Hawaii Part 4 – Island Hopping

 Edited Feb. 2018

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 ‘bumps in the plan’ are quite possible.  But…just do the research, make a plan, then stay flexible and you should 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

NOTE AS YOU’RE PLANNING:

  • Some islands have more than one airport. This is pretty important when booking rental cars…and when checking fares.   🙂   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.  While in the past, all flights into Hawaii from the Mainland went through Honolulu, recently, Maui’s OGG (Lahaina),  Kona (KOA) on the Big Island  and Lihui (LIH) on Kauai have become secondary hubs for major airlines flying from the Mainland. (secondary to Honolulu)

IMGP1299Inter-island Air Travel Carriers

Over the years, there have been several airlines that “hop” from island to island.  However, all but Hawaiian Air  and Mokulele Airlines have struggled to maintain a long term presense there. (i.e. they’ve gone under…)  Among those coming and going have been Allegiant Air (leaving Aug. 2016 after only 4 yrs)  Mesa Air/Go! Airlines (operating for 7 yrs until 2014),  Aloha Airlines who filed for bankruptcy in 2008 after 60 yrs flying over Hawaii and Island Air who most recently ceased operations Nov. 2017.  On our trip to the islands, we flew on 3 of these….Hawaiian Air, Go! and Mokulele.  Since Go! is no longer in business, I’ll forgo my evaluation of them (Our first flight with them went perfectly…but they cancelled our second flight with them requiring us to think and act fast in order to not miss our United flight home…).  Since they’re no longer in business, it’s a waste of time to talk any more about them… I’ll just give my ‘take’ on the two still in business – Hawaiian Air and Mokulele.  

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, (perhaps why they’re still in business??) and their baggage fees are higher than the smaller lines ($25/bag vs. $15-17/bag).  However, their more frequent flights, larger planes and more reliable aircraft makes them the preferred airline of many.

 

Mokulele AirlinesMokulele Airlines  

http://www.mokuleleairlines.com/

Mokuele is operared by Mesa and is  the one small airline that has managed to compete with Hawaiian Air and stay in business.  Their smaller aircraft (Cessnas) allow them to fly into the smaller airports –  Oahu (2 airports), Maui (3 airports), Molokai (2 airports), Lana’i and The Big Island (2 airports) which may be what has sustained them.  ?? At this time, Mokulele does not service Kauai…

Do NOT let the size of these aircraft deter you.   Flying with them was actually a pleasant experience for us.  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”.   🙂

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

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I would fly with them again!!!

 

 

Southwest Airlines….coming soon???  Possibly….

Southwest is considering joining the list of airlines flying inter-island flights….  We’ll see how they do…Perhaps they will have a better chance than some of the smaller companies that have attempted this.  I KNOW their ‘no baggage fees’ will make them competitive…  We’ll see…

 

Until then…..

Don’t immediately shy away from booking on Mokulele to save some money…  As long as you’re not booking too far in advance you should be fine.  We actually really ENJOYED our flight on that little Cessna.  🙂  But….if we HAD had a problem, it would have been fairly easy to book a last minute ticket on Hawaiian Air.

Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Flights:   As I’ve said many times on this blog, explore all your options before making a decision. We flew from Oahu to Kona to Maui, then back to Oahu for our flight home– on 3 different inter-island airlines. (one of those on Mesa Go!  🙂 )   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 Mokulele and their Cessna’s.  They ARE a savings over Hawaiian Air.  Do your research and be flexible and you can save some money.   
  • These inter-island flights don’t have to be booked MONTHS in advance…but as with anything, the price is affected by the Law of Supply and Demand – meaning, as their inventory shrinks, the rates go up. We found that booking 3-5 weeks in advance in the Spring secured fairly good rates… My assumption would be that 6-8 wks in advance would probably be best during the busier summer season.

 

Editor Note: On our last trip to Hawaii, ticket to and from the Islands were either round trip (from the same airport) OR one way tickets allowing you to fly into one island and home from another.  That, of course, was VERY expensive.  So…we made the choice to fly in and out of Oahu.  That meant that after completing our island hopping, we had to get back to Honolulu for our return flight…involving an interisland flight from Kona to Honolulu that last day.  The multi-city ticket now being offered negates most of the rest of what I ahve to say as it centers around do’s and don’t’s of purchasing that ticket to get ‘back’ before your return flight to Mainland.  But just in case you find yourself in a situation like we were, I’ve put this information here.  If this doesn’t interest you, scroll down to the bottom of the page for other articles in the Hawaii series.

  • If booking an inter-island flight to catch a connecting flight back to the Mainland,  either allow a LOT of time for delays/cancellations…or better yet, book with  Hawaiian Air.  Their frequent flight schedule will get you where you need to be…even if you encounter delays.  
  • If you’re booking an inter-island flight to connect for your flight back to the Mainland, allow enough time for possible delays.  OUR EXPERIENCE:  We were due to arrive in Honolulu at 6:30 on Mesa Go! Airlines then fly out at 10 pm (on United).  With the delays/cancellations we encountered and having to race to purchase a ticket on Hawaiian Air, we barely made our connection.  Had we been more “squeezed” for time, we probably would not have made it. Give yourself time to deal with unexpected situations.
  • If booking your flights this way, be aware that certain Inter-island airlines have “agreements” with the LARGE airlines (American, United, Delta, etc…)  to transfer your luggage from the smaller carrier to their aircraft FOR YOU. It’s So nice to not have to pick up bags at baggage claim, then recheck them for your flight to the Mainland…and go through security again.     

Other articles in this series

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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.

A FEW TIPS FOR THAT TRIP TO HAWAII

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 the next 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 and frequent traveler to Hawaii gave us a VERY good tip before our trip.  She suggested that we NOT force our bodies to adjust to the time change– but instead, stay on Central Standard Time.  The idea seemed a little strange at first, but we ‘trusted’ her so followed it….and it turned out to be 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 8-9 hours later, we woke up bright-eyed and ready for the day…. It was 4 am!!!  ha! 🙂  But…we were rested…and VERY excited…so we decided to just get up.  Kona sunsetWe had a nice breakfast  and coffee provided by our hostess out on the veranda at sunrise, and by 6:30 local time, we were itchin to see Hawaii!  (Keep in mind…our bodies thought it was 11:30 am)  Though the locals were out going to work et al. the tourists were not…we got the prime parking places with NO WAIT.  Beaches were empty (or almost empty).  No one else (tourists) was vying for those places.  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. (LOCAL TIME)  We saw some wonderful sunrises, ALWAYS had time for coffee with the birds while watching the fog (vog) over the mountains, and were heading out by 6…or 6:30 to experience Hawaii (and get the best parking places) before the crowds.

Added Advantage:  We NEVER experienced jet lag – either when we arrived in Hawaii or when we returned home.  We were tired after a day of flying (of course), but never LOST a day trying to ‘change’ our body clocks.  Going back to our regular routine when we returned home was as easy as resting up from a red-eye flight….(You’re always tired after red-eyes…but there was NO Jet Lag)  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 are like “mini-Walmarts” with all the basics.  Of course, their prices are still  “Hawaiian prices”…not cheap, but not inflated MORE than typical “Hawaiian prices”.  There’s probably one within a few blocks of your hotel…or wherever you’re going that day…or wherever you happen to be.    🙂

Agricultural Customs:  Before you check your bags for the return flight (and before boarding 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. (This may include leis)  ONLY those items that have passed 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 inspected 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}

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ef/Pineappleslicer.jpg/256px-Pineappleslicer.jpg

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

A Word About Pineapples:  Several years ago, I purchased a pineapple peeler/slicer at Bed Bath & 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!!!  (We LOVE pineapple)

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 NW) shores… Be advised, a locked door is not a huge deterrent to a determined thief if there’s 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

Maui

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,  MAYBE 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.

‘MUST TAKE’ LIST:

  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, I20140113_104741 packed breakable souvenirs  in it.

 

7.  Re-freezable ice packs.

ice packs

From Dollar Tree

Pack this in your checked luggage (TSA prohibits/limits liquids taken on flights).  Freeze it in your condo/hotel room fridge (most hotels these days have mini-fridges).   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.)  Dollar Tree has these for $1

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 of Haleakala (or any mountain/volcano) before daybreak.   You can pack these in a compression bag to save space, then ‘re-compress’ them before flying home.

9. Waterproof camera – (the single use type…)  Not only will this come in handy if you decide to snorkel, but just having it at the beach is less worrisome than bringing your   phone, tablet or expensive camera there.

10.  Neck pillow:  20170613_142438This is great for long flights (especially red-eyes)  I prefer the inflatable ones – deflate it when not in use.  An eye mask may come in handy for sleeping on a red-eye flight as well.  Dollar Tree has inexpensive ones – 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

 

OAHU

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 U.S. Nat’l Park Service) for that.  – (Make reservations at Recreation.gov but the park itself with it’s exhibits, museums and the actual Memorial is FREE!    Note: U.S.S.ArizonaWhen making your ferry reservation, there are ‘add-on’ options – extras such as audio tours, specialty tours, etc…  and those ‘extras’ DO have a charge associated with  them.  We actually purchased an audio tour to share.  It was a nice addition to our day…  Just know that these are OPTIONS.  The actual ‘day’ and visit should only cost the $1.50 pp processing fee for the ferry….

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 $1.50 pp

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 on the islands, 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 surfers on North Shore 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 (in my pic, we’re in line – OUTside the door…) 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.  Those who never leave that area never know that though. 🙂 Of course, if your only plan while on the island is to spend time on Waikiki Beach, that can be done without 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, Pearl Harbor  or Hanauma Bay….or plan to visit the east side beaches then consider staying away from the congestion of Honolulu.  Kailua is one of several nice towns on the east side.  It has everything you could need as far as shopping, restaurants, beaches, etc and is much less congested.  It’s also prettier imho.  It’s a short drive (20-25 min.) across the mountains and the drive itself is very scenic.   At the very least, take a drive over there for the day to explore beaches and all they have to offer.  (Be sure to stop at the scenic viewpoint on that road for 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

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 pullouts will be “full”.  There’s no way to avoid the congestion on the return trip, but an early start to your day ensures at least a stress-free drive TO Hana,,,and the chance to stop at the many beautiful pullouts.  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 be aware of the ‘stresses’ and take steps to lessen them.    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!!!  🙂

Haleakala

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.  This ‘reservation’ is free…but there’s a $1.50 per car processing fee  and that can be gotten at  recreation.gov   (linked on the nps.gov website).  This new policy seems to be the Nat’l Parks attempt at ‘crowd control’ as this is one of the most popular things to do on Maui and space is limited!!!  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 other information as well –  ‘what to wear’, other tips, etc….

Other Things to Know:

  • Bring:  scarf, gloves, or a packable coat/jacket if you have room in your suitcase.  (Some bring their beach towel to wrap up in…. haha) and wear long pants/jeans.     Regardless of time of year, it’s cold and windy at the “top of the world” before sunrise.
  • The drive to the summit from Kahului takes about 1 – 1.5 hrs   –and–
  • Expect a string of traffic (and accompanying delays)  as you near the park……
  • Plan to arrive at the Park about 30 min. before sunrise to allow time to wind through the park and UP the mountain.  On our last visit 30 min. gave us enough time to get to the summit.  NOTE:  They close the top parking lot when it gets full.  If you arrive after that, you’ll be relegated to the lower lot.  Of course, the sunrise will be viewable from there (haha) but that enclosed glass shelter at the TOP parking lot is VERY nice.  🙂

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!!   

Once the sun comes up, temps will warm up very quickly and you will probably shed your outer layers….especially as you come DOWN in elevation.  As we came down the mountain after sunrise, we stopped at all the pullouts, etc…and ‘visited’ the rest of the park, museum, Visitor Center, etc…  I had our “Hawaiian” clothes with us and we changed clothes the first opportunity that we had.

HAWAII/BIG ISLAND

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 ‘active’ park.  Depending on the wind,19 G12 135 there may be portions of

the park that are closed as the gases emitted from the volcano are dangerous to breathe.  Visitors are not allowed to be downwind from the volcano.  I recommend having several days on your itinerary as options for visiting the Park…giving you freedom to reschedule as necessary. Weather information is available on the website to best plan your ‘day in 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.

Even for those who don’t drink coffee, this is a ‘taste’ of what the Big Island is ‘all about’.

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 $3926.41 (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

condo

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).  Of course, I 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: