Hawaii Waterfall Fun- Big Island and Kauai

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I have always been drawn to running water, such as rivers, streams and the ocean. I just found something so fascinating and peaceful about running water. I could listen to it for hours. But my favorite natural water will forever and always be waterfalls. The best waterfalls never cease to amaze me, and they are one of my favorite places to visit when I hike or go on vacation.

Luckily for me, Hawaii is rife with waterfalls that will astound you with their beauty, and a good chunk of them are easily accessible from the road. We had visited most of the waterfalls on our first visit to Big Island, but of course we wanted to see them again.

Since the Hilo side of the Big Island is much greener and wetter than the Kona side of the island, because of all the rain, it stands to reason that the Hilo side of the island has the best waterfalls. And a few of the best ones are all within short driving distance of each other.

One of the best ones is Akaka Falls. This waterfall is 422 ft and set within a lush, green park. The trailhead to the waterfall is close to the road with pay parking within the parking lot, though if you don’t want to pay, there is plenty of parking on the road as well. Usually, there are a couple ways to access the viewpoint, because there is a trail that goes down and around and affords multiple views and obstructed views of another waterfall. However, at the time we visited, part of the lower trail was blocked off, due to trail maintenance, so only the most direct trail was available to the viewpoint. It’s less than .5 mile from the trailhead to the viewpoint, and the path is paved and pretty easy to traverse. You can’t miss the wide viewpoint that looks at the waterfall from the distance. The most challenging thing is jockeying for the best view among the throngs of tourists and their cameras.

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Another readily accessible waterfall is Rainbow Falls. How powerful this waterfall is, depends on the time of year, since after plenty of rain, the waterfall with naturally have more water than during drier periods. This one is also very popular, so there is a large parking lot and the walk is short to the viewpoint. A farther away view of the falls is right off the parking lot, whereas there is a short hike that takes you to the overlook of the top of the falls. I saw some people walking out on the rocks to the top of the falls, but my fear of slipping and falling off the cliff prevented me from doing the same.

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Since we were already in the area, we decided to drive the short way up the road to view Wai’ale Falls. They aren’t heavily advertised, and I wouldn’t consider them a “must do.” However, if you like waterfalls and are in the area, the falls are worth the minutes it takes to drive there on Waianuenue Avenue, past the junction to Hwy 200 (Saddle Road), and then just past the Wailuku River Bridge.

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The view of the falls are located right off the road, with parking available just off the road. There is supposed to be  a faint trail to get closer to the falls, and apparently the locals like to swim in the falls pool.

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Even though it isn’t a waterfall, the last stop of the day before heading back to our hotel was a local lava cave, easily accessible off the road. The lava cave is called Kaumana Caves, with a well marked parking lot located between mile markers 4 and 5 off Hwy 200. If you like lave caves, it is worth your time, and the visit doesn’t take too long.

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Even though the parking lot is across the street from the caves, we didn’t see too much traffic on Hwy 200, so it is pretty safe to make your way across. Once across the street, the sign for the cave is well marked, and there is no admission to the caves. Stairs lead down into the cave. There are actually two parts of the cave.

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The left side of the cave is more like a small ampitheater and the opening has plenty of green plants.

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The right side of the cave affords the opportunity to walk a bit ways into the cave before the way becomes too small. If you do want to make your way into the cave, make sure you have a light source, because there is no light in the cave.

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Over on Kauai, a good chunk of the most beautiful waterfalls are easy to visit, though there are plenty of waterfalls that aren’t readily accessible to the viewing public.

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Wailua Falls are probably the most beautiful waterfalls on Kauai, and there is a well marked road (Hwy 583) that literally ends at the parking lot for Wailua Falls. There isn’t a ton of parking spots considering how popular the falls are, but there are parking off the road, and turnover is usually pretty quick. However, if you are visiting Kauai during high tourist season, it might be worth your while to go earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.

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We had the opportunity to see a couple other Kauai waterfalls during a half day kayak and waterfall adventure. Mom and I enjoy kayaking, and there are opportunities for both sea and river kayaking on Kauai. We decided against sea kayaking, just because of some of the strong ocean currents in places, and river kayaking sounded very pleasant.

Even though you can do guided or unguided river kayaks on different rivers, we elected for a guided tour, the Kayak Waterfall Adventure offered at Island Adventures tour company, just because in many ways it was easier, and it also afforded an opportunity to view a couple of pretty waterfalls that are located on private property, so they aren’t accessible to the public.

After kayaking a few miles up the Huleia River (a generally easy and peaceful trip among a lush green setting), we were transported to the overlook site and hiked down to the waterfalls. The first waterfall was the 30 foot Bamboo Falls. We only had a side view of the falls, but they were pretty nonetheless.

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After hiking a short time past that, we came to our destination, the 60 foot Papakolea Falls. We were able to sit and relax by the falls, swim in the pool, or climb up partway for pictures on a ledge behind the falls. The company also offers another tour that involves rappelling down the falls. I thought about doing the rappel tour, but since I figured my mom wouldn’t be into rappelling down the waterfall (I was right), we went with the gentler trip instead.

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The last waterfall I visited on Kauai was Ho’opi’i Falls. These falls were a bit harder to find, and aren’t really considered a “must do”. However, I was looking for an easy hike, and this one fit the bill and was a short drive from our hotel. The falls are located just up the road from the town of Kapa’a. I initially had a hard time finding the trailhead. It is located on Kapahi Road in a residential area. However, the trailhead isn’t really well marked, and my guide book gave some confusing directions. Just when I was about to give up and go back to my hotel, I looked on other hiking sites for better directions, and realized where I went wrong. The trailhead might not be marked, but you can see the yellow gate on the side of the road, that is overgrown with vegetation, and a short way before the road ends. Just past that is the parking area on the side of the road. You aren’t supposed to park on private property, because your car will be towed, but there are enough spaces for several cars off the side of the road.

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From the trailhead, it was an easy walk down to the river. Once you hit the river, take the trail to the right and a short ways after that, you will come to a turnoff that will lead you down to the upper Ho’opi’i Falls. These falls are nice and the viewing area affords some nice views and places to sit on the rocks. My guide book talked about lower falls, so I continued to follow the directions from my book, but I never did find the falls. At some point, I came to a fence blocking the trail and marked private property. I tried walking down to the river, but the trail along the river was hard to follow and eventually petered out. I tried walking around the blocked path, but never did find the lower falls. Eventually I turned back, because I was afraid of getting cited if I was caught on private property. Even though I didn’t see the lower falls, the hike was still pleasant enough.

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So if you like waterfalls, the whole state of Hawaii affords so many gorgeous views, and Kauai and the Big Island have some of the best waterfalls. Don’t miss them if you are on the island.

Hana Highway Journey to Paradise and Back (Nothing but Waterfalls Edition)

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When I was researching my trip to Maui, my guide book touted the Hana Highway as one of the “must do’s” on Maui. The 35 mile drive along Highway 360 is considered one of the most iconic drives in the world, since the windy, twisty road is like driving through a  remote tropical paradise, like Jurassic Park (assuming it is not overrun with tourists when you do the drive).

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A 35 mile one way drive to Hana doesn’t sound like that much, but the trip turns out to be longer than you might think. First off, this road is one of the curviest roads I have ever driven. Supposedly it has 600 turns, though I didn’t really keep count. What I do know is you will probably never go faster than 35 mph for very long, because you are always slowing down for a tight turn, and there are many, many one lane bridges that you have keep a watch out for oncoming traffic.

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Plus, this is not a road you want to speed. The drive to Hana is very much about the journey and not the destination, because while the drive to Hana (and beyond) is so beautiful, there is not anything exceptional in the village of Hana. There are so many stops of exquisite nature on the road to Hana that it seems like every few minutes, you will be stopping at something to admire and gawk.

Most people do the Hana Highway as a day trip, and it is entirely possible to do it in one day. However, know that unless you start very early and finish late, you will probably not be able to see everything (assuming you want to see as much as possible), so you will have to pick and choose what stops are the most important to you, or at the bare minimum, not allot much time at each stop. Since Mom and I weren’t in any hurry, we decided to make the trip out of Hana into a two day affair and spend the night at Hana. That allowed us to leave a bit later in the morning, thus letting any sort of tourist crush get ahead of us, and then take our time on the way out to see everything we wanted to see, knowing that we would have a full day to see anything we missed on the way back.

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The day we drove out to Hana was warm, but rather cloudy and rainy. Everything still looked like a lush, green, very wet paradise, but we had to balance it with taking advantage of the breaks in the rain, and in some case, going out to the views myself and taking all the pictures while Mom stayed in the nice, dry car. The nice thing about all the rain though, is that the waterfalls were full, and there were just so many waterfalls to stop and gush at.

We undoubtedly would have missed some critical stops along the highway if it was not for my trip making guide book, Maui Revealed. There are some signs for a few of the sights, but for many of them, you have to know what to look for, because they are easy to drive by and miss. The nice thing about this book is that all the sights are listed in relation to the highway mile markers, so you have a pretty good idea when something is coming up. The ONLY problem we ran into, is that some of the mile markers from 9-16 seemed to be missing, though maybe that problem has been corrected since we visited. That resulted in us having to occasionally guesstimate where to stop, but for the most part, we were able to figure it out.

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There are so many waterfalls to enjoy that honestly some of the waterfalls start blurring into the next, and it can get a bit difficult to keep track of where you are. If you really want to know which waterfall you are at to remind yourself later, it’s probably best to write down the photo number and the location. Every time you get out of the car, you can barely see any surrounding roads, so it just seems like you are alone in a lush, super green, and while we were there super wet paradise. When we were there, all the foliage around us was thick and green, broken up only by the white of waterfalls, the black of the seaside cliffs and the blue of the sea. And for the most part, we were on our own. I think it was because we were there in the off season, mid week, and it was raining, but we avoided the crush of tourists that are certainly possible during this drive.

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One of the first waterfall highlights we stopped at was Lower Puohokamoa Falls, just short of the 11 mile marker. There is a tiny pullout on the sea side of the road, and it is easy to miss (look for the telephone pole), so we had to turn around and go back. Right by the pole, there is a muddy trail (assuming it has been raining like it often is) that leads you down the hill. At first, I wondered if the short hike was worth it, but other persons I ran into said to keep going, because it is worth it. You will know when you are in the right place, because the foliage opens up and you see the falls amidst the greenery.

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What makes the Hana Highway such a fun drive is that a good chunk of the waterfalls are basically just off the roadway, so you can see them very easily from the road, or with just a short walk. The bad thing about all of this goodness, is that there are few very parking spots alongside the road, and the road is often narrow. You can often find a pullout for a car or two near the bridges, but other times, you might have to park a bit away from the waterfall and then walk along the road back to the site. That is when it is nice that most people (or at least most tourists) drive pretty slowly along the highway.

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One of the easily photographed waterfalls are the Upper Waikani Falls (sometimes called the Three Bears Falls), which are located between the 19 and 20 mile markers. These falls will vary fairly dramatically, depending on the time of year and the flow of water. This particular time, the water was flowing pretty well, so it all looked like one falls.

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Just short of the 21 mile marker, we drove by the Wailua Iki Falls. The falls viewable directly off the road are pretty, but the true majesty of the falls isn’t viewable until you walk (or drive) up a little further on the road toward Hana. The road twists a bit and rises a bit in altitude, and that vantage point shows the truly wondrous view of the lush valley and full falls above and below the road. That view is the title photo for this blog post.

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A quick and easy stop for some light and easy waterfall viewing is at Pua’a Ka’a State Park, located between mile markers 22 and 23. Unlike most stops along the Hana Highway, there is plenty of parking and even a bathroom. The waterfalls are small, but still pretty to enjoy for a bit.

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The Hana Highway doesn’t actually end in Hana. Highway 360 continues, though the mile markers shift and start counting down from mile marker 50 once you get past Hana. On the first day of our trip, we just went as far as Hana, because we were staying overnight. I am glad we made the choice to stay overnight, because it gave us the opportunity to just relax and take it all in. The last major waterfall we stopped at on the Hana Highway was Wailua Falls. We saw it the next morning as we were driving out to Haleakala National Park to see the sights there and do some hiking (which will be in another blog post). Wailua Falls is right off the road, right around mile marker 45 and is the bridge over Wailua Stream. This is a major stop on the highway, so there is a decent sized parking lot. However, since it is a popular stop, many tour vans and buses will stop there, so don’t be surprised if you see a crowd. Luckily they usually don’t stay there long and will disperse.

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If you love waterfalls, you should just adore the Hana Highway. There are just so many waterfalls in so many different configurations, and none of the waterfalls look the same.

 

Fiji Viti Levu- Mainland fun

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My last four days on Fiji was spent on the “mainland” island of Viti Levu. There were a lot of things I wanted to see and do on Viti Levu, but it is a large island, and it is not as easy to just base yourself in one area to see many different sites.

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I decided to stay on the southwestern side of Viti Levu at the Intercontinental Fiji Resort. Or I should say my travel agent recommended it, and since it sounded suitably extravagant, I figured why not? It is a very beautiful resort, though a bit more geared toward families and golfers, rather than single travelers.

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Due to a number of circumstances, I ended up not doing much of what I wanted to do while on Viti Levu (which just gives me an excuse to return). For the most part I relaxed by the pool, slept in, and some spa stuff (including an absolutely heavenly, decadent, four hand massage).

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And of course, I enjoyed a variety of beautiful sunsets (a theme of this trip). My favorite sunset was the one pictured in the title picture. That was also the night the resort hosted a fire ceremony on the beach, which was a beautiful backdrop to see the fire jugglers while the colorful sun dropped below the horizon.

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As per usual, the other sunsets were not AS spectacular, but still colorful and beautiful nonetheless.

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My last full day on Viti Levu, I had wanted to do a day long adventure on the Navala River. Unfortunately, the tour operator I hoped to use had lost the access rights to the upper Navala River, due to a land dispute with the owner. Then to compound my disappointment, my last day happened to be election day in Fiji. It was actually a pretty big deal, because this was the first democratic election in Fiji since the military coup in 2006. An interesting quirk about Fijian elections was that all eligible adults were required to vote or receive a fine. So since voting was mandatory, most tour operators were not offering any tours that day.

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However, one of them was. I decided to do a zipline/waterfall hike out in a nature reserve north of the capital city of Nadi. It was pretty fun. There were about eight ziplines, most of them on the shorter end of the runs I’ve done in the past, but they were set in a very lush forest.

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After ziplining and lunch, we headed out on a hike to a couple of waterfalls. Along the way, we passed some very beautiful rope-like tree roots, and also some small pineapple bushes.

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The waterfalls were small, but the pools were cool and refreshing and you were able to swim in them. I hadn’t realized this particular part of the trip, so I had not brought a swimsuit, but it was so warm and sunny, that my clothes dried quickly.

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All in all, I didn’t get to see as much of Viti Levu as I wished. There is a lot to see and do on the island, and when I get back to Fiji, I will definitely take more time to explore it all.

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New York Hudson Valley Autumn Hiking- Kaaterskill Falls

 

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Last fall when I visited New York’s Hudson Valley, I planned on doing as much hiking as possible. Since the Hudson Valley is so beautiful in the autumn, I wanted to maximize my communing with nature time. The hardest part actually was choosing which hikes to do. I wanted hikes that gave me the most bang for my buck leaf peeping-wise, but I also didn’t want to JUST hike all weekend. I only had four days, and my travel list was long, and the more I read about the Hudson Valley, the longer it got.

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I found a really great website that laid out most, if not all, of the available hikes in the Hudson Valley. From there it was deciding which ones were closest to where I was staying-particularly in relation to all my other planned activities, which ones were relatively easy, and which ones offered great views. While I enjoy hiking, I was looking to keep MOST of my hikes to no more than two miles, which would allow me to complete multiple hikes and do all the other autumn activity I love so much.

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I chose to do the Kaaterskill Falls hike, because it was only 2.o miles round trip, not THAT far off my beaten path, and the website teased a huge waterfall. I am a sucker for waterfalls, so off I went.

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Kaaterskill Falls is off Route 23A, and it was a bit of a drive from the interstate. The road is two lane and well paved, though rather curvy out to the waterfall site. This particular hike is very popular, so it is a bit surprising there isn’t more convenient parking. There is a parking lot about .3 miles past the trailhead. Of course that means you need to walk along the road to get to the trailhead, though the drivers seemed to be used to all the hikers.

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So much about this hike reminded me of autumn hiking in Korea. The trail isn’t the best, though it is easy to follow. Basically you just walk from the trailhead  one half mile until you hit the falls. It really can’t be any simpler than that. However, the trail isn’t just some flat stroll in the park, but it is rather steep in parts and rocky in other parts. Definitely make sure you have some comfortable, sturdy shoes.

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But other aspects of this hike made me think I was in Korea. The whole valley, the waterfall, the autumn foliage, all of it looks very much like many of the places I hiked in Korea. It was almost uncanny in spots.

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Once you get to the falls, you will see a yellow sign telling you to go no further. While people in the past have climbed up to the top of the falls, it is definitely not recommended, because it can be very dangerous and people have fallen to their deaths over the years. In response to that, new fencing has been put up to prevent people from hiking past the yellow sign.

 

While I can be a risk taker in some aspects of my life, I tend to be pretty safety conscious and try not to risk my life and limb on stuff like this, particularly since falling and breaking a limb (or dying) would have put a serious crimp into the rest of my autumn weekend plans. So I enjoyed the view of the falls from the bottom, and turned around and walked back to the trailhead. Again impossible to get lost.

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The entire hike only took me around 1.5 hours and that included time to relax and enjoy the view at the bottom of the falls. Like I said, the hike to the falls from the trailhead is only .5 miles, though that length is a bit deceptive due to the challenging nature of the trail in parts. But if you are used to any sort of hiking and in moderate fitness, it really shouldn’t be a problem. Definitely expect crowds, particularly in the fall. I went later on a weekend afternoon, and while the falls weren’t overrun with people, I certainly did not have the place to myself. But if you like beautiful nature, particularly in autumn, and love waterfalls, this is a good hike for you.

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Jiuzhai Valley- Huanglong Scenic Area

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My final day in the Jiuzhaigou area was a full one since my flight out of China wasn’t until 2130. I decided to hold off on seeing the Huanglong Scenic Area for this day. Huanglong is located about a three hours’ drive from Jiuzhaigou, and you actually pass the airport on the way to the area. Considering how long, tedious, and at times harrowing, the drive from Jiuzhaigou can be, I didn’t want to make it a day trip on my third day, and spend around six hours on the road.

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So the very helpful front desk manager at my hotel booked another day taxi for me. The cost for a day trip to Huanglong with a drop off at the airport on the way back cost me 600 yuan. Yeah, that is pretty pricey, but ultimately it was worth it for me, because it allowed me to go at my own pace and set my own independent schedule and stop off at the airport when I was done.

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Like I mentioned, the drive there was a bit tedious and at times, gut checking. The main roads in this part of the country are wide enough for two vehicles, maybe a bit wider. But the curves on this roads are numerous and at times, very windy. There also seems to be a very free wheeling attitude toward rules of the road. Truthfully, I don’t know what the rules of the road are in China, but judging what I experienced through a Western driving prism, I was often tense and at times afraid for my life. Passing on all sides of the road seemed de rigeur, passing on tight curves happened all the time, along with passing on narrow, mountain roads with a very steep drop off on one side, so more than once I imagined myself dying or being seriously injured on this trip. I hoped that my driver was skilled enough to avoid all that (even if his driving often scared the crap out of me), and thankfully he was.

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We left Jiuzhaigou around 0700 so we arrived at Huanglong around 1000. Thanks to him passing every bus and slow moving vehicle we found ourselves behind, I beat the tour groups. Sure there were people on site already, but the lines were very minimal. Admission fee for Huanglong is 210 yuan, plus an additional 80 yuan for the cable car up. Purchasing a ticket for the cable car is purely optional, though I elected to do so, and am glad I did. Sure you can walk up and down the Huanglong Valley, and I saw many groups do so. However, I wasn’t really in the mood to walk up 3.6 kilometers in the valley in that altitude, so I took the cable car up the mountain.

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To get to the cable car, you take a shuttle bus about 10 minutes away. Since it was still early in the morning, the line for the cable was nil, and I was able to immediately ascend the mountain. The cable car lets you off about 2.2 kilometers  from the Huanglong Valley, and it is an easy walk from the cable car station. Like everything else in the national parks in this area, the trails are well benched with wood planks and the trails are easy to walk. It makes for a very pleasant stroll to a beautiful lookout of the Huanglong Valley and the surrounding mountains.

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Once I arrived at Huanglong, I walked further up the path to the apex of the trail which overlooks the Multi-Colored Pond. This was another set of travertine pools, very similar to what I saw at Fairy Pond Scenic Area. The water were shades of blue and green set among the golden travertines. The clouds were gray and overhead this day (though thankfully no rain), so the colors weren’t as bright as they would be on a sunny day, but they were still beautiful nonetheless.

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The trail down the valley is 3.6 kilometers and is another wood planked trail. The path heads downward and it passes some local temples and even more travertine pools. The trail is filled with viewpoints to stop and stare at the nature around you.

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The calcium deposits built up more and more as you descend the valley, and towards the bottom, it starts to resemble the Gold and Silver Beach at Fairy Pond.

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Waterfalls also become more numerous, with the most unusual looking waterfall to be Flying Waterfall very near the bottom. The waterfall reminded me of some of the waterfalls I saw in Jiuzhaigou National Park, such as Shu Zheng Waterfall .

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I took my time walking down the valley, since I had plenty of time and I was on my own schedule (the benefit of paying for independent travel rather than going with a tour group). Even then I had so much time at the end. My taxi driver dropped me off at the airport on the return journey, and the airport is about an hour’s drive from Huanglong.

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I think Huanglong is a must do when visiting the Jiuzhaigou area. If forced to choose between Fairy Pond and Huanglong, I recommend Huanglong, just because there is a bit more to see. If you choose to travel to Jiuzhaigou, I recommend staying no less than three days, which will allow you two full days in Jiuzhaigou National Park, and a trip to Huanglong. This will give you the greatest opportunity to see the astoundingly beautiful and unique nature in the area at a leisurely pace.  Also if possible, I recommend taking a late flight out of Jiuzhaigou, and there are plenty of opportunities, since there are about 23 flights a day to various Chinese cities during high season (basically spring through fall). This will allow you to visit Huanglong on your leaving day and go to airport on your way out. But if you love beautiful nature, this place is not to be missed.

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