Hawaii’s best beaches (Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Big Island)

Let’s start with obvious.  Hawaii is known the world over for having some of the best beaches in America.  (Only Miami Beach and those further south in the Florida Keys really rival.)  And while we can in no way touch upon all of the notable beaches found throughout this island paradise, we have selected a handful of favorites that cover a wide range of variety.  We’ll start with the best-known setting before touching down on Maui, Kauai and finally, the Big Island.

Waikiki (Oahu):  The most famous Hawaiian beach of them all is likely Honolulu’s Waikiki.  We visited only recently on an all-too-brief stopover on our way to the Big Island.  In short, it was crowded, yet iconic.  If you’re spending time on Oahu, Waikiki’s picturesque skyline will be hard to avoid.  What we do suggest you avoid, however, is the sprawling Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.  It might make for a good bathroom pit-stop (if you can even find the loo), but it is the epitome of tourist central.  Who needs your own lagoon complete with paddle-boats and a sandy strip when the mighty Pacific Ocean is just steps away?

Go for the views out to Diamondhead - or for the only Lappert’s ice cream in Honolulu - but don’t bother staying too long.  There are more idyllic beaches to be had.

Waikiki Beach - multiple access points along Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI  96815

Lappert’s Hawaii at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort - 2005 Kalia Road, Honolulu, HI  96815, (808) 943-0256, http://www.lappertshawaii.com/

Ka’anapali (Maui):  Stretching for miles, Ka’anapali is many things to many Maui tourists.  Numerous resorts up and down the northwest coast of the island lay claim to pieces of its shoreline, and much of it is the same - lilting palm trees hugged by gorgeous white sand, warm, gently-lapping waves... and perhaps best of all, that ominous silhouette of neighboring Lana’i floating in the background.  This is a seemingly never-ending paradise of colorful sunsets, friendly dolphins and one too many Mai Tai’s!  Certainly not as exclusive, or fascinating, as others on our list, if visiting Maui, you’ll likely end up at Ka’anapali Beach alongside troves of its followers.

Ka’anapali Beach - access points at any number of resorts along Ka’anapali Parkway or Honoapiilani Highway (see “digs” for more information about one of the best)

Wai'anapanapa State Park (Maui):  A tent pole attraction of Maui’s legendary Hana Highway (see below), Wai'anapanapa State Park features one of the most unusual beaches you’ll ever visit.  But let’s be honest, this is not the kind of place you’ll want to spend time at if you’re only looking to relax with a book and catch some rays.  The shoreline at Wai'anapanapa is comprised primarily of tiny pebbled lava rocks that have, throughout the eons, been ground down by the ever-crashing waves.  Unlike regular sand, these little pebbles stick to your skin like glue, and you’ll likely be spending much of your afternoon and evening trying to get them off!

One solution might be avoiding the black sand altogether, in favor of the park’s magnificent “ancient” hiking trail.

Or, why not frolic in the warm waters found inside and out of the natural wet caves?  Adventure-seekers can reach the lava tubes by diving into a pool and swimming beneath an underwater ledge that separates the grotto.  (It is here where legend states “lovers of old” would meet in secret.)

Cliff jumping into the ocean is another favorite pastime at Wai'anapanapa, but we urge you to use extreme caution and watch others first.  Tidal conditions can severely limit your visibility of the rocky shoreline, and you don’t want this moment in paradise to be your last!  Set of Drifters tip:  Camping is available inside Wai'anapanapa’s 122.1 acres; be prepared for some crowds, and sadly, more litter than we anticipated.  

Wai'anapanapa State Park - located about 52 miles east of Kahului Airport off from the Hana Highway/ Highway 360); look for signs for at end of Wai‘anapanapa Road, (808) 587-0300, http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/maui/waianapanapa.cfm

Hanalei (Kauai):  Literally “Bali Hai,” Hanalei Bay is the picturesque spot that stood in for the mythical island in the film version of South Pacific.  While the actual two mile stretch of sand feels a bit grotty at times (thanks to hordes of hippies who trek here to meet “Puff the Magic Dragon”), the view into the surrounding mountains is unparalleled.  (George Clooney and kids even showed up here during The Descendants.)  We do not necessarily recommend a traditional “day at the beach” in Hanalei, though surmise you may end up here while partaking in any number of nearby water recreation activities.  Paddle-boarding is an increasingly popular option, so much so that we even saw grannies and dogs trying to stay afloat during our visit!  Our experience in Hanalei Bay, however, culminated in a fantastic catamaran tour of the nearby Na’Pali Coast!

Set of Drifters tip:  Make sure to check out Hanalei’s shopping and dining options.  They truly are among the best on Kauai.  (See “eats” and “goodies” for more information.) 

Set of Drifters video: 
Check out our YouTube channel for video content from this event!
Hanalei Bay - located on the north shore of Kauai about 15 minutes west of Princeville

Poipu snorkeling (Kauai):  Perhaps one of the best spots for surfing on Kauai, Poipu’s conglomeration of beaches are sure dazzling to the eyes, with cobalt blue waters perfectly contrasting warm golden sand!  Though we had to battle with some pretty ferocious winds while in town, the drier south shore conditions of Kauai are known the island over as a sure bet for sun worshipers, and snorkelers!  We spent some time grazing at picturesque Lawa’i Beach, but actually preferred Poipu’s Beach Park, where a small spit of sand bisects two areas of swimming and snorkeling.  (Beware:  The water may be dicier than it looks.  If snorkeling, be sure to stay out of water that is too shallow, or you’ll risk numerous lacerations.)  We saw a bounty of colorful fish here (and even a couple of sea turtles) and thoroughly enjoyed sunning ourselves later on the small lava rock peninsula that attracts additional sea minions from the blue. 

Lawa’i Beach - Lawa’i Road, Poipu, HI  96756

Poipu Beach Park - Hoone Road, Koloa, HI  96756, (808) 241-4460, http://www.poipubeach.org/

Nukumoi Surf Shop (snorkel rentals and surf lessons) - 2100 Hoone Road, Koloa, HI  96756, (808) 742-8019, http://www.nukumoi.com/Home.html

Anini Beach (Kauai):  Our winner for the most secluded beach on Kauai goes to the furthest reaches of Anini, located a few miles drive east of Princeville on Kauai’s north shore.  Though difficult to find, that’s exactly what makes this serene stretch of paradise so special.  From the main Kuhio Highway, look for Anini Beach signs that send you down Kalihiwai Road.  (This is a loop, and you want the northern route).  Before heading into what looks like a residential area, turn left onto Anini Road.  It is here that you’ll first come upon Kalihiwai Bay, a dramatic setting designated by the Kilauea Lighthouse further down the coast on the right.  After snapping some photos here, keep driving down Anini Road, passing the substantial beach Kalihiwai Park on the right.  While this spot will certainly whisk most of your competition off the road, we recommend continuing onward, past a number of small resorts and single family homes that suggest private property!  (Don’t worry - this is still a public beach.)

Finding a place to park near a shady tree, we were able to have wide swaths of the narrow sandy shoreline all to ourselves, save for a beached sea cucumber here and there (see “essentials” for more information!)  While Anini has no real waves on offer, it is one of the most relaxing places on the island - with views that rival some of Kauai’s more prominent destinations.  Set of Drifters tip:  If even this stretch of Anini is not remote enough for you, we have another option that just may solve the problem... or create another.  See our article on “Princeville’s secret lagoon” below).

Anini Beach - located alongside Anini Road just east of Princeville, Kalihiwai, HI  96754, http://www.kauai-hawaii.com/destinations.php?11

Ke’e Beach (Kauai):  Wow!  This place is cool.  While we did not have adequate time to really experience Ke’e fully thanks to a sudden rainstorm, it’s the kind of place we’ll reserve for a special return trip.  Located at the furthest west point that you can drive on Kauai, Ke’e is known as the “gateway to the Na’Pali coast,” and the starting/ end point for the legendary Kalalau Trail.  This 11-mile hike can get so harrowing at points that it is ultimately best suited for experienced trekkers only.  (We did not make the cut this time out!)  Rewards for completing the journey include secret stretches of Na’Pali coastline accessible only to those traveling by foot!

While on the beach, be sure to check out the cool gnarled tree roots and the impressive verdant views out to Na’Pali.  This spot has a certain “at the end of the world” feel, and we suspect you’ll be as enchanted as we were by its enigmatic beauty.

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video content from this event!  Set of Drifters warning:  Nearby dry and wet caves are cool for a quick look, but teeming with mosquitoes.  Wear your bug spray!  

Ke’e Beach - located beyond the Kuhio Highway on Hawaii State Route 560, about 5-10 minutes from the exclusive village of Ha’ena

Lydgate State Park (Kauai):  This stretch of white sand is one of the loveliest we saw while touring Kauai.  Perhaps a bit more family-friendly and utilitarian (with a full playground nearby), we saw very few tourists setting up blankets (but that could have been due to the rough sea we experienced that afternoon).  Lydgate is also a favorite spot for some fisherman, so be sure to watch out for random casts out to sea!

Lydgate State Park - located just south of Wailua and the Smith Family Luau property, http://www.kauai-hawaii.com/destinations.php?38

Hapuna Beach (Big Island):  Moving on to Hawaii Island, beach lovers are in for a challenge.  Since much of Hawaii’s terrain consists of coarse black lava rock, so does its beaches.  We tried out a few near Kona (“Magic Sands” and the one opposite Lunapule Road).  Both will get you wet and on the sand, but they are tiny parcels of beach, crowded and urban - if that is even possible in Hawaii.

For a better option, we suggest heading up to Hapuna State Beach Park north of Waikoloa.  It is here where you’ll find the traditional palm tree, white sand and turquoise water of your dreams.

For an even smarter way to experience this beach, head over to the grand Mauna Kea Resort (see "Big Island architecture" for more information) and sneak down the lobby’s back stairs to the ramp leading down to the pool.  Another staircase will deposit you onto one of the nicest beach vistas on the island.  Buy a couple (expensive) drinks from the bar, steal a towel or two and your afternoon is golden!

Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area - accessible via old Puako Road, Waimea, HI 96743

Mauna Kea Beach Resort - 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr, Waimea, HI 96743, (808) 882-7222, http://www.princeresortshawaii.com/mauna-kea-beach-hotel/index.php

Waialea Beach aka “69 Beach” (Big Island):  We have saved the best for last.  Truly.  Waialea is the kind of place where everyone next to you is all friendly and smiley because they too know they’ve found the most perfect destination in all of Hawaii.

Just south of Hapuna, this swath of shoreline is considerably more private - and perfectly staged with a small lava rock tower that, to us, recalled Kai Island in the middle of the Malacca Strait.  A huge, gnarled tree off to the left slopes down over the water, making for the perfect spot to take your ultimate Hawaiian adventure selfie.  (Just be careful - those are real lava rocks poking out of the ocean below.)

We sandwiched this former nudist beach (hence the nickname “69”) in the middle of one of our busiest days.  Otherwise, we would have spent way more time here.  As they say… “The weather’s here - wish you were beautiful.”  

Waialea Beach - accessible via Puako Road, Puako, HI  96743

surviving a Hawaiian luau (Maui and Kauai)

Doug says:
  My first Luau  in Hawaii was something I will never forget.  In my childhood, I had imagined the experience would lie somewhere between a 1972 Brady Bunch episode and the dearly departed  “Tahitian Terrace” restaurant that Disneyland closed back in the early 90s (http://www.yesterland.com/tahitianterrace.html).  Now back from Kauai, I’m happy to report the actual proceedings were not that far off from my original inclination.  In fact, in some ways, it was even better than I thought.

The Smith Family Tropical Paradise is one of those places you can tell has been around since before Hawaii even became a state, and from the looks of it, the Wailua destination has been backing in busloads ever since.  Normally, your Set of Drifters avoid over-populated tourist spots like the plague, but this is Hawaii, and everyone’s got to attend a luau at least once in their life!

As we entered the complex, we were enthralled with the retro Polynesian feel, but disappointed we had not arrived to the venue early enough.  Who knew that the Smith Family had built such an extensive attraction - including a 30-acre botanical garden that showcases, among other things, a bamboo rainforest, “flower wheel,” and a traditional Filipino village.  Set of Drifters tip:  Even if you can’t make the entire walk through the property, we definitely recommend snapping some photos at the Japanese Garden.  (And don’t forget that giant “Aku Aku” tiki head nearby!) 

Our first stop of the evening was in attendance at an “Imu ceremony” that took place just outside the dining complex.  Imu translates literally into “ground oven,” and, vegetarians beware, the ceremony is a focal point of any Hawaiian luau.  We would soon learn from our amiable host that each luau pig is first buried in a pit (approximately five feet by three feet) and then covered with taro and banana leaves.  The pork that we would eat later in the evening would have then been cooked for 8-10 hours under intense heat from volcanic rocks.  Please note:  This ceremony is not for everyone.  Those who would rather avoid watching the host swat flies off tomorrow night’s main dish should probably spend more time in the garden. 

Once the pig carcass ceremony was finished, it was time to hit the banquet hall.  To be honest, it’s a bit of a cattle call, and you might want to grab multiple drinks from the bar to avoid waiting in line more than once.  We opted for Mai Tai’ that were unfortunately so weak that we had to down six of them (each) just to get a buzz.  Perhaps surprisingly, fare from the many buffet lines was better than we anticipated.  Large salads (potato, caesar and cole slaw) featured alongside multiple savory dishes, including island macaroni and cheese, marinated fish, gluey poi and, yes, that delicious slow cooked pork from the pit!

Having made it through the main course, it was on to seconds, and desserts where tasty fruit and delicious fresh coconut cake stood out as favorites.  “Modern” Hawaiian-style entertainment is provided throughout dinner, but don’t get too excited.  Watching some unknown tourist attempt the “Hukilau” is only funny when you’re drunk, and remember, those Mai Tai’s are anemic! 

After dinner, it was time to move onto the Smith Family’s Lagoon Theater for their crowning makana, the “Rhythm of Aloha” show.  Yes, goddess “Pele” featured prominently in the first act.  And she was soon followed by several different styles of Polynesian dance, including classic Hula, Tahitian-style drumming, and even nods to our Filipino, Japanese and Chinese “brothers.”  While overall the show was worthwhile - those fire twirlers always seem to steal the show - we did find it odd that so many of the dances honored cultures from places other than Hawaii.  We suppose it was a way to pay homage to the islands’ largest tourist constituencies.  

The outdoor setting of this show is really makes it a great night out.  Gazing into the myriad of stars that rose out from the faux fire-spitting volcano was indeed a magical and memorable delight. 

In hindsight, we definitely would have come to Smith Family’s compound earlier in the day to take advantage of the Fern Grotto tour of Wailua River, and that groovy Marina restaurant that only seemed to be open during the daytime.  It had some choice tiki artifacts on display to woo all you vintage “Hawaiiana” fans.

The Smith Family Garden Luau begins daily at 5:00 PM and lasts until around 9:30 PM.  Admission for the entire evening (watered-down drinks included) is $88 USD for adults, $30 USD for “juniors” aged 7-13 and $19 USD for children aged 3-6.  Set of Drifters tip:  If you pre-book through Smith Family online, adults will receive $10 off their admission, though even steeper discounts may be available through other tour concessions once you get to the island.  (Don’t worry about this selling out on the night you want to go.  There are hundreds of seats available!)

Not staying on Kauai and still want the luau experience?  Have no fear.  Each of Hawaii’s islands will feature at least 10 or so different luaus, usually nightly.   Set of Drifter Brady attended both the Maui Sunset Luau and the Old Lahaina Luau on back-to-back trips to Maui.  While perhaps not set in such a unique location as the Smith Family Luau, both of these Hawaiian soirees face the ocean!  Add in a little competitive palm tree climbing, or some traditional palm-frond basket weaving, and you’re bound to have fun anyway.

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video content from this event!

Smith Family Tropical Paradise and Fern Grotto River Cruise - 174 Wailua Road, Kapa’a, Kauai, HI  96746, (808) 821-6895, http://www.smithskauai.com/luau.html

Maui Sunset Luau - 2605 Ka’anapali Parkway, Lahaina, Maui, HI  96761, (808) 661-0031, http://www.kaanapaliluau.com/maui-sunset.htm

Old Lahaina Luau - 1251 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, HI  96761, (808) 667-1998, http://www.oldlahainaluau.com/

the Road to Hana (Maui)

One of the top attractions on the island of Maui is, and always will be, the “Road to Hana,” a breathtaking 68-mile journey that takes you from the little surf town of Pa’ia into one of the most beautiful jungle environments you’ll ever see.  Along the way, a bounty of flowers, waterfalls and grand views will try their best to divert your eyes from the road!  Don’t let them.  The Hana Highway is densely packed with merciless curves, harrowing switchbacks and no less than 54 narrow bridges!  (Many of these are still standing from their original inception; the road was carved out in 1910 to transport sugar plantation workers from Pa’ia to Hana.)  The driving conditions along the Hana Highway are, in fact, so legendary that rental car companies add special clauses into their contracts to limit liability should you crash, burn and/ or damage their vehicle! 

Highlights of the Hana Highway include stop-offs at Keanae’s Arboretum (where a bevy of red ginger, anthurium and hanging heliconia abound), and the small town’s picturesque coastline.  Here, jagged lava rocks and crashing waves make for a dangerous environment, especially during high tide.  (Stay off the outcroppings if the sea is looking too rough!)

Wai'anapanapa is another popular spot.  The black sand beach features a few wet caves and even some decent cliff jumping.  (See “beaches” above for more information.)  And if waterfalls are your thing, you are in luck.  “The Road to Hana” features literally hundreds of them, most notably within the Kaumahina State Wayside and at O’heo Gulch, located about 15 minutes past the little town of Hana.  Here, swimmers can pop in and out of the famed “seven sacred pools” (see “waterfalls” below for more information).

During our maiden voyage to Hana, on what President Clinton has since dubbed the "Millennium Legacy Trail,” we listened to a copy of Craig Henderson’s “Hana Cassette Guide.”  If you can get your hands on a copy of this vintage cassette, (circa 1985), try to do so.  Craig’s quirky narration provides you not only with great insight about the lush flora, fauna and geology of the surrounding area, but also a good dose of history about the Hawaiian islands as well.  Of course, our favorite part of the tape had to be Craig’s insistence that we “turn him on” and “turn him off” over and over again as we approached each new attraction.

While in the town of Hana proper, there really is not too much to see, save for a few fresh fruit and ice cream stands.  This is a nice place to rest and have a picnic though, particularly thanks to its “Old Hawaii charm.”  (And if you’re heading right back to Pa’ia, you’ll definitely want to stop for a potty break!  Even though the mileage between destinations does not seem that far, a round-trip to Hana will set you back about 4.5 hours - and that’s with minimal stops!)

Set of Drifters tip:  They say you’ll need a ¾ full tank of gas to get from Kahului to Hana (and back), that is if you don’t make the full trek around the perimeter of the island using State Route 31 (the Piilani Highway) to Wailua.  This is the narrow rocky route that rental car companies loathe!  Don’t even bother attempting it if you unsure as to whether or not you’re driving a 4WD vehicle!  Road conditions on the sparsely-populated southside of the island are rocky, and made particularly poor if it has been raining.  (Some stretches of this road are listed as 5 mph!)  On a trip to Maui in 1997, Set of Drifters Brady’s dad bottomed out their car making this exact journey, and had to pay up upon returning the damaged vehicle to the airport!  Still, if you just can’t bear to give up the adventure, may we recommend a stop off at the Kaupo General Store?  It’s the “last stop” for services before heading out of the Hana area.  Oddly aviator Charles Lindberg is buried nearby at the Palapala Ho'omau Church.

Kaumahina State Wayside - located about 28 miles east of Kahului Airport off from the Hana Highway/ Highway 360), Haiku, HI  96708, (808) 984-8109,

Wai'anapanapa State Park - located about 52 miles east of Kahului Airport off from the Hana Highway/ Highway 360); look for signs for at end of Wai‘anapanapa Road, (808) 587-0300, http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/maui/index.cfm?park_id=41

O'heo Gulch “Seven Sacred” Pools - State Highway 31, Hana, Maui, HI  96713, (808) 572-4400, http://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm

Kaupo General Store - 217 Kaupo Road, Hana, HI  96713, (808) 248-8054

Hana Cassette Guide - http://www.mauihawaii.org/people/craig-henderson.htm

nocturnal snorkel with manta rays (Big Island)

On recommendation from a friend who had visited the Big Island only a few months prior, a “night time snorkel with manta rays” was high on our to-do list once arriving in Kona. An assumption was that this unusual treat would be difficult to maneuver - and that actual sightings of rays would be chancey at best.

Thankfully, what we didn’t know was that several outfitters offer boat trips to see the graceful, yet imposing, mantas – some with multiple trips per night. You’ll find oodles of brochures at Kona Airport’s baggage claim, though if you forget to snag ‘em there, a number of bargain kiosks dot Ali’i Road’s main drag.

We selected Hawaii Island Ocean Tours via the concierge at our resort who touted the excursion’s small group size (max. 6 persons), accessibility and brightness of underwater lighting. And light is precisely what makes this nightly spectacle tick.

It all started back in the early 1970s when architect Paul Jones built the impressive Kona Surf Resort (now the Sheraton Resort at Keauhou Bay) just south of town. With a large pool positioned at the very tip of an outcropping of lava rocks, huge floodlights had to be positioned at water’s edge to provide safety for swimmers. It wouldn’t take too long for the luminance to attract swarms of plankton – and with them, predatory manta rays. Eventually, the pool was repositioned further back and a bar put in its place. (Rays on the Bay is a wonderful post-dive stop for some poke and a Mai Tai – see “digs” for more information on the Sheraton’s recent $13 million renovation.) Even so, the nightly ray show continued, luring visitors from near and far to squeal in delight at each new sighting.

We must admit it felt a bit strange starting out on our drive to Keauhou Bay at 8:00 PM; most tourist expeditions do not begin in complete darkness. Our concierge advised us to park in the Sheraton’s FREE self-parking lot and walk down to the bay to wait for the night’s first manta tour to return. It being a Sunday evening, the area resembled no man’s land and we were a bit creeped out to wait there all alone. Eventually, our other four compatriots joined us on the dock as we finally welcomed the small 8’ X 23’ double hull power catamaran back to the harbor.

Our host Zach, a handsome local with smiling eyes, helped everybody in the boat - and before we could even exchange names, we were off from the marina.

The short trip to the dive site (about 150 feet out from the aforementioned hotel lanai) lasted only minutes, not even long enough for Zach to ask whether or not anyone on-board had ever snorkeled. (I guess the assumption is that if you’ve voluntarily chosen to go out in the ocean at night to witness giant mantas, you probably feel comfortable enough swimming in a wetsuit with a mask and fins. But that’s just it. Surprise! With this small operation, there were no wetsuits or fins necessary. (To be honest, in the middle of summer, the Pacific waters around Hawaii are still warm enough, even at night, to swim without a second skin, though we hear some tours do offer post-dive hot chocolate and cookies to guests if they’re feeling chilled.)

As for the fins, Zach has devised a way to make this special experience relatively easy for everyone.  A customized raft, with lights on its underside, is thrown into the water. Each person in the group holds on with one hand and then floats face down with a simple pool “noodle” placed under their ankles. This way, no one feels the need to kick their legs and thus disrupt, or maim, the mantas when they near.

Zach pulled the raft closer in to the cove while the rest of us dipped our heads under to view nocturnal sea life: a few snakefish here and there, maybe a puffer. Nothing too exciting at first, but Zach advised us that once plankton were drawn to the powerful light below, hahalua (“manta” in Hawaiian) were almost certain to follow.

At night, plankton basking in the artificial light look somewhat like purple jimmies… you know, those little candies you sprinkle on ice cream or cakes. I put my hand out in the midst of a swarm to feel tiny “pings” all over as they bumped my skin.

Soon enough, we spotted our first hahalua. But nothing that Zach had said prior to that point could really prepare us for the experience. Sure, we knew that manta rays were not dangerous. Though related to sharks, they have no teeth, nor any tail stingers as so widely preconceived. What they do have is bulk. Zack boasted that baby mantas are birthed at weights averaging 170 – 300 lbs! (Perhaps disgruntled by the pain, mama mantas abandon their children almost immediately.)

Aside from a possible bump or two here and there, the one, two, three, four (!) mantas that joined us during out hour-long dive thrilled more than anything else. One girl in our group squealed in fright every time one would belly up to our undersides.

The mantas sweeping movement is somewhat hard to explain. Searching for a daily food intake a 10th of their own body weight, hahalua feed continuously 24 hours a day! And they do so somersaulting, with a gaping wide mouth that recalls memories of your Dyson vacuum back home.

Looking back on it now, I, too, am glad the numbers did not swarm beyond four. Zack told us that on one trip, he noted 20 mantas in the same area, and that even he felt a bit daunted by the crowd. (You have to remember an average manta ray wingspan is about eight feet.)

Eventually, it was time to head back to the boat. Happily, while Zach was releasing the anchor, one of the mantas swam up to the boat, and we were able to take some video and additional pictures from above. (Set of Drifters tip: We had also purchased an underwater camera to snap away blindly at the creatures from above. We don’t suggest you bother. What a waste of $25!)

A nocturnal snorkel is invigorating enough, but with the added excitement provided by massive mantas sliding up beside you, this trip was one for the books, particularly since Kona is one of only two locations in the entire world to offer such trips.

Hawaii Island Ocean Tours offers two dives nightly (departures vary depending on time of year) at a cost of about $72 per person. Different deals and tour operators may flaunt lower (or higher) costs – and some do come with their own underwater photographers who share up to 12 snaps free. You can check Hawaii Island Ocean Tours’ website for additional trips to see dolphins, whales and the like. While we felt our trip was a bit scant on safety information, we would still recommend it highly for those who already feel comfortable swimming, snorkeling or exploring the underwater magic of the sea. Don’t miss this one.  
Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video content from this event!

Hawaii Island Ocean Tours – located at Keauhou Pier, 78-7130 Kaleiopapa Street, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, 808-313-1116, http://www.hawaiiislandandoceantours.com/manta-night-snorkel.html

Rays on the Bay (at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay) - 78-128 Ehukai Street, Kailua-Kona, HI  96740, (808) 930-4900, http://www.sheratonkona.com/dining/rays-on-the-bay-kona/

downhill trek from Haleakala (Maui)

One of the best things about visiting Maui is its versatility.  Equally fulfilling for couples inviting romance, parents looking to appease jaded children, and even adventure-seekers jonesin’ for that next adrenaline rush, Maui has something for everyone.  One of the island’s more unique attributes is its mammoth Haleakala volcano, located smack dab in the middle, and visible from almost anywhere on Maui.  Believe it or not, Haleakala’s peak is considered to be the highest point in the world.  (Eat your stony heart out, Mt. Everest!)  Of course, this is only true when Haleakala is measured from the bottom of the ocean floor! 

Visitors to Maui should plan at least a half-day visit to the dormant volcano, if only to check out its alien “silverswords.”  (The slopes of Haleakala are the only spot on Earth to witness this endangered plant that, when in bloom, resembles a cross between a cactus and an overstuffed pipe cleaner.)  Surprisingly, the best way to experience Haleakala - all of it - is by bicycle.  What?  You don’t think you can handle the winding hustle all the way up to the 10,023 ft. summit?  Have no fear.  At Haleakala, it’s all about downhill. 

Numerous outfitters will offer similar trips, through in the mid-90s, Brady used “Cruiser Bob’s.”  At the time, the wacky tour operator was somewhat of a Maui legend.  (You may have even seen him on the third season of MTV’s The Real World.)  In the years since, “Cruiser Bob” sold off his company to competitor Maui Downhill, and relocated to Oceanside, California.  Nevertheless, Bob’s legacy lives on in countless downhill excursions from the top of Haleakala each year.

Your day will start at a base camp in Kahului.  Here, you’ll get a safety briefing on your bike, and learn about what to expect during the 7-8 hour round-trip.  A decent amount of time is spent prepping your gear.  Aside from a standard-issue bike helmet you’ll wear for the duration of the trek, don’t be surprised when your body is further immersed inside what can only be described as a cast-off spacesuit!  Huh?  Once you and your friends are dropped off by van at the top of the volcano, it will all make sense.  The temperatures here, literally above the clouds, are so chilly that the trapping of body heat is imperative.    

Groups will spend at least 20-30 minutes at the lip of the spacey crater before starting down the volcano’s spiral.  This is a (mostly) safe adventure, with your guide leading you down a road paved from beginning to end.  And while the endless switchbacks and curves may get your heart pumping every now and again, there are only a few hundred meters here and there where you will actually have to pedal with any effort.

Aside from the crater itself, the best part about this downhill trek is the amount of diverse topography that you’ll cover.  From the lunar landscape at the top to very beaches below, bike-riders will whizz through pine and eucalyptus forests, past colorful protea flower farms and right alongside sugar cane and pineapple fields!  Set of Drifters top:  Be prepared to shed your clothing numerous times throughout the day.  Every change in elevation accompanies an equal evolution in weather and temperature.  You may be cold and rained out in one minute, and hot and drenched in sun the next! 

Maui Downhill operates a number of tour variations daily.  We recommend the sunrise tour - even at its slightly higher cost.  There’s nothing quite like seeing the crater at first light of day!  Prices are $149 USD per person, and will include all bike/ gear rentals, van transportation up to the summit and entrance into Haleakala National Park, transfer to/ from your hotel to base camp, plus a continental breakfast.  (Though you will stop for lunch at a small market or restaurant half-way through the trek, the actual meal is not included in the price of the tour.)  Set of Drifters tip:  Want to go with your friends, but can’t imagine bike-riding downhill for hours on end?  You can still accompany the excursion while sitting on the van the entire time, but the price is just the same!

Haleakala National Park - State Highway 378, Kula, HI  96790, (808) 572-4400, http://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm

Maui Downhill Bicycle Tours - 199 Dairy Road, Kahului, HI  96732, (808) 871-2155,  http://www.mauidownhill.com/ and http://www.cruiserbob.com/background/cbstory.htm

touring the Coco Palms (Kauai)

File this under the category, “Who knew?”  On our maiden trip from the Lihue airport to our accommodations in Princeville, we immediately spotted strange “ruins” off the side of Kuhio Highway near Kapa’a.  Wondering what in the heck the groovy structure was, we soon approached a few locals to find out what had happened.  

“Oh, do you mean the old Coco Palms?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”

“That was destroyed back in 1992 and hasn’t reopened since.”

We eventually got more details upon surfing the Internet back at our resort.  Apparently, the Coco Palms became the preeminent resort of Kauai shortly after its construction in 1951.  In its original glory (up through the 70s), the stunning grounds played host to glitterati from the island - and beyond, alluring even Hollywood stars and politicians from near and far.  In fact, it was here that the one-and-only Elvis Presley filmed the iconic outrigger canoe wedding scene that concludes 1961’s Blue Hawaii!

But it’s not just pop culture royalty that has laid claim to this property.  In the 1880s, the surrounding 2,000-tree coconut grove played host to Deborah Kapule, Kauai's last reigning queen! 

Delving further into articles about the illustrious property we so desperately wanted to visit, we eventually came across a tour offering access four days a week!  This was the first MUST-DO on our new itinerary, and upon completion, did not disappoint.  At times funny and irreverent, and at others desperately sad, this is one of the most interesting guided experiences we have ever had, despite the stifling heat that came along with it.  If you’re a fan of “wabi-sabi,” or of long-lost places that were once the epicenter of magnificence, we highly recommend a tour of the Coco Palms.

Ironically, the day we chose to visit was the 20th Anniversary - to the day - that Hurricane Iniki thrashed through the island, decimating the Coco Palms to ruin.  After checking out the resort’s ancillary “clam shell bar” across the street (wear bug spray - this place is swarming with mosquitoes), we joined a group of about 20 people hovering outside locked gates.  We were soon greeted by Bob Jasper, our informative guide who later revealed he was also the Coco Palm’s current caretaker.  (With various investors coming and going throughout the years, the dormant status of the Coco Palms is what has deteriorated its condition more than anything else!  Fire and battles over insurance and design of the eventual restoration continue to plague future development to this day!)  

Full of more stories than a standard pineapple has spikes, Bob toured us first through the dilapidated cabanas where Elvis once stayed (and showered).  It was amazing how decrepit and mold-ridden these small structures were.  (One guesses that Bob’s tour flies well under the radars monitored by both OSHA and the Americans with Disabilities Act.)  Make sure your camera batteries are fully charged; you don’t want to miss a photo op with Elvis himself!  Though fully ravaged by time, his former bungalow currently features a comic cardboard cut-out of “the King.”

Crossing into the immense Samoan palm grove that once bordered numerous tennis courts (and even a fully-equipped zoo), we were impressed to learn that the Coco Palms’ connection to Hollywood continues even today.  Scenes from the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean film were lensed here only a few years back.  (Other TV shows and movies partially shot at the Coco Palms include “Fantasy Island,” South Pacific, Miss Sadie Thompson starring Rita Hayworth, and a trashy Roger Corman monster film for the SyFy channel.

We never did come across the ancient burial ground that has already lured ghost hunting shows to the property, though we did get a chance to peek inside the nearby wedding chapel and resort storage room where an original chalkboard sign still featured hot dog and soda pricing from 1992!  (Again, we must mention the need for bug-repellant.  This area of the resort butts right up against the lagoon that, although still picturesque to this day, is a huge breeding ground for pesky blood-suckers!)

We next crossed over the same waterway, where during the Coco Palm’s heyday, over 500 weddings would be held each year.  (Bob told us that on its busiest day, the outdoor setting saw the bringing together of 22 different couples!  That’s a lot of rice - and pupus.)  Interesting enough, even though the rest of the resort is a haunting shell of its former self, weddings and vow renewals are still held here outdoors.

The Lagoon Dining Room was next on our tour.  Designated by a large conch shell that would have originally lured guests like Frank Sinatra, Patty Page and Liberace in from the outdoors, this space is mostly barren now.  (Sadly, a July 2014 fire razed 20% of the grounds.)  Our cameras were working overtime as we finally segued into the main guest room hallways.  Dark and dank, we assume this is where the Coco Palms’ ghosts would feel most at home.  Be on the lookout for remnants of the original wallpaper, and in many of the rooms, gold clamshell sink basins that still impress to this day!

Though a number of other locations were deemed off limits (including a gift shop, pool area, and additional VIP bars), the tour did offer a great climax in the Coco Palms’ once regal front lobby!  Here, vaulted ceilings dripped with vintage lamps that, under so much decay, appeared as though they’ve been submerged in water for years.  Staring out across the vast space, cleverly illuminated by immense stained-glass windows, you could almost envision the retro conch-blowing bell staff welcoming guests in off the taxi stand.    

Current visitors to the Coco Palms may not get the lobby send-off (it was also decimated in 2014’s blaze), though the tour is still worth your time. Friendly and knowledgeable, Bob provides 90-minute plus walks of the Coco Palms Monday through Friday starting at 2:00 PM.  (We recommend getting there about 15-20 minutes prior, especially if you want to check out the circular “shell bar” across the road.)  While no reservations are necessary, it’s always a good idea to call ahead to make sure the tour is still on.  Admission is $20 USD for adults (making this one of the more bang for your buck experiences on the island), though it must be stated, Bob accepts only cash!

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video content from this event!

Coco Palms - 4-1345 Kuhio Highway (at the corner of Kuhio and Kuamoo Road), Kapa’a, HI  96746, (808) 346-2048

http://www.coco-palms.com/ and http://cocopalmstours.com/

Jack Harter Helicopter Tour (Kauai)

Doug again:  If you had asked me a few years back if I would ever entertain the idea of getting into a helicopter, I would have told you I had absolutely no interest in endangering my life.  But after actually enjoying that cool hot-air balloon ride over Napa a few years back - not to mention some considerable coaching from Brady during our recent trip to Kauai - I was finally convinced to try it... just as long as I was assured we were going to be flying in a helicopter that had actual doors on it.  (Yes, would you believe the majority of Hawaiian helicopter riders opt for riding without doors, and only a seat-belt to keep them strapped in?)

Using a recommendation from a friend, we chose Jack Harter for our journey.  Arriving at their small office near the Lihue airport, we were greeted by friendly staff who first weighed us, then gave us a quick run-through of the copter’s safety precautions.  Leaving virtually everything behind that would weigh us down - save for our cameras - we set out to a remote field inside the airport where several helicopters were already landing or preparing for take-off.  It was at this point where I must admit I was feeling the most anxious.  All I kept thinking about was that horrible incident from years ago in which the actor from The Twilight Zone movie died while filming a helicopter scene.  “Just get past those twirling propellers” is all that kept going through my mind.

Naturally, we boarded without incident and quickly popped on our headphones to listen to our pilot’s instructions.  (Though you can always ask questions of your pilot via a two-way communication system, atmospheric music courtesy of Enya and Hawaii’s own “IZ” would play for most of the trip.)  Shortly thereafter, it was time for lift-off, and before long, we were already high in the sky. 

Our incredible 55-minute journey would take us around the entirety of Kauai.  In fact, what ended up striking me as the most exciting part of the journey was the sheer amount of terrain we were able to cover in such a short amount of time.  After several days of driving along the same stretch of road to get from one end of the island to the other, it was refreshing to be able to simply cut across the coast and head from one staggering view to the next.  One of these, Waimea Canyon, is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”  Though smaller than its moniker’s namesake, Waimea is equally as stunning - and surprisingly untouched by human hands.  Like so many of the impressive spots we would cover during the journey, the sunken valleys and rigid peaks Waimea are virtually impossible to reach by foot or by car.  (See "Waimea Canyon State Park" below for more information.)

Passing over countless taro fields, cattle ranches and even former movie locations (portions of Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed on Kauai), we eventually maneuvered over to the impressive Na’pali coastline, one of the most staggering locations you will ever see.  (Being the cheeseballs that we are, we immediately identified it as the opening shot from the title sequence to “Fantasy Island.”  (See Set of Drifters at the LA Arboretum for more information.)

Jack Harter’s tour covers every part of the island that you’ll want to see.  Our pilot even managed to take the helicopter into an area that appeared to have been the former crater of Mount Wai'ale'ale.  Truly incredible, though perhaps the only part of the trip where we felt a bit queasy.  Now surrounded on all sides by such tall, wet green walls, it was almost like an out-of-body experience.  How else could we explain being immersed in so much beautiful terrain, and in such a small amount of time?  Set of Drifters tip:  Your camera will be working overtime on this journey.  Just remember to take some time away from it to enjoy the experience firsthand.  (And, if you’ve also opted for the copter with doors, make sure to cover yourself with dark clothing.  This will help to eliminate white spots on your photos taken through the window.) 

After about an hour of constant “oohs and aahs,” we knew it was time to get back to earth.  And now that I’m no longer a helicopter virgin, it must be said that I’ve now got the bug to back up!  Perhaps next time, I’ll even be daring enough to try it without the doors!  How do you like them (pine)apples? 

Helicopter tours are not necessarily cheap, though as “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences, it’s hard to balk.  With over 50 years of experience, Jack Harter offers 60-65 minute tours for $269 USD per person and 90-95 minute tours at $404 USD per person.  (While discounts can usually be had by checking out their internet rates, we bet you’ll find even better ones by visiting a tour concession after arriving on the island.)

Jack Harter Helicopter Tours - 4231 Ahukini Road, Lihue, HI  96766, (808) 245-3774


The Queen’s Bath (Kauai)

Don’t let the preponderance of condominium signs and manicured lawns fool you.  The tourist haven of Princeville is literally just steps away from one of the most precious spots on Kauai!  Not that you’d know about it.  Princeville’s hidden little gem, “dubbed “The Queen’s Bath,” has been banned from most recent editions of Hawaiian tour books!  Huh?

Like you, we had surmised the majority of Hawaii was super-safe... kind of like a giant Disneyland, but with no lines!  That is why we were so surprised to hear about “The Queen’s Bath,” a spot the locals deem legendary, but not just for its immense beauty.  The Queen’s Bath is also quite dangerous, having claimed over the years the lives of many who have gotten a bit too close to Mother Nature.

Funnily enough, after a local in Koloa suggested we check out the Queen’s Bath’s majesty, we were surprised to find out that it was located only five minutes away from where we were residing.  Yes, it had been right under our noses in Princeville the whole week!  Using our informant’s directions, we decided to check out the Queen’s Bath on our last full day on the island.  Though it ended up being an incredible experience, we can assure you that it is associated with some danger.  And thus, if you decide to “take the plunge,” please promise to do it only in low tide, and during the summer months when the seas are not too choppy!  We mean it, you must promise us!

From the main exit for Princeville off of the Kuhio Highway, Queen’s Bath adventurers will want to follow along Ka’Haku Road until they pass the Peplani Loop.  Turn right onto Punahele, a small residential street bearing no signs for the impending adventure at its terminus.  Before Punahele comes to a small loop, watch out for a handful of parking spaces and some rather sobering warning signs to the right.  This is where you’ll head out on foot.  Set of Drifters tip:  If it has been raining recently, or if you have any troubles with mobility at all, turn back now!  In our opinion, the trek down to the rocky shore is the most dangerous part of the day!  Oddly, we saw many young lasses wearing flip-flops for the treacherous journey.  If you value your life at all, we recommend function over style.  Ditch the havaianas for some trainers with adequate grip.  You’ll need the traction while maneuvering over a slippery path that features, among other things, a layer of deceptive pine needles, puddles of water and protruding tree roots!

You’ll know you are getting close when you start to see picturesque waterfalls on the right hand side.  We noted a number of lovebirds snapping photos here, and this may not be a bad time to trade off so that you can get some nice group shots with your cohorts. 

Immediately past the hilly path, you will be confronted with a wooden plaque placed here by locals to urge caution for the remainder of your hike.  In fact, the no-frills sign actually has markers for how many people have lost lives in the past year by disregarding the warning!  From this point on, the “honeymoon vibe” changes right along with the terrain.  Dark flat slabs of lava rock embrace a gorgeous, but choppy coastline with views reaching all the way out to Ke’e Beach (see above)!  But crashing waves and slickened, uneven pathways will hopefully reiterate what additional warning signs advise... if you make one false move, you just might be swept out to sea in some of the roughest waters around!  Even bearing this in mind, the natural beauty here is so breathtaking that several dozen other people joined for the final stretch to the “Queen’s Bath!”

After a few false starts (the coveted spot is the fourth cover down the line), we found the “Queen’s Bath” and climbed down its natural rock wall to jump right in!  A natural salt pool that refills consistently with water from the ocean, the Queen’s Bath is shallow enough to be heated by the sun to bath-like temps, but also deep enough to seduce fish and other creatures from the sea!  Whether swimming, diving or simply lolly-gagging around, we assure you that this breathtaking spot will afford you one of your all-time best “spa” experiences! 

We visited at low tide, the only time safe for swimmers, and feeling especially brave, actually sat at the mouth of the pool where determined waves from of the ocean refill the pool.  But don’t get too cocky.  This is the EXACT spot where people have been swept out to sea, courtesy of behemoth rogue waves!  And thus, we heed you this warning yet again: 
visit the Queen’s Bath at high tide, nor during the winter months when the sea is at its roughest!  And above all, DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK TO THE SEA... like, ever!

After frolicking around the pool for about an hour with only a few others as our witness, we realized it was time to leave this secret paradise behind so others could enjoy its magnitude in relative peace.  Bye Bye Queen’s Bath... until next time.

Queen’s Bath - follow Punahele Road to small parking lot for beach access, Princeville, HI  96722; contact us if you need more detailed information on how to reach the Queen’s Bath

Na’Pali Catamaran tour (Kauai)

While we certainly tackled both the land - and “airspace” of Kauai, there’s nothing quite like experiencing such a beautiful Pacific island location at sea level.  The open waters always have a way of instantly calming you, taking you miles away from any troubles back home.  And thus, on strong recommendation from a friend who visits Kauai often, we decided a boat trip along the legendary Na’Pali coast would be the perfect climax to our 2012 Hawaiian vacation.  Located on the western side of the island, Na’Pali’s breathtaking 16 mile stretch of treacherous terrain is completely inaccessible by car, and most humans.  And since we had already seen it’s drama from above (see “Jack Harter Helicopter Tour” above), we were jazzed to be experiencing it that much more in person!

Arranging our trip ahead of time from our base in Princeville, we chose Na’Pali Catamaran.  Its tour departs out of Hanalei rather than ‘Ele’ele Harbor like most others.  This variance allowed us two benefits.  First, a quicker drive.  (‘Ele’ele Harbor is located on the southern shore of Kauai, and if you recall, the only real downside to visiting this paradise is its “one-way-in/ one-way-out” Kuhio Highway thoroughfare.  Trust us, you’ll grow quite tired of it after only a few days.)  But just by looking at any old map, Hanalei Bay also seems to offer adventurers the quickest route to Na’Pali, and with all tour operators touting similarly-timed excursions, we figured that meant more time actually seeing the impressive coast!

After checking in at the office, crew member helped us assemble gear we might need throughout the day.  They even supply us with color-coded waterproof bags that we used to store personal items in.  (Smart, since as we would later learn, there is great opportunity to get wet on this trip!)  We were soon whisked away to a small lagoon located only moments away from the town center.  Here, we waded through the water and climbed on board a small dingy that shuttled us to our catamaran.  Making the swap onto the larger boat in the center of the bay, we were soon joined by additional boatmates, mostly from far off-lands like Spain, England and Brazil!  Our favorite couple though was from Seattle.  (Shout-outs go to them for helping to make this such a special day!) 

Shortly thereafter, we set out to explore some of the most dazzling coastline we have ever seen!  (And don't forget, we've already visited the magical Koh Phi Phi in Thailand!)  Approaching the first of many majestic emerald valleys, we could not help but imagine how the first Hawaiian settlers must have felt upon arriving here in 200 AD!  Set of Drifters tip:  Be on the lookout first for a large formation that looks undoubtedly like a skull head!

Other highlights of the 4-5 hour tour include brief stops at the towering “cathedral spires,” Kalalau’s majestic “secret” beach and a cave once used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean.  Even still, our favorite moments from this jagged coastline came courtesy of a series of lava tube caves that our captain somehow maneuvered us into!  (One of the better traits of Na’Pali Catamaran is access to many areas that would have been impossible in larger vessels.)  While the eroded "Paddler’s Arch" was cool, with a waterfall running right through its ceiling, the most impressive of the three caves had to be the one with no ceiling at all!  Topped off simply by bright-blue sky, this large circular cave even plays host to über-wealthy  lovebirds who wish to get married there.  Our guide Kulia told us that on several occasions, helicopters have flown overhead at just the right moment to drop flowers into the hole while couples exchange their “I dos.”  Now that’s what we call dramatic!

Kulia, a second generation guide with Na’pali Catamaran, was a real treat.  Laid back and friendly, but still informative and professional, she seemed to really love her job fully.  Not that we could blame her; the working environment of her day-to-day is paradise - literally!

A nice surprise addition to this tour was the option to go snorkeling at the end of Na’Pali.  While anchored near the “King Kong” and “Simba” rock formations, we slipped into the deep blue to spot a variety of colorful fish and coral - not to mention a pair of charming sea turtles and even a baby shark!  Lunch was next, a wonderful, and much-needed, respite after flapping our fins around for almost 45 minutes!  (Sandwich orders are placed ahead of time to ensure you get exactly what your stomach is craving.) 

After several hours on the open sea, it was time to head back to Hanalei.  Compared to our trip out, the return journey was rather choppy, almost like a flume ride roller-coaster - complete with wispy waves, thrusting winds and more bumps than your bum will be likely to handle!  Since we had originally stopped every 20 or so minutes to gawk at Na’pali’s unprecedented beauty, the return trip gave us a real sense of just how far we had traveled.  Nevertheless, we made it back to beautiful “Bali Hai” (made famous by the film South Pacific), just as the sun began to set!  It was the perfect ending to our wonderful week in Kauai!

Overall, a boat trip to Na’Pali is a must for any of you able-bodied travelers.  By combining this journey with a helicopter tour, you will certainly have the complete picture of this otherworldly coast.  Just don't forget the sunblock!

With 30 years of experience, Na’pali Catamaran operates out of Hanalei Bay with two tours departing daily at 6:00 AM and 1:00 PM.  The cost of your tour is actually quite reasonable around $140 USD for adults and $90 USD for children, though we suggest to call ahead to verify this since the company’s website was down when we last checked.  This price should include snorkel rental, lunch, beverages and snacks.  (Don’t forget to tip your guide!)  Set of Drifters tip:  Na’Pali Catamaran cannot guarantee access to the sea caves (or the opportunity to spot dolphins).  Entrance to caves is dependent on current tide condition.  Even so, this land is so enchanted, you’ll be impressed with whatever experience unfolds to you.

Na’Pali Catamaran - 5-5190 Kuhio Highway, #1, Hanalei, HI  96714, (808) 826-6853


waterfalls here, waterfalls everywhere (Maui and Kauai)

Waterfalls and Hawaii go hand-in-hand.  With so much rainfall collecting in those choppy, verdant mountains, all that moisture has to go somewhere!  And though you’re likely to see some spouting out in the distance during every day of your Hawaiian getaway, there are a few locations that stand out (or fall out?), above the rest.

While driving Maui’s famed Hana Highway (see above), make sure to save time for the O’heo Gulch.  This is where gathering Pipiwai streams link together “seven sacred pools.”  According to legend, the lagoons once served as the personal “washing machine” for Hina, the demi-god “Mother of Maui.”  These days, however, the “Seven Sacred Pools” work together to provide respite along a 2-mile hiking trail (4 mi. round-trip) that is one of Maui’s best!  Set of Drifters tip:  To complete the O’heo excursion, and really enjoy it, you may want to consider saving an entire day! 

At 400 feet, Waimoku Falls is perhaps the crown jewel of the gulch.  Located at the end of the Pipiwai Trail, you won’t want to miss its spectacular photo opportunities from ground level.  That being said, an even more dramatic spot may await you at Makahiku Falls (located a bit closer to where the gulch empties into the ocean at Kuloa Point).  Here, a primordial jungle hugs a secret spot currently left out of most guide books.  The aptly named “infinity pool” lies just above Makahiku Falls, acting as a secret lagoon with built-in rock barrier to prevent thrill-seeking swimmers from falling off the 200 ft. cliff!  (We have not completed this side-trip ourselves, and hereby warn those interested that you’ll be doing so against the National Park Service’s prohibition.  Fines could follow if apprehended, but that may be the least of your worries.  Many people have perished at the hand of Mother Nature by leaping before they looked, so make sure to watch out for warning signs - and to avoid this spot during (and after) any inclement weather!

Meanwhile, over on Kauai, there is no better spot to watch water fall than at Manawaiopuna (aka “Jurassic Falls”), the 360 ft. behemoth that travelers can only visit via helicopter (see “Jack Harter Helicopter Tour” above).  Yes, this is where scenes for the classic dinosaur thriller were filmed during the 90s.  Of course, if you have a slight aversion to choppers, a considerably more accessible option can be found just minutes from “downtown” Lihue.

Not to be confused with the identically-named spot on Maui, Wailua Falls once stood in for the mythical “Fantasy Island” on the long-running Aaron Spelling mystery drama of the same name.  (The late 70s TV show is one of your Set of Drifters’ favorite guilty pleasures, and you can learn more about it in our YouTube visit to the LA County Arboretum.)  Surprisingly located only four miles from the island’s main airport, Wailua Falls’ immense beauty makes for the perfect appetizer to your Kauai trip - or the ultimate “last-minute gasp” before heading back to the mainland.  We decided on the latter, and drove to Wailua Falls only a ½ hour before returning our rental car in Lihue. 

Once arriving at the winding road’s dead-end, we hopped out to join others already soaking in the grand view.  (It was then that the familiar theme music to “Fantasy Island” started ringing in our ears.)  Though we managed to snap some pretty good images from the side of the embankment, don’t be fooled by what appears to be exclusivity.  Wailua Falls is a rather big tourist destination, and you can bet that at any given time, at least 10 other groups will be vying for the same handful of parking spaces. 

Feeling a bit too much like sheep, your Set of Drifters soon realized that we desired a Wailua experience that was a bit more intimate.  And thus, upon spotting a hidden trail off to the right of the parking loop, we hopped over a “warning fence” to slide down its muddy facade.  Just minutes later, at the path’s terminus, we were amazed to be standing at the very mouth of Wailua Falls!  With water coursing right beside us as it fell over the edge, it was the ultimate magic moment!  Doug’s fear of high open spaces?  Not so much.  After snapping ample photos and video, we hightailed it back to Lihue, reinvigorated and recharged, but still nowhere interested in leaving Kauai behind!

O'heo Gulch (“Seven Sacred” Pools) and the Pipiwai Trail - located past Hana at mile marker 42 on State Highway 31, Hana, HI  96713, (808) 572-4400, http://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm

Wailua Falls - located at the terminus of Maalo Road, near Wailua, Kauai, HI  96746, (800) 464-2924, http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/kauai/wailua.cfm

Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park (Kauai)

One of Kauai’s best assets is kept hidden under the radar - both figuratively and literally (but we’ll get to that later).  Sure, upon arrival to the island, you expect its pristine beaches, dramatic waterfalls and backdrops of emerald green mountains.  But did you also know that Kauai is home to what Mark Twain once described as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific?”

Dry and rocky, yet vibrant in color, the staggering terrain of Waimea Canyon is a nice departure from the remainder of Kauai (and really all of Hawaii).  And the best part, it hardly seems crowded.  Encompassing 1,866 acres inside Waimea Canyon State Park, the 17 mile-long gorge is doable in one afternoon by car.  Still, it’s safe to say that you could spend days exploring the park further on a number of provided trails if so inclined - or shall we say declined?  (The journey from the top of nearby Koke’e State Park down to Ke’e Beach is treacherous to say the least.  If you are not an avid trekker, don’t even bother trying.  See “beaches” above for more information.)

A campground, museum and several annual festivals add to the list of activities calling nature lovers, bird watchers and other aficionados of Hawaiian topography.  As for ourselves, we chose to visit Waimea via rental car, driving the two-hour plus journey from Lihue to the mostly remote west side of the island.  Heading north from the town of Waimea, you’ll climb into canyon country on a twisty mountain highway that offers expansive views from both sides.  Though recent forest fires have flattened the first portion of the trek, making already alien terrain that much more rugged, the scenery improves with each new milepost. 

A handful of mouth-dropping vistas will soon draw your attention from the road, and suggest you stop to snap some photos.  The first of three lookouts also appears the most popular.  From Waimea Canyon State Park, beauty-seekers will have a sweeping view of the craggy landscape that easily gives Sedona, AZ (if not the real Grand Canyon) a run for its money.  (Hawaiian for “reddish water,” Waimea is named after the river that once cut a wide swath through environs already transformed by lava flow.)

While the main lookout pulls most tourists off the road before sending them right back down the hill, we feel the ultimate vantage point is from Kalalau Lookout, best viewed at sunrise and sunset.  Technically part of Koke’e State Park, Kalalau Lookout is another five miles beyond Waimea Canyon.  (You’ll know you’re on the right track when you pass Puu Hinahina Lookout along the way.)

What makes Kalalau so special is that its undulating jagged peaks rest at the very edge of a valley that dips into the ocean!  It is from here that die-hard adventurers hike down the 11 mile trail to Ke’e Beach - sometimes crawling on their very hands and knees!  Though we never strayed more than 500 meters from the lookout, several dangerous paths nearby did provide breathtaking views.  If you have any issues with mobility (or your shoes), we recommend staying on flat cement!  The last thing you’ll want as a souvenir from Hawaii is a slip, trip and broken hip! 

Waiting for the magnificent sunset that ultimately arrived beyond a double rainbow, something even more magical occurred!  Two older women (presumably Hawaiian residents) emerged from the trail.  One of them wore a wild blue floral print dress that quickly got our groovespotting cameras a-clickin’.  And while this in and of itself was not that unusual in Hawaii, what came next seemed decidedly so.  As soon as the sun dropped behind the ocean horizon, our festooned wahine began singing a traditional song about nature and beauty.  Though cloud cover fought to make the moment downright chilly, there was arguably a warmer moment in our entire Kauai trip.  Set of Drifters tip:  If heading all the way up to Kalalau, dress appropriately... like with a coat and hat.  Even though this is still Hawaii, the lookout area is so windy that we found ourselves having to jump into the car every 15 minutes to warm up! 

Once the sun left, so did we.  We figured it was best to hightail it out of there before the road down became too dark and treacherous.  (Fat chance; we had our high beams on for most of it.)  On the way down, you might want to careen on by the NASA observatory, perhaps the best spot on Kauai to track UFOs.  At the very least, you can try and take a photo off the side of the road before a guard comes out yells at you to go away!

Though perhaps not a MUST if you’ve already viewed it from above via helicopter (see “
Jack Harter Helicopter Tour”), Waimea Canyon still makes for a nice day-trip if your sunburn needs a day off.  And from ground level (okay, 3,000 ft. elevation), you really get a better sense of the sheer scale of the region.  Set of Drifters tip:  Don’t forget to stop off at historic Hanapepe town either on your way there or back.  (See below for more information). 

Waimea Canyon (and Puu Hinahina Lookout) - located about 11 miles north of Kekaha via the Koke‘e Road/ Highway 550, (808) 587-0300, http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/kauai/index.cfm?park_id=4

Koke’e State Park and Natural History Museum (and NASA outlook) - 3600 Koke’e Road, Kekaha, HI  96752, (808) 335-9975, http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/kauai/index.cfm?park_id=7 and http://www.kokee.org/

Snuba diving Molokini (Maui)

Okay peeps.  After two trips to Maui and one to Kauai, it’s safe to say that a catamaran excursion into the wild blue waters of Hawaii will end up as one of your trip’s highlights, if not your favorite day!  While on Kauai we chose Na’pali Catamaran for a tour of its legendary cliffs and sea caves (see above), in Maui it was all about Molokini Crater!

Located only a few miles from Maui’s southwestern shore, Molokini is a half-submerged caldera that, after erupting thousands of years ago, eventually offered ancient Polynesians ample fishing opportunity.  These days, the colorful array of sea life is still present, but protected by the National Marine Preserve association.  (Set of Drifters tip:  Molokini is also a Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary, the refuge for many Bulwer's Petrels and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters that Hawaiians once used to harvest eggs and feathers.)  Along with 250 different marine species, 38 types of coral will astound even the most jaded diver!  So, how do you get there?

With 30 years worth of local experience, Four Winds charters a number of great boat trips to Molokini out of Ma’alaea Harbor.  We decided upon their morning snorkel/ Snuba trip that truly offers something for everyone in the family. 

Once boarding the 55 ft. glass bottom catamaran, beauty-seekers are whisked away onto the cobalt seas by a friendly crew that clearly loves what they do each day.  Soft drinks, beer and wine and a BBQ lunch are provided, while fishing off the stern may supply views of some rather large catch!  (Those hoping for dolphin or whale sightings should check their calendar first.  Whales tend to migrate near the islands most from November through March.) 

After about an hour or so on the open seas, your festive catamaran will arrive at Molokini.  Since we had already decided to try “Snuba” diving our first time out, we spent much of that journey receiving instruction.  What the heck is “Snuba,” you ask?  Somewhat like a stepping stone between traditional snorkeling and Scuba, it is very similar to the latter except that instead of wearing your oxygen tank on your back (and thus, having to worry about belts and weights), your tank floats above you on a raft.  Twenty-foot tubes deliver oxygen from the tank to your individual respirator, a device that is notably the most difficult aspect any novice will need to overcome.  Our Four Winds instructor was extremely knowledgeable and patient with those who found it awkward, and a bit unsettling, to “breathe underwater.”  (Additional efforts must be made to retain proper air pressure in your head and to clear your mask from errant water, but again, your instructor will help you with this.)

Once feeling comfortable, Snuba divers will have about 25 minutes underwater to explore the coral reef, a 20-35 ft. deep shelf that is perfect for beginners and intermediates.  Since Molokini’s crescent-shaped cove faces away from the ocean, there is minimal wave activity to complicate visibility.  Common fish sightings include Bluefin Trevally, the Black Triggerfish, Yellow Tang, Moorish Idol and the Saddleback Butterfly.  And if you’re lucky, your guide just may snap a photo or video of you feeding some of them!   

Of course, if the concept of Snuba frightens you, snorkeling at Molokini is still considered some of the best in Hawaii.  Young and old alike will have fun bobbing along in what we surmise is some of the most crystal-clear water around.  (Chances are, you may even see some sea turtles!)  On the other, hand, for those of you who consider yourselves dive experts, we hear Molokini’s “back-wall" is sublime, often considered to be one of the “Top 10” best dive spots in the world!  (Here’s hoping Sulawesi’s Bunaken is also on that list!)

After a couple hours exploring Molokini’s cinder cone, your catamaran will return to Ma’alaea Harbor, but not before offering you and your friends and family one of the most perfect days around!  This place is pure magic!

Four Winds offers a five-hour trip to Molokini daily at 7:00 AM.  The cost is $88 USD for adults and $38 USD for children aged 3-12 (toddlers under two are FREE.)  This cost includes both breakfast and lunch, an open bar, plus any snorkeling instruction, gear and/ or masks.  Keep in mind that boats are also loaded with a waterslide, fishing equipment, and boogie and “see” boards for the kids, or those who are not as comfortable with swimming.  A shorter 3.5 hour afternoon trip is also available for $39 USD for adults and $29 for children, though this touches down in Coral Gardens Bay, and not Molokini.  For either excursion, Snuba diving comes at an added cost of $59 USD per person, including all instruction and/ or gear.

Set of Drifters tip:  You’ll need to bring your own towels, sunscreen and cover-ups to limit exposure to the sun.  Though the price at Four Winds presents itself overall as a good deal, add-ons such as a professional “deep sea” video of your trip and/ or underwater personal camera rental come at a premium.

Four Winds - 1279 South Kihei Road, #110, Kihei, HI  96753, (808) 879-8188


follow the “tunnel of trees” to Old Koloa Town (Kauai)

There aren’t many large towns on the Garden Isle of Kauai, and that’s just the way locals have planned it.  Perhaps the biggest “city” is Lihue.  It’s the one with the airport, the Macy’s, the Wal-Mart...  And while it’s the settlement with the most creature-comforts on offer, passing through Lihue won’t take you too long.  That’s a good thing, since Lihue only serves to remind you of the life back on the mainland you’re probably hoping to escape. 

One way to do just that is via the “tunnel of trees” that connects Kauai’s main thoroughfare (the Kaumualii Highway) with the South Shore surfing paradise of Poipu.  Located just about 4.5 miles southwest of Lihue on Maluhia Road, the “tunnel of trees” is just that, a picturesque Eucalyptus passageway that transports you far away from life’s daily troubles and into a valley of green paradise virtually unparalleled in the United States.  Along the way, you’ll spot horses and cattle, and perhaps most startling, massive acacia koa trees that would seem better suited to the African savannah.  (Early settlers brought seeds of the trees to Hawaii to protect their crops from the wind.  The plan backfired as the trees began to propagate at rather alarming rates.) 

Eventually, Maluhia Road (aka State Highway 520) deposits you into Koloa, a sugar cane town that boomed with numerous plantations back in the 1800s, but now remains as a quaint shadow of its lucrative past.  (Sugar cane production is currently at a halt in much of Hawaii.)  But what Koloa lacks in industry, it more than makes up for in charm.  Nestled amidst a grove of monkeypod trees, the handsomely-painted wood structures that line Koloa’s main street feature a string of shops, restaurants and galleries that are sure to remind you of simpler times. 

A must-see is Larry’s Music and Ukulele Store.  “Larry’s legacy” is famous the island over for providing the most knowledge, and best specimens, of this beloved Hawaiian instrument.  We snuck in just before closing time and had a nice chat with Georgina about travel and music while salivating over the gorgeous candy-colored ukes.

Other town highlights include the History Center that details the 1835 sugar cane rush that established Koloa, as well as lunch at the aptly-named Pizzetta.  Here, local brews accompany a menu of thick and thin-crust selections that will certainly have your mouth watering.  Certainly the best on Kauai.

A study in the slow lane, any afternoon spent in Koloa while tagged onto your Poipu visit is sure to be one of your favorite memories from Kauai.

Old Koloa Town -  located about 10 miles from Lihue via Highway 50 and Maluhia Road (turn left at Highway 520, also known as the “Tree Tunnel” road, http://www.oldkoloa.com/

Larry’s Music/ The Ukulele Store - 5330 Koloa Road, Koloa, HI  96756, (808) 742-1500

Pizzetta - 5408 Koloa Road, Koloa, HI  96756, (808) 742-8881, http://www.pizzettarestaurant.com/

Parasailing over Ka’anapali Beach (Maui)

Set of Drifter Brady reports:  Growing up, my father often reminded me of the time when he was vacationing with my mom in Puerto Vallarta and witnessed a man ram into a high-rise while parasailing.  Yikes!  While the poor soul in question did in fact perish, the horrific story was not enough to keep me from trying the “daredevil” activity on my first trip to Maui.  Having now returned from the blue skies fully intact, I must say the experience is highly recommended.

Parasailing is nowhere near as dangerous, or as fearful, as it looks.  (In fact, once aloft, your time amidst the clouds is surprisingly peaceful.)  And unlike Mexico, where parasailing excursions often start with a run on the beach, in Maui, they begin on a small dingy that takes you from the Ka’anapali shoreline to meet another boat already kitted with the sail.  From here, lucky passengers are placed one at a time - or in tandem - into a belting harness and form-fitting “seat.”  While the speed of the boat and wind patterns certainly affect the trajectory of your sail’s ascent to either 800 or 1,200 feet above sea level, handlers are trained specifically not to make the experience a scary one. 

Now it has been some years since I sailed aside the emerald green peaks of the Kahalawai Mountains, but what I do remember of my journey was the sheer intensity of the cobalt waters below, and the absolute silence that accompanied it.  Up here, the only sounds you’ll be lucky enough to hear are the passing of wayward storm-petrels or osprey.  It won’t be long before you start contemplating the true majesty of Mother Nature, though it must be said time spent in the air is never quite long enough, with most trips averaging only 8 minutes of air time per passenger.  Set of Drifters tip:  While the crew members of your boat know how to keep you mostly dry during your trip, if you wish to be “dipped,” just ask.  Depending on weather conditions, you may have the opportunity to “free fall” at some point in your voyage.

Coming in for your descent is perhaps the “scariest” aspect of the trip, only because it seems unnatural for anyone not named “James Bond” to pin a landing on some unfamiliar moving target.  But remember, your harness, seat and sail are always connected to the boat, and therefore, assist in “reigning in” your blissed out self in when it’s time to rejoin fellow landlubbers.  

UFO Parasail is perhaps the most reputable company providing parasailing excursions on Maui, and also the one I used for my trip back in the day.  Single trips start at $75 USD for the “Deluxe 800’ flight” and $85 for the “Out of this World 1,200’ flight).  The tandem price is $250 USD, and includes two retail items and a picture of your experience.  Note:  If you, too, would like a picture of yourself high above the waves, note that observers are charged $35 USD just for riding in the boat next to you!

UFO Parasail - 12 Ulupono Street, Lahaina, HI  96761, (808) 661-7836


Diamond Head Concourse at the Honolulu International Airport (Oahu)

You know what they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  That was most certainly the case at the end of our Fall 2012 trip to Hawaii.  While we had originally planned an 8-hour layover on Oahu with the intent of exploring downtown Honolulu in the interim - hey, it worked for us in Bangkok in 2009 - what we failed to recall was the US anti-terrorism law that forces travelers to pick-up, and re-check in, any luggage for layovers lasting more than four hours!  UGH!  And thus, instead of waiting all night long in the airport, we decided to rebook an earlier transfer back to mainland.  It was a bitter pill to swallow having already shelled out heaps of money during our week in Kauai.  

But things started looking up as soon as we entered into the Diamond Head Concourse of Honolulu’s airport!  It seemed that, even with no advanced knowledge to the effect, we had been suddenly transported back to the set of a vintage Hawaii 5-0 episode!

To put it frankly, this is one of the grooviest airport terminals we’ve ever seen!  Beautifully stylish, with wooden ceilings, super 1970s “state-of-the-art” escalators and crazy Polynesian-motif ceramics throughout, walking through the space was like a dream come true!  The vibe here is very reminiscent of the old TWA Saarinen terminal at JFK, though unlike in NYC, this retro space is still in use!

We couldn’t stop taking pictures of the streamlined concrete exterior that, awash in gorgeous saturated lighting, recalled some alien spaceport!  (Set of Drifters tip:  Be on the lookout for even more quirky vintage remnants, such as the push button phones set up on gate assistants’ consoles, or the funny “Men’s” and “Women’s” bathroom signs that feature familiar stick figures dressed in Aloha garb.)  

Oddly, at 11:00PM, the terminal was virtually empty, but of the travelers that were on hand, no one seemed to even notice the sleek period seating they slept on, or the grandiose steel and amber glass chandeliers that hung high above their heads!  (To each his own we guess.)  Not that we cared.  Their disinterest equaled more freedom for us to indulge in a mini-photoshoot, our ode to the “Jet Set” generation.

Elsewhere inside the Honolulu Airport, vintage carpeted tapestries depict familiar island themes.  See if you can spot colorful homages to Kauai’s famed Na’Pali coast or the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano - made entirely out of yard!  We actually snapped a few close-ups of these tapestries while bored travelers snoozed nearby, unaware of what beautiful artwork existed just behind their nodding heads.

Diamond Head Concourse at the Honolulu International Airport - United flight terminal (gates 6-11), 300 Rodgers Boulevard, Honolulu, HI  96819, (808) 836-6411


historic Hanapepe (Kauai)

Planning a trip to grand Waimea Canyon (see above)?  Then why not stop off first in Hanapepe, the small patch of land once dubbed Kauai’s “Biggest Little Town.”  With a history dating from well before Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778, the fertile Hanapepe Valley saw its heyday in the 1930s and 40s when movie theaters, restaurants, hospitals and pool halls moved into to support an ever-increasing influx of military personnel.  Alas, after World War II, other nearby communities left Hanapepe in the dust - and in the hands of hippies who would eventually transform the sleepy little enclave into a “last stop” haven for artists.   

One of our favorite stops in Hanapepe was easily Kauai Fine Arts.  Housed in a former meat market dating back to the 1880s, this little storefront provides a huge “wow factor,” and does so quite effortlessly.  It’s all thanks to proprietor Bebe Nicholas, a groovy lass who has traveled the world, and returned to Kauai’s “Biggest Little Town” with her treasures.  Though vintage Hawaiian artifacts (including royal quilts and maps dating back to the 1700s when colonists misspelled “Mowee”) are Bebe’s specialty, her collection runs the gamut from Balinese masks and antique New Guinea “war clubs” to Wai Wai headdresses and watercolor lithographs from Barbados!  Of course, no mention of Kauai Fine Arts can be complete without a nod to its gallery of menehune statues.  These are the devious little spirit nymphs who, according to folklore, once thrived in the forests prior to colonization. 

Another spot worth checking out is Jacqueline on Kauai.  Known as the “Aloha Shirt Lady,” Jacqueline specializes in custom-made Aloha apparel, using fantastic fabrics she has collected over the years, or ones that you provide.  Though she’s pretty busy cutting and sewing wedding wardrobe, and outfits for local children’s event photos, she’ll knock out a cool one-of-a-kind tiki shirt for you in less than 48 hours!  Even if you are not in the market for new threads, this store is a very cool, and under-the-radar, spot.  Don’t miss it. 

Worried our available sunlight was already dwindling for the two-hour drive to Kalalau Lookout, we walked through Hanapepe rather quickly.  It was mistake.  We should have planned for more time, at least enough to sample both sides of historic Main Street!  (Set of Drifters tip:  Hanapepe really comes alive Friday nights between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM for a weekly art walk.  Painters and photographers open up their studios while many galleries offer free refreshments.)     

Hanapepe - about 19 miles from Lihue, along the Kaumualii Highway/ Highway 50, http://www.hanapepe.org/Hanapepe_Town/Aloha_from_Historic_Hanapepe.html

Kauai Fine Arts - 3905 Hanapepe Road, Hanapepe, HI  96716, (808) 335-3778, http://www.brunias.com/

Jacqueline on Kauai - 3837 Hanapepe Road, Hanapepe, HI  96716, (808) 335-5797

Princeville “secret lagoon” (Kauai)

With so much natural beauty, Kauai is one of those magical islands where it’s actually shocking to see how little of it has been ruined by progress.  Sure, we noticed plenty of golf courses and swanky resorts taking up prime residence along Kauai’s famed shorelines, but if you wander even just a little bit off the beaten track, you just may find your very own secret paradise otherwise untouched by tourists!  One such place we came upon was originally recommended by an agent at the front desk of our condo property.

Even though it had just stopped raining, we decided to mosey on down the path she mentioned would lead us to nearby Anini Beach.  What we hadn’t realized was that she referred to a stretch of Anini usually made known to locals only.  Within only minutes of leaving civilization, and the Princeville Golf Course, behind, we entered down into a remote piece of white sand coastline, shaded by colorful heliotrope trees.

We were exhilarated by the fact that we were pretty much the only people here, save for a local father and his two young children who paddleboarded by.  Otherwise, the beach was all ours... to a point.  After wandering down the shoreline for a while, we came upon a sumptuous lagoon surrounded by dense foliage that looked as though it hadn’t seen any action since the age of the dinosaurs.  With pine needles covering the ground so perfectly, we wondered if we hadn’t landed on some movie set!

Since we were expected at Anini Beach proper for a picnic, our next gambit was to try and find a point where we could reach the opposite side of the shore.  We soon realized the reason our private beach had remained so deserted was because there was no way for anyone to reach it from the other side without jumping into the 6’ deep water!  Virtually stranded, perhaps we were on a set after all, like the one from "Gilligan’s Island!"

Doubling back from the lagoon to the shore, Set of Drifter Doug decided to perform a little experiment.  Leaving all cameras and phones on dry land, he waded out into the ocean, locating a path along a series of sandbars that could deliver us to the other side without getting completely wet.  The arced trajectory may have been a wide one, but it worked nonetheless.  After about 15 minutes - Ta-Da! - we had reached the other side, and were enjoying fresh juices and sandwiches along Anini Beach Road!  Set of Drifters tip:  Enjoy this secluded stretch of shoreline beyond the Princeville Golf Course, but go back exactly the way you came!

Secret Lagoon - accessible off of Wyllie Road to the left of the golf course; lagoon area also located at the very end of Anini Beach Road, Princeville, HI

We also recommend:

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park (Big Island) - 1871 Trail, Honaunau-Napoopoo, HI 96704, (808) 328-2326, http://www.nps.gov/puho/index.htm

historical dinner cruise by Body Glove (Big Island) - Kaahumanu Place, Kailua-Kona, HI  96740, (800) 551-8911, http://www.bodyglovehawaii.com/historical-sunset-cruise

aerial tour of Kilahuea by Big Island Air (Big Island) - 73-350 U'u Street, Kailua-Kona, HI  96740, (808) 329 4868, http://bigislandair.com/index.php

Kaimu's black sand beach (Big Island) - accessible via Pahoa-Kalapana Road, Pahoa, HI  96778

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Big Island) - about 3 miles from the village of Volcano, HI  96718, (808) 985-6000, http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm