I first visited Hawaii 3 years ago with my sister so will include information from that trip in this entry.
Firstly Hawaii is made up of 4 main islands (west to east) – Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Big Island (also known as Hawaii which is confusing). I’ve never been to Kauai but I’ve been to the other 3:
- Oahu is the island which contains Honolulu/Waikiki. It’s the most advanced island in terms of technology, construction, and business. Not as big on agriculture and farming as the other islands
- Maui is the island you go to if you want a true relaxing, resort-style holiday. Not much to do on the island apart from relax by your hotel’s pool. It’s got a natural beauty like nowhere else. I’d love to get married on a cliff in Maui!
- Hawaii (Big Island) is the one with the volcanoes so it’s reasonably developed but not as much as Oahu’s Waikiki
I spent 2 weeks on Oahu (Waikiki only), 1 day on Maui and 5 days on Big Island. I could’ve spent more time on Oahu and Maui but less time on the Big Island. My sister and I finished seeing the volcanoes in half a day.
The 2 times I visited Oahu I stayed in Waikiki and only saw a tiny bit of the north shore on the circle island tour (a bus tour that basically drives around the perimeter of the island). The circle island tour may take you to the following locations: a macadamia farm, beach where sea turtles have washed up on shore, Hanauma bay, dole plantation, Kualoa Ranch (where they filmed LOST), Wipeout. Some might also take you to Pearl Harbour/USS Arizona which I would highly recommend. Head out there and step aboard the USS Arizona which is a platform that sits above one of the sunken ships – it’s truly an unforgettable experience.
Another ‘must-do’ is a luau – luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast/party. I know they’ve become commercialised for the tourism industry and it’s probably nothing like an authentic luau, but for anyone who’s not Hawaiian and doesn’t know any better, it’s a load of fun. Both times I went to the Paradise Cove Luau based on reviews I read online and enjoyed it both times. Personally I didn’t enjoy eating poi (a starchy, watery paste similar to taro if you know what taro is) and the kalua pig was a bit too pork-y for my taste (I’m not a huge fan of pork) so the food aspect was a bit disappointing. They have Hawaiian dancers who dance in the imu ceremony (unveiling the pig that’s been sitting in a hot pit cooking for hours) and also a show after dinner where they showcase dances from the different polynesian islands which I really enjoyed because I live in Australia and grew up in Papua New Guinea so a lot of it was familiar. Companies that do luaus are Paradise Cove, Germaines and the Hilton but apparently you need to have US Military ID to get into the Hilton one so obviously I couldn’t get into that one but I’ve heard the Hilton one is the best.
If you’re shopping on Oahu you must make a trip to Ala Moana Centre and the Waikele Outlets! There’s also some designer stores along the strip that runs alongside Waikiki Beach (speaking of Waikiki Beach, it’s a pretty crap beach compared to any beach in Australia – I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there).
In terms of dining, Hawaii has a lot more tropical fruit than the US mainland. There’s also a lot of Japanese food available because of Japanese migration to Hawaii (I never understood this especially when you consider the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour – if anyone knows please enlighten me!!) so food is generally healthier in Hawaii than the rest of the US. We visited Senor Frogs in Wakiki both times we visited and demolished their ridiculously gigantic cocktails (36 ounce = 1 Litre = big headache).
On the Big Island we stayed on the Kona (west) side but drove to the Hilo (east) side of the island. We didn’t stay in Hilo long enough for me to describe the differences between the 2 sides but Kona is famous for its coffee so be sure to try it – although nowhere near as good as coffee you can get in Australia. The volcanoes are at the southern end of the island. We stopped by a black sand beach (yes the sand is black), Rainbow Falls (rainbow only at the break of dawn), Anaeho’omalu Beach, a coffee farm, and we went snorkelling in Keauhou Bay.
Our trip to Maui was actually a day trip from Oahu – we never stayed overnight. It was a loooong day being picked up from our Waikiki hotel at 4am and not getting back to Waikiki til 7 or 8pm. We spent the entire day on Maui driving around the perimeter of the island (similar to what we did on Oahu).
Kay’s tips for Hawaii:
- You MUST rent a car if you’re visiting Maui or Big Island and want to see things around the island (unless of course you book a tour)
- I wouldn’t say renting a car on Oahu is a must as they have a reasonable bus/trolley network on the southern half of the island so if you want to go to the North Shore where the waves are I would either rent a car or join a tour
- If you want to go snorkelling I would do it on Big Island and in the morning. Snorkelling is ok at Hanauma Bay on Oahu but apparently nowhere near as good as Big Island
- Every island has a different vibe to it so I would recommend visiting more than one island
- If you’re on Oahu on a Friday check out the Hilton’s Friday Fireworks. I’m not sure if this is accessible to people who are not patrons of the Hilton but I’m sure you can see the fireworks from the roadside or elsewhere on the island