Category Archives: Favorite Trails

Spencer to Hapuna walk (Ala Kahakai Trail), Hawaii, HI


Why have we chosen this trail?

This is one of our favorite coastal hikes in Hawaii.  At about three miles in length it is very manageable, and there are several options available for where to park and how little or how much to walk. IMG_7926 The trail is part of Ala Kahakai, the 175 mile, almost complete coastal trail which covers about 2/3 of the coastline of the island of Hawaii, roughly following fishing trails used by the original Hawaiian people.

If you take this hike or any other remember to take lots of water and hats. It may seem tempting to leave the water bottles at home because there is a hotel en route but it gets hot and a portion of the trails is over lava in the open!

Background – Ala Kahakai

Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is a 175-mile (282 km) long trail located on the island of Hawaii. It is not yet a continuous “trail”, but can be accessed at several broken segments along the coastline of the Big Island. The trail was established to access the traditional Ancient Hawaiian culture along with the natural geology of the island. The trail was established in 2000 as a National Historic Trail which is managed under the National Park Service. “Ala kaha kai” means “shoreline trail” in the Hawaiian Language The Northern end of the trail is the North Kohala District at the extreme north end of the Island; it passes along the entire west side of island and round to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in the Southeast.
Remember that ALL coastline, beaches etc in Hawaii are public property and, while it can be difficult to park sometimes, you cannot be denied access to any piece of shoreline or beach.


The trail

Spencer Beach Park and Puʻukoholā Heiau

We normally begin the trail here.  It is the northernmost point of this section, and has plentiful and free parking.


Puʻukoholā Heiau, one of the most prominent and best preserved ancient Hawaiian temples, lies just north of the park, and is easily accessible from the north end of the parking lot, although it also has its own dedicated parking. The Heiau has an excellent Visitors Center and an interpretive trail, although for religious reasons visitors are not allowed in the temples themselves. In 2014, the National Park Service began running interpretive outrigger canoe rides in the bay. These are offered free on a first-come, first-served basis, and are well worth doing if they are still available. You will need to sign up. Our Hawaiian guide was interesting and had plenty of comments about  how people are treating the land and how volatile the land can be.  We agreed but some of the people on our trip seemed thrown by the comments!


Spencer Beach Park 

Spencer Beach Park is a county park named for Hawaiian politician Samuel Mahuka Spencer (1875–1960), who was a judge in the area from 1893 to 1901.  If you are ever in Hilo and notice the banyan trees lining the ” Hilo Walk of Fame” on Banyan Drive you may (or may not) not be interested to know that  on July 18, 1935 Spencer planted one of these trees.

Another fact not visible  is that the beach is the terminus of the major submarine communications cables which carry digital data to and from the island. As you stand on the beach you can imagine you are connected by cable to Takapuna, New Zealand or Morro Bay, California.

The Beach Park is a favorite camping and snorkeling location.  The beach is protected by a large reef and the breakwater of the harbor. The water is usually calm and good for swimming . You can enjoy a swim after your walk.  In case you find the walk plus the swim exhausting and are worried about having enough energy and coordination left to swim without drowning there is a life guard available during the day who can help as needed. Camping in Hawaii has different aspects – holidays, family gatherings and permanent / transient residency.  Some camps are the primary residence for families and are not always what visitors expect.  We have never camped in Hawaii but Spencer Beach seems to have mainly tourists and is state run.


Spencer Beach Park to Mau’umae Beach (0.5miles)

The trail begins at the south end of Spencer Beach Park,  IMG_7799next to the large structure which houses the toilets and kitchen.

Immediately you leave the park, you are in a coastal kiawe forest, which is shady and cool, and offers wonderful views of the coastline.  Kiawe is the most common coastal vegetation on the dry side of the island, although introduced in the early 19th century it is now considered native. The branches have long and sharp thorns which can penetrate the sole of most shoes so be careful walking over fallen kiawe twigs. After about 0.3 miles, the coastline opens up and we leave the kiawe forest behind, crossing a small shingle beach.



About 0.2 miles further on, we reach the much larger, sandy Mau’umae Beach.

This will often have 20 or fewer people, as there is a small amount of beach parking on the road just above the beach, which is only accessible through the Mauna Kea resort. The beach has plenty of shade at the back, and calm, reef-protected waters. It is a very peaceful beach to spend half a day at and have lunch.

Mau’umae Beach to Mauna Kea Resort (0.7 miles)

At the trail marker at the south end of the beach the trail turns inland, perpendicular to the shore, winding briefly through the kiawe and up a set of steps, turning right (south) again at the top.  At this point, the trail runs behind some beachfront property, in this case one beautifully situated blue-painted home.

After about a quarter mile, the trail reaches the shore again, this time winding along rocky and exposed lava. There are several trails here leading away from the shore so just stick to the shore line trail.  On a clear day the views of Maui, to the northwest (over your right shoulder) are tremendous.

About 0.4 miles from Mau’umae, the trail reaches a beautiful, sandy double beach, backed on the south side by some very expensive property, as this is the edge of Mauna Kea Resort.

The northern of the two small double beaches is, apparently, clothing optional. (The beaches do not appear to have been named).

To continue on past the south end, you have a choice.

  • IMG_7825 At low tide, you can walk straight across the last small section of beach to the rocks on the other side, in front of an expansive, private property, and continue the trail behind the property, to the left.


  • At high tide, however, there may be only sea between you and opposite shore and it is easier, drier, and safer to turn inland and follow the trail up the hill, (the sign says ‘Area Closed’ but it is not). Follow this path  for about 100 yards, and then take the paved road to the right. At a point behind the expansive,  private property you will rejoin the main trail.


The trail continues, first in the shade, and then in open country behind the large house, and eventually emerges, after about a quarter mile on one of the roads running through the Mauna Kea Resort. The trail crosses the road through another kiawe grove towards the golf course.


IMG_7843If you miss the trail signs and take the road right then don’t be alarmed when a loud voice (speaker nicely hidden in the bushes) tells you that it is a private road.  Yes – you are being watched!  Following the main trail you will pass a number of bougainvillea-draped private houses on the left and then  the trail emerges after a short distance at the famous Mauna Kea golf course.


A short side trip to see how the other half lives (0.5 miles)

The trail turns left across the golf course, but there is an interesting side trip to be made; if you continue walking 50 yards before  the turn, you will reach the shoreline, from where you can walk (right) about a quarter mile along the shore and in front of the large expensive property the trail goes behind (Ignore the signs that say “no trail”) . There is a small and charming beach at the end. It appears that this is all one property, about 6 acres and about a quarter mile of oceanfront.

For what it is worth, the largest single residential property lot in the county is 216,000 square feet (about 6 acres) and is situated in Mauna Kea. It belongs to Marc Benioff, CEO of Whether this is his property or not I don’t know. If, like us, you hear loud music and notice about 10+  people running around opening doors, removing covers, cutting lawns, cleaning the swimming pool,  and pulling up weeds etc., then you know the house is about to be occupied. We were told that the owners were coming for a  3 day visit.  I wonder if they need a house-sitter? I could find alternative accommodation for the few days it was occupied. I would love to spend a few hours reading in this seat.IMG_4290



To Mauna Kea Beach (0.5 miles) and along the Beach (0.3 miles)


The main trail meanders across the cart track on the golf course (you can walk along the shore if you wish). Just before the tennis courts there is a short track off to the right to the original first tee of the golf course, where a plaque marks the spot Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus hit the inaugural shots across the ocean to the first green in 1964. IMG_7841The trail meanders along the ocean front to the famous Mauna Kea Hotel. Built in 1965 by Lawrence Rockefeller, it was at the time the world’s most expensive and luxurious hotel; it’s now an archetype of 1960s tropical architecture. Just before the hotel is an observation platform from which, at dusk, you can observe manta rays.

Mauna Kea Beach

Mauna Kea Beach, more correctly called Kauna’oa Beach, is one of the most famous in the world. It is a quarter of a mile long, lightly curved and gently sloping.  Snorkeling is excellent on the north end, near the hotel.  The waves are normally the right intensity to allow people of all ages to body surf.  While often busy, it is rarely if ever crowded. From above the beach can look very colorful with it’s orange umbrellas and orange beach towels.

Mauna Kea Beach to Hapuna (1 mile)

The last stretch of coastline goes from the south end of Mauna Kea beach to Hapuna.  The trail (well marked) goes inland and up hill from the south end of the beach, briefly skirting the golf course again, and giving great views of Mauna Kea beach and the rest of the coastline. The trail winds along the shore, in front of a number of expensive and rarely used beachfront properties. This part of the trail is quite open and exposed, but has wonderful coastline views all along its length. As the trail begins to descend in front of the Hapuna Prince hotel, there is a small cove on the right, which is only accessible (by a series of steps) at low tide. If the tide is out, and it’s not too crowded, it’s a great place for lunch.

This portion of the trail ends right in front of the hotel at Hapuna Beach.

Hapuna Beach and Hotel

Hapuna Beach (0.2 miles)
Hapuna is the second highly famous beach on this part of the coast. It is said to be the largest beach in the state, as it is wide (300+feet) as well as long.  It tends to be crowded as it is easily accessible and has plenty of facilities, though not much shade. Although it consistently wins ‘Best Beach in Hawaii’ awards, there are better.

Plants and Birds


Alternatives for parking
While the round trip from Spencer to Hapuna is about 6 miles, one alternative, if you have 2 cars, is to park one at the end, or part way along, and only walk one way. There is roadside parking close to Mau’umae beach. This is accessible from the Mauna Kea resort entrance off the highway. It is rarely if ever full. Also accessible from here is the Mauna Kea hotel beach parking lot. This tends to fill in the middle of the day, especially at weekends. The lot is close to the south end of the beach. Hapuna Beach park has two public parking lots. The main, lower lot is to the south, while the upper lot is less busy, and closer to the end of the trail.

Seven Sisters, East Sussex, UK

This is one of our favorite hikes in England.   IMG_1403The trail is along part of the South Downs Way,  and runs along the edge of the cliffs.  We have taken various parts of the trail at different times. If you are in for an all day trail then start at Eastbourne  and walk  to Alfrison ( approx. 10 miles)  For a shorter walk  that covers the more scenic part and concentrates on the Seven Sisters start at the Birling Gap or Beachy Head and then finish at Cuckmere Haven at the Golden Galleon pub.

Background – What are the Seven Sisters?

The Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs by the English Channel. They form part of the South Downs in East Sussex between the towns of Eastbourne and Seaford in South East England. They are within the Seven Sisters Country Park. The Seven Sisters are the remnants of dry valleys in the chalk South Downs, which are gradually being eroded by the sea. They are relatively free of  development, are  allowed to erode naturally and as a result, along with Beachy Head they remain a bright white color,

From east to west, the sequence starts just east of the Birling Gap. The cliff peaks and the dips between them are individually named.  There are seven hills and an eighth one being created by the erosion of the sea.

  • Went Hill Brow
  • Michel Dean
  • Baily’s Hill
  • Flathill Bottom
  • Flat Hill
  • Flagstaff Bottom
  • Flagstaff Point (continuing into Flagstaff Brow)
  • Gap Bottom
  • Brass Point
  • Rough Bottom
  • Rough Brow
  • Limekiln Bottom
  • Short Brow
  • Short Bottom
  • Haven Brow

The trail

Eastbourne-to-Beachy Head

From Eastbourne the trail over the cliffs starts  at the South (Meads) end of town, at the point where the main promenade (King Edward’s Parade) turns inland, just beyond Bede’s School.  There’s a refreshment kiosk here.  There are a few parking spots near the cafe but many more down the Parade. As you take the walk up the hill  keep looking back and get the impressive views of Eastbourne receding as you ascend.

After about 1.5 miles  you will reach Beachy Head where you can stop,  relax, look  round,  take in the scenery or stop in at the Beachy Head pub for light refreshments. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  This is Britain’s highest chalk cliff.   On some days you can  watch hang gliders  take off and gracefully fly around.   Looking down at the sea you find the lighthouse that marks the headland. IMG_0143 The headland was a danger to shipping and in 1831, construction began on the Belle Tout lighthouse on the next headland west.  However, because mist and low clouds could hide the light of Belle Tout, Beachy Head Lighthouse was built in the sea below.



Beachy Head to the Birling Gap via the Lighthouse

From Beach head walk to the top of the next hill and Belle Tout lighthouse (about 1.8 miles)  This lighthouse is  a British landmark – a Grade II building.  It has been called “Britain’s most famous inhabited lighthouse” because of its striking location and use in film and television. In 1999, it was moved in one piece to prevent it from suffering from coastal erosion.

From Belle Tout lighthouse you walk downhill to Birling Gap (about 0.7 miles)

Birling Gap is  owned by the National Trust. Coastal erosion has already removed some of the row of coastguard cottages built in 1878, and those that remain are still inhabited. It is likely that because of rapid erosion  that all the houses will soon have to be demolished before they fall into the sea,

There is a large metal staircase leading down to the enclosed pebble beach .   If you have time and the stairs are still there and operational you can get to the  beach. The beach has a large number of tidal pools but can be cut off at high tide.. There is a good cafe here (recently refurbished) run by the National Trust where you can eat  or buy more snacks for the walk to Cuckmere Haven


An alternative starting  point or a lunch  diversion is  East Dean where you can have lunch on the green either from the Tiger’s Head or from IMG_7899the tearoom.  East Dean is a delightful place  and one  that we never tire of visiting. You can walk there along the road past the sheep center and then return to the trail by going through Friston churchyard and past Crowlink house.  Follow the National trust sign for Farrer Hall.  You reach the cliff walk just past the Birling Gap. East Dean to the Gap is a distance of just over a mile.



Birling Gap to Cuckmere Haven

From Birling Gap leave the car park and turn left up the hill.  Follow the road behind the houses which runs parallel to the cliffs till you get to a gate leading to  a field. When you have passed the gate you start the trail across the Seven Sisters.


IMG_5926This is a great walk – take in the countryside and the view both forward and backward.  The landscape is extremely beautiful as  you walk on top of the cliffs. The cliffs are unprotected OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand as you can see from one of the photos prone to break off.  I always shudder when someone gets near the edge to take photos. Take in the wild and domestic life. IMG_5923Your see rabbits, sheep in pastures, wild flowers, gulls, and other birds.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt certain times you can see birds nesting in the cliffs.   This part of the trail either climbs or descends steeply so take it at your pace , stop and relax as you need to. Your see people sitting and admiring the views at many points. From the Birling Gap to the bottom of the descent to Cuckmere beach is about 2.5 miles. For those interested in film trivia the Seven Sisters were featured briefly in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire





After walking the Seven SistersIMG_6031 you arrive at Cuckmere  beach and the Cuckmere river with it’s flood plains (Cuckmere Haven).    Cuckmere beach is a long shingle stretch of beach. At low tide, you can sometimes  spot ironwork in the sea close to the river mouth.  This is the wreck of the Polynesia, a German sailing ship that ran aground in April 1890. There are also rock pools at low tide.   This is another place to take a break and enjoy the view. You can get a good view of the Seven Sisters from the beach.  You can also walk to the coast guard cottages and get a classic view of the Seven Sisters with the cottages in the fore-front,

For anyone interested in  film and TV trivia the beach was featured in the film Atonement and appeared in an episode of Foyle’s War.

To get to the road follow the river inland. You will several oxbow lakes along the river and the area is full of wildlife. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo prevent the upper river from flooding  the banks were made higher and the river was  artificially straightened.  It also provided support for irrigation.  In recent decades, the area has become a major tourist destination, with IMG_6038tourism contributing to the local economy more than agriculture.  Consideration is being given as to whether the area should be allowed to return to its natural state.  The restoration of the  Saltwater estuary and marshes could enrich the ecological habitat. To get to the Golden Galleon you will need to exit the trail onto the road and follow it around over the bridge From Cuckmere beach to the Golden Galleon is about 1.5 miles.

The South Downs Way takes the above route and continues to Alfriston.  Alfriston lies in the Cuckmere valley and has a village green, a clergy house owned by the National trust, and several pubs and restaurants.  Activities are often held on the green and one year we toook our daughter to see some  traditional activities  –  May pole dancing and a wellington boot throwing competition. The verdict –   Interesting and worth seeing briefly !

If you wish to follow the walk along the cliffs further and get views of the Seven Sisters follow the route below

Cuckmere Haven to Seaford

The trail leading over the cliffs on the other side of the beach to Seaford presents fabulous views of the Seven Sisters. From the Golden Galleon to the cliffs overlooking Seaford is a distance of about 2.5 miles.

May 2013- Looking back on the  Seven Sisters, South Downs, Sussex
May 2013- Looking back on the Seven Sisters, South Downs, Sussex


Return Journey

We normally leave a car at the end point and get someone to drop us off or use a second car to get to the starting point. On occasions we have taken the bus back from Cuckmere Haven to Beachy Head.