Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hiking with a Goddess at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Pele, the volcano goddess, is alive and well—and fully in command—at the Big Island's Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Some things never change. The whimsical fury of Pele is captured in this painting by the late Herb Kane (Kah-nay), called the 'Mona Lisa of Hawaii.'  It hangs in the Jaggar Museum on the rim of the Kilauea Caldera.

Trail and road closures, due to debris and toxic smoke, remain in effect. But there's still plenty to see.

From the Jaggar Musuem (where Crater Rim Drive is closed) is a a close-up of the fumes spewing from the Halemaumau Crater, which is within the larger Kilauea Caldera. The traditional "home" of Pele, this crater blew its cork in March of 2008 (thankfully in the middle of the night) and at times now a "lava lake" roils on its surface.

At the other end of the caldera is Kilauea Iki Crater, which last erupted in 1959.  A four-mile loop trail drops 400 feet to the pahoehoe (smooth) lava surface. Steam rises from cracks. Creepy.

You can beat the crowds by heading from Chain of Craters Road on Hilina Pali (cliffs) Road. After 9 miles, the road ends at a stone building and overlook. From here, trails drop more than 2,000 feet over five miles into the most remote costal wilderness in Hawaii. Several huts provide shelter for backpackers.

Note: To see lava flows from Pu'u O'o, which have been constant since 1983, you need to drive from the park to Kalapana Bay, which is on the Puna Coast east of Hilo. Enterprising local guides and bike rental companies have set up shop. You can, however, see the flume from Chain of Craters Road, within the park.

A tamer adventure—and sure family-pleaser—is the Thurston Lava Tube, only a couple miles from park headquarters. Ferns and ohia trees create a lush beginning for this short hike, and birds provide a rich soundtrack.

The scene changes inside the 600-foot-long cave. Lava tubes form when cooler air hardens the surfaces of flowing lava. When the flow ceases, it drains away and a hollow tube remains.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has all the details for exploring this land of Pele.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Oahu's Mt. Olympus: The Wild Green Yonder above Waikiki

Fifteen minutes after twirling a cocktail umbrella at Waikiki Beach, you can be embarking on one of the best tropical ridge hikes in Hawaii. The trek to Mt. Olympus (as students at the nearby University of Hawaii have named it) begins at the Wa'ahila Ridge State Recreation Area. Bring plenty of water for this baby—it's 6.5 miles round-trip with a gain of nearly 2,000 feet, but difficult footing makes it seem like more.

The route, like life, has its ups and downs. You will be happy to have a hiking pole, especially if rains turn the red soil to slippery snot.

The trail is not dangerous for careful hikers, but low-lying vegetation disguises drop-offs.

From the summit is a view of Windward (east) Oahu.

The ridge of the Ko'olau Range (upon which Mt. Olympus sits) is only a couple feet wide in places. 

Tired legs make going down (with a view of Waikiki) the more likely spot to have a slip-and-fall.  Oahu Trailblazer has details on dozens of hikes into the Ko'olau Range, as well as into the Waianae Range, which cleaves the north end of the island.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Kauai's Anini Beach: This is why you come to Hawaii, guaranteed

With two miles of reefed-protected sandy beach, backed by a garden of palms and leafy trees, Anini Beach is for sure among the best family beaches in Hawaii. It's on the tourist radar, but never feels crowded, and it's easier to get to than many of the north shore's wild beaches.

No shore break (you can see the waves hitting the reef above) means an easy-entry for snorkeling, paddle-boarding, and kayaking. Windsurfers and kite-boarders also launch here. 

Be Aware: The incoming wave water has to get back out somewhere. At Anini, two blue channels, like outgoing streams, can sweep swimmers out. Kauai Trailblazer (see below) has the specific location for these channels. If you get caught in one, swim sideways, not against the current. The force of the water dissipates at the reef.

The far end of Anini is called Wyllies Beach. The near shore rocks create an excellent pool for family swimming, but stream runoff means less coral and fewer fish for snorkelers. Hot tip: You can take a short trail from Princeville down to this end of the beach.

On the opposite end from Wyllies (the part you get to first when driving down) are several shoreline access paths between high-end beachfront homes. This end is the chill zone. Bring a book.

A picnic area and campground are in the center of things. A polo field (that's right) is across the street.

Pedestrians have little to fear from cars, unless they space out and walk into one.

Kauai Trailblazer has the ins-and-outs on all the famous stuff on the island, as well as tons of places to call your own.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Historic Kua Bay is now Kona's most happening beach scene

Fewer than ten years ago—and a thousand years before that—Kua Bay was reachable only by walking down a rutted, unsigned "road," located about ten miles north of touristy Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. Then a paved road, restrooms, and a bright Kekaha Kai State Park sign overnight turned the bay into a setting for a Beach Boys' song. 

The park for centuries was the ancient village of Manini Owali

The park's few picnic tables each day are stacked with goodies that would have kept the villagers going for a month.

Ultra-blue waters and a usually gentle shore break lure swimmers and body boarders. Board surfers love the right-break off the the bay's northern tip, Papiha Point. But be prepared: During the big winter storms, the sand is sometimes washed away, revealing boulders.

Even with the new popularity, visitors are only a few steps away from the old days. Beginning at a trailhead down a road behind the restrooms, a portion of the King's Trail extends northward a  couple miles to Kikaua Point Park. Much of the journey, through a hellish landscape of rough a'a lava, is aided by flat rocks placed by ancient Hawaiians. 

Another quick thrill is the walk to the top of Pu'u Kuili, a volcanic cone that is a landmark on the northern Kona Coast. You need to climb about 300 feet in less than a half-mile to reach the summit. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has detailed directions to all of the island's popular spots, as well as the quiet getaways that are hiding in plain sight.