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A (subjective) guide to their main attractions
by piero scaruffi
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Hawaii is the kind of place where you have to keep telling yourself "this is so great" until you convince yourself. Then you can start telling everybody else.

In other words, very little is special about Hawaii, other than its popularity with tourists of all continents.

Generally speaking, if you like beaches, go to Maui; if you like nature, go to the Big Island (which does boast a couple of truly interesting attractions); if you like night life, go to Ohau.

Hotels tend to be expensive everywhere, and the quality leaves to be desired. Hard to recommend anything anywhere. (Best is to camp, if you're adventurous).

Gasoline is about 20% more expensive than on the mainland, but still cheap by European and Japanese standards.

Restaurants abound only in designated tourist traps, such as Lahaina in Maui and Kona in the Big Island. Outside of those areas, food can be found almost only in shopping malls. Bear in mind that it is difficult to get a good meal outside of Honolulu, no matter how much you are willing to pay, so lower your expectations.

When you arrive, you will be submerged with literature, so planning what to do in Hawaii is difficult only in terms of the amount of brochures you have to read.

There are very few roads on each island, and speed limits are very slow in Maui (even by USA standards).

The main islands are connected by frequent and cheap flights.

Hawaii, in case you didn't notice, is part of the United States: there is nothing exotic about it. You will find all the USA chains and everything is absolutely USA: as exotic as Chicago. This is the least tropical place at the Tropics!

That said, Hawaians do everything they can to make sure that you enjoy your vacations.

The main islands are:

  • Maui.
    • Lahaina is the main tourist hub. You land in Kahului, but you want to hang out in Lahaina.
    • Haleakala, a huge dormant volcano and probably the only rational reason to visit this island. It can be reached in about one hour from Kahului. It is a popular sunrise spot. The main reason is that after sunrise the clouds start rising, and for the rest of the day they are the only things you can view from the summit. From the summit it is possible to hike down to the floor of the crater (12 kms) and to the coast.
    • Road to Hana. This is considered the "jungle" experience in Maui. It tells you how much nature there is in Hawaii... The waterfalls along the highway are pathetic and the jungle is as thick as your favorite city park. If you have seen jungle, skip this one. Because of the slow traffic, it takes a long time to cover the 60 kms from Kahului to Hana (if you are American, it may take you as much as 3.5 hours). From there the road continues and about 15 kms later you get to Haleakala National Park. This is worth it. From the parking lot two trails originate: one leads downhill to the "pools" (0.5 kms), one leads uphill (3 kms) to the Waimoku Falls. The latter is very beautiful, passing through a forest of bamboo trees and several intermediates waterfalls (one cave is particularly spectacular and you can swim in it).
    • Iao Valley. The needle-shaped mountain that you see in the postcards. Not much else to see or do.
    • Northern beaches are windy, therefore ideal for surfers.
    • Southern beaches are calmer, therefore ideal for lazy suntanners. Oneloa (Big Beach) just south of Makena is the largest undeveloped beach.
    • Western beaches are where the action (eg, restaurants) is.
    • Ideal tour: Kahului to Haleakala for sunrise, then drive back to the coast and all the way to Hana, then back to Kahului; following day drive Kahului to Makena and Makena to Napili and back to Kahului.
    • Food. Good breakfast and cakes at Stella's Blues in Kihei, 12 kms from Kahului. Longhi's, in Lahaina, has received several awards for best dinners, but its prices are probably the only thing that is special about it. Tropical Plantation has a restaurant that serves fruit dishes, but it seems to be closed most of the times. If you are driving to the volcano, stop in Kula for breakfast or lunch at the Kula Lodge: it boasts the view that you will not or did not see at the summit. When in Lahaina, check out the awasome Hula Pie (with vanilla and macadamia nut ice cream) at Kimo's, which also has romantic seating on the sea.
  • Big Island (or Hawaii).
    • Kona. The likely arrival point and largest city. Several good restaurants around downtown.
    • Kilauea (100 kms, 2 hours from Kona). The volcano has been erupting since 1983 and it is still one of the planet's most active volcanos. Crater Road is a 15 km paved circle around the crater. Highlights include two main craters, Halemaumau and Kilauea Iki, both of which can be observed from overlooks. From the Lava Tube stop a trail leads into the Kilauea Iki crater. Many other trails criss cross the whole area. Chains of Craters Road is a road that leads from Crater Road to the coast (30 kms). The road ends at a lava flow. From there it is possible to walk 6 kms to the current (1999) lava flow (the smoke can be seen clearly and the glowing of the lava is visible at night). The Hawaii Observatory provides information on volcano activity. Check also the official website of the Hawaii Volcanoes. The two roads, the two main craters, the Kilauea Iki trail and the lava flow trail are all highly recommended.
    • Mauna Kea (100 kms, 3 hours from Kona). Another highlight of a visit to Hawaii. At 4.200 meters, this is one of the tallest mountains in the United States. A paved road leads to the visitor center of Hale Pohaku (rental cars decline responsibility on this "Saddle Road" because of low visibility, but most times the visibility is just fine). From here you can hike to the top (9 kms, 5 hours going up, 2 hours coming back) and four-wheel drive vehicles can continue to the summit (the first 8 kms are not paved, the last 3 kms are paved). We drove a regular front-wheel car to the top with no problem (in less than one hour). The visibility at the top is usually very good because you are above the clouds (unless, of course, the weather is bad). Saddle Road continues to Hilo and it is worth it, especially if you haven't seen Kilauea, because it runs through fields of lava.
    • Mauna Loa. The world's largest volcano. It's only about 4.000 meters high, but if you count the point where it starts (the bottom of the ocean), it is also the tallest mountain on this planet. The mass (i.e. the overall size) of this mountain dwarfs any other volcano on earth. Unfortunately, the only way to get to the top is via a 30 km trail. The best view of Mauna Loa is from the top of Mauna Kea.
    • Botanical Garden (near Hilo, 150kms from Kona). Lots of orchids. Hilo is the orchid capital of Hawaii.
    • Akaka Falls (140 meters tall), 22 kms north of Hilo. Dense tropical vegetation. Nearby there are several other waterfalls.
    • Hapuna beach. A very nice beach 50 kms north of Kona, adjacent to the luxurious Prince Hotel.
    • Ideal tour: Kona to Mauna Kea, Kea to Akaka Falls and return to Kona along the coast (hwy 19); following day, Kona to Kilauea and then Kilauea to the coast and back to Kona the same way. It can be done in one day.
  • Oahu.
    • This is the island of Honolulu and Pearl Harbour.
    • Honolulu boasts terribly boring night life for desperately lonely people.
  • Kauai.
    • One of the wettest spots on Earth (if you ever wondered by your tourist agent didn't want you to go there), but it boasts wild nature.
    • Hiking: Koke State Park, Waimea Canyon, Napali Coast.
    • Helicopter tours: Will Squyres and Island Helicopters.

Things to do so you don't get too bored (you can do all of these things in other places of the Earth too, it's just that in Hawaii you don't have anything else to do):

  • Helicopter tours. If you have flown over Venezuela's jungle, this will tell you how much Hawaian tourists have missed.
  • Snorkeling (Molokini Crater and Coral Gardens in Maui, Kahaluu, Napoopoo and Hookena in the Big Island). Or you can take a boat with an underwater cabin in Maui or a submarine in the Big Island.
  • Whale watching.
  • Blue water rafting (turtles, dolphins and caves being the main attractions).
  • Downhill biking. I guess it tells you how adventurous the average Hawaian tourist is... they organize it so that you only bike downhill! It costs about $80.
  • Diving (especially Molokini Crater and Lanai Cathedrals, both in Maui).
  • Parasailing (up to 100 meters in the air). It will cost you between $40 and $70.
  • Paragliding (from Haleakala, Maui). Same prices.
  • Golfing (lots and lots of golf courses, especially on Maui).
  • And, finally, the "authentic" Luau, the traditional dance and music feast. Guess how authentic it is... A recommended one is held every sunday, tuesday, wednesday and thursday on the grouns of the ancient capital of Kamakahonu, which lasts about two hours.
Discount agents operate in all the main towns and can get you cheaper tickets at the last minute.

If you have only one week:

  1. Fly to Honolulu and from Honolulu to Kahului, Maui. Hit one of the northern beaches.
  2. Breakfast at Stella's Blues. Drive south to Makena beach. Drive back through the Tropical Plantation and Iao Valley.
  3. Wake up early and drive to Haleakala for sunrise. Breakfast at Kula Lodge. Drive north to the road to Hana. Drive to Hana. Continue to Haleakala State Park. Hike to Waimoku Falls. Hike to the pools.
  4. Hit one of the western beaches near Lahaina. Fly to Kona, Big Island. Walk downtown Kona.
  5. Drive to Mauna Kea, then Kea to Akaka Falls and return to Kona along the coast (hwy 19)
  6. Drive Kona to Kilauea and then Kilauea to the coast and back to Kona. Hit a beach.
  7. Fly back home

Hiking in Hawaii