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. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hardly anyone goes to one of the Big Island's best snorkeling spots

Abundant marine life, scenic backshore, clear water, easy entry*, shower, and great parking: why do so few people snorkel at  Mahukona Landing on the Kohala coast? Probably because the Big Island is big, and people don't stay long enough to get beyond the over-Yelped other snorkeling venues. And deep waters may be a little spooky for beginners.

Manta rays (harmless) and octopi join the usual suspects of reef life. Fish love the encrusted propeller and boilers that remain from a 1913 shipwreck.

Decrepit remains the the sugar-cane heydays skirt the backshore of the concrete landing, which dates from 1930. Mahukona Beach Park is steps away, and tiny Kapa'a Beach Park is just a mile or two up the coast, both spots with some of the best coastal camping in Hawaii. Headed south from Mahukona is a mile-long trail to Lapakahi State Historical Park (pictured below), site of a thriving village in the 1400s.

*Mahukona Landing can be hairy in high swells. Water breaking onto the concrete is a sign of an unsafe day. A ladder makes it easy to get in and out. If you find yourself in high swell, watch the surf and time your exit between swells. 

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has specific directions to popular as well as lesser-known snorkeling beaches. Specific safety precautions are noted.