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Trip Report Honolulu and Kauai - Oct. 2012

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Hawaii Trip – October 2012

Our house in Arizona finally sold. We had it listed for almost a year with no luck, so we kept it off the market for a couple of months, then relisted. It sold the first week and for $1000 more than our list price. Of course that was about 43% less than it was valued at 5 years ago!

To celebrate, DW wanted to go 'somewhere tropical'. I thought Hawaii would be good. I had been three times but DW had only been to Maui once, so we settled on Oahu and Kauai.

At first I looked at going between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but later decided on October.

I tried to use some of our frequent flier miles for the flight but using the Alaska Airlines miles would have required us to go from Denver to Seattle before going to Hawaii. Alaska did have a very inexpensive flight from San Diego to Honolulu – only $368 round trip for each of us. I would have liked to use our Southwest Airlines miles to get us to San Diego, but there were no convenient flights, so we got an inexpensive United Airlines flight. The San Diego connection worked out well as the gates were right next to each other.

In Honolulu we got a taxi to the hotel. We stayed at the Ilima Hotel (www.ilima.com) which I booked on Booking.com. It is located a couple of blocks off Waikiki and is near the Ala Wai Canal. Our room was on the 15th floor (it has 16 floors) and was a 'Deluxe King Studio' for $122 plus tax. It had a king and queen bed and a small kitchen area. Very nice space with nice views of the city and a little bit of ocean. The lobby staff was nice. My only two negatives are 1) no wifi in room and 2) no hotel guide. There is wired internet in the room and wifi in the lobby. Both are free. The guide to the hotel is minor, but it could show where the pool, exercise room, and laundry are. The location is fine, being half a block from Kuhio Street where the bus stops are.

We didn’t get a rental car, instead using the bus. We got the 4 day bus pass - $25 at an ABC store. These convenience stores are everywhere – tough to go a couple of blocks in Waikiki without running into one. Only cash – no credit cards . Normal bus fare is $2.50 per ride, so 10 rides – 5 round trips in 4 days - is the break even point.

For dinners, we ate each time at the International Marketplace. I had gyros and DW had sushi. The food was o.k., but the Marketplace needs a good powerwash and some paint. For breakfast and lunches, we got food at the nearby market and ate in the room’s kitchen.

We took the bus to the Waikiki Aquarium. Bus 2 was supposed to take us there, but apparently the route had changed because it did not go into Kapiolani Park. We got off and had to wait about a half hour for the correct bus. Bus routes maps at the bus stops and a route map on the bus would be big improvements. They are features of most other public transportation that I have used recently.

I had 2 coupons for the aquarium from the free magazines that are everywhere. The aquarium only allowed use of one. I should have gone in separately from my wife and saved a couple of bucks. If this is the policy of the aquarium and not just a stupid clerk, then they are incredibly cheap.

The aquarium is not very large and I think the description is somewhat misleading. The 'giant clam' exhibit is just one shell and a few small ones growing. The shark tank had 2 small sharks. The most interesting part of that exhibit was the two divers cleaning it. The 2 monk seals were where we spent the greatest part of our time watching them. I would not visit again.

One of the trip requirements from my wife was to attend a luau. I did considerable online research and decided on “Chief's Luau”. I booked it through Oahu Luaus and saved some money. They were very good in confirming and telling us where to pick up the bus to the luau. The day before the luau we received a text message to remind us where to get the bus. The bus ride to the luau – held at Sea Life Park – went well with the guide delivering an interesting and humorous patter. The scenery was very nice. The ride took about 25 minutes – apparently making this luau closer than most of the other out of Honolulu luaus.

Excellent site on the Sea Life Park grounds with wonderful views of the sea and Rabbit Island. We could see the Makapuu Lighthouse. Three parasailers were gliding for the 90 minutes before sunset. While waiting for the food, there were various activities such as spear throwing, fire starting, palm frond weaving, airbrushed 'tattoos' and others. The pig was uncovered and soon dinner started. It was a big buffet with the pig as shredded pork (tasty), fish, teriyaki chicken, fruit, vegetables and , of course, poi.

After dinner the entertainment started. It was excellent with dances from the various islands. Of course I liked the Tahitian girls the best! The climax was an excellent and rather lengthy Samoan fire dance. The MC, a Samoan chief, was excellent with a constant stream of information and jokes.

We paid for the standard package. More expensive packages had a different lei (ours was shells) and more (alcoholic) drinks as well as a better seating location. Our seating was close enough. It was well worth the cost and was an excellent show.

We took the bus to the Bishop Museum. It took about an hour and was crowded. We had to stand part of the way. The museum is a couple of short blocks from the bus stop. We saved a couple of dollars each on admission with our AAA card. The museum exhibits are very well done and nicely arranged. However, THEY NEED TO TURN UP THE LIGHTS! It was almost dark in the museum. Also annoying was the location of some of the explanations. Many were knee height, making me bend at the waist to read them. Were they designed for Menehune? We were lucky and only had to wait about 5 minutes for the return bus.

Pearl Harbor was our next day's destination. I had planned on going the previous day, bur when I looked online for tour times, they were all filled. Important note: get a reserved ticket in advance from www.recreation.gov - don't go out there without one. I checked online - www.thebus.com - to find out when to catch the bus. Good thing I did because I needed to catch one earlier than I thought I would. If I had just gone to the bus stop and waited, I wouldn't have made it to Pearl Harbor in time.

The bus ride was about 75 minutes and was crowded like yesterday. We picked up our tickets and had about 90 minutes until our tour. We looked at the exhibits relating to the submarine Bowfin – plaques detailing all of the submarines sunk in WW2, torpedoes, and submarine launched missiles . We didn't go into the sub – we had seen one in San Francisco a few years ago (and I had built a 2 man version as an engineering student). We ate a quick lunch and went to wait for our tour. The one before our scheduled on had a couple of seats available, so we got in 15 minutes early. The short film shown is excellent. We then took the boat to the Memorial. Having lived in Arizona most of our lives, the USS Arizona has always been special to us.

One thing that amazed me was that the Arizona is still leaking oil, the oil making a rainbow of colors on the water’s surface.

There were several taxis as we exited and I considered taking a cab back to Waikiki, but the bus came just a couple of minutes after we walked to the bus stop.

Going back to the airport, we took a shuttle for less cost than the taxi we used to go from the airport to the hotel. We flew to Lihue, Kauai on Go airlines. It was considerably cheaper than other airlines when I booked the flights. We had to show that our carry on luggage would fit. Mine just barely fit and DW’s had to be checked in ($15 fee). The short flight was uneventful and we quickly picked up our rental car. It was a short drive to our hotel.

We stayed at the Plantation Hale suites in Kapaa (www.plantation-hale.com). We had a one bedroom suite. The only thing I didn't like was having 2 double (maybe queen size) beds. I would have preferred a king. I'm not sure if I had the option when I booked. There are TV's in both the bedroom and living room which is good since I am an early riser. I can watch TV while DW sleeps in. They gave us a discount coupon for the grocery across the street. We stocked up the kitchen, saving a few dollars with the coupon. There was a concierge to aid with beach towels, etc., but we didn’t use him.

First on our schedule was a boat ride along the Napali coast. I chose to schedule this first in case there was bad weather and we needed to reschedule. But the weather was fine. We chose Liko Kauai (www.liko-kauai.com) for two primary reasons. One, it left from the Kikiaola boat harbor, just west of Waimea and is therefore the closest to the Napali. This means less travel to get to the main area of interest. Two, the boat is of a size which would allow it to go into the sea caves -those with a mast are unable to do so. Another factor that might influence some is that small children are allowed. There were a 2 year old, 6 yr old and 8 year old on the trip.

We checked in at the office in Waimea then drove a couple of miles to the harbor. The captain and crew member were very friendly and gave useful information throughout the ride. Our only problem with the cruise was that they had no audio system to amplify their voices so everyone could hear what they were saying. The boat is a specially built catamaran. There is a shade over half the seating area. We loaded up and were on our way. Before long we came across a school of dolphins. There were perhaps 50 swimming around. The captain stopped the boat and the dolphins became very active, jumping out and spinning. They spin both twisting and some going end over end. It was really something!

Too soon (at least for me – I could have watched them for hours!) we were cruising up the Napali coast. Rugged cliffs and verdant valleys. The sea was running a little heavy and we weren't able to go into any sea caves, although we did get right up to the entrance of a couple of caves. Nor did we do the snorkeling. However, we did stop offshore a quarter mile or so where we were given the opportunity to swim in the open water. Most did so and enjoyed it. A lunch of sandwich, fruit, and chips was provided on the way back. It was an amazing ride. The coast is really beautiful.

On the Kauai portion of the trip, DW had only one real request – to do the canal tubing. We made this her birthday event. Only one company (www.kauaibackcountry.com/tubing.html) has the rights to the canals and so this adventure is a little more expensive than it might be if there was competition. However, we had a great time and felt it was worth it. We checked in and got our gloves and helmet. There were 17 on the trip. We loaded up the two 6-wheeled vehicles and drove through the 17,000 acre ranch to the start point. Soon we were on our tubes and floating down the canals. The water was 'refreshing' – the 'c' and 'f' words (cold and freezing) words are not allowed! The highlight is tubing through the 5 tunnels – one almost a mile in length. The helmets have a light on them which is used in the tunnels except for the last, short one which is done in the dark.

A light lunch follows at the picnic area/swimming hole. No one went swimming there as the water looked a little stagnant. This was the end of the dry season, so that might have contributed to the low water in the 'hole'.

I had planned on us doing the kayak trip to the secret falls. However, in reading the various websites, one mentioned that it was not recommended for those with back or knee problems. So DW decided against it, but I decided to do it by myself. I chose Kayak Wailua Adventures (www.kayakwailua.com). Three reasons – they were the cheapest at $40 per person (vs $80 for other companies), they had the earliest start time so they would get to the falls when no one else was there, and they provided walking sticks for the hike portion. I noticed that some companies advertised 'specials' of $40 – what do they do, charge those who book in advance double what the walk-up customers pay?

I checked in at about 6:45 along with 4 others, then we were transported the mile or so to the Wailua River harbor. I was asked if I had kayaked before. I hadn't so they decided that it would be better if I took a double (more stable) kayak. It was very stable and I had no problem managing the larger boat by myself. We had the entire river to ourselves as we took off, led by our guide, Cole. The paddling was not hard. After a half mile or so up river, we beached the kayak and started walking. The trail was full of exposed roots and was not an easy stroll. There were only a couple of small hills on the way. At this time of the year, the trail was dry – I guess it will soon be muddy as the wet season is beginning. Cole pointed out various plants along the way.

We finally reached the secret falls after a walk of about 1.5 miles. As it was the end of the dry season, the falls was a bare trickle. Still it was fun to go into the pool and stand under the falls. We were the first there, although we were soon joined with two other groups. Cole had taken the time to show us several items on the way, such as a couple of ancient Hawaiian walls, so other groups that started later caught up to us shortly after we reached the falls. We had snacks of dried fruit and cookies, then started on or way back. Cole took us a different route to show us other ruins.

Back at our kayaks, we started back downriver. The wind was blowing up river, so going downstream was not any easier than the outward trip. I'll admit that my arms got a little tired on the way back and I was a little behind the others – not a problem however as it was just a hundred yards or so. We were then transported back to the check in point and our cars. My arms did not ache either that day or the next, perhaps because I took aspirin before and after the trip. It was a very enjoyable trip – about 6 hours in total. I did notice a couple of days later that I had some scratches on my lower legs – I think from rubbing against the vegetation along the trail.

One nice thing about Kauai is that nothing is very far from anything else. We drove to see Waimea Canyon on the south west side of the island. We drove up hwy 552, just west of Waimea. The road was narrow and very curvy. We stopped at the lookout. It gives a great view of the canyon. Although not as big as the one in Arizona, it is still quite impressive. We continued on until the end. No view there as the canyon was filled with clouds. We saw a nene goose beside the road.

We stopped on the way back at the Kokee State Park and toured the nice and very small museum. On the way back we took hwy 550 to the town of Waimea. I think this route gives nicer views than if we had taken 550 up and 552 down.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation (www.kauaicoffee.com). They have a short walk through the fields with signs giving information about the coffee growing process. A nice video is shown in the tasting area. DW sampled one of the coffee blends and then bought some to take home. A nice, short stop.

Our drive to the north part of the island was highlighted by a view of the Kilauea lighthouse. We didn't go in the park ($5 each), but just looked from the viewpoint. The lighthouse was undergoing restoration and so the base was covered by tarp(?). Still it is an impressive sight. There were 3 nene geese in the parking area.

We continued on the road to the end at Kee beach. It's a nice drive through a jungle-like area. The road is very narrow and goes over several one lane bridges. Most are concrete and only a few feet in length, but there is one long steel bridge in 2 sections. Great views of the ocean and sandy beaches are seen occasionally through the trees.

We drove around to see Ōpaekaʻa Falls and the nearby temple ruins. Back in Kapaa we enjoyed an excellent shaved ice at Hee Fat General Store. I wish we had had many more of them on this trip – oh well, next time we will forget our diets!

The last afternoon of the trip we did the Fern Grotto boat trip. It was a pleasant trip up the Wailua River (same river as the kayak trip). At the grotto, there was perhaps a half hour stop. It was a short walk to the grotto which has many ferns growing in it. However, the hurricane in 1992 blew straight into the grotto and ripped out most of the ferns. A change in the water supply to the grotto has not aided the re-growth. At the grotto and on the boat ride back there was a demonstration of hula and some singing. The trip was pleasant enough and reasonably priced, but I would put it as the least important of the activities on the trip.

Our only real sit down dinner of the trip was our last evening. We ate at the nearby Lemongrass Grill (www.lemongrasshawaii.com). Wife had the ahi tuna, cooked seared and sauteed with capers. She thought it was among the best she has had. Her regular mai tai was also very good. I had the guava baby back ribs. They were cooked just like I like them - tender and falling off the bone. The sauce was not overwhelming.

The next day we packed up, and turned in our rental car, and flew Go Airlines back to Honolulu. There was a little hassle doing the agricultural check, but that is to be expected. The flight was fine but since we got into San Diego too late for a convenient flight to Phoenix (visiting parents), we spent the night at the airport Ramada Inn and continued to Phoenix the next morning.

Perhaps the only change I would make to the trip would be to forget taking the bus. They were infrequent, slow and crowded. Next time I think we will use using taxis.

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