Tag Archives: Hawaii

#CatTravels: Turning 40 in Kōkeʻe

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It was my birthday. But it wound up being more of a bird-day.

My husband, an avid hiker and nature geek, decided to take me to Kōkeʻe on Kaua‘i for my 40th birthday this past weekend. He had plans to hike several of the many trails that snake through the state park north of Waimea Canyon. And he was sure to pack two things: our sleeping bags and our binoculars.

Sleeping bags because he booked one of the state cabins at the Lodge at Kōkeʻe, which are notoriously cold and dingy. And binoculars because we were going to bird. Hard.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself a full-on birder. I’m not a member of the Hawai‘i Audubon Society and I don’t book trips specifically to find birds.

But I do enjoy catching a glimpse of one of the Islands’ native birds on the rare occasion we’re hiking in areas where they’re still fluttering around.

This was going to be that occasion. And the binoculars were definitely coming.

Here’s what our weekend on Kaua‘i of hiking and birding — and yes, eating, too! — looked like:

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We arrived on Friday — my birthday! — on Kaua‘i (above), geologically the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Kōkeʻe State Park, where we were staying, is located on the island’s west side — about a 45-minute drive from the nearest town, Waimea.

First things first, though: we need to eat.

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My husband had raved about this bento shop he went to the last time he was on Kaua‘i. It’s called Po’s Kitchen (above) and it’s located in a strip mall just a few minutes from the airport in Līhuʻe.

There’s nothing glamorous about this spot. But that’s the appeal. The owner, Mrs. Po, will ask you what you want and you really have three choices for a box lunch: small, regular or deluxe.

As we found out from talking with some of the regulars, the box lunches contain okazu-ya staples: white rice, hot dog, egg, luncheon meat, fried chicken, a piece beef teriyaki, and a lūʻau tray of noodles and old-school macaroni salad (with spaghetti noodles instead of macaroni). The deluxe comes with two pieces of shrimp tempura.

While you can order ala carte, why bother? You don’t have to think with the box sets — and the price ($6.25 for the small, $7.35 for the regular, $8.65 for the deluxe) is just right.

For me, this was just about as perfect as a local-style lunch can get. No fuss, nothing fancy, just honest local food.

And it was going to tide us over until dinner.

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After picking up some groceries — namely, wine, Diet Coke and poke — from Times Supermarket, we stopped at the Taro Ko Chip Factory in the small plantation town of Hanapepe for some freshly cooked taro and sweet potato chips.

You can’t drive past Hanapepe and not stop here. The chips are that good.

After talking to owner Dale Nagamine — OK, so I did most of the talking; he just smiled and kept cooking — we headed toward Waimea.

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Before reaching Kōkeʻe State Park, we pulled into the Waimea Canyon Lookout, a popular stop for visitors to the area.

And rightfully so.

Waimea Canyon, often called “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is grand, alright. It stretches 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep. Here, you get panoramic views of crested buttes, rugged crags and deep valley gorges as far as you can see. From here, you can see Waipo‘o Falls in the distance, too. The canyon was formed by a deep incision of the Waimea River rising from the intense rainfall from Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, one of the wettest places on earth. It’s breathtaking, to say the least.

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My husband booked a cabin at the Lodge at Kōkeʻe, right in the state park. We got the Olopua cabin, which is actually connected to another cabin by an inside door. You could have probably fit 10 of us in here.

Don’t confuse this with the Lodge at Kōʻele on Lānaʻi! The state cabins are rundown and dirty — and with hardly any insulation, very, very cool.

But they’re cheap — maybe about $65 a night — and better than camping if you consider we had a stove, refrigerator, hot water, private toilet, a wood-burning oven and a roof to keep us dry during rainstorms. I wasn’t complaining!

After picking up a map of the trail system from the Kōkeʻe Museum — yes, there is one — we figured we had enough time to hit at least one trail: the Waipo‘o Falls Trail.

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Waipo‘o Falls is an 800-foot cascading waterfall in Waimea Canyon, and this moderate hike takes you to a swimming hole just above it.

You start from a trail just off the Kōkeʻe State Park sign and walk along the rim of Halemanu Canyon. While you won’t come face-to-face with the waterfalls — you actually end up above yet — you will get a unique look at the canyon itself and the pools of water that feed the falls.

It’s a pretty spectacular hike, to be honest, as it takes you through the Kōkeʻe rainforest and along an ‘awapuhi ginger-lined stream.

It tools us about an hour to get to the swimming pool — we didn’t jump in — but 20 minutes to hike back to the trailhead. The trail is very up-and-down, with the hardest uphill sections on the way back. It was a great introduction to the hiking trails that we were about to hit over the weekend.

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The next morning we set up at daybreak to hike to Pihea Summit, then along the popular Alaka‘i Swamp Trail to a lookout where you can see Hanalei Bay.

You want to start early for two reasons: less people on the trail — we saw no one on the way to the lookout — and less clouds ruining the view.

The trail starts at the Pu‘u O Kila Lookout at the end of Kōkeʻe Road. From here, you can see the gorgeous Nāpali cliffs and the lush, amphitheater-headed Kalalau Valley below.

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The Pihea Trail is about 3.7 miles long through ʻōhiʻa montane wet forest along the rim of Kalalau Valley. Park of the trail is a plank boardwalk (above) covered with rusted chicken wire to provide traction.

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It’s very scenic and wet and peaceful, with lots of native birds — like this endangered ‘apapane (Hawaiian honeycreeper, above) — flittering about.

You get to a fork in the road where you can either keep heading toward the Pihea Summit — or you can continue to the Alaka‘i Swamp, which is what we did.

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The Alaka‘i Swamp Trail is about 3.5 miles long through native wet forest to the rim of Wainiha Pali with sweeping views of Kauai‘i north shore — including Hanalei Bay and Waipā Valley. The majority of this trail is the same plank boardwalk from the other trail. Much of it, though, is damaged or destroyed.

The swamp is interesting in and of itself.

It’s a montane wet forest — more like a bog than a swamp — located on a plateau near Mount Wai‘ale‘ale. It’s often shrouded in mist, though we went early enough to catch it on a clear morning.

From the junction at Pihea Summit, you’ll walk downhill for about half a mile before hitting a stream crossing (that, according to some hikers, can be impassable at times). After some rock-hopping, the trail ascends into the Alaka‘i Wilderness Preserve lined with stunted ʻōhiʻa trees and fluttering lapalapa trees. This part is relatively flat and windy.

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Then, at the end, if you’re lucky and the clouds decide to part for you, you’ll get to Kilohana Overlook (above) at stunning views of Wainiha Valley and the horseshoe-shaped Hanalei Bay.

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Here, we stopped for a bit — the hike took us five hours, but we were birding most of the way — and eat the lunch we packed before heading back through the bog, now encircled by clouds, giving it that true bog feel.

We even caught an ‘elepaio (monarch flycatcher, above) sighting, too!

It took us about two hours to trek back to the Pu‘u O Kila Lookout — we ran into about a dozen people on the trail heading out, including Hi‘ilei Kawelo from Paepae o He‘eia! — to make it an even 7-hour hike. Our legs were tired, but we ventured on several more smaller trails before heading to Waimea for dinner.

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We saw a few more birds — the ‘amakihi (Hawaiian honeycreeper) and some kolea (Pacific golden plover) — on the other trails, which took us through more forests filled with native trees like this majestic koa (above).

Then we called it a day after nine total hours of hiking. I think we earned dinner!

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We drove down to Waimea to eat at Wrangler’s Restaurant, an old-school paniolo steakhouse right off Kaumuali‘i Highway. We ordered the pulehu and kiawe-grilled steaks — both perfectly cooked — and came with full access to a salad bar with some of the freshest lettuce I’ve ever seen and an endless supply of pickled onions that were so good, we ordered two pounds of it to go. (Seriously!)

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And if I thought the weekend wasn’t magical enough, on the drive back to Kōkeʻe, we spotted an endangered pueo (Hawaiian short-eared owl), endemic to the Islands and not an easy bird to spot. But there it was, just sitting on a tree branch, with the sun setting behind Ni‘ihau in the background.

Chicken skin.

Thanks to the people, the birds and the spirit of Kōkeʻe for making my birthday weekend such an incredible experience. (Husband played a big role, too!)

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Update on work on the Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail

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I’ve been hiking the trail to the Makapu‘u Lighthouse my entire life.

Located on the eastern-most point of O‘ahu — where I’ve spent most of my adult life — this mile-long paved trail takes you to an overlook above the historic red-roofed lighthouse, built in 1909 on this 600-foot sea cliff. The offshore islets are wildlife sanctuaries for Hawaiian seabirds such as the ‘iwa and frigate bird. On clear days, you can see Moloka‘i and Lānaʻi in the distance. And if you’re lucky, between November and May, you might catch a glimpse of the humpback whales the migrate past Makapu‘u to warmer waters.

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I love this trail for a lot of reasons: it’s paved and easy, there’s lots of parking, and the views of the Ka‘iwi Coastline and the Pacific Ocean are simply breathtaking.

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Oh, and it’s perfect for my dogs.

It’s one of the few state trails that allows dogs on-leash — and I’ve taken my dogs up there since they were puppies at least once a week.

In fact, hiking up Makapu‘u has become part of my weekly routine.

So hearing about its closure for repair work was incredibly distressing. Where would I take my dogs now??? I was in a panic.

For about a month, the trail was closed during the weekday — when we normally go — and open on weekends. We had to find other trails to hit in the meantime.

But the other week, as we drove by, I was astonished to see about three dozen cars parked along Kalaniana‘ole Highway. Apparently, the trail had been opened during the weekdays — and I hadn’t known about it.

So I quickly pulled over, leashed up the dogs, and headed up the familiar trail to the lighthouse.

I’ve been back several times since then, and the work has been slowly progressing.

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Repair to the trail started in February and will continue through July (though one of the maintenance guys told me the improvement project might stretch out to the end of the year). According to the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, the trail should only be closed on 25 days during the six-month project, always on weekdays. The parking lot and trail will be open during regular park hours on weekends — 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. and until 7:45 p.m. after April 1.

Five new lookouts and rest stops will be constructed along the trail and in locations that are already popular stopping points. They will include interpretative signage, viewing scopes (yay!) and benches.

The existing two lookouts at the summit will be renovated to include new railings, stairs and concrete walkways.

Over the years — it’s been around for more than 100 years! — the stacked rock walls and walkways have become severely eroded and unstable. More than 400 hikers and bicyclists use this trail every day. So sections will be reconstructed, new drainage culverts will be installed, and the walkways will be repaved.

(There won’t be any restrooms, though. Cost and community protest are the main reasons.)

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It’s hard to tell if work is progressing fast enough that the trail will reopen in July. And so far, I can’t find much in terms of updates on DLNR’s website.

All I know is that the trail will be closed from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 24 and Friday, March 27. Future closure dates — all tentative — are July 20 to 24 and July 27 and 28. But that all depends on whether the work is on schedule.

Until then, I’ll keep driving by and checking. And I’ll post updates on my Twitter (@thedailydish).

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And look on Instagram (@catherinetoth) for more shots like this one above! That’s when you’ll know it’s open!

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#CatTravels: My first visit to Lānaʻi

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I’ve eaten stinky tofu on the streets of Taipei City, fed kangaroos in Brisbane in Australia and surfed the cold waves in western Ireland.

But I’ve never been to Lānaʻi.

Yes, the island that’s literally 80 miles away. If we weren’t separated by water, I could drive there in a couple of hours.

There’s really no good reason why I’ve never been to Lānaʻi. I’ve heard the stories and seen the photos of the two luxe Four Seasons properties there — Mānele Bay and the Lodge at Kōʻele — and have always wanted to visit. I imagined snorkeling in the calm waters of Hulopo‘e Bay, hiking along the oceanside path to Pu‘u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock), and just relaxing in front of the fireplace at the lodge.

But the cost — the hotel rates weren’t cheap — was a big deterrent for me, and I wound up using that cash to invest in trips to more exotic locales.

Still, Lānaʻi was always on my mind.

So when I got invited to fly there with a bunch of social media influencers to experience the updated service of Island Air and tour the multimillion-dollar renovations to the Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi at Mānele Bay, I took it.

And I learned a lot, too.

Lānaʻi has been long known as the Pineapple Island because it was once an island-wide pineapple plantation. Now, it could be called Ellison Island, as tech billionaire Larry Ellison owns 98 percent of it, including the two hotels and airline. Unemployment has dropped dramatically and he’s already made major improvements to the island’s infrastructure. (Learn more from this story in the New York Times’ Magazine.)

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Island Air flies five times a day to Lānaʻi — it also flies to Maui and Kaua‘i, too — with an average one-way rate of $62, making this a great deal for interisland travel.

“I truly understand the importance of air to an island state,” said president and CEO Dave Pflieger (above) to us. “We’re growing and fixing this airline … There’s a lot of potential here and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. (But) give us a shot. We’re a choice.”

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I’m sure some of you probably thought Island Air flew those cramped 9-seater prop planes. Actually, the airlines has a small fleet of 64-passenger planes like the one above. (This is an ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop, in case you’re wondering.) It’s spacious enough for the 30-minute flight. And really, what else do you need besides a comfortable seat and a complimentary cup of coffee?

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We arrived on Lānaʻi in the morning — along with produce, fish and other retail products that’s loaded on every flight from O‘ahu. We hopped in a van to get a quick tour of Lānaʻi City.

The entire island has about 3,000 people and is the smallest inhabited island in Hawai‘i. There’s one school — Lānaʻi High and Elementary School — that serves the entire island from kindergarten through 12th grade. There are three grocery stores and a bar and a smattering of boutiques and art shops — and that’s it. There are no shopping malls or fast food restaurants or traffic lights here. It’s a world apart from bustling O‘ahu.

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We stopped by the Lodge at Kōʻele, which is closed while the other hotel at Mānele Bay is being renovated. This hotel is a favorite of my friends, who prefer the mountain lodge feel — so different from what we’re used to — to the oceanfront Mānele Bay. This stunning retreat offers horseback riding, clay shooting and an archery range.

And the roads leading here are lined with majestic Cook pines, which only add to the country beauty here.

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Next, we arrived at the Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi at Mānele Bay, immediately greeted by the smiles and stellar service for which this luxe chain is known.

I was eager to see the renovations — the price tag hasn’t been disclosed — to this already gorgeous hotel.

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Here’s one of the guest rooms (above), this one on the first floor and facing the garden. Everything from the walls to the in-room technology has been upgraded. These new rooms feature mahogany floors, teak walls and extra-comfy mattresses that were specially made for the Four Seasons. The windows are controlled by a touchpad, with blackout rolling shades for privacy.

The in-room refreshment area is stocked with beautiful glassware, a Nespresso coffee maker, and a customizable stocked mini-fridge. And the bathroom had an overhead rainshower, a TV embedded in the mirror, and a toilet that greeted you by lifting its lid. (And I loved that the seat was warm!)

The new look comes with a new price. While before, you could have gotten deals to stay here, the lowest kama‘aina rate is $800 a night. (The cheapest rack rate is $900 a night.) That’s well outside my price range.

But who’s going to stay in the room?

We ventured outside, touring around the main lobby and pool area, which will all be completely different by the end of the year. (The hotel is closing from June to December to complete the renovations.)

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As lovely as these area are (above), they will be completely overhauled by next year. The hotel will boast a private adults-only pool with breathtaking views of the bay and a lobby area that will be transformed into a lush garden.

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The hotel took us to lunch at VIEWS at Mānele Bay, the restaurant at its world-class golf course. (Both the restaurant and the course will be open during renovations.)

This restaurant, with panoramic ocean views, features a menu robust with local ingredients, including greens and veggies grown on the island.

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We started (in order, from top) with the summer rolls, filled with shrimp, rice paper, basil, mint, cucumber, macadamia nut and mangoes; and the kalbi rib lettuce wraps with peanuts, rainbow carrots and radishes wrapped in butter lettuce.

The Makai salad is one of the restaurant’s most popular, featuring lobster, scallops and shrimp over Big Island-grown greens, mango, papaya, avocado and tomatoes, topped with lilikoi dressing.

The Baja fish tacos uses whatever fish is in the kitchen that morning, with a salsa fresco and a lime cream dressing. The Hulopo‘e Bay Prawn BLT is another favorite — particularly among the staffers — with prawns and bacon paired with caramelized onions and a creole aioli stuffed into a pita bread.

And I had the VIEWS Burger with aged cheddar cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes and bacon, with a side of thick fries.

We needed to walk after this.

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There’s a little trail from the hotel, across Hulopo‘e Bay and toward the point to a rock formation called Pu‘u Pehe (or Sweetheart Rock).

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Pu‘u Pehe is one of the most famous — and most photographed — natural landmarks on Lāna‘i. The story goes that Pu‘u Pehe was the name of a beautiful girl from Maui who was captured by a young warrior from Lāna‘i. He brought her back to these cliffs and, afraid of losing her, kept her hidden in a sea cave. One day, he had left the cliffs and a storm arose. Huge waves devastated the cave, drowning the girl. Stricken with grief, the young warrior retrieved her body and carried it to the top of the steep rock island for burial. He then jumped off the 80-foot summit to his death in the ocean below.

Hence, Sweetheart Rock. (The literal translation of Pu‘u Pehe is “owl trap hill.”)

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The rest of the group stayed behind while I walked back to the hotel to check out. I couldn’t stay overnight — which, if you consider the room rate, might have been my last and only opportunity — but that’s OK.

The trip was just meant to introduce me to what Lānaʻi has to offer. And though we only drove through the small town and stuck to the areas around the resort, I knew that beyond the bay and across the hills was more to be discovered.

So I’d better save my money now!

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Thanks to Andrea Oka, Michelle Hee and Sonja Swenson for arranging the FAM tour of Lānaʻi on Island Air. And thanks to the awesome staff at the Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi at Mānele Bay for the hospitality. Fun times! Hope to be back soon!

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#WeekendDish: Old-fashioned bread pudding

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I love recipes that allow me to clean out my fridge, freezer and kitchen cabinets — and bread pudding is perfect for that.

All the bread that’s about to mold over, all the raisins sitting in the pantry, all the milk that’s about to expire — throw it in a pan and bake it with butter! There’s nothing better than that!

So I made it the other day, after frantically cleaning out the freezer — is there any way to clean out the freezer? — and pulling everything out of the kitchen pantry.

Then I had another idea.

Why not bake it in a cupcake pan?

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Not only are they ready in individual servings, but if you like edges — and I love edges! — every piece has ‘em.

So that’s what I did.

And after I posted a photo of it on Instagram, I got a dozen requests for the recipe. So here it is!

(If you don’t want to use a cupcake pan, this recipe calls for an 8-by-8-inch pan. You can double it for a 9×3 pan instead.)

Happy baking — and cleaning!

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Here’s the recipe:

Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

2 c. milk (whole milk, if possible)
5 c. bread, cubed
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 to 3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon (or more, if desired)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. raisins (if desired)
3 T. butter (or more, if desired)

Directions:

Heat oven to 350ºF. Heat milk and butter over medium heat until butter is melted and milk is hot. In large bowl, mix eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Stir in bread cubes and raisins. Stir in milk mixture. Pour into greased 8×8 pan — or a cupcake pan!

Bake uncovered 40 to 45 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Serve with ice cream.

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Apple, tell me why I need a watch now

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Right now, as I type, Apple is about to unveil the details of its latest reason to blow your next paycheck at its Spring Forward event in San Francisco.

The Apple Watch.

Yes, a watch.

Remember those?

Here’s what I find interesting: thanks to companies like Apple, who gave us the smartphone that does more than make phone calls, and the tablet, which makes our laptops feel obsolete, most of us ditched our watches. I mean, why wear a watch when we’re covered with devices that tell us what time it is?

And now the company wants us to wear watches again.

I don’t get it.

I will say, as a former watch wearer, the concept is intriguing. The Apple Watch, the first wearable product from the tech giant, will be like a smartphone on your wrist. It can take calls, receive messages, play music like an iPod, track your fitness like a Fitbit, make purchases via Apple Pay, even act like a remote control for your Apple TV. (It goes on sale in April.)

Yes. It will do all that — and probably more. (I’m just waiting for Apple CEO Tim Cook to explain this part.) And it’s not entirely ugly, either. The device, which will start at $349, will come in two sizes and several styles, including the ultra-luxe 18-carat-gold Apple Watch Edition.

So will I buy one?

That’s a good question.

Lucky for Apple, I just ditched my Fitbit Charge because I didn’t need it anymore. But the one function I did enjoy on that activity wristband was the caller ID function. And Apple will have that and more.

I wouldn’t have to even move to grab anything to see who’s texting me, who’s calling me, who I’m supposed to meet for lunch later today, what the weather will be like. It will be all on my right wrist. I might not even have to stop typing!

It’s almost better than the larger iPhone 6 Plus, which I’m still debating about. I mean, I’ll never have to carry this device. I will be wearing it. Awesome.

The downsides: The Apple Watch — at least the sports version — isn’t waterproof but maybe water resistant. (That’s bad for me, who’s always in the water — and forgets to take off things like Fitbit Charges while showering.)

And it’s just one more thing I’ll have. Honestly, if I buy this watch, I can add that to the collection of Apple products I have: an iMac, a MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro, an iPad 3, an iPhone 5, an iPod Nano, and one of those classic iPods.

It’s Apple overload!

So am I getting the Apple Watch? I guess I have a month to figure out if I really need it in my life.

Or, like usual, I’ll let Apple convince me.

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