Blog Archive July 2011

Kolekole Pass Hike

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Kolekole Pass on Schofield Barracks is a short, reasonably easy family hike along the Waianae Mountains with spectacular views of the Lualualei Valley on leeward Oahu.  It is a quick and enjoyable family hike perfect for a weekend afternoon!  The first portion of the trail is a short steep section up some wooden stairs.  As you climb the stairs, be sure to look to the left for some views of central Oahu and watch for guava berries along the trail.  At the top, you come to an intriguing rock called Pohaku Hupeloa.  The boulder has an unusual bowl-shaped depression on one side.  According to Hawaiian legend, Hupeloa represents a female spirit who guards the pass and her warriors used the rock to dispose of defeated enemies and unfortunate travelers.  An ethereal tension fills the air nearby as you move past it.  From the rock, continue to the left (south) down some more wooden steps towards a small field with a communications tower.  Stay to the left and cross the field keeping the tower on your right, taking the rutted road leading up the windward side of the mountain.  The right fork takes you a short distance up the mountain to a peak, but the view to the leeward coast is blocked by foliage.  Stay on the rutted road as you gradually ascend the trail.  Close to the top, there are a few side trails going off to the right that offer spectacular views of the leeward coast towards Nanakuli, Maili, and Waianae.  Be extremely careful when exploring this area.  The overlook is full of loose dirt and gravel and there are no guard rails preventing you--or curious children--from a very nasty tumble.  Back on the rutted road, continue the short climb to the top, stopping to check out another view of central Oahu to your left.  Take the right fork at the top and continue downhill a short distance to your destination, a small, rather lovely meadow.  Cross the meadow and before you lies the entire Lualualei Valley with an amazing view all the way to the leeward coast.  The meadow can be very windy so be prepared to grab onto your hat and hold onto it and watch your family as you creep to the edge to look out at the valley!  The trail actually continues along the Waianae Mountain Range to its summit and then along its ridge for a few more miles, but it becomes narrow and ambiguous and should only be attempted by experienced hikers and not those toting young children with them.  The hike to the meadow, however, is relative short, taking only about 30 minutes (1 hour round trip) depending on how long you stop to enjoy the views along the way and very manageable for children!  From the top of the wooden stairs at the beginning of the trail, the ascent is gradual and children should not have any problems handling the terrain.  Our child (2 1/2) got tired about halfway up the stairs, though, which are steep, so be prepared to assist or carry them through this portion.  Fortunately, it’s a very short section! Because of the stairs, using a stroller is not practical.  We recommend a baby backpack or carrier depending on the age of the child.  Middle school age children and older should have no problem with the trail. The trail is well marked and maintained.  Wear some sturdy shoes, bug spray, and bring some water.  There are no restroom facilities at the trailhead or along the trail so we recommend stopping prior to getting to the trail.  Bring your camera!  You will definitely want to take pictures of the views!  To get to the trail, you will need to access the Army post at Schofield Barracks.  The guards at the gate will issue you a pass upon request if you are not a member of the armed forces.  To drive there, take H-1W to H-2N.  Follow the H-2 to the end and turn left on Kunia Road.  Enter Schofield Barracks through the Foote Gate and stay on Foote Ave which turns into Kolokole Ave.  Turn right on Humphries Road which turns into Trimble Road.  Stay on Trimble Road which will turn into Kolekole Road. Stay on Kolekole Road as it winds its way through the base and up to the pass.  You will come to a parking lot on the left side of the road just prior to the gate leading to the Naval Radio Transmitting Facility Lualualei and Naval Magazine Lualualei on the other side of the Waianae Mountains.  Park there and head up the trail leading south from the parking lot.   This is a fun family hike!  It is quite popular with folks in the Schofield/Wahiawa area particularly on the weekend--we passed numerous families and dog walkers along the trail.  It is easy enough that the whole family can enjoy it and the view of the leeward coast is marvelous.  

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Waikiki | Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon

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Most everyone has heard the Irish myth proclaiming a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.  With so many rainbows arcing high through the Hawaiian sky on a daily basis one might think that the aina would be covered in gold from Koko Head to Waianae.  While this particular myth was debunked long ago, there is one spot in Hawaii where this is true—metaphorically.  One of Hawaii’s most famous rainbows rises high into the sky over Waikiki on the sides of the Rainbow Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa.  Its famous tiled murals, created by Millard Sheets in 1968, adorns postcards, photo books, wedding photos, and TV shows making it as much a Waikiki icon as its bookend Waikiki counterpart, Diamond Head.  At its base, just like the Irish legend states, you will find a pot of gold—Hawaiian style.  A golden pot of sand, surrounding a placid salt water lagoon, seemingly designed with frolicking families and children in mind.  Nestled between the Rainbow Tower and Ala Wai Boat Harbor, the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon offers families a protected respite from Hawaii’s famous surf while still allowing them to enjoy the delightfulness of the ocean.   Named after Hawaii’s legendary father of International Surfing and the Official Ambassador of Aloha, the man-made lagoon spans 5 acres and averages 5 feet deep.  Renovated in 2007, the new construction added more than 35,000 tons of sand, a two tiered waterfall and island, a boardwalk, and 60 coconut trees and hundreds of native Hawaiian plants to the lagoons original 1950’s design.  The improvements create an inviting and relaxing park like area to sit back and enjoy some fantastic quality time with the family.  The calm waters of the lagoon are ideal for small children to swim or wade in and beginners who want to learn water sports like stand up paddling in a controlled ocean environment.  Visitors to the lagoon can rent a variety of beach equipment and toys to use during their visit from the Hilton's Waikiki Beach Activities kiosk located on the north side of lagoon.  Everything from beach chairs and umbrellas to kayaks and aquacycles can be rented there.  The lagoon bustles with activity from sunrise to sunset.  Morning joggers trudge along the lagoon’s boardwalk as the sun peaks over Diamond Head and exhausted toddlers splash about in its shallow shoreline while parents try to catch the last remnants of daylight as the sun sets over the Waianae Mountains.  Surrounded by the Hilton Hawaiian Village and situated at the west end of Waikiki, there are a variety of dining options nearby either within the Hilton resort or along Ala Moana Boulevard if you choose not to bring your own.  We recommend bringing a cooler with your own drinks at a minimum though or you will pay resort prices for your drinking water!  The best place to park is at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor to the west of the lagoon.  There is free parking available to the left along the lagoon and farther out on the ocean side of the lagoon.  If those are full, there is a pay lot to the right with reasonable prices.  You can also park in the city lots along Kalia Street and walk through or around the Hilton.  If you haven’t been to the Hilton Hawaiian Village before, we recommend walking through it and taking a few moments to enjoy its lush tropical gardens, waterfalls, exotic wildlife and priceless artwork which includes a penguin colony!  There are restroom facilities available a short walk away from the lagoon within the Hilton or to the east of the resort, next to Tropics Bar and Grill, is a city facility that also has a shower.  The only downside to the lagoon is the sand.  It somehow feels artificial.  A loose blanket of it covers the beach but immediately underneath that it is hard packed and feels more like a concrete sidewalk than a beach.  This makes it impossible to build sandcastles or play other games in the sand.  If that is important to you, though, you can walk just across the surrounding boardwalk to Duke Kahanamoku Beach (recently ranked the No. 3 beach in the U.S. for 2011 by Dr. Beach) and settle there for the afternoon and still be near the lagoon.  There is some shade around the outer edges of the lagoon beach where the coconut trees were planted, especially on the ocean side, but it tends to get taken early.  Beach umbrellas are not a practical option because of the sand, so your best bet if you want some shade for the kids is a portable sun tent or shelter.  Remember to bring lots of sun screen and hats for everyone!  This is a really nice place to bring the family for the afternoon, particularly if you have small children, who can spend the afternoon in the water and not continuously get knocked over by the surf, or have children who are not strong ocean swimmers.  The docile conditions make this spot ideal for little surfer girls and boys to explore.  Just note, there are no life guards at the lagoon so be vigilant and keep a watchful eye on your family.  In addition to the great surroundings at the lagoon and the fun and variety of family activities available, on Friday evenings, the Hilton Hawaiian Village hosts a free fireworks display (Click here for video), beginning around 7:45 p.m. at Duke Kahanamoku Beach.  The lagoon is the perfect vantage point to enjoy the display and it is a great way to complete your family day at the beach!   


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Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and Marketplace

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If you are looking for the best shopping deals on the island for Hawaiian souvenirs and clothing there is one place that you must check out.  At the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and Marketplace between Pearl Harbor and Aiea on Oahu, you can find unique Hawaiian treasures at the state’s largest open air flea market at significantly lower prices than can be found elsewhere on the island.  Anything and everything Hawaiian can be found here, and much, much, much more!  Local wear and goods abound as the parking lot of Aloha Stadium transforms into a Hawaiian-style souk with vendors of all sorts hawking everything from fresh island fruits and leis to inexpensive local wear, including the always popular matching Aloha outfits for the family, to souvenir trinkets and t-shirts sure to please the extended family back on the mainland impatiently waiting to see what you might bring them!  Every Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday starting at 8:00 a.m. (6:30 a.m. on Sunday) and continuing to 3 p.m., you can find 360 degrees of local venders surrounding the stadium.  The prices are some of the cheapest in town, usually much cheaper than stores in Waikiki and most items are similar or exactly same as what can be found at downtown stores and hotel gift shops.  In fact, many of the vendors at the swap meet are from stores that are located in those areas.  We would be misleading you if we said all of the things sold here were “made in Hawaii”, truth be told, most items sold throughout the island are not made here when it comes to souvenirs and trinkets.  However, some are, so be sure to ask if that is important to you.  Regardless, many items can only be found in Hawaii, so be sure to grab something if you like it!  If you are worried that you will buy too much stuff to fit in your suitcase, don’t fret, there are even postal services available on site.  Even with the lower prices, there is still a small margin for price negotiating with most venders, especially if you are able to pay in cash or are purchasing more that one of a particular item.  Buying in bulk is always a good shopping technique when looking for bargains as most sellers would rather sell two items for a few dollars off then just one at a slightly higher price, and its no different here.  If you do plan on making purchases using a credit card, we recommend that you bring some cash as a few of the vendor’s take cash only.  If you find yourself needing cash, or if it is a particularly good shopping day, more cash, there are ATM’s at various places around the stadium but be prepared to be charged a hefty bank fee!  Also, consider shopping around a bit before making any purchases.  Although there are over 700 local vendors at the swap meet, they do not all sell items that are unique to only them.  For example, there are numerous vendors that sell t-shirts or Aloha shirts.  If you find something you like, check a few more vendors to make sure that you do not come across something you like better later on.  Also, you may find a merchant more receptive to bargaining if you can prove to them that a vendor down the row is selling the same item for a few dollars less!  Just to give you an idea of some of things we have found at the swap meet that make great gifts or are particularly good deals, we have purchased Hawaiian themed baby quilts (excellent baby or shower gifts!), throw pillow cases, handmade jewelry, infant aloha clothing, Aloha and collared shirts (yes, they were matching!), rice paper lamp shades (good for the patio or kid’s night lights!), photo albums, and t-shirts.  T-shirts particularly are a good bargain here.  Many times you can get 6-8 shirts for $20.  We use them for play shirts for our son to finger paint, color, and play in the yard in, but they also make nice souvenirs! There is also the opportunity to grab some local flavors if you find yourself hungry or thirsty. There are stands selling shave ice, malasadas (Portuguese donuts), lemonade, fresh coconuts and other local fruits, and plate lunches. Getting to the stadium is pretty easy from downtown take the H1 West and follows the signs for the stadium. There is a bus stop directly across from the stadium and Pearl Harbor is just two lights away if you want to make a day of it.  There are restrooms available within the stadium. Our recommendation is that you hit the swap meet early, especially on a sunny day, and bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen (although you can buy all of them there!) as it can get very hot being surrounded by asphalt and there is little shade available.  You will want to bring some extra water for this reason as well.  A narrow stroller will work best although any will work.  The smaller size will allow you some room to navigate in the stalls.  However, if you are like we are and buy in bulk then the larger strollers allow you to store the most purchases!  Sunday’s tend to be the better day because a larger number of the vendors are present.  There is a $1.00 admission fee per person (11 years and under are free).  While normally, we wouldn’t consider shopping a family friendly activity or excursion, in this case, you can make a family affair out of it by checking out all the clothes, souvenirs, and food that make Hawaii special.  It is a great place to pick up bargains or that special Hawaiian gift or souvenir and your family will have a blast meandering through stalls in search of that perfect Hawaiian treasure!  For more information, to see a list of vendors, or check out the latest specials (they often offer buy one get one free of admission) you can visit www.alohastadiumswapmeet.net for the latest.

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Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens

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If you are looking for a place to observe landscape reminiscent of that which the early Polynesians saw hundreds of years ago, then visit Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens on Oahu’s windward side.  Here, you can still find forests of kukui, hala, koa, and ohio-ái, a place were ti and pili grass still cover the slopes and ancient hei’aus lie quietly near streams.  Nestled between the majestic Ko’olau Mountains and Kane’ohe Bay in Kahaluu, the 725 acre private estate of Senator Hiram Leong Fong, first Asian American to serve in the U.S. Senate, quietly preserves and promotes ancient Hawaii’s horticultural past.  During his years of service, the Senator often retreated to his garden as a place for rest and renewal, its therapeutic effect, he claimed, contributing to his good health and long life (he died in 2004 at the age of 97!).  To honor the five presidents that he served during his political tenure, he divided his land into five areas.  The Eisenhower Plateau, the Johnson Plateau, the Kennedy Valley, the Nixon Valley, and the Ford Plateau each containing unique collections of tropical fruits, nuts, woods, and flowers.  The garden offers a 1 mile guided walking tour through the property that lasts a little over an hour and a half.  The very knowledgeable staff will show you a variety of flowering trees and interesting tropical plant life while discussing their significance and native Hawaiian uses.  You can see several fruit trees including star fruit, papaya, guava, lemons, limes, and lychee.  Depending on the season and availability, your guide may help your children hand pick some fruit for tasting.  Our son was quite the connoisseur of lemons following our visit!  You may also be taken up through the gardens to take in the view of Kaneohe Bay.  In addition to the guided walking tour of the gardens, they offer lei making classes (for an additional fee of $6.50) using fresh flowers picked from their gardens.  We found Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens to be one of the better maintained and colorful gardens on the island.  The tour is on a gravel and sometimes paved trail that can be navigated with a sturdy jogging stroller.  We would not recommend other types of strollers be used because of some rougher areas of the trail.  Alternatives are a back or front baby carrier but keep in mind it is a mile walk, so that may be tiring for you and the children!  The tram that is mentioned in their brochure and on several websites has not been running since 2005 so seeing the gardens is only accomplished via the guided walking tour. The gardens are open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with the first tour starting at 10:30 am and the second at 1:00 pm. Groups tend to be small which was a nice feature.  The garden is closed on Christmas and New Years Day. The entry fee is a little pricey we felt at $14.50 for adults and $9.00 for children ages 5-12.  Children under 3 are free. There is a small kama’aina and military discount available.  Also, something not mentioned on any websites that we could find...they only accept cash, no credit or debit cards.   There is a small gift shop and restroom facilities at the Visitor’s Center.  We found the staff very friendly and knowledgeable. They had a coloring book and crayons at the ready for our son while we waited for our tour to start.  A word of caution if you decide to go--be prepared with both rain gear and sun protection as the windward side unpredictably receives a lot of both.  Also, probably the most important thing to remember to make your visit enjoyable--is bug spray.  There was an abundance of mosquitoes at the gardens.  They have a limited amount available at the Visitors Center but we recommend bringing your own!  If you are sensitive to bites, we recommend also wearing long pants and sleeves.  This is one of the better gardens on the island and we enjoyed the visit.  The staff’s knowledge and willingness to let you touch, taste, and smell the various plants and fruits were extremely enjoyable to our son, and made the trip well worth our time.

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Electric Beach | Kahe Point Beach Park

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Situated on Oahu’s leeward shore is arguably one of the best and least known snorkeling and dive spots on the island.  In our opinion, the aquatic life here rivals anything that you can find at other popular spots like Hanuama Bay or Shark’s Cove.  Electric Beach is just north of the Ko Olina resort area and is right across Farrington Highway from the Hawaiian Electric Company Power Plant.  It’s this unique location that makes Electric Beach such a great spot to explore.  The power plant releases clean cooling water through two giant pipes several yards offshore which is many degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean.  The warm water attracts scores of sea life.  The coral covered pipes have become an artificial reef, home to sea turtles, spinner dolphin, eels, and a multitude of tropical fish so dense you will feel like you are swimming in an aquarium.  It truly is a remarkable experience to swim among them.  To the north and south of the pipes are abundant coral flats that are easily explored some with nice overhangs and swim throughs.  Sounds like an ideal spot to spend some time with the family right?  Now for the downside...it is not a place that we would recommend for children for a variety of reasons.  Even in calm wave conditions (1-2 feet), the entry and exit can be rough because of the funneling effect created by the shore and the power plant’s concrete wall on the north side of the beach.  The current can be quite strong and the breaking waves can cause havoc with you as you attempt to put on your gear.  Throw in a few rocks, and low visibility caused by the turbulent waves on the beach’s sandy bottom, and it can be quite hazardous to even experienced swimmers.  Once past this though, the conditions are much better.  The water becomes almost placid and the visibility is tremendous--at times possibly the best on the island.  The bottom gently slopes away and you will find yourself in about 30 feet of water along the power plant pipes.  Swimming here is at your own risk, another reason its not ideal for children, there are no lifeguards at the beach and if you find yourself in trouble, there is no help.  The swim from the beach to the mouth of the pipes is a few hundred yards, so it is a bit of a swim and can be tiring for children and adults if they are not regular swimmers.  The condition of the park area is marginal at best.  The park sits up on a small bluff overlooking the water.  The cliffs at the shoreline are great for viewing but can be hazardous for little ones.  There is a covered pavilion and a few picnic tables scattered throughout the park.  The grassy area is actually strewn with debris and rocks and during our visit, the restroom facilities were boarded up, forcing us to use the one port-a-john that was available.  There are outdoor showers available to wash off the sand and salt water.  The actual beach which is accessed via a short foot path to the north of the parking lot is small and offers only a few spots of shade along the south side.  It would probably be quite crowded if the beach were closer to Waikiki because of the great snorkeling and diving, but being on the leeward coast it is rarely full during the week.  Weekends and holidays can be busy but most of the time you can still find a spot to park the car and a small spot of sand to claim as your own on the beach.  Several local dive companies use this location for dive certification so you may find it imbued with novice divers at times.  If you go snorkeling or diving be sure to leave a “beach watch” behind to watch any valuables that you may leave on shore.  This area has been known to have its share of petty theft.  To be fair, while we were there, we had no issues and, in fact, noticed police cruisers frequenting the park during our stay.  There are no stores or food trucks near the beach to grab food and drinks, so we recommend packing a cooler with, at a minimum, some drinking water.  Also, bring some sun screen and a hat so you do not get sunburned between swims, and of course your snorkel or dive gear.  It’s location relative to Ko Olina makes it a nice early morning excursion for folks staying or living there.  For people staying or living in Waikiki or the windward side of Oahu it is a bit of a drive, but could be easily combined with another leeward coast excursion, like the Ko Olina Lagoons, Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii, Paradise Cove Lu’au, Pokai Bay or Ka’ena Point. While the snorkeling and diving at Electric Beach are phenomenal, we just can not recommend it to families with young children.  Teenagers who have experience snorkeling and are strong swimmers will most likely be fine, although we recommend that all swimmers swim with an adult partner for safety, but the rough conditions near the shore are not for children.  While the beach is small but nice, neither the park nor the facilities are conducive for problem free exploration.  Other locations provide a much nicer family adventure when compared as a whole.  Therefore, we recommend that this be an adult only adventure if you want to check it out. 


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