The American Tropics: Hawaiian Islands
We are in Hawaii! It sounds so exotic and expensive, but when we did the math, with free airfare, it was cheaper to venture to Oahu than to the Florida Keys. The time change helped as I had work to do on this trip and the differing U.S. time zones ensured a little more free time to play later in the day than the Eastern Time Zone.
The airport alone lets you know you have arrived in paradise, with its open air walkways letting in the South Pacific breezes. It has been a particularly cold and long winter in the southeast and as former Floridian’s we were starving for such exotic stimuli.
When we drove into Waikiki Beach I was pleasantly surprised at the main drag. I think of Honolulu as a major city and wasn’t expecting much, but the main thoroughfare didn’t disappoint with its high end shops, tropical palms and professional grade tiki torches. I was happy to be back in Hawaii.
Our hotel overlooks the water and I watch surfers floating out to their waves. It has been a little cloudy but the sunrises are phenomenal. I put in my hours of consulting work while looking over our balcony at the sea. Our first morning’s breakfast here was the typical Hawaii experience – fresh tropical fruit, sweetly melting in your mouth and cleansing your body – experienced in an open air garden of tropical foliage. We were wearing our summer clothes again. It was like a resurrection.
We have made some drives around the island and it is amazing how quickly civilization falls away while tropical paradise remains. The light blue waters, dark brown lava rock and deep green mountains are like color overload. So far we have hiked Diamond Head, snorkeled Hanauma Bay, watched the surfers at the Bonzai Pipeline, experienced the Polynesian Cultural Center and had mai-tai’s on Waikiki Beach while looking up at a sunset-lit Diamond Head.
I especially like how Hawaii has something for everyone. If you like cities and civilization, stay on Oahu. If you like quiet luxury stay on Maui. If you desire a low-key experience with a visually spectacular backdrop, stay on Kauai. If you like active nature involvement, stay on the Big Island. If you like seclusion, stay on Lanai or Molokai. Of course they all have a little of everything, but you can choose to stay on an island which specializes in what you like. I only wish there were more user-friendly routes between them. By the time many people get to Hawaii, they don’t typically island hop. They have usually spent enough time traveling.
The Hawaiian Islands
Food Choice: Butter Fish
Music: Israel Kamakawiwoʻole Fashion: Aloha Shirts & Sun Dresses
Originally formed by volcanoes, the Hawaiian Island chain consists of eight lush and mountainous south sea islands, isolated by 2,000 miles of Pacific Ocean from the nearest continent. They are a vacation hotspot for U.S. west coasters, and people from all over the world make the long flight to lay on her beaches. Hawaii is known for surfing, windsurfing, snorkeling, beaches, waterfalls, volcanoes, Polynesian culture and tropical climate.
- Oahu: The Gathering Place
I call Oahu the city island, but this name might be a misnomer. While Honolulu is a bona-fide city with many skyscrapers, a financial district and several military bases, the other side of the island can be sparsely populated. There is touristy hotel high-rise Waikiki, working Pearl Harbor bases and local north island surfing culture.
- Hike Diamond Head – a steep path with great views of the crater/Waikiki/Honolulu
- Polynesian Cultural Center – an all day event, see the shows eat at the luau
- Snorkel Hanauma Bay – Arrive early, beautiful setting, lots of fish, low water level over coral
- La Mer – high-end French cuisine
- Dukes Waikiki – the quintessential Diamond Head/Waikiki view – apps & mai-tais
- Roy’s Hawaiian Restaurant – an old Hawaiian staple – tropical food with asian twist, two locations on Oahu.
- Royal Hawaiian – a landmark resort, historic and beautiful
- Moana Surfrider – classic elegance, jazz bar, sitting porch
- Hilton Hawaiian Village – marina, great view of Diamond Head, Great amenities
- Maui: The Valley Island
I prefer to call Maui the luxury island. Maui is a little quieter than Oahu even though it boasts Lahaina as it’s tourist city and Kihei as its local city. You can stay isolated on Ka’anapali Beach or roam to a few other areas such as the Road to Hana, Paia, Haleakala volcano, or dive the Molokini crater.
- Ka’anapali Beach – beach sidewalk connects all resorts and restaurants along the beach. An enjoyable evening stroll lit by tiki torches watching the sunset over the Pacific.
- Road to Hana – a twisting road through lush tropical wilderness against stunning sea and sky. Take it all the way and see hidden waterfalls, bamboo forests and rainbow eucalyptus trees.
- Haleakala – a large volcano, you can be up there at sunrise and ride a bicycle down through the clouds
- I’O – Lahaina – a farm to table tropical gourmet fare, light and satisfying, great views
- Kimo’s – Lahaina – legendary mai-tais made with fresh fruit juice, great views
- Mama’s Fish House – Paia – a beautiful tropical setting with high-end seafood, excellent sauces, overall experience, great views
- Ritz Carlton Kapalua – quiet, newer resort, golf, luxury
- Grand Wailea – luxurious tropical setting, famous for golf tournament
- Sheraton Maui – at Black Rock, nightly sunset ceremony, snorkel from beach to see turtles & raysMaui, Hawaii
- Kauai: The Garden Island
A newer tourist attraction, Kauai has been keeping her beauty hidden for many years. Though memorable as far back as the 1970’s for Fantasy Island fans, this island boasts stunning landscapes the general public has only heard about in recent years. Many travel over to Kauai from neighboring Oahu on a 15-minute flight. Popular helicopter tours are available once on the island, the only way to see much of the island.
There are three main areas on the island – the airport town of Lihue, the beach area of Poipu/Koloa in the south and the western areas of NaPali Coast and Waimea Canyon State Parks. The north coast has some secluded high-end hotels.
- Napali Coast – Helicopter tour, stunning and colorful coastline
- Waimea Canyon – Hawaii’s little Grand Canyon, red rocks
- Wailua Falls – dramatic 80 foot falls, easily accessible
- Hukilau Lanai – Kauai Coast Resort – seafood, creative gourmet
- Beach House Restaurant – beach front, spectacular sunsets, gourmet food
- Roy’s Poipu Bar & Grill – reliable Roy’s tropical Asian fusion – get the chili pepper edamame, the butter fish and the lava cake.
- Koa Kea Hotel & Resort – tropical beauty, high-end luxury, Poipu Beach
- Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort – Poipu, reliable luxury, great pool area
- Koloa Landing at Poipu Beach – Suites, resort pool, excellent lounge areas
- Hawaii: The Big Island I call the big island the nature island. Known for its natural activities and its quieter feel, the big island of Hawaii is often missed. It is ‘the’ place to see volcanoes in Hawaii and you can even see snow on the top of Mauna Kea.
- Kilauea, Hawaii Volcano National Park – up close and personal to an active volcano
- Sunset at Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Tour
- Puuhonua Cultural Park & Snorkel – temples, tikis & tropical fish
- Kamuela Provision Company – Beautiful setting, gourmet food, farm to table
- Roy’s Waikoloa Grill – the usual fare
- Huggo’s/Huggo’s on the Rocks – Kona, casual setting, spectacular sunsets, fresh fish, waterfront bar
- Four Seasons Resort Hualalai – high end luxury, historic Ka’upulehu
- The Fairmont Orchid – Kohala Coast, secluded beach, green lawns
- Hilton Waikoloa Village – Kohala Coast, great resort pool area, trams in the resort