Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kauai's Waimea Canyon: Too trippy to imagine

Waimea Canyon by itself—a twelve-mile-long, 3,000-foot deep gash called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific—is just your run-of-the-mill freaking amazing. Several overlooks on the way up from Waimea Town are national-park quality. The Kukui Trail drops to the bottom (cacti and century plants, river), and several trails dance along the rim, like the one to Polihale Falls (above).

Waimea Canyon Kauai Hawaii KauaiTrailblazer

The road up the rim of Waimea Canyon ends at two overlooks of the Kalalau Valley. This is the spot trekkers reach after a 12-mile slog along the rugged Napali ("the cliffs") Coast from the north side of the island beyond Hanalei Town (around the right side of the above photo). 

This Kalalau Trail gets hammered by footprints. What few people realize is that the roadless Napali continues to the left of this photo, eight or more other cliff-and-valley features. You can walk out all of them. The most famous is the Awa'awapuhi Trail, but other hikes are also spectacular, ending at beach vistas from 2,000 to 3,000 feet up.

alakai swamp kauai hawaii trailblazerhawaii

You're not done: From the last overlook, the Pihea Trail skirts the lip of the Kalalau Valley—and then drops via miles of staircases and ramps through the rainforests of the Alakai Swamp and ends at a platform (called Kilohana) that looks down from 4,000 feet onto Kauai's north shore.

kokee museum kauai hawaii trailblazer

But wait, there's more: Forested bird lands lie between the top of the canyon and the edge of the valleys—more miles of trails and mountain biking roads in Koke'e and Waimea Canyon state parks. The best place to make sense of all this is to head to the Koke'e Museum, among the very best in the state. Staff know the area well (you won't find park rangers around) and the gift store is maybe the best on the island.

Kauai Trailblazer has all the details. It takes a few trips to get a handle on this adventure wonderland.  Be Aware: It can be nippy up here, so bring outerwear and equip your daypack.

kauai trailblazer guidebook

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Oahu's Maunawili Falls: A short trip to the 'Heart of Darkness'

Maunawili Falls Oahu Trailblazer Kailua hiking

The 3-mile round-trip (375 feet of elevation) to Maunawili Falls may spec out as a cakewalk, but it walks more like a jungle trek a la Conrad's novel, upon which the movie Apocalypse Now was based. The trail starts in suburbia on the east side of the Ko'olau Range not far from Kailua on Windward Oahu. The neighborhood scene changes from the jump, as tropical flora swallows you up.

hiking Oahu Hawaii

Imbedded flat stones are a traditional Hawaiian method of improving footing.

Oahu Trailblazer hiking trails

Some short sections of the trail are a breeze.

hiking Maunawili Falls trail

File the "No Trespassing" warning under "not necessary." King Kong would have trouble off trail.

Footwear is a personal choice. Whatever yours is, plan on getting them wet and muddy. As is the case for most jungle hikes in Hawaii, it's easier to leave shoes on when crossing streams. Plan on washing them after the hike to avoid an unpleasant stink.

Maunawili Falls Oahu Trailblazer directions

Rain on this day turned the water brown. A second falls lies above, but it takes a four-point scramble. 

Most visitors to populated Oahu will be surprised at the number of trailheads leading to waterfalls and ridges of the Ko'olaus and Waianae Mountains. Oahu Traiblazer guides you to all of them.

Oahu Trailblazer cover

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Why do few visitors see one of the very best coasts in Hawaii?

puna_hawaii_big island trailblazer

Puna, the big nose of the Big Island that points east, is by any measure one of the best places to visit in the state, but not that many people see it since the island is so ... big (larger than all the other islands combined). 

While rental cars jam places like Maui's Hana Highway, you can cruise virtually solo on the Kehena-Pohoiki Scenic Drive. It begins at the south end of Puna, about 25 miles from Hilo. Hikes to see flowing lava begin nearby, at Kalapana Bay.

Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

The hot spot on the water is Isaac Hale (hah-lay) Beach Park. Surfers love the left-break off of the park's breakwater and you can walk out for grandstand seats. 

Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

Behind the community cottage at the beach park is Pohoiki Warm Spring, a natural warm pool created by the Big Island's geothermal goings on. 

tree tunnel Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

The tropical tree tunnel leads to a huge forest of Ironwood trees MacKenzie State Park, home to one of the best coastal campgrounds in Hawaii.  No beach here, and monster waves can pose a threat along the bluffs.

A large warm pool—a fabulous freebie—is a few miles down the road at Ahalanui Warm Pond Park.  A grove of coco palms invite a picnic at this county park.

hot pool Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

Greenery gives way to lava lands as you head north in Puna. The pocked topography at the coast creates a unique snorkeling park. At Waiopae Tide Pools are a dozen or more swimmable depressions, rich with coral and fish.  Waiopae is a Marine Conservation District.

Just north of the pools is Cape Kumakahi, the eastern most tip of the Big Island—the air here has been measured as the purest on the planet. A short walk through the slag heaps (the coast was extended by a half-mile by a 1960 eruption) brings you to a winning swimming hole. The tepid waters of the Kapoho Bay Seapool (a.k.a Champagne Cove) are crystal clear.

Lava Tree State Monument Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

When looping inland back towards Hilo, you'll want to pull in at Lava Tree State Monument.  A .75-mile path weaves through lava statues created when a high-tide of lava came through in the 1700s. When the flow receded, some of the hot stuff congealed on the trunks of ohia trees, and remained as columns when the trees burned away. Songbirds provide a raucous soundtrack to this sort-of eerie stroll.

More details and stuff to see in Puna await in (click here to buy yours): Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Make sure your Hawaiian Vacation is a Honeymoon and not a Blind Date from Hell

Polynesian Cultural Center Oahu Hawaii

Say the words "Hawaiian Vacation" to 100 people and you are likely to get 100 positive responses—and all 100 will differ from one another. The fact is, one person's dream vacation is another person's bummer. A great vacation depends on your likes and dislikes, and your style.

Enter No Worries Hawaii: A Vacation Planning Guide for Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. This e-book uses 36 categories—that together summarize what people want out of a trip to Hawaii—and lets you pick the stuff that will ring your bell. 

The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu (above) is Hawaii's top attraction, but not a must-see for everyone.

Hanaumau Bay Snorkeling Oahu Hawaii

A simple-but-ingenious self-test is the key: For each of the 36 categories, the self-test asks if you "gotta have it," "it would be nice," or "don't care." If you are not into beginner snorkeling, then undergoing the crowds at Hanauma Bay (above) isn't going to be a priority.

Among the 36 categories are hike-to wild beaches, museums and galleries, walk-around tourist towns, mountain biking trails, tropical ridge hikes, scenic drives, attractions and visitor centers, horse stables, golfing, beaches to get lost on—a spectrum of ranging from relaxing in pampered luxury to sweating it out at the outer edge of adventure.

outrigger Oahu Kualoa Ranch

Your self-test answers are keyed to which island scores highest for the category. If family picnic parks are high on your list, you'll want to see Kualoa Regional Park (above). 

Moloaa Beach  Hawaii KauaiTrailblazer
For each category. No Worries Hawaii lists the Top 5 in the state, as well as the Top 20, and also some honorable mentions. Every island scores in each category—they are all in Hawaii, after all. But for each category (like Best Places to Watch Surfers) a winning island is noted.

hiking Kukui Trail Kauai Trailblazer Hawaii

The preferences from your self-test are added together,  and your winning island is selected. The Kuilau Ridge Trail is among the Top 20 among Tropical Forest Hikes, and Kauai is best in this category.

Twin Falls  Hana Highway Maui Trailblazer

No Worries Hawaii also has a special section on how to avoid dangers and stay safe on the trails and at the beach. These rules can save your butt.

Resort Maui beach chairs cocopalms MauiTrailblazer

You will also find a chapter on which type of accommodation you are looking for—from camping and rustic cabins to swank destination resorts, like the Big Island's Mauna Lani (above). Details for many dozens of hand-picked hotels and condos are included.

Puna Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer sightsee driving

It's not enough to pick your island and specific accommodation: No Worries Hawaii also has the lowdown on all the areas to stay—like mid-range family resorts, beach cottages, mountain cottages, happening nightlife, and luxury resorts. The book also lists locales you may want to avoid.

The authors have spent more than 25 years exploring Hawaii, and have published guides for each island. NWH is full of tips on how to save money, both in trip planning and during your visit. You'll also learn about common hassles, and how to avoid them.

Many people want to schedule tours and lessons (helicopters, sightseeing, horseback riding, etc.). NWH has a rundown on how (or whether) to book a tour, and the specific operators to use.

No Worries Hawaii is available as an e-book (link below), as well as full-color paperback and a  full-color Amazon print-on-demand version published this hear (ISBN 9781973213666).

No Worries Hawaii guidebook Trailblazer Travel Books

Sunday, January 7, 2018

You gotta hang in Hilo to know the Big Island

King Kamehameha Big Island Trailblazer

Historic Hilo hangs as loose as a hula dancer's hips, so loose some of it appears ready to topple. But sidewalk planter boxes, arty signs, and old-timey storefronts attest that the town is on the up-tick. A mile from old town is Wailoa River State Recreation Area, where a gilded statue of Kamehameha the Great presides over acres of greenery. Curving footbridges span the river—the shortest in the world at one-third mile.

hilo waterfront park big island trailblazer

Just offshore—reachable by a footbridge—is the tiny Moku Ola (a.k.a. Coconut Island), ringed by a tiara of palms. Swimming is excellent, in waters historically known for healing properties. The view inland is a gong-ringer: Rising above Hilo are the island's twin giant peaks, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The little island is on the grounds of Liliuokalani Gardens.

The Hilo Farmer's Market—the best in Hawaii—takes place Wednesdays and Saturdays, when more than 200 growers of fruits, veggies, and flowers load tables with low-priced goodies. Crafts are also on display. A smaller version of the market happens daily.

hilo outrigger practice big island trailblazer

Across the street from the market and Historic Hilo is Bayfront Park. Outrigger canoeing is part of the community, and fun to watch.

hilo waterfall pools Janine sprout trailblazer travel books

Gushing through the center of Hilo is the Wailuku River, running down from the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Wailuku River State Park is a five-minute drive from town.

hilo diver Hawaii big island trailblazer

Translated as "Destructive Waters," Wailuku makes for hazardous swimming, and drownings occur. The most dangerous place in the park is Boiling Pots, where white water scours bedrock. Don't ever do what the dude is doing in the picture above.

hilo waterfall big island trailblazer

Rainbow Falls is the park's centerpiece. It's on the tour bus circuit.

A short trail takes you to the top of Rainbow Falls, where swimming is safe on most days, as long as you stay well back from the edge.  

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer devotes several chapters on the goings on around Hilo Town. There are several beach parks along the huge bay that are among the best in the state—if you catch them on a sunny day.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Monkey see, Maui do

Visitors tend to congregate at the well-known attractions on all the Islands, but on Maui this group-think is heightened. Many tourists arrive with a punch list of scheduled must-dos, like the Hana Highway, Haleakala sunrise, and a few other Yelp faves. Of course, top attractions are that way for a good reason.

But being in a line of rental cars or rubbing elbows on a beach or trail is not always fun. Thankfully, Maui has a large number of getaways for independent travelers. One trail less-traveled is in the misty bird lands of the Waihou Springs Forest Reserve (above) near the cowboy town of Makawao on the windward (east) side.

Also on the windward side is the jungly escape on the Kapahakapao Loop Trail into the Makawao Forest Reserve. Hardly anybody sees this place.

Above busy Kapalua in West Maui is a nature walk onto a reef with a weird rock formation called Dragon's Teeth. Just south of here is Ironwoods Beach, a long stretch of sand only local surfers seem to know about.

The Honolua Marine Preserve in West Maui, located a few miles north of where coastal development ends, is a popular haunt for snorkelers. But few people head to the Lipoa Point on the north end of the bay. This is one of the best spots in Hawaii to watch surfers, and also the trailhead to remote snorkeling spots—near the site of a resort in the old days.

Baldwin Beach Park, near hip-cool Paia on the windward side, is a popular hangout. Walk down the beach (or drive in the "back way") and you get to an excellent family snorkeling cove, Baby Baldwin Beach. Locals are onto this one, but it is always mellow. If you want really mellow, head for Spreckelsville, a few miles away.

Kahakuloa Head, the "Tall Lord" is a landmark of the rugged north coast. The road is tight going by, and few visitors notice the parking and social trails. In the winter, this where to be to see whales and shorebirds.

For an otherworldly side-trip, turn off the Hana Highway well before Hana and drop down about 1,000 feet over a few miles to Nahiku. Beatle George Harrison had a place in this remote botanical wonderland.

The red sand of Koki Beach is off the main drag from Hana Town to the Pools of Oheo—a short trip not many drivers make. Hamoa Beach, the one used by the upscale Travaasa Resort in Hana, is also on this rural road.

First-time Maui visitors will want to see the headline attractions. But leave some unplanned time to explore the stuff that is off the radar. Maui Trailblazer will give you a detailed description of dozens of out-of-the-way adventures that will make for a unique vacation.