Monday, March 25, 2019

The Greatest Story Never Told: Hawaii's Kamehameha the King

waipio valley big island trailblazer guide

Waipio Valley, on the north end of the Big Island, is where Kamehameha grew up

Last summer, movie star-king Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson announced plans to team with director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and screenwriter Randall Wallace (Braveheart) to make a blockbuster called The King, depicting the life of Hawaii's first monarch of all the islands—Kamehameha the Great.

A good match for the trio at first glance: Johnson is of Polynesian descent and he's a large man, though, at 6'5, he's a head shorter than Kamehameha; Zemeckis can go 'back to the future'  to show how Hawaiian history foretells the future of our planet; and Wallace, an Oscar winner, can depict fantastical battle scenes that would look more like Avitar than anything the rest of the globe has seen. The bad news: The odds of this story seeing theaters are small. Google it.

So, instead of a 100-million dollar movie, here is a free bio of Kamehameha, as excerpted from the Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer guidebook.


A fair number of history’s heavy hitters have earned the title “great,” but if you lined them all up in some kind of pageant, the smart money would be on Hawaii’s Kamehameha to be a favorite to take home the top prize. To clone a replica of this man, you’d need big doses of charisma, smarts, skills, modesty, and foresight. And then put all of that in a jumbo package—over seven feet and approaching 400 pounds. This is the guy, Kamehameha the Great, whose bodily gifts were matched by a peculiar convergence of historical events...

waipio valley one lane road

A steep four-wheel only road is the only way into the valley. The walk down is 20 minutes.

...Intrigue surrounded his birth. He had been slated as a future king by his uncle, the Big Island’s Chief Kalaniopu‘u, but another chief in Hilo had other plans, and had vowed to slay the infant. To save the baby’s life, Kamehameha’s mother was secreted away to a forlorn, windswept spot in north Kohala. The birth took place in 1758, a date later confirmed by the passing of Haley’s Comet. Kamehameha spent his youth in hiding but hardly in hardship, since much of his time was spent frolicking on his surfboard and with the wahines of Waipio Valley.

His training for leadership began early also. A famous warrior from Napo‘opo‘o in Kealakekua Bay, named Kekuhaupio, was enlisted to train the boy. Even as a youth he towered over his five-foot-eight mentor, but it would be years before he matched his teacher’s skills. Kamehameha learned the Hawaiian martial arts of the lua, and as a teenager he was a one-man army—able to catch spears thrown at him and artfully deploy his ikoi, a type of bolo that would bring down a running man. He mastered the wrestling art of “bone-breaking,” for which the lua is renowned. The Hawaiians had no metal weapons or complex armaments, but they may have been the most fearsome hand-to-hand combatants the world has ever seen. Their skills were matched by tremendous size: Bone records indicate some ancient warriors were closer to eight feet than seven. In his day, Kamehameha was a standout. As a graduation test, he had to jump off an outrigger with a pointed stick and kill a large tiger shark...

waipio valley waterfall

Cliffs surround Waipio Valley, making is safe from enemy attack.

...At age 20, he and Keuhaupio were on the fringes of a great battle in Maui, the Battle of the Sand Hills, at which the Big Island’s army ignored the advice of the kahunas and were killed in great numbers. Kamehameha and his mentor defeated a small army of Maui warriors in the nearby village of Olowalu. Then, as they retreated from this foray, offshore they sighted the towering white sails of the Endeavor, the ship of British Captain James Cook. Coincidentally, Cook had returned to the islands after making the first contact with Hawaii a year earlier, 300 miles north in Kauai. Kamehameha and Keuhaupio decided to approach and board this alien vessel.

Three days later, as the people of the Big Island lamented the loss of their young warrior to this bizarre visitation, Kamehameha and his mentor appeared. The young warrior, beaming, was stuffed into a red British officer’s jacket. Far from being fearful, Kamehameha had seen at once that the apparition that was Western contact was an opportunity for his future. He had seen steel and iron and gunpowder...

Water equals life. The Hawaiians lived for centuries in valleys like Waipio.

...In the next few months, Cook was to land in Kealakekua Bay during the peace-and-fertility festival of Makahiki. The British captain was heralded as the god Lono—only to be bludgeoned to death on the bay’s shores just weeks later in a scuffle over a stolen dory. Western ships would not return to the islands for six years.

In 1780, based on his exploits thus far—and his ability to move the mammoth, ceremonial Pohaku Naha stone—Kamehameha was commissioned with custody of the war god, Kukailimoku, by his uncle, Chief Kalaniopu‘u. The chief’s son, Kiwalao, received land. Though ultimately wise, the chief’s decision stirred enmity, both between his son and Kamehameha, and among other island chiefs. This bad-blood rose to a full-scale battle when the Chief Kalaniopu‘u died. In intelligence, skill, 1782, Kiwalao and other chiefs, met Kamehameha and his forces, along with Keuhaupio, in the Battle of Mokuohai, near Napo‘opo‘o in Kealakekua. Using superior knowledge of the terrain, Kamehameha prevailed against a larger force and his legend ramped up a notch. He was 24...

taro fields waipio valley big island hawaii

Taro is grown in Waipio today, one of the 30 or so plants the Polynesians brought from Tahiti. In ancient times, the fields yielded all manner of tropical fruits.

...By 1785, Western ships had begun stopping in the islands to provision for trading journeys to China. Conflicts arose, one of which resulted in the massacre of scores of villagers on Maui in 1790. As revenge, and also for his own personal gain, Kamehameha’s warriors captured a vessel, the Fair American, offshore the Big Island. Conscripting two of the ship’s officers as aides, Kamehameha sailed the Fair American to Maui. Using the ship’s cannon, he routed the forces of the Maui Chief Kahekili’s son, Kalanikupule, in the famous battle of the Iao Valley. The bodies of fallen warriors were said to dam the stream and turn its waters red. 

A year later, upon the advice of his kahunas, Kamehameha built Pu‘ukohola Heiau in Kawaihae, laboring alongside the workers to complete the task. Then, Kamehameha’s cousin from the Hilo side Keoua, was invited to an opening ceremony. Keoua also had been groomed as a youth to be king, by the same branch of the family who conspired to kill Kamehameha at birth. Upon Keoua’s arrival, a skirmish ensued—perhaps a planned subterfuge—and the cousin was killed. Although later that year he had to defend the island from invaders from Maui and Oahu, Kamehameha’s control over the Big Island was now unquestioned...

waipio valley hikers big island trailblazer

You can cross the valley floor to reach Muliwai Trail out of Waipio, into a snarled wilderness on a roadless coast. 

...Kamehameha did not attack Maui until 1794, after the death of its Chief Kahekili, a man who claimed to be Kamehemeha’s father. (The intrigue among the ali‘i is Shakespearean.) The following year, his forces took Oahu. A year later, in 1796, a huge storm thwarted his invasion of Kauai. To prepare for another invasion that would bring all of Hawaii under his rule, Kamehameha and his sprawling retinue went to Lahaina on Maui, where a fleet of 1,000 war canoes was constructed, and where the young leader also reacquainted himself with life’s pleasures, such as surfing and cavorting. Once again using conscripted Westerners, he built himself a brick palace. Showing his humility, he labored in his gardens alongside the commoners.

In 1804, another attempt to invade Kauai failed, this time due to disease brought by Europeans that depleted his army. By this time, Honolulu, the only deep-water port in the islands, was frequented by Western ships, and Kamehameha moved the capital to that village in order to better control trading. Not a squealing pig was traded for a single nail without the great man’s approval. In 1810, Kamehameha and Kauai’s Chief Kaumuali‘i entered into a treaty that gained Kamehameha control over all the islands as the first Hawaiian monarch. Both men could see that the Hawaiian people were dying in great numbers due to new diseases, and that the Western sailing ships were arriving by the score...

waipio valley beach hawaii big island trailblazer

Wave actions normally keeps sand offshore Waipio. Before an epic tsunami in 1946, a huge sand dune calle Lalakea ('white fin') used to span the mouth of the bay and protect the valley's fields and fish ponds.

...In 1812, the 44-year-old king returned to his Big Island home, and made Kailua the capital of Hawaii. He appointed governors for all the islands’ major land areas, and supervised the sandalwood trade with ships bound for China. (The fragrant sandalwood was Hawaii’s first cash crop, but the forests were denuded within a decade.) Kamehameha’s heir, Liholiho was educated in Kona, and his youngest boy, later Kamehameha III, was born in 1814. In nearby villages, Kamehameha built huge fishponds that were a marvel to Western visitors. 

In May of 1819, the great king died, and his remains were spirited away to a location that remains a mystery to this day. Liholiho became Kamehameha II, and, at the urging of his mother, Queen Keopuolani, and Kamehameha’s favorite wife Queen Ka‘ahumanu, he immediately abolished the kapu system that, among other provisions, treated women unfairly. Liholiho struggled with trying to fill his father’s huge sandals, and also with the onslaught of Western culture. Change came in the same year of his father’s death, in the form of missionaries and whaling ships. While on a trip to London to further educate himself on these matters, Kamehameha II died in 1824...

hawaii big island trailblazer book cover

Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer points the way to Hawaii's historic and ancient sites, as well as trails, beaches, and cool shopping towns. Look for it on

...The rule of the islands was left to Kamehameha III, then only 11 years old. The queen mother stood watch over the boy until he matured into Hawaii’s longest-ruling monarch. He died in 1854. The native population diminished from some 800,000 people to around 60,000 during the 70 years of European and American contact. In an effort to adapt, the royal family embraced Western religion, and established the best school system west of the Rocky Mountains. The literacy rate was among the nation’s highest after only a few years, although the Hawaiians previously had no written language. The Hawaiian nation was able to withstand the raucous whalers and traders, but the emergence of the sugar cane industry in the late 1800s, to make a long story short, was to do in the monarchy. Hawaii was annexed as an U.S. Territory in 1893.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

King Kamehameha never had it so good: Have a Royal Hawaiian celebration without breaking the bank.

No doubt being the king of all the Islands had its perks—but not near the luxury and creature comforts available these days to us common folk.  And—here's the kicker—if you are planning an event for a group (say six to twelve people) you will be surprised at how affordable a luxury villa  or beachside enclave can be. For the per-person price that a couple pays for a pretty-nice condo or resort room, a group of ten or so can chill at a pad that could be a movie set.

Of course, you can also spend a fortune on a big place that will be a disappointment. One way to make sure you get the 'movie' and not the bummer is to go to Hawaii Vacation Rentals. If you peruse the site, and know Hawaii already, you will see that this team has cherry-picked only desirable locales. They offer more than 200 properties. Booking specialists make sure your rental is a good fit.

So, if you've been thinking of Hawaii,  also think about having a reunion, getting married, or maybe just pooling resources with your friends to create an all-time good time.

Although luxury is a constant, each island has a different personality. Here's what you can expect:


The place to be on the Big Island is South Kohala, where vast fields of rolling black lava hide tropical oases that are home to some of the world's best destination resorts—like the Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea. On the fringes of these resorts are new villas where the gang will feel good about hanging around for days at a time.

Yes, the Big Island is big—larger than all the other islands combined—but the newly constructed Saddle Road makes it easy to go day tripping. On the way to charming Hilo, you pass by the access roads to the world's tallest mountains (measured from their seafloor bases). Big round Mauna Loa is home to weather observatories, while big red Mauna Kea (above) is the sacred "top of the world" for ancient Hawaiians. The peak itself is still pristine, but a side peak is dotted with astronomy observatories. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where red-hot lava is spewing from the earth as you read these words, is also doable as a day trip from South Kohala.

Very near to the grounds of the resorts are some of Hawaii's best cultural sites—petroglyph fields, heiaus (temples), and portions of the King's Highway, a historic cobblestone path around the island. Many of the sites are low-key and undeveloped, but you will also find three National Historic Parks. Totally wild Kekaha Kai State Park (top picture) is not far from the resorts of South Kohala.

Although the sand is coarse at some South Kohala beaches, the waters are crystal clear, since there is little erosion and no stream runoff. Many of the beaches are wild, like Blue Lagoon, the turtle enclave pictured above.


A location for movies such as Jurassic Park and South Pacific, the north shore of Kauai (Kilauea, Princeville, Haena) has the mind-blowing jagged green ridges and aquamarine waters that fuel most people's tropical dreams. Hanalei, in the heart of the north shore, is Hawaii's capital of low-key cool. Flip flops, board shorts, and bathing suits are high fashion in Hanalei, even for the movie stars and billionaires who frequent the 'hood.

You'll want to take a day to see some of Kauai's eye candy, like Waimea Canyon (above left) and the Kalalau Valley Overlook (above right), which is reachable from the top of the canyon.

About 12 of Hawaii's top-20 wild beaches (many involve a short hike) are along a 30-mile run of coastline from Anahola to road's end at Haena. The beauty above, Hideaways Beach, is down a rugged trail that is right next to the entrance of the St. Regis Princeville Resort. 


Maui is all about Island-style living on the sunny west shores—logging serious beach time in between enjoying fine dining and tourist action. To the north is historic Lahaina and Kapalua (voted best beach in the U.S. by travel magazines). To the south is the swank resort strip of Wailea, which is right next to the family beach parks of Kihei. A dozen or more beaches await. 

Kamehameha made Lahaina the capital of Hawaii before Honolulu, and its historical roots run deep. A number of whale-watching and fishing tours leave the small harbor. Lanai and Molokai are a ferry ride away. It's a great walk-around beach town with both cultural attractions and all-day action.

Wailea has five beaches, sandy coves all good for snorkeling. Just to the north (there is a walking path) are the three Kamaole Beach Parks (above left), among the best family beaches in the Islands. Just south of Wailea is perhaps Hawaii's most-smashing beach experience, Makena State Park, better known as Big Beach (above right).

Most people pry themsleves away from the good life to visit the interior of Haleakala National Park, a volcano resting at 10,000 feet above the Pacific. The other must-see attraction on Maui is the serpentine Hana Highway, with its umpteen waterfalls and one-lane bridges alongside a rain forest.


Ninety percent of Hawaii's million-plus residents live on Oahu, but most visitors will be shocked to discover the rural beaches and undeveloped coastline that lie beyond metro Honolulu. Two choice locales are close to attractions, yet offer exclusivity: The first is Diamond Head-Kahala, a ritzy neighborhood with parks, just on fringe of the high-rises and hubbub of Waikiki Beach. The second locale is over the jagged Ko'olau Mountains to the eastern side, called 'Windward.' Lanikai-Kailua offers a buzzing beach scene of its own, but also with easy access to the Polynesian Cultural Center and the North Shore surf scene.

Hanauma Bay (above), the most popular snorkeling venue in Hawaii, is easy to get to from both Lanikai and Kahala.

Millionaire heiress Doris Duke (back in the 1930s when a million was real money) built her fabulous mansion Shangri La in the shadow of Diamond Head in Kahala. Tours are available. But you can also visit quirky Cromwell's Cove (above), located right below the mansion, by taking a short path from a neighborhood street. The little man-made cove is known mostly to locals.

Sexy Lanikai Beach, which borders a residential enclave, is often a set for fashion-model shoots and commercials. A dreamscape of powder-sand beaches is accented by tiny islands, a few  of which are reachable by kayak or SUP. Right next to Lanikai is Kailua Beach Park, ho hum, more of the same.

For more travel tips and itinerary planning at your fingertips consult your No Worries Hawaii guidebook.  Available on

Friday, March 8, 2019

So you're going to Kauai? Read this first.

new Kauai Trailblazer guidebook

The new 21st anniversary edition of Kauai Trailblazer is now available on Amazon.  Check it out here.

Trailblazer Guides are geared toward independent travelers who have a sense of adventure. The books cover all the well-known activities, as well as places to call your own. Get out the yellow highlighter and give KT a look before your visit: you will hit the ground running at the airport.

Activities (like hiking, strolling, snorkeling, biking, surfing) are organized by geographic region, so no matter where you are on the island, you'll find all there is to do nearby. Things that are near each other on the book's pages, are also close-by in the real world.

This guide is content rich and packed with details. Driving and parking directions are very specific. You also get safety tips for the hazards you might encounter. A Best Of section lists top choices. A Trailblazer Kids section makes vacation planning easy for families. Want to visit the places where Hollywood movies have been filmed? You're covered.

At the top of the must-do list on  Kauai is to get up-close-and-personal with tropical gardens. On the wild Powerline Trail South (above), you may wind up speaking plant-talk by the time the hike is over. You can also find tamer ways to immerse in greenery, like visiting one of the three National Tropical Botanical Gardens on the island. Kauai Trailblazer offers many ways to journey into the botanical world, from family strolls to wilderness treks.

Kekaha Beach Kauai Trailblazer

Kauai has by far the most hike-to beaches in Hawaii—a couple dozen or more. But there are also many drive-up beaches with long stretches of open sand, like Kekaha Beach (above). Kekaha is almost always sunny even when rain falls elsewhere. Another miles-long beach is Barking Sands, at Polihale State Park. Kauai's fabled sea cliffs rise a couple thousand feet at the backshore.

Makauwahi Cave Reserve Kauai

Trailblazers are also known for attention to cultural and historic sites, as well as attractions that tell the island's natural history. Above is the Makauwahi Cave Reserve—the largest cavern and fossil deposit in the state. It's only recently been opened to the public. On the north shore is the place to see whales and shorebirds: the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.  Take a free tour of the lighthouse. 

Visitors who enjoy poking around in the mysteries of the past will find directions to ancient sites and heiaus (temples)—some of which are state parks, and others that are overgrown and hidden. (Of course, take care not to disturb any of these sacred places.)

Sleeping Giant Trail Kauai

The Sleeping Giant Trail above Kapa'a is only one of many places to get high. Many of the mountain trails are in the Yelp-zone and well-frequented, but you will be surprised how many choices the guide offers to get off the beaten track.

Kauai's Farmers' Markets

With Kauai all around you, don't forget to put some of the island inside you. Farmers markets ('sunshine markets') take place daily. KT lists them all. Alongside the luscious heaps of organic fruits and vegetables are locally produced wellness/beauty products, fresh juices. flowers, crafts and artisan foods. Farmer's markets are the place to meet the locals and stock up on all the goodies.

You can also cruise rural roads to find 'honor stands,' where you stuff money in a slot and drive away with: bananas, many kinds of citrus, avocados, coconuts ... 

Hanapepe Swinging Bridge

Trailblazer also takes you to the cool walk-around towns. There are many. In Hanapepe, you can stroll the old-west-style main street's galleries and restaurants, and then cross the Swinging Bridge to take a walk on the rural side. 

The art scene on Kauai is thriving. Here is a taste of island style shops to explore: Yellowfish Trading Company and The Ohana Shop (Hanalei); Magic Dragon Toy and Art Supply (Princeville); Hunter Gatherer (Kilauea);  Kauai Coffee (Coconut Marketplace); Kukuiula Village (Poipu); Warehouse 3540 (Lawai);  Storybook Theater, JJ Ohana and Blu Umi (Hanapepe); and Koke'e Museum (Waimea Canyon).

explore Kauai with Trailblazer