A Sportif Guide to Hawaii

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Winter Travel Guide 1996

A Sportif Guide to Hawaii

The fish are jumpin' and the waves are high-how to play like a kamaaina

You can slink to makaha or over to Kauai's Hanalei Bay, Honolua Bay on Maui, or the Big Island's Anaehoomalu ("A" Bay) to catch some fine winter waves. But don't be such a malihini--Hawaiian for "wuss." We know you'd rather play where full surf dogs do, on Oahu's North Shore, a seven-mile stretch of celebrated breaks that, from December through March, is the planet's Surf Central.

Here's the secret: The North Shore is usually far less hairy than its ominous press clippings. Waimea Bay's 30-foot monsters and the Banzai Pipeline's 20-foot killer tubes are actually quite rare. Even in the dead of winter, waves in the three- to five-foot range are most common, and the six- to eight-footers arrive on the average of once a week for one to three days. Load up your quiver at times like this and head for Sunset Beach, where winter swells create challenging breaks and powerful rips. Although the reef is pretty shallow in places, Sunset is often rideable down to two feet or less.

Just don't get cocky. Waimea Bay doesn't even begin to break until it hits 20 feet, and Pipeline's lyrical curl is produced by such a shallow reef there's always a decent chance of getting body-slammed. And always call 808-596-SURF before you get in the water to make sure the big stuff isn't just over the horizon. When it is, the local guys with the eku (sun-bleached) hair leap up and grab their boards, scattering the surf bettys. Then it's time to remember that you're late for an appointment in Honolulu, brah.

For surfboard rentals, lessons, and surf updates, contact Surf-N-Sea in Haleiwa (637-9887). Boards rent for $18 per day, $70 per week; longboards for $30 daily, $100 weekly; car rack, $4 per day. Used surfboards sell for about $100. Lessons are $65 for two hours, including equipment and transportation.

Pakala Point, on the west coast of Kauai, is ideal for surfers who like variety that's relatively tame. One side of the point is protected and gets three- to five-foot breaks that are good for goofy fun rides; the other side gets not-so-tame northwesterly swells up to eight feet. Purely a surfers' spot, with few sunbathers and swimmers, Pakala is secluded down an unmarked path a half mile past the Makaweli post office. Ask Marvin at Seasport Divers in Koloa (boards, $20 per day, $100 weekly; 800-685-5889) for instructions on how to find it. Your chiropractor will thank you.
By Richard Pietschmann

Stand on the bluff at hookipa Beach Park most winter days, and a sideshore gale straight from the Gulf of Alaska shoves against you as human beings crouched on lightweight winged boards plow through the boiling sea just offshore, executing acrobatic flips with a casual glee that most of us reserve for a really good tee shot. These are not normal human beings. Hookipa, unsheltered by any reef and open to everything nature has to throw at it from the north, is the triple-black-diamond of boardsailing.

You can windsurf Hookipa, of course, if you have the hankering and enough board time behind you--even this patch of untamed water off Maui's North Shore, near the cosmic haole town of Paia, has its slow times. Just don't count on it, not from October to May. If the howling is unabated, there's no dishonor in cranking it back a little down the coast a few miles at Kanaha Beach Park near the airport. A helpful offshore reef called Spartan keeps the break outside, so you can ride inside with the great wind and not worry about splattering on Hookipa's windshield.

If it's windrunning and not wave-bumping you crave, drive to North Kihei on the other side of the island, where the trades funneling through Maui's saddle and shallow depth create ideal conditions for both heroic speed and severe coral burn.

Sailboards Maui in Kahului (871-7954) has some 125 rental rigs, all with two sails and car rack (sailboards, $49 daily, $275 weekly; lessons, $59 for one to two hours, $162 for three days, $25 additional for advanced lessons; equipment free for beginners, half-price for intermediate and advanced).

Keep the speed but hold the 911 calls to a minimum at Oahu's Kailua Bay, where the famously steady sideshore and onshore tradewinds, a fringing reef, and deeper water mean pedal-to-the-metal slalom runs without the worry of getting blown to Bali or peeled like a banana. Kailua has no annoying half-mile limit, so you can buzz as close to the five-mile-long, powder-white beach as form and vanity allow. For rentals and lessons, contact Naish Hawaii (262-6068), owned by boardsurfing kahuna Robby Naish's parents, in Kailua (beginner and intermediate boards, $30 and $40 daily, $150 and $200 weekly; advanced rigs, $45 daily, $225 weekly; car rack included). Lessons are $55 for one person, $75 for two; a five-lesson package costs $200.
By R.P.

Big-Game Fishing
In the waters off the kona coast on the Big Island, marlin are as plentiful as carp in a Japanese pond. The fishing boats lined up at Honokohau Harbor just north of Kailua-Kona routinely reel in blues from 200 to 1,000 pounds; on a bad day they get 50-pound ahi tuna, mahimahi, and ono (wahoo). A word of warning: Carrying bananas on board the boat is the ultimate Kona superstition against catching fish, and violators are severely chastised--so be careful how you pack your lunch.

In addition to their abundance of fish, these fishing waters are known as the calmest in the state. Captain Peter Hoogs of the Pamela (half-day share, $109; full-day charter, $560; 329-3600) has landed thousand-pound Pacific blue and black marlins; demand that he do the same for you. For perspective, see Hoogs's 1,143-pound Pacific blue mounted on the wall of the Kona Charter Skippers Association, which can set you up with one of 100 fishing boats ($175-$425 for a half-day, depending on the size of the boat; $275-$875 for a full day; call 800-762-7546).

On Kauai, winter swells allow for fishing the teeming waters off Niihau on an overnight charter. Fishing for Fun ($1,500 for four people; 822-3899) leaves from Nawiliwili Harbor, trolls around Niihau, and stops in gentle water overnight before heading back via the Barking Sands area. They don't get as many blue marlin as they do in Kona, but they pull in striped marlin and plenty of huge ahi (308 pounds is the record).
By Jim Gullo

The big island's mauna loa is a shield volcano of immense scale rising to 13,677 feet. There's a little-known paved road that twists up from the Saddle Road to Mauna Loa Observatory at the 11,150-foot level, where there are fantastic views. It's possible to hike to the summit from here, but the trail is steep and rocky. (For more information, call the visitor center, 967-7311, ext. 241.) You're better off undertaking the climb with an outfitter from the opposite side of the mountain; it's a three- to six-day, 19-mile round-trip. Temperatures get down to freezing at the summit, so you'd better be prepared.

But the experience is sublime. Much of the hike is above tree line, and crosses lava fields before winding up at a summit crater eerily similar to those on the moon. Contact ace guide and outfitter Rob Pacheco (Hawaii Forest & Trail in Kona, 800-464-1993); he'll take one to four hikers for $775, which includes most gear. Hikers should bring long underwear and a rain shell.

On Molokai you can crank it down a couple of notches with a day hike in the Kamakou Preserve, one of the most pristine stands of old-growth tropical forest and untouched upcountry swamp left in Hawaii. It's a birder's paradise of honeycreepers and other now-rare native birds, and a storehouse of 219 plants found only in Hawaii. Ohelo, violets, and stunted red-blossomed ohia lehua rise from the primordial Pepeopae Bog. Mists climb sheer sea cliffs under the summit of Kamakou, at 4,970 feet the highest spot on Molokai.

This 2,774-acre preserve is under the stewardship of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.

Don't expect a tough hike, but with a mile along slippery boards suspended just above the muck, the footing can be tricky. The hard part is getting there. The eight-mile dirt entry road is unmarked, sometimes impassable, and requires four-wheel-drive transportation. The Nature Conservancy (553-5236) conducts a guided hike each month (members, $15 donation; non-members, $25); the list often fills up months in advance. An alternative is to contact Molokai Off-Road Tours (553-3369), which picks up hikers and drops them off at Waikolu Lookout, close enough to walk in ($150 round-trip). Bring rain gear.

Well-known and well-worn though they may be, Kauai's wonderful trails invite repeat visits. The spectacular 11-mile Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali coast is a bit hairy in winter, but the wind-sculpted cliffs and dramatic gorges you'll traverse are worth the effort. (For a day-use or overnight camping permit, call the Division of State Parks, 274-3444.) It's a strenuous two- or three-day hike, but less intrepid types can opt for the one-hour, two-mile segment to Hanakapiai Valley (no permit needed) beginning at the trailhead where Highway 56 gives way to Kee Beach.

Kokee State Park's many remarkable 4,000-foot-high loops include Awaawapuhi, a 6.5-mile (round-trip) up-and-down trail through cloud-draped ohia and koa forests, cliffs, and valleys that culminates in a dizzying ocean-view lookout. Also in Kokee is the four-mile round-trip Canyon Trail leading to Waipoo Falls overlooking Waimea Canyon. For trail information and maps, check with the Kokee Natural History Museum (335-9975).
By R.P.

Diving and Snorkeling
If you wanted to see dead coral and a smattering of hand-fed fish, you could save the airfare to Hawaii and just snorkel your local pet store. Silty rocks and a handful of fish are probably not what you had in mind, but many of Hawaii's diving and snorkeling sites are either overdived and barren, or so crammed with people that you'll see more dive fins than fish fins. The place to go is the Kona Coast of the Big Island: Year-round, it has the clearest water, most abundant fish, and best lava-formation scenery in the state.

Want to see a Spanish Dancer nudibranch, the tiny mollusk with bright red and black stripes? Sea turtles glaring at you from shelves, eels gaping from under rocks, and hundreds of indigenous fish? Take the 80-foot Kona Aggressor II (seven-day charter, $1,695 per person; $1,795 in 1997; call Live/Dive Pacific, 800-344-5662), a luxurious live-aboard dive boat; stops all the way to South Point reveal astonishing playgrounds of lava tubes and chimneys that teem with manta rays, whale sharks, and coral. Weeklong underwater photography workshops ($2,195-$2,495, including instruction, equipment, and Underwater Photography Certification) are held weekly; a session led by Jean-Michel Cousteau's Photo Pros ($2,195) will be held November 2-9.

At night, Kona Coast Divers (329-8802) in Kona will put you in 30 feet of water at Manta Ray Village for an unforgettable hour (one-tank dive, $55).

The best day trip is on Kauai, where Bubbles Below (all-day, three-tank dive, $235; 822-3483) runs small groups of experienced divers to untouched Lehua Island, just off Niihau. You'll see everything from schools of graytip reef sharks to clouds of butterflyfish, all feeding off the rich current.

For beginners, George and Jeannette Thompson of Ocean Quest Watersports on Kauai offer an introductory dive package (two-tank dive, $120; 822-3589) from Koloa Landing and Tunnel Beach, where you'll see everything from flounders to turtles.

Snorkelers should head to tiny Ahihi Bay on Maui, about three miles past the Maui Prince Hotel in Makena on the gravel road, where big parrotfish and triggerfish swim in a bed of lava. Kealakekua Bay, 12 miles south of Kona on the Big Island, is a marine sanctuary with shore access at Napoopoo Beach Park. From there it's a one-mile swim to a reef on the north side of the bay, where the visibility ranges from 100 to 150 feet and you'll see schools of mullet and Moorish Idols.

Sea Kayaking
While the tourist hordes fight for beach space, you can be coolly paddling blue-water coves, chasing whales, bobbing between big rollers . . . or simply lying back and watching the scenery.

Since Kauai's Na Pali coast and Molokai's north shore are socked in with large, dangerous waves all winter, look to the calmer, leeward coasts for paddling, and do it in the morning before the winds start up. Kayak Kauai Outfitters (800-437-3507) leads an all-day excursion ($105 per person) to Kipu Kai, an isolated beach on the south shore accessible only by sea. You'll paddle alongside humpback whales, dolphins, flying fish, and sea turtles.

On Molokai, Fun Hogs Hawaii, at the Kaluakoi Resort & Golf Club, offers guided two-hour paddles along the barrier reef fringing the south shore ($40 per person; call 552-2242). The five-mile paddle passes ancient Hawaiian fishponds and religious sites before landing in the Kawela area. They'll also take you kayak-surfing on gentle breakers, the ultimate pissoir (French for "wicked good time").

On Maui, South Pacific Kayaks and Outfitters in Kihei goes from La Perouse Bay around the desolate southern point to lava-formed coves that are backdropped by mighty Haleakala. The six-hour trip stops for lunch at an ancient, abandoned village ($85 per person; 875-4848). Dolphins and humpbacks are frequently sighted.

During low tide in Oahu, don't miss the party scene at the sandbar in Kaneohe Bay on the windward side, a half-hour paddle from the Heeia Kea boat harbor. The pristine spit of white sand has as its backdrop the wind-battered Koolau Mountains. Rent kayaks from Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks (half-day rentals, $22-$29; 262-2555), across from Kailua Beach Park.
By J.G.

The bad news: some of hawaii's brand-name beaches go psycho when winter arrives. Most north-facing beaches are known for their demure summer personalities--Molokai's Papohaku, Oahu's Sunset, and the Big Island's Kaunaoa (now called Mauna Kea Beach). Serene and sandy in summer, between the winter solstice and vernal equinox they can turn like a pitbull when the serious swells sweep in from the north. That's when folks merely looking for a sandy, sunny, snorkel-perfect couch beach on which to unfurl the mat and set up the cooler look to the south, or lee side, of whichever island they're on.

Lanai's Hulopoe Beach is a sandy crescent a third of a mile long with perfect sand, ideal water, and few people. Facing directly south, it is thus protected from the northeast tradewinds and the barreling swells. A beer-commercial beach come to life, it even has its own resident pod of spinner dolphins. You could snag one of the hard-to-get camping permits for Hulopoe ($5 per person per night; 565-8200), or take a boat over from Lahaina on Maui, just across the channel ($50 round-trip, 800-695-2624).

On Maui, good choices are Polo and Oneloa (familiarly called Big Beach), a few miles apart at Wailea and Makena, respectively. Although they're in a west-facing part of the island, only the most persistent northwesterly swells can squeeze past sheltering Molokai and Lanai. The skimboarder's paradise of Big Beach has thick kiawe groves that shield it from the road, and not a single structure. Undiscovered Polo Beach, the best walking beach on the island, is a smaller but better version of crowded Digme Beach at Kaanapali in West Maui. It has miraculously fine-grained sand, terrific swimming (the sandy bottom drops away quickly), and just one condominium and one hotel (the Kea Lani).

Even a northeast-facing beach can sometimes show some sympathy for the winter tourist. Oahu has few top choices for sandy bliss in winter (unless you don't mind Waikiki, of course), but the mild-mannered Sherwood Forest section of miles-long Waimanalo Beach is the exception. It has a generous beach, a gently sloping sandy bottom, and waves tamed by offshore reefs. It also faces directly into the tradewinds, which is good for lazy bodyboarding--no vicious slams to the bottom. When the trades really start humming, on the other hand, say goodbye to that annoying outer layer of skin.

Sometimes you can find one of the rare sheltered cove beaches along an otherwise exposed stretch of coastline. Little Makaiwa Bay on the Big Island is such a beach, a sandy, northwest-facing comma crouching behind lava rock on the often winter-wave-wracked Kohala Coast. All Hawaiian beaches are public, but this one, at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, is a little tricky. The private parking lot is reserved for the resort's guests, but you can use the beach-access public lot just to the north and hoof the shoreline path the five minutes to Makaiwa.

It's even possible to buck the odds and nail a north-facing beach on one of its quieter days, as long as it's similar to Kee on Kauai. Kee isn't hard to find--truck through Hanalei on the North Shore, head west along the jungly coast on the only road, and park where the pavement runs out at the Kalalau trailhead. That's Kee, a little beauty barricaded behind a broad-shouldered reef that minces all but the manliest swells into bite-sized pieces. Don't push it, though: A manner that hints at arrogant mana rarely goes unpunished out here.
By R.P.

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