Hawaii -- America's Paradise
An informational page by Warren Montgomery
Hawaii, the 50th state, seems more like a foreign land than some
foreign countries, with it's own language (though everyone speaks
English), history, and culture, and climate and geography like nothing
on the "mainland". (Local's cringe when you talk about the rest
of the US as if it were another country). It's also my favorite
vacation destination, and a place I've been 14 times over the past 40
years, visiting all the islands accessible to visitors and all the
major tourist sites. These notes represent a compilation of
information from those visits.
My Soapbox statement:
Hawaii has experienced considerable change over the past 40 years.
It is unfortunately suffering from the same serious disease
afflicting much of the Western US: Overdevelopment and
real-estate speculation fueled by cheap money. The result is both
raising costs for visitors and changes
to the character of the place, so see it now while it's still special.
are some places that people just shouldn't live. It's not that
people in the islands by themselves is necessarily a bad thing, but
in today's society draw the "camp followers" of modern society:
malls, superstores, fast food, gas stations, traffic lights, and lots
ugly and noisy construction and service businesses. My vision of
doesn't include these things. Does yours?
General information for your visit
Getting there and getting between islands.
Hawaii is a long way from anywhere else and getting there will almost
certainly involve a flight of 4 hours or more. If you are not
with planes, you just have to keep telling yourself it's worth it,
it is. There are cruises, but it's a long way for boats too.
There are 6 islands you can visit, each with it's own unique sights and
and it's not a bad idea to try to see more than one in a visit.
These days you can fly directly to or from any of the 4 largest islands
(Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai) and it is very nice to be able to do this.
Making connections with mainland flights in Honolulu isn't fun
because they come and go out of a different terminal from the
inter-island flights and it's a long walk or bus ride and another stop
and wait. (In fact I would strongly not recommend connecting to a
mainland flight from an inter-island flight in Honolulu. Hawaiian
airlines, the only major inter-island carrier, has it's own sense of
time and is often late and/or slow to deliver baggage, and people in
the inter-island terminal don't give you any consisten information
about getting to your mainland flight. Funny, many airports seem
to manage distant terminals well with good transit systems, Honolulu
doesn't, especially for passengers traveling on different reservations
for mainland and inter-island flights who can't easily check the
baggage through. Unfortunately, it has gotten harder to find
flights to anywhere in Hawaii from cities that aren't on the west
coast. It is very nice to make at least the return trip directly,
because unless you are flying to/from the west coast your trip will
involve an overnight flight, and it's MUCH better to take an
8 hour overnight flight to, say, Chicago), than a 4 hour flight to LA
with another 4 hour flight, one of which will be a red eye. 8
is enough time to get SOME sleep.
Airline frequent flier programs have made it cheaper to get there
if you can use your miles. Keep in mind though that Hawaii is a
choice for using them and that you will have to make the reservations a
year in advance to have any chance. A better option for some is
buy the cheapest tickets possible and use the miles to upgrade to First
which gives you separate check in, bigger seats, MUCH better meals
(indeed on our last flight coach got no meals at all), free
Mai Tai's, and other amenities. Still, the tickets won't be cheap.
Many people will be surprised that most trips between islands require
plane flights as well. That's because you don't appreciate the
when you look at a map. Those trips are 50-100 miles of rough
in most cases and even at 20MPH -- fast for a small boat, it would be a
tough trip. The only island hops you can make by Boat are Maui to
Lanai or Molokai, both from Lahina, which have scheduled ferry
(Note, in 2007 a company proposed the superferry, a hydrofoil ferry
service to connect the islands. If it happens it will make it
easier to go by boat and you can even take a car, but many local groups
are fighting it because they feel it will make it easier for invasive
non-native plants and animals to get between islands) Otherwise,
you will likely be flying on Hawaiian airlines, or one of the
smaller "commuter" airlines that serve Molokai and
Lanai. (Note that Aloha, which used to operate pretty
much the same service, went broke in the recession of 2008 leaving
fewer options). If you fly to Molokai or Lanai expect to fly on
prop planes and with Island Air or other small operators. Note
that the commuter flights (Island and others) often go out of a
different terminal from the Hawaiian inter-island flights, which go
from a different terminal from everywhere else. You can get between the
commuter terminal and the
inter island terminal in Honolulu without having to go out and re-enter
security if you are willing to walk, but part of the journey involves a
walk on the tarmac and you have to alert the airline to the fact that
you are connecting. Seating
on Hawaiian is reserved, but on the others is likely to be open,
meaning if you want two seats together on
the left side of the plane so you can take pictures of Pearl Harbor,
have to line up early to get them.
Get direct inter-island flights if you can. Unfortunately many
require connections in Honolulu. This isn't too bad since each
carrier has a small gate area, but even with an hour our bags managed
to miss one of these
connections. As a consequence, always pack your bathing suit and
else you want immediately on the next island in your carry on bag.
Hawaiian has a limit on checked bags which
they enforce. They also have a weight limit on carryon which they
weren't really enforcing. As of 2013, Hawaiian also charges for
checked bags (though not as much as most mainland carriers).
(Note -- it's cheaper if you sign up for their frequent flier program
so go ahead and do that.) People carry a lot of random stuff onto
planes in Hawaii. If you have a camera and like to use it, check
the route and pick your seat. Sometimes you can get exceptional
views, but realize that often the planes climb fast and the view
disappears behind puffy clouds. Modern security has made carry on
a little tougher.
Note that sunscreen is a liquid or gel and will get confiscated if not
in a baggie. Carry on used to be a pleasant surprise in Hawaii,
because most people travelling are tourists and check bags rather than
trying to cram everything in carry ons. Unfortunately the
relentless pursuit of cheap and crappy travel has ruined this as
Hawaiian now charges for checked bags, so even the tourists take their
rolling steamer trunks onto planes and fill the bins (and like I said
in spite of constant warnings about size and weight limits nobody seems
to care.) I was
concerned about carry on on Island Airs "Dash 8" prop planes but it's
not a problem (I carried a medium sized backpack and large laptop bag
Another consideration for anyone with a medical implant is that most of
the terminals have only metal detectors, so you will be subjected to a
full pat down by TSA most times -- allow yourself time for that.
In our experience Hawaiian also changes the departure times from time
to time and does not tell you, at least not unless it's a major
change. Best to check before you go to the airport, and be sure
to allow lots of time for connections, especially to other airlines.
An alternative to all this of course is to take an inter-island cruise.
Different companies have operated these (one went bankrupt in
2001, in 2007 Norwegian Cruise lines operates an inter-island cruise)
and they visit cities on all the major islands. Cruising
takes care of your lodging and inter-island transportation and has
advantages and dis-advantages over staying ashore and flying:
- Advantage -- no hassle on inter-island flights or moving your bags
- Advantage -- the ship usually moves at night so you don't waste
any day time on travel
- Disadvantage -- your cabin is likely to be more cramped and won't
have the views or beach access that a good hotel or condo will
- Disadvantage -- to do things you have to get off the ship,
and in Maui and Hawaii at least the ship doesn't dock meaning you
wait for a boat to get ashore and back.
- Disadvantage -- your schedule isn't flexible, and you arrive in
port with 1000+ other people so scheduling activities may be a problem.
- Plus or minus -- you are cruising with a lot of people in a small
space and lots of scheduled activities with those people. If you
like meeting new people on vacation that's a plus. If your idea
of vacation is getting away from people, cruising most likely isn't for
Rental Cars and other ground transportation
Most people will want to rent a car on most islands (the exception is
people staying in Waikiki or going to and staying in a self-contained
resort). A normal car will reach most things you want to go to,
and all the major US car rental chains rent them. Main roads are
good but secondary roads can be narrow, so consider this before renting
something large. You won't need a 4WD unless you plan to reach
remote beaches or parks with no facilities, but there are roads you
can't drive without one.
The price of gas used to be notably high in Hawaii, but with the rise
in price here it's now unremarkable (not much more than California and
comparable to Chicago in our last 3 trips).
Most islands also have bus systems, simple systems that travel major
roads. You can get by without a car this way if you stay in an
area where you can walk to beaches and other things you want to do and
use the bus to reach other destinations. Many activities will
pick you up at your hotel, and some towns have local free transit to
get your from resort hotels to shops or adjoining towns and golf
Weather and Seasons
Hawaii doesn't really have much variation in climate. Daytime
temperatures at the coast on all islands usually run around 80-85
degrees year round with nights falling into the 60's. There is
some variation in the likelyhood of rain -- more common in winter than
summer. The major seasonal effects though are on winds, waves,
and wildlife. In the winter, you can get high (sometimes very
high) and dangerous surf on north facing beaches, great for extreme
surfing but lousy for anything else, while the south shores are calm.
In summer, North facing shores are generally calmer and you
can get surf on the South coasts, but not nearly as high as North coast
in the winter and usually a factor only with a passing storm.
Some activities are definitely seasonal:
Rates for lodging and most other things are highest in winter, not
because it's better but because the weather on the mainland is at it's
worst. Rates are lowest in May and September, as is visitation,
with a secondary peak season in mid summer (though lower rates than in
Winter, things get crowded).
- Whale watching -- Humpbacks only stay from Mid December to early
May. You might see other whales at other times but it's not
- Extreme surfing -- a winter sport as above
- Snorkeling and Diving -- a bit better in the summer because of
calmer waters, but great any time.
- Mangos -- May-September is the time for these fruits which grow
Keep in mind also that day length varies, though not as much as it
probably does back home, but this means that while it's easy to play 36
holes of golf in June. In December it requires an early start on
your first round and getting on promptly for your second and probably
won't leave you time to do anything else.
Many people automatically think "hotel" for lodging, and Hawaii has
plenty of them everywhere you might want to stay. Make sure you
really understand the terminology:
Some hotels have room layouts on line which can help you pick.
- Ocean View -- you can see water, but it might be half a mile away
visible between other buildings.
- Ocean Front -- there's nothing between you and the water, though
it might not be on a sandy beach.
- Mountain View -- The only thing to count on is you won't see the
ocean, you will probably see more of the parking lot or highway than
you will of the mountains, but it's a lot cheaper.
- Garden view -- probably means it fronts on some kind of courtyard.
For many people, Condominiums are a better option than a hotel room.
Condos give you more space, a kitchen, and the ability to stick
multiple bedrooms in one unit, which is nice for a family. Even
if all you use the kitchen for is cold drinks and fresh fruit for
breakfast you will enjoy it. There's nothing better than fresh
Pineapple for breakfast and sipping drinks and watching
the sunset on your own lanai (porch), and it's a lot cheaper than the
restaurant. What you trade off is fewer hotel amenities like
daily maid service, etc. Most condo complexes will have a pool
many have a tour desk that can help you pick tours. Condo
vary a lot. Some are basically hotels, owned by the management
with every unit identical. Others are individually owned and
by the owner and rented out. In some complexes multiple rental
rent units so the prices aren't standard. You may get a better
renting from the owner, but keep in mind amenities like maid
service and consumable supplies (soap, spices, etc.) may also vary.
There are B&B lodgings in many places, often not in beach resorts
but in "upcountry" areas where local people actually live and the
is cooler. There are also some hostels for the true budget
Camping is another option for some. There are many parks
can tent camp in and the state and national parks all have cabins which
be reserved and provide cots and kitchens. (In popular spots
have to be reserved well in advance).
Food and Drink
Hawaii has restaurants to suit every taste, from Burgers to elegant
Continental. The local "upscale" food is know as "Hawaiian
Regional", and usually features mostly things caught or grown
locally. Seafood is abundant here, but note that if you order
lobster or salmon, it came on an airplane from somewhere else.
Restaurant food is pricy -- it's resort prices and a lot of stuff had
to be flown in.
Hawaii also has an abundance of tropical alcoholic drinks. Anyone
who drinks should sample a Mai Tai, and realize there's no standard
recipe -- everyone who makes it from scratch makes them
differently. Some places will give you non-alcoholic versions as
well. For beer lovers, Hawaii has microbreweries and brew pubs on
all the major islands. Kona Brewing is probably best known, as
they have national distribution for some of their beers, but the brew
pubs (Kona and Oahu near Hanauma bay) have lots of stuff you can't buy
in the store. Same with Maui Brewing (whose pub is actually in
Kahana, not Lahina like some of the ads and the phone book
says). Every island has local coffee. Conoiseurs can tell
you where any brew came from. They are all good. At least
taste them black to get the character. When you shop read the
label carefully. Lots of brands say "Kona Blend", which may mean
90% of the coffee comes from somewhere else.
Shave Ice deserves mention as a local food -- it sounds like a slurpee,
but good shave ice is much better. The ice is finely shaved and
the best places use fruit purees and syrups. A great treat on a
hot day. Like everything else, shave ice varies. Many
places that offer it have a limited selection of flavors and use
courser ice, while the best use fine shaved ice that holds the syrup
better and syrups made from fruit puree. You pay more for the
If you have a condo, consider cooking your own. Pineapples are
abundant and go great for breakfast. Local fish has become
appallingly expensive, but it's still cheaper that a restaurant deal,
and if you or someone else in your party cooks nothing beats coming
home from the beach or the golf course burned out and sitting on your
lanai sipping something local and eating a meal of local fish and
Most people coming to Hawaii do so at least in part to spend time on a
beach. If your notion of beaches is based on Florida or Cape Cod,
be aware that Hawaii can be a bit different. For one thing
are all public property, and many have beach parks with parking,
bathrooms, and other facilities accessible to anyone. Thus you
don't have to stay in a beachfront hotel to enjoy the same beach.
Hawaiian beaches are also more varied. Some have a broad
expanse of sand and a sandy bottom, but others have sand on shore but
rock or coral on the bottom or no sand at all. Beach is simply
the term for anywhere land meets ocean. Beaches with rocks or
coral are often great places to snorkel (see below), so don't reject
them without knowing.
People who have been to Florida or the Carribean may be surprised that
the ocean in Hawaii is cooler. It's warm enough (mid-upper 70's)
to be comfortable
for swimming and snorkeling, but not the bathwater warm water you get
the Carribean. The sun, however, is as strong or stronger than
and sunscreen is a must. Be especially careful when swimming or
Snorkeling and Diving
Everyone going to Hawaii should try snorkeling. It's difficult to
describe to anyone who hasn't done it, but the simple description is
like swimming in an aquarium full of brightly coloured fish. This
is one thing that's better than any of the tourist brochures depict it
as, and Hawaii is one
of the best places in the world to do it. It requires no athletic
swimming ability, just the ability to breath and watch.
First time snorkelers can take a boat cruise where they will provide
equipment and teach you how in some placid bay. Most people will
float well with no assistance, but you can get all manor of things to
prop you up if you
are afraid of sinking. Some locations require a tour boat to
reach, but you can swim off the beach in many places and see fish,
turtles, coral, etc with little effort. You will probably want to
rent or buy a mask
and a snorkel once you try it. (Every beach has places that rent
the stuff, but it's cheaper to rent from one of the big multi-island
operators like Snorkel Bob or Boss Frog, if you have a car.)
Strong swimmers probably won't
fins in most places and they are cumbersome to transport on an
so owning a snorkel and mask and renting fins or just taking the ones
on boat trips in places you want them is a good option.
Many tours offer the opportunity to sample scuba diving or "Snuba"
you dive but your air tank foats on the surface connected to you with a
tube). Something worth trying at least once, though it is more
expensive, and complicated, and so far I haven't found the need to take
the sport as the view from the surface is something I don't get tired
If you try either scuba or snuba, expect to fill out a health risks
and sign a disclaimer. Also some operators warn you not to fly or
to high altitude immediately after these activities, so don't plan it
the last day of your trip. (Snorkeling, on the other hand, is
to do right up to boarding time.)
Many people are afraid of the wildlife. This really isn't a
problem. Leave it alone and it will leave you alone. Don't
touch anything and nothing will bite you. Yes, there have been
shark attacks in Hawaii,
but you are more likely to be killed in traffic. If you see a
while snorkeling odds are it will be a small reef shark swimming below
away from you and more worried about you than you are about it.
Urchins and corals can give you nasty stings, but they don't bite if
don't touch. The two things that are a concern are surf and the
You can get unexpected waves in some places, and the main hazard
being thrown against the reef or rocks, so stay away from places where
get too close. The sun in Hawaii is incredibly strong and will
you in no time. Wear lots of sunscreen, especially on your back
the back of your legs, and consider snorkeling in a T-shirt. Also
careful when you come out of the water and sit out on deck on a tour
boat. If you take a morning tour, this will be at mid day when
the sun is strong and your sunscreen has been washed away.
"Snorkeler's back", toasted feet, and red faces are all too
Once you discover Snorkeling or diving you will probably want to take
some pictures. There are many alternatives for this:
When you take pictures underwater, some things to keep in mind are that
the fish are often further away to the camera than they look to you, so
get as close as you can. Most cameras will use flash for better
exposure, but underwater pictures are really much clearer in natural
light because any impurities in the water will reflect the flash and
give the picture a "hazy" look.
- Single use film cameras. These are cheap, available in
stores or from boat tour operators. They are very basic cameras
and usually pre-loaded with fast print film which will be adequate to
capture the memory.
- Underwater film cameras. This used to be the gold standard
of underwater photography, and for some it still is. These are
special purpose cameras some with zoom lenses and more sophistocated
options for exposure and focus and can be loaded with any film you
like. For years we used a simple camera of this type. You
can probably still rent one from a dive shop, though I wouldn't buy a
film camera now.
- Camera housings. -- these are plastic enclosures for your
non-waterproof camera. They range from very simple and cheap
(essentially a plastic bag) to expensive housings customized to fit
particular camera models. If you get one be sure you can operate
all the camera controls you will need to.
- Underwater digital cameras. This is a relatively new option
and one with LOTS of advantages over film. Some are custom made
for underwater photography and will go to scuba diving depths, but
there are others, like the Olympus camera I own which are essenitally
good compact cameras that will also go underwater. Digital
photography has many advantages underwater, starting with the fact that
with a decent memory card you can take lots of pictures and not worry
about running out (I have an 8G memory card which gives over 2,000
or an hour and a half of movies at high resolution). The LCD
screen on a digital is also easier to read than a small view finder
through a dive mask, though beware that bright light can make the LCD
hard to see anyway. The ability to immediately review what you
shot is very nice, since you will have trouble composing a picture of a
moving fish in a sloshing sea and often miss the shot, it's nice to be
able to see that and try again. Most digitals will take a movie,
which is a great way of recording swimming fish or turtles.
Hawaii has many scenic golf courses with ocean views, ocean front
holes, tropical gardens, and lots of black lava. Resort course
prices range from outrageous to unbelievable (up to $300 a round).
There are several ways to beat the high prices:
Hauling your own clubs around is the best and cheapest way to have what
you want, but toting clubs on planes might not be your idea of fun.
You can rent at all the courses. It is expensive (up to
$60) at the resorts and cheaper
at the munis and publics, but you don't get the same quality. You
also rent from various local businesses (golf stores, activity agents,
This will be cheaper if you play more than once, but again you
to haul and store them. For more information on courses in
see my golf travel section.
- Stay in the resort with the course you want to play -- it's a bit
- Take advantage of coupon deals. The tourist info books
often have coupons. Tee times may not be ideal, but you get a
- Play twice in one day -- the "replay" rate is often very cheap,
cutting the cost substantially. Your second and subsequent times
are standby, but if you go during an off time this is no problem.
multiple courses will usually let you play any of the courses for the
rate so you can play 36 or more different holes.
- Play twilight. The later you start the cheaper it gets.
Keep in mind though that sunset comes early and most courses want
you back in
the clubhouse and off the course before that -- you can't play until
can't see them any more like you can usually do on the mainland
- Play less popular courses. You will pay the most to play
courses which appear on TV and host tournaments. Often the other
in the same resort will be signficantly cheaper and just as nice.
courses can be very nice here, but they can also be crowded and don't
the same amenities, so you have to decide what is really important..
Arranging tours and activities
Everyone in Hawaii wants to help you spend money, so there are lots of
agents who will book activities, like golf, snorkeling trips,
tours, etc. One thing to be aware of is some of these agents are
selling real estate and the deal is you get a break on activitiy fees
you agree to listen to their sales pitch. If you have the time
meet the income requirements) and use common sense about whether or not
buy, it's a way to get a break, but if your time is valuable to
you may not want to spend a couple of hours of it listening to a sales
Some agents lure you in with really low prices and no timeshare
pitches, but note that anything too good to be true usually is:
The tours are probably to less desirable locations, or at bad
times -- afternoon golf
is often windier and more likely to be rainy. Afternoon
tours mean rougher and cloudier water. Some boats include the
and booze, others sell it.; Know what you are getting for the
At every airport, and many other places, you will find racks of
for both individual activies, and a few standard guides. The
(101 things to do on Maui, Maui beach press, Maui gold, Maui drive
etc.) generally have maps and coupons and suggestions for things you
not have thought of. All these things now are on line too so a
web search will probably turn up more planning information than you
During the off season activities rarely book up so you can make
the day before or even the day of an activity, but I expect some of
things do fill up during peak season and will require advance
booking. (Note, in 2007 we found an exception to this in Kona
where we had a hard time booking snorkeling cruises. We believe
this is because of the cruise ship business in town)
Hawaii is a great place to take a hike. It's also a place you can
suffer. Take and use sunscreen. Bring your best footgear.
Most trails traverse rough lava, which tears footgear to shreds.
Know your limits as you actually can get away from it all in
Hawaii and have trouble getting back There are plenty of guides
to trails available both locally
there and from major bookstores and on-line sellers. The trails in the
and state parks tend to be well maintained and marked. Guides
also point you to less formally marked and maintained trails where you
need to ask about conditions before starting.
Some sights, such as remote coastline and waterfalls, can be seen only
from the air and there are companies on all the islands who will sell
air tours, usually in helicopters. This is one of the more
activities (especially in $/hour) so warrants some scrutiny.
make sure you will get a window seat if you want one. Not all
have windows and on some helicopters some even face backwards facing
passengers. In many locations, prices vary depending on where you
off from. This is both because of the distance flown and the
and demand -- more people in the posh resorts want to do this and fewer
those resorts are willing to drive to somewhere where the tour is
If you want the most sightseeing time for the least cost, you
want to take off from somewhere near the place you want to see (e.g.
for the Volcano, not Waikoloa, where you have a long flight over desert
reach it and are paying for all those miles of featureless lava flows).
also that Helicopters won't let you see all the things you see on the
Clouds obscure views, Helicopters can't fly in to Haleakela
and don't fly at dawn or sunset -- the best times for viewing red lava
People who haven't been there may think all the islands are the
same. In fact they all have unique characteristics, so you may
well want to see multiple islands on the same trip. Look through
the following to see what's on each of the islands.
Notes about Oahu
Ohau is the most populated island, not the largest land area.
It's the place to go if you want activities that require lots of
people -- nightlife, restaurants, cultural activities, spectator
sports, etc. It has the only real city (Honolulu) in Hawaii and
the only freeway driving.
Waikiki beach used to be the premier destination. It's still
where most of the hotel rooms are. The beach is wide and sandy
for just about anything, and probably the best place for hanging out
other people on the beach. There are lots of hotels and good
to be had. It is, however, essentially a city environment, busy
and traffic run behind the beachfront hotels, so your off the beach
will mean a walk on city sidewalks crossing busy streets to get to the
This is where the most variety in restaurants and nighttime
will be found so if you want that, it's the place to be. If
want to be in this area and away from the crowds, consider the small
of hotels and condos at the Diamond Head side of the beach (also known
Sans Souci Beach). The New Otani hotel is one we have stayed in
like and has a great beachfront restaurant that serves a wonderful
-- perfect for a late breakfast after a snorkel on the beach here or in
The other major area for tourists to stay is the north shore. The
Turtle Bay resort is very nice and very isolated, a completely
The North shore communities seem more like cape cod than Miami
and the beaches are nice and swimable in the summer (though dangerous
high surf in winter). The Makaha valley is another area for
who want to get away, with golf, condos, a hotel, and access to lesser
beaches. It's a long way out though and some will be bothered by
those bars on the windows in the towns you pass through on the way out
Must see Sights on Oahu
Most folks will want to see the Arizona memorial, the Missouri, and
visit other places connected with the military history of Hawaii.
It's worth seeing the punchbowl, a national cemetary (like
Arlington), with murals
depicting the key pacific naval battles of WWII. There are also
in Honolulu devoted to Hawaii's history and the Hawaiian monarchy
the royal palace.
Diamond Head is not just something to look at from the beach, it's an
old crater that you can drive inside of (from the side away from
Waikiki, and climb to the top of (about 600 feet). Bring a flashlight
as some of the trail is climbing stairs inside dark tunnels built by
the military. You get a great view of Waikiki and Honolulu from
the top. It's worth also
driving up the Pali highway for views, and well worth the drive to the
of Roundtop which has sweeping views of the island.
Hanauma Bay is a great place for the beach and for Snorkeling.
It's about 10 miles from Waikiki and has limited parking, go
early or late in the day for best odds in the parking lot. It's
a long beach in an old crater fronted by shallow
with tame fish. A great place for Snorkeling. It does get VERY
though, so again, go early or late. Note that you can swim out
past the inner reef here, but be very aware of the conditions as it
might be difficult to get back. Note that Hanauma is a nature
preserve, with limited parking, a fee for use, and a mandatory 20
minute video viewing before you get in the water, and a closing time
that's earlier than you might expect. (Basically early enough to
get everyone out of the water and up the long ramp back to the parking
lot before sunset). It's also
closed one day a week, so check out the latest on their web site before
The Polynesian Culture Center on the north side of the island is also
worth a visit. It's run by the Mormon Church (Not open on
Sunday), and has displays and demonstrations of native cultures from
all over the pacific. It's a fund raiser for their educational
efforts in the Pacific and some of the people operating it are students
from various islands. They have several visitor packages, some of
which include a luau and a show.
The shows are more authentic than the hotel shows, but remember
is run by the Mormons so don't expect any alcoholic drinks!
Kauai -- The garden Island
Kauai is the northern most and geoligically the oldest of the islands.
It's less visited than Oahu or Maui, but has established resorts,
golf courses, restaurants, and everything else you need. It has
of the most exotic tropical scenery and is the location where many
with tropical scenes were shot (Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost
South Pacific, and others). It has several resort areas.
of the northern location and constant tradewinds, many resorts claim
don't need Air Conditioning". That may be true in winter, but
can be hot, especially on the south shore where breeze may be minimal.
Kauai has only one real road which almost completes a circle of the
island (Nothing traverses the Na Pali coast on the northwest side of
the island). This means it's busy with traffic and traffic
lights. During rush hour some lanes are reversed around Lihue to
give more lanes to
dominant traffic flow, which can be confusing to tourists. Avoid
hour if you can, and make sure you plan enough time to get to distant
like Waimea Canyon or Princeville.
Lihue to Kapaa
This is the eastern side of the island. LIhue is the largest city
and has the oldest resort (now redone as the Kauai Lagoons), with
scattered (mostly sparsely except at Wailua) for 10 miles up the
Nothing is crowded here, though Wailua is the biggest resort
with shopping and restaurants, while some of the resorts in between are
isolated. The beaches in this area vary, with most not being good
swimming or snorkeling due to rough coral and lava and surf.
best ones include the beach in front of the lagoons resort (a sheltered
Lydgate park (a pool protected by a breakwater which encloses an area
tropical fish -- a great place for children and novice snorkelers, but
for everyone, though it can be a bit mucky if plant debris gets trapped
in the pool as it did in 2013, and Wailua (which has a wide sandy
beach.) We have
at several condos in this area, none exceptionally good or bad.
lagoons resort has 2 nice golf courses. We also played a new
course (Puakea) in this area that was quite nice, though not oceanside.
Wailua municipal course has been called the best muni course in
with oceanfront holes. It's crowded, though not as much as the
This is a resort area on the south shore, about 10 miles from the
airport. There are several nice beaches for swimming or Snorkeling in
this area which is relatively calm in winter and still swimable in the
summer. Poipu beach has a very sheltered side that is good for
novice swimmers. There are 2 golf courses in Poipu, one ocean
side that hosts a PGA event and one inland with lots of archeological
features. The beaches in this area are still recovering from
Huricane Iniki (1992 I think) and have less sand than they once did,
but getting better every year. Poipu has somewhat limited stores
and other amentities as it is a small resort. We have stayed at
the Poipu Shores, a nice oceanfront place (fronts on a rocky beach with
sea turtles and crashing surf very near Poipu beach). This area
also has Spouting Horn (surf makes water spray out of a hole in the
rock), and several gardens (most can only be seen on a tour and charge
This resort is on the north side of the island and is the most
"upscale". It's also fairly isolated, an hour or more from the
airport depending on road conditions. This area is where most of
the movie scenes are and has great sunsets. The golf courses here
are first rate. Hanalei is an older town and was during the 60's
a hippie mecca (remember where
"puff the magic dragon" lived?) It still attracts people who want
to get away from it all. The road further North from Hanalei
(one lane bridges and some fords) until it ends at Kee beach.
well worth driving, but beware that the fords can flood during rain and
even become dangerous. There are some spectacular beaches along
dangerous in winter but nice in the summer. Kee Beach at the end
the road has a nice lagoon for snorkeling (but not in the winter, when
over the reef cause a strong current to flush swimmers out the opening
the reef), and has public facilities. "Tunnels" beach is the best
snorkeling spot on the island. There are no
public facilities at the beach and guides will tell you to park along
the road. Ignore that -- there's no legal parking there
anyway. Instead park at Haena beach (still can be difficult if
you don't come early in the morning), and hike along the beach to the
right until you are past the rocks/reef at the shore (usually you will
see lots of snorkelers at the spot. It's less than 1/2 mile, and
well worth it. It's a protected spot that usually has no waves
and a large deep water lagoon and fringing reef with lots of coral and
fish. Parking anywhere near the end of the road is quite limited, so
go early, and avoid weekends, when a lot of locals visit this area and
it gets hard to park. (They don't go real early though, so
you can find places if you are there before 8:30 or 9AM, which is the
best time for calm water anyway).
Sights to see.
Waimea Canyon is one of Kauai's premier sights. This is a deep
gorge with multiple colors and waterfalls carved in the western part of
the island. You can drive all the way from the top and peer at it
pullouts. (Watch for some of the less popular spots where the
are more visible). At the end of the road, in Kokee park, if the
weather is clear (almost never) you can stare out at the cliffs of one
of the large valleys on the Na Pali coast. This is where most of
the hiking trails on the island are. There are some short and
level hikes, but many
hike down into the canyon or out onto the ridges along the coast.
there are campsights, a lodge, and cabins here. There are some
side roads that access more trails here. Sometimes you can drive
in a car, but don't count on it. They are basically mud.
The Na Pali coast on the northwest side of the island is another must
see. You can see it by Helicopter, raft, large boat, or Kayak.
Kayaks are the most intimate, and the most work. This is
open ocean and can have large waves. Most people go for the small
boats (rafts or small cabin cruisers), because they can go into sea
caves on the coast. Note that you will get wet in a raft which
makes it hard to manage a non-waterproof camera. The catamaran
trips are less rough and dryer but don't go
in the caves. Most boat trips also include Snorkeling time, which
is nice. The trips go from either Hanalei or Waimea. Waimea
is a longer trip and some of the boats from there also access the
of Nihau, which is privately owned and home to the last population that
exclusively speaks Hawaiian and not in general open to visitors
Nihau trips either don't land at all or land on an isolated beach where
don't interact with the locals). The trip to Nihau is 20 miles of
rough open ocean, so check on water conditions before committing to it.
The Na Pali coast itself is beautiful, with high cliffs and
waterfalls right down to the ocean. Most recently we went with
Blue Dophin tours from Waimea (actually from a harbor in that area) and
had a great tour. You may as we did see spinner dophins, which
jump out of the water and spin around. The Blue Dophin serves
great Mai Tais after the snorkeling. Keep in mind that whether
you go from North or South you will traverse lots of open ocean and it
can be rough. (They claim they make these trips all year, but in
the winter they say the ocean can be so rough that they either limit
the distance they go on the coast or cruise the south coast instead, so
this is really a better summer trip.)
Kilauea Lighthouse is a wildlife sanctuary on the north coast near
Princeville that's great for birds. The lighthouse can be toured,
but the main reason
to come here is to watch and photograph seabirds which nest on the
in the area, including Boobies, Frigate birds, Albatross, and many
It's always interesting. Bring your telephoto lens.
that the lighthouse has rather restricted hours and a small access
fee. It's also closed on federal holidays.
One of the former top attractions, now less promoted, is the Wailua
river tour to the fern grotto. This is a bit tacky/touristy, but
everyone should do it once. There are also two waterfalls you can
on the eastern side of the island. Wailua falls will be
to anyone who saw "Fantasy Island" as it appeared in the lead in to the
show and is a unique double fall.
Helicopter tours and 4WD tours access some remote falls and sites for
movie settings. There are plenty of isolated beaches to explore
all around this island, many with good snorkeling. Get a guide if
Maui promotes itself as the best. I don't know that I'd name a
single best island, but Maui has a good mix of natural beauty,
first class accomodations. It's a good place for people who want
luxury vacation experience (lots of options), but also great for
and has some of the best Snorkeling and diving spots. You can
make day trips to Lanai and Molokai from Maui making it a good base for
a longer stay without having to relocate. Maui has several resort
This is the best known resort area. Kaanapali beach may be the
nicest in Hawaii, a big stretch of white sand split by one area
which has good snorkeling. Kaanapali is a self contained resort
half a dozen hotels and two golf courses. Unfortunately there
much public access in this area (there are two beach parks at either
but it's a long walk from either to the best parts of the beach).
has a very upscale shopping center. Lahina is an old whaling town
for years was the quaint tacky tourist place. It's now gone
meaning it's full of artwork you need a second mortgage to buy.
Interesting to look at, but I definitely don't feel like I'm the
Parking and traffic are a hassle here. There are lots of
Lahina is the departure point for ferries to Lanai and Molokai as
as tour and snorkeling trips (those also depart from other areas).
This area is north of Kaanapali and home to what's probably the most
upscale resort area. The 3 golf courses are among the best
most expensive) and host PGA tour events. There are several
coves with beaches in this area. There is public access to most,
sometimes with showers and other facilities. There are beaches
that are accessible and great for snorkeling. These include
bay, good for snorkeling in summer but sometimes a surf sight in
This is a spot with no facilities -- you park along the road and
a short dirt road to a rocky beach, then swim out to the coral in a
bay. It's a bit of a wilderness experience without being too
The snorkeling is best if it hasn't rained recently as a stream
into the bay, but don't be alarmed if the water is cloudy at the beach
that's the stream outflow and usually doesn't extend as far as the
There is another gorgeous white sand beach just before Honoloua
is also a good snorklening spot. You have to hike down stairs to
to it. This spot used to be very remote but they built permanent
and a real parking lot here now so more people get down the cliff to
Note that this beach is open to the surf, and you can get unexpected
waves here even if the ocean has been calm a long time. Stay
alert and don't panic.
There are lots of condos in communities between Kanapali and Napili,
some available as vacation rentals for bargain rates. The beaches
in this area aren't very good though so you probably have to drive to
find a good spot.
Kihei is on a west facing shore on the east lobe of the island and a
large community with lots of permanent residents. It has several
beach parks good for swimming and sunning and watersports, but not very
good for snorkeling (cloudy water). The accomodations are a
bargain here and there are
lots of restaurants and shops, not especially upscale. This is a
spot for a relative bargain. It is a "laid back" community with a
of local people.
These are two resort communities south of Kihei. This is our
favorite area in Maui, with 5 resort golf courses(Well, at the moment
the fate of the 2 Makena courses is a bit uncertain) and another
course in Kihei, and great beaches. The beaches in this area all
have good public access with facilities and parking, and there's a long
paved walk along the ocean. There are half a dozen resort hotels
but also nice condos and even
individual houses available to rent. The Wailea condos (most
by Destination Resorts) are among the nicest we have stayed in, great
interiors and fantastic landscaping.
is good at almost all of the beaches here, just swim off the beach and
the rocky areas that divide the beaches. The offshore reef here
referred to as "turtle town" by tour operators because of the number of
turtles that come here (and many come very close to shore) (Note
that if the water seems too rough in one beach you may find calmer
conditions just by walking around a point of rocks to the next
beach.) The Wailea courses are very nice and a
cheaper than Kapalua, though one (Gold) hosts the senior skins game
year. Makena is a bit more rugged and primitive (little housing
the golf course), and beyond the Makena resort the area is mostly wild
undeveloped, with the biggest beach on the island just beyond the
with no hotels or development at it. Beyond that the road starts
get narrower and nastier, and most rental car companies don't want you
If you do go to the end it ends in a gravel lot on a lava flow
a 4WD road continues to La Peruse bay, a natural preserve that is a
snorkeling spot (though it's hard to get into the water here because
there is no sand)
There are some accomodations on the North shore near Kahului/Wailalua.
beaches aren't as good here and are rough in the winter, but there are
that are good in the winter. Mama's Fish House restaurant is
though overpriced in my view, it has a good view. On windy days,
beach just east of Mama's is a top windsurfing sight (bring your camera
telephoto lens to catch the action).
Hana has a few places to stay if you want to get away from it all.
It's a long drive (see below) from anywhere and not much else
there though so
this is really a place to get away. You can't really stay in Hana
do activities in other areas of the island.
There are lodges and B&B accomodations in "upcountry Maui" on the
slopes of Halekela. The gardens plant growers are very nice here,
it is a very long drive to the beach.
Must see sights
Haleakala is the must see sight on Maui. It's a dormant volcano
with an eroded summit that formed a large crater full of cinders, lava
and cones that looks like another planet. It's a national park
admission fee), and you can drive to the top. Seeing the sun rise
is a big deal, but you have to get up VERY early (2AM) to be sure of
up there for it, and in my view over rated (photography is better later
in the day). It is cold up there even at mid day, and
(literally) at dawn. If you are going to Maui, bring at least one
of clothing good for freezing temperatures and high winds. If you
up here be aware that it will take you a couple of hours from most
to reach the top, as the last 20 miles are narrow and winding and most
of day you dodge bicycles making the descent. Note that during
hour you may encounter detours or lane restrictions on the lower part
the road because they give priority to traffic leaving "upcountry" and
to jobs in the rest of the island.
To really appreciate Haleakala you have to hike it. You can hike
the crater on two trails from the top, the Sliding Sands trail from the
and another from a lookout on the road. Do this with caution as
a lot longer than it looks, and the air is thin and the sun very strong
Before going in, wear sturdy shoes (lava cinders eat shoes),
and take sunscreen,
and lots of water. (I don't understand the modern fashion of
holding bottled water for even a 2 minute walk, but Haleakala can be
and very dry and the only way out is up, and is one place where
water is essential). Hiking down sliding sands is easy, turning
and looking at how far up you now have to go back can be a shock.
about 1500 feet down to the first cinder cone with a side trail to it
a decent hike that will take most folks 3 hours or so. Going all
way to the crater floor on sliding sands is about 3,000 feet down and
take most of a day down and up. The other trail descends from a
point on the rim and is only 1200 feet to the bottom, though it
a very steep cliff and may be scary for anyone with a fear of heights
a wide trail and not dangerous, but there are spots where the drop off
edge is a LONG way down.) Hiking this trail down and then up on
crater floor as far as the silversword loop trail will take most of a
(SliverSwords are plants unique to Haleakala. You see lots
them in the crater. They are unusual and beautiful). The
hike is probably to hike down sliding sands, across the crater, and up
other trail. This is over 11 miles, but only about 1500 feet of
since the other trial comes out lower. You park in the lower
lot and hitch a ride to the top (not too difficult). This will be
challenging but rewarding hike for most people. There are also
on the floor of Haleakala that provide a way to have a multi-day trip,
have to be reserved long in advance (usually by a lottery, so not
feasible for mainland visitors).
Bicycling down Haleakala has become a major tourist industry.
Going up or down the mountain you will encounter lots of groups
of bikers, usually riding as a group with a van behind them. I've
never taken one of
these tours because it never looked like these folks were having that
fun. You coast down at high speed in a group, dressed in
clothing (it can be very cold and misty), without a lot of opportunity
stop and enjoy the scenery. There are some companies that offer
the ride up and you set your own pace, but I don't think they are
to do this inside the park so you don't get to ride through the best
If you want the sunrise tour, they pick you up between 2AM and
Day tours with more reasonable pickup times are available.
Molokini crater is another must see sight if you snorkel. Dozens
of boats go there and thousands of people are in the water, but it
matter. It's a volcanic crater 6 miles off shore, with
clear water and lots of fish and corals. Most boat trips go in
AM (calmer clearer water) and provide lunch and drinks afterwards.
now visit another site (turtle town, coral gardens, La Peruse Bay,
on the same trip. These destinations are subject to change
to weather (Molokini is well protected and almost always nice, but La
isn't when the waves run from the south). The trips leave from
places so pick one that goes from a spot near where you are staying.
operate from Lahina, convenient for Kaanapali and Kapalua, others from
boat harbor in the center of the island (20 minute drive for everyone).
operator, the Kai Kanani goes from Makena, which is very close to
Molokini, by beaching
boat in front of the
hotel on Makena beach -- very convenient for people
in Wailea and Makena. The tours vary a bit in amenities so find
what you want. Many serve lunch and drinks (including alcoholic
as part of the basic package. I can strongly recommend the Makena
departure (Kai Kanini) to anyone staying in the Wailea/Makena
area. Not only is it closer to your lodging, but because you
start much closer to Molokini than the other tours you get maximum
snorkeling time, and they time it so they avoid the most crowded times
at Molokini (On our 2013 trip we had two sites at Molokini, both
with no other boats nearby because of the timing, plus Turtle Town plus
a 4th stop for swimming if anyone wanted, great food and drinks
included). Another advantage of this boat is that it is one of
very few large boats that can reach La Peruse bay. On rare
occasions the wind is wrong for Molokini, creating surge in the crater,
but usually good for La Peruse. In 2014 we got to do this and had
great conditions snorkeling a coral pinacle in the middle of the bay.
Hana Highway. Driving to Hana is another promoted activity.
It's 35 miles of windy, twisty road with waterfalls and gardens.
Most of the trip is spent inland without many views of the coast,
but there are
a lot of waterfalls. The road is very narrow and there isn't much
parking in the waterfall areas so use caution. There are several
off this road, including a couple of walks through the jungle to
near one of the waysides, the Kenae arboretum which has a lot of
plants in a natural and informal setting, and some interesting coastal
in a park just short of Hana. Going past Hana you get to the 7
(part of Haleakala park), which is interesting. If the water conditions
reasonable you can swim in the pools, so think about bringing your
There are also two waterfalls above the pools that you can hike
but this is a signfiicant hike (a mile and about 600 feet of elevation
the first fall and a little longer than that again to the second). The
continues and eventually connects with the Haleakala road (at the
but there are stretches of this road that can't be driven in a car
car agreements prohibit it, but more important it's a rough dirt road
a remote area, sometimes not passable and definitely not somewhere you
to get stuck.) One thing you might consider as an
alternative is to drive the road around the north end of the island
from Wailuku to Kapalua. A stretch of this is one lane dirt on
the side of a cliff, and your rental car company may prohibit it, but
it's usually navigable and has more impressive views than the Hanna
road because most of it is through open country.
Along the slopes of Haleakala, accessible from the road to the park, is
an area knows as "Up country". You will find many growers of
flowers (Proteas, anthuriums, Bird of Paradise, etc.), some of which
gardens to the public. Way down the road you will find a winery
vineyards. The wine is okay, not spectacular, but the trip out
and the location are very interesting. (You can go past the
winery for a few more miles before the road becomes dirt, but it is
often very windy here.) Down the "local" road from this area is
the Surfing Goat Dairy -- nice cheese, lunch items, and chocolates, and
lots of goats (very pricey though).
Another popular tourist stop is Iao Needle. This is a small park
with rock spire west of Wailuku. It's okay, but the better reason
to go there is hiking the short trails through the gardens below the
as well as examining the garden park a couple of miles back on the road
has ceremonial gardens from several pacific cultures. Note that
as of 2013, the state is now charging $5/car to park at Iao
Needle. It's still worth doing once, but maybe not every time you
go. The garden park is still free.
The Big Island (Hawaii)
The island of Hawaii is bigger than all the others together and bigger
than some states. It's the most varied in terms of landscape and
activities, and not crowded (well not yet at least, but they keep
also the only island with 2 airports with regular jet service, Hilo and
Kona. This can be convenient as you can arrange to fly in one
place and out
the other. There is a lot of distance to be covered on this
plan enough time for your trips.
The Kohala coast.
This is where the newest and fanciest resorts are -- Mauna Kea, Mana
Lani, Waikaloa, etc. It's basically a lava desert that has been
turned into lush gardens at the coast through lots of money and effort.
Each resort has great golf courses with oceanside holes and lots
of lava, hotels, and condos, and a beach. There are no bargains
in here (All the condos cost
more per night than my monthly mortgage payment :-), but the resorts
beautiful. The beaches are nice for sunning and swimming, though
snorkeling in this area is only fair. It's near the Kona airport
a long way from the Volcano and Hilo.
North of the Kohala resorts are the Kohala mountains with some older
towns and deserted coastline. This is a nice area to explore by
car and has some interesting sights including a park depecting an old
hawaiian villiage. The ranching town of Waimea is also in this
area and has operators offering
trail rides and other "western" activities. Tour operators
operate kayaking tours in an irrigation ditch in these mountains, and
change of pace.
The Kona coast.
The Kona resort area is really the town of Kailua and area immediately
south of it. This is an older resort with older hotels and
condos. It has the best shopping on Hawaii, and to us the best in
the islands for souvenirs (i.e. not yet overrun by overpriced art
galeries). If you like beer, visit Kona Brewing in town -- my
favorite brew pub. There are two golf courses at the Kona Country
that are discounted to people staying in the resorts in the adjoining
area, Keahou bay (They also offer a senior rate to anyone over 55.
Check current status -- in 2014 both courses were closed for
There aren't many beaches in this area and
they tend to be crowded, but there is a beach park that has what is
probably the best off-the-beach snorkeling in the islands. It's a
good sized park with a small grey sand beach and a large
bay protected by a breakwater. The bay is shallow and full of
fish and at last count at least half a dozen turtles (more every time
come). The sand is sharp and coarse, so the thing to do is put on
mask and snorkel and get in the water and swim as soon as you can do it
bottom and swim out. There are large areas of coral at the far
of the bay from the parking lot (towards the small chappel), but the
is open on that end and you can get surf and currents so be wary.
(Note that in all our trips, this beach was closed only once, in
November 2014. Sometimes they close the parking lot to discourage
people if conditions are a bit rough, but inquire of anyone official --
our best snorkel came on one of those days the lot was closed and while
it was a little rough getting in and out, the bay was full of fish and
turtles and crystal clear.
We have stayed at several of the condos in this area, neither
good nor bad. In some, the units vary considerably in quality and
so make sure you specify what you want and get it. (Note that in
2013 our request via the web was apparently not picked up locally, so
even in this on-line age it apparently pays to call the resort directly
with any specific requests.) One resort
to stick us in a basement appartment half below ground level with a
of an alley, but gave us a good top floor unit after we complained.
There are some good accessable beaches in the lava north of Kailua,
some requiring long hikes or 4WD. Get a local guide to know where
to go because
the best beach is often not the one near the parking lot. South
Kailua is one of the best spots in the world, Kealeakua bay. You
reach this from a boat tour to the Captain Cook Monument (marks the
place where he was killed in a misunderstanding with the natives).
The water here is very clear and the coral spectacular. The
Fair Winds boat (the only large one that goes there) is basically a bus
though -- you pay extra for anything but water and snacks, but it's
well equiped with snorkel and
snuba and the staff is helpful. You can also reach this bay by
driving to Napoopoo. There is a beach park there but the beach
in a hurricane and hasn't reappeared so the best place to get in the
is a boat pier at the end of the road. You can either snorkel
or kayak to the monument. In one of the stupider moves, though,
can't rent Kayaks there but have to do that in the towns along the main
and carry them down. I'm sure rental car companies just love
sandy kayaks tied to the roof of your rental car, but lots of folks do
Further south at Honaunau is a national historic park (used to be
called "place of refuge", I never have been able to remember the
Hawaiian name it
now has.) The park is worth a tour, with relics and sometimes
of native crafts, but it also has great snorkeling from the adjacent
The snorkeling spot is to the right of the monument parking down
one way road and the parking lot asks for a donation to a local church.
get in the ocean you walk over black lava and descend natural steps
deep clear water with lots of coral and turtles. (That lava can
very hot in the sun!). You can probably also rent a Kayak here
and explore a bit.
Volcano and Hilo area.
Hilo is the biggest city on the island and has a few tourist hotels
along the beachfront. It's cheaper than Kona or Kohala, but the
weather tends to be rainer especially in the winter and there are fewer
tourist facilities here. Volcano is a town on the Kilauea Volcano
that has lodges and B&B
accomodations oriented to people exploring Vocanos park. The best
is from Volcano house, which sits on the rim of Kilauea.
expect to see flowing lava here very often (well, at least not during
which comes from other areas, they have had lava on the crater floor in
of Volcano house at various times over the past 100 years), but its
a great view. The rooms are well
and not too expensive given where you are, and the restaurant is
good. Note that the main lodge gets a lot of traffic from
travelling through, especially tour busses at mid day, so the rooms in
newer wing (attached to the main lodge and all crater view
Volcano house just re-opened in 2013 under new management. The
wing is not being used, while the other rooms have been
is much more expensive now than in the past, but if there is lava in
the summit crater the view is worth it.There are also restaurants in
the town of Volcano (we
really liked the Kiawe Cafe, unfortunately now closed I hear).
Some of he B&B accomodations in
town are very nice, but don't expect a Volcano view.
Other places to stay.
There are some condos along the south coast at Punaluu and discovery
cove. Both are resorts that never quite made it and as a result
have limited facilities. Waimea has some places to stay as well.
Must see sights
The one must see sight is the Volcano, especially during an eruption.
What you see will vary according to what is going on. In 12
visits, I've seen surface lava flows twice, lava going into the ocean 7
times (3 times reasonably close and twice only from a distance), A lava
lake at the summit twice, and no
activity twice. Even
with no activity the park is interesting to explore and anyone visiting
at least once explore the sights. When the volcano is erupting,
get at it either from Chain of Craters road (in the park) or sometimes
the local roads in Kalapana (or what's left of Kalapana after the
trashed it). In the park the routine is usually the same if the
road is open -- you
down to the end of the road, turn around, and park as close as you can
the return off of the road, then get out and hike. How far you
to hike to the lava varies according to where it's coming down but
a mile or two is typical. To go in you should have sturdy shoes
hiking is over rough lava), water, and a flashlight. If lava is
into the ocean, there will be a plume of acid steam flowing overhead
the fumes can be hazardous especially to anyone with breathing
so be careful and protect your camera gear! Note that in 2013
there were companies running hiking trips to the lava from Kalapana,
but we were told mixed stories about this. Not all the Kalapana
natives approve and some cars were damaged while their owners were
hiking. The ownership of the hiking route and permission to
access it are apparently not well settled. Another local we
talked to (the bartender at Volcano house) said he went lava viewing
from the Kalapana end fairly often and had never had trouble. He
generally went on his own, starting at 3AM and hiking past the gate at
the end of the road guided by the glow of the lava. He said the
lava on the Kalapana end was smoother than what you had to navigate
from the park end, but again, keep in mind that land ownership doesn't
stop when it gets covered in lava, and some people aren't accomodating
to hikers crossing their land, even if the land isn't immediately
useful to them. In November 2014, the only active lava flow was
actually threatening the town of Pahoa, near Kalapana. The lava
is eventually expected to breach the only road into the area, and as a
result they have partially restored Chain-of-craters road through the
lava to Kalapana, but it will only be open to the locals to access
their homes and only in the even the other roads get cut off. In
any case there is currently no opportunity for lava viewing there.)
If you plan to hike to the lava, consider it carefully. Hiking
lava is unlike anything else -- no footstep is level, and you spend a
lot of extra effort and time picking routes over areas where steep
slopes or cracks block your way, so 1 or 1-1/2 miles/hour is probably
speed. In 2013, we spent over 7 hours hiking, and figured we
went maybe 11 miles total (and didn't reach the ocean entry). The
service puts out a string of beacon posts starting at the Chain of
Craters road end that are supposed to help guide hikers on the return
trip. The posts are spaced far enough it's hard to spot the next
and much of the time hiking between posts is spent in low areas where
you won't be able to see your target. The posts also probably
more than 2-3 miles, far from where the current ocean entries are.
If there is a surface flow, the park service will usually let you
walk right up to it. This is an amazing experience and you are
to be able to do this. Be careful and respectful and don't poke
lava (yes, it will light a stick on fire instantly) or throw junk in it
(plastic bottles really stink when they burn). The lava advances
slowly and is
incredibly hot so it's not hard to stay away (in fact it is hard to get
The viewing gets better at dusk and after dark, but that will
you hiking out in the dark so make sure your flashlight has good
batteries. The lava hardens quickly and cools fairly quickly so
you can be walking on lava that was flowing yesterday. In an area
with active flows, the heat, and crackling noises are pretty good clues
about which ones are too hot to walk on, but test the surface of
anything you suspect with your boot
to make sure it doesn't melt.
When there is an ocean entry, expect to see a lot of steam and a little
red glow. This is much better after dark, which makes it easier
see the lava. They used to let people go right to the sea cliffs
get good views of this but now keep you well away from the coast after
was learned, the hard way, that the ocean side cliffs are unstable and
collapse into the sea taking tourists with them, so you probably won't
able to get close to it. There are companies now that operate
tour boats out of Hilo that access the ocean entries when the lava is
flowing. This can be spectacular, but it's also popular, and it's
a boat cruise in a rough ocean area. The Helicopter and tour
booking companies will try to push you into a helicopter as the only
way to see it, but the helicopters can't fly before or after sunset,
when the best visibility is. (We talked to people who had taken a
helicopter tour and said they saw nothing). As of June 2013,
there was one air tour company that flew sunset tours in a fixed wing
plane out of Kona. I don't know how much they see, but it is a
very expensive trip ($450/each), and of course planes can't hover over
something interesting, making photography more difficult.
Chain of Craters road is a monument to the futility of fighting nature.
The road originally connected the summit area of the park to the
of Kalapana. In the 1970's, lava flows from Mauna Ulu wiped out a
of it and naturally the park service decided to rebuild it in a
proof" design. The design was to descend to the coast in 3 broad
so that a lava flow would at worst flow over the road in 3 places,
than down a narrow valley where the lava could cover the entire road as
did in the 1970's. The design worked for a few years, but the
moved down the coast to Puu Oo, which has been erupting for 24 years
covered a huge area including about 8 miles of road along the coast and
whole town of Kalapana, plus a newly built visitor center. The
of Hawaii (each island is a county) has built an access road from the
end that may get you closer to flows when the lava is coming out near
end, for a fee. I'm told they are fussier about letting people
the lava than the park service. In the remains of the town of
Kalapana, there's also a trail down to the ocean to a new black sand
beach. (*** Again -- there's not much to see from either road in
Also in the volcano area are black sand beaches (really created by lava
flowing into the ocean) at Punaluu and east of the park. The best
in Kalapana and the park were destoryed by lava, but these are still
to go to. The Punaluu beach has a nice park, faicilities, and sea
It's hard to see Puu Oo, the active vent. The park service will
tell you to hike the Mauna Ulu trail to the top of a cinder cone and
while this does work, you are likely to encounter fog and rain here.
There is a
viewpoint from the road to Hilo as well as a trail through the
rainforest from the road that gets you close (but it's apparently a
very difficult, muddy
hike that takes a full day). Consult a local guide on this.
viewpoint is by driving the one-lane paved Mauna Loa road, which gets
up above the park and has panoramic views. The road is very
though, 8 miles of one lane with little room to pass and a very small
lot at the top.
Helicopters tour the volcano, and will show you Puu Oo as well as
active flows and skylights (holes in the lava tubes carrying lava to
the seacoast where you can peek at the active flow. Again, they
don't fly at dawn and dusk when it's most dramatic. Tours from
Hilo will give you the most time for the least money.
From 2008 to at least late 2014, though, a vent has formed in the
Halemaumau crater at the summit. The result closed much of crater
rim drive, but the lava has formed a lava lake in a small crater within
halemaumau that gives off a nice glow at night. The best public
viewing is from the viewpoint in front of Jaggar museum, at what is now
the end of the driveable part of crater rim. Note viewing is best
at night near dawn or sunrise. Sunrise viewing is much less
cowded than Sunset, if you can manage it. (stay at Volcano House
or one of the B&Bs in Volcano and set an alarm, you won't regret
it). We have seen this display at least 3 times, and 2014 was the
most impressive -- you can hear the lava churn in the lake and see the
difference in glow as cracks open and close in the crust on the lava
If you hike any signficant distance, bear in mind that you will be
hiking on rough black lava and usually in bright sunshine. Don't
expect to cover distance very quickly as a lot of time is spent
negotiating obstacles, like cracks, heaves, and just awkward slopes in
the lava surface. Do take LOTS of water as there is none anywhere
there (there is a snack shop that sells water at the end of Chain of
Craters road, but they close before sunset when most people are hiking
out desperately thirsty). Don't expect marked trails. Note
that this is one the few areas in a national park where you can wander
off and get lost, run out of water, and not be found until it's too
There are a couple of big waterfalls on the coast north of Hilo.
Akaka falls park is a must visit at least once, with two falls
and a lot of tropical gardens. We used to love to visit the
Woods shop in Honokaa, which soldKoa and other native wood products
carved in the shop behind the store, but as of 2011 the owners retired
and nobody had taken it over. There are other craftsmen in this
area selling Koa, blown glass, and other crafts. The Waipo valley
and adjoining valleys in the roadless north coast beyond
are beautiful, but difficult to access (you really need a ride from a
operator to get down the cliff and need to do some walking down there
see the sights.
Another unusual activity is a tour of the Mauna Kea observatory.
Various operators take you up there to see it and then go star
gazing (not at the mountain top). This is a long rough trip but a
unique experience. As with Haleakela, expect it to be cold and
windy at the top.
The Island of Lanai was until fairly recently basically a pineapple
plantation. When Dole moved out, two upscale resorts moved in.
two resorts each with a golf course and a couple of hotels and a 9 hole
golf course in Lanai city. Lanai may be the most expensive place
to go (well to the resorts) anywhere. You can do it as a day trip
from Maui and play one of the golf courses, use the beach, or visit the
back country of the island. Lanai has great beaches and
snorkeling in many areas. We liked the Manele bay area and the golf
course, but the folks there didn't really seem anxious to serve us in
spite of the high costs. Maybe you've got to stay there awhile to
get there attention. It's nice, but a small
island with limited options. Great for someone who wants to get
in luxury and doesn't mind limited choice.
Molokai is the least developed of the major island. It has only
one real resort, Kaluakoi, with a hotel (currently closed), a couple of
condo complexes, and a golf course (also now closed). There are a
couple of small
hotels along the coastal road east of the airport as well, but these
are small. Kaluakoi has beautiful beaches to look at but the surf
is a bit rough here for swimming and snorkeling. The golf course
was great with lots of ocean front holes, and a real bargain (half the
price of just about anything else for the first round and after that a
dollar a hole, and you can probably play 3-4 rounds in a day if you
want) If it is open. It has been closed at poor economic times..
The resort, however, has always been financially
troubled. When the hotel closed in the late 1990s the area went
downhill a bit. The golf course re-opened before 2007, but closed
again during the 2008-2009 recession and for now at least seems gone
The latest recession also closed the Molokai ranch, an "adventure"
accomodation that put people up in tent cabins or an up-country lodge
and featured trail
rides and other western activities. Check carefully on local
conditions before you plan a visit here. (An alternative is
taking a day trip from Lahina on Maui, which might give you enough time
to see some remaining sights.) I think the Hotel Molokai, a small
resort on the south coast that will take you back to the Hawaii you saw
on TV in the 1950s, is still functioning.
The road to the east end of the island is spectacular and takes you to
a large valley with beaches and waterfalls. There are more like
the north side of the island which has the highest sea cliffs in the
world. It's hard to get much of a view of this area except
through air tours. At about the 20 mile point on this road is an
informal beach park (no facilities, with a nice sandy beach and shallow
reef decent for snorkeling.
The other activity on Molokai is visiting Kalaupapa, a peninsula off
the north coast that was host to a facility for victims of Hansen's
disease (aka Leprocy). You can tour the facility and learn the
history, if you can get there, which you do only by air or by hiking or
riding down a steep trail. A tour operator takes groups down on
mules. The trail is narrow and a bit scary, probably not
something for anyone with a problem with heights. There is a park
you can drive to at the top of the cliff where the mules
depart from with great views and some short trails.
There are also coffee plantations and a macademia nut farm that offers
a very low key and personal tour. To get an idea of how different
Molokai really is, consider the fact that there are only 7,000 people
there and no stoplights. There are some challenges in this
isolation. There's only one real grocery store, and it isn't open
on Sundays. There are only a couple of "fine dining" restaurants
and the only evening entertainment is an occasional local group playing
the Hotel Molokai, which looks like something out of a 1960's Hollywood
vision of Hawaii, though the food is good. The biggest rental car
companies don't operate on Molokai (Dollar and Budget do), and the only
place to fill your rental car with gas is the main town of Kaunakakai,
6 miles from the airport and over 20 miles from Kaluakoi. Still,
though, there aren't many other places you can have a whole beach or a
whole golf course to yourself.
Lanai and Molokai might be a good illustration of what has been
happening since 2,000. With long recessions that have hurt the
middle class and evolving demographics there seem to be fewer budget
and moderate class travelers to the island, so the resorts that catered
to them (e.g. Kaluakoi) struggled. The richest travellers though
have done well, so there's no lack of no expenses spared facilities,
and if anything more of those people are buying their own condos and
not even renting them.