Monday, October 5, 2009

Hawaii - Kauai, Oahu and Maui

Plenty of people have gone to the Hawaiian islands and much has been written. That said, I'll still give a synopsis of our trip which turned out to be much better than we expected.

1. Kauai
This is the island known for it's natural beauty and remoteness. Yes, the center does get the most rainfall of any location on earth, but it makes for a lush, beautiful scene with waterfalls, rainbows, rivers and of course pristine beaches and reefs. We stayed on the rainier side of the island, in the North, at a BnB called Hale Ho'o Maha. It was fantastic and all that a BnB should be. Clean, well appointed rooms, terrific breakfasts and interesting hosts made for a very nice stay. It was a bit rainy, but we were able to enjoy the beaches, kayak on a river and hike to a waterfall and just explore the island. One of our favorite little towns was Hanalei (where Puff the Magic Dragon was from...yeah, him). The town had a great vibe, a few good places to eat and drink, and it wasn't overrun with tourists. No high rise hotels or resorts in the North, just the South side where we didn't spend any time. A few notables: Bar-A-Cuda had awesome tapas and Red Hot Mamas had fantastic burritos/tacos (if you catch it when it's open). On the way up from the airport, we stopped in Kapaa for a perfect meal of ahi rolls and similar treats, at Mermaids. We also visited Queen's Bath, which is only accessible (and visible) during the summer when the surf is calm. It was quite a cool experience, swimming and floating in a natural tide pool while waves crash over the rocks in front of you...very cool.

2. Oahu
Honolulu is a small, easily managed city and the only one in all of the islands. Waikiki was way too crowded and over developed. Although, our hotel there was very nicely appointed. it was the Outrigger Reef. Fortunately, a friend who lives there took us to a local beach at Ala Moana Park, and it was much quieter with space to spread out. The water could not have been more warm and inviting. A visit to Pearl Harbor was quite moving and I would highly suggest a trip there for anyone on Oahu (arrive early to avoid long waits). Our favorite part, however, was a trip to the North shore. We stopped for lunch in the sweet little town of Haleiwa, at the lunch trucks. Then, on to the famous beaches which we absolutely loved. Waimea Bay was gorgeous, and we settled for the day on Sunset Beach. Simply put, amazing. Soft, powdery sand with a gentle ocean (August) and no crowds. If you go to Oahu, spend some time on the North Shore, where the "real Hawaii" is more easily attained. There are plenty of roadside spots to eat and snack, and more high end restaurants in Honolulu. This was a surprisingly interesting island that we very much enjoyed.

3. Maui
Maui, the name alone elicits visions of tropical paradise scenes with palm trees, pastel sunsets and slow swimming turtles off shore. It was all this and then some. We drove the road to Hana and fortunately for us, we spent 2 nights in Hana. Hana is true Hawaii and one of the most naturally beautiful places we've ever been too. The hotel, The Hotel Hana Maui, was exquisite and fit seamlessly into the environment. The pool and jacuzzi, set on a bluff overlooking the wild Pacific, was a postcard. As for the food, don't ask. We ate some of the most well prepared meals, in one of the most scenic rooms, ever. It wasn't cheap, but if you can swing it, stay here (frankly, we barely swung it). It was worth every penny. In addition to the famous drive along the Hana Highway, we drove further to do some hiking at Oheo Gulch, where the 7 Sacred Pools are located. In short, it was a great hike to a 400 foot waterfall and partly through a bamboo forest. Swimming in the pools was an experience as well. It was worth driving an extra 30 minutes, and then hanging out on Hamoa Beach...beautiful. Worth noting, I had the best smoothie of my life at a little food store in the town of Paia, at the beginning of the Hana Highway. And, the Paia Fish Market has amazing lunches/dinners. Oh, and...Mama's Fish House was as good as every says it is.

After Hana, we spent the last few days on the other side of Maui, on the beach at Kaanapali, at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This place was by no means fancy and the rooms were a little dated. But, it had a terrific beach front location and a friendly staff. We walked to Whaler's Village for more restaurant options, and the beach was wide and not crowded at all. It is right next to Black Rock, a large, volcanic outcrop that lots of people climb up and jump off. Yes, we both jumped off although I was more hesitant than I care to admit. We also snorkeled right there and were lucky to spend lots of time with 5 huge green sea turtles. That was quite amazing. On this side of the island, the sunsets are super so we saw our share, and it never got old. Whether from the beach or from the cute little town of Lahaina, where there are lots of places to eat and shop, the sky turned color after color, until the only color left was the night sky.

If you get the chance, go to Hawaii.