Monday, August 29, 2016

Maui's Hana Highway: Avoid the hassle, have the fun

The Hana Highway—with its umpteen one-lane bridges, countless curves, rain forests, and waterfalls—is a rite of passage for Maui visitors. In fact, if you begin the journey at prime time, say 10 in the morning, you are likely to be in a conga line of rental cars competing for parking spaces at turnouts. 

But if you start at an off time, and concentrate on the journey (rather than the destination of Hana and the Pools of Oheo that lie beyond in the lower section of Haleakala National Park) you can find a day's worth of adventure and solitude—including this jaunt to Wahinepe'e Falls (above) and Lupi Road (top photo).

Tangled in the jungle of the Ko'olau Forest Reserve are roads and infrastucture of the island's water-conveyance systems, some of which date from sugar cane days.

Public access is limited to some of the areas. Maui Trailblazer has the details on how to get permits, if needed, and specific directions to a dozen or more spots on the Hana Highway that most cars drive right on by.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Woof! Woof! Barking Sands Beach is one of Kauai's big dogs

Thousands of visitors rave about the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast, and about Waimea Canyon, 'The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.' And rightly so. But do yourself a favor and don't leave Kauai without making a trip to Barking Sands Beach at Polihale State Park. The surf can be treacherous, but at one spot, called Queens Pond (above), a protective near-shore reef provides a safe spot (normally) to get in the water—and also a sweet curling break favored by local surfers.

Huge dunes and a wide swath of sand runs for 20-plus miles around Mana Point all the way to Kekaha—but since 9/11 the government boys have much of it blocked off to beachcombers because of the Pacific Missile Range Facility that lies just inland. Still, you have several miles to pound sand. The intervening beach is called Barking Sands due to the 'woofing' sound the dunes make when built up sand slides.

The entrance to the state park is 3 miles in from the end of the highway is west Kauai. The road sometimes floods in the winter, causing a closure, and is almost always slow going with puddles, potholes, and ruts. From this sign at 'monkeypod junction,' Polihale State Park facilities are about 1.5 miles to the right and Queens Pond is .25-mile to the left.

Walking to the right at Polihale gets you to the base of 2,000-foot-high Polihale Ridge, one of a dozen ridges that radiate out from the rugged, roadless north shore of Kauai, beginning where the road ends at the Kalalau Trailhead and ending here. You can access the Polihale Ridge Trail from the road to Waimea Canyon. Misty winds rise up the face of the cliff, which in Hawaiian lore is the place where the spirits of the dead were said to head to the next world. Keen eyes will spot a mountain goat way up there, more often than not.

Several picnic pavilions provide shade, a scarce commodity on these wide-open sands.

Though this tent is set up for day use, a campgound on top of the dunes that runs for about a half-mile—the best beach camping in Hawaii if solitude is what you seek. Kauai Trailblazer has more details on Polihale State Park, and other wild places close by.

BTW: Using the Navy's arcane permit process, you can apply (and pay $25) for a guest card, though it is probably less of a hassle to visit Cuba. On the other hand, if you plan ahead a couple months and you can be one of the few to see all of Barking Sands, and also some Hawaii's best wildlife seascape. Local surfers are all over it. A background check is included in the application process. Call 808-335-7936 or click

Monday, August 15, 2016

Here's a tree-hugger's trail on Maui with a zillion birds and zero tourists

Maui has the fewest open trails among the Hawaiian Islands, so these hikes on the lower slopes of Haleakala are a find. You can choose several options in the Makawao Forest Reserve on the Kahakapao Loop trail, racking up about 6.5 miles and gaining around 500 feet in elevation.

The reserve is located not far down the mountain from the Maui Bird Conservation Cener, and the native-and-planted forests are full of our chirping, feathered friends. 

Much of the forest doesn't scream "Hawaii," but you will find lush exotics growing in the creases of the slopes.

Makawao Forest Reserve, along with Waihou Springs Forest Reserve, which is not far away, serve up generous portions of  commodities that can be lacking on more popular trails: peace and quiet and solitude.

Norfolk Pines were planted by crews of early European sailing vessels, since their straight trunks make for good masts and spars.


After a long rendevous with nature, head to the nearby town of Makawao (rhymes with "oh wow") for a cold beverage, grilled steak, or veggie wrap. The quaint town is well worth a walk-around. Maui's cowboy heritage will be evident among the shops. Maui Trailblazer has directions to all the trailheads as well as a walking tour of the town.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Big Island's Kohala: Kind of creepy land of comets and kings

Though Mo'okini Heiau (temple) on the north nub of the Big Island was designated in 1935 as the state's first national historic site, it now rests forlorn and isolated. Winds scour barren slopes and Maui looms across the often-choppy channel. 

The first stones were laid  in 500 AD, and construction was completed in about 1200 AD. Many forms of religious practices took place here, including human sacrifices. Mo'okini has been presided over continuously by generations of kahunas (priests), and the prohibition against visiting the site was lifted only a couple decades ago.

Heiaus appear these days as rock walls and platforms—the stuctures that once stood atop are now gone. Superstructures of poles fastened by twine and covered by thatched leaves were weather-tight, and thick matting made the floors comfortable.


A thousand years after the heiau was established—and a quarter-mile down the coast—is the site of perhaps the most significant event in Hawaiian history: the birth of King Kamehameha, the baby who would be king. Oral history tells of a celestial event that lit up the sky that autmun night, which scientists have since pegged as the passing of Haley's Comet in 1758. The baby king—the 'Lonely One'—was birthed here in secrecy to avoid assassination by rival royal families on the Hilo side of the island, who had different ideas about who should rule.

With several other developed national parks on the island,  Mo'okini Heiau and Kamehameha Birthplace are pretty much off the tourist radar. Only a weathered plaque marks the spot. The dirt tract that reaches the site can be approached from the north or south (Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has detailed directions). Being here evokes a sense of timelessness that is hard to describe.