Because 2002/2003 was our first full winter at home since 1996, we decided to get away to a warmer climate for a few weeks to break up the long midwest winter. It didn't take us long to decide that the Hawaiian Islands might be just the right ticket - especially since we had never been there before.
In planning the trip and in daily use while on the islands, we used the following guide books:
We cannot say enough about the two books by Doughty and Friedman. Not only were they very thorough, but they were also quite candid in their information - telling things like they really were and not misleading you to think something was better than it was. The maps alone of each area were invaluable and with these we could navigate around the islands with ease exploring many out of the way hidden places.
Initially we had decided to spend 9 days/nights on Kaua'i and 9 days/nights on Maui. However, this was modified when our plane broke down in LA necessitating a 3.5 hour repair. Unfortunately this meant that we missed our flight from Honolulu to Kaua'i which was the last one for the day. Fortunately, Northwest put us up in a hotel and gave us meal vouchers for the duration. It was an interesting experience for us, for in spite of all our traveling we never had anything like this happen to us before.
The next morning we hopped on the 9 am flight for Kaua'i and arrived in a full-scale rainstorm. Had no trouble getting our rental car and making it to our lodging.
Initially we had decided on staying at a bed and breakfast to save some money and give us a little more time in the islands. But we literally fell into one of best parts of our whole Hawaiian experience on both islands. On Kaua'i we stayed the full time in a lovely expansive 3-level home up in the mountains, Hale Tutu (Grandma's House.) The location was perfect, in the middle of the eastern side in the Wailua area with good access to other parts of the island whether we were headed north or south. We found it on the Internet, web page: www.haletutu.com. Two gracious women run this B&B: Linda and her mother, Tutu. Their open air home is beautifully furnished in Hawaiian décor and antiques. We stayed in the Hawaiian Room which was quite spacious with a sitting area with cable TV, a walk-in closet, small fridge and beautiful bathroom. We had our own private lanai overlooking a designer shaped swimming pool and spa amidst lush tropical plants and trees - we felt like we were almost living in a rain forest. Since we were the only guests for most of our stay, we literally had the pool and spa all to ourselves. We also had use of the huge living room, breakfast eating area and full kitchen privileges with an outside gas barbeque. These facilities released us from being "restaurant captive" and although we did eat out some, it was nice to have the option to come back and fix an easy dinner of meat and salad - especially when we were tired from a day of hiking or at the beach. We were also provided with all the beach amenities: beach towels, sand chairs, umbrella, and a cooler.
One of the best features of this B&B was "The Breakfast". In most B&B's you usually get a continental breakfast, but not here. Each morning Linda and her friend, Michelle, provided a beautifully presented full-scale breakfast featuring Hawaiian foods and accents - and of course delicious Kona coffee. Some of our entrees were: valentine pancakes garnished with strawberries, whip cream, fresh grated coconut and macadamian nuts; Eggs Benedict; oven baked French toast with island preserves and syrups always complimented with fresh island juices and fruit - the pineapple boats were a work of art. Our breakfast discussions were always lively touching on island history and lore, tapping into Linda and Tutu's vast knowledge of the area. Without a doubt, staying a Hale Tutu was probably one of the best decisions we made on the whole trip.
After the first day, the rains subsided and we only experienced intermittent rain showers for the rest of our stay on the island. In the days that followed we literally traveled the whole island visiting a different beach each day and sometimes two. One of our more interesting trips was to go up into the Waimea Canyon, a sort of miniature Grand Canyon that is also called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This western side of the island is quite arid compared to the lush semi-tropical rain forest on the north and east sides. There were many places where we could pull off for dramatic overviews of the canyon and we also did some hiking on the many miles of trails they have in the canyon park.
Although most of our time was spent at the beaches and hiking in the rural areas, we also visited the posh resorts at Poipu on the southern side and Princeville on the north side. In the Princeville area we went to the Bali Hai Restaurant where we ate basking in the view of the dramatic peaks of Bali Hai that were made famous in the movie, "South Pacific". On another day, also on the north side of the island, we took the famous (infamous) Kalalau Trail 2 miles along the Na Pali Coast. Although we've done a fair bit of hiking, this was one of the more challenging trails we have ever been on. The heavy rains from a few days prior heightened this as in many parts the path was a treacherous slick mudslide. The views however, were awesome with the rugged mountain cliffs plunging dramatically into the ocean below.
We did some snorkeling in Kaua'i, but not as much as we would have liked to. Partly because much of the best snorkeling is on the windward (north) side of the island and in the winter, unless the beach is protected by a pretty good reef, the seas can become quite choppy and even dangerous if the surf is up. We also left our wetsuits at home and found the water quite a bit colder than in the Bahamas and Caribbean so we couldn't stay in very long. We did a fare bit of hiking on the island, however, and by far our favorite hike was the Kuilau Ridge Trail where we hiked a couple of miles along the top of a spine of a mountain with beautiful valley vistas wherever we looked. Of course we felt we had to experience a luau. The one we chose was at Smith's up the Wailua River amidst beautifully landscaped pools and gardens. The food was good (I think you have to develop a taste for poi - it's kind of like eating grits in the South) and the show was outstanding with dancing numbers from all around the Pacific Rim.
By far the most impressive experience we had on Kaua'i was a one-hour helicopter tour we took of the whole island. Since 70% of Kaua'i is precipitous jagged mountains and lush deeply scoured valleys inaccessible by all forms of transportation, this was decidedly the best/only way to view the island. The scenery was breathtaking: inside Waimea Canyon, along the bold Na Pali Coast, inside the Waialeale volcanic crater, siding up to numerous waterfalls. Kaua'i also boasts of being the location of dozens of films and from the helicopter we were able to see the filming locations of: "Outbreak", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "South Pacific", "Six Days, Seven Nights", "Jurassic Park", "The Thornbirds" etc.
With reluctance we left the Hawaiian nurturing at Hale Tutu and flew to Maui. Interestingly there were no direct flights between the islands and we had to fly back to Honolulu and then take another flight to Maui. Immediately upon arrival we were impressed that Maui was about 10 degrees warmer and considerably more humid than the temperate climate of Kaua'i.
Maui is basically formed by two landmasses: the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala Mountain, the remnants of an old volcano, with a tombolo connecting the two in between. As with the other Hawaiian Islands the windward side, where the northeast trades strike, is lush with green forest and has higher precipitation. The leeward (western) side is much dryer with consistently warm sunny weather. It is also along this side that the best beaches for swimming and snorkeling are located.
In Maui we elected to divide our stay between two different places: 4 nights at another B&B in Kihei and 5 nights at the Aston Maui Islander in Lahina. The B&B, Two Mermaids, accommodations were a large room with a sofa, chair, digital cable TV, a Murphy bed that came down from the wall and a kitchenette with fridge, microwave and dishes. For a sink we had to use the one in the bathroom which was separate. Without a stove, we took advantage of a gas barbeque next to the pool. Breakfast was back to continental fare with muffins and fresh island fruit beautifully presented and delivered each morning outside our door. The décor was very nice in bright colors with Hawaiian touches, but admittedly we were quite spoiled from Hale Tutu on Kaua'i.
At Maui Islander we had quite a bit more space as we elected to go with a full living room, separate bedroom., bathroom, and a full kitchen (stove with oven, frig, sink, counters and cabinets) and a separate eating area. Run more like a hotel, we had daily maid service and there was a nice swimming pool we used a couple of times in the late afternoon when we came in tired after the day's activity. After comparing notes with others who were staying in the large beach hotels, many of which had seen better days, we felt we had a pretty good deal. We also had the advantage of being only two blocks from Old Historic Lahaina and many times we walked Front Street along the ocean taking in the interesting shops and visiting the marina. We really loved Lahaina with its historic charm, a throwback to the days when it was a bustling whaling port.
While on the island we took two main driving excursions. The first was the famous "Road to Hana". Hana is a small town located at the far eastern side of the island. The adventure is really not the destination but the trip itself with breathtaking scenery enroute, especially on the island's north coast approaching Hana. Here there are numerous switchbacks interlaced with waterfalls as the road is carved out of the edge of the mountains overlooking the ocean. At a number of places we stopped and did a little bit of hiking and at Hana we took a break with a picnic lunch we had brought along. Many people turn around at Hana and take the same road back because the road after Hana becomes quite narrow (often only one lane) and a bit rough with treacherous switchbacks. There is even a 7-mile stretch of gravel. It is, however, considerably improved from years back and after a little research and talking to a few people, we decided we could continue on along the east and south shores making a continuous loop of this main part of the island. The scenery continued to be quite beautiful especially the part known as Oheo Gulch were there is a river, which widens into 7 pools as it empties into the ocean. The scenery across the southern part of the island is quite expansive as you drive over the huge lava flows from the Haleakala volcano. The whole trip took us 9 1/2 hours and we were very tired when we got back - especially Ron with all the concentrated driving on those hair-raising hills and switchbacks.
The second excursion we took was up to the rim of the Haleakala Crater. No, we did not get up at 3 am to drive up to the top and see the sunrise which can be spectacular or just nice depending on the cloud conditions. Again we were faced with a lot of switchbacks and I was actually more scared of these than on the previous trip. We did a little hiking out to the scenic overlooks and the view into the crater was spectacular. It quickly became obvious that the time to make the trip up is in mid-morning before the clouds fill in and take away the view. In fact, by time we were coming down (1 pm) we were driving in thick cloud/fog the whole way and it was the only time we experienced rain while on the island.
The beaches along the whole western side of Maui are glorious with nowhere near the surf we experienced on Kaua'i. There are also many that have good coral for snorkeling that can be reached just by wading/swimming out from shore. We had brought along our own snorkeling gear, but one of the best decisions we made on Maui was to rent wetsuits for a week ($5/day or $15/week). These enabled us to stay in the water longer and explore longer ranges. Our favorite places for snorkeling were at the north end of Kama'ole III in Kihei and Olowalu Beach at mile 14, just 10 minutes south of Lahaina.
We also went on two snorkeling trips. The first was a daylong trip on a Trilogy 65 ft sailing catamaran over to another island, Lana'i. We stopped at a nice coral reef on the eastern side of the island where we saw a lot of wildlife including a number of large sea turtles. Unfortunately, the beach on the southern side where we were to spend most of our time had too much surf for snorkeling so we just ended up lying under some shade trees, listening to the surf in a very beautiful setting. Along with our package we had a buffet lunch on the way over and a barbeque dinner on the beach at Lana'i. We sailed back to Maui just before sunset toasting the islands with champagne. Not too bad.
The second trip was on a large motor catamaran out to Molokini which is located between Kaho'olawe and the SW end of Maui. Molokini is part of the rim of an old volcano and inside there is a fair bit of coral and wildlife. When we finished with our first snorkel we were treated to a buffet barbeque, which they did on the boat and we ate in transit to our second site. The second site, Turtle Town, supposedly was to have a lot of turtles as it is one of the many fish cleaning stations along this section of the coastline. We saw only one turtle however, and the coral and fish were minimal compared to the first site.
Although we didn't see any whales on Kaua'i, we certainly made up for it on Maui. Each year from December to March, humpback whales come down from Alaska to the shallow waters between the Islands to mate and give berth to their young. In particular, those channels to the west of Maui are favorite berthing areas, making Maui the undisputed whale watching capital of Hawaii. We especially saw whales on our two catamaran trips and even saw them from the roadside and while lying on the beaches. These whales really put on a show with lots of flipper and tail flopping, spy-hopping and breaching (jumping completely out of the water) only to fall back in a cascade of foam. They were definitely more active than the right whales we saw off the coast of Argentina.
All in all it was a most enjoyable holiday in the sun, certainly a welcome respite from the cold midwest winter. We particularly treasured our times at the beach, often pretending to read a book, but in reality just luxuriating in the warm sun and the sound of breaking surf. We knew it was time to go when we knew where all the roads went, could navigate with ease - and we could actually pronounce many of the words in the Hawaiian.
It's important to note that these are our observations as we experienced them for this time of year (February, early March). Even though each island is different, we couldn't resist the opportunity to compare the two we visited. Those of you who have been to the islands before may have a chuckle or two with the following.
In talking with others who have been to Hawai'i, we found that there are many different ways in which to enjoy the islands. For us, snorkeling and hiking were a big part of the adventure. Clearly there were a lot of things we didn't do - but then it's always nice to leave something for "next time".