Hawaii Part 4 – Island Hopping

Island hopping (visiting more than one  Hawaiian island in a trip) will cost a little more money (unless you’re cruising).  However, for most visitors, the airfare to get to Hawaii is the most expensive part of the trip.  After that investment, you’ll probably want to see and do as much as you can on the islands – to get as much value from that airfare purchase as possible.  That means “island hopping”.

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View of Maui from Mokuele Airlines

Planning transportation for island hopping can be a little over-whelming at first.  However, with just a little time and research, it will all come together and you’ll find it’s DEFINITELY worth the effort.   THEN, en route, it requires patience –as there are bound to be bumps in the plan.  Just do the research, make a plan, then stay flexible and you’ll have a WONDERFUL trip.


What Are The Options for Inter-Island Travel?  :

  • By Air:  This is the most common mode of transportation for visitors and residents alike.  Most of this post will be devoted to that…in a moment…..
  • By Ferry:  Ferry service was a wonderful option ‘once upon a time’, however, it has fallen victim to EPA regulations/restrictions – and was discontinued to all but 2 islands in 2009. WORD OF CAUTION TO TRAVEL PLANNERS:   The Ferry Company’s website (Hawaii Superferry) is still up as a tribute and ‘eulogy’ to the company (There seems to be a lot of anger over it’s closing….) to remind people of what the EPA cost them. However, only in the ‘small print’ does the website say that their site is a ‘eulogy’;  their last ‘run’ was in 2008. There are schedules, prices, etc…that could lead unsuspecting readers to conclude they can show up and get on a ferry…  I understand their anger, but the website could really affect visitors’ travel plans…ugh!!  Don’t get caught up in that!!!

The ONLY operational  ferries leave from Lahaina Maui and go to the islands of  Lana’i or Molokai.  The Maui-Lana’i Expeditions ferry operates from Maui to Manele Bay Lana’i.  They also offer tour packages  – just fyi.  🙂    The Maui-Molokai Ferry operates from Maui to Kaunakakai Harbor, Molokai.

Please Note:   The channels between these islands can be pretty rough in the afternoon as the winds across the water strengthen.  Even those not typically prone to sea sickness may have problems – especially on the Maui-Molokai route.  Be prepared with sea sickness remedies or travel in the morning.

  • By Cruise Ship:  This, of course, requires the booking of a Hawaiian cruise.  🙂    I’ve never seen the islands this way, but the advantages are having inter-island transportation, accommodations, and food all planned/arranged.  That’s probably a nice way to see the islands though the disadvantage, as I see it, is the limited amount of time allowed on each island… typically only 1 day/island.   Of course, it’s all a matter of preference.  🙂

Inter-island flights


  • Some islands have more than one airport. Be aware of this as you check fares to make sure you’re going where you want to go…and reserve the rental car at the right airport.  🙂   On the Big Island (Hawaii) Kona is almost always cheaper to fly in to than Hilo.  On Maui, Kahului  is typically cheaper than Kapalua and DEFINITELY more convenient than Hana.  Recently, Maui’s OGG (Lahaina)  airport has become a secondary hub within Hawaii for flights to and from the Mainland. (secondary to Honolulu)

IMGP1299Inter-island Air Travel Carriers

There are several airlines that “hop” from island to island:  Hawaiian Air, Island Air, Mokulele Airlines and Go! Airlines (Mesa).  On our most recent trip over, we flew on 3 of these.  It seems that these companies come and go as quickly as you can snap your fingers…  However, here’s my “take” (and links) on the companies we used.

Hawaiian Airlines This airline is the flag carrier for Hawaii and has frequent flights to all the major islands.  They are more expensive than the smaller companies, and their baggage fees are significantly higher ($25/bag compared to $15-17 for the smaller airlines as of this writing) however, their more frequent flights, larger planes and more reliable aircraft makes them the preferred airline of many. Depending on your situation, that MAY be worth the extra money.

So many of the smaller airlines come and go so quickly…but this next little airline must be doing SOMETHING right, because they’re still going strong….


Mokulele AirlinesMokuele Airlines http://www.mokuleleairlines.com/

Mokuele is operared by Mesa and is an off-shoot of smaller line merger. This very small airline flies to Oahu (2 airports), Maui (3 airports), Molokai (2 airports), Lana’i and The Big Island (2 airports) on Cessna aircraft.  🙂  Yes, they go to all the very small airports.


Do NOT let the size of these aircraft deter you.   Flying with them was actually a pleasant experience.  Their terminal is outdoors…It’s a pre-fab building covered by an awning.  There’s a restroom, vending machines and 15 chairs for passengers as they wait for their flight.  ha!! Mokulele Airlines Kona (When we arrived, I HAD to take this picture.:) )  We knocked on the door and someone came out of the office to check us in….  We not only weighed our checked bags, but we weighed ourselves while holding our carry ons to get a total weight on the aircraft.  (NOTE:  Their policy doesn’t allow passengers over 350 lbs to fly – it’s not a ‘discrimination’ thing…it’s a weight issue on the aircraft…)  The pilot checked our boarding pass and gave us our seat number before we walked across the runway to board.  He then boarded the plane with us and went over safety procedures. Everyone gets a window seat (wonderful when flying over the islands) because there are single seats on each side of the aircraft.  When we got off the plane, we walked around to wait for our luggage, then I took a quick picture with the pilot before we rolled our luggage off the runway.  I didn’t have a problem with any of that.  It was an “experience”.  I just took pictures.  🙂

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Here are some of the wonderful views I got while flying over Maui…and into Kona:

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I would fly with them again!!!



Go! Airlines (Operated by Mesa ) was once the second largest inter-island carrier in Hawaii with a fleet of smaller aircraft. We flew with them in 2013, but alas, they are now no longer in business.  Recently, Island Air suffered the same fate.  This seems to be all too common with these small airlines in Hawaii.

For this reason, I recommend not booking interisland flights too far in advance…but it’s not necessary to completely avoid them…  Our “Small Airline Story” included a stressful morning, cancelled flight and the rebooking of a flight on Hawaiian Air to catch our flight home…but we DID make it just fine.  Lesson in That? If you find yourself with a ticket on one of these smaller airlines that falls through for whatever reason, it’s fairly easy to get a last minute seat with Hawaiian Air – just don’t book things too close so you have time to make necessary arrangements.  We were even reimbursed for the extra cost by the smaller company when we got home.

R.I. P. Mesa Go! Airlines


Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Flights:   As I’ve said many times on this blog, explore all your options (airline websites AND travel brokers) before making a decision. We went from Oahu to Kona to Maui, then back to Oahu for our flight home– on 3 different inter-island airlines. I checked fares and flight times and made the decisions that were best for us on that day…   There’s no one ‘right answer’…  You just have to find what works best for you.

Just Consider these things before making that decision…..

 My Thoughts: 

  • Don’t be afraid of these smaller airlines.  They ARE a savings over Hawaiian Air.  Do your research and be flexible and you can save some money.   however…..
  • Do NOT book with a smaller airline as your last flight if you need to make a connecting flight.  (i.e. you’re flying back to the Mainland)   In that case, book with Hawaiian Air.  Their frequent flight schedule won’t leave you stranded on the islands when you’re supposed to be flying home – You can catch a later flight if yours happens to be delayed.
  • When booking that inter-island flight to connect for your flight back to the Mainland, allow enough time for possible delays. This is NOT the time to try to squeeze every minute out of your vacation.  OUR EXPERIENCE:  We were due to arrive in Honolulu at 6:30 and fly out at 10 pm.  With the delays and finally, our last minute purchase of Hawaiian Air tickets, we barely made our connection.  Had we been more “squeezed” for time, we probably would not have made it. Another family in the same predicament that evening was trying to catch a connecting flight at 8:15. I’m assuming they didn’t make it in time as we didn’t get to Oahu until 8:30 and we took the first available flight on Hawaiian Airlines.  They just didn’t have enough time to make other arrangements.  Give yourself time to deal with unexpected situations.
  • Though you don’t have to book these flights MONTHS in advance as advised for most other flights, don’t wait too long.  As the airlines inventory shrinks, the rates go up (Law of Supply and Demand….)   My experience is  that booking 3-5 weeks in advance in the Spring should secure fairly good rates…  Book At Least 6-8 wks in advance during the busier summer season.
  • Find out which Inter-island airlines have “agreements” with your airline for the flight home.  They each have their own agreements with different Major airlines  When we rebooked with Hawaiian Airlines, we found out they had an “agreement” with United.  We checked our bags with Hawaiian Airlines in Maui and THEY transferred them to United in Honolulu for us. What a relief after the tight layover we had with all the delays. Before that change, we were going to have to pick up bags in Honolulu, check in AND re-check bags with United then go BACK through security.  I don’t think we would have had time to do that.  (We and/or our bags most likely would have missed our United flight.     

Other articles in this series


Hawaii – Tips Pt. 3

The Big IslandThese are just a few tips that have nothing to do with budgeting, but still might be a help to someone traveling to the islands.


First Things First:  When you first arrive at the airport on the islands, pick up the coupon books for the islands you’re visiting.  This allows time early in your trip to look for coupons/discounts you can use. While waiting at the airport for our flight to the next island, I thumbed through the coupon book for that island.   ONE NOTE:  Remember, a coupon only saves you money if it’s for something you were always planning to do/buy.  To spend money you weren’t planning to spend just because you have a coupon is ‘spending’ money, not ‘saving’ it.

Handling the Time Change and Jet Lag:  A friend gave us a VERY good idea.  She suggested that we NOT adjust to the time change– but instead, stay on Central Standard Time.  It was some of the best advice we got. It was not difficult at all that first night. We were exhausted after a sleepless night the night before and long day of flying!  Hawaiians thought it was 3:30 in the afternoon, but our bodies told us it was 8:30 pm.  We checked into our accommodations, went to get groceries and grab $1 burgers at McDonald’s and by 7:30 Hawaiian time (midnight to us) we fell into bed!  About 8 hours later, we woke up bright-eyed and ready for the day…. It was 4 am!!!  ha! 🙂  We decided to go ahead and get up.  Kona sunsetWe had a nice breakfast  and coffee provided by our hostess out on the veranda at sunrise, and by 6:30 we were ready to begin seeing Hawaii!  Though the locals were out going to work et al. the tourists were not…we got the prime parking places at tourist sites/beaches.  That was all it took to sell us on the idea!!!

Since our bodies were on that schedule and we’d seen the benefits of it, we continued to do this every night…to bed by 7:30 or 8 and up by 4 am.  We saw some wonderful sunrises, ALWAYS had time for coffee with the birds while watching the fog (vog) over the mountains, and were leaving by 6…or 6:30 to see Hawaii (and get the parking places) before the crowds.

Added Advantage:  We NEVER experienced jet lag – either when we arrived or when we returned home.  We were tired after a day of flying (of course), but did NOT lose a day when we first arrived on the islands, nor struggle with going back to our regular routine when we arrived home.  I LOVE this idea.

Note Hawaii does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

ABC Stores:  These are everywhere…in case you’ve forgotten something. Finding and getting to a Walmart can be a little challenging (they aren’t that plentiful in Hawaii) but these little stores have all the basics and the prices are typically “Hawaiian prices”…not cheap, but not highly inflated over other ‘Hawaiian prices’ either.  There’s probably one within a few blocks of your hotel…or your activity that day…or wherever you happen to be.    🙂

Agricultural Customs:  Before you check your bags for the return flight (and before you board the plane with your carry on bag)   you and your bags will have to go through agricultural customs.  No plant material (fruit, vegetables or flowers) can leave the islands…or go from one island to another,  without inspection.  ONLY those items that have gone through inspection, (either purchased AT THE AIRPORT or have ‘proof’ of inspection from their place of origin) can be taken on board the airplane.  They sell many of these items at the airport…for outrageous prices (pineapples 3/$28).  You also have the option of shipping previously inspected items, for a hefty price (pineapples 3/$53).  We enjoyed many of the Hawaiian fruits while on the islands, but chose to NOT pay those shipping fees or purchase prices to bring them home.  If you DO want to do this, budget accordingly.    {prices quoted as of spring 2013}


Photo Credit: Wiki Commons: [[File:Pineappleslicer.jpg|Pineappleslicer]]

A Word About Pineapples:  Several years ago, I purchased a pineapple peeler/slicer at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Because I knew we’d be eating a LOT of pineapple (probably 4-5 during our 12 day stay) and because this peeler/slicer is very small and lightweight, I took it with me.  It made those meals of tropical fruits MUCH easier to prepare.  I will do this on all subsequent trips to the islands…DEFINITELY worth it!!!

Lock Your Car…or better yet, Leave Valuables in the Room:  The vegetation of Hawaii (close to the road/parking) provides a prime hiding place for thieves waiting for unsuspecting tourists at scenic turn outs along less populated roads/areas or at less populated beaches.  This seems to particularly be a problem on Oahu’s North and West shores… Be advised, a locked door is not a huge deterrent to a determined thief if you have an expensive camera or electronics laying in the back seat.  Either take it with you when you get out of the car or leave it in your hotel/condo.  😦

Word about the beaches/water:  Hawaii is not like Florida or California or Myrtle

on Road to Hana


Beach.  It’s in the middle of the ocean. Currents, waves, etc… are very different from the Gulf or continental shores.  Even if you are very familiar with beaches around the continental USA, don’t be foolish.  Read and obey all warning signs on the beaches, and if you don’t see anyone else swimming on a beach, STOP…and ask yourself “Why is this BEAUTIFUL beach deserted?”

Early in our trip, I developed some whelps and bumps on the bottom of both feet.  The itch was almost unbearable!  Because it was only on feet and we had only walked on the beach that day, I assumed it came from either the sand or water.  Online research gave me several options – sea lice, sand fleas, stinging seaweed, swimmer’s itch, but I could never officially diagnose or find a treatment.  Thankfully, we had packed Hydrocortisone and Benadryl crèmes so I used them both and it eventually went away (5-6 days later).   {If you experience a rash accompanied by fever, see a doctor.}   Just be cautious of deserted beaches…  If it’s a beautiful beach and no one’s there, THERE’S A REASON!

Last Note:  Always rinse off when you get out of the water or are leaving the beach.  Most public beaches in Hawaii have areas near the restrooms with water spouts for this purpose.  It’s not only great to get the sand off before getting back in your rental car (which will incur cleaning fees if it’s overly dirty) but it can also remove anything you’ve encountered in the sand or water and reduce chances of having a reaction in a few hours.


  1. Hydrocortisone crème & Benadryl crème  (note above! 🙂  )  Of course, it goes without saying that you always need to take basic pain relievers of choice (Tylenol,  Advil, etc….)
  2. Band aids and antibiotic crème:  especially if you will be doing any walking/hiking on the volcanic rocks.  These rocks are like glass and can inflict quite a cut.
  3. Thick-soled walking shoes: — for walking/hiking on the volcanic rocks.  Don’t try to walk on it in sandals or flip-flops!!
  4. Refillable water bottles –  I particularly like the ones with filters in the lids. These can be filled with tap water and they filter the water as you drink.
  5. Ziploc bags-  You never know when these will come in handy for multiple things…bring 2-3 of each size.
  6. Insulated lunch bag –  Collapsable insulated lunch bagWe used this every day for our lunches (with the re-freezable ice packs (#7 below).  On the flight home, I packed breakable souvenirs  in it.



7.  Re-freezable blue ice packs.

ice packs

I got mine at the Dollar Tree – my favorite dollar store

Pack this in your checked luggage (can’t take liquids past security at airports).  Put it in the freezer each night (if you have a mini-fridge in your hotel room).  This is so much easier than dealing with ice cubes for the lunch bag and makes it possible to take sandwiches for lunch each day.)

8.  Scarf and gloves (Surprised??) if you plan to go up Haleakala (Maui) to see the sunrise.  It’s cold and windy at the summit before daybreak.  These items will be much appreciated at the top of ANY of Hawaii’s volcanoes/mountains.

9. Waterproof camera – (those single use ones…)  Not only will this come in handy if you decide to snorkel, but just having it at the beach is better than worrying about your phone, tablet or expensive camera.

10.  Neck pillow:  This is great for long flights (especially over-night flights)  One that inflates would work best as you can deflate it when not in use.  An eye mask may come in handy for sleeping on a red-eye flight as well.  Get one at the Dollar Tree – for $1!

11.  Sunscreen:  This seems obvious, right?  – But be advised, the tropical sun is much more intense than sun further from the equator. With continued exposure day after day it’s possible to get quite a burn…. which could really ruin a Hawaiian dream vacation!!

Other articles on Hawaii:

The Hawaiian Islands: (Pt 2)



First blog of this series:  Hawaii – On a Budget Pt 1



Tours to Pearl Harbor/U.S.S. Arizona are FREE!!  IMG_0327

CAUTION:  There are  websites/tour companies all over the internet offering tickets to visit Pearl Harbor.  Many unsuspecting tourists purchase these, unaware that everything there (museums, exhibits) is FREE.  Don’t be duped into that!!  Now…to take the ferry over to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial requires a reservation…and there’s a $1.50pp processing charge (FROM the US Nat’l Park Service) for that.  – (Make your reservation at Recreation.gov  http://www.recreation.gov/tourParkDetail.  but the park itself with it’s exhibits, museums and the actual Memorial is FREE!    Note: U.S.S.ArizonaWhen making your ferry reservation, you will have the option to add ‘extras’ (audio tours, specialty tours, etc…) to your reservation –  and those ‘extras’ DO have a charge associated with  them.  When we went, we bought ONE audio tour to share.  It was a nice addition to our day…but just know…these are OPTIONS.  The actual ‘day’ and visit should only cost you the $1.50pp processing fee for the ferry reservation….

NOTE:  Make reservations early (especially if traveling during the 19 G12 044busy summer months).  There are 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 spend $40 for it….get it for $1.50pp

Diamond Head:  This is a very popular attraction – just south of Honolulu.  You can drive to the visitor area and look around OR park and hike to the top.  If you hike, plan to get an EARLY start – like 6-7 am as it gets very hot in the tropical sun.

Honolulu:  holds so many things to discover – Aloha Tower, ChinatBanyan Trees - Oahuown, Iolani’s Palace, Public Market/Farmers Market…  Get a guide and read through it to find the things that interest you.

Banyan Trees:  These can be found many places, but are abundant in the park across the street from Waikiki Beach.  You MUST see these!!!  This is also a great place for a picnic.


North Shore & Banzai Pipeline: If you have a rental car, you’ll want to be certain surfers on North Shoreto visit the North Shore.  You are almost certain to see surfers on the Pipeline….and while up there, make a stop at the Matsumoto Shave Ice shop.  Matsumoto Shaved Ice - North ShoreThe 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 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.  (BTW, there’s a scenic viewpoint on that road that gives a WONDERFUL view of Oahu, the mountains, the shorelines, etc…)

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.  🙂  The rugged terrain is what MAKES it so beautiful though!!

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Road to Hana – Maui

Road to Hana:  This is an incredible 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….those are the REAL numbers)  If you get on the road around 6:30am, you will encounter local traffic, but it won’t be anything like what you’ll encounter at 11 am when tourists are on the road too.  The turn outs to view the scenery and waterfalls only accommodate 2-3 cars.  Later in the day, you may not (probably won’t)  be able to make all the stops you want because they will be “full”.  There’s no way to avoid the congestion on the return trip, but getting started early means you can have at least the drive TO Hana free of those stresses and able to stop wherever you want to stop.  The tour buses on the road later gives you just one more reason to begin early.  These are not reasons to avoid this drive. It’s absolutely breath-taking!!  Just get started as early as you can.  Allow about 2 1/2 hrs. to get to Hana, and bring a picnic lunch to eat at the black sand beach there…and definitely start back before residents are on the road returning from work.

Banana bread stand on Road to Hana

Banana Bread Stand

In the early morning, you can stop at one of the MANY stands where they are baking fresh banana bread made from 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.  Beginning in 2017, admittance to see the sunrise requires a reservation.  The ‘reservation’ is free…but there’s a $1.50 per car processing fee (I assume to ensure ppl actually show up…) and that can be gotten at  recreation.gov   (site for all Nat’l Park reservations).  This seems to be the Nat’l Parks attempt at ‘crowd control’ as this is one of the most popular things to do on Maui!!!  Note…Bring your PRINTED confirmation and ID with you to the gate – where you will be charged the Park admission fee. This fee will give you admittance to the park for 3 days – so Keep Your Receipt if you plan to return. (This varies from the 7 days for most Nat’l Parks….)  Next Point:  Because sunrise times are constantly changing, refer to the National Park website  http://www.nps.gov/hale/sunrise-and-sunset  for when to arrive.  The website has a LOT of information –  ‘what to wear’ and other tips.  Plan for 1 – 1.5 hrs to drive from Kahului to the summit, and ‘expect’ a string of traffic as you near the park.  Also…plan to arrive about 30 min. before sunrise to allow enough time to wind through the park and UP the mountain.  The last time we went, that time frame allowed us to make it all the way to the summit.  They close the top parking lot when it gets full so you don’t want to be too late arriving.  Perhaps the new ‘limited admittance’ has solved that problem???  I just know that the enclosed glass shelter at the TOP parking lot was very nice as a protection from the wind/cold.

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!!  But Note….Check the website to find out when the sun rises…as times vary every day. 

Regardless of the time of year, it’s cold and windy at the summit at 5 am- That enclosed glass shelter really makes a difference!!  Bring scarf and gloves…even a packable 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 actually just stayed at the park and stopped at the lookouts/viewpoints and of course, the museum as we drove back down the mountain (volcano).  By the time we got down, we had shed the jackets and top layer shirt, so it DOES warm up.


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 Nat'l ParkVolcano 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,19 G12 135 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 beach

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

Hawaii – On a Budget Pt 1

These are a few tips I discovered in the planning process for our recent trip to the Hawaiian islands.  Just an fyi, Hawaii CAN be visited for less than many people think.  🙂

oahu sunset~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hawaii is certainly not an inexpensive vacation destination. It’s going to cost some money (flight, accommodations and food is more expensive than we pay on the Mainland, but the trip can be done for less than you might think…certainly for less than a travel agent will quote.

How do I know this?  We went to AAA for a quote.  The agent planned a trip for us, 10 days on 3 islands,  airfare from the Mainland, 3 inter-island flights, accommodations on 3 islands and rental cars on 2 islands (no car on Oahu). Her quote was $7000 and that didn’t include any food, fuel, activities, baggage fees (FIVE flights) or souvenirs. We tried to contain our shock…but failed…   🙂  She made some modifications and gave us another quote.  It was still $4000…and still without any of the above mentioned things. The cost for the TOTAL trip, doing it her way, would have been $6000-7000. (and that’s a conservative estimate)  I realized I’d better try my own hand at it. I did and we just returned home from that trip. I keep a record of everything we spend…down to quarters for coin-operated laundry. ha! Our total expense for the trip, (for two) start to finish, including airfare, 3 inter-island flights, accommodations on 3 islands (we have some accommodations with our timeshare), THREE rental cars and fuel, all food, activities, baggage fees and souvenirs was $3906.41 (Side Note:  This includes the purchase of 2 MORE airline tickets + airport booking fees when one of our inter-island flights was cancelled.)   Even with that debacle, it’s still less than the amount the travel agent quoted just for airfare, accommodations and rental car!!!   Of course, planning it myself meant I did all the work….but the savings was worth it.

My ONE disclaimer:   As I mentioned above, we used our timeshare on 2 of the islands for accommodations.  Now…we PAID dearly for that timeshare through the annual maintenance fees…so it wasn’t really free  (ugh!!) but those costs aren’t included in the $3900 cost.  We DID rent our accommodations on Oahu, and we did that through my favorite site – VRBO!!!

Accommodations:  VRBO!!!  VRBO.com This is the best site for rentals to just about ANY vacation destination.  Read more about VRBO in Frugal Accommodations Part 2    HomeAway.com is a ‘sister company’ to VRBO and runs much the same way.

When choosing where to stay, units with cooking facilities (even limited cooking facilities) can save a lot of money.   (Prices for everything…including food…are highly inflated in Hawaii)  There are units in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach area with kitchens or kitchenettes, if that’s where your heaKitchen in condort is set on going, however, staying out of the metro area means much less congestion (not to mention parking fees) so it’s worth consideration.  We  stayed in Kailua on the east (other) side of Oahu.  It’s only a 20-25 min. drive to the airport and areas in Honolulu…a little further to Waikiki.  Kailua is a quaint little town with everything you would need as far as dining, groceries and a beautiful beach.  🙂  There’s a beautifully landscaped shopping area in the historic town that draws a lot of tourists. The particular vrbo rental that we selected had a kitchenette, private porch area outside our unit


Through those double doors is a reading or relaxing room available to guests. On the other side is the pool, which unfortunately, I did not get a picture of 😦

back door, and a pool in a landscaped garden complete with tables, chairs and a large gas grill. The owner had grilling tools and we grilled steaks one night and hamburgers another night. We were the only ones staying there so we had the pool et al to ourselves for a romantic poolside meal…   It was wonderful!!!

Meals:  When we landed in Oahu, we were tired and hungry so before checking into our accommodations we stopped by a Burger King.  The price on their basic #1 combo meal (Whopper) was over $10 (2013).  That was quite an introduction into “Hawaiian prices” and served to encourage a trip to the grocery store that evening. 🙂  At the grocery store on all the islands, we purchased things for sandwiches (lunch each day) as well as items to prepare simple meals in the evenings (the hamburger and steak we grilled).  I brought a few easily packable things from home that I would NEVER want to purchase – seasonings, salt/pepper, etc… or items that I only wanted a small amount of and knew would be REALLY expensive in Hawaii. Being able to prepare simple things, especially in a full-sized kitchen, is MARVELOUS and such a great way to save some money!!!!  I had a ‘plan’ for food before we left, (to know what seasonings to bring) then made my grocery list(s).  (We had to grocery shop on each island) and of course, brought grocery coupons for those items.

Rental Car:  The best website I found for rental cars in HI was http://hawaiidiscountcarrental.com/.  At first I was skeptical of them as their rates were FAR below other published rates.  (that’s usually an alarm for me) However, both  TripAdvisor.com  and AAA magazines gave them raving reviews (I trust those sources).  The reservations were with reputable companies (Avis, Enterprise, Budget, etc… ) so I took the risk.  Before we left, just to set my mind at ease, I called the companies where our reservations were (Avis and Enterprise)  and they confirmed my reservation at the price I was quoted. It was legitimate!! The savings was WORTH IT!!! Our Maui rental car was previously $217 through AirportRentalCars.com (formerly Breezenet) and it never came down over a month’s time as I checked (I was accustomed to rates coming down).  Through  hawaiidiscountcarrental.com, I paid $160 for those days with Avis.  I saved $56 with a few clicks!!!

Coupon Books are in displays at every airport.  These contain discounts for shopping and activities. When you first arrive at the airport, collect the books from all islands/locations you’ll be visiting. This gives you a chance to look through them BEFORE you get to a particular island. WORD OF CAUTION: A coupon only saves you money if you planned to do the activity/make the purchase anyway. If you go somewhere or buy something BECAUSE you have a coupon, you haven’t saved money…you’ve spent it.  🙂

Wal-Mart Stores are not as plentiful on the islands as they are in the continental U.S., but they ARE there.  Go to Walmart.com  to find locations. Groceries are expensive in Hawaii but you’ll find “better” prices at Wal-Mart than Safeway or Foodland.  Now…the Walmarts on the islands are NOT SuperCenters i.e. full grocery stores.  They have ‘limited’ groceries….with ‘no’ or ‘limited’ produce.  We found, however, that with the fruit/veggie stands along the roads, we were able to get what we wanted.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Smith on Flickr CC Lic.

Hawaiian Fruit:  There are roadside fruit stands set up by the locals outside of town. You’ll also find Farmer’s Markets in Honolulu, et al., on certain days (check online for schedule).  These are DEFINITELY worth the stop, however prices vary (greatly sometimes) so shop around.  Some stand owners are willing to negotiate; others aren’t.

The fruit grown and ripened on the vine is markedly better tasting than the grocery store variety so take advantage of this if you can. Be sure to get some Hawaiian bananas. They’re very different from what we get at home. They’re only 4″ long and not particularly attractive on the outside.  They will have black spots if they’re ripe….but when you peel them (I mean, seriously….do we eat the peeling anyway??) they are the sweetest things you’ve ever tasted. Don’t be deterred by their looks;  just try them!!!  As far as the pineapples, someone told us that the pineapples grown on the islands are ONLY for the locals and tourists there. They are NOT shipped to the Mainland stores. They taste so much sweeter!!! Be sure to try one while you’re there!!!

After a day in the heat, nothing hits the spot quite like a fruit salad – made from ‘ripened on the vine’ fruit from a local fruit stand.  We put in pineapple, mango, papaya, Hawaiian bananas, and slivers of coconut as well as 1-2 tablespoons of the coconut water (from a fresh coconut).  It was a PERFECT meal for us.  Now, if we’d had children with us, we might have needed something a little more IMG_2946substantial, but for just us, it was perfect!   I’d never had a fresh coconut/coconut water before….we tried it this time for the ‘experience’.  I don’t know that I’ll ever drink coconut water again…but I DID like the shaved coconut in our fruit salad.


Other News About Fruit: 

  • Oahu pineapples and Maui pineapples are different. If you go to both islands, try them both.
  • Banana bread stand on Road to Hana

    One of the many banana bread ‘stands’ along the road to Hana

    On the Road to Hana (Maui) there are multiple stands that sell banana bread made from the wonderful Hawaiian bananas.  If you’re on the road early, the bread will be hot – just out of the oven!!  Honestly, you haven’t tasted banana bread until you’ve tasted THIS banana bread! 🙂

Other Articles in this Hawaii Series: