Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ba-Boom: Maui's Big Volcano is Still Active

Maui volcano Haleakala

Haleakala (House of the Sun) hasn't passed gas since 1790, but volcanologists consider it "active," meaning a new eruption would not be a shocker. For now the crater (technically it's an eroded valley) at the summit is part of a national park open to hikers. The mini-crater shown above, called a pu'u (poo-ew), is one of many in the interior.

Maui volcano hiking

The Sliding Sands Trail is the main route down. The options are enticing, but remember, you'll have to hump it back out and the lack of oxygen at 10,000 feet makes that difficult.

Haleakala sunset view Maui

Clouds come and go. If you get socked in, wait awhile and you might get lucky.

summit view Haleakala Maui Trailblazer

The views seaward from the summit are astounding. On some days, Haleakala pokes well above a marine layer of clouds.

Haleakala summit Maui

Red Hill Summit is the tippy top. Seeing the sunrise from the visitors center has become so popular that reservations are now required. Don't fret: Sunset is just as good, maybe better, since you don't need to drive up in the dark into uncertain weather and freeze your nose off. 

Haleakala Highway Maui Trailblazer

For years, the downhill ride from the summit was a  tourist excursion. Nowadays, the tours begin well down from the top. Don't fret II: If you want a unique experience, rent a mountain bike and take the Skyline Trail down from the top to Polipoli State Park. The dirt road down is free of vehicles. Maui Trailblazer has the details on this little know route, as well as other tips on how to enjoy a visit to Haleakala National Park.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Big Island's Mauna Loa: A Mellow Drive up the Most Massive Mountain in the World.

Mauna Loa volcano

Measured from its base below the ocean's surface, Mauna Loa is well over 40,000 feet high, making it easily the world's second tallest (Mauna Kea, not far away is 400 feet taller). But this shield volcano (made from lava roiling up from the earth's core, bursting from the ocean surface, and making a big pile) is by far the planet's most massive, with 100 times the volume of Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier.

The current Kilauea Caldera eruptions are taking place well down the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa.

The drive to the Mauna Loa trailhead near the top climbs 4,500 feet over about 18 miles. When the road was paved a few years back, workers left the first quarter mile unpaved, presumably to deter curious tourists.

The road provides smooth passage through a sea of lava from several eruptions that took place the late 1800s and in 1935. The volcano is very much considered 'active.'

lava volcano hawaii

To avoid altitude sickness, and for kicks, you should stop for maybe an hour on the way up and take a stroll. Pick a spot with pahoehoe (pah-hoy-hoy) lava, which lays out like brownie batter, rather that the sharp slag heaps of a'a (ah-ah) lava. 

Add water and sunshine and life begins anew.

Views get big as you climb: To the north are Mauna Kea, Hualalai Volcano and Maui's Haleakala.

The Mauna Loa Observatory is at road's end, where weather stations manned by scientists from around the world conduct experiments and collect data. This is where the depletion of the ozone layer and carbon dioxide buildups have been recorded for decades. The folks don't mind if you walk up there, but don't be a pest since it is not a tourist attraction. Once-weekly tours are available, however.

With boardwalks connecting metal building and trailers, and weird installations scattered about, the observatory is the 'poor cousin' to the cityscape of gleaming celestial observatories across the saddle on Mauna Kea. Far fewer (practically zilch) visitors see Mauna Loa.

A 12-mile round-trip hike with 2,000-plus feet of gain sounds more doable than it is. Lack of oxygen is pronounced, and you can freeze and fry on the same day. Since Mauna Loa is so round, you don't see the summit as you climb. You can also approach from the south side of the peak—at the Mauna Loa Lookout—but this is not advisable these days with Kilauea blowing its cork.

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has more details of exploring the volcanic highlands.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

When Mother Nature is a spoilsport, head for Poipu Beach on Kauai

allergen gardens Poipu kauai

Rain can put a damper on your Kauai vacation, but you can (almost) always find sunshine and blue skies on the arid south coast—at the resort strip of Poipu Beach. But Poipu is not all arid and beach: Two of the nation's five National Tropical Botanical Gardens are here, including Allerton Garden (where TV's Fantasy Island was filmed, along with several movies) and the sprawling McBryde Garden (above). The gardens have a visitor center, with no admission charged, that offers a third choice if you don't have time to visit the main attractions.

spouting horn kauai trailblazer

Across the highway from the visitor center is Spouting Horn, where busloads of tourists arrive to watch seawater blast geyser-like from a hole in the reef. A garden trail skirts the coast from here for a half-mile, to the entrance gate to Allerton.

Kauai Sheraton Hotel

The resort strip of Poipu, anchored by the Sheraton, is not as crowded as others in the Islands, though it gets jammed up on weekends. Poipu Beach Park on the east end of the strip is a family fave. Snorkeling and surfing are both good. Hawaiian monk seals (an endangered species) often haul out to sunbathe amid sunburned visitors.

kauai hyatt hotel

A short walk from Poipu gets you to one of the best destination resorts in the world, the Grand Hyatt Kauai. A man-made saltwater lagoon sits just inland from the ocean, and a Disney-esque pool is a few steps away.

shipwreck beach Poipu kauai

From the top of Makawehi Bluff at the Hyatt is a view of Shipwreck Beach, popular among local surfers. People jump from the bluff. Saner people embark on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, which begins here. Wildlife, sesacapes, and ancient sites highlight the sandy route.

After about a mile, the Heritage Trails drops down to Mahaulepu Beach, where kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling are options. You can also drive here from the Hyatt, via a hellishly potholed road.

From Mahulepu, the trail continues for another mile to Haula Beach, a wild beauty. For more details, check out Kauai Trailblazer.  A lot of fun stuff is hiding in plain sight.