Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hiking Hawaii: What you need to know to not screw up

To stay safe, even fit, experienced trekkers need a crash course on trail hiking in the mountains and jungles of Hawaii. First of all, even popular trails are going to have rough patches. Bring retractable hiking poles and expect slippery rocks, undulating surfaces, and steep portions where hands will be required.

Greenery alongside trails can disguise steep drop-offs. Don't step off into the snarls, and watch the kids.

If you lose the trail, or the going gets gnarly, turn back to a known point. Even hunting dogs with big bazooka noses get lost in Hawaii. Don't use GPS or a map to try to reach a destination cross country. Stay on the trail and follow your feet. If it's possible to walk someplace in Hawaii, someone has done it before you. Plant life will swallow you whole. Cracks in the earth, created by volcanic activity and hidden by flora, are lethal booby traps.

Speaking of hunting dogs: Always yield the trail to a wild pig.

Stream crossings can be mellow one minute, and rise up the next. Cloud bursts may happen inland when it's sunny where you are. If you find yourself on the wrong side of a swift stream, wait it out. The water will subside. Don't cross. 

BTW: Though this spillway makes it easy to go shoeless, you might as well keep them on , since crossings can be numerous (and the water will clean the mud off!). No sense in bringing waterproof boots, since you are likely to dunk them higher than ankle deep.

Travel in pairs, or at least let someone know you are headed out. Make sure to allow enough daylight for your return. 

Don't even think about rock climbing. Almost all cliffs and mountainsides are very unstable. Many trails have drop-off hazards.

Keep in mind that hiking times for a given distance will be about double in Hawaii, due to poor footing—and stopping to gawk at the scenery.

Trail conditions can change overnight due to landslides, tree-falls, and erosion. If you feel the trail ahead is unsafe, then it is. Turn around. Many people 'go for the gusto' on Hawaiian trails thinking they are in some sort of adventure Disneyland. Common sense is your friend.

No poisonous snakes or spiders to fret about, but muddy surfaces are common. Wear dark shorts and don't forget those hiking poles.

Equip your daypack with all the essentials and bring it with you even if you're going on a very short hike. You might start out on a little exploration jaunt and be drawn in farther than you intended. 

Trailblazer guides are full of parking and trail directions, safety tips, and the specific hazards that may be present for each hike. Virtually every danger is avoidable. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The wild side of paradise is hidden on the Big Island

Between the tourist buzz of Kailua-Kona and the destination resorts of South Kohala is ... well a whole lot of nothing—or, rather, nothing man-made. On this run of wild coast are some of the best beach getaways in Hawaii. 

Kekaha Kai State Park  is not far north of the airport, but in terms of scenic beauty, it's a million miles away. You'll need to drive in about 1.5 miles over a lava field that can be hellishly rutted. From there, you can enjoy the picnic tables at Kekaha Kai Beach. Or venture on a quarter-mile walk to Mahaiula Bay for a slice of paradise that once was a getaway resort. From there, another trail covers about a half-mile of scorched lava to the lovely Makalawena Beaches. Snorkeling is superb, and one cove that is reef-protected offers safe swimming for kids. Tucked away at Makalawena is the Makalawai Oasis, a brackish pond amid palms that is the perfect spot to contemplate infinity.

Farther north is a a Big Island fave, Wainanali'i, a.k.a, Blue Lagoon. This hangout for sea turtles can be seen from the highway and is right next to the long black sand beach at Kihilo Bay. Head's up: Most people park near a scenic lookout and take a trail that winds down through a kiawe tree forest. You are better off driving the road south of the lookout (as directed in Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer) and taking the Kihilo-Huehue Trail to Blue Lagoon.

There are many other beach getaways on this coast, all with pristine waters since there is no stream runoff. You'd never guess these beaches exist, since huge lava fields separate the coast from the highway. Find them fast right here:

carry it with you at all times

Monday, July 31, 2017

"What are we going to do in Hawaii, Mommy?"

No need to Yelp-out and plan an itinerary for each day on a Hawaiian vacation, since there's a simple way to keep the whole family happy: Make like a local and head for the beach. Below are prime beach parks where you can grab the chairs, towels, boogie boards, coolers, and the rest of the stuff and stay put until the sun goes down.  

On Oahu, look no further than Waikiki Beach—which is actually made up of a half-dozen or so different beaches spread out over a couple miles. At the south end of the beach is Kapiolani Park (above). A huge, shaded green space lies at the foot of Diamond Head and opens to safe swimming waters. Surfers put on a show.

At the north end of Waikiki is its best-kept secret. In the shadow of the Hilton Resort towers are the lovely gardens of Duke Kahanamoku Beach Park, named for the surfing great and Olympic champion swimmer. Duke's statue in the heart of the hubbub invites visitors to stake a spot in the sand and chill.

On Windward (east) Oahu lies Kailua Beach Park, which also has many acres of rolling greenery and very good snorkeling and swimming. It's right next to dreamy Lanikai Beach.

Several near-shore, tiny islands at Kailua offer visitors an opportunity to rent a kayak for a mini-adventure. Flat Island is close enough for snorkelers to make the voyage with flippers and a mask.

The gold standard among family beach parks are the three on Maui in Kihei: Kamaole I, II, and III. You can walk a path among them—and also keep going south to the resort beaches in Wailea. The low-key commerce of Kihei is across the street, so snacks and beverages are an easy get. Snorkeling is excellent and safe on most days. Picnic tables are scattered about a treed backshore.

On the Big Island, locals flock from afar to big Hapuna State Beach. A walkway swerves down past numerous picnic pavilions. Wave play and surfing are the big draw at Hapuna, but Beach 69 nearby has good safe swimming. (No! It's named for the telephone pole that marked the obscure parking, before it became a state beach). A coastal trail leads from Hapuna to the beach at the Mauna Kea Resort.

Many visitors miss the ideal delights at Kauai's Salt Pond Beach Park. Be sure to check it out when heading back from Waimea Canyon. It's just off the road in Hanapepe. Two keiki (kid) ponds anchor either end of a perfect crescent beach with coco palms dotting the fringes of the sand.

Best for last: The ultimate family pleaser is Kauai's Lydgate Park, on the Coconut Coast near Kapa'a. A large, man-made swimming oval is a sure thing for safe swimming, even when the surf is up. Huge Kamalani Park, with lots of play sets,  borders the other side of the parking lot, and a short walk takes you to ancient sites. A ways down the beach (walk or drive) is a five-story Play Bridge—a maze of ramps, ropes, and stairs—that can accommodate a crowd of scurrying little ones. For bigger kids, miles of open sand beckon for a hike past the Wailua Golf Course to wild Kauai Beach.

Trailblazer guides—one for each island—have special Trailblazer Kids sections for families. Included are outings, beaches, attractions, restaurants and mellow adventures. Most of the suggestions are freebies.

Friday, July 21, 2017

This is why Kauai is called the Garden Island

All the Islands have lush pockets, but Kauai—the farthest north and by far the oldest—is entirely a green landscape, with jungled ridges cleaved by streams that open to verdant fields.  This vista of Hanalei Valley is from quiet Hanalei Organic Park in Princeville (not the overlook that gets jammed with visitors).

Hanalei Valley, much of it part of the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, is the largest taro field in Hawaii. Taro was one of the 23 plants brought from Polynesia in ancient times and its roots are used to make a mush called poi. Most tourists wrinkle their noses at poi. Try taro chips.

Taro leaf stems are also steamed and eaten as a side dish.

The Hanalei River opens to sprawling lagoons where it reaches the ocean at Black Pot Beach on Hanalei Bay. You can't get closer to heaven in this life.

Kauai Trailblazer has directions to the serene spots on the north shore that are not on the tourist radar.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kauai's Coconut Coast is where Hawaii's first Royalty chose to live.

The Coconut Coast of Kauai, its east shore, is cleaved by the Wailua River, by far the largest in the state, and it was chosen above all other locales in the Islands to be home of the Ali'i (ruling class) for many centuries. Beaches are not spectacular, but many are just right for swimming families. This reef-protected pool is just north of the river mouth.

In ancient times, seven heiaus (temples) were built, beginning at the coast and extending inland toward Mount Waialeale, the rainiest spot on earth (around 40 feet per year).

Heads up! A falling coconut is no joke. 

The coconut was one of the 23 'canoe plants' that voyaging Polynesians brought with them to start life in their new world. The white meat is delish, of course, but coconut water is refreshing and nourishing—during WWII, coconut water was used for transfusions on wounded soldiers when plasma supplies ran low.

Wild Donkey Beach is one of several hike-to spots on the coast.  It's bordered by the Kapa'a Coastal Bike Path, a paved route that runs for many miles, through the town and along a wild coast. You won't find a bike path like this anywhere else.

Going north from Kapa'a begins a run of a dozen or more wild beaches, most unsigned and reachable only by foot—like this little oasis near Anahola.  Inland from Kapa'a are several great mountain trails, including the Sleeping Giant and Waialeale Blue Hole. You'll also find quite a few mid-range resorts on the Coconut Coast.

Aside from being a cool place unto itself, the Coconut Coast is convenient to visit Kaua's other hot spots, like the Napali Coast on the north coast, and the Koke'e Museum above Waimea Canyon on the south coast. Kaua'i Trailblazer has tons of details for independent travelers.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Big Island's Hamakua is like Maui's Hana Highway without the hassle

Maui's Hana Highway hugs a jungled coastline, crossing mossy one-lane bridges, botanical gardens, and umpteen spewing waterfalls. The Big Island's Old Mamalaoha Highway on the Hamakua (northeast) coast does pretty much the same thing—only without the traffic jam of rental cars. 

The trick is to take side-trips from the higher-speed Highway 19 (on the run from Honoka'a south to Hilo) onto the hardly-used sections of the old highway. In places, vines hang down nearly to your windshield and leafy sprays are at arm's length out the side windows.

A few miles off the highway is Akaka Falls State Park, offering a chance to take a .5-mile loop trail through a tropical garden, passing two waterfalls.

Akaka Falls is a classic, dropping about 500-feet through a split in a cliff.

Though the raising sugar cane days are over in Hamakua are over, about a half-dozen sleepy towns remain,  like Honomu (above). In several other towns you will find intact enclaves of sugar-shack communities. 

Umauma could be the cover shot for Waterfalls Magazine (if there was one). The triple-decked cascade is near three botanical gardens, including one of the best in the state—Hawaii Tropical Botanical gardens.

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer has more details on Hamakua—there are numerous beach parks as well. Most people zip along this coast on the way to someplace else, without realizing a fabulous destination is at hand.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Everybody's gone surfin' at Waimea Bay

The North Shore of Oahu boasts the Mt. Rushmore of pro-surfing venues—Pipeline, Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay—where real-life beach boys and girls ride unreal waves. The shore also has a few dozen other named surfing breaks. The place is Surf City, Planet Earth.

When epic surf rolls in, 25-feet and up (way up) you won't see anything like Waimea Bay. Breaking surf closes out the mouth of the bay, the kind of waves that make beachcombers tremble—and make the best surfers of the world paddle out to meet the challenge.

On normal days, Waimea has a big swath of sand, nice park amenities, and a wide stream that  creates a pool at the shore. The Waimea Valley Arboretum and Botanical Garden lies just inland. 

The shorebreak can be huge, the main event on some days. But the real surfing action is at the bay's mouth. You can park at the church (pictured above) and take a ringside seat on the bluff.

Yearly—but only if surf is 30 feet or so—Quiksilver surf company hosts a big-wave surfing event in the name of the great Eddie Aikau. Surfers fly in from around the world at the spur of the moment. Aikau was a North Shore legend waterman (lifeguard) and surfer, who heroically gave his life in an attempt to save the life of crew mates on the maiden voyage of the Hokulea (authentic Hawaiian sailing outrigger) when the craft was disabled in a storm. Aikau was lost at sea, as he left the boat on a surfboard to get help. The crew survived.

Throughout the Islands you'll see "Eddie Would Go" bumper stickers.

The scene changes on the north end of the North Shore. Snorkeling is excellent at several wild beaches.

Anchoring this part of the North Shore is the Turtle Bay Resort, with condos, a golf course, trails, and lots of open spaces.

Oahu Trailblazer has all the deets on the notorious North Shore, a place that is really down to earth.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A short trip to the Top of the World

Mauna Kea on the Big Island is easily the highest mountain in the world—about 43,000 feet when measured from its base that lies about 5 miles below sea level. The next tallest is MK's kissing cousin, Mauna Loa, which lies not far across a volcanic saddle.  A shrine marks the the space in between the peaks.

At 9,000 feet in elevation is the Onizuka Center for Astronomy, where telescopes are set up outside for looky-loos. It takes a four-wheel drive vehicle to travel the remaining 8 miles to the summit. To avoid altitude sickness, you should always stop at the center for an hour or so, rather than driving directly up.

If you go up on a guided tour, make sure they give you the half-hour it takes to make the half-mile round-trip to the top of the red mountain. To Hawaiians, who trekked up from sea level, Mauna Kea was the sacred portal to the heavens. 

The celestial observatories, thankfully, are atop a sub-peak next to Mauna Kea. 

About a dozen observatories, staffed by international scientists, take peeks from the peak. Most are not open to the public, but the University of Hawaii's, as well as the Keck, will let you in for a view. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the details on visiting this mind-blowing place on earth.