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Trip Report Our quick visit to Hawaii and Kuaui

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I had to go to Hawaii for a meeting (I know, tough assignment) and I try to take a few days holiday anytime I am going somewhere interesting, but my calendar limits how many days I can take off at times. My husband surprised me by saying he wanted to come along for the short visit before my meeting to visit his 50th state. I had been to Maui 30 years ago, my first tropical destination beyond Florida. We decided to skim over the islands since neither of us like to lie on the beach or swim in pools, we weren't in need of relaxation, just wanted to see what we could see in the week we had.

So, we left home before 5am and off we flew with him using my USAir FF miles to Lihue. Two hours into the air on our connecting flight from Phoenix "Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but we have an indicator light that we have not be able to get to work for the last 1.5 hours and cannot fly beyond a critical distance from a major repair facility, so we are going to turn back, circle for a couple of hours to burn off fuel, and land back in Phoenix. We have no idea what the plan will be for your trip." Great. Two hours later when landed in Phoenix, the gate crew greeted us with $10 food vouchers and the promise of a new plane and crew in 2 hours.

Thus, we landed in LIH more than 6 hours late--no afternoon up at the north shore to see the waves and sunset, just a drive in the dark to Kuaui Beach Resort and my request for the quietest room they had to sleep off our exhaustion. The nice staff at KBR said "I've upgraded you to a pool view." (I booked nonview sale price room) I said, "Thanks, but no thanks. I don't want to face a pool, music, or any other noise. I don't want the upgrade. I want to face the open field, if possible. After a while tapping on the keys, "I've upgraded you to oceanfront. It means you have to walk all the way to the end of the property, but there will be no one between you and the ocean, circling the end of the building on the property map." Unintended consequences that turned out great. The first night we left the sliding door open despite being on the ground floor and slept well with the sound of waves hitting the shore. Next night we tried the same thing, but it was hotter/more humid and my husband suffered with the open door and a/c off. We liked the KBR and would recommend for its convenience to airport (shuttle available) and friendly staff. a/c vent was very dirty so not breathing clean air out of that. Charge for parking, but we expected. Did not use the Internet (front desk printed boarding passes), restaurants, pool, or fitness center--just slept there.

Next--1.5 days on Kuaui fit into 1 works out OK. Would have preferred more, but making the most of what we have.

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    As my husband says, "no good vacation goes unpunished". I am working on the weekend trying to catch up, so the trip report will continue out in spurts.

    Transport--
    Avis provided good rental car service in 3 locations.
    I wish the rental companies wouldn't put the sticker on the window about the fine for smoking in the vehicle--easy signal to burglars that it is a rental car with possible luggage in the trunk.
    Traffic was as bad as everyone warned. The KBR entrance onto the highway is at the point where the cones start the reverse flow lane for rush hour--quite an experience to figure out how to turn left out between the cones amid steady traffic.
    There was a brush fire by the Lihue Walmart that shut down roads, creating near gridlock despite policemen waving traffic through lights.
    Cars on Hawaii often drove well below the speed limit, resulting in long lines and slow progress.
    When we were headed to HNL, the highway headed into Waikiki was at a dead stop on Saturday afternoon.
    Carryon luggage was the way to go. Although small airports, the lines for check in even just to drop off prepaid luggage were long.

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    We woke up early, but stuck around at KBR to see the promised gorgeous sunrise from our oceanfront lanai. As my elderly neighbor says, "every sunrise is a good one." This one was not memorable, so we jumped in the car, discovered the reverse traffic lane cones, and drove more cautiously than the hotel van driver in front of us into the fray.
    We easily found the Tip Top Motel Cafe & Bakery where I enjoyed my first pancakes with coconut syrup. Yum! Fast service for the construction workers and the rest of us. Bought a bottle of water and back on the road to Waimea Canyon.

    We drove up the easier grade road and down the windy one for each perspective. Based on board and book advice, we went straight to the Koke'e museum/visitor center and asked about hiking on the Pihea trail. She said "no way", the rain had been severe previous week and there was a youtube video posted of a local hiking it with poles looking like she was wading in a river. We drove on to Puu O Kila Lookout, took photos and decided we would just follow the trail as far as we wanted and double back. The first 1+ mile was barely wet in spots, but there is a lot rock that is slippery even when dry, plus I had to stop every 2 minutes to take another photo, so we moved pretty slow. Eventually we reached a steep climb that was wet and my husband decided that if we went up, he would probably slide down on his butt, ruin his hiking pants (half his vacation wardrobe). It was hot, humid, and hazy, so I was easily persuaded to go back and start the drive down, stopping at selected overlooks. The views were great and every stop provided a different vantage point. Husband voted for the Nature Loop where we learned about plants and heard (but did not see) lots of birds. Overall, we thought the Waimea Canyon was gorgeous and that you can get some great views with no effort from the overlooks.

    Because of our late arrival the night before, we were unprepared for our usual picnic and my husband was getting hungry, so we stopped at the Shrimp Station down at the crossroads and bought shrimp tacos. One was a meal. I didn't like it--too much rice, but husband said he would rate it an "OK."

    We went back to the hotel for a shower and I decided a 15-minute nap would be necessary before heading up to the north shore to see the beaches we missed yesterday. After 15 minutes the room phone rang and I sprang from the bed. "You still have your Do Not Disturb sign out. Do you really mean you don't want housekeeping?" Yes, that's what Do Not Disturb means. Now awake, we head to the North Shore.

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    Our goal was to see the fabled beaches of Kuaui's north shore and we were not disappointed. Best descriptor - Awesome!
    However, as we drove through Kapaa, I saw Hee Fat General Store and shouted "shave ice!". We detoured to share a fancy shave ice with ice cream and topping--it was great.

    Stopped for Hanalei Valley Lookout--OK.
    Then we took the next turnout on the right for Hanalei Bay overview --AWESOME! We demonstrated our discipline by driving all the way to Ke'e before parking the car and walking to the beach. The view back along the Napali Cliffs was OK, but very hazy. It was interesting to be at the base whereas in the morning we were at the other end on the top.

    The surf was the star attraction. Huge waves crashing offshore at the reef, smaller ones reaching the beach, and even some running parallel along the beach. We walked to the east to the inlet/stream?, then back, sitting down to enjoy the beauty of the waves. There was nothing to use a reference to measure height, but they were larger than anything I have seen on the Atlantic or Pacific coast of the mainland, Virgin Islands, Australia, or New Zealand. There were high wind and surf warnings issued. Still, a few people were letting their children wade in the water.

    It was cloudy, so not much sunset and we started the drive back over the one-lane bridges before dark. At one point we were driving with the tall waves paralleling us into shore, a fun view. I could have sat on any of these beaches watching and listening to the crashing waves for hours.

    Next morning we were driving to LIH at 5am. Everything was officially open there at 5am, but the rental car shuttles don't start moving until about 10 after, the check in desks by 15 after, TSA security by about 20 after, and the coffee shop about 5:30am. So, no worries about returning the rental car. Just glad we did not have to stand in the long line to check in.

    So, our two days on Kuaui turned into one day.
    Am I glad we went for such a short visit? Absolutely. We saw the two main sights we wanted to see--Waimea Canyon and North Shore beaches. Both were beautiful and worth the effort.
    Did I want more time? Of course. I would have liked one full day for each side of the island, allowing time to relax at the hotel or stop to see a waterfall.

    I can see how a helicopter flight or a boat trip to see the coast could both be great if the weather is not too hazy and the ocean not too rough. Conditions were not great that day. Even if we had more time, both my husband and I dislike being on a boat for more than 1 or 2 hours at the most, so even the sunset cruises were at our limit. My husband is a licensed pilot (including rotary) and instructor. He won't fly with any small operator without checking out the pilot and the maintenance records, so you can imagine we don't take many tourist flights. He also doesn't like riding as a passenger on buses on mountain roads. It's a control thing.

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    Oahu--
    We had to change planes in HNL to get to KOA, so we decided to spend the day with the goals of Pearl Harbor and some Hawaiian history.
    Prebooked PH tour online for 9:30am with flight arriving in HNL 7:00am and hopes for breakfast in between. You have to pick up your tickets one hour in advance else they give away. We arrived around 7:30 and when I went to the desk I was offered 8:30am tickets, but we wouldn't have time to get offsite breakfast and my husband hadn't come in with me to ask him (he was hungry), so I passed.
    We drove to the Big City Diner in Aiea where husband tried the nut pancakes with haupia creme sauce--too much sweet, but overall good breakfast on relaxed Saturday pace.

    I decided the way to handle the parked car with luggage and the no bag policy at PH was to pack all our electronics and other valuables in one backpack and check that at the national park bag check, leaving only suitcases with clothes, etc. in the trunk. We asked the ranger when we arrived earlier where we should park if the close lot was full when we returned. She directed us to the "energy efficient" parking spaces by the handicapped spaces up front. She said no one there knew what cars were allowed in spaces or how to tell, so only foreign tourists who didn't understand the signs parked there. She said since our rental car had a green leaf on it for some reason that it looked like an energy efficient car to her.

    We got an audiotour, which I think is good if you want to hear the oral history of individuals, but the museums are well marked and I would have been satisfied without the audio. We found the memorial very moving. People brought small children who were crying during the loud film of the attack. Other people were loudly laughing, talking on cellphones, etc. despite the rangers' requests for quiet on the memorial. Some friends told me later they experienced the same disappointment with visitors on their tour.

    We chose the Bishop Museum for our history, keeping us out of the heart of Honolulu. Easy enough to find, I was glad I had the step by step directions to leave and get back on the highway. We only visited the Hawaiian Halls--some very interesting displays and some so-so to appeal to visitors of all ages in a great building. There was a storyteller who was a great actor. We also saw some special WWII displays. The giant bugs outside are kinda neat. We didn't stay for the hula demonstration, deciding to search for lunch/dinner and head back to the airport. We tried to find a couple more of local favorites from Tripadvisor, but they turned out to be real dumps, so we just returned the car and settled in for sandwich and salad in the air conditioning at the airport.

    Pearl Harbor--definitely worth the stopover for us history buffs. Plus, I had visited the Death Railway site in Thailand last summer, so the suffering in WWII was still on my mind. I had especially wanted to visit after my mother told me how moving it was for her. She was 23 when the attack took place and at age 65 she visited the memorial along with a number of Japanese tourists. Arrive at 7am if you don't have a reservation and you can usually get a few tickets for sometime during the day.

    Bishop Museum--nice, not too big, but hefty admission. I would pick and choose my way through the halls and join any scheduled events.

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    Flying over the islands is fun itself--seeing the beaches, the peaks of the volcanoes poking through the clouds, etc. It was our only experience of Waikiki.

    Landing on Hawaii at Kona was a new experience. The miles of lava rocks came as a surprise in a way because we had not seen anything like it. All my friends at the meeting said they thought they were landing on the moon or somewhere else, but not earth, especially if coming from another Hawaiian island.

    After spending the night in Kona, walking along the waterfront (OK for shops and restaurants), we started our drive south and decided to stop at Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau. Great tie in with what we saw at Bishop's Museum. The ranger gave a talk for us and another couple despite it not being the scheduled time and it was a highlight of our visit. (He gave me a grasshopper that he made from grass.) Otherwise, it is small and a quick walk around is enough.

    If we were on a more leisurely trip, we would have stopped at a church, a farmers market, etc., but instead our next stop was Punaluu Black Sand Beach. We had visited the Safeway in Kona, so we had our picnic supplies and grabbed a table shielded from the strong wind to eat with the sound of the waves and the curious birds. Lots of folks around. A few selling crafts from a picnic table.

    Onward to Volcanoes National Park--our main destination on the island. We chose the lava tube, a bit of Kīlauea Iki, and Devastation Trail. We liked Devastation more than I expected--really stark. It was just too hot for us for Kilauea. I later found out friends were hiking it while we were on the rim and they said it was indeed taxing that afternoon. We drove to the Jagger Center and looked at the steam. We waited for the ranger talk, but it was cancelled when folks spotted 3 people inside the restricted area. All rangers monitored them until they came out of the area. What a waste.

    We checked in at our Goose B&B in Volcano (like a room at a relative's house, but great breakfast) and faced a common problem there. We wanted to go back into the park after dark to see the glow. We weren't hungry, but the few restaurants open on Sunday reportedly get packed and close early and we didn't want more picnic food that day. We settled on buying a takeout order of soup from the Thai restaurant that stayed warm in its styrofoam container for 1 hour + while we returned to the park, took photos, and drove back to the B&B.

    We left Volcano in the rain. Akaka Falls was a nice stop, but I would just go left in/out instead of the circle to the right next time. It was really hot. Lots of other waterfalls and nice views along the highway if one wanted to linger. Waipio was nice view, but not so impressive if one has been to Kuaui.

    We stopped at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, which was convenient because the traffic came to a dead stop on the highway right at the turnoff. We are suckers for factory tours. We walked along the catwalk, playing the monitors and seeing some action inside. A lady was dipping cookies in the cookie kitchen. Then the tasting! Nice girl insisted she give us one of each available to try. Used an Avis coupon for a free can and purchased a bag of Hersheys kisses only sold in Hawaii. My sister in Harrisburg had not heard that they manufactured kisses only for Hawaii. We visited Hamakua to compare nuts with Mauna Loa. Smaller operation, but closer view of operations. Samples sitting on table to help yourself. After extensive scientific comparisons, I decided the best offerings are classic chocolate, coconut/chocolate, turtles, and pineapple snow.

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    Lovely trip report...certainly brings back memories. I love the Big Island. I miss the barren lava rock landscape. Some people think it's like a wasteland but I think it's so cool. I also love how the scenery changes by driving east...it becomes green and humid.

    Did I read you said there were "giant bugs" outside the bishop museum?? I have a bug phobia!

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    I love that you made the most of the time you had! So many people say, "one week per island" or "I'd only go if I had two weeks" etc... I'm like you: I'll take what I can get! Good for you. Thanks for sharing.

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    Once my meeting started, I had much less time for fun. A visit to Hapuna Beach where I waded, but many people were boarding. A visit to another beach that was mainly socializing rather than enjoying the actual beach.

    We found some decent takeout food from the grocery at the Queens Marketplace.

    There was one sunset that was a perfectly clear sky with an orange ball dropping. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me.

    We had hoped to make it up to the observatory visitors center one evening for the stargazing, but the first available night we were too tired and the other evenings filled in with social events, so we missed an experience I know we would have enjoyed. Though I was told we would not have enjoyed driving down the west side of Saddle Road after dark.

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    Tifa,
    Bishop had Xtreme Bugs, animatronic oversized bugs between the buildings. Interesting. I didn't see that many kids were paying attention to them, but I think it was at the end of their exhibit, so maybe the local children had seen them already.

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    Pijeta,

    If I only visited places when I could stay for as long as I would like, then I would miss out on a lot. If I can add even a day or two on a business or family obligation trip to see something new, I will do it. It certainly makes me prioritize what I really want to see or experience and I tend to pick what is unique about the place. If I like a place and want to book a longer independent vacation there, I will spend more time than these highlight opportunistic experiences.

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    Sounds like a wonderful trip, given the time you had. I'm with you, take the opportunity to see the world when you get it and figure out where you want to visit longer when you have time.

    Did you post pictures anywhere?

    Thanks for the report.

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