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.