This content was previously published on Exposure.
Well there is not too much to tell about Waikiki beach. Nice, but as expected way too touristic for my taste and the beach is not that special (maybe I'm spoiled). The only notable difference is the vegetation close to the beach (i.e. the tree in the picture below). On the other hand the culinary side was quiet interesting. There are a lot of Asian (mostly Japanese) and Mexican influences and we tried some interesting fusion style dishes, i.e. salmon burritos and musubi. The coffee is generally very good (mostly Kona and other Hawaiian beans) and has all the flavor I seek in a rich cup.
In retrospect we could have spent only one day on O'aho and move on to Kauai one day earlier. Regardless it gave us a good chance to adjust to the timezone and relax for all the hiking that would follow.
The Diamond Head trail (a volcanic tuff cone just next to Waikiki) was the only hike we scheduled for our stay in O'ahu. A narrow, winding trail leads up to an old bunker on the highest point of the crater and offers a nice view down to the sea and into the crater. The (tourist friendly) hike was only 30 minutes but was a bit of a struggle nevertheless. We generously attributed the lack of energy to the jet lag and tropical climate..
Giddy with expectations what Hawaiis green oasis promises we picked up our car at the airport. Already on the drive to our hotel we were stunned by a mixture of green fields, flowers, and tropical trees in lush greens and vibrant colours. It is hard to describe this intensity in words - I hope the images will convey this impressions better.
Our "real" hiking started in this state park that is like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon National Park. It features an impressive canyon and gorgeous valleys from the crater rim to the ocean on the north-west side of the island (Nā Pali coast). We started with an easy but very nice trail that let down into the canyon and ends at the top of the Weimea falls. The trail leads through different vegetation (forest, swampy ferns, sand, ...) zones and offers stunning views down into the canyon on an exposed ridge.
It is remarkable how often and how drastic the vegetation and climate changes between one hike and the next that sits just a couple of miles further up the canyon. After our canyon trail we drove to the end of the road and took a slippery stroll (at least one of us got a bit dirty after slipping on a wet tree root) on the most humid/wet spot on the island. The trail follows the crater rim, on the left side the Nā Pali coast and thick swampy jungles on the right.
If you drive to the end of highway 50 and further north (on adventurous dirt roads) you find yourself on a very nice beach at Polihale State Park. Unfortunately, the waves were way too high and currents seemed too strong to go for a swim, but islands have (obviously) many beaches to offer. Our favourite beach (sand, location, waves) was just outside of Weima. The water was still a tad on the wild side - so we stayed closish to the beach..
The costal area generally provides a nice view in different environments (rocky, sandy, trees, bushes, ...), but in many places the waves and currents are simple too dangerous to swim (of course also depends on the season and winds).
For the second half of our week in Kauai we moved to the east side. We started with a moderate hike up the sleeping giant with a nice view on Weilua and the sea. Exploring some of the small coastal towns and looking for interesting food trucks or small takeaways filled our time between hikes and resting for the next hike.
Well, the Klalau trail (the other end of the highway) is pretty famous. It is tricky (you have to cross 3 streams for the full hike minding the flash floods) if you do the full 17 km. The treat you get is a night on a pristine beach that is only reachable by foot. We only did the first part (to Hanakapai'ai beach) of the hike (roughly 6km in and out) and extended it by a small hike up into the valley to see the patchy bamboo forests. The trails snuggly follows the coast line, again the vegetation changes from conifer trees to jungle to ferns. I am pretty sure that I will be back for the full hike and a dreamy night at the beach some day..
Kauai features multiple botanical gardens. We decided to visit the Botanical gardens Limahuli Botanical Garden and Preserve mostly because there is a self-guided walk available.
Equipped with a guidebook we slowly strolled through the gardens and tried to memorize all the cool little factoids about plants (over 1'200 native Hawaiian species that are found nowhere else in the world; evolving from originally native and immigrant species) and the ancient Hawaiians that inhabited the Limahuli valley.
As on the east coast we explored the food trucks in the small villages we passed while driving to Ke'e beach and the botanical gardens.
Overall there is more to discover on the east coast (hikes, canyons, catamaran trips, beaches), but the Kalalau trail is definitely worth a visit. Maybe I am slightly biased - the weather was quiet rainy on the north & east side..
At this point our joint journey (sadly) came to an end, my brother was heading home, and I moved on to Hawaiis Big Island.
The view on our approach to the tiny Kona airfield felt like a splash of cold water into the face. Awakened from the Kauai lush green dreamscapes I was confronted with a scraggy and burnt tundra landscape. This tundra is one of 8 (out of 13 existing) climate subzones that are represented on Big Island. As the name suggests, the island is indeed big(ger than Kauai) and in total I beat almost 1000 km's out of my rental car (in only three days time) to visit all 8 climate subzones.
After the first shock wore off I sailed my rental car into the setting sun towards my hotel - looking forward to see the first (still active) volcano in my life.
On my first day I headed down the coast southwards. After a quick stop at a bakery, I arrived at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. This quiet surreal combination of greens, blues and unexpected black sand made me wonder if I switched planets. The sand was coarse, but not too coarse, just the right amount of "coarsyness" to feel cuddly - the perfect place to stretch your legs and observe the sleeping turtles.
After feeling too relaxed to stay any longer, I headed back for two short hikes in Paliokaeo and the Manuka State Park. The first round trip hike led through soft and fluffy meadows up to the black desert of hard lava. The 2nd hike followed a narrow trail through jungle like forests on rock hard lava, a soft breeze scattering the smell of fresh passion fruit. Due to the rockiness of the path my feet were trying to convince my brain that I am hiking in the mountains, my eyes and nose disagreed strongly - a delightful confusion.
First south, then north.. Driving through the tundra was really breathtaking and a unique experience for me. While driving up Kohala offered a wide view down on the tundra landscape I preferred the more submersed view in the plains (unfortunately I missed spots to get pictures while driving on the highway). Once over the top I briefly stopped at a local farmers market for fresh fruits and continued to the end of the road that offered a neat view down to the costal area. While driving back around Kohala (to the other side) I stopped at random places to explore local oddities, for example the forest of disrobing trees ;).
Finally on the last day the visit to the volcano with high expectations. Driving through Mauna Kea and a short walk on the old roads the local established on top of the congealed lava I drove all the way to the lava tree state monument and along the coast through these joyous vegetation that alternated between jungles and palms and trees..
After a short lunch in Hilo, I arrived at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and it was raining hard. After walking just for a couple of minutes I was soaked to the bones (ok I should have brought my rain gear and not the tourist outfit..). Nevertheless I managed to grab a glimpse of flowing lava (from far away) and hiked through a cave into tropical forests. Unfortunately all the hikes down into the crater were closed.
Kailua Kona is way cosier when it comes to relaxing and comfortable coffee places: roaster on premise, views, location.. In that comparison Kauai pales - the island seems to focus on resorts in the midst of gorgeous nature but maybe we did not look hard enough to find the cosy coffee places on Kauai.
A tiny plane took us from Kona to Kahului where I hurriedly picked up my car and went straight for a drive along the north coast of the island.
For the better part of the drive along the north coast the road was only one lane wide. Progress was rather slow and cautions (fortunately there was not much oncoming traffic). On the bright side this laid-back travel style allowed me to catch glimpses and impressions of the unfolding ravishingly beautiful landscape and cute villages. After one of many innocent looking turns I noticed a teensy tiny booth that sold fresh homemade banana bread (and dried fruits, lemonades, ...) on the roadside. Of course I could not resist and immediately pulled over to get me a loaf of banana bread for lunch.
A short stop and hike (Ohai Trail) revealed the brutal (I guess typical north) costal area on a narrow trail trough bushy territory. The final stop on this excursion was Honolua Bay, a small stony beach. Little did I know that the access path turned out to be so absolutely incredible dizzying. A spectacular interplay between jungle and forest trees decorated the muddy trail leading down to the sea musically accompanied by different singing birds.
Close to that beach the surf competitions usually take place. Unfortunately the tide was too soft to allow any surfing on that day.
The one thing I was super thrilled to do on Maui was a somewhat secret bamboo forest trail on the road to Hana. Unfortunately the weather forecast was painfully bad and I decided to take my chances when the prediction promised a half-decent rainless window.
Of course as soon as I parked the car on the side of of the road the rain (if you can call it that) started to pour down. I packed all my gear in my waterproof seal bags, put my new Marmot rain jacket to a good first use and started stumbling and sliding along narrow and muddy paths into the bamboo forest. After a while the trail ended at a river crossing. I paused for a moment and tried to asses/predict the (flash) flood risks. It actually stopped raining and the level of the river seemed to be completely stable so I decided it was safe enough to cross. Once safely on the other side the trail continued in a wider corridor opening out in front of a small waterfall. From there I crawled/hiked cross-country style in a random loop. Eventually it was hard to see the wood for the trees (bamboo) - a comfortable and soothing feeling of detachment and getting lost in a dream.
Due to rainy weather I missed out on hikes and places I planned in the south part of the island. Fortunately I discovered an (almost) always sunny beach (close to Makena Cove) and spent a good amount of time reading and relaxing there. A tiny strip of forest adorning the shoreline provided a valuable way to transition seamlessly between sun and shadow.
On my second last full day in Maui I signed up for a short surf introduction and went out by myself on my last day. It was heaps of fun (mostly because of the beginner friendly super large surf board and forgiving waves) riding the waves. Twice I spotted turtles diving beside and beneath my surf board seemingly unconcerned by my close presence.
On one occasion I capitalized on the sunny weather and visited Lahaina. A bit touristic, with shops and outlets but I found a comfy coffee place sitting (basically) on top of the ocean.