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Family travel: Colorado camping expert offers tips for taking the kids

The title of expert on camping with kids should probably go to Boulder mom Helen Olsson, who authored the aptly titled “Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids” (Roost Books) in 2012.

Olsson, an adventurous outdoor enthusiast, spent her childhood camping in upstate New York, and she now spends her summers hitting campsites around Colorado with her brood, ages 8, 10 and 13.

The subtitle of Olsson’s book is “How to plan memorable family adventures and connect kids to nature.” It’s also an apt description of this guide that is one part camping primer — filled with tips, packing lists, arts-and-crafts activities, outdoor games and recipes — and one part encouragement and motivation.

Here, to inspire your next camping trip is some insight from Olsson, who blogs about her family’s fun (and funny) adventures at MadDogMom.com.

At what age can you start camping with kids?

As soon as parents feel that their babies are sturdy and healthy enough. In fact, I think camping with infants is easier than camping with toddlers. Babies aren’t mobile, so you can be assured a level of containment. Toddlers are constantly on the move, and they love to put rocks in their mouths. You have to watch them every minute, especially around hazards like fast-moving water.

What mistakes do you think most parents make when they camp with their children?

You need to manage your expectations, especially when it comes to hiking — an activity that tends to go hand-in-hand with camping. You may not hike 10 miles a day, but that’s OK. The point is to immerse kids in nature, get them unplugged from all those vexing digital games, and connect instead with the family. It’s a cliché, I admit, but camping really is an ideal way for parents to bond with the kids. You just have to try to take the day at the kids’ pace, not yours.

What’s your go-to camping food item that everyone likes to eat (besides the ever-popular makings for s’mores)?

We love to make Hobo Packs when we camp. Essentially these are individual serving sizes of ground meat, onions, peppers, carrots, fresh corn cut off the cob, small red potatoes, a little oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper all folded into foil packets. Roast the packets over the coals of your campfire for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the heat of the fire.

Photo courtesy of Helen Olsson

Photo courtesy of Helen Olsson

What games or activities do you bring along in case of crummy weather?

Portable games like chess and checkers are great, but it’s easy to lose the pieces in the sleeping bags. We always bring playing cards, and everyone brings a book in case we need to cuddle in the tent and wait out a storm.

What’s your favorite place to camp in Colorado?

We love Molas Lake in southwestern Colorado ( molaslake.com). It is absolutely gorgeous; the campsites are private and right on the lake. You can fish, hike and bike. It’s a hump from the Front Range, but it’s worth it. There are so many amazing places to camp in the state, especially if you’re willing to drive a little bit.

What’s the most important piece of camping gear you absolutely should not forget to pack?

With kids, never leave home without a good pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass. Kids are always getting little splinters in their fingers and prickly pear cactus spines in their toes. And duct tape. Always bring duct tape.

Any other smart items you always pack?

Bring a battery-operated nightlight for kids who are afraid of the dark. It’s dark in the woods! Another fun way to add a little glow to the tent at night is to bring glow sticks. Kids can crack them and play with them just before bed, then you tuck them into the tent’s mesh pockets as kids drift off.

What’s your all-time favorite camping memory, when you were a kid or with your own children?

That’s easy! When I was a kid, my family and I camped at the Delaware Water Gap. We were sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows and a family of skunks came wandering out of the woods, right in our direction. We were sitting in those metal fold-up chairs and — I am not kidding — they walked right under our feet, circumnavigated the fire and disappeared back into the woods. No one took a breath for 20 minutes. I’ll never forget it.

-Kara Williams

4 kid-friendly Maui hotels and resorts your family will love

One of the advantages of winning a trip to Maui was staying at four resorts. It was also the disadvantage. But despite being on-the-go every two nights, our nomadic lifestyle gave us the opportunity to visit various parts of the island and discover what properties worked best for us.

Each was family-friendly but that was where the similarities stopped. Napili Kai Beach Resort was the most budget-friendly and had our favorite views. All of the accommodations at the Honua Kai Resort & Spa are luxury suites overlooking the world-famous North Kaanapali Beach. Travaasa’s experiential resort in remote Hana was dripping with beauty, relaxation and on-site activities. The Fairmont Kea Lani’s only all-suite and villa luxury oceanfront resort on the white sands of Wailea’s Polo Beach looked like it had been plucked out of a scene from Arabian Nights.

View from Napili Kai

View from Napili Kai

It was the best of four worlds.

Napili Kai Beach Resort

After a long day of travel and a three-hour time difference, we were exhausted when we arrived at the open-air lobby at the Napili Kai Beach Resort.  “Welcome home,” the front desk clerk’s melodic voice sang and we immediately felt wrapped in her warmth as we eagerly downed a tropical beverage.

This affordable (at least by local standards) and charming full-service Hawaiian hotel does indeed feel like home. Set on 10 oceanfront acres on tranquil Napili Bay, the area is bereft of high rises and ultra-resorts, and the 163 lovely yet unpretentious plantation-style hotel rooms and condos make it the perfect place to unwind with your family on the white-sand beach.

Golf at Napili Kai

Golf at Napili Kai

Napili Kai stays true to its promise “we don’t nickel and dime you,” and they had the most complimentary services of any of our resorts. The resort infuses the tradition of Aloha with activities such as lei making, creating a Puka shell necklace, building a canoe, sand art and a Mo’o (lizards) Safari. And did I mention their seasonal “Keiki Club” for kids ages 6-10 is complimentary and that kids stay and eat free?

When we weren’t eating at the glorious beachfront restaurant the “Sea House” or playing in the four small swimming pools or 18-hole putting green, we were on the beach. Renowned for its tranquil waters, Napili Bay is perfect for snorkeling and stand-up paddleboarding. My husband realized he had brought only his fins and not his mask and snorkel (a minor oversight) and we were delighted to learn the Activity Center had complimentary loaners for guests. Too bad we weren’t really home.

Prices start at $280. Address: 5900 Lower Honoapiilani Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761. (808) 669-6271

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 Honua Kai Resort & Spa

Polished. Beautifully appointed. These were my first impressions as we entered Honua Kai’s  stone entryway. Grandparents, parents and kids roamed the lush tropical grounds, testifying that this newish property that was completed in 2010 is an ideal multi-generational gathering place.

View from our Honua Kai room

View from our Honua Kai room

So, what is the draw? This resort on famed North Kaanapali Beach is comprised of 628 spacious studio, one, two and three-bedroom suites that range from 595 sq. ft. to 2,650 sq. ft. If you’ve traveled with kids you know just how convenient it is for everyone to have their own space and private bathroom. Our condo had a partial ocean view overlooking the islands of Molokai and Lani with the West Maui mountains looming in the east and it was tough to drag ourselves from our glorious open-air deck.

At Honua Kai, each living space has a professionally-equipped gourmet kitchen with high-end Bosch appliances so we were able to save money by preparing most of our meals in our room. But if we’re being truthful here, as a mom, I most appreciated our in-room washer/dryer. It was a relief to throw in a couple of loads of laundry after five  days on the road.

Beyond the rooms (if you can drag yourself outside), the manicured 38-acre grounds offer an Aquatic Playground with three spectacular pools, a waterfall, waterslide, children’s play area, four hot tubs and water slides. Beach and pool items like boogie boards, snorkel gear, pool floats and rafts are available to purchase or rent by the hour, day or week.

Gourmet kitchen and laundry

Gourmet kitchen and laundry

And then just steps away is Kaanapali North Beach. As one of the most famous beaches in the world, the north section is actually less crowded than its southern counterpart. We spent an entire afternoon jumping waves and whale watching but skipped the snorkeling due to the unprotected, snarky waters.

One morning, I arose at dawn to go for a run along the 1-mile Ka’anapali Beachwalk that starts at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa and stretches to Pu`u Kekaa (Black Rock) at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Cut through the Sheraton and the pathway will keep going for another 2 miles, the perfect way to explore this famous coastline.

Suite prices start at $324 and beachfront condominium residences are available for purchase. 130 Kai Malina Pkwy, Lahaina, HI (808) 662-2800.

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Travaasa Experential Resorts, Hana

Travaasa

Travaasa

If you’re planning to navigate the gorgeous yet precipitous 52-mile road to Hana, do yourself a favor and spend at least one night to thoroughly explore the area. But there’s a complication: Hana has very few hotels, most of which aren’t family-oriented. After an extensive search on VRBO.com, I ascertained the majority of the vacation rentals either required a minimum two-night stay (we only wanted one) and many of those properties banned children (the opposite of kid-friendly).

Though a friend recommended AAA Four Diamond Hotel Travaasa, when I called to inquire, I was dissuaded from coming because “we only cater to families seasonally” and our late-February visit was apparently not in season. I understood, really I did. Travaasa focuses on a renewal of body, mind and spirit through five different à la carte pathways: Adventure, Culinary, Culture, Fitness and Spa & Wellness and having hooligan kids takes away from the luxe resort.

But I booked it anyway. This boutique resort is made up of 70 plantation-style cottages and suites on Maui’s picturesque eastern shore Kaihalulu Bay (though most of the property is not ocean-front). Our queen suite was spacious, underwhelming in its amenities yet elegantly simple with a memorable sitting area overlooking the golden fruit palm tree-framed lawn.

Ukelele lessons at Travaasa

Ukelele lessons at Travaasa

At sunrise, I hiked the 1-mile trail across the street to Fagon’s Cross with views of where the mountains meet the sea’s rugged black lava in a wet and wild world and the summit smelled like a plumeria garden. Back at Travaasa, we played at the Makena Center for hours, which could have extended into days. In addition to the tennis courts and a pool, the activity center offered plenty of free options including sand toy checkout, bikes, Frisbees, snorkel gear, boogie boards and my kids had their first real golf experience on the 3-hole pitch and putt golf course. 

The center also prides itself on authentic Hawaiian pursuits such as lei making, hula, snorkeling, throw net fishing, opening a coconut and garden tours. My kids took a ukulele lesson and after only an hour they not only learned basic chords but how to play “You Are My Sunshine.”  Staffers Doug and Andrew delighted us with stories of Hana’s history and natural resources

Travaasa felt like the real Hawaii, far away from the tourist traps and despite the original pushback I felt, we were delighted and entertained. Really, the only negative parts to our visit were the weather (it rained for part of the time) and sheer exhaustion at repeatedly picking our jaw off the ground at Hana’s grandeur.

A la carte prices start at $400. Address: 5031 Hana Hwy, Hana, HI.

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The Fairmont Kea Lani, Wailea

fairmontmaui1Growing up in Canada, the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts are renowned for being among the country’s most iconic. The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

This Canadian-owned hotel chain now operates in 19 countries and I was thrilled to finally stay in one of their properties. We saved the Fairmont Kea Lani for the last two days of our trip and it was the perfect way to go out in grand style.

Wailea, on the leeward side of South Maui, is renowned for its luxurious beachfront resorts and the Fairmont Kea Lani on Polo Beach has a prime location. As Hawaii’s only all-suite and villa luxury oceanfront resort, you’ll find 314 spacious one-bedroom suites and 37 private two and three-bedroom villas.  Translation? Every room at the hotel is a suite and has a 150-300 sq ft lanai (balcony) that is perfect for families. When we checked in, we were outfitted with fragrant leis and Hadley and Bode also received a turtle/whale necklace or a sand bucket with a shovel.

“Kea Lani” means “white heaven” and the resort looks like a dreamy escape you’d find in Casablanca. Despite its pomp and circumstance, we were delighted it was extremely kid-friendly on 22 acres of lush tropical landscape with two fantastic activity pools connected by a 140-foot waterslide, various beach activities and an adults-only pool where my daughter observed that “no one is ever in the water,” proving that grownups don’t know how to have fun.

Coastal Walk

Coastal Walk

Except for when it comes to exploring Wailea’s 1.5-mile Coastal Walk.  One morning, there were plenty of adults having the time of their lives watched the hump backs at dawn on this beautiful oceanfront trail that runs from Polo Beach to Keawekapu Beach.

canoeexperienceHands down, our favorite activity was the Hawaiian Canoe Experience. Complimentary to guests ages 10 and over (though be sure to book early because it fills up), my daughter and I become like the Island’s seafarers of yesteryear as we learned the basics of paddling, native chants and then set out on an adventure in our 6-man outrigger canoe. During our hour-long adventure, our two guides led us into the ocean where we grabbed some snorkel masks, jumped in and reveled in a gorgeous coral reef teeming with Nemo’s buddies.     

The Fairmont Kea Lani also offers Keiki Lani, a kids club for ages 5–13 with daily seasonal programming with gems like erupting volcanoes, crafting sandcastles, feeding koi fish and painting coconuts. The resort also offers the “kids eat free” program for children five years and under at their three restaurants. Their fine-dining Kō restaurant’s Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese  cuisine was awarded Best Restaurant of the Year 2013 in Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine.  The keiki (kid) menu is divided into two sections: recommended for kids under 7 and children ages 8 to 12 with delicious dishes like Huli-Huli Grilled Chicken Fajitas and the Caterpillar Roll (vegetable sushi).

 Prices start at $599. Address 4100 Wailea Alanui Dr, Wailea, HI 96753 (808) 875-4100.

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Join us on our week-long journey to Maui! In case you missed them:
Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise Days 1 & 2
Maui Family Travel: Days 3 and 4 in the Glorious Upcountry and Beach Bums
Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s Best-kept Secret
Maui Family Travel: Day 7’s “Sunny” Wailea and a Luau Farewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maui Family Travel: Day 7’s “Sunny” Wailea and a Luau Farewell

We spent our two final days playing in the pool and beach at the luxurious Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea. Located on the sun-kissed south shore of Maui, this unapologetically upscale resort community is famous for their crescent-shaped beaches and for having the most sunshine on Maui with less than 10 inches of annual rainfall.

Wailea Beach Walk at sunrise

Wailea Beach Walk at sunrise

Of course, it rained much of the time we were there.

Wailea Coastal Walk. On our final morning, I went on a sunrise run on this popular boardwalk past five white sand beaches, eight world-class resorts and three islands (Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Molokini, the tiny, partially sunken volcanic crater between Maui and Kahoolawe). This 1.5-mile trail was well-maintained and the scenery stunned.

 Hawaiian Canoe Experience. While the boys snorkeled in Polo Beach’s clear waters, Hadley and I signed up for the Hawaiian Canoe Experience. Free for Fairmont guests 10 and older, we learned the basics of paddling, the history of the outrigger canoe and its importance to Hawaiian heritage.

 After padding about 15 minutes offshore, one of our guides grabbed a snorkel mask and jumped overboard, followed by my adventurous daughter.

Photo: Fairmont Kea Lani Fairmont

Photo: Fairmont Kea Lani Fairmont

“The entire sea floor looks like it is covered with coral and fish, Mom!”

I wanted to jump in but I didn’t know how feasible it was to get out. “Will I be able to climb back into the canoe?” I asked our guide.

“We won’t leave you,” he assured, which wasn’t exactly the answer I wanted as I envisioned being dragged back to shore à la poor Dinky the dog in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Curiosity won and I jumped overboard. I put on the goggles to reveal a swirl of color that, at first glance, resembled a cauliflower underworld. Though we had seen spectacular marine life at Black Rock, the coral and piscine beauties were positively celestial. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more blown away, our guide instructed us to listen to a pod of whales underwater. Though likely several miles away, I marveled at these mystical mammals’ secret language as they clicked, whistled and pulsed calls to each other. 

Big Beach on Maui

Big Beach on Maui

Big Beach. Most of the beaches we visited in Hawaii did not have life guard stations but when we arrived at Makena Beach a.k.a. Big Beach south of Wailea, it felt like a cut out of Baywatch. Earlier rain had scared off the crowds at this gorgeous white sand beach that is often called THE beach on Maui. Almost ¾ of a mile long and 100 yards wide, Big Beach offers protection from the trade winds and is characterized by the prominent cinder cone Pu‘u Ola‘I with great views of islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe. Picnic facilities and restrooms are also available but despite a lack of development, we had a fantastic afternoon bodysurfing and whale watching.

 Drums of the Pacific Lu’au. A luau is a must for Hawaii first-timers and we were enjoyed being immersed in the traditional Hawaiian drums and dances during the Drums of the Pacific Lu’au at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Maui. Using an underground oven called an imu for the pig, the pa’ina (feast) had a huge spread of food like Poi Sesame Seared Mahi Mahi Kaffir Lime Ponzu Sauce, which, if we’re being perfectly honest I didn’t love but maybe I need to expand my poi preferences.

The show’s hula dances were old-school and lovely. Early in the program, anyone who wanted to learn the hula was invited on stage so, being the stage mother that I am, I took a gazillion pictures of my deer-in-headlights-kids trying to swing their hips. 

Disclaimer: photos are blurry due to excessive laughter

Disclaimer: photos are blurry due to excessive laughter

I spent so much energy photographing the massive buffet, fire dancers and the kids that by the end of the evening, my camera battery was dead. And that is when the highlight of the event happened: Jamie was hand-plucked from the audience to dance with a hot Hawaiian hula dancer for the finale. Following shock, reality set in, “MY CAMERA IS DEAD!” so I stole the iPhone of my neighbors, dismayed I was only able to take a few pictures and not a video.

Though I have limited evidence of his Hawaiian moment in the spotlight, I can assure you that no white guy has ever danced the hula with more aptitude. Following the dance, he confirmed, “I thought I was doing pretty good…until I looked at her hips. No one can keep up with those hips.”

 But, rest assured, everyone can have a fantastic family vacation on the island of Maui.

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Join us on our week-long journey to Maui! In case you missed them:
Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise Days 1 & 2
Maui Family Travel: Days 3 and 4 in the Glorious Upcountry and Beach Bums
Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s Best-kept Secret
Maui Family Travel: Day 7′s “Sunny” Wailea and a Luau Farewell
4 kid-friendly Maui hotels and resorts your family will love.

Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s best secret

Day 5—The Road to Hana

Me: “My goal on the road to Hana is to hike to a waterfall and eat a lot of fruit from the fruit stands.”

Jamie (driver): “My goal is to not throw up or kill anyone.”

Driving the 52-mile serpentine road along Maui’s rugged northeastern coastline to Hana was a divisive issue. Some told us “it’s pretty but after you’ve seen one waterfall you’ve seen them all” while others touted Hana as the last of Hawaii’s unspoiled frontiers. Our conclusion: if you love the remote and don’t mind hairpin turns and one-lane bridges, you will love Hwy. 36’s stunning seascapes, taro patches waterfalls, botanical gardens and verdant rainforests. 

Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park

Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park

With our guidebook Maui Revealed in hand, we had our route mapped out and planned to hike to a few lesser-known waterfalls. We quickly realized that other than obtuse mile markers, very few of the landmarks were marked, a curious phenomenon in a tourism-dominated land. We inadvertently drove past most of them in the beginning, after which we’d jokingly announce, “OK, moving on.”

Our drive wasn’t a complete fail. We did have a lovely respite at Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park’s 5 acres of rainforest with waterfalls and pools. We took frequent car breaks to play Tarzan on banyan tree vines to give my carsick daughter respite from the 620 curves on the drive.

Ching’s Pond (Blue Sapphire Pool)’s plunging pools near marker 17 was a lovely lesser-known refuge with waterfalls tucked under a bridge.  After climbing down a steep, narrow path, we dipped our toes into the icy waters that were laced with petals. To coax my daughter in, Jamie told her “Think of it as a fancy bathtub with flowers everywhere.” Or rather, ice cubes….

Our favorite place in Maui was hidden just past mile marker 25: lower Nahiku. We turned off the highway and drove 2.5 miles through a lush unbroken jungle canopy, where even the trees had plants growing on them. The road was lined with rubber trees and tropical flowers in a flamboyant Dr. Seuss-colors-meet-the -Emerald City. The road dead-ended at Opuhano Point with the best coastal views of our drive. The angry ocean pounded the lava rock, palm fronds prayed in the wind. More white than blue, white caps reigned as we marveled at Honolulunui Bay to our left. “What is this place?” we breathed.

Nahiku

Nahiku

I wished I could absorb the colors, sounds and smell of this place and throw them back at reality.

 As you get closer to Hana, there are more frequent fruit stands (many of which are left unattended and you pay by the honor system). We stopped at Coconut Glen’s and though I didn’t love the dairy-free coconut ice cream made with coconut milk (not creamy and sweet enough) the coconut candy was out of this world. If I hadn’t blown my kids’ inheritance on the marginally good candy at Julia’s, I’d have bought out the store.

 One of the most popular beaches outside of Hana is Wai‘anapanapa State Park. Famous for its black sand, we loved this 122-acre park but not just because of its small beach with black marble rocks.  We took a short hike through the native hala forest and Hadley hurled off the ledge into a fresh-water cave. We also explored the low-cliffed volcanic coastline to the natural stone arch, sea stacks, anchialine pools, heiau (religious temple) and blow holes as a seabird colony squawked overhead.

Wai‘anapanapa

Wai‘anapanapa

 Want to eat past 4 p.m.? Good luck finding a restaurant or food truck that is open. Need to get some money? The bank is only open a couple of hours a day. Our Hana frustrations were also why we loved it so much. Most people only daytrip to Hana but I’m so glad we spent a glorious 24 hours in this unapologetically remote, virtually untouched coastal village dotted with cascading waterfalls and sparkling blue pools, punctuated by red- and black-sand beaches.

 And tell me if the road to Hana isn’t worth every twist and turn to get there.

 Day 6—Hana and South Maui

Hike to Fagan's Cross

Hike to Fagan’s Cross

We stayed at Travaasa’s experiential resort we had our first real golf experience on the 3-hole pitch and putt golf course, took ukulele lessons, played tennis, checked out their bikes to explore Hana, swam in the pool and learned Hana’s history at the Activity Center.

On the green hills above Travaasa stands a 30-foot-high white cross made of lava rock that citizens erected in honor of Paul Fagan, founder of Hana Ranch (now Travaasa). At sunrise, I hiked the 1-mile trail through a field of cattle to Fagan’s Cross. As the sun crept above the ocean, I marveled at Hana, a tiny postage stamp of a town dwarfed by a land where mountains meet the sea. Perched above an avalanche of banyans, bamboo, breadfruit trees and a wild ginger and plumeria flowers, the summit smelled like a botanical garden and I was singing Hana’s praises along with the roosters and birds.

Hamoa Beach. We had a glorious few hours playing at this crescent-shaped hala-tree-lined beach that is consistently ranked one of Maui’s top beaches. The beach is intimate—approximately 1,000 feet in length and just over 100 feet wide with plenty of trees and vegetation for shade with sea cliffs framing it.

During our visit, the highway was closed, leaving the only parking nearly a mile away. We saw a dad drop off his family, park the car and run back. We were vacillating between Hamoa and the more easily accessible Hana Beach Park so we queried “How good is it?” He replied, “It’s the best bodysurfing you’ll find on the island. The water is crystal-clear and there are no crowds.” It was just that good.

Hamoa Beach

Hamoa Beach

Seven Sacred Pools. Just 15 minutes south of Hana on the lower slopes of Haleakala are the Seven Sacred Pools (originally coined the Pools of ‘Ohe’o). There are several hiking trails in the area and we opted for the ½-mile round-trip Kuloa Point Trail through a bamboo forest to these infamously tiered pools that are fed by waterfalls.  

Seven sacred pools

Seven sacred pools

The pools get busy but we were miraculously alone so Hadley jumped in, and despite her relentless begging, the rest of us killjoys stayed dry. And yes, would live to regret it just as she said we would.

 The Road Less Traveled. We had two options leaving Hana. We could either return the way we came on the Hana Highway or attempt the less-traveled, more adventurous route along the Piilani Highway (Highway 31). We chose adventure.

 We received many cautionary tales against driving the Piilani Highway. Sure, it had a bumpy along the 4-mile stretch of unpaved road, the occasional blind curves added an element of difficulty and the one-and-a-half-lane-hugging-cliff-hugging section wasn’t fun but we loved this adventure of it.

 At least I did: the non-driver.

Pokowai sea arch

Pokowai sea arch

But we took it slow and there were plenty of worthwhile sights along this sometimes-perilous journey that included famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s grave, Alelele Falls, St. Joseph’s historic church, Pu’u Maneoneo Petroglyphs and Pokowai sea arch. We passed through several climate zones along the ocean as the virgin rainforest flanked by jade mountains gave way to the backside of Haleakala, ranchland, dry grassland, lavascapes reminiscent of Mordor and ultimately back into the lush green views of Kula’s cloud forest.

From Kipahulu it may be 38 miles to Kula, but it will likely take you about two hours to arrive. This drive isn’t for everyone but we appreciated the stark and dramatic scenery that was devoid of tourist infrastructure. Our guidebook referred to this part of the island as ugly but surely they haven’t driven Wyoming anytime recently.

Maui doesn’t know how to do ugly.

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Join us on our week-long journey to Maui! In case you missed them:
Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise Days 1 & 2
Maui Family Travel: Days 3 and 4 in the Glorious Upcountry and Beach Bums
Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s Best-kept Secret
Maui Family Travel: Day 7′s “Sunny” Wailea and a Luau Farewell
4 kid-friendly Maui hotels and resorts your family will love

Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise!

Shortly after touching down at the Kahului, Maui airport, my 7-year-old son Bode squealed, “Pinch me. Is this a dream?”

It sure felt like one. A few months prior, I had won our trip to paradise through the Maui Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in what they deemed was “the best reaction we’ve ever received” (think: the next contestant on the Price is Right).

As the second largest in the Hawaiian Islands, Maui’s geography is a lesson in diversity. High-altitude mountains topping out at over 10,000 feet, dazzling white, black and red sand beaches, the gloriously remote Hana and the famous road to get there are a few reasons why Maui was voted the “Best Island” by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler for 19 years.

napilibayUpon arriving at our hotel Napili Kai Beach Resort at dusk, we hit the beach. The 3-hour time difference was wreaking havoc on sleepy Bode but he was reenergized when he launched into the water and watched the breaching whales in the distance (whale season is Dec.-April). As the coal-colored sun dipped behind nearby islands Lanai and Molokai, it set the sky and ocean on fire.

Bode marveled and queried, “What time is it in Denver, Dad?”

 “Denver is dead to us, son.”

Maui Day 1—Settling in and West Maui

 I crafted the following 7-day itinerary around four different lodging properties on various parts of Maui for the most optimal in family-fun.

First item of business: load up on food items at Costco, just 1.5 miles from the airport. Though prices are a bit higher than the Mainland, you won’t find better local deals. We brought a collapsible cooler and saved ourselves hundreds of dollars by eating two meals a day on-the-go. Related: I never want to see another apple or Honey Nut Cheerio again.

shaveiceMy seatmate on the airplane claimed to have a Shave Ice Ph.D., raving that Ululani’s Shave Ice was the most creamy and delicious in the world and we concurred. Get coconut ice cream on the bottom and tropical flavor combinations are the best (I loved guava, passion fruit and strawberry). Top it off with the snowcap (a sweet cream mixture) that is worth the extra 5,000 calories. Locations are in Lahaina or Kehei; make sure you stroll historic whaling town Lahaina’s charming Front Street for some of the most affordable souvenirs we found on the island.

West Maui. Once a retreat for Hawaiian royalty and the capitol of the Hawaiian Kingdom, West Maui is now home to fabulous beaches, shopping and dining. We spent a leisurely day paddleboarding, snorkeling and swimming Napili Bay. There is an ordinance here that bans high-rises and motorboats, making this an idyllic cove with gentle waters for families.  The full service Sea House Restaurant sits oceanfront and we had one of more scenic and delicious dining experiences here (recommended: the Molokai Sweet Potato Egg Frittata and the Macadamia cinnamon roll).

 It was my kids’ first time snorkeling and paddleboarding. My 9-year-old daughter Hadley’s snorkeling enthusiasm was adorable at first—until she grabbed me every time she saw a colorful fish or sea urchin. If my claw marks were any indication, my ravaged arm bore witness that snorkeling Napili Bay was a win.

Father-daughter paddleboarding date

Father-daughter paddleboarding date at Napili Bay

 We rented a stand-up paddleboard through Napili Kai’s activity concierge. I had SUPed only once before on a gentle canal and I had serious concerns about navigating the ocean so opted for the gentle waves on the north side of the beach. Before long, I was shocked to effortlessly glide around the bay but almost fell off my board when Crush himself swam right up to me. Like a Beatles groupie, I freaked out and squealed “A SEA TURTLE” but he ignored my uncoolness as he languidly bobbed beside me, ducking his head in and out of the water. I think I may have even heard him comment, “DUUUUDE.”

Day 2—Exploring the Top of West Maui

We had a splendid day exploring West Maui (which is actually northwest Maui but don’t try to convince a local to call it that). North of Napili you’ll find some of the island’s most jaw-dropping vistas, lava formations and tide pools. The complication is the drive along the top of Maui has a bad reputation for about 1.5-miles of highway on a very narrow paved one-lane road, which scares many people off.

Just before the 33 mile marker, Honolua Bay is famous for its awesome snorkeling in the summer and big waves in the winter and the lava-shaped Dragon’s Teeth at Makalua-puna Point are a site (and sight) to behold.

 Our two favorite sites were the Nakalele Blowhole (an unmarked parking lot past the 28-mile marker) and the Olivine Pools (right before the 16-mile marker). After a steep, rocky descent (not recommended for really small kids), we reached a lava rock planet with the blowhole spurting out a stream of water every time the waves pounded to the shore. In the background, the black masses of three whales exhaled with a force so abrupt we could almost feel the mists.

Nakalele Blowhole

Nakalele Blowhole

Hiking down the cliffs to the Olivine Pools was no less impressive where a calm playground of natural swimming pools are nestled in an ancient lava shelf as the ocean pounded around us. As Hadley launched off the rocks into the pools, the rest of us watched a number of wildlife dramas unfold: six whales breaching, a suicidal crab clinging to the edge of a mini blowhole and a feeding frenzy of some Maui myna birds.

Olivine Pools

Olivine Pools

Once back on the road, Highway 30 turned into gnarly Highway 340 (temporarily one-lane next to a precipitous cliff) but we were determined to keep driving to picturesque Kahakuloa Village, the isolated tropical green home to about 100 people, a church and Julia’s Best Banana Bread stand. The bread was deliciously dark and carmelized and since it was lunchtime, we also bought a small tub of her sub-par coconut candy for $15.

I would have determined it was highway robbery if we were, indeed on a real highway.

We quickly devoured the banana bread and mere moments after we started driving, the candy got knocked over but we ate it anyway.

I later commented, “At least we didn’t scrimp on lunch,” to which my husband responded, “That’s because we ate off the floor in our rental car.”

 Maui Friday Town Parties

If you want to experience Maui’s local vibe, be sure to check-out this street fair that rotates between four historic towns—Wailuku, Lahaina, Makawao and Kehei –every Friday. With free entertainment including live music, food booths, trucks and activities, Maui Friday is the pulse of the island. We planned to drive south to Keihi…until we arrived at the abandoned parking lot and it had been canceled due to rain. We hunkered down at nearby Coconut’s Fish Café, drowning our sorrows in their Zagat-rated fish tacos.

P.S. The Taco Mountain will make you pray for rain again.

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Join us on our week-long journey to Maui! In case you missed them:
Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise Days 1 & 2
Maui Family Travel: Days 3 and 4 in the Glorious Upcountry and Beach Bums
Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s Best-kept Secret
Maui Family Travel: Day 7’s “Sunny” Wailea and a Luau Farewell
4 kid-friendly Maui hotels and resorts your family will love

Family Travel: 5 Helpful Tips for Flying with Toddlers

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel alone.  And let me tell you I was bored! I waltzed through security and had an hour to spare! Without a toddler I didn’t need all of the extra time I normally allow for catastrophe. Because if you don’t plan for it, catastrophe will happen.

When traveling there is a lot you cannot plan for. Traveling is already a new experience to a toddler so when traveling there are some ways to help with their anxiety (and yours).

Time. Allow yourself plenty of time.  When you are two you want to explore life. Not rush through it.  Rushing your toddler through an airport will frustrate them because they love to see new things.  

Check your luggage.  We normally take small weekend trips to see family in other states so we pack a carry-on and we struggle getting everything to the gate.  If you check your luggage and only keep the diaper bag and your simple carry-on items you don’t have to carry all the extra weight.  

Stock your diaper bag.  You will remember the essentials (wipes, diapers, bottles) but don’t forget the snacks and the toys.  I had a friend take her family to Disney.  It was a 5-hour road trip for them so she planned a surprise for each kid.  Every hour they got to unwrap a new surprise.  She bought toys at the dollar store or wrapped items from home (crayons and coloring books).  Be sure to pack an extra change of clothes for you and your child; accidents can (and do) happen.

Comfort. You might not be traveling at your toddler’s best hour.  Be sure to pack things of comfort for your little one.  They may have a favorite blanket or you might need to pack a favorite snack or candy.

Games and entertainment. Toddlers have a fascination with phones and electronics.  This may be the time to allow a little play time.  Did you know you can lock your kid into an app on Apple products? Follow Settings>General>Accessibility>Guided Access. Your toddler will not be able to exit the app of your choice.

Guided Access on Apple Products

Puzzles, coloring books, and reading material are also great for entertainment. Don’t forget to be a part of the play.  You can pretend to cook on the tray in front of you or you can join in on the coloring fun. 

What are somethings that have worked for you and your toddler? 

Colorado Travel: Breckenridge’s Best Winter Activities for Families and My Adventure of a Lifetime!

My husband and I dream of owning a cabin someday and Breckenridge has long been at the top of our list.  Only a 1.5-hour drive from Denver (I-70 traffic snares notwithstanding) this authentic mining town has everything I love: a world-class ski resort, the Blue River (a tributary of the raging Colorado River), an idyllic Main Street, gourmet dining, glittering boutiques, endless hiking possibilities and it is part of an 80-mile network of paved, motorized bike paths that connect other Summit County resorts like Dillon, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Vail.

We have spent long, languid summer and fall days in Breck but here’s my confession: we have never been there once the snow flies. And if you love winter like I do, you know that Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s best family vacations.

When you have young kids, no vacation is perfect but we were fortunate to have a nearly perfect trip with huge winds (the downside), huge snow totals (the upside) and knocking off an activity has been on my bucket list since I was born. Maybe I started dreaming about it in the womb because this trip was what dreams are made of.

If you’re looking for a fantastic getaway in Colorado’s mountains, these are my top recommended activities.

family travel ColoradoIce Castles

Only in Breck for the 2013/14 season, the giant 1-acre Ice Castles are a cut right out of Disney’s musical fantasy Frozen where you’ll swear you’ve been swept away in an eternal winter with magic at every turn. Each ice castle takes thousands of man-hours to make. More than 5,000 icicles are “grown” each day to be harvested and sculpted together. Newly placed icicles are then regularly drenched in freezing water. By day the Ice Castles are beautiful with glacial tones of blue. By night they stun with a kaleidoscope of lights that are actually frozen inside of the ice.

My kids’ favorite part was a tunnel that cut through a wall of ice. They convinced me to slither through it with them and after a slow downhill slide, we were ejected onto the snowy floor. Think: Winnie the Pooh. But even though my landing wasn’t pretty, the rest of it sure was. General Admission, age 12 and up:  $10. Children 4 to 11: $8. Young Children under 4 years old:  Free.  We’re giving away four family four-packs of tickets so be sure to enter here.

skiBreckenridgeBreckenridge Ski Resort

I can’t talk about Breckenridge without mentioning the mountain that makes the town. I’d obviously never skied it and initially the 2,908-acre resort overwhelmed. But I’m a quick learner and getting schooled on this mountain is my kind of education. After dropping our kids off at ski school, my husband and I did the “freedom” shout. For the first hour, the wind was unrelenting but with 45 inches of snow in the last seven days we took a course in Sucking It Up and it paid off. We hunkered down and sought refuge by skiing under the cossetted C Chair and when the winds died down a bit, we had the best powder day we’ve had in a year. We particularly loved skiing Peak 6, Breck’s new 543-acre addition that features high-alpine, intermediate bowl skiing (a true rarity).

At the end of an exhausting day, we picked the kids up and were later able to track their progress via EpicMix’s newest feature, EpicMix Academy. Though the wind kept us from the Golden Runner Alpine Coaster and spending much time on Peak 6, the kids are already begging to take us back to their favorite haunts that included Trygve’s small terrain park with moderate jumps and boxes. There’s no parking at the base of Peak 8 but a free shuttle runs throughout town and delivered us right in front of Pine Ridge Condos where we proceeded to soak in the hot tub and then burrow up to a fire and a movie while a storm raged outside. That, my friends, is what a ski vacation is all about.

 Shop, Eat, Play, Repeat.

“I wish Denver had places like this,” sighed my daughter Hadley. “Like what?” I countered. “Like this,” she said pointing to Main Street’s charming Historic District dotted with boutiques, eateries and galleries. Even at 9 years old, she gets what makes a great shopping district and Breckenridge has it all. My kids are huge fans of the unique Peak a Boo Toys (and the big indoor play area is a bonus on cold days). The town’s Arts District continues to expand and Ready Paint Fire offers a nice respite where you can paint functional pottery like holiday platters to commemorate your trip. Indulge at Mary’s Mountain Cookies and if you stop at the Welcome Center head upstairs for some cool old ski exhibits and a great view of the slopes. If you want a parent’s night out, check-out the Mountain Top Children’s Museum or the 69,000-square-foot Breckenridge Recreation Center which also has indoor tennis courts, lap and leisure pools, a water slide, a racquetball court, basketball courts, indoor rock-climbing wall and more.
crepesalacarte

Our favorite tradition is grabbing crepes from Crepes a la Carte , a longtime fixture on Main Street. Choices range from breakfast to savory to sweet to ice cream crepes and our favorites are the German Apple Strudel or Cheesecake Crepes. All crepes are made-to-order, which is a nice way of saying they are fresh, delicious and take a while so be sure to hunker down by the fire pit in the outdoor seating area. During our half-hour wait, my daughter and I discovered our new favorite shop across the street, Magical Scraps Boutique and Studio. It’s Etsy comes to life with disarmingly darling crafts, fabrics and whimsical accessories like handmade belts, hats, scarves and jewelry.  We could have (and would have) spent a fortune had my husband not plucked us out of our chick reverie to inform us our crepes were ready. But Magical Scaps, we will be back to feel more magic.

Dog Sledding

dogsledwonderlandLast but certainly not least is Dog Sledding. The sport has recently received a bad wrap from the controversial practices of its Aspen counterpart but I was thrilled to Good Times Adventures runs the highest quality of practices as the only snowmobile and dog sledding tour operator in Summit County. Trip Adviser ranks it the No. 1 activity in Breckenridge and you’d better believe it was that good.

Dog sledding has been on my bucket list for years (read: borderline obsession) so I was like a kid in a very whitewashed candy store when we booked our outing. We opted to keep it a secret from our children and they were both ecstatic when we pulled up to the lodge, particularly my dog-loving daughter who repeatedly raved, “I never thought we’d get to do something like this in a hundred years!” It was the adventure of a lifetime,which begs the question: what more do I have to live for?

After signing our waivers and getting outfitted in our snow suits and boots, we met our guide Wes and team of Siberian Huskies. With a dog yard that is home to 140 dogs (with five litters to be delivered around Valentine’s Day), this huge operation allows dogs adequate recovery time as they are rotated in and out of their runs.  We quickly learned their names and personalities. Rocky and Bullwinkle were our lead dogs, next in line were the “swing dogs” Gimly (who had a crush on Hadley) and Red had a squirrel-chasing fetish. Blizzard was grumpy but when paired with Savage he performed like a champ and the “wheel dogs” (in the back) were Scarlet and Maverick who, at 9 years old, is in his last year of sledding and trunky for retirement.dogpet

Wes explained that the dogs are attached to the sled with a series of lines called rigging that includes the tow line (or gang line), tug lines and neck lines. Each sled had a basket where gear or a passenger was carried and were outfitted with a braking device. I volunteered to drive first (this was, after all, my dream) with Hadley in the basket. Wes, Jamie and Bode rode ahead of us in a snowmobile-pulled sleigh.

Before I knew it, the dogs enthusiastically surged forward upon command and I effortlessly balanced on the back tracks of the sled as we raced past old rough-and-tumble mining camps on the 50 acres that bordered a National Forest wonderland. “I’m mushing!!!” I squealed. It started lightly snowing as we soared across the endless snowfields and I was certain we’d been plunked right into an idyllic snow globe in the aptly named Swan River Valley.

Good Times offers various levels of dog sledding and we chose the tamer “Disney” experience. I had no expectations going in but was thrilled when Wes announced the kids would get to drive the team during our slow and steady uphill climbs (many dog sledding operators only let their clients sit in the basket). They were in their element; rosy-cheeked, their “MUSH” commands echoing through the trees as the pitter-patter of husky paws on snow distilled Colorado’s wilderness to its purest incarnation.

After my son’s turn, he moved to the basket while I drove him for the first time. Notoriously cautious when faced with new challenges, he lectured me, “Now, Mom.  Lean into your turns and remember…have a good time!”

With Good Times Adventures, it’s tough to do otherwise.

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For more information on visiting Breckenridge this winter, be sure to check-out GoBreck.com. A special thanks to them for hosting this visit; we’re already planning our return.

 

Postcards to Denver from a 10-Year-Old and His Mom

From western New York:

“The farm has ten chickens and two bunny rabbits. My chicken’s name is Geraldine. The rabbits are Sam and Matilda. I miss our dog. She would have so much fun here, but we were worried she would eat the chickens.”

“I forgot what it feels like to stay in bed long enough to listen to the birds, watch the sun move across the room and let my muscles stretch awake one at a time.”

From Snowmass, Colorado:

“Mom and Dad made us go on a hike. Why does anybody like hiking? You go up and up and up, and they keep saying it’s beautiful, which… who cares?! Then mom counts her mosquito bites. It would be more fun if we could bring the dog.”

From Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado:

Summer Adventures in the Boulder Area

Mountainous, Organic, Natural, Hip, Green, Fresh Air, Outdoorsy, how would you describe your neighbors to the North? As a mom of three, let me take you through some of the family friendly activities that you must know about. Some things that are just so fabulous you will have to get in your car and find yourself driving this way. Of course, if you prefer to bike, that would be fine too.

What do ponies, humongous hay bales, a crazy zip line, sand in crevasses of your body that you didn’t know you had and one extremely large turkey have in common?Sunflower Farms, of course. Located just south of Longmont, no summer is complete without a trip to this old fashioned farm. There truly is something for everyone to enjoy. My animal lover can’t get enough of feeding the goats. She’s been handing over fistfuls of corn since she learned to walk. My fearless boy swings from the zip line until his hands turn red from holding on so tightly. The littlest one experiments with sand and swings from the biggest baby swing ever. The kids can also enjoy the pond, huge tree house, hay bale maze and more. Check their website because their hours change with the season, but it is well worth adding to your summer agenda.

Become One with Nature – There are so many options for hiking, biking and hanging out in nature, how can you decide? You can’t really. With it being summer, I can’t help but mention

Come Hail or High Water: Our Family’s Shortest (and worst) Camping Trip

I have tried to instill a love of nature in my kids–just last week we went hiking four times, my daughter recently returned from YMCA of the Rockies’ traditional overnight Camp Chief Ouray and at the end of July they’re both enrolled in Avid4Adventure’s Survival Skills Camp. We are an outdoor-loving family!

But my favorite childhood memories are of camping and that is one area in which we’ve fallen short with my own family.  There is nothing like the sense of community at campgrounds, playing with new BFFs, eating tin foil dinners and s’mores, exploring and exploring some more, and telling stories around the campfire.

Here’s a recap of our camping trips since having kids.

Trip 1: Hadley had just turned 1 and was a horrible sleeper so she wailed all night long two nights in a row. Our campsite at Golden Gate Canyon State Park was on a slope. Hadley had just learned to walk so was falling over every few feet and when she wasn’t face-planting, she was trying to crawl into the fire pit. Our three-day weekend was cut a day short.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Bear's Hump hike

Waterton Lakes National Park, Bear’s Hump hike

Trip 2: We took a few years off from camping to get pregnant and have our son Bode. When he was 2, we joined our good friends at Eleven Mile State Park. Never been? Keep it that way.