Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Kaupo coast has the rarest of commodities on Maui: Solitude

The south coast of Maui doesn't seem like Maui at all: For about 25 miles, Highway 31 rolls and twists through an arid seascape, punctuated by bouldered beaches, a sea arch, side canyons filled with birdsong, ancient ruins. Very few people and no buildings at all. Don't come looking for brunch. Though the above photo shows a pockmarked section near Huankini Bay, much of the road is smoothly paved and the new concrete bridges are state-of-the-art.

In Manawainui Gulch are centuries-old fishing heaius (temples). From here, a rugged section of the ancient King's Trail hugs the coast for 8 miles, heading toward La Perouse Bay. Just before reaching the gulch is the holy grail for adventure seekers: a scramble through catci and brush to the mysterious Menehune Footprints, where small bare soles are imprinted in smooth lava. This site is called "New Tahiti," since its hills were guiding landmarks for the first Polynesian argonauts.

That the south coast was once heavily peopled is evidenced by the petroglyphs at Nu'u Bay.

Some of the walls in the area are ancient, while others date from more recent (but still old) ranching history. When the ocean conditions are tame, the Nu'u  Landing, a rough ramp into an inlet from a lava point, serves up some of the best snorkeling on Maui. 

St. Joseph Church has stood since 1862—with Haleakala (hidden by clouds in this pic) rising to 10,000 feet a few miles inland. Much of the south coast was included in an expansion of Haleakala National Park. Just down the road is the quirky Kaupo Store, which is open 24/7, except when it's not, a policy that dates from 1925. Near the store is the Kaupo Trail: climb 5,500 feet over 14 miles into Haleakala crater.

Most people see the Kaupo coast (if at all) as the homeward leg of a clockwise journey from the Hana Highway—though a few miles of this connection are iffy at times due to narrow sections and rockslides. For adventure seekers who want to spend the day here, Maui Trailblazer devotes five chapters.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Oahu's Ho'omaluhia: From the gates of Hell to the Garden of Eden

Running down the middle of Oahu is the Ko'olau Range, a razorback ridge (really, it's only a foot wide at places) with steep green cliffs, nearly 3,000 feet high, that are choked with greenery. That's what happens in a few million years after an enormous volcano stops spurting and the wind and erosion go to work on its crater.

On the eastern (Windward) side of the Ko'olau is Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden, which is really a half-dozen different gardens spread over 400 acres. Jog, stroll, hike, or find someplace to sit and take it all in.

Intreptive signs give thumnails on the geological goings on. Lore says Pele, the volcano goddess, started on the northernmost island of Kauai and headed south looking for a new home, skipping to Oahu, then Maui, and then to the Big Island, where she's going off today. 

Another explanation is that the earth's crust is rotating over a "Hot Spot" that is spewing lava into the sea from its molten core. Once the lava breaks the surface, it piles up 10,000 feet or more above sea level. As crust continues to rotate north, it leaves the Hot Spot behind, and the piles of lava—the islands— erode and eventually sink below the surface again. North of Kauai, the Hawaiian Archipelago, is comprised of 100 sea-washed atolls. 

Olomana is a stand-alone ridge just east of the Ko'olaus, a freak remnant of the volcano. Its three peaks are reachable by trail: The first peak is thrilling, the second a white-knuckle risk, and the third is for mountain goats only. On the mountains of Oahu, thick greenery disguises steep drop-offs, and what looks like solid dirt can crumble beneath your feet.

Oahu Trailblazer has the deets on the trails of the Ko'olau Range. Though by far the most populated island, Oahu has the greatest number of tropical ridge hikes.

Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden
45-680 Luluku Road, Kāne'ohe, Oahu, Hawaii.
Open daily, without charge, except for Christmas Day and New Year's Day

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Big Island's Hamakua Coast is sooooooo underrated

Not many people realize that the Old Mamalahoa Highwy along the northeast coast of the Big Island snakes through the tropical jungle, across green gorges and by waterfalls—the kind of oh-wow driving you expect on Maui and Kauai—only without a conga line of rental cars. 

Umauma Falls (above) could be the covergirl for the state waterfall calendar. It runs through a private garden not too far north of Hilo.

Dodging in and out of the high-speed, two lane highway going north from Hilo are miles-long detours and side-trips on the Old Mamalahoa Highway.  It's a tunnel of vines, leaves and trees, connecting some of the old sugar towns that still portray Hamakua's history.  

Other roads climb 2,000 feet into forest reserves of huge leafy trees—but you'd have to climb another 9,000 feet or so to run out of climbing, at the summit of Mauna Kea.

While the lava fields on the Kona side have no streams, Hamakua is sluiced by many.

Halakalau Paka (park) has been exquisitly restored by locals. They'll love to talk story, if you show an interest.

Kolekole Beach Park picnic area and campground are set alongside a swift stream. A cascade almost crashes into the oncoming surf. The highway trestle is skycraper-high above the scene.

And we haven't even mentioned: Akaka Falls, Hawaii Tropical Botonical Garden, Lahahoehoe (lapa-hoy-hoy) Beach Park, where a killer tsunami struck, and Kalopa State Park—a hiker's dream with rustic cabins and tent camping. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Kauai's Hanalei no ka oi (is the best)

One look at Hanalei from above (in this case, from hidden Hanalei Organic Park in Princeville on the north shore) and you will be hot to get down there and look around. Taro fields flank the Hanalei River—part of a National Wildlife Refuge—an opportunity for a long, mellow kayak adventure. Several companies offer rentals. A mountain hike (the Moonshine Trail) is a pleasing and exciting alternative to the Kalalau Trail, the popular excursion just down the highway.

Black Pot Beach, at the far end of Hanalei Bay, presents some of the best beginner surfing in Hawaii. Lessons are available, right there. Beyond the shore are some big-boy waves, at Bowls and Queens. Farther out is Kings, which only breaks when waves are epic. Local legend Titus Kinimaka first rode that monster in the 1990s. 

In the middle of the bay is Pinetrees, home beach for pro surfer Bruce Irons and his late brother Andy, who was a world champ. The takeaway: Hanalei is Surf City on Kauai, and one of the top venues in the state. 

Hanalei Pier has been the darling of many movies. Most recently, George Clooney walked by in the Descendants. The boathouse on the end of the pier is a box seat to watch the near-shore surfers, and to admire the jagged rim of towering mountains that frame the scene.

The two-mile sandy shore of Hanalei Bay is just a few blocks from the quirky shops of Hanalei Town—maybe the best walk-around beach town in Hawaii, with galleries, bars, restaurants, and giftshops. On the green fringes of town is the Waioli Mission House (below), built by the Wilcox family in 1841. Hanalei is not flashy, but normally millionaires and a few Hollywood types will be shuffling around in flip flops among other sand-footed and sunburned tourists. This place can get you hooked on Hawaii for good.

More details on Hanalei, and other stuff nearby, are in the 20th anniversary edition of Kauai Trailblazer, released last month.

Monday, December 5, 2016

King Kamehameha never had it so good: Have a Royal Hawaiian celebration without breaking the bank.

No doubt being the king of all the Islands had its perks—but not near the luxury and creature comforts available these days to us common folk.  And—here's the kicker—if you are planning an event for a group (say six to twelve people) you will be surprised at how affordable a luxury villa  or beachside enclave can be. For the per-person price that a couple pays for a pretty-nice condo or resort room, a group of ten or so can chill at a pad that could be a movie set.

Of course, you can also spend a fortune on a big place that will be a disappointment. One way to make sure you get the 'movie' and not the bummer is to go to Hawaii Vacation Rentals. If you peruse the site, and know Hawaii already, you will see that this team has cherry-picked only desirable locales. They offer more than 200 properties. Booking specialists make sure your rental is a good fit.

So, if you've been thinking of Hawaii,  also think about having a reunion, getting married, or maybe just pooling resources with your friends to create an all-time good time.

Although luxury is a constant, each island has a different personality. Here's what you can expect:


The place to be on the Big Island is South Kohala, where vast fields of rolling black lava hide tropical oases that are home to some of the world's best destination resorts—like the Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea. On the fringes of these resorts are new villas where the gang will feel good about hanging around for days at a time.

Yes, the Big Island is big—larger than all the other islands combined—but the newly constructed Saddle Road makes it easy to go day tripping. On the way to charming Hilo, you pass by the access roads to the world's tallest mountains (measured from their seafloor bases). Big round Mauna Loa is home to weather observatories, while big red Mauna Kea (above) is the sacred "top of the world" for ancient Hawaiians. The peak itself is still pristine, but a side peak is dotted with astronomy observatories. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where red-hot lava is spewing from the earth as you read these words, is also doable as a day trip from South Kohala.

Very near to the grounds of the resorts are some of Hawaii's best cultural sites—petroglyph fields, heiaus (temples), and portions of the King's Highway, a historic cobblestone path around the island. Many of the sites are low-key and undeveloped, but you will also find three National Historic Parks. Totally wild Kekaha Kai State Park (top picture) is not far from the resorts of South Kohala.

Although the sand is coarse at some South Kohala beaches, the waters are crystal clear, since there is little erosion and no stream runoff. Many of the beaches are wild, like Blue Lagoon, the turtle enclave pictured above.


A location for movies such as Jurassic Park and South Pacific, the north shore of Kauai (Kilauea, Princeville, Haena) has the mind-blowing jagged green ridges and aquamarine waters that fuel most people's tropical dreams. Hanalei, in the heart of the north shore, is Hawaii's capital of low-key cool. Flip flops, board shorts, and bathing suits are high fashion in Hanalei, even for the movie stars and billionaires who frequent the 'hood.

You'll want to take a day to see some of Kauai's eye candy, like Waimea Canyon (above left) and the Kalalau Valley Overlook (above right), which is reachable from the top of the canyon.

About 12 of Hawaii's top-20 wild beaches (many involve a short hike) are along a 30-mile run of coastline from Anahola to road's end at Haena. The beauty above, Hideaways Beach, is down a rugged trail that is right next to the entrance of the St. Regis Princeville Resort. 


Maui is all about Island-style living on the sunny west shores—logging serious beach time in between enjoying fine dining and tourist action. To the north is historic Lahaina and Kapalua (voted best beach in the U.S. by travel magazines). To the south is the swank resort strip of Wailea, which is right next to the family beach parks of Kihei. A dozen or more beaches await. 

Kamehameha made Lahaina the capital of Hawaii before Honolulu, and its historical roots run deep. A number of whale-watching and fishing tours leave the small harbor. Lanai and Molokai are a ferry ride away. It's a great walk-around beach town with both cultural attractions and all-day action.

Wailea has five beaches, sandy coves all good for snorkeling. Just to the north (there is a walking path) are the three Kamaole Beach Parks (above left), among the best family beaches in the Islands. Just south of Wailea is perhaps Hawaii's most-smashing beach experience, Makena State Park, better known as Big Beach (above right).

Most people pry themsleves away from the good life to visit the interior of Haleakala National Park, a volcano resting at 10,000 feet above the Pacific. The other must-see attraction on Maui is the serpentine Hana Highway, with its umpteen waterfalls and one-lane bridges alongside a rain forest.


Ninety percent of Hawaii's million-plus residents live on Oahu, but most visitors will be shocked to discover the rural beaches and undeveloped coastline that lie beyond metro Honolulu. Two choice locales are close to attractions, yet offer exclusivity: The first is Diamond Head-Kahala, a ritzy neighborhood with parks, just on fringe of the high-rises and hubbub of Waikiki Beach. The second locale is over the jagged Ko'olau Mountains to the eastern side, called 'Windward.' Lanikai-Kailua offers a buzzing beach scene of its own, but also with easy access to the Polynesian Cultural Center and the North Shore surf scene.

Hanauma Bay (above), the most popular snorkeling venue in Hawaii, is easy to get to from both Lanikai and Kahala.

Millionaire heiress Doris Duke (back in the 1930s when a million was real money) built her fabulous mansion Shangri La in the shadow of Diamond Head in Kahala. Tours are available. But you can also visit quirky Cromwell's Cove (above), located right below the mansion, by taking a short path from a neighborhood street. The little man-made cove is known mostly to locals.

Sexy Lanikai Beach, which borders a residential enclave, is often a set for fashion-model shoots and commercials. A dreamscape of powder-sand beaches is accented by tiny islands, a few  of which are reachable by kayak or SUP. Right next to Lanikai is Kailua Beach Park, ho hum, more of the same.