Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Pololu Valley on the Big Island is like Kauai's Napali Coast—minus the crowds

The view from the end of the road in North Kohala is an eye-magnet, encouraging your feet to start walking. In 20 minutes, you can be down there.

The green nub on the north end of the Big Island—Kohala— that points toward Maui is a million years older than the island's southern volcanic slopes, whose shores have been widened by fresh lava just htis year. That means Kohala has deep tropical valleys and ridges with waterfalls and no roads—like Kauai's Napali Coast.

Most people hang around the beach and don't find the trail that leads to the wilderness.

The road ends a few miles past the quaintly weathered town of Hawi, and from there a wide, steep trail (400 feet down over .75-mile) drops to Pololu Valley. A rocky beach fronts a huge freshwater pond encased by lush grasslands.

For most visitors, Pololu is the destination. But a trail leads up the other side on a wild-and-wooly, 20 mile run to Waipo Valley, which is at road's end on the east side of Kohala. Hearty hikers can make the first two or three valleys, though slides and tree falls can make the route sketchy. You'll find old walls and other ruins. Unless Tarzan or a knowledgeable guide is along, you'll want to turn around at the third valley over, Hokonoiki. (Most trekkers approach this coast from the Waipio side, on the Muliwai Trail.)  Directions in your Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer.

Friday, August 2, 2019

How the history of Hawaii may predict the future of the world

The analogy is obvious: Eight principal Hawaiian islands are adrift in a universe of ocean, just as our eight planets (sorry Pluto) are isolated in a universe of space. The first Polynesians, from the Marquesas, arrived perhaps as early as 200 A.D. Back-and-forth migrations from a second wave of Polynesians from Tahiti took place until around 1300 A.D., at which point newcomers stopped arriving and the Hawaiians were alone in their world until the late 1700s. That's when Western Civilization arrived in the form of British Captain James Cook.

Having brought a few dozen plants and a few animals in open canoes from Tahiti, the Hawaiians survived—flourished—for 500 years in isolation. Central to this accomplishment is a division of land called an ahupua'a (go ahead, say it, ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah). An ahupua'a is a stream valley running from the sea to the mountains, with agricultural terraces in between—like the taro fields pictured above on the Big Island's Waipio Valley. 

Though the land divisions are not as uniform or distinct, the concept of the ahupua'a applies to modern settlements, from small towns to big cities: Without the bounty harvested from the land and sea, life cannot exist.

In Hawaii, everyone worked. Everyone had a place. The elders, kapunas, passed working knowledge to the children, the keikis.  Law-breakers were dealt with harshly, so that if someone was in trouble, they ran to get into 'jail,' a place of refuge that was safe from worse punishment. After a period of time, the miscreants were allowed to rejoin their village. Productivity from each individual was an essential given.

At the time of Cook's arrival, the Hawaiian population was estimated to be around 800,000—not that far off from today's million-plus. Some historians have theorized that back-and-forth migrations to Hawaii ceased because the ahupua'as were all populated. No more room at the inn.

In the century following the coming of Westerners, the native population of Hawaiian fell to around 50,000, mainly due to disease. Conventual wisdom and historical fact say the Western World destroyed an island kingdom that was the epitome of 'locally sourced sustainability,' to use today's words.

There is no doubt that disease and unlawful annexation meant the demise of the Hawaiian nation. But what would have happened in Hawaii if the West had not arrived? Would King Kamehameha have conquered Kauai (after more than two centuries of inter-island wars), and reigned over a sustainable, peaceable nation? Or would success, in the form of population growth and depleted resources, put the Hawaiians' survival in jeopardy? Reports from the earliest missionaries, before the drastic die off, tell of an undernourished common class of Hawaiians who lived in the shadows of the ruling class, or ali'i.

That question—about the future of Hawaii absent the influence of the West—will go unanswered. Throughout Hawaii are rock etchings, petroglyphs, some of which were a mystery to the first Polynesians. The questions regarding the fate of these people will also go unanswered.

Recent decades have seen a revival of Hawaiian traditions, seen as the only way to counter adverse effects of growing population and pollution. The outcome of this revival is uncertain.

Hope in Hawaii, however, is certain. The concept of the ahupua'a—respecting and preserving the land for survival—is not a philosophy, but a way of life, a reality that cannot be denied. The unanswered question from Hawaii's history is being asked today. Can a  population strike a balance with nature and not implode from its own success? Hawaiian cultural traditions say, 'yes, it's possible, we did it.'

Whether peaceful survival happens on our island in space, remains to be seen, and not in the too-distant future. In the meantime, world leaders would be advised to converge on these isolated Pacific islands and learn lessons from the past. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Kauai's North Shore highway is finally open, in a Yin-Yang sort of way

After 15 months of battling massive landslides (courtesy the Biblical rainfall of April 2018 ), state highway officials have opened the road to the Kalalau Trail and the Napali Coast. This last two-miles of the highway—in Haena State Park—is the island's 'South Pacific" eye-candy. But, as they say, certain restrictions apply: The road isn't completely open, and it's now open to far fewer people.

To enter the state park, permits are now required, available online—and visitors are limited to 900 per day. In recent years, this part of Kauai was getting pounded daily by 3,000 adventure seekers. Fees are $5 per car. Here are the details, though as of today, kinks are still being worked out:

Ke'e Beach (above), is at the Kalalau Valley trailhead, and visible during the first half-mile of the route. 

No permit is needed to walk the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail, or to make the 8-mile round trip  hike to a waterfall. To go farther—the Kalalau Valley itself is a hairy 11 miles one-way—a backpacking permit is needed.

About the time road crews had opened the road to Haena, Mother Nature slammed the door behind them: This time the landslide came at the beginning of the skinny highway down to Hanalei, just past Princeville. One-lane, controlled traffic remains the order of the day, causing more frustration for locals and tourists. Still ... the road's open.

Even at the height of 'overtourism' (now a topic in all of Hawaii), open space was easy to find on the North Shore. Long beach walks are in the offing. Within the permit area is Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Garden, which also is only now open, having dealt with epic slides and tree-falls.

For the first time on the North Shore, visitors have the option of letting someone else drive. A multi-stop shuttle bus is available:

Haena State Park is on the to-do list for just about everyone who comes to Kauai. Fortunately, the island has a very long list of outdoor stuff that is worthy of anyone's to-do list.  Kauai Trailblazer has the details and tips for independent travelers. It's on Amazon, and at the outlets below on the island.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Travel back 200 years in an hour on Maui: Launiupoko Valley

Two hundred years ago, when the Hawaiian ali'i (royalty) ruled the Islands, Maui was prized for its northwest shore—where Kamehameha set up the capital (in Lahaina). Along this coast, a series of mountain valleys send streams into small bays–accented by a pearl necklace of white sand beaches. Maui is the Valley Isle.

Big surprise: Today this coast is packed with resorts and condos and a conga line of rental cars. But not so for Launiupoko Valley. This baby is close to pristine.

At the foot of the valley is Launiupoko Beach, a sweet picnic, surf, and snorkel park that is on the tourist radar. It doesn't normally get pounded by crowds since other choices are available north and south.

Access to the historic trail is via on-street parking in a beach-estates neighborhood, set on a hillside rising from the coast. Residents allow use of the trail, which crosses a swath of private property. Maui Trailblazer and other sources have parking directions. Please heed parking and trail signs out of respect for the homeowners.

After traversing an open slope with blue-water views,  the trail enters the snarling green. 

In places, the trail follows a rock irrigation ditch (from the sugar cane days) leading to a fountainhead of  water flowing from  a hand-hewn tunnel. Above this spot, the trail is best suited for wild pigs and adventure geeks. (Be careful not to get lost if you plow too far in.)

A reservoir rests where Launiupoko Stream fans out before making its descent to the ocean. Sit a spell where Hawaiians did for many centuries: Village ruins are preserved in the area around the reservoir. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Amanda Eller's heroic ordeal: How not to die while hiking in the Hawaiian Islands

Amanda Eller miraculously was found alive last week after enduring 17 days in the rainforest on Maui. Her story is about the enduring power of the human spirit, and also about hundreds of good people looking for her who were not going to give up—no matter what.

Note: As of May 30, a second Maui hiker, Noah 'Kekai' Mina, remains missing after climbing a ridge 10 days ago above Iao Valley. Godspeed to the rescue teams looking for him, and aloha nui to the family and friends of this beloved local man. Update: On May 31, Noah's body was recovered. He suffered a fall. The island mourns. Read on.

 Amanda's story is about the unique dangers of hiking in Hawaii—how a couple of slip-ups can turn a bad day into a tragedy. Almost weekly a visitor dies while on vacation, but the good news is that almost all of the hazards can be avoided.

Rule number one—no, let's make it rule number one through 10—is to stay on the trail. If you lose the trail, backtrack immediately to a known spot. While walking in on a trail, look back now and then so you will later recognize what it looks like coming out. If a location is reachable on foot, a trail will exist; don't try to point to a location on a map and blaze your own route. 

Don't try to use GPS or a compass to find a route. These tools might be helpful, but you will find the route using your eyes and feet. The mountain terrain in Hawaii is too steep and choked with greenery to walk in a chosen direction, even for King Kong.

Note the time you depart on a hike and the number hour of daylight hours you have. Know when half the hours are used up and then turn back. It's easy to get sucked into a beautiful spot (like Haleakala above) and not realize how far the return is.

The normal hiking safety tips apply doubly in Hawaii: Never start on a hike without an equipped daypack. Prepare for heat and cold. Bring water and food. If you do hike alone (not advisable) then make sure to let someone know where you are going. It's easy to get out of the car intent on just taking a peek at a trail, only to find yourself venturing farther. Take the pack. And—this goes without saying these days—take your cell phone.

Stay away from cliff edges. Hawaiian trails commonly go up ridges that are very narrow. Greenery disguises drop-offs. Being injured is no joke in remote locations, and a remote location may be only one step away.

Nothing can be more mellow than barefooting through the sand at the foamy shoreline of a Hawaiian beach. But, believe it or not, more people die in this situation than on mountain trails. The photo above depicts a safe day. But stay well back from the shore when high surf is present. Beaches in Hawaii have nuanced shorelines, resulting in freak wave action and with steep sand into the water. People get knocked down and swept away. Don't turn your back on waves and stay inland from wet sand. When walking coastal bluffs, don't venture out onto wet rocks.

Hiking poles are almost essential gear for Hawaiian trails—for stream crossings and navigating steep, rooted, slippery mountain descents. 

The sign above says, respect the land. This concept is ingrained in Hawaii, where people survived for nearly 2,000 years by keeping agricultural and fishing practices in balance with nature. Do or die. This concept cuts two ways: Respect means protecting nature from human impact; it also means respecting the power in Mother Nature compared to mere humans.

Playing in a pool beneath a waterfall is fodder for fantasy postcards. Remember that rocks and limbs can be falling with that water

Streambeds  are another common danger zone for hikers, and valley trails often require several crossings. Flash floods can be lethal, sweeping hikers away. Heavy rains are common in the subtropics, and steep terrain means stream levels can rise dramatically.

 It can be raining a few miles up the mountain and dry downslope. If you get caught on the wrong side of a stream during high water don't try to cross—wait until the waters recedes. In a narrow stream valley, get to high ground fast if you hear (don't worry, you'll know) or see a flash flood coming.

You'll do enough bouldering while on trails. Don't rock climb. The land is unstable.

All of the above is not to scare visitors. Nature in Hawaii isn't going to jump out and grab you. But many visitors get off the plane thinking the Islands are Disneyland.

Trailblazer guides—for Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island—have detailed safety precautions. Some of the tips are general, but the guides also list the hazards associated with a specific trail or beach. As long as you are aware, you will be fine. Aloha!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Highs and Lows of Hilo

Let's start with the finish: Until you've seen Hilo, you really haven't seen the Big Island of Hawaii. This is where most people of Hawaiian descent live and where the lush tropical greenery is astounding. 

The downside—and the reason it's so beautiful—is that it rains like a big dog, about 200 inches per year. A former downside—volcanic smog, called vog—is no longer present, since the volcano goddess Pele put a cork in her blowhole earlier this year, revealing blue skies for the first time in about 30 years. Another former downside that is no longer present is the long drive from Kona. Now, the spiffy new Saddle Road makes a day trip a breeze, cutting a smooth swath across the island between the massive volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. 

Several of the best beach parks in all of Hawaii are along the shores of Hilo Bay, a couple miles from Hilo Town. Onekahakaha Beach Park (above) is a family fave, featuring a large man-made swimming oval. The place is hopping on weekends.

A mile father out the bayshore is lovely Carlsmith Beach Park. Quiet lagoons are backed by gardens, and a short trail squirms through a pandanus tree grove (the leaves are used to make hats, baskets, and mats) that is the Lokoaka Wilderness Park.

Carlsmith also has a huge, protected swimming area, where you can stroke alongside turtles.

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer recommendation

Closer to Hilo Town is Moku Ola (a.k.a, Coconut Island), a quick dash across a footbridge. From the island's tiara of palms is an unforgettable view toward the town, hunkered below the twin 14,000-foot volcanoes. The Wailuku River rages down the saddle between the peaks and through the center of Hilo.

Historically, Moku Ola was revered for the healing powers of its waters. Might as well give it a try, since the snorkeling is good for sure. Intrepid teens like to dive from the black-rock tower.

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer recommendation

On the shore side of of the island's bridge is Liliuokalani Gardens, a fabulous freebie. The garden's Japanese designer, Kinsaku Nakane, was inspired by other gardens he created in Kyoto.

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer recommendation

Old-west style Hilo Town hangs as loose as a hula dancers hips. Gentrification harmonizes with dilapidation, resulting in one of Hawaii's best walk-around towns. The Hilo Farmers Market (Saturday is best) is the most bountiful in the state—and that's saying something.

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer recommendation

Right across the street from town is Bayshore Park, home to weekend events and daily outings by local outrigger canoe clubs.

Hawaii Big Island Trailblazer Recommendation

Historical and cultural sites are all around Hilo. The Pohaku Naha stone, all 3-plus tons of it, is now parked in front of the library. When, as a young lad,  Kamehameha the Great, was able to budge it, he was awarded custody of the war god, Ku. Smart choice. He went on to become the ruler of all the islands.

We're just getting started with all the stuff in and around Hilo, especially when you consider that  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Puna Coast are less than an hour's drive away.

Get ahold of Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer (look for the 2019, 20th anniversary edition) and give it a good looking over before your visit.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why Waikiki? It's Hawaii to Da Max

Most people's image of Waikiki Beach on Oahu is summarized by a thousand words in the photo above: lot's of tender flesh elbow to jowl on a strip of artificial sand backed by square blocks of high-rise resorts, designer shops, eateries, and weirdness run amok. And that image is pretty much true. (And what's wrong with that?)

But the roots of Hawaii literally run through the place, on the Waikiki Historic Trail. You can bus in from the airport and spend a vacation on foot and riding trolleys.

Not far away is Diamond Head, Waikiki's world-famous landmark, which is actually a crater. A quirky walk through tunnels and up stairs leads to the viewing area.

With so many nooks and crannies, places to call your own are easy to find. You can wander the two-mile run of beach many times and never take the same route.

Kapiolani Park, a huge greenspace dedicated to the people by Hawaii's last king, is adjacent to the hubbub. Sans Souci and Queen's beaches offer excellent swimming.

Surfers rule at Waikiki, but other action is in the offing.

Not a big deal to book a cruise. Just step out onto the sand and hop on. Night time sails are surreal, with the wall of lights rising above the shore.

Magic hour. Never miss it. Prince Kuhio Beach Park is in the dead center of things, and offers a free hula show every night. 

Oahu Trailblazer has all the details on visiting this famous beach—as well as nearby downtown Honolulu, one of the world's best walking towns. And then there's the North Shore ... Oahu has the most undeveloped beaches of any island, except Kauai.