Friday, February 22, 2019

These days, the Garden of Eden is on Kauai

To find the Biblical, life-giving Garden of Eden, you'll need to deep-dive into historical and religious research materials. But to find where this garden exists today, you'll need to get on a plane to Kauai and head to the South Shore Visitors Center for the National Tropical Botanical Gardens.

Here, you can tour two of the nations five gardens: Allerton and McBryde

National Tropical Botanical Garden, Lawai, Kauai

In between these two botanical dreamscapes is the beating heart—and thoughtful brain—of the facility, the horticultural nursery. Every day, endangered plants are literally given new life by manager Ashly Trask (pictured above) and other horticulturists, who painstakingly plant tiny seeds and provide conditions for them to grow. The new plants are then re-introduced in the gardens, including a third NTBG garden, Limahuli, which is on the north shore of Kauai.

Sometimes the work is downright heroic. The alula plant (upper right above) was down to its last gasp until workers repelled down a cliff on the Napali Coast to pluck one of the last known survivors. The alula has flourished in the nursery and replanted elsewhere, including conservatories around the world.

Volunteers are welcomed:

National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai

The 200-acre McBryde Garden covers the upper portion of the Lawai Valley. The place is pure eye candy, most of it under caring cultivation. But there's more than meets the eye: garden workers install GPS tags to keep track of individual plants and trees, and then corollate that data with detailed weather information to hone in on optimum conditions and gain knowledge.

On the lower left above is an authentic canoe hale (hay-lay), one of the accents in the Polynesian 'Canoe Garden.' Growing here are the 30-or so plants and trees the Hawaiian brought with them on their 2,500-mile sailing canoe voyages some 1,500 years ago. The valley is cleaved by Lawai Stream. 

McBryde's Biodiversity Trail takes you on a stroll through the history of plants on earth over the last 4.5 million years. Interpretive signs tell the tale without being overly wordy, and the mist tunnel coveys what words cannot.

National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai

If you walk too fast, you will miss details. There is too much to perceive at a glance—everywhere. The Spice of Life Trail is a side trip into a world of glistening fronds and flowering shrubs. Usually, the only soundtrack will be provided by birds and running water.

National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai

Though much is to be learned from the garden's displays, most visitors will find that the experience is the best teacher.

Allerton Beach, NTBG

Allerton, the more famous of the two gardens, is the 80-acre lower portion to the Lawai Valley. It was the stomping grounds for Queen Emma, and later for Robert Allerton who bought the place. Allerton and his lifetime companion, Gregg, planted botanical "rooms," with fountains and statuary. The Allerton Estate is known also for being the site for TV's Fantasy Island, as well as a number of Hollywood movies.

The visitors center offers several options for guided tours. Independent travelers can take a bus to McBryde for a self-guided walking tour. Admission fees not only provide a memorable day's event, but also go to support the people who are actually getting their fingernails dirty to keep plants on the planet.

National Tropical Botanical Garden

4425 Lawai Rd, Koloa, HI 96756

Read more about them here:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sleeping Giant: Kauai's Wake Up Call

Sleeping Giant Hike Kauai Hawaii view

Nounou Mountain, above Kauai's Coconut Coast, looks like the head of a huge Easter-Island-style statue in repose, and locals have always called it the Sleeping Giant. His nose is the summit, with the chin to the right, and a downward sloping forehead to the left. 

The summit hike is a not-to-miss half-day adventure: 3 to 5 miles roundtrip, and up to 1,000 feet of gain, depending on which of three trailheads you select.

Norfolk pines Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

The east side trailhead is the shortest and probably most scenic route. The lower portion penetrates a grove of Norfolk Pines, which were coveted for their use as masts on the sailing ships in the old days. 

The west side trail is almost a mile longer, and has ocean views all the way with plenty of sunshine—which can be a good or bad thing.

Boulder bluff climb Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

A picnic shelter that is less than a half mile from the top gives up great views, and some hikers think this is the end of the trail. But press on, since the most thrilling and scenic parts are not far. A couple of trail sections require a hands-on approach and may dissuade the casual hiker.

Rootbound trail Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

Wet conditions are common on the Sleeping Giant trail. Roots provide a stairway of sorts.

Steep climb up Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

The trail is not dangerous but you want to be mindful of footing and aware that greenery disguises drop-off hazards.

Sleeping Giant trail summit view

You don't want to slip off this stretch between the Giant's nose and chin (in the distance). And, by the way, many people scramble out to the chin on the way up to the summit and are one-step away from a fatal free-fall in so doing.

Wailua River view from top of Sleeping Giant Kauai Hawaii

The view from the top. The Wailua River is to the right—the spot from which the top photo in this blog was taken.

new trail friends Barcelona Adelaide Peru Israel

True, the Giant is a fave among locals. But the rest of the world is also well represented: Sharing the picnic view bench at this moment were hikers from Israel, Australia, Peru, and Spain, plus two from the Big Island of Ama'reeka.

Recommended: Bring hiking poles for Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai Hawaii

Tips: Hiking poles are a huge help on rainy days, but having two poles is not recommended for this hike since a spare hand is often needed to grab the strawberry guava saplings along the trail for support. Wear dark shorts, since you are bound to take an unexpected sit down, and plan on getting shoes muddy.

Kauai Trailblazer has all the details and directions for this classic hike. For sale on Amazon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hawaii's Hottest Ticket is to where the Action Isn't

Anyone who has been to the Islands recently will tell you traffic and crowds at popular destinations are a hassle. Seriously. For real. But the hassle is avoidable. The trick is to get to the many destinations that are out of the Yelp-o-Sphere, without having to sacrifice scenic values to do so.

One of these places is the trail out of Pololu Valley on the Big Island. People walk to the beach but not many know the trail leading to the roadless escarpments on the northern coast.

Going to places that aren't crowded makes some people feel like they are missing out. Not true. Pack a sense of independence in your suitcase and you will be rewarded.

Maui's Hana Highway draws a conga line of rental cars competing for roadside turnouts. The Kaupo Coast (much of it now part of Haleakala National Park) is wide open and undeveloped.

It's natural to want to see the "top" attractions. They got to be popular for good reason. But a slight turn of the wheel (if you know where to go) will get you someplace just far enough out of the buzz, like this lesser known route on the Hana Highway.

The Big Island's Waipio Valley has been attracting nature lovers since Kamehameha the Great surfed there as a boy. Few people realize that if you zig where everyone else zags, you will find yourself in the seldom seen taro field farther up the valley.

The Lyon Arboretum is sitting there in plain sight, not far from Waikiki Beach. But most people follow the tour-bus crowd to nearby Manoa Falls. Lyon has acres of wild gardens and its own falls.

Same goes of Kekaha Kai State Park in Kona. A fair number of people find the place, but it has its more hidden crannies of perfection.

The Keahua Arboretum in Kauai has a couple of trails that get hammered by TripAdvisor devotees. And they are excellent walks. But the  Powerline Trail, less than a quarter-mile away, is a botanical wonderland that you will have mostly to yourself. In fact, it's comforting to run into other people in the thick of things.

No Worries Hawaii is a vacation planning guide 20 years in the making. Using a self-test to gather your preferences, the book finds the right island for you, as well as the specific places and attractions you are looking for. Money saving tips and safety advice are also included, as well as the lowdown on private tours.

Trailblazer Travel Books—one for each island—are for independent, active people. They cover all the main attractions, as well as the little known trails, cultural sites, and coastal access spots. Read one before you go and hit the ground running. You won't find splashy gold stars or brochure-type writing. But you will find jewels to call your own away from the throngs. They're all sold on