianae, but hang around Makaha, especially during February for the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic, you may be hooked. This is the home beach of Richard 'Buffalo' Kealuna, and his sons, Rusty and Brian, as well as the late Rell Sunn, the women's longboard legend.

Shore break at Waimea Bay


Bethany rocks Kalihiwai

Black Pot Beach Park in Hanalei is surf city—ranging from the big outer breaks like Kings and Queens to the nice learner's rollers under the Hanalei Pier. The pier is a good viewpoint, though when the surf is epic,locals flock to watch from the bluffs at the Princeville St. Regis Resort. Not far away is Kalihiwai Beach Park, a fave among local wahine wave riders; on the road down to the park is a small turnout that provides an up-close view. During the summer, the surf scene shifts to the south shore, where PK's, not far from Poipu Beach, is the best among many sought-after waves.


A beach level view of Jaws

No doubt, the big-daddy wave for spectators is Jaws, a massive wave, 30-to-60 feet high offshore a bluff known as Peahi on the windward coast. Jaws only goes off a few days a year, if that, and access can be problematic, via a dirt road or hike across roads through cane fields (Maui Trailblazer has the details).  You'll know when Jaws is pumping when the parking lot at Maliko Bay is full of trucks and jet ski trailers (the bay is several miles from Peahi, at mile marker 10). Though known more for windsurfing, Ho'okipa Beach Park just outside of Paia, delivers box seats for a colorful surf scene.  Perhaps the most consistent among the best on Maui, is Honolua Bay in West Maui, a few miles north of Kapalua. A dirt road leads to the point, which is a perfect grandstand. Surfers carry thier boards down a cliffside trail.



Though you will find many good surfing beaches on the Big Island, few, if any, are among the best in the state.  But Honoli'i Paka (pictured above), just north of Hilo, is a memorable scene that will inspire photographers—a path swerves down garden terraces to a beautiful, long break at a jungled river mouth. On the Kona side, head for Spinners in the heart of Kailua, which is known as the birthplace of boogie boarding. Enjoy a beverage while surfers flirt to make a head-on-collision with the breakwater

These listing are but a taste from the feast of great beaches to become a surf groupie in Hawaii—a worthy pursuit. Trailblazers are full of descriptions and details.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hawaii: The ecstasy of da feet.

A week or three in Hawaii rejuvenites the body, mind, and soles of your feet. Indeed, the universality of the Aloha spirit is due in large part to the shared freeing of the ten little piggies in tropical waters and sand beaches. In the Islands, most everyone is barefooted or in flip-flops. No one wears shoes when entering a private home.

Called slippers (slippahs), the most chic among flip-flops are the Locals, your basic rubber model to be purchased for a couple bucks at Long's or ABC store. But for extended walking, you may want to invest in a higher-end model with arches, tread, and a wider strap. Teva and Reef are among the brands to look for. These babies will get you around town or along a trail, and then can be strapped to the pack or carried when you hit the surfy sands. Tip: Avoid the strap-on sandals, since sand gets caught in the webbing and will quickly rub your feet raw.

Walking on the beach will the smooth the tootsies faster than a pedicure, and also is self-administered reflexology, imparting the well-being of a prolonged foot massage. Tip: If caught barefooting on scorching sands, dig down a few inches to where the sand is cool, and repeat the trick until you reach shade or water.

After a vacation your feet will transform from flesh pods normally encased  by socks, laces and leather, to the five-digit appendages that are siblings to your hands. The Trailblazer guides are full of coastal beach walks (wild and luxury) where you can free your sole. They're available online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell's Books and on the shelf at your local independent bookstore.