Archive for the ‘Hawaii’ Category

The Road to Hana

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Today we went to O’heo Gulch. This is the location of the Seven Sacred Pools. Our ultimate goal was to hike to the Waimoku Falls at the end of a 2 mile (or so) trail.

Before we can get there though we have to drive the long and winding road, known as the Hana Highway. For those that are unfamiliar with this road, it’s an experience not to be missed. The road is only about 60 miles or so long but takes about 3 hours to reach your destination. The road has over 600 curves and about 60 bridges, some of which are one lane. We made a quick stop at the local Safeway and picked up food and water for the trip.

The road didn’t seem like we remembered it. This could be because of the hurricanes, road construction over 20 years, or just plain bad memories. The views are gorgeous as we traveled through this part of the island. Having a convertible allows you to see a lot more than if you are stuck inside a car with just a side window to look out of. If you only get a convertible because of this drive, do it.

We stopped at a rest stop and stretched our legs. Across the highway was a little picnic area that had a nice waterfall. It appears that it had rained pretty recently as the area was quite muddy. We wandered around for a few minutes and then headed back to the car to continue our journey down the highway.

We reached the town of Hana, it has sure grown. They still don’t have a street light, but there are many more homes and buildings now, even a police and fire station. We got a little lost as I had not consulted the GPS for which direction to turn out of Hana to continue to the pools. Once I found how the GPS spelled the national park, it was about another 10 miles outside of town.

We reached the national park and paid our $10 to park. We paid a quick stop to the visitor station to get our national park stamp and check on the trails. Everything was open, but because the water level was so high, they discouraged people from swimming in the lower pools. We loaded up our backpack with our lunch supplies and water and headed to the trail head. The trek is about 2 miles according to the ranger (but I swear it’s more than that).

As you can see from the sign, the trail goes along the river and there are several points at which there are overlooks to take pictures. The ranger says the trip is 2 hours round trip. It’s a lie, it was a lie 20 years ago and it’s a lie now 😉 Plan to take about 2 hours just to get to the falls. Do not be discouraged by your progress if it takes you longer. The end result is worth all the pain and struggle to get there.

We headed along the trail and passed the first overlook about half a mile in. Most people just stop here as they think this is the main falls. Don’t be fooled by this, and learn to read a map as a half mile is not 2 miles 😉 There is a little metal swing gate that many people think is locked or closed. It is not, push it open and continue through.

After climbing up a lot of rock steps we reached an incredible banyan tree. This is one of the largest trees I have ever seen. After a little while we came across two bridges over the gorge. They offered some nice views of the river and falls, but this is still not the prize at the end of the trail.

This is a great place to stop and drink water and enjoy the view. There are a few good sets of stairs to climb up after the bridges, but once you are up them, it’s on to the bamboo forest. The forest is amazing. It starts out pretty open and airy, and then gets pretty closed and dark. It reminded me of the forbidden forest in Harry Potter.

The trail is well maintained through the forest and in many places there are wood walkways that are like mini boardwalks. Even though there is a walkway, it does get slippery from the rain and mud, so be careful to watch where you are walking.

Once we exited the bamboo forest, we walked along the trail until we were in site of the final falls. We still had to cross the river twice at the end. It’s interesting because the ranger basically told us not to cross the river, but it’s not possible to even get to the falls without crossing here.

Finally, we reached our destination. It is just as incredible as we remembered it. I am sure that my pictures can not do it justice. Realize this was shot with a 18mm wide angle, so you can get an idea how big this area is. The water fall is over 400 feet high.

We sat on the rocks and broke out our lunch. The entire area is nice and cool, it is amazing to sit in front of this natural wonder and realize how small we are. There are other waterfalls in the world that are bigger and stronger, but something about this one holds you in awe.

While we ate, we had a visit from our token squirrel/ground rodent (I think it was actually a mongoose). We have not been on a vacation yet where some sort of squirrel has not come to visit us. After we finished eating, we took some photos. I would post them here, but they are on Angie’s camera and I do not have a way to read her memory stick as we didn’t bring her cable.

We met one guy who had told his wife that he would be back in an hour (hah!) There is no phone service here, so I am sure she was waiting for him anxiously. We took his picture so that his wife knew he made it.

We packed up our lunch and trash and started our hike back down. There are definitely less steps going upwards on the way back. The hike took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 30 minute stop for lunch. On the way back down we passed many people with young babies on their way up. I am sure they would only get to the first half mile as the rest of the trail is pretty rough to hike with a baby slung over the shoulder. One group had three of them, babies that is!

We decided to take the back road home. Many of the guide brochures have warnings all over the place about voiding your rental car insurance, but nowhere in the contracts is this talked about. I think they do this to scare people away from it because the road is a pretty rough road, and about 5 miles of it was dirt. The road wasn’t as bad as I expected, but if you are not used to 1 lane roads and dirt road driving, this road is not for you. We did get back in half the time though and saw the back side of the crater. This is where all the lava flows from 200+ years ago were. It’s generally used for cattle now and there is almost no green there.

We stopped at panda express for dinner (take-out) because we knew we would be too tired to go forage for food. We returned to the hotel and ate our dinner. Afterwards we went down to the spa to soak. My feet really needed it. Although I had decent shoes on, my feet could still feel every rock I stepped on. I wish I would have brought my hiking boots.

While in the spa, we met lots of people from California. Some people were from  from Tustin, a group from the bay area and another from Coronado. The folks from Tustin went to Hana but didn’t go past the metal gate because they thought it was closed. I felt bad for them to have come all this way and missed the falls. After a good soak in the spa, we  returned to the room for some much needed rest.

Aloha Kauai – Aloha Maui

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Today we slept in late. This was our last day on Kauai. We checked out of the hotel. 
I am very glad we found a place to park a lot closer to the hotel room. We didn’t have to trek through the hotel and maneuver stairs and escalators.
 We drove up to Kappa for a late breakfast/early lunch. We drove up to the Opaekaa Falls overlook and took some photos from a distance. The only way to see these falls up close is to take a tour or kayak up the river. (perhaps next trip in 20 more years). There are no trails or ground access to them.

We went to the Smith’s Fern Grotto Wailua River Cruise and purchased our tickets. Be aware that all the times listed in the brochures were wrong. The web site does appear to have the correct times, but I recommend you contact them to confirm before you drive out there and miss the times like we did the previous day. The pier has both boats and kayaks here. So those that would like to try their hands at paddling up the river can do so.

While we waited for our cruise to start we had some cold drinks and a piece of chocolate cream pie at the local restaurant. It was yummy and there was a nice cool breeze. The place appears to seat a lot of people. From what I could tell, this was a tour that caters to the cruise ships and they must serve them a buffet. 
We boarded our boat for the river cruise and headed up the Wailua river. We had live Hawaiian music on board. Apparently, one of the ukulele players was in the movie Blue Hawaii with Elvis Presley – we’ll have to check it out when we get home.
We reached our destination up river and disembarked. We had a short hike through the forest and reached the Fern Grotto. The place was pretty amazing. They used to have weddings inside the cave before the last big hurricane. Afterwards, the park stopped allowing it because of dangers of rocks falling. They still do weddings, but it is only on the platform, about 100 yards in front of the grotto.

We boarded our boat for the journey back to the pier. The boat captain gave us a lot of history about the river. The most interesting was that the king didn’t allow any of the common folk in the valley because he thought it was bad luck. He would only allow them in with permission to perform laborious tasks for him. (e.g. build huts, canoes, plant crops, etc..)

We headed back to the airport and returned our rental car. We had about an hour wait for our plane, after about a 25 minute wait for the airline attendant to show up to check us in. Apparently, they only have one of two guys that work there. We boarded our flight (a turbo prop DHC-8). Our flight took about one hour to reach Maui. We disembarked and retrieved our luggage. Then off to the rental car company to pick up our car (another Ford Mustang convertible). The mustang must be the convertible of choice for the islands. Last time we were here, it was the Pontiac Sunbird. We had about a 30 minute drive to get to our hotel. The one significant thing you notice about Maui that is different than Kauai is that it’s more flat and less green. There are lots of farms on Maui and the sides of the hills are dotted with lights (staples of a rural city). The speed limit on Maui is about 20 miles faster than on Kauai and the roads are twice as wide.

We reached our hotel and checked in. Apparently our reservation was not booked as a guaranteed reservation. This is something I am always adamant about when I book a hotel room, especially since we were arriving late. Well, my agent didn’t make sure this was the case, so they didn’t have a room with a queen or king bed. They gave us a room with two double beds. I tried to explain this was unacceptable, but the person checking me in didn’t seem to care. All he kept saying is we can switch your room in the morning “if” something comes available. Exasperated, I just took the room they had and went to unpack. Our room was all the way at the end of the building, closest to the road and parking lot. This became a problem the next morning. After unpacking, we went to look for dinner and settled on one of the hotel restaurants. This turned out to be a disaster. The food was not very good. I had the seared ahi salad and the lettuce was extra bitter and the ahi was tough on the outside and like tar-tar on the inside. When we sat down, it took them almost 20 minutes to come take our drink order, and then after it was taken it was filled wrong. We had to send them back for the correct ones. The only thing redeeming about the meal was the dessert (chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce).

We walked around the property and checked out the separate pools. We found the place we needed to go in the morning to talk about out excursions. We then went upstairs for bed. The beds were so small that I had to take off all the covers and my feet hung over the edge. I don’t think I have slept on a double bed since I was 8 years old. Throughout the night, I was woken up every time kids got off the elevator, then around 4am car alarms in the parking lot were going off. After finally getting back to sleep housekeeping started their rounds at 7am and of course they were right across from us. So every bang and bump was echoed in our room. It was maddening.

I finally got up and dressed. There was a message on the phone stating that they had a new room for us. Angie tried calling them but the front desk phone rang and rang (over 20 times). So she went downstairs to get the message, she waited in line for them to just tell her “oh, you have to come back between 1 and 3pm.” Sheeze, why could they have not just said that on the message?

We headed out for breakfast. We stopped at the Lahaina Cannery Mall for breakfast and ate at Lu Lu’s. The food was pretty good and hearty. We drove back toward the hotel and further up the highway. We saw the hotel that used to be the Embassy Suites from our previous visit. All along the highway are a slew of new condos and homes. I do not recall there being this many buildings the last time we were here. I guess as all the plantations started shutting down, they sold the land off to condo developers.

We drove back down to Lahaina along front street. We wanted to get the lay of the land. Some of the places we remember are still there, but lots of chain restaurants are also there now. We returned back to the hotel. We met with the activities person and booked an all day guided tour of Molokai. I felt this was a better trip than to just take the ferry there and rent a car.  We returned to the room so that I could take a nap. I only got about 45 minutes into my nap before a knock on the door. It was housekeeping asking us if we were checking out. This was enough, I headed downstairs to talk to the manager. Finally, after explaining to her that I just want a place I can unpack, a bed I can fit into and not be disturbed for a few hours, she found me a room that was available. I returned to pack our luggage and move to the new room. The new room has a king bed, and also has a nice view of the ocean. I finally was able to get an hour or two of sleep.

We wandered down to the beach and walked along the the shore looking at the places to eat. We settled on Hula Grill & Barefoot Bar where we grabbed a drink and lunch. Angie had a chicken sandwich and I had a goat cheese pizza. The pizza was pretty good, but it should have been called an olive/cheese pizza since the predominant ingredient wasn’t goat cheese. After lunch we walked around the Whalers village looking at all the shops. They had a lot of chain stores so we avoided buying anything there, we will need to find a more local mall with Hawaiian stores. We wandered back to the hotel and changed into our suits to go sit by the pool. It was quite windy out, so laying out under the sun with all the wind lost it’s appeal. I hopped in the spa for a nice hot soak. There were two other couples there on their honeymoon talking about lots of issues with the hotel. From lack of service, to nobody in charge around, to security not being found, to one room having bed-bugs (yeach!). They were talking about how workers at the hotels in Hawaii seem to do half the work for twice the pay as mainlanders. I am not sure that is true, but there are sure a few we have met that would never cut it in California.

After taking as much wind as we could, we headed back up to the room to relax and watch the sunset. With our balcony door open you can hear the music and festival of the hotel luau, which is around the corner. You can also hear the waterfalls from the lagoon, so it’s a lot like our back yard, only louder 🙂 Watching the sunset from our room was very pretty. The sky turned some intense colors before going dark. Listening to the luau music while the sun set added to the “islandness” of the experience. I am not sure what we will do tomorrow. The road to Hana is on the agenda along with a nice 2-3 hour hike at the end. We will see if we are up to it. We will need to pack a picnic lunch and lots of water. Fortunately, our over priced resort fee includes two bottles of water a day.

The Luau music finished and Angie woke up from her nap, we headed down to look for dinner. We will have to go to the grocery store tomorrow as all this eating out is going to kill our budget. We stopped at Cane & Taro Grill and Bar as their menu seemed like the best for us tonight. Angie had the roasted chicken and I had their pork chops. Mine was delicious. I really like what they did with the mushroom reduction sauce. I am going to have to try that myself. The waitress was in training but everything went smoothly. We got a chance to ask her about the southern route to Hana. My GPS wants to send us that way (less miles and time), but where is the fun in that?

After dinner we walked along the hotel walkways to the last hotel on the beach – the Sheraton. This is probably the hotel we will go to for a luau. It’s a much smaller and intimate dinner. We checked out the pool at the Sheraton. Since we have usage rights at the hotel we will have to go over there and use their pools. We turned around and walked back along the beach walkway. They had the sprinklers on and many of them were spraying the walkway, so we got a little wet, but it dried out real quick. We headed back to the room and bed. Tomorrow will be a long driving and hiking day.


Kauai – The Garden Island

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Got up early, 6am our time. It looks to have poured rain a few hours earlier.  Angie actually woke up at 3am our time but luckily was able to get a little more sleep. We had breakfast at the hotel. They offered a buffet. The breakfast sausage and oatmeal was good but a lot of the hot food was cold.  We started driving toward Waimea Canyon. We stopped at many scenic points along the way. Waimea Canyon is known as the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii” as named by Mark Twain. It also has the distinction of being the wettest spot on Earth and even gets significantly more rain than other parts of the island. One year they set a record of over 600 inches of rainfall.

On the way back we took an alternate route, it was less scenic but cut about 5 miles off the trip. We drove to Poipu to see the spouting horn. This was a pretty cool site to see. The water eroded a hole in the coral from below, water rushes in underneath through a water cave and the pressure forces a jet of water through the hole. There was a chain link fence in front of the water, so there was no chance of anyone falling in. You might have heard about the two other places where tourists had fallen into one of these areas.

After checking out the horn, we went looking for lunch. We found a little mall and had lunch at a place called Bubba Burgers in Poipu. The food was good, portions decent and the price was reasonable. Finding all three on Hawaii is always hard to do. After lunch, it was our mission to find our favorite shave ice place. After 20 years, could it still be in business? If I recall, the place was known as Jo-Jo’s an after some Internet searching we figured out that we had missed the shave ice shop after our visit to the Spouting Horn so we turned around and drove back 10 miles Waimea, to go to Jos for the best shave ice on Kauai.  It was worth the detour. Order yours with ice cream on the bottom. A piece of advice for those looking to go to Jo-Jo’s; I recommend not going to the store on the main street. Instead, there is another shop about 100 feet around the corner on the side road. It’s a smaller shop, but for some reason the atmosphere is nicer and it’s where all the locals go.

After we finished our shave ice, we drove back to the hotel and went to the pool.  It’s an awesome pool as you can partially see from the picture. The pool is only 4 feet deep at the deepest part, so no diving is allowed. At each point of the stars,  there are spitting lion fountains. They spray water on you when you go under them. For some reason though, they turned them off at 5pm.

After making many trips to the concierge to try and book a sailing cruise, we booked our own reservation for a dinner cruise on the Na Pali Coast. The concierge called the tour companies and told us that nothing was available. She obviously didn’t call the cruise company because when I called 10 minutes later, they told me they had plenty of room. Apparently, they only call a booking agent. After taking care of our own reservation, we sat and ordered some tropical drinks overlooking the pool. Angie ordered a lava flow and a pina colada for Steve. After finishing our drinks, we went to dinner at Dukes. They have a great salad bar with a lot to choose from. Angie had BBQ chicken and ribs (huh? guess she doesn’t like my BBQ anymore.) and I had their fish of the day which was Ahi. After dinner we walked back along the beach.

The next morning we got up early and headed out to eat breakfast at Eggberts. We wanted to see if the old place was still the same. We found it inside of a mini-mall. Nothing like what it used to be. If I recall correctly, it used to be inside a house, but this one was more of a open air restaurant with a bar. The food was still good, we both had pancakes. I guess things change after 20 years and two hurricanes.

We headed over to the Fern Canyon cruise, but we missed the 9:30 tour by 5 minutes. So we decided to drive up to the north east side of the island. We didn’t really have time to stop and do any hiking, but we wanted to say we had driven all the way around the island. Somewhere I have photos from last time when we hiked through the lava tubes. The road has several one-lane bridges and was very crowded with cars when you reached the end of the road. We do not remember it being this crowded, but then again, we usually don’t vacation in the mid-summer months while kids are out of school. After reaching the end of the road, we drove back down and around the island and went back to Waimea for shave ice (again!). It rained several time on us on the way down. The funny thing is that most of the rain didn’t make it inside the car, even with the top down. Only when we had a heavy but short downpour did we barely get wet.

After getting our shave ice, we drove back to Port Allen for our cruise. We checked in and grabbed a burger while we waited to board the boat.  The cruise was a 4 hours dinner cruise that sailed up the Na Pali coast, we booked the tour through Captain Andy. We boarded the southern star catamaran. There was only about 29 people on board. they normally have about 48. I figured it was because the concierges kept telling people it was full 😀

The cruise out of Port Allen was nice as the water was not too rough. I was able to find a great spot at the front of the boat where I didn’t get too wet or large splashes didn’t reach me. On the way up the coast we passed barking dog beach. This is where the US Navy has a missile testing site. We learned that they do not explode their missiles, but after their fuel is spent, they go and retrieve them. That’s a great way not to blow $5mil on a test. Along the way we  saw several sea turtles. They would just float along looking like drift wood, and then suddenly dive under the boat. We passed many unique features of the coast. One that looks just like the profile of King Kong. There are many waterfalls along the coast as well as many remnants of waterfalls that had been diverted for the plantations.

All of the cliffs are made of volcanic rock, so scaling them is pretty much impossible as they break away under the weight. At the base of the cliffs, there are many sea caves. These caves are open to small boats and several tour companies take you inside them. As we reached the furthest north part of the trip we could see the Na Pali hiking trail. From the boat it doesn’t look like they are wide enough for anyone to walk on, but we could see about a half a dozen hikers on the trail. I wouldn’t mind doing that hike one of these days. I am sure I would have to go alone though, as I don’t see this as something Angie would be interested in doing. As we started to turn around the rains started. The crew raised the sails so that we could sail back under wind power.

We were greeted with a lovely rainbow. In fact later on, we saw a triple rainbow.



As we sailed back, I went up to the bow of the ship and immediately we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins. They swam at the front of our boat jumping and diving ahead of us. At one point, I counted at least 12 of them in a line in front of our boat. This was an amazing site to see and will be something to remember. The chef served dinner and our meal consisted of a Cesar Salad that was yummy, rib-eye steak and grilled shrimp, and an apple-banana pie for dessert. The food was amazingly good for a tour and we were not underfed. After dinner, we enjoyed the sailing on the way back. Two other boats were sailing with us as we continued down the coast. The wind started to die down, so we had to continue the cruise under engine power. Just before we reached the dock, the sun started to go down. Although it was a bit cloudy, it still made for a great sunset. We pulled back into the harbor and disembarked. We then drove back to the hotel.

Hau`oli la Ho’omana’o

Monday, August 1st, 2011

This year we didn’t take our annual anniversary trip in May. Both Angie and I were in school and I was teaching during our anniversary and we could not get away without missing too much work/school. So this year, we decided to take a Summer vacation instead. Because we are celebrating our 20th anniversary, we decided to go back to our honeymoon spot. We plan to see some of the same sites we saw 20 years ago and see how two hurricanes and a tsunami have impacted the island. In addition to seeing the same sites, we will see a lot of things we missed the first time around.

Packing for a 13 day trip is not always easy. It is right on the border of the amount of time for a trip that you have to decide, do I pack light and do laundry or do I take enough clothes for the entire trip? I decided to take enough clothing for the trip. I really don’t like doing laundry when on vacation. I made a trip to REI to check out their lightweight clothing. This clothing has a triple benefit:

  1. Lightweight
  2. SPF 30+ sunblock
  3. Wash and wear as it dries in about 15 minutes.

I found two new shirts and a pair of hiking shorts. The packing part of the trip was the easy part. I was able to lay out all the clothes and pack in about an hour. The hardest part for me was which electronics to take. I settled on the following:

  • Macbook Air with EVDO card
    (for last minute reservations, photo management and blogging)
  • ViPhone (although it’s only for call emergencies)
  • iPod Touch (primary music)
  • Kindle
  • Garmin Edge 305 GPS (for tracking our hiking and bike trips)
  • Garmin Nuvi 660 GPS (for the rental car)
  • Garmin VistaCX GPS (just in case we go geocaching)
  • Cannon Xsi SLR
  • Olympus (waterproof) camera
  • Various headphones, cables, batteries and chargers

Yes, it does seem like a lot of electronics, but trust me, I will use each and everyone on the trip. After everything was packed, I had to weigh our one carry-on bag. The home scale claimed it was about 60 pounds so it was time to adjust some clothes between my carry-on and checked. Fortunately, my roller bag had plenty of room in it so it was not a problem.

Our shuttle drive arrived a few minutes late because of traffic. We had to use a different company as our regular driver was on vacation. He was nice but was a little overly cautious on the freeways. He never went above 55 mph. Fortunately we had plenty of time to get to the airport.

We checked in at the airport, no lines or crowds (we flew out of the commuter terminal). Going through security was quite interesting as they only had one lane open and the people there were in the process of a shift change. As I went through the body scanner, they made me turn 90 degrees and put my hand up (I expected them to say “Reach for the sky, partner”). I could only lift my right arm about the height of my shoulder because I tweaked it sleeping last night. They TSA person insisted I raise my hands higher. I looked at him and stated “I can’t, bad shoulder”. He had me go back around through the normal X-ray machine. I guess I know the secret now.

We grabbed a sandwich and drinks and waited for our flight to board. We were flying on a mini-jet so the flight to LAX was only about 25 minutes. Although we had to wait almost 30 minutes on the taxi-way because the gate had a plane in it when we arrived, and then I had to wait for my ramp check luggage. This gave me very little time to make it to the connecting flight. Fortunately, we made it with a few minutes to spare. I just hoped my luggage made the flight.

The plane we flew on was a Boeing 757-200. Not a model I have flown before. It’s 3×3 configuration and seems to have very little leg-room. It was about a 6 hour flight, although we left 10 minutes late we arrived 20 minutes early. One of the advantages of being the last person to transfer to your connecting flight was that our luggage was the 1st to come off. We received a lei greeting then picked up our luggage and took the quick 2 minute shuttle ride to the rental car agency. They had a convertible mustang waiting for us.

We drove about 2 miles to our hotel and checked in. It took longer to go from the parking lot to the hotel than from the airport 😀 We unpacked and took a walk along the beach to see what was around for dinner.

We went to JJ’s Broiler and ordered drinks and dinner. Angie had a mango martini and chicken pesto, I had a garlic ribeye and a lava-flow. We ate and watched the sun go down. After dinner we walked back along the beach to the hotel and our room.