By The Non Fiction Author
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[+ Chapter 4: Oahu- 'The Gathering Place' +]
[+ Chapter 5: Maui- 'The Valley Isle' +]
[+ Chapter 7: Kauai- 'The Garden Isle' +]
[+ Chapter 8: Molokai- 'The Friendly Island' +]
[+ Chapter 9: Lanai- 'The Private Island' +]
Welcome to Hawaii, a tantalizing string of islands sitting isolated in the central Pacific, just waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Formed by ocean floor volcanoes (making them the world’s tallest mountains when measured from the base to the peak), the islands island of Hawaii are the land of sun, surfing, and the aloha spirit. Formerly the seat of a royal kingdom, Hawaii contains the only royal palace in the United States, yet brims with relaxation and adventure sure to please every type of traveler.
You’ll never forget the Hawaii is volcanic land; these are the world’s most active volcanoes and the land of the islands is the world’s newest. Coffee trees and pineapple plantations dot the volcanic slopes, as well as cowboys known as ‘paniolos’. Whether you prefer a hike to a secluded tropical waterfall, partake in a traditional feast, or do some snorkeling in clear warm ocean waters, Hawaii holds as much or as little activity as you’d like. It’s the perfect mix of there being many things to do and also ample time to do nothing.
There are six major islands of Hawaii to visit. Many people will plan to take in two in a week’s time or perhaps three in ten days, though any of the islands could be circled easily in a day or conversely explored for weeks on their own. While physically not large in themselves, the Hawaiian islands offer an immense range of activity options, from the adventurous to simply taking it easy, and offer up a rich cultural heritage yet with plenty of modernity mixed in. Hawaii serves well as a quick getaway, a trans-pacific stopover, or a place to get away from it all for a while.
One thing you'll quickly learn is that things in Hawaii run on 'island time'- why rush yourself in paradise? Hawaii is easy to navigate and you'll find the locals truly happy to welcome you to and show off their beautiful homeland. The weather in Hawaii is pleasant throughout the year with temperatures rarely falling below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Trade winds keep the highs from encroaching into the 90's on the high end of the scale. The ocean water averages typically in the mid 70's, making all variety of activities possible.
The city of Honolulu on the island of Oahu serves as the aloha gateway for the bulk of Hawaii’s visitors, yet the bustle and glitz of Waikiki Beach are only one type of island experience available in Hawaii. At the crossroads of the Pacific, Hawaii welcomes international visitors, cruise passengers, backpackers, families, golfers, watersports enthusiasts, whale watchers, cultural explorers, and beachcombers. Whether you wish to trek in a tropical forest, shop for traditional arts and crafts, learn the hula, or just enjoy the sands and surf, Hawaii has something for everyone.
This guide is designed to be easy to use and to provide an informative overview such that you can plan how to start off your time in Hawaii. As such, it is best used to be a jumping off point for your own discoveries, as you’ll quickly find there’s more to the islands than can be written in any guide. Hawaii is best experienced up close and personal, so once you’ve decided where to begin and set your foot on Hawaiian ground, a whole wonderful world will become open up to you and you just may find yourself in love with the islands of aloha.
The Hawaii Islands at a glance
As you begin to spend time in Hawaii and interact with locals, you may frequently be asked if this is your first visit to ‘the islands’. Hawaii is a group of islands (an archipelago to be exact), six of which are readily and easily visited by travelers. Originally settled by Polynesians and for years a royal kingdom, Hawaii is the newest state in the nation. Its unique history allows Hawaii to retain a rich cultural tradition and iconic customs, yet have no shortage of modern conveniences and ease of exploration.
Chances are you’ll begin your Aloha journey at Honolulu airport on the island of Oahu, a hub for flights from the United States mainland, but also receiving visitors from the South Pacific and Asia. Hawaii’s position puts it equidistant from all three of those points and you’ll discover a multi-ethnic culture that embraces this diversity.
While Oahu is deserving of its own explorations, there’s much more to see and do an easy hopper flight away. In just a half hour, you’ll find yourself on the island of Maui, Hawaii (frequently termed ‘the Big Island’), Molokai, or Kauai, each of which have their own attractions and charm. You may just need to plan to return to try yet another island!
Maui is home to many well known attractions: the historic whaling village of Lahaina, Kaanapali Beach, Haleakala National Park, and the acclaimed Road to Hana. There’s shopping, snorkeling, dining, and discovery on this, the second most visited of the islands. Ferry service is available from Maui to the island of Lanai, once solely run as a pineapple plantation and now open for tourism.
The big island of Hawaii contains two major population centers; Hilo, one of the wettest places on earth and gateway to Volcanoes National Park, as well as Kona, known for beautiful beaches, world class golf, and picturesque coffee tree groves. Kauai the Garden Island has Poipu Beach, the Na Pali cliffs, and stunning Waimea Canyon. Lesser known Molokai is a trip ‘back in time’ to the Hawaii before tourism; the island is without even one stoplight.
Hawaii offers a range of both iconic experiences for those who wish to experience the tried and beloved as well as a wide selection of unique adventures if you wish to go off the beaten path a bit. Below find just a few examples of each type of experience that can be found readily in Hawaii.
• Learn to surf at one of the many schools on Oahu’s North Shore, the birthplace of and cornerstone of modern surfing.
• Enjoy a luau, an authentic outdoor dining experience with island style music and dancing.
• Enjoy a slice of Hawaii’s unspoiled natural beauty on the wild and winding Road to Hana on the island of Maui.
• Snorkel off a boat in warm, clear ocean waters at Maui’s Molokini marine reserve, one of earth’s few sheltered underwater volcanic calderas.
• Experience the power of earth’s molten core at Kilauea in Volcanoes National Park, where the mountain has been releasing lava since the 1980’s.
• Stop by laid back downtown Hilo on the Big Island to see a side of Hawaii outside the tourist centers.
• Gain a first hand perspective on naval history at the USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbor).
• Paddle an outrigger canoe. Mix traditional Hawaiian culture and a unique watersport adventure; with a native guide, learn this sport which was beloved by royalty of old.
• Explore the hidden side of the Hawaiian islands on horseback with the local paniolos when you visit an ‘upcountry’ working cattle ranch.
• Travel by mule to Kalaupapa on Molokai, once a leper colony forbidden to visitors and now a National Historic Park, teeming with both history and natural beauty.
• Visit the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Observatory Visitor Center during the evening hours for a chance to stargaze under purely clear skies.
• Hop on board a catamaran and view Kauai’s dramatic and rugged Na Pali cliffs from water level.
How to Use This Guide
This guide is divided into three sections, each with essential information to assist you in planning out how to begin your Hawaiian adventure. Remember, we're only here to get you started- you'll quickly move beyond this guide on your own!
Hawaii is easy to navigate, as there’s only so many roads on islands that have a volcano in the center! Transportation options in the islands range from locally run public bus services (often free or very inexpensive) to readily available and affordable rental cars to a variety of tour van companies. You won’t lack for accommodations either, as choices range from hostel rooms to extended stay condominiums to vacation house rentals and 4-star resorts and everything in-between. Local tourism offices operate well-staffed visitor centers in major communities, thus you’ll never be far from any advice you might need during your stay.
We endeavor in this guide to include the basics to get you started and pointed in the direction of an authentic rather than 'canned' tourist experience. Information about various types of experiences are included such that every type of visitor should find something to match their interests- and perhaps something that they hadn't considered before reading this guide!
We don’t, however, include extensive details in this guide as to recommended hotels, tour excursion companies, entrance fees, hours of operation, or contact phone numbers for attractions as these sorts of information are always in flux and pertinent details are best acquired upon arrival. Rather, general information is given, such as types of accommodations that can easily be identified and the details of which specific company to use are up to you.
Chapter 2 will provide orientation to the six readily visited Hawaii islands such that you are able to decide which islands to visit and to plan the logistics of how to arrive and get around the islands that you choose. Included are itinerary suggestions, when to go, estimated costs (including ways to keep assorted costs affordable), and basic travel requirements for the islands. Within Chapter 2 you will find information as to how to travel to the islands and transport yourself around each island and between the islands. Various accommodation options will be described also in Chapter 2.
Chapter 3 includes tips to help you acclimate to Hawaiian culture and make it easy to find an authentic experience. These tips include what to eat and drink, what to wear, local manners and customs, as well information for how to stay safe and healthy while in the islands.
Chapters 4 through 9 provide information specific to each island. Each chapter is laid out the same with a brief introduction, a list of experiences that can be found on that island, and practical tips specific to that island. Each destination overview should allow you to make a quick decision as to which islands to visit and what your target experiences on each one might be. Also included in these destination specific chapters is how to get to each island, essential things to know, and how to orient yourself upon arrival.
Classic Routes at a Glance
Hawaii does not lend itself as well to ‘classic routes’ as some other destinations might. The islands are small in size and fairly straightforward in terms of navigation, as all roads tend to circle around the edges. The most important decision you may need to make is which islands to visit. And yet, all of the islands are in easy reach as a 30 minute inter-island hopper flight can easily get you to the next island.
Often, visitors will squeeze two islands into a week or three islands into ten days for no other reason than they only want to spend a few days on Oahu and also include an experience on another island. This has become somewhat less popular as more direct flights have become available from West Coast gateways to both Maui and Kona on the Big Island.
It’s not wrong to maximize your limited time and see the variety the islands have to offer, but be aware that hours spent in transit between the islands can fill up precious time and detract from experiencing each individual island in depth. If you can manage it, we’d suggest a minimum of a week on each island. Read up on what’s available, perhaps plan a couple of activities, and leave the rest of your time open to fill in (or not) upon arrival.
A Week In:
Oahu: Base yourself at Waikiki Beach, making day trips to various corners of the island. Start your first full day with a hike up Diamond Head then snorkel at nearby Haunama Bay. Spend another full day taking in the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor then swing by downtown Honolulu for attractions such as the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace. Dedicate another day to the North Shore. If time remains, consider the lesser known windward Kailua Beach area.
Maui: The second most popular island for first time visitors is Maui and Maui definitely has much to offer. Maui is actually formed of two volcanoes, dividing the island into western and eastern halves. Most of the lodging will be in one of two main areas on the western side and both regions are worthy of a visit, regardless of your base on the island. Plan a day each for Lahaina/Kaanapali and also Kihei/Wailea to enjoy the beautiful beaches and other attractions. Boat cruises also go out from both spots as well as the ferries to Molokai and Lanai. The other two ‘must do’s’ on Maui are both full day adventures; Haleakala and the Road to Hana.
Big Island of Hawaii: The Big Island is worthy of more time if you can manage it, as the distances are quite substantial and the roads are not fast. The big draw on the Big Island is Volcanoes National Parks, and there two major towns on opposite sides of the island- with lots of upcountry in between. Consider spending a few days on the Kona side then moving over to Hilo to cut down on travel times.
Kauai: Like the other islands detailed above, Kauai has several sections that can each fill a day of exploration. Excursions to Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach, the Na Pali Coast, and Waimea Canyon will take you all corners of the Garden Isle and just perfectly fill a week.
Molokai: Molokai lacks the glamor of the other islands and is truly an escape away from it all. Thus, most people are not going here for the range of activities that are found elsewhere, but to have a very different type of experience. Other than the obligatory visit to Kaluapapa, you’re really on your own here to enjoy the beaches and truly relax in peaceful paradise.
Whether you prefer your vacation to be active or relaxing (or some of each), a couples getaway or family fun, Hawaii is a destination for anyone to enjoy. Most activities and attractions can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people, so don’t ever feel constrained by the category in which something is listed. In this guide, we’re simply trying to show you the many sides of Hawaii and you can pick and choose from any and all the islands have to offer.
Hawaii for Nature Lovers
From the lush mountains slopes to the dense tropical forests to the shining sands, Hawaii contains the greatest biodiversity of any state. Waterfalls abound with a multitude of hiking trails available and humpback whales and sea turtles are easily spotted in the ocean waters. As the Garden Isle, Kauai is often touted as the top choice for nature lovers, but any of the islands offers up a wide variety of ways to experience Hawaii’s natural beauty. On Oahu, enjoy Manoa Falls and the Pali Lookout; on Maui, the centrally located yet often overlooked Iao Valley beckons you. The Big Island offers vast stretches of upcountry, the botanical gardens in Hilo, and the Waipio Valley on the Kohala Coast. Kauai also doesn’t disappoint, as home to the Wailua River and Fern Grotto, as well as the renowned Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
Hawaii for Romantics
While seeming at times to be filled with visitors, Hawaii also offers ample inventory of uncrowded spots for those who desire special time alone together. You might hike to a secluded viewpoint, ask the locals about a less visited beach, or take a circle drive to make your own discoveries in the quieter parts of the islands. The choice is yours to perhaps enjoy a boat cruise or horseback riding, take in a luau, enjoy fresh fusion cuisine, or golf on renowned courses with stunning views. Hawaii is perfect for couples whether you choose an active getaway or total relaxation.
Hawaii for Families
Most of the top tourist attractions can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages and Hawaiians love ‘keiki’ (children). Kids can learn to snorkel and to dance the hula, enjoy museums and cultural sites, hike to waterfalls, learn the hula, and experience local cuisine. Some large resorts offer day programs with traditional arts and crafts activities. If this is of interest to you, you’d want to make sure to research the options prior to booking your accommodation. Maui is often regarded as perfect for kids, with the renowned Maui Ocean Center and Atlantis submarine ride, but Oahu and the Big Island also have lots for kids to enjoy. Kauai and Molokai are quieter, but this is starting to change as even tiny Molokai now has a kite factory available for visiting.
Hawaii for Adventurers
Hawaii’s wealth of natural beauty and strong tourism infrastructure make it easy to find adventure in the islands. Kayak Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, cycle down a volcano on Maui or the Big Island, rock climb on Oahu, zipline through a tropical forest, take a helicopter tour for a birds eye view, ride an ATV on a Big Island ranch, parasail, and swim with dolphins, stingrays, sea turtles, and even sharks. Any adventure you’ve heard of and many you maybe haven’t are all possible in Hawaii.
Hawaii for Beach Lovers
Each island has its well known beaches and others that are off the beaten path and rarely visited by tourists. Locals are happy to suggest their favorite beach if you’d like to try a lesser known spot. Oahu’s Waikiki, Kauai’s Poipu, and Maui’s Kaanapali are the most famous and have much to offer for sun and fun. Kauai’s Hanalei Bay is picture postcard perfect with two miles of sand, many water sport activities including boating and surfing, and a nearby reef for snorkeling. On the Big Island of Hawaii, Hapuna Beach has a large swimming area as well as nearby reef for snorkeling. Molokai and Lanai make up for a lack of tourist attractions by offering many stunning stretches of empty beach.
When To Go and Understanding Different Seasons
Hawaii tends to have a reliably mild climate; warm yet moderated by trade breezes with a yearly average day temperature of around 80 degrees. There isn’t a pronounced winter and summer here in the islands. There is, however, a rainy (November-March) season vs. a dry (April-October) season, and for some activities such as surfing, there may be further considerations. But for the casual visitor, any time is a good time to visit Hawaii! While the rain keeps the islands green and lush, these tropical downpours when they occur are very brief in length. Sunset doesn’t vary its time much throughout the year at this latitude and it can cool off quickly in the evenings. Higher elevations (such as Haleakala and Mauna Kea) are also much cooler than one thinks of for a tropical island. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong packing and wearing light layers of clothing.
When To Go
Since the weather and daylight are so consistent and there’s never an ‘off season’ for attractions in Hawaii, your considerations on when to go may relate more to pricing of flights as well as peak times for visitorship, such as around holidays and school breaks. Most visitors either come when the weather is less desirable where they live (mid-December through mid-April) or when they can bring the whole family (mid-June through August). Thus late spring and fall are going to be less crowded and more affordable. If you do plan to visit at Christmas holidays or during summer, book your flights and accommodations early and expect peak pricing.
Travel Costs and Organizing Your Money
Hawaii is not known for being inexpensive. Both from being a tourist destination and from its isolation from pretty much anywhere, prices for food, gas, and lodging can easily present a sticker shock. Luckily there are ways to keep one’s costs down and many activities are fairly affordable in cost. Accommodation is available at all levels. Often, you’ll pay much more for a beachside location or a room with an ocean view, so consider how much time you’d spend in your room and whether this is important to you. In Waikiki, everything is walkable and you can save quite a bit if you are willing to walk a short 2-3 blocks to the beach. Hostel type lodging is another option, but be wary that sometimes budget accommodations are by the airport, in town vs. on the beach, and may necessitate more travel than they are worth to enjoy the things you wish to do.
Islands such as Maui often offer condominium accommodations with kitchens. This can be an excellent way to save on the costs of always eating out, though grocery prices are still more than you’ll be used to at home. Rental cars are prevalent, but there are other options to getting around such as local bus transit services and guided tours, and in most cases it’s quite possible to base yourself in town within walking distance of many services. Tour companies can then pick you up at your accommodations and take you sightseeing for a day.
Vacation packages available through a travel agent or online booking sites can combine flights, accommodations, rental cars, and even some attractions into one large reservation. This can sometimes save you money and if you know you will want the package inclusions, can be a good way to do it all in one booking.
Example Costs for a Hawaii Trip
These are very rough prices but should give you a general idea of what things could cost in Hawaii. Add 25% if you are traveling in high season or staying in resort areas and subtract 25% if you are traveling during the lower season or staying in modest accommodations.
Flights are your first cost and flights to Hawaii don’t come cheap. Demand is high enough that there is little incentive for airlines to discount. To make it even worse, Hawaii is a popular destination for frequent flier program points redemption, so the airlines must make up for so many non-revenue passengers. If you have points saved up, this could be your chance to use them. Otherwise, keep your eye out for deals and travel off season if possible. If you can be flexible, try different dates as one week can make quite a difference. You can set up with various airline ticket sales sites to alert you when specials are available.
Flights are cheapest from West Coast gateways, but of course you then have to make your way to the gateway city if it's not your home. As a very rough guide, flights can run $400-500 per person into Honolulu from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, $700-850 from midwestern cities, and $900-1000 from the East Coast. It can be several hundred dollars variation between seasons- that $400 to $500 from the West Coast can be $300 during lower demand or it can be $650 at holiday and school break times.
Accommodations are your next major consideration and depending on what you desire in an accommodation in terms of location and amenities, prices can vary greatly. You may be able to find a smaller property in an off the beaten path location for a mere $80/night yet a big name resort could set you back $400/night. The resort will then have more inclusions and services, so it does depend what you are looking for. Even with some lower cost options available, Hawaii is still more costly that your home town; the average hotel room is reportedly $199/night. Location can matter if you wish to partake of attractions, dining, shopping, and nightlife in the major communities. It can be appealing to be out in a quieter area yet you may find you spend a lot of time driving to things you wish to do. If condominium accommodations are available, these can be more affordable because you’ll have the ability to make some of your own meals. Don’t forget to factor in hotel taxes, which are currently 13.42%.
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The Hawaii Traveler's Guide to Make The Most Out of Your Trip. Welcome to Hawaii, a tantalizing string of islands sitting isolated in the central Pacific, just waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Formed by ocean floor volcanoes (making them the world's tallest mountains when measured from the base to the peak), the islands island of Hawaii are the land of sun, surfing, and the aloha spirit. Formerly the seat of a royal kingdom, Hawaii contains the only royal palace in the United States, yet brims with relaxation and adventure sure to please every type of traveler. You'll never forget the Hawaii is volcanic land; these are the world's most active volcanoes and the land of the islands is the world's newest. Coffee trees and pineapple plantations dot the volcanic slopes, as well as cowboys known as 'paniolos'. Whether you prefer a hike to a secluded tropical waterfall, partake in a traditional feast, or do some snorkeling in clear warm ocean waters, Hawaii holds as much or as little activity as you'd like. It's the perfect mix of there being many things to do and also ample time to do nothing.