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Trip Report Two weeks. Maui. Oahu. Kauai. A trip to Paradise.

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We've recently returned from our first trip to Hawaii -- two weeks on Maui, Oahu and Kauai. I’ll admit that I really wasn’t looking forward to this vacation all that much; I like warm waves and volcanoes and pineapples as much as the next person, but I’m really a city girl at heart. My favorite vacation spots are New York City and Paris, so I wasn’t so sure about two weeks on “island time.” But, it was as close to two weeks in paradise as we could have come.

A little background: DH and I decided to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary with trip to Hawaii (a very delayed honeymoon trip, if you will). We are independent travelers and avoid cruises, tours, and organized groups whenever possible and would rather poke a stick in an eye than stay in a "resort." Whenever possible we rent a house/condo/casita/studio/apartment instead of staying in hotels, and seek out things that let us "live like a local" (as much as you can in a few days). So we shop in groceries and farmers markets, go to church, take public transportation when available and practical, and look for mom & pop restaurants. This wouldn't suit all travelers, but it works for us.

Of course, traveling this way requires a lot of research on somebody's part, since there isn't a travel agent or cruise company in the mix. That somebody is usually (OK, always) me -- DH usually just shows up on departure day and asks which airport we're going to -- so I do a lot of research about our destinations. Hawaii was hard for me, as I knew nothing about it at all: how many islands, what were their names, where were they located in relation to each other, where did you want to stay on each, what was there to do ....? I spend hours surfing the internet, looking at review sites, and the Fodorites are one of my major sources of information and opinion. So, here's a blanket thank you to everyone who posted about things I needed to know -- your advice was invaluable.

I finally came up with this itinerary:
January 27 -- Chicago to Maui
Six nights on Maui; fly to Oahu on February 2
Four nights on Oahu; fly to Kauai on February 6
Four nights on Kauai; return to Chicago evening of February 10 (arriving afternoon of February 11)

When I was searching for flights there was a dearth of direct flights from Chicago to any Hawaii airport and those that were available were prohibitively expensive (like $2200 nonstop vs. $730 with one stop). We chose United; American was slightly cheaper but DH was leery as American had just announced Chapter 11 the week before. I also did a lot of cost comparing for the rental cars, but finally went with Discount Hawaii Car Rental (http://www.discounthawaiicarrental.com/). It was really easy -- just put in your dates/times/airports and in a couple of hours they spit back emails with completed rentals which you can easily cancel if you want. And I got the best prices there; I experimented with several different rental companies using their loyalty programs (Emerald Club, Insiders, etc.), Rental Car Momma coupons, etc. and the Discount Hawaii deal was about half of the cheapest price I could come up with on my own. (We don't belong to Costco or AAA or anything -- those may offer better deals?) The Discount Hawaii deal also included a free second driver. I ended up with Alamo for the rentals on all three islands and I have no complaints with their service/cars. One tip -- I always booked a compact car and three times out of four (I'll explain why there were four cars on three islands later) they didn't have any compacts in the lot and we got a midsize for the compact price. Though there were many times that a compact would have been easier to park/navigate than a bigger vehicle!

We left O’Hare on Friday, January 27, a day that was blessedly free of snowstorms that had been plaguing Chicago for the past several weeks. We had a layover at LAX so by the time we landed in Maui (about 6 PM local time) we had been traveling for about 18 hours (we live about two hours from O'Hare). We got the Alamo rental car (no pressure to buy CDW or GPS or baby seat or anything, and we were out of there in about 10 minutes and they didn't have any compacts so we got a midsize), stopped at a Whole Foods near the Kahului airport to pick up some coffee, fruit, and juice (we had rented a condo and we ALWAYS eat breakfast in) and then made the 40 minute drive to the west side of the island. We stayed at Kahana Reef (http://www.kahanareef.com/) north of Lahaina, between Ka'anapali and Kapalua. It's an oceanfront complex with a great view of Molokai and Lanai; there is no beach, but the pool is right on the sea wall and there is beach access within a two minute walk. And there are really great beaches within a 10-15 minute drive in Ka'anapali and Kapalua. The property is immaculate and well maintained, and is quiet. I read one review on TripAdvisor complaining that it was full of old geezers and that there wasn't any action there -- which was fine by us old geezers. By the time we unpacked and got somewhat settled in, it was about 9:00 PM and we packed in it for the night. A long day!

But, of course, our jet-lagged bodies woke up about 2:30 AM – which was fine because we planned to go see the sunrise over the Haleakala Crater, and we needed to leave by about 3:30 to get there in plenty of time. We had read a great tip to do the sunrise trip the first or second day in Hawaii, so you can get up early enough without too much trouble since you are jetlagged, and this proved to be the case for us. So we had some of the coffee and juice we had bought at Whole Foods in Kahului the night before and hit the road. So far, we’d only seen Maui in the dark – the night before coming from the airport and now this pre-dawn trip, and we were looking forward to seeing what it looks like in daylight!

I'll say a little about getting around the islands. Before we left I bought a Rand McNally road atlas of all of the islands, but it turned out to be a very detailed, fat book that was great, but too bulky to make it worthwhile carting 4800 miles (and back). So I bought the Hawaii series of maps from Franko's (http://frankosmaps.com/) and they were just great. They're plasticized and have loads of information on them besides being good basic road maps. I bought the group of maps for a four of the major islands, which includes a plastic card of Hawaiian fishes -- small enough to take with you snorkeling to help you know which fish you're seeing -- because it's cheaper that way. But I will also say that we relied heavily on our GPS -- we used the navigation in DH's Droid so we didn't have to carry (or rent) a separate piece of equipment. Tanya (that's what we call the navigation voice...) saved our bacon many times, especially on Oahu.

The Haleakala National Park is the tenth most visited national park (so I read), and the visitor’s center at the crater opens like at 5:30 AM each day (there's another visitor's center at the eastern side of the park at Kipahulu which is open more normal 9-5ish hours). The drive from Kahana was to take about 2.5 hours according to the GPS, and sunrise was shortly before 7 AM on January 28. So we left about 3:30 AM and made the easy trip; it took about 90 minutes to get to Crater Road and then the last 18 miles (going up to 10,000 feet in the dark) took nearly another hour. The steep, curvy ride up Crater Road was, well, curvy and steep, but if you go slow enough it's fine. You have to stop at the park entrance and purchase an entry pass ($10/car) from a machine since no one is in the guard booth at that hour, but it's good for three days (we actually used it after five days -- more about that later). We got to the top about 6 AM and the parking lot was already about half full. And it was cold! I think temperature was 29 when we arrived. We had brought gloves and hoodies and I was also wearing my silk "woolies" (not much bulk to pack) and I was comfortable but none too warm. Several were there wrapped in blankets from their hotels. We stood at the outside railing (there is also a viewing gallery from inside the visitor's center which is warmer, but you're removed from the whole thing) and watched the slow migration from dark and stars to the slowly glowing sunrise. At least that day it was glowing – a perfectly clear day that let the sun appear like flows of golden lava as it broke the horizon. Just beautiful.

We stood with the gathering crowd – probably a group of a 125-150 people – and the sky slowly turned from black to not-so-black to pink to orange and then the sun appeared over clouds in flaming orange – it actually looked like streams of lava pouring through the clouds. After another 10 minutes the sun was up and blazing – too bright to look at directly. We (and many others) went in to the visitor’s center to warm up, and the rangers were singing the chant – the traditional song to the sun. I don’t know if this is performed each and every day, but it added another dimension to this already incredible experience. And it was only 8 AM on our first day in Hawaii! We had two more weeks. What else might happen?

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    Truly inspiring!

    What I find truly remarkable is that a self acknowlegded 'city' girl, who was not all that inspired to visit the islands, managed to land in the dark, wake up and go to the top of a volcano in the dark and never really saw a single bit of Hawaii until sunrise and then ranger chanting. . . how frickin' cool is dat?

    Thank you, I look forward to the continuing journey!

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    Love your report and look forward to the rest. DH & I are heading to Hawaii in about 6 months and will be spending a week on Kauai. It will be our first time to that island, so I can't wait to read about your experiences there.

    So far, your trip sounds like it was a great success.

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    After we warmed up a bit and looked at the maps and models of the crater in the visitor's center, we went back down the mountain, stopping at the lookouts that we had passed in the dark on the way up. Incredible views, especially since we could see Maui in the light for the first time! The trip down in daylight was somewhat faster than up in the dark, but with the stops at the lookouts it still took over an hour. We had breakfast at the Kula Lodge, not too far from the base of Crater Road. Nice place; they had a fire going in the fireplace – told you it was chilly! – and the views from the dining room are spectacular. The food is pretty good; I had some lovely granola with strawberries and yogurt and DH had eggs and Portuguese sausage. He chose the Portuguese sausage for different, but it wasn't too exciting, I guess. It was just good to just warm up by the fire with tasty coffee and spectacular views on a sunny Saturday in Maui. After breakfast we did a little driving tour of the pastoral upcountry, and found the agriculture and small towns a nice change from the beach (not that we had actually seen any beaches in the daylight yet -- but we would soon, and often). We visited the Surfing Goat Dairy in Lower Kula (http://www.surfinggoatdairy.com/) and got some really great chevre (and saw some really cute goats). In Makawao they were celebrating Chinese New Year (a little late, but I guess it's a festive town) with a troupe of dragon dancers in the middle of the main street. Each shop had a bunch of “cabbage” tied to the doorpost – the dragon was to go by and eat at each stop. Everyone was having great fun, and we did, too.

    As we were making our way back to Kahana, the "low tire pressure" light came on. DH got out and looked and nothing seemed amiss, and he checked for a spare (yes, there was one), but we happened to be only a few miles from the airport and decided to take the car back to Alamo instead of having to perhaps deal with a flat tire on the Road to Hana or something. I was very impressed with Alamo's service; we drove the car to the "returns" aisle and told the agent our story. She directed us to the other side of the lot where we had picked up the car the night before. We gathered up the stuff we had in the car and walked over, and we were given another car (this time we got the compact that we had reserved and paid for...). They amended our rental agreement at the exit booth and we were back on the road in less than 10 minutes. We never were charged for the gas we had used in the first car (was probably only a couple of gallons, but that would usually be like $12 or something at rental agency rates?) and while we were now stuck with the compact car, it turned out to be a blessing later on -- the Road to Hana has some tight turns!

    We stopped at The Fish Market in Kahana to pick up some fresh fish for dinner and chose some crab cakes. That evening we attended mass at Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina. We make it a point to attend church wherever we visit -- from the White Dove of the Desert in Arizona to Notre Dame in Paris. Up until now a small congregation on Nantucket had the prize for the best choir, but the group at Maria Lanakila beat them handily. There was no musical accompaniment, but they sang with vigor and moved back and forth between English and Hawaiian. The place was packed, but apparently with a lot of tourists; the friendly lady in front of me was from Pennsylvania, and the nice lady next to DH was from Minnesota. And, a lot of us looked pretty pasty white under all those Hawaiian shirts -- sure sign of Midwesterners! We went back "home" and had the crab cakes -- best darned crab cakes I think I've ever eaten -- and sat out by the sea wall under the palm trees and the moon. We were just enjoying the fact that we could do that in January. Hardly ever do that in northwest Indiana in January.

    We spent Sunday morning in Lahaina, shopping on Front Street and enjoying the art fair that was going on under the banyan tree. Sunday evening was pure tourist, at the old Lahaina Luau. It was a bustling place (we got there late - -arriving at the advertised start time is late, apparently) and there was almost no place to park, so that compact car came in handy for the first time. You're greeted with a kukui nut lei and a tray of mai tai's, and shown to your table. It's a beautiful setting, a couple of acres probably, on the beach. While there's an open bar, they keep a handle on that by having fairly long lines for drinks, and the drinks don't pack much of a punch-- keeps costs down and reduces the numbers of drunken diners, I suppose. They make a production of digging up the imu (pigs buried with heated lava rocks and roasted all day) which are then shredded and added to the buffet. The meal consists of the traditional "Hawaiian Plate" menu of lau lau (pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed), sweet potato, lomi salmon (chopped salmon with onion and other stuff to make a relish), the shredded imu, poi (lavender wallpaper paste), pineapple, rice, and haupia (sort of like coconut jello) for dessert. They also offer some non-traditional dishes like teriyaki chicken, stir fried vegetables, and macadamia nut tarts. You won't go away hungry, unless you try real hard. After dinner they put on an entertaining hula show. I'd read that that is one of the best luau choices; I have no basis for comparison, but we had a really good time.

    We spent our last full day on the west coast of Maui exploring the northwest shore, where the big waves are. I had read that the waves on Honolua Bay attracted surfers, so I wanted to drive up and see. We weren’t disappointed! We visited several beaches and bays, including Honolua Bay, and we did see a number of surfers – there were lookout points along the road on the cliffs above and the “viewing gallery” drew a number of spectators. It was a beautiful day, albeit pretty windy – which contributed to the wave action. We made our way around the northwest tip of the island to the Kahekili Highway, although this "highway" is barely two lanes wide and snakes its way up the coast with a sheer drop-off on one side and rock face on the other. We were headed for Nakelele Point, where there’s a lighthouse and, more interesting to us, the Nakelele Blowhole. The waves have eroded the rock enough to create an underground tunnel (as it were), creating a rock formation that allows water to spout out (like a whale’s blowhole) when the surf is high. Well, it was certainly high, and we did see some dramatic blowhole action. Great fun!

    The next morning we left bright and early to take the Road to Hana – the narrow, twisting, winding road to the small town of Hana on the far east shore of Maui, famous for its great scenery, including coastal views, waterfalls, nature walks and 50 miles of very narrow roads! On the way we stopped in Paia – kind of a funky town with shops and surfers and coffee and yoga and organic foods. We liked it a lot and would stay in or near there if we should ever return to Maui. Then it was off to Hana – we passed blue waters and wild surf; small towns and waterfalls; fruit stands and one lane bridges. Someone once counted that there were 600 hairpin turns in 50 miles, and 58 one lane bridges. I had read that you could bring food for a picnic but that it was more fun to stop and buy stuff along the way, and we stopped at a BBQ truck and got some teriyaki pork with pineapple (grilled on skewers) with rice for $15 and took it with us to the Kaumahina State Wayside Park and managed to snag a picnic table so we got to eat lunch overlooking the Pacific. I've tried to replicate that pork and pineapple skewer since we returned home, but of course I can't. Whatever I do, it will never be as good as that takeaway in the styrofoam container, eaten on the Road to Hana.

    We took a nature walk in the Ke’anae Arboretum and saw the most amazing painted eucalyptus trees (the trunks look like they’ve been splashed with a painter’s brush) and palm trees and fern trees and even a turpentine tree (?) from Australia. We drove down to the Ke’anae Peninsula and saw pounding surf splashing over the black lava rocks. We bought “the best” banana bread at Aunt Sandy’s stand there (all the stands have the best banana bread, but hers was warm – and was pretty good!) We visited the Wai’anapanapa State Park and saw our first black sand beach (there are several) and a really cool black lava rock arch. Some of the trailheads and scenic overlook parking areas only had room for three or four cars; we were often able to squeeze in that skinny space at the end with that little car. We finally made our way to Hana in about seven hours total, arriving about 3 PM. But, we took our time getting there.

    Many people make the drive to Hana and back in one day, but when I was doing my research for the trip, someone had posted on this forum that "there's no place like Hana and no place like Hanalei," so I decided to spend a couple of nights in Hana. I rented a really cool house they call Hana's Heaven (http://www.hanasheaven.com/) which is up on a cliff and is so remote that it's off the grid. As they say on a sign posted in the house, all their power and water "come from the sky." But you'd never know it; the house has all the amenities (regular appliances, satellite TV, DVD, wireless, radio/CD), great views of the Pacific, and is just lovely. We could sit on the front deck (well, we'd call it a "porch" here in Indiana -- maybe it's a lanai?) and watch the whales. While we were in Hana we visited the eastern side of Haleakala National Park in Kipahulu. Entrance fee there is $10, but the ranger asked if we had been to the Crater (yes) and did we have our receipt (yes). We showed her the receipt (which was five days old by now) and she thanked us for being honest (I guess not everyone stops at the machine at 5 AM on the way up to the crater and pays the fee) and let us use that for Kipahulu entry, even though it was more than the advertised three days. We took the short hike to the "Seven Sacred Pools" (really the O'heo Gulch Pools -- "seven sacred" sounds so much more sexy) and then hiked with a ranger to the bamboo forest. We love ranger walks -- they're always so informative. Then we drove on down to Charles Lindberg's gravesite. I had read that it was cordoned off with a chain link fence so that tourists wouldn't walk on it, but we found none. A park ranger told us that these days fewer and fewer tourists know who Charles Lindberg is, and there was no need to protect it any longer!

    We had our last cup of morning coffee in Maui watching the sun rise over the Pacific, and we left our cliffside home in Hana on to return to Kahului to catch our flight to Oahu. The trip from Hana was quicker as there was little traffic -- they were all going in the opposite direction and we didn't meet up with any of them until after 10 AM. We flew Hawaiian Air between the islands (and I'm glad I learned that I needed to book these flights early like any other flight; it's not like a bus where you can walk up and always get tickets on the next one out) and the trip to Honolulu was scheduled to take 34 minutes, but time in the air was more like 20 minutes. We had time to take off, get a 4 oz. container of passion fruit juice, drink that down, put the empty into the trash that the flight attendants circulated, and land. That’s my kind of flight!

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    This sounds like a great trip. It gives me inspiration to try to get out of my comfort zone, as I'm a no cities vacation person. If you could enjoy a non-city vacation so much, perhaps I could try a city vacation.

    Keep it up and thanks for posting.

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    Great writing and great stories.

    We stayed at Kahana Reef several years ago and liked it as it sounds you did.

    You are right, in Hawaii porches and decks = lanais

    Overnight in Hana = wonderful

    Looking forward to more.

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    Great work - and coming back to read this more thoroughly - and then mark it - so that all the people who say you can't do 3 islands in two weeks have something to consider. :)

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    BTW - I have had a number of rental cars where the low tire pressure light has comes on and have checked it - and added more air to that tire - and it was fine. :)

    More later after I get back from coffee at Starbucks and also - look forward to reading your next installment.

    Again - great work and love it when someone takes the time to write a detailed report. When I went up to finally see the Sun God rising over Halakeala (on about what - my 4th trip to Maui - but a couple of times there had been clouds up on top) - I didnt have a coat but did take a towel from the hotel for a "shawl". Glad I had it as I don't normally get cold - but it was a bit brisk before the Sun God came out appeared - and didn't think about taking one of the blankets from the bed.

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/maui/maui07.htm

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    BTW - when we are driving around the Western states on road trips - my niece and I especially have to have our Izzy (Israel xxxxxx) fix - and when he sings about Maui - Hawaiian Superman - we all chime along. Actually - we know most of the melodies - and love all the songs, even the ones in Pidgeon.

    May he RIP. As you may know - Izzy (all 800 lbs of him - but with the voice of an angel) sang the song - Over the Rainbow - for the final TV Doctor show (can't remember the name now) - and it's just amazing.

    One of his latest albums - Facing Future - is our favorite.

    http://tinyurl.com/7ekkzqj

    http://www.squidoo.com/bruddhaIZ

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    @ emalloy -- oh, do try a city vacation! New York, Boston, San Francisco, Paris, Rome ... they're all just wonderful.

    @ Tomsd -- unfortunately the indicator didn't tell us *which* tire it was, and DH didn't have a gauge, and he just didn't want the hassle. And, the smaller car turned out for the best in the end!

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    After getting the rental car in Honolulu (Alamo again; again no compacts so we got a midsize; no hassle at the counter) we made the trip over to our digs Kailua, about 20 miles from Honolulu but about 40 minutes driving time. We took the H1 and H3 route (though I wonder where the "Interstate" goes?) and it’s a dramatic drive, going through the mountains, which are more rugged and bigger than those on Maui. We drove through two tunnels and found our way to our villa (more like a two-story town home, but “villa” sounds much more swanky, don't you think?) in Kailua, just across the street from the beach. Kailua Beach has been called the prettiest beach on Oahu (but then, so have others), and it is a lovely stretch of white sand with clear, aqua blue waters. We unpacked our stuff and took a walk on the beach, watching the waves, enjoying the clear blue water and joining the other folks having a good time in Hawaii.

    Our first stop after that was the Kailua Farmers Market, which happens to be held on Thursdays (the day we arrived) from 5-7:30 PM. It’s held at one end of a parking garage, shoehorned in between a Long’s Drugs and a Macy’s. (Kailua was much more densely populated and suburban than almost any place on Maui.) We finally found a parking spot and we made our way through the crowds and surveyed the choices: several food booths, and lots of vendors selling honey, baked goods, fruit and vegetables. We had our dinner there, at a “soul food” booth – we split a pulled pork sandwich and a barbecued chicken platter. We hadn’t had anything to eat since our breakfast in Hana, so we enjoyed it! We bought some Hawaiian cheesecake to take home for later (came with an orchid in the box – don’t find too many orchids in cheesecakes in Indiana) and some bread and croissants from an artisan bakery vendor. Yum. Then we made our way to a nearby supermarket to stock up on fruit, juice, milk, cereal, and a few other staples. A box of Quaker Oat Squares was over $7.50! I’m not sure why oats are so dear, but whoever eats them in Hawaii must really really like them!

    The next day, Friday, was our day for Pearl Harbor and Honolulu. We left about 8 AM and got to the Pearl Harbor visitors center about 9 AM and we got tickets for the 11 AM trip out to the USS Arizona. They opened the current visitors center complex just last December, built the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It’s extremely well done. We rented the audio tour and easily spent the two hours looking at the various displays and exhibits in the museum and surrounding areas. I knew about the attack (like we all do), but I learned a great deal, and DH, who is a real WW II buff, even learned some new details. At our 11 AM assigned time we went into the movie theater and saw a 30 minute film about the day, including actual footage of the attacks and their aftermath. Then we got on a Navy boat and took the five minute ride to the USS Arizona memorial – built directly over the still-submerged wreck of the ruined ship. Over 1,100 men are still entombed in the ship, and it’s a somber memorial. It was a very moving experience, and I don‘t see how anyone could come to Hawaii and not visit Pearl Harbor. The US Parks service has done an excellent job with this memorial. Nearby are the USS Bowfin and Missouri which you can tour for an admission fee. Since it was already well past noon we decided to move on.

    So after spending over three hours at the park we headed for the Punchbowl. It's a natural crater which has been pressed into service as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a military cemetery for service personnel who died in a Pacific arena – WWII, Korea, Vietnam. It also honors those missing in action or otherwise lost; 16 stations on either side of the memorial carry the carved names of thousands of men and women. There are legends detailing where the various branches of the Service are located, and for which war, to help those looking for the name of a loved one. There are also a series of mosaics detailing the various battles in the Pacific; these were crafted with obvious skill and have wonderful detail and character. DH spent 30 minutes looking at the mosaics and reading about the battles. The Punchbowl also provides an excellent view of Honolulu and Diamondhead. If you've been to Arlington, you will understand the experience you will have here.

    After visiting the Punchbowl we headed to the Punahou School Carnival, which lcuy had clued us into on this forum. Punahou School is an independent college prep day school founded in 1841 that has held this fundraiser carnival for the past 79 years (and happens to count President Obama as an alumni). The carnival is a two-day festival of food, midway rides, local crafts and culture, and entertainment. It’s held on the grounds of the School, and the entire island participates (or so it seems). I had printed out the carnival grounds layout when I was still at home, so I knew where all the booths were, and I had also printed out a list of parking areas near the event. We cranked up the GPS and headed towards one of the parking areas... the nearer we got the worse the traffic got, and there were lots of pedestrians. We finally made it to the Union Church parking area ($10/car) – and it was full. OK, so we headed back out and found the Punahou Lutheran Church lot – and they had one space left! It was $15 to park there (it's their only fundraiser all year, I hear), but it was a parking space. We walked the three blocks to the School grounds, bought $20 in scrip (you paid for everything with scrip) and had a great time eating lunch -- first, some noodles and then DH and I split the Hawaiian Plate, which featured the same traditional foods that we had at the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui. (Note -- unless you're really fond of taro leaves and poi, don't seek out the Hawaiian Plate experience.) The Hawaiian Plate was being served in the School’s cafeteria, and a slack key guitar player and singer was performing (I guess he was famous – he talked about selling his CDs) and we really enjoyed that while we were sharing lunch. We finished with a malasada each – a fried, sugared donut that is incredibly popular here (Leonard’s Bakery has a perpetual line for their malasadas). It was kind of fun to imagine Barack Obama selling shave ice or something at one of the booths, as I understand he must have done when he was a student there.

    After the Punahou Carnival we made our way down to Waikiki Beach and strolled down Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag, with the beach and ocean on one side and exclusive shops like Prada and Coach and Tiffany’s on the other. Sort of like Michigan Avenue's Gold Coast in Chicago, but warmer, and with a beach. We went to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, "a Waikiki Beach institution since 1927," and watched all of the exclusive guests doing exclusive things. Waikiki is also the home for the free Kuhio Beach Park Hula shows four times a week -- currently the show is offered on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday nights (http://www.oahumom.com/2011/08/kuhio-beach-free-hula-show-in-waikiki.html) Different hula halaus (hula schools) perform and it's an excellent and authentic show. It starts just after sunset (6:30 in winter and 7:30 in summer, I believe) on the Kuhio Hula Mound between Uluniu and Liliuokalani Avenues, near the statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Just go and sit yourself down on the grass; some bring mats or towels but most don't. Public parking is available at the Honolulu Zoo for $1/hour (about five or six short blocks from Kuhio Beach). Best deal for some really good, and free!, entertainment in Honolulu.

    After an early morning walk on Kailua beach on Saturday (nice to have a great beach just across the street), we headed for the north shore. We stopped at the Dole Plantation on the way up, for all things pineapple. It's a big, touristy store that's a stop for bus tours, and most of it is pure kitsch. But, they do have nice demonstration gardens with several different varieties of pineapple growing, and even better they have about five acres planted with a wide variety of trees, plants, flowers, and all kinds of flora. It costs $5 to get in for a self-guided tour, but we spent a very pleasant 45 minutes strolling through the well maintained plantings. There are also interpretive signs describing the early days in the plantations, including stories of the workers and early plantation owners. The shop also offers a nice demonstration on how to cut a pineapple every half hour; DH discovered that he had a fondness for pineapple that had eluded him thus far, so this was a valuable skill-building lesson for me.

    We passed acres and acres of pineapple plants as we continued up to Haleiwa, "surfing capitol of the world." Winter is breezy and there are big waves; when we got to Hailewa Ali'i Beach Park there was just one available parking space (which we grabbed) and the surfers were out in force. After watching for a while we had the idea to continue up and around the northwest corner of the island, stopping to catch the action at other "big wave" beaches like Waimea Bay, 'Ehukai, and Kawela Bay. But about a mile north of Haleiwa the traffic came to a standstill, and then crept along at about four miles an hour, and many of the vehicles had surfboards strapped to the roof. I guess we weren't the only ones with that idea! DH lost patience after about 10 minutes and we turned around and spent a couple of hours watching the waves at Haleiwa Beach. On our way back to Kailua we stopped at an enclave of shrimp trucks just south of Haleiwa town and had Giovanni's shrimp for lunch. Giovanni's offers scampi (garlic), hot ("no refunds"), and lemon butter (well, lemon and butter) and rice. Yum.

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    I should note that not only is Kailua more densely populated than most any place on Maui -- the whole of Oahu, especially the south and southeast, are quite urban and developed.

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    @ jamie99 -- I read these forums a lot when planning a trip, so I think it's only fair to put back my two cents' worth. Might be of use to some other trip planner out there some day. And, hopefully brings back good memories for those who have already been!

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    Some of my law school classmates who returned - or moved to Hawaii in the 70's - joked it's really one freeway- but they had to number it like 3 for more Federal Funding, or some such.

    Hope you get to snorkel at Hanauma Bay - which you can reach from Kailua in about the same time as it takes to get there from Hono. Go early to beat the crowds, ideally when it opens and here is the webpage. We have snorkeled and dove all over the islands, and it's still our favorite for the variety and abundance of fish.

    And Lanaki beach is close to you and very nice. We stayed in a condo next to it once. http://www.hawaiiweb.com/hanauma-bay-nature-preserve.html

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    There are two basic scenic driving loops around Oahu: the big loop and the little loop. The big one loops from Honolulu north to Haleiwa then around and down the north/east coast on Highway 83, the Kamehameha Highway, and then back. The little one loops from Honolulu east on Highway 72 up to Kailua and then back on Highway 61, the Pali Highway, or on Highway 63, the Likelike Highway. We made it about a third of the way through the big loop, up to Halewia, but then were thwarted by the traffic, so mostly missed the east coast north of Kaneohe. But we were determined to at least drive the little loop before we left Oahu.

    We started in Kailua and drive through neighboring Lanikai, admiring the lovely homes and the great beach. Then we headed south, stopping at Waimanalo Beach Park (water is just absolutely gorgeous there but we found the beach a little dicey -- several people camping in their cars there for what appeared to be a long time), Kalona Beach, Makapuu Head, and Sandy Beach. We were looking forward to the Halona Blowhole since we had been impressed with the Nakelele Blowhole on Maui, but Halona wasn't blowing much that day. We did enjoy the view of Halona Cove from the viewpoint parking lot -- for those of you old enough to remember From Here to Eternity, Halona Cove was Burt Lancaster's and Deborah Kerr's romping ground. We continued on Highway 72, the Kalanianaole Highway, to Hanauma Bay, which offered great snorkeling. It was $7.50/person to get in, but the clear water and the coral reef are stunning. We finally made our way to Diamondhead and while the trek to the top is steep and a little sweaty, you get great views of Honolulu, and Oahu in general, from up there. The Pali Highway became our favorite route between Honolulu and Kailua, and the Pali Lookout is worth a stop, with dramatic views of the cliffs ("pali") and Kailua and Kaneohe.

    We by no means saw it all, but at least we got a good taste of Oahu before we flew off to Kauai on our second Hawaiian Air flight. The flight from Honolulu to Kauai is a bit longer than that from Maui to Honolulu, but not by much. We landed in Lihue about 2:30 and picked up our final Alamo rental car. For the first time we were pressured to purchase the CDW, with some dire stories about how if you have a fender bender or crack a windshield they have to craft it by hand in Japan and then freight it to Hawaii (via slow boat to China) and we'd be liable for the lost rental time ... but we resisted. No compact cars, so got a midsize. It had been raining a bit in Honolulu (a cold front was approaching and there were high surf warnings) but it was sunny in Lihue. And, we saw our first roosters at the airport! Just like in Key West, but more! Yippe! I had not heard nor read about the roosters before we arrived so it was a great surprise. (I just love roosters. OK, so I'm easily amused.)

    We were staying in Hanalei, so we headed north from the airport on Highway 56, and after only a couple of miles the traffic ground to a halt. We crept along for what seemed to be a loooong time, all the way up to Kapa'a. After Kapa'a the road opened up like magic. We saw later that they use a Kauai version of reversible lanes during "rush hour" and we also learned to avoid that section of the island between 3 and 5 PM or so. Who knew? (I didn't clue into the Kapa'a Bypass Road until our last day). We stopped for a quick look at Kapa'a Beach park, but then just headed pretty much straight to Hanalei. We did stop at the grocery in Princeville to pick up our usual staples (saw a chicken with five chicks in the parking lot) and we started getting a feel for the personality of Kauai.

    I had read that each Hawaiian island has its own personality, and that proved to be true. Maui -- elegant, I guess, with soaring peaks and lovely beaches and lots of exclusive enclaves and resorts. Oahu -- bigger, more rugged, more practical, more crowded, more workaday. Beautiful, also with soaring peaks and gorgeous beaches, but brawny somehow. Kauai -- is Kauai. Whimsical, funky, soaring, enchanting. The weather turned misty and rainy that first evening, which gave everything a mystical air. The waves on Hanalei Bay were wild and free. It felt like Peter Pan could live here. (I guess I'm giving myself away here...)

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    We stayed at the Hanalei Surfboard House (http://www.hanaleisurfboardhouse.com/) an absolutely charming place a block from Hanalei Bay on Weke Road, a residential street lined with lovely homes. I can’t say enough good things about this place; the attention to detail, the quality of the service and the wonderful property made for a wonderful stay in Hanalei. Hanalei town is compact (easily walkable in about 30 minutes) and has good restaurants, nice shops, and real character. A good portion of the recent George Clooney film, The Descendants, was filmed in and around Hanalei, and you can get a bit of an idea of what it’s like from the movie. Tahiti Nui, the divey bar/restaurant where George meets up with cousin Beau Bridges, was fun to visit as a lot of locals (including the bartender) had bit parts in the film and tell stories about the actors. The mai tai’s there are pretty good, too. Hanalei Bay is beautiful, and the beach/pier there were used for not only The Descendants, but also in the 1958 film South Pacific, with Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi. We learned that a lot of Kauai has been used in a number of film and television productions, including Raiders of the Lost Ark to Fantasy Island.

    Our first full day on Kauai was rainy – the first rainy day we’d had thus far. We (and lots of other damp tourists) started the day with coffee at the Hanalei Coffee Roasters and then spooked around the shops. After it cleared up some we drove to neighboring Princeville and checked out the St. Regis, and we also trekked to the weekly Hanalei Farmer’s Market (about a mile west of town) and got some interesting fruit and flowers. And we drove west of Hanalei to the end of the road, passing Lumahai Beach (the “nurses beach” in South Pacific) and ending up at Ke’e Beach, at the edge of the Na Pali Coast (Bali Hai). In the mist the cliffs were magical, and while the pounding surf made it dangerous for snorkeling and swimming, it made for a most dramatic vista. Ke’e Beach is at the northwest corner of the island, and the sunset there is incredible.

    But even more incredible is Waimea Canyon, “the grand canyon of the Pacific.” It’s on the southeast side of Kauai, and we took a couple of hours getting there, with several stops along the way. Kaleheo town is a quaint, residential town with origins in coffee plantations. The Kailua Coffee Company has a nice visitor’s center, with coffee tastings and informative videos about coffee planting, growing, harvesting, and roasting. And, of course, you can buy coffee to take home. Hanapepe is a great little historic town, with a good restaurant and nice shops and this cool swinging bridge over the Hanapepe River. But, Waimea Canyon is truly grand. Something like a mile across at the top, 4000 feet deep and 12 miles long, it’s spectacular. There are many formal (with parking lots and bathrooms – and roosters) and informal (turnouts for a couple of cars) on the way up Highway 550, and the first one, the Waimea Canyon Overlook, is probably the most dramatic. The colors are wonderful, and the way the light plays over the rocks and valleys is ever-changing and magical. Plan to spend at least an hour (we spent two) just driving up and looking. There are also several trails (the Canyon Trail is a popular one that takes you to the pool atop a waterfall) that let you get even better views. This will be a highlight of any visit to Kauai.

    We ended up on trip to Kauai (and Hawaii) with a bang with a plane ride over the island. We chose Wings Over Kauai (http://www.wingsoverkauai.com/) which uses an Australian “AirVan” (a small, six-seater plane) instead of a helicopter. The not only are less expensive than the helicopter choices, but they are also very generous, warm people and give you absolutely top-notch service. They usually only book four on any given flight so everyone can have a right-hand seat (they all fly clockwise around the island so they don’t smash into each other); one is the “co-pilot” and sits up in front. That way everyone gets a nice view. You not only get the air tour (with the stunning views of Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali Coast, Wailua Falls, Lihue) but they also take your photo in front of the plane (like when you go on a cruise or boat excursion) and they give you a copy of that, email it to you, and also make it the cover of a DVD they give to you as a souvenir. (The DVD is a short version of the hour-long flight, with professional photography of the island from the air.) It was a clear, sunny afternoon, and I think I took 125 photos during our hour in the air. They point out landmarks (“this was the land used in The Descendants as the family’s legacy; it’s actually owned by the Rice family…” “get ready, Wailua Falls is coming up and this would make a great screen saver…”) and make it a really memorable experience.

    Guess you can tell I liked it.

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    Loving your report on Kauai, can't wait to get back in October, my favorite island (although would like to visit Oahu once). Hope you also made it up to Koke'e State Park and the Kalalau Lookout, it is just north of Waimea Canyon up the road a bit. Nice little museum there and a small gift shop with a restaurant (only had drinks there, no idea how the food is). Good trails for hiking up there also. Thanks again.

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    jamie99 -- we did make it up to Koke'e State Park and the Kalalau Lookout, but it was totally fogged in (got mistier and mistier as we drove up) so all we could see were the roosters in the parking lot. We went to Waimea Canyon the day after the big "cold front" came through and it was chilly and damp (besides foggy) and wasn't a good day for hiking. Unfortunately. Gives us a good reason to go back! ;-)

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    We had the most lovely dinner our last night in Hanalei, at The Dolphin. We had heard about this restaurant from the Alamo shuttle bus driver in Lihu’e and it lived up to its reputation. They specialize in fresh fish; I got the teriyaki ahi (tuna) – “a house specialty for 30 years” – and DH got the swordfish grilled, with lemon and drawn butter. Simple and delicious. This restaurant also has a fish and meat market in the rear; we got a really great steak there one night that we grilled on our lanai at the Surfboard House.

    Our last day on Kauai dawned bright and sunny. We packed up all of our stuff and left our cool digs in Hanalei about 9 AM. We were able to watch the midday Chicago news while we were packing (the wonders of satellite television) and saw the wintry forecast of lake effect snow at up to 3" an hour(!) Made us appreciate the sunshine all the more! We had breakfast at a local diner (just like home – except for all the photos of surfers lining the walls) and then started our journey to the airport, and then finally home to Chicago.

    Our first stop was the bird wildlife sanctuary on Kileaua Point – and we finally saw a nene! What’s a nene? If you do crossword puzzles you’ll perhaps be familiar with “Hawaiian Goose” as a clue – nene. Nenes look like “regular” geese (albeit smaller) in body shape, but have distinctive brown and cream markings. They were all but extinct and now they aren’t plentiful, but their numbers are rebounding. We had seen these on television and had been looking for one for two weeks. There were Nene Crossing signs back on the Heleakala Crater road -- but no nenes. So were glad to finally see one!

    We continued our trek with a drive along the scenic road along the Wailua River, with a couple of waterfalls and river overlooks. We made a stop at the Kilohana Plantation, a sugar plantion converted into shops and a laua center near Lihu'e. We tasted a little rum and looked at the shops -- and then it was off to our flight with Wings Over Kauai.

    Our flight home didn't leave until 9:39 PM, so we went to the Marriott and spent some time on their beach and had dinner at Duke's Canoe Club. Beautiful grounds -- and wouldn't you know it, thre were four nenes waddling around in their atrium.

    And several roosters.

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    I am planning almost the same trip. So I was extremely interested in your account. We are doing 1 week Maui, 1 week Kauai, and 1 day/1 night Honolulu. I also am internet searcher for trips. Did you find Kauai to be dark compared to Maui?

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    daisyfairy123 -- we loved Kauai. Maui is lovely, and we enjoyed it a great deal. But if we were to return for only a week, it would be to Kauai. As I tried to convey -- there's a magical air there. And the roosters!

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    Just read your great Kauai report - and it is our favorite island - especially the North Shore - and Ke'e beach is our favorite. Have seen big surf in the Hanalei Harbor once - but not out at Ke'e, so cool to read about that, and it does sound "magical". :)

    And yes, you made me laugh when talking about the omnipresent Roosters/chickens. I am surprised there are not more BBQ chicken charity dinners on the "Garden Island. :)

    Next time you might try to take the trip up the west side and see the incredibly red Na Pali cliffs up close and personal - if the seas are willing. We had a great cruise on a Trimarin - and saw dolphins swimming along side, turtles too, had a nice dive (you can also snorkel) and just loved it. You leave out of Port Allen - down past Waimea town/the entrance to the Grand Canyon. http://www.explorekauai.com/boattours.html

    And having driven through "Lake Effect" snow on the way to a Notre Dame game last October (USC was playing there) - I can understand how you would be looking at the weather report while in Hawaii and appreciating your good fortune all the more. :)

    Thanks again for such a great trip report. Wish more people did that.

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    What fun to read your report. We loved Kauai and can't wait to return.

    I laughed at your observation of exclusive people doing exclusive things at the Royal Hawaiian. We stayed there for our one night on Oahu on our 40th anniversary trip and were upgraded to a beachfront room. Talk about cool!! It is a lovely place with oh so friendly people.

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    gpeters and lifeisanadventure -- we enjoyed Kailua Beach (was a beautiful beach), but Oahu in general was much more urban/suburban than my "vision" of Hawaii. But, that's Oahu in general, I guess. We stayed in one unit of a complex just across the parkway from the beach, a two minute walk, and we were close to groceries, restaurants, shopping, etc.

    I liked the location for this trip because it was close enough to Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and the "must-see" things on Oahu without being right in the city, and the beach was great. If we were ever to return to Oahu, though, I think we'd stay up on the north shore where it's a little more funky and there are no strip malls -- we enjoyed our afternoon in Haleiwa a lot.

    We stayed in the Palm Villa here: http://www.kailuabeach.com/ Nice place, nice people. Parking was a little tight, but it was secured and off-street.

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    Purduegrad, loved your detailed report, thanks so much for writing it! We are thinking of doing a similar trip next April, but only have 11 nights. We are thinking 3 on Oahu, 3 on Maui and 5 on Kauai. We were only going to do Oahu and Kauai, but I'd really like a "taste" of Maui. Having recently experienced this, do you think flying to Maui to see a couple of key sights would be worth it for such a short time?

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    loved this report too, and helped me to understand the feel of some of the islands.

    We are very much leaning towards Kauri to but just wondering, are there white sand beaches on Kauri or are they mostly dark yellow or greyish?

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    Jayneann, I'm very happy that we went to Maui -- each island is really different, and my only regret is that we didn't have time to do the Big Island, too. So yes, I'd do Maui if possible.

    HG, beaches are lovely on Kauai. The sand is perhaps not as white as you'd find at, say, Daytona Beach, Florida, but certainly not yellow or terribly grey. If you saw the recent film "The Descendants" with George Clooney, you saw a good chunk of Kauai, especially the beach at Hanalei. That will give you an idea.

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    I loved your report and writing style!

    May I just say that unless Hawaii is a one-time, never-again trip, I would stay at least a week on Maui or Kauai -- and longer on the really big Big Island of Hawaii, where you're better off splitting a stay between Kohala and Volcano.

    Aside from our first trip, when we did four islands in two weeks -- before the days of the Thousands Standing Around -- we've never stayed less than two weeks on any of the four major islands. The only time I was very ready to move on was our third stay on little Kauai.

    Although Big Island is probably my favorite, when we decided to buy, we chose South Maui. If we came in other than winter months, we would have looked at Napili/Kapalua. We prefer low-rise, low-density (condos) in Hawaii. I have a 'thing' about having to take an elevator to a beach! LOL (Fine to *visit* touristy Kaanapali/Lahaina once in a while. We would only stay north shore on Oahu -- weather permitting.)

    It's such a long and expensive flight to Hawaii that some people feel they must 'see it all' in one go. Yet most visitors return -- again and again, staying longer and moving around less. IMO if you must glimpse the highlights and 'sample' Hawaii, the NCL one-week cruise is just fine. It's not high end or expensive if you book a plain cabin and hire a car at some ports instead of taking the ship's tours. THEN come back and stay put somewhere while you soak up the Aloha.

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    Purduegrad, thank you for getting back to me. We have decided to do all three islands and even though I wish we could spend more time on each, I'm content knowing we'll get to experience a little of each. I'm happy you agree with me. :)

    ChiSue, good information,thanks. I hope to get to the Big Island someday and maybe repeat another island too, but coming from the East Coast, who knows if we'll actually make it to the Hawaiian islands again.

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    Jayneann, I know what you mean. We really enjoyed Hawaii, but there are so many other places to see and go to that it's really doubtful that we'll ever be back. Am now planning a trip to Turkey for this fall, and everyone tells me that we will fall in love with Istanbul and will be back. But ... The only place we've ever loved enough to actually return to is Paris. And yes, I would go back in a heartbeat. But will we?

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to write your report. Did you keep a travel journal? I find that when I return home I cannot remember details....and while I'm traveling I often don't take the time to journal.
    What's your secret?

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    fieldtrip, I don't exactly keep a journal, but my mother (81 and going strong, God love her!) enjoys regular updates of what we do on vacation. So I send her an email every day or two with a couple of stories and I use those to refresh my memory when I get home. If you search me here you will see other trip reports from other vacations.

    I find that I get pleasure from all three phases of a vacation -- the planning, the actual trip, and then the remembering afterwards. I use this and other forums quite a bit in the planning stage, when I'm learning about the place we're visiting. So I feel that I should give back afterwards, and perhaps someone else can benefit from our experiences.

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