Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Maui in 2 days

Greg & I flew over to Maui for two days last weekend. Inter-island travel is easy & affordable due to the competition between Hawaiian Airlines and Go!Mokulele. With advance purchase, a round trip ticket from Honolulu to any of the other islands is $110. Although I'm a member of all the major car rental company's rewards programs, I often find the best rates on In this case, I had booked a compact car for 2 days for a total of $78. However, when we arrived at the Hertz counter, the agent noted my Gold member status and mentioned they had a weekend special to upgrade to a Corvette convertible for $40. After clarifying that it would cost an additional $80 total for the 2 days, we were going to stick with the compact car. But then the agent asked if I had any other memberships like AAA. I do, and carry all my membership numbers in a Travel file on my phone. So I provided my AAA number and voila, a red Corvette convertible was ours for the weekend for only $40 more than the $78 I had already paid for the rental. I mention the convertible because I think it really made a difference in our overall enjoyment of the weekend. With only two days to cover the entire island, we spent A LOT of time in the car. The convertible gave as unrestricted views of the scenery we passed, a lot of which was overhead and we would have missed in a traditional enclosed vehicle. The only negative, if you want to call it that, is that the car had low ground clearance. Many of the most scenic roads (Hwy 36 to Hana and the Kaupo Road) were narrow and rough. Taking a Corvette off-roading definitely added to the adventure! So here's a summary of our whirlwind tour of the island... After picking up the car at the airport, we made a quick stop in Pa'ia to pick up sandwiches for the road. We lucked out and did not encounter too much traffic on the road to Hana. While the road is only 53 miles from Kahului to Hana, the drive can take up to 3 hours each way due to the narrow, winding road and one lane bridges. Plus, it is quite scenic, with frequent pull-offs to view waterfalls, tropical rain forests, or the Pacific Ocean. While we were not in a hurry, we did not try to stop more than a couple of times as we felt we could see plenty from the car. I think it took us about 2 hours to reach Hana and that's with a stop for a picnic lunch at Kaumahina State Wayside Park (one of the few places with basic facilities on the route). In Hana, we enjoyed a tropical beverage at the Hana Ranch Restaurant before continuing south to the natural pools at Ohe'o Gulch. They were closed to swimmers due to high water levels, but we still enjoyed hiking down to the ocean for the views. Our next intended stop was the grave of Charles Lindbergh. However the road was not well marked and we missed the turnoff. At that point, we were already on a narrow gravel/dirt road, so instead of turning around we decided to attempt the remainder of the remote and often impassable Kaupo Road. This turned out to be a great choice, as the ranch-land scenery on the back side of Haleakala was really beautiful. Of course, we would have been in a bind if something happened, because there is no emergency assistance available, no rest areas, no cell phone coverage. But my mind was more at ease after we saw a few tour vans on the road, so I knew we were not completely alone. As we headed inland on the Kula Hwy, we realized it would make more sense to go ahead and drive to the top of Haleakala for sunset, instead of trying to get up at 3am the next day to make the drive up for sunrise. The only problem was that it was fast approaching 5pm and the sun sets just before 6pm now. So we put the Corvette's V8 engine to good use and zoomed up the winding road to the summit (with a quick stop to change into warmer clothes and put the top up as the temp quickly dropped from the 80's to the 40's). We made it just in time and enjoyed a beautiful sunset from 10,000ft. After so much driving we were ready to check into our hotel and relax, but still had to make the 1.5hr drive back into Kahului to the Maui Seaside Hotel (see my review on TripAdvisor). We had a good bento box meal at an Asian restaurant walking distance from the hotel and quickly called it a night. For the first time in weeks we slept in (until 7:30am). After breakfast at the hotel's Coconut Grill restaurant, we headed west to Lahaina. We picked up a free copy of the Lahaina historical sites walking tour map at the courthouse and used it to do a self-guided tour of the area. We continued north to Ka'anapali beach, which is lined with fancy resorts. This is a great place to have a nice stroll along the paved Beach Walk which covers most of the 3 mile white sand beach. We particularly enjoyed a detour through the Hyatt Regency Maui's lobby and grounds, which are filled with expensive artwork and exotic birds. We then rewarded ourselves with a refreshing beverage at Leilani's On The Beach in Whaler's Village. We continued our west side tour by making a quick loop north to Kapalua, site of the luxurious Ritz-Carlton resort. We then back-tracked south to the beaches of Kihei, primarily because I wanted to visually compare the South Shore to Ka'anapali. The fancier resorts are further south, while North Kihei has lots of condos and more restaurant and grocery store options. My overall impression is that if you want an effortless, pampered vacation on the beach, I would choose a Ka'anapali resort, but if you want a more down-to-earth, do-it-yourself vibe, I'd stay in a condo in Kihei. Our final stop was at a sports bar/restaurant in North Kihei to have a late lunch and a few beers (happy hour - yay!) while watching football before driving back through the sugar cane fields to the airport. It was another great weekend and I can now say I have thoroughly explored all of the Hawaiian islands except Lana'i. Of course, I will continue to explore Oahu for the remaining 4 1/2 weeks we're here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Living in Waikiki; The Big Island in 3 days

As those of you who follow me on Facebook already know, Greg & I are living in Waikiki for two months. We arrived on 16OCT and quickly settled into our one bedroom apartment about midway along the Ala Wai Canal (found through It is convenient to everything -- grocery store, restaurants, shops, the beach; and we have a wonderful lanai overlooking the canal and the inland valleys to the north. We either walk or take TheBus ($2.25/ride) everywhere. Greg works during the day, but we generally spend our free time reading, swimming in the salt water pool, exploring the area on foot, or sightseeing in Honolulu or further afield. On Friday morning, we flew to Hilo on the Big Island and picked up our rental car. Using the Fodor's Hawaii 2010 guidebook that I borrowed from the local library and a map I picked up from the tourist information center, Greg & I had already planned out our weekend. I definitely recommend doing your research before you come, especially if your time is limited, as the Big Island is huge and all the sights are quite spread out (ie, hours drive apart). We started by driving Saddle Road, which is the only road across the middle of the island, to Mauna Kea. Note that rental car companies prohibit you from driving this road, not because it's particularly dangerous or in disrepair (it appears to have been widened and repaved fairly recently) but because it is so remote and they do not want to have to come get you if you have car trouble. Also, the road up to the top of Mauna Kea, where you can see the astronomical observatory complex, is steep and unpaved for several miles. Of course, we defied our Hertz contract and drove it anyway, and were rewarded with beautiful scenery and 360 degree views. Keep in mind it is much cooler at the top of the mountain (13,796') and the air has much less oxygen, so dress in layers and be alert to signs of altitude sickness. Greg & I spent 30 minutes at the visitor center at 9000' acclimating before we drove to the top and I still felt a bit dizzy and got a headache. Our next stop was the small town of Waimea in the northwest ranch lands. We had lunch at the local coffee shop and then continued our drive down the Kohala Coast to Kailua-Kona. There are many large resorts along the Kohala coast, but note that Hwy 19 runs just inland, so in order to see the coastline up close you would need to turn off at one of the resorts and drive further west. We arrived at the Kona Tiki Hotel (see my review on TripAdvisor) in the late afternoon and dropped off our bags before driving further south on Ali'i Drive to Keauhou and back. We drank a beer at the Kona Brewing Company and had dinner at a nice sushi restaurant along the well-touristed strip of Kona. We got another early start on Saturday, driving south through coffee country to Kealakakua Bay where we watched snorkelers & kayakers interact with a group of spinner dolphins. We stopped at St Benedict's Painted Church (1875) and toured Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. From there it was about an hour drive along Hwy 11 to the turnoff for Ka Lae, the southernmost point in the United States. After one more hour we finally reached Volcano Village where we checked into My Island B&B (review on TripAdvisor) and based on current eruption information we put together our sightseeing plan for the remainder of the afternoon/evening. But first we had a filling lunch (panang curry chicken & green curry tofu) at Thai Thai Restaurant before driving east to Kea'au, south to Pahoa and out to Cape Kumukahi Lighthouse. I do recommend following the scenic one lane coastal road until it dead ends but the lighthouse is skippable (it's just a metal frame structure with a light on top, only remarkable for being untouched by the 1960 volcano eruption that destroyed the nearby town of Kapoho). The lava is currently flowing into the ocean at two locations west of Kalapana. The state has bulldozed a road which ends approx 1 mile from the site and the area is open for viewing from 5-8pm every night. This requires parking your car and walking across a lava field over 1/2 mile to a viewing point along the coast, which places you approx 1/2 mile from the lava flow. The scene was spectacular at sunset and as it got darker the explosive force of the red lava hitting the dark ocean and creating huge plumes of steam was pretty amazing. Note that you need well-soled, sturdy shoes for the walk as well as a flashlight to find your way back along the lava field. Having eaten a late lunch, we stopped at a grocery store in Pahoa and picked up sandwiches to eat for dinner when we returned to our b&b. We entered Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Sunday morning and spent the first half of the day driving the small section of Crater Rim Drive that is still open (most of it is closed due to Kilauea caldera venting), walking near the steam vents and hiking the Sulphur Banks trail, then hiking the Kilauea Iki trail. We stopped for lunch at the Kealakomo lookout on Chain of Craters Road, but it was so windy we had to eat in the car. We finished the drive to the end of the road, near Holei Sea Arch, and hiked to where the road has been overtaken by lava flows. We spent the remainder of the afternoon driving back to Hilo with a short detour north to Akaka Falls, then having no luck finding a sports bar or any suitable place to drink a beer and watch football, we checked in early at the airport and watched the World Series in a bar/cafe there. Overall this made a great long weekend trip from Honolulu, if you don't mind a lot of driving.