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The Big Island, Kauai, and Maui: A Songdoc Trip Report

The Big Island, Kauai, and Maui: A Songdoc Trip Report

Jun 28th, 2015, 09:50 AM
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The Big Island, Kauai, and Maui: A Songdoc Trip Report

The Kauai Music Festival is the culprit that first brought me to Kauai—and started my love affair. This year, the “Kauai” Music Festival was moved to the Big Island. (Next year it will be rebranded “The Hawaii Music Festival.”) Whatever you call it, I loved every minute. As usual, I heard some amazing music and got to hang out with great friends.

The festival was held at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel on the Kohala Coast. My sister flew in from S. CA and we met in the airport four days before the festival to enjoy some bonding together.

Hapuna Beach is stunning—and the hotel was fantastic. There was a little walking trail from the beach that was absolutely beautiful, and sunsets from the pool were AMAZING. If I were to have any complaint it’s that the food at the hotel was very expensive—and being so isolated, you’re basically stuck eating at the hotel. The only options are to take the free shuttle to their sister property, the equally expensive (but also, equally stunning) Mauna Kea hotel, or drive to Queen’s Marketplace or Waimea.

The music festival paid for my breakfast buffet, which was a good thing, because $31 is a lot of money for egg whites and oatmeal, which is what I ate every day! But I will say the rest of the buffet looked beautiful and had lots to choose from, including smoked salmon, and a made-to-order omelet bar. A café in the hotel sells coffee, fruit, and basic breakfast and lunch items that do not require a mortgage.

Because of health issues, I do better with plain, boring food. So we drove to a Foodland market in Waimea and stocked up on foods that would work for me. (There was a mini fridge in the room.) But I did eat dinner in the hotel’s main restaurant one evening and it was “WOW.” Three of us ordered different entrees—and we all felt the same.

I walked the length of Hapuna beach several times every morning, and never stopped being impressed by the beauty. One evening, we took the shuttle over to the Mauna Kea to watch the sunset on that beach. It was equally as beautiful. I would have enjoyed some hiking, but my sister has limited mobility, so most of our time was spent lazing under an umbrella on the beach, or in the surf. The pool and beach staff, as well as those at the front desk, were exceptional.

I’d previously spent a week on the Big Island, but this was my sister’s first visit. So we did a 12-1/2 hour “Grand Circle” tour with Roberts’. I think it was $85 per person. Tastings at a candy factory, coffee company, and macadamia nut shop were my sister’s favorite stops. I was eager to get back to Volcano Nat’l Park because lava had been flowing. Unfortunately, all we saw was a lot of steam. The last time I’d been there, DH (who was DP at the time) and I hiked at sunset and watched red lava flow into the ocean. It was AWESOME. So, seeing some crater letting off steam was a bit of a disappointment.

I really enjoyed the Punaluu black sand beach where we were up close to six sea turtles. Their resting area was roped off. Also enjoyed Rainbow Falls. Our tour guide was excellent. He was funny, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. My sister enjoyed the tour so much that when her husband arrived a few days later she took the tour again. But she was disappointed in the guide. That really makes a difference.

I had a wonderful time, but honestly … I don’t get the appeal of the Big Island. So much of it seemed to be vast fields of black lava, and rainy Hilo doesn’t appeal to me. Most of the people on the tour with us were Aussies who had flown over for the day from Honolulu. They seemed to echo my sentiments. But my sister and her husband are the kind of people who are happy to stay at a beautiful resort, go to the beach and the pool, and eat in expensive restaurants on the premises. They're not interested in exploring natural beauty or venturing out. They just want to relax and be pampered. For them, it was perfect.

I’m not saying there aren’t wonderful places on the Big Island, such as the Place of Refuge, and the area around Captain Cook. And as I’d said, Hapuna Beach was stunning. On my previous visit, I also enjoyed the painted church, Akaka Falls, Akatsuka’s orchid nursery, and the botanic gardens. But with the vog (that had me taking sinus pills) and long stretches of nothing but stark black lava, I can’t fathom why this would be anyone’s favorite island—although I know it is. To me, the beauty can't compare with Kauai. But different strokes for different folks!

When the festival ended I took the first flight to Kauai. To be continued …
Songdoc is offline  
Jun 28th, 2015, 12:01 PM
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Thanks Songdoc, great report, you have such a way with words that you really make a place come alive.
Have only been to Big Island once with my late husband but would like to go back again, know how you feel about the lava, noticed it when we drove up to Mauna Lani for lunch one day, but the contrast to the blue water kind of makes for a nice contrast. Kauai is still also my favorite though.
Looking forward to the rest, thanks.
jamie99 is offline  
Jun 28th, 2015, 03:14 PM
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The last time we went to the Big Island was in October 2012. We really only went (again) because we had a friend with us who had never been to Hawaii so we spent 4 nts there before going on to Maui.

There was a "vog" while we were there as well and it was so warm and humid! I thought "we could have stayed home and been this miserable!"

There is something captivating about the starkness of the island and I never tire of the beautiful water but I doubt we will return to the Big Island either.

I think if we venture to another island, it will be Kauai.
bettyk is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2015, 03:25 PM
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Wow, all these people knocking The Big Island! And I am going in January....
It's OK, don't feel sorry for me, I have been there before, 1989, on my 2nd Hawaiian visit. But in 6 trips to Hawaii since then, we haven't returned. Mostly, we went to Oahu and Maui, with a couple visits to Kauai, Lanai, and a day trip to Molokai. DW prefers Maui, I prefer Kauai, we both like Oahu. Hey, all the islands are great!
I characterized the Big Island as 1/3 rain forest, 1/3 black lava rock, and 1/3 cattle pastures. And its so BIG! I know that's all oversimplified.
I am sure things have changed since we were last there, and I am still looking forward to going. I guess the things that Big Island does best, are not what we badly want, i.e. beaches, snorkelling, volcano, etc. But I am still expecting to have a great time!
Thanks once again, SongDoc, I am enjoying your Report!
kanunu is online now  
Jul 3rd, 2015, 05:22 PM
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Songdoc, thanks for the report. Just for future reference and in case you didn't know already, the closest decent and affordable restaurants to Hapuna are about 15-20 minutes north, at Kawaihae Harbor. I wouldn't call any of these places gourmet, but they're pretty good and closer than driving up the hill to Waimea. Our favorite is Cafe Pesto which has a second location in Hilo.

As for the island overall, I agree it's not for everyone. People expecting "South Pacific" are often disappointed when they're greeted by barren and endless lava flows, at least on the west side. But what I love about the island is that it rewards exploration: the upper slopes of Mauna Loa, the ravines along the Hamakua Coast etc, are some of the most gorgeous terrain in the entire state, but much of it simply isn't visible from the highway or is difficult to reach. We've been going there for 30 years and are still discovering new areas.
fdecarlo is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2015, 09:04 PM
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Thanks for the report. My husband and I just decided today to go to the Big Island in February and stay at the Mauna Kea. It has been 10 years since we've been to the BI, but have been to Kauai twice and Maui and Oahu since then. The best snorkeling I've experienced was at Kealakekua Bay so I'm looking forward to returning.
wtm003 is online now  
Jul 4th, 2015, 02:23 PM
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I am glad we visited the Big Island, on our trip to Hawaii last year. We also visited Oahu and Maui. The contrast between Big Island and Oahu and Maui was amazing. We couldn't believe all the lava rock when our plane was landing in Kona, and how the landscape changed as you drove up towards the top of the island to files of green. We enjoyed our trip to the Big Island, did a lot of driving, and there was some beautiful scenery.

However I think I like Maui the best, but haven't been to Kauai. Will definitely go there on our next trip.
nelsonian is offline  
Jul 5th, 2015, 10:18 AM
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I’ve confirmed that I’ll be returning to the Hawaii Music Festival next June (Yippee!!!) and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Big Island. I appreciated the info re: the restaurants. Next time, I hope to do more exploring.

For many years I would rent a unit at Sealodge in Princeville. The units are small and basic, but the views are unbeatable. A few years ago I got friendly with the owner of a triplex named Orchid Point, next door to Sealodge. It’s got the identical views, but it’s seriously upscale. I got spoiled. This time, Orchid Point was completely booked, so I “slummed it” at my old stomping grounds.

Sealodge E8 hasn’t been updated and the furniture is a little tired. It has no ceiling fans (although it has good portable fans) and instead of there being a washer/dryer in the unit, one has to use coin-operated machines in the building next door. For these reasons, the unit rents at a lower price than most of the others. But there’s a secret … Shhh. E8 has some of the best views and trade winds of any unit in the complex. So, I was very happy.

A friend who recently moved from Nashville to Maui came to visit me for a long weekend on Kauai. She had previously spent 3 days on Kauai and had seen quite a bit. It was so much fun to show her my favorite places and see them through her eyes. She was mesmerized by the view from the condo and we both agreed we’d have been perfectly happy spending all of our time on the lanai. But we didn’t!

We headed south, right from the airport! Our first stop was Waliua Falls. Soooo magical! Then the Menehune Fishpond for some awesome photos. Then ... the star attraction -- the Maha’ulepu trail. Well, actually, the next stop was to use the rest rooms at the Grand Hyatt and to look at the exotic birds in the lobby. One of the macaws, named Duke, had a sign in front of his perch that said he likes when people sing “Duke of Earl.” Of course, I couldn’t resist and the results were hilarious. The bird danced, raising its feet in the air and bobbing its neck as I sang. Then I danced, mimicking the bird’s moves, which made it gyrate even more. It should have been a YouTube moment. I switched to another song and it seemed to like that just as much. My face hurt from laughing so hard. Then on to Maha’ulepu.

The access road to Maha’ulepu is open to the public, but it’s privately owned, so the state can’t force the owners to repair it. Sadly, it’s gotten much worse—and it was terrible before! I will never drive that road again – unless I’m in a 4-wheel drive truck or something equally sturdy. The option is to park at the Grand Hyatt and walk from there.

But once we survived the drive the reward was spectacular. The views from that trail are truly breathtaking, and it doesn’t look like anything else on Kauai. It’s unearthly. The cliffs and blowholes were sculptures created by three extraordinary artists -- the wind, the sea, and time. The intensity of the color of the water was incredible. After our walk we set up chairs and enjoyed the beach. Maha’ulepu is one of my favorite spots on my favorite island. It’s not on a lot of tourists’ radar—and it should be.

We started the next day at Lumahai Beach. The water was surprisingly rough for summer, but there was a small area where it was calm enough for safe swimming. Ohh, the views!!! Ohh, the colors of the water!! Ohh, the adorable baby chickens!! We ended our day with a sunset walk along the surf (and in it!) at Hanalei Bay.

The following day we walked to the “Bali Hai” overlook for some photos, then to the gazebo with the historical info at the St. Regis, before heading down to the beach at the hotel. That beach is one of my favorites for photo ops. After a walk along the beach we drove north to the end of the road – Ke’e Beach. Parking is typically impossible at Ke’e, but we intentionally arrived around 4 pm when people were leaving—and we found a spot.

to be continued …
Songdoc is offline  
Jul 5th, 2015, 01:07 PM
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Leaving us in suspense at Ke'e Beach, eh?? Have you ever been to the beach under the Pali Ke Kua condos just down the road from the St Regis? The beach and the trail down are wonderful!!!
CaliNurse is offline  
Jul 5th, 2015, 01:35 PM
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Lumahai Beach, is there anything better? I don't think so...
rncheryl is online now  
Jul 6th, 2015, 09:39 AM
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I do like that beach -- but for me, it's too much work to get down there -- especially with a chair. For those who don't know .... you have to hold onto a rope to get up and down the steep path. I'm too lazy. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

But Lumahai ... Ahhhhh!!! That's a path I don't mind walking down!
Songdoc is offline  
Jul 6th, 2015, 04:24 PM
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I think Songdoc is mistaking the path to Hideaways next to Puu Poa with the path at Pali Ke Kua's private path to the other side of the beach which is paved.
Inakauaidavidababy is offline  
Jul 6th, 2015, 05:02 PM
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i think you're right . No rope, and an easy walk down, and not overgrown as Lumahai is 9although gorgeous in its own jungle way). But heck, if people think it is difficult, it will stay quiet!
CaliNurse is offline  
Jul 6th, 2015, 05:59 PM
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Yes. I am thinking of the path to Hideaways. I don't know about that other path--but I hope to soon find out! Thanks!!
Songdoc is offline  
Jul 6th, 2015, 06:10 PM
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"Private" path was a key word.
Inakauaidavidababy is offline  
Jul 6th, 2015, 07:26 PM
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> I think Songdoc is mistaking the path to Hideaways next to Puu Poa with the path at Pali Ke Kua's private path to the other side of the beach which is paved.

I dare you to say that fast ten times.
fdecarlo is offline  
Jul 8th, 2015, 09:34 AM
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Private path
Private path
Private path
Private path
Private path

I can't do it! You win fdecarlo!
Inakauaidavidababy is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 12:16 AM
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For me, Ke’e is the quintessential Hawaii beach. It’s my fantasy of how I imagined Hawaii to look. In fact, I loved it so much I returned with DH – just to be sure it really is that nice ;-). It is! I love the walk from Tunnels to Ke’e. My reward is a swim at the end, in that gorgeous turquoise water with those palm trees on that perfect lush hill.

DH and I arrived around 6pm and hiked the first 1-1/4 mile on the Kalalau Trail. I’ve done more of the trail in the past. This is enough for me. We went far enough to see and photograph the breathtaking views of the Napali Cliffs, then a little farther before turning back just in time to watch the sun set into the ocean from the beach. Wow. It simply doesn’t get any better.

We had a big surprise when we went for our favorite breakfast at Kountry Kitchen in Kapa’a – and it had moved! Well, the entrance is now next door to where it used to be. They took over the property next door to expand. The result was shorter lines, and food that was as good as ever. We shared a luau omelet (stuffed with kalua pork, spinach, onions, and cheese) and one massive banana/mac pancake. God, help my cholesterol. It was so enormous we had to take the fresh-from-the-oven corn bread back with us.

I calculated that we’d have to jog around the entire island twice, or swim to Tahiti—to offset the breakfast calories. Instead, we made a dent with one of my favorite walks – the path that goes from Kapa’a past Kealia. We picked up the path at the parking lot at Kealia and walked a couple of miles, soaking in the views.

Sunset was at Hanalei Bay where we saw the first of two green flashes from this trip. We’d only seen one before--a couple of years ago. This time the conditions were less than perfect and it was only a partial, but we both definitely saw the sun glow neon green at that last moment when it sunk into the horizon.

We enjoyed a swim at Sealodge Beach. The snorkeling must have been great because I saw lots of fish while I was wading. It's a pretty beach, but not one of my favorites, and parts of that path can be slippery.

It’s soooo hard to choose my favorite hiking trail. The Kuilau Trail (near the arboretum) is probably tied for first place with the Canyon Trail at Waimea Canyon. They’re both so different—yet equally spectacular. In the past I’ve always stopped at the bridge that officially ends the Kuilau Trail, because it’s usually been muddy beyond that. But this time the trail was dry and we continued, merging into the Moalepe Trail. Moalepe wasn’t as awesome as Kuilau, but it was quite different, and the combination made for a wonderful hike.

Lunch was my addiction—Hamura’s Saimin!!! It did not disappoint. I LOVE those BBQ chicken sticks and that saimin. Sooooo good. We mostly ate in the condo and smugly stuck to our boring, healthy eating plans. ;-) Our only other restaurant meals were Brazilian panceques and killer “Crazy Nachos” at Neide’s. The food was good. The views were GREAT! Also ate at the Shrimp Station. Delicious coconut shrimp!

We typically do day trips to Maha’ulepu and Waimea Canyon/Kokee State Park. This time we decided to stay a couple of nights at Waimea Plantation Cottages ($179/nt) so we wouldn’t have the 2-hour drive back to Princeville after a long day of hiking. It was a great idea. We simply LOVED LOVED LOVED Waimea Plantation Cottages. It felt like a trip back to Old Hawaii. The cottages are from the 1800s and early 1900s and ours had some beautiful vintage furniture. It’s not the St. Regis or Grand Hyatt. It’s the most peaceful, magical setting. We never wanted to leave.

The only negative is that with the sand being quite dark, the ocean looked unappealing—like bilge water! But the pool was very nice, sunsets were stunning, and long, leisurely walks along the beach were heaven. I loved watching people on horseback riding silhouetted by the sunset with the pier in the distance. We had two meals at Kalapaki Joe’s on the property. I could easily spend a VERY long time at Waimea Plantation Cottages.

Our trip up into the canyon was wonderful—but the weather wasn’t. Luckily, we’ve seen those views many times because we never saw the Kalalau Lookout. We waited at least twenty minutes two different times, but had no luck with the clouds clearing. In the past, most times it cleared up. But hiking the Canyon Trail with the mist drizzle and clouds was special and very beautiful in its own way.

I forgot to mention … on our way south, DH and I stopped at Maha’ulepu. This time, we parked at Shipwreck Beach and walked. That trail never stops amazing me. It’s GORGEOUS!

I think that covers everything, except to say that on our way back from Waimea we stopped for very good coffee at Grind’s Café. It was torture to leave Kauai, but it was time for our next stop: Maui!

To be continued …
Songdoc is offline  
Jul 17th, 2015, 09:16 AM
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AWESOME! thanks so much for the report. You always give me ideas. We love the path from Kapaa to Kealia Beach and rented bikes on last trip to ride that path. It was great. Stopped for a bit at Kealia Bech and watched the surfers. We are heading to BI for a short 5 day rest. We love KAUAI so much 5 days would be torture so for quick jaunts we head to BI to do nothing but walk, swim, play games and enjoy sunsets. Also staying at Hapuna Beach Hotel for first time. We have stayed at Mauna Kea, Fairmont Orchid and condo in Kona. Love the Hapuna Beach itself so looking forward to some time there. Thanks for refreshing me with your trip reports.
Shar is offline  
Jul 17th, 2015, 06:44 PM
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Shar, if you liked the Mauna Kea you'll love the Hapuna Beach Prince. Larger rooms and lower rates, although the grounds are slightly (very slightly) lower end than the MK.
fdecarlo is offline  

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