Thursday, August 31, 2017

If wild is your thing, then Kauai is king

Vacationers in search of undeveloped natural beaches must go to Kauai: On a 20-plus mile run of coastline from the Coconut Coast (east shore) to Princeville (before dropping down to the tourist-packed Hanalei), you will find more than two-dozen beaches that are essentially wild. Most of these treasures are reachable only by trails that are unsigned. Hard to believe, but it's true.

Kilauea Bay (above) is visited mainly by surfers and kayakers. The long curve of sand lies down a dirt road, not hard to navigate with a rental car. A short walk over a low-lying point gets you to Kilauea Iki Beach, which is totally private.

Kauai Trailblazer—now in its 20th anniversary edition—has specific directions to all these wild getaways, many with obscure access points. Getting to pristine Pila'a Beach involves a a short-but-steep hike from a rural road, and then a shoreline rock-hop for about 20 minutes—really 'out there.'  Even in Princeville, with its condos and golf courses, you will find trails to hidden spots like Sea Lodge Beach and Kenomene (Pali Ke Kua) Beach

Be Aware: Hiking poles will help on some steep trails. And always be mindful of wave action and ocean currents at these beaches, since you are on your own. Kauai Trailblazer notes the specific hazards for each beach, and also has a section on how to read rip currents.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The yin and the yang of Waikiki Beach

Most people think of Oahu's Waikiki Beach as a kind of Las Vegas, minus the casinos, plus the ocean. And that view is true. The two miles of sand—from Ala Wai Harbor to the foot of Diamond Head—is essentially artificial, a grid of high-rises, designer shops, and tiki torch bars that sprang up when a canal was dug inland to turn what was a swamp into a resort destination. The wall-to-wall scorched flesh at the shoreline seems anything but the "real Hawaii."

Yet Diamond Head Crater is WKK's money shot, and it speaks of Oahu's ancient volcanic lineage. More recent, but still historic, times are plain to see along swank Kalakaua Boulevard on Waikiki Historic Trail, which describes the beach's remarkable past. For centuries, the high ground at Waikiki was home to the Ali'i (royalty), and King David Kalakaua in 1877 bequeathed 200 acres right next to Waikiki beach to the Hawaiian people. Kapiolani Park, named for Queen Kapiolani, is tree-studded refuge: quite a quiet contrast to the buzz of the beach scene. 

Another contrast to the tourism lies right at your fingertips, or, rather, toe tips, since sailboats can pick you up  on the sand. The world changes dramatically on the watery sheet not far offshore.

The big shift in viewpoint happens at twilight, when the beach empties—particularly right after the sunset show. While most visitors are showering in their rooms and thinking about beverages and coconut shrimp, the local surfers are showering with their boards at the beach spigots. The center of things for this magic hour is Prince Jonah Kuhio Park. Not far from the statue of Prince Kuhio is one of Olympian and surfing legend, Duke Kahanamoku, whose open arms welcome you to the tableau.

Oahu Trailblazer has the deets for visiting Waikiki on foot. The place will live up to its postcard images, but also reveal the Old Hawaii you would not expect. 


Friday, August 18, 2017

Here's TV's 'Fantasy Island' in Real Life on Kauai

Nostalgic TV fans may recognize this view of Allerton Garden as the home of Ricardo Montalban and friends on Fantasy Island. In real life, these beachfront acres were the home of John Allerton, who bought the property in 1937, and lived there with his lifetime companion, John Gregg Allerton. The two men constructed fanciful fountains and cultivated rich plant life to create one of the nation's five National Tropical Botanical Gardens.

A second NTBG is adjacent inland: McBryde Garden. Guided tours are offered for Allerton, but guests are free to roam McBryde, a dreamland of native plants and trees, as well as spices and exotics that are spread along the pools and cascades of Lawai Stream. 

The misted tunnel of the Biodiversity Trail is way cool, especially on hot days.

Dedicated to research, McBryde has the largest collection of Hawaiian flora in the world. 

This is the perfect place for families to wander in wonder. 

Patrick Doughery's Birthday House, woven from local trimmings, was created in 2014—not as a permanent installation.

Scientists are credited with bringing Alula (above) back from the abyss of extinction. A field researcher had to hang from a Napali cliff on the north shore to retrieve one of the few remaining plants.

Kauai Trailblazer has more on these gardens, as well as the island's other NTBG, Limahuli, and other botanical treasures.

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