First blog of this series: Hawaii – On a Budget Pt 1
But Note: Everything there (museums, exhibits, etc…) is self-explanatory as in most Nat’l Parks, so there’s no need to pay for a ‘tour’ unless you just WANT to. Now, you DO need a reservation to take the ferry over to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial but THAT IS FREE (Well, there’s a $1.50/ticket processing fee but no charge for the actual ticket) Get that at Recreation.gov http://www.recreation.gov/tourParkDetail. Also to be noted: You can add ‘extras’ to your ticket (audio tours, specialty tours, etc…) for a fee.
NOTE: Make reservations early (especially if traveling during the busy summer months) . They have a few tickets available each morning on a ‘first come first serve’ basis, but supply is limited and you’ll need to get in line VERY early to secure one of these. It’s just better to make that reservation beforehand. To repeat that….
YOU NEED A RESERVATION….and MAKE IT EARLY!!! Just don’t be duped into purchasing a $40 ticket to take the ferry when the ferry is free (other than that $1.50 proc. fee) Now….in our purchase, we DID purchase ONE audio tour, shared it and enjoyed it very much, but it was NOT a necessity in order for us to see the Memorial or enjoy the park.
DiamondHead: This is a very popular attraction – just south of Honolulu. You can drive to the visitor area and look around or take a hike up. If you hike, plan to get an EARLY start – like 6-7 am as it gets very hot in the tropical sun.
Banyan Trees: These can be found many places, but are abundant in the park just across the street from Waikiki Beach. You MUST see these!!! This is also a great place for a picnic.
North Shore: If you have the means to drive around the island, you will want to be certain to visit the North Shore and Benzai Pipeline. You are almost certain to see surfers out there….and while on the North Shore, make a stop at the Matsumoto Shave Ice shop. The line will be out the door (note my pic where we were waiting in line – OUTside the store…) but the line moves quickly…and gives you just a small idea of what you’re in store for when you get in 🙂 🙂
Waikiki is by far the most ‘popular’ beach area – but…
Consider stays (and beaches) OUTSIDE Honolulu or Waikiki: Oahu is so much more than just Waikiki. If you never leave that area, you’ll never know it. 🙂 Of course, if your only plan while on the island is to spend time on Waikiki Beach, then you can do that without even getting a rental car. Find a Waikiki hotel with an airport shuttle, then walk or take the bus anywhere else you want to go. HOWEVER, if you plan a trip up to the North Shore to see the Banzai Pipeline or want to go to Hanauma Bay….or plan to visit the east or west side beaches then consider the idea of staying away from the congestion of Honolulu. Kailua is one of several nice towns on the east side. It has everything you could possible need as far as shopping, restaurants, beaches, etc and is much less congested. It’s also prettier in my opinion. It’s about a 20-25 min. drive across the mountains and the drive itself is very scenic. At the very least, if you have a car, consider a drive over there one day to explore their beaches.
LOCK YOUR CAR: –especially on the North Shore. Better yet, leave valuables at the room/condo. In all actuality, a locked car will not keep a thief out.
Maui is a very easy island to navigate. That is probably because about half of it is inaccessible. 🙂 It’s an absolutely beautiful island!
Road to Hana: This is a beautiful drive but if you’re going to do it, START EARLY! I can’t emphasize this enough. There are 629 hairpin curves and 54 one lane bridges. (That’s not an exaggeration….that’s the truth) If you get on the road around 6:30am, you will encounter local traffic getting to work, but it won’t be anything like what you will encounter at 11 am when tourists are on the road too. The turn outs to view the scenery and waterfalls only accommodate 2 or 3 cars. Later in the day, you may not be able to make all the stops you want because they will be “full”. You will encounter congestion on your return trip and there’s no way to avoid that, but getting started early means you can have at least that drive TO Hana free of those stresses and able to stop wherever you want to stop. Tour buses are on the road later in the day which is another reason to begin early. These are not reasons to avoid this drive. it’s absolutely breath-taking. Just leave as early as you can. The drive to Hana will take about 2 1/2 hrs. Bring a picnic lunch to eat at the black sand beach there, and start home before residents are on the road returning from work.
In the early morning, you can stop at one of the MANY stands where they are baking fresh banana bread from the Hawaiian bananas. You have never tasted banana bread until you’ve tasted THIS banana bread!!! Since we brought our lunch in an insulated lunch bag, I also brought along some butter and a plastic knife. PERFECT!!! 🙂
Sunrise on Haleakala: This is a MUST SEE!! It will require a ‘plan’ however. You can find the times for sunrise and sunset on the National Park website http://www.nps.gov/hale/sunrise-and-sunset. The visitor center at the summit is open at these times as is the entrance gate where they collect fees. ha! Plan for 1 – 1.5 hrs to drive from Kahului to the summit, and plan to be in a string of traffic as you near the park. You will also want to arrive probably 30 min. before sunrise to be able to go all the way to the summit. Once that parking lot fills, they close the gate and anyone not making it through will have to stay at the parking lot below that….and there are MANY people who do this every morning. The views are probably the same at both lookouts, but there is no glass shelter at the lower observation area.
Just a Note: We set our alarm for 2:45, left by 3:15 am and arrived at the summit at 5:15 for a 5:50 sunrise. Arriving at that time, we BARELY made it through the gate to the top!! Don’t follow these times though. Check the website as sunrise (and sunset) times vary every day.
Regardless of the time of year, it’s EXTREMELY cold and windy at the summit at 5 am- and the glass shelter really makes a difference!! Bring scarf and gloves…even a coat/jacket if you have room in your suitcase, wear jeans or long pants, and bring a blanket (many people are wrapped up in beach towels). It’s obvious that some have taken the blanket from their hotel bed…I guess that’s ok as long as you return it. 🙂 Once the sun comes up, it will warm up within an hour or so. We just stayed at the park and worked our way down the mountain (volcano) stopping at the look outs and going to the museum. By the time we got down, we had shed the jackets and top layer shirt, so it DOES warm up. Just be prepared for cold and wind before sunrise.
The Big Island is very different from the concept most people have of Hawaii. However, without a visit to this unique island, you don’t really leave with a clear impression of all that Hawaii is.
Volcano National Park: This is a “must-see” on the Big Island. It has all the components you will find at all National Parks with one exception. Things are constantly changing in this park. Depending on the wind, there may be portions of
the park that are closed. The gases emitted from the volcano are dangerous so visitors are not allowed to be downwind from the volcano. That’s why it’s a good idea to have several days on the Big Island. You can call ahead to choose the BEST day to visit the park.
Black Sand Beaches: There are several of these exquisite black sand beaches, both on the Big Island and on Maui. My favorite is Punalu’u Beach at the southern tip of the Big Island just west of Volcano Nat’l Park. It’s a very nice area with tables and restrooms and beautiful water line and volcanic rock. This is definitely worth the time.
COFFEE: The Big Island is known for its coffee. Most people have heard of the Kona coffee on the west shore, but other areas of the island tout their own coffee beans too. Hilo coffee on the opposite (east) side of the island as well as Naalehu at the southern tip are beans to be tasted/tested as well. If you’re a coffee connoisseur, you might want to sample multiple coffee beans before you make your choice….or just sample and/or buy a little of them all. Many of the farms have tours and/or displays that tell you how their coffee is grown, harvested, processed, etc.. They ALL have their coffee for sale. Sample it first….it’s pretty strong as a general rule. But no trip to the Big Island is complete without at least one stop at a coffee farm/shop….even for those who don’t drink it.
Other articles in this series