I started planning this trip for our honeymoon about 6 months prior thanks to the help from the excellent Wizard Publications Hawaii books (unfortunately Jennifer was quite busy with work at the time and didn't get much time to plan the trip with me, so I did the best for the both of us).|
First, reading the books, taking all the relevant notes and planning our trip out of it was close to an herculean task (took days of work to find out what we could/should do, and where, and then plan out trip out of it).
Hawaii aka The Big Island is to the Hawaii islands what Tahiti is to French Polynesia: one Island in a chain. In this case however, one flies to Honolulu in Ohahu since it has a bunch of big ass runways, some now unused by the military.
Ohahu seemed to be the least exciting of the 4 main Islands, so I focussed on the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai.
Months later, with expert help from Lei from Value Vacations/Boutique Travel, we had a trip lined up:
first the Big Island to see the Volcanoes, Mauna Kea (highest mountain in the world when measured from where it starts in the water) and everything else that's on the Island.
then, going on the Aggressor liveaboard diving boat for a week's worth of diving around Kona
Maui was the next Island, only a puddle jump away. First 3 days to visit the Island and then diving out of Kilei
Kauai being last, but not least for at least a day of hiking in its nice hills, diving in the morning and visit of the smaller island in the afternoon when we felt like it.
I also recorded a GPS track of our trip including the dives and flights, showing a good visual overview of the trip:
But let's go back to the beginning
The Big Island
Our plan was to spend 2.5 days on the East/Hilo side, see Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, and visit the East side before taking Saddle Road to the West/Kona side. This is indeed what we did but the weather wasn't great to say the least. On the first day we couldn't see anything due to low clouds and light rain, and the upcoming days were only marginally better. We also found out that the Big Island currently has near permanent poor visibility due to the volcano smoke.
The day we arrived in Volcano Park, the visibility was quite poor and we just couldn't see anything from the rim edge. That however didn't get in the way of visiting the Thurston Lava Tube since it's pitch dark inside anyway :)
Next day, the weather was good enough to have a slightly better view, do a few hikes on lava, and drive down Chain of Craters drive to the old 130 highway that got overtaken by flowing lava. Walking on the road up to where it's filled with lava is actually a cool sight.
Oh crap, I'm going to have to make a U turn then :)
The bad news however is that to get anywhere close to the lava flowing into the sea that you can see in a distance, you now have to drive 90mn all the way around to get there. This is what we did and we arrived there just after sunset where you can see the glow of the lava reflecting in the water vapour smoke (during the day, all you can see is the smoke).
Volcano rock can be very porous and light
After a night at a nice Bed and Breakfast, Naali Plantation, we drove up the East side of the island to visit a few points along the way.
Ants hard at work
Among those was the very nice botanical garden.
The majestic Akaka Falls
At the end the plan was to drive down to waipio valley and make use of the 4WD jeep we had, but the weather was just poor the steep road down was wet and slippery, and Jennifer was just very tired so we turned back towards our next room for the night.
We stayed at a nice Chinese decorated hotel by Kulaniapia Falls with a view of the nice falls from our window.
Saddle Road/Mauna Kea
The next morning was time to drive Saddle Road towards Mauna Kea and drive up to the peak, which is almost at 14,000ft.
the famous sinuous Saddle Road
weather was not good
this is probably the best view we got that day
It's almost like driving from the beach in California to the very top of Mt Whitney, the highest peak on the continental US, in less than 2H. Because of the speed of the ascent and the limited oxygen up there, visitors are strongly encouraged to stay at the lower visitor center for a while to acclimatize to the altitude, which we did. Unfortunately by the time we got to the top, the weather hadn't improved much and we weren't able to see much of anything from up there.
after not seeing so much at the top, back on the sinuous road
a few hundred warnings
half of the Keck observatory
it works in pairs
We did have a quick visit of the Keck observatory and by sticking around a bit longer the rain soon subsided and we were able to get just a little bit of a view before heading down. Now is a time to mention that I was not impressed with the Jeep Rubicon we had rented: its 5.8L gas guzzling engine (5.8L! it's bigger than my 400HP (5.0L) and 490HP (4.9L) cars and properly barely delivered 300HP it seems) was not able to get us to the top in 2nd gear. At the end we had to climb in first gear due to the reduced manifold air pressure at 13,000ft, but still it was a pityful engine and whoever designed the stupid doors that never close deserves to be fired and not bailed out.
But eh, since we had paid for the thing, and weren't able to use the 4WD to get to Waipio (while it was barely useful to get up to Mauna Kea), I decided to have a little fun on an ATV track off Saddle road recommended by our book
many radio telescopes up there
This made the jeep a bit more useful and at home
Although the road was ultimately a one way up a dicey trail to the top of a peak so I turned around before pushing our luck too much :)
After that, we arrived in Kona in time for a sunset dinner.
The next morning we drove north to Waikoloa for the Dolphinquest encounter we were signed up for. Playing with the dolphins was definitely a lot of fun.
Waikoloa Village is likely totally overpriced, but quite nice
Big Island Flight
We had planned on doing a flight around the island when we were on the Hilo side, but the weather was just so poor that I had cancelled it. Thankfully 3 days later on the Kona side things were looking a bit better, so instead of visiting around Kona further, we headed for the airport and did a flight around the island. It ended up being well worth it and even if visibility was marginal for sightseeing in my book (we never saw the mountains in the middle of the island), it was apparently about as good as it gets. Touring the Island in about 2H by plane gave us a much better view of things and allowed us to see the lava flow from the top (although even from there it was mostly just the smoke from the steam generated by lava flowing in the ocean). That said, we saw some other cool spots in Volcano NP that we wouldn't have seen from the road. Incidently I also got a good shot from the pool we were in for our Dolphin Encounter a few hours prior.
road across an older lava flow
a couple of craters
the 130 hwy stops where lava took over
lava flow falling in the ocean
actual hot lava seen through a hole
Waipio Valley, with a shot of the road down we didn't take
the local grand canyon :)
Having done a few liveaboard before, it seemed like a good idea there again: it's just a simple way to do a lot of diving without worrying about doing it from the shore with all the overhead associated. See the associated diving post for more.
After the Aggressor, Maui was next. We flew in the smallest commercial plane I've been in so far: a nine passenger single engine Cessna. The nice part is that because the plane was so small, we board on the GA side of the airport and did not have to go through all the TSA crap (I'm sure they would have tried to confiscate our fresh coconut because it had more than 3 floz of juice inside).
When we got off the plane, we went directly to Laihana to see a doctor for Jennifer who had had some vertigo problems which must have been diving induced (just a tiny bit of anything in the wrong place in your ear can cause that). We didn't get a silver bullet answer (never got one), but at least she didn't have a bad ear infection and it eventually cleared up by itself (although it was only fully gone after we got home).
The plan for Maui was to do the smaller west loop on the first day and end back up in Kahului for the next early morning activity. After driving a bit quickly through the fairly nice Laihana, we continued the loop north beyond the allowed or recommended driving zone for rental cars (hard to tell because the rental lady went as far as lying to us about the road being closed in somewhere, apparently because she was tired of tourists with the "Maui revealed" book going to see all the nice spots on the Island that she deemed should be for locals only). The guide books point out that the road is sinuous and not so well paved (if paved at all) in some places on Maui. It's true that the portion of road north of Laihana eventually became unpaved, one lane only, with many blind turns and occasional fallen rocks. For the average driver this would likely have been scary, but I found it fun :)
This was nothing, there were some nice sized rocks in the middle of the road
We slept in Kahului where we had landed so that we could drive down in the middle of the night to Haiku for a van ride up to Haleakala to see a beautiful sunrise from above 10,000ft. After the indeed beautiful sunrise in chilly windy weather with headlamps, we headed back down to the staging area where the road is a bit safer and rode all the way back down on bikes that came up with the van (they used to let people bike down from the top, but eventually some sleep deprived and likely unfit to bike in the first place person rode off the road and died, so they only allow biking from lower down where the road is a bit safer.
... slowly ...
... coming up
... it ...
North Maui loop drive to Hana
After the biking down from Haleakala and breakfast, we took a leisurely drive to Hana, with a few stops along the way for sightseeing and eventually arrived in Hana. That part of road was sinuous, but quite scenic and enjoyable in my book.
the road to Hana
Maui has many mongooses
We had for a nice home cooked dinner in a fully equipped hut. Watching the sunset from the long chairs outside was however not a great plan due to hungry killer mosquitoes outside (those bloodsuckers were all over the islands and much of a pain in the ass, or whether they bit you).
South Maui loop drive to Kilei
The next morning, we went to check out the nearby red sand beach, and had a dip in a closeby black sand beach before heading back on the road for the other half of the loop. We soon got to the 7 sacred pools, part of Haleakala NP, and they were worth the stop, as well as a dip for swimming behind the waterfall. We also had time to hike up a trail to the first waterfall, but I didn't want to get too far behind daylight wise and Jennifer was still tired and dealing with occasional vertigo, so we didn't hike all the way up to the higher waterfall. Maybe next time :)
red sand beach
seven sacred pools
The road past the national park indeed became unpaved and not always very wide, but I had no trouble keeping a good pace on it even with the no too great PT cruiser rental we ended up with. On the way to our hotel we stopped by an ER to have Jennifer checked out again as we weren't sure whether she'd be ok to dive the following days as per our schedule and reservations. They found nothing wrong with her but indeed advised that she take it easy until her vertigo mostly subsided.
pavement wasn't too good, but the nets on the mountain catch fallen rocks
We caught a nice sunset while driving to Kilei
road builders were a bit drunk, but it made the road fun to drive
Once we got in Kilei, we scored a nice free upgrade to a dual unit condo which was way too big for us, eh, who's complaining :).
The next 4 days were scheduled for diving in the morning and resting/beach time in the afternoon, which worked out just fine for Jennifer who did need the rest (we also had some time to do some visiting around Kilei, which has quite a row of shops and restaurants). Jennifer was understandably happy that we could stay in one place for a while and cook at home after having filled the fridge.
Details are in the associated diving post. Jennifer unfortunately had to skip two days of diving to rest, but thankfully she was able to come to the two better days out of the four we had.
Laihana, Warren and Annabelle Magic Show
As per our guide book's recommendation, we went to see the Warren and Annabelle show. I expected the guidebook writers to of course easily impressed because they are not used to rating magic, and being the son of a professional magician I was curious to know how the show would be. So, the entrance and piano playing ghost is a full ripoff of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, but eh, for people who don't know, who cares? :) and their version was pretty good too.
Warren's magic show itself was actually quite good. His tricks were both good and well executed. The only thing I didn't care for as much is when he stalls the show for about 20mn while asking people where they're from and making not so funny jokes about their location, or showing off all the states and associated state motos and capitols he memorized. It just wasn't up to the level of his magic.
All that said, we had a good time, and walking around downtown Laihana before the show while enjoying yummy shaved ice, was enjoyable too.
On the way:
Last, but not least, was time for Kauai. The Island was much smaller so we were able to just stay at one spot and visit the Island from there (besides there is no road that loops the Island, so when you've reached the end on one side, you have to go all the way around for the other side anyway).
The first day, after we arrived, we were able to see a hike by a nice waterfall, and attend a local fair with cute animals and overgrown vegetables and fruits that made Jennifer's mouth water :)
nice south coastline of Molokai
petting zoo at the fair
kauai is overrun by chicken
fruit and vegetable contest
we hiked down to it
did I mention Kauai was overrun by chicken? :)
this was indeed the best shaved ice on the island
I found a nice place, Kauai Cottages, close to where we were going to dive most days. We were also able to eat there thanks to a nice kitchen.
There again, see the associated post.
West Coast of Kauai
Our first afternoon after diving, we drove up the coast to see the sights and make it to the end of the road. There were a few nice things along the way, but nothing too earth shattering :)
finding an Enzo on a small island which even lacks a road that circles the island ...
... was unexpected, especially when many of the roads aren't all good and would scrape the front
the northmost point of all the Hawaii Islands
Birds of Paradise
After our last day of diving we had a free day which was meant for touring a good portion of the island in trikes (think handglider with propeller). Unfortunately the weather was just crummy (strong winds causing our ground speed to be a mere 25mph, and clouds obscuring the view of the ground). In hindsight I should have called flight services myself and likely would have been more pushy about either cancelling the flights altogether due to winds or just doing a 30mn flight to try the trike but not burn needless money going nowhere without really seeing anything (which is a shame as there would have been much to see weather allowing).
The worst part is that the overpriced pictures we had to buy were few and most were junk as their lens fogged up after a rapid descent (I wasn't allowed to use my own camera from which I would have gotten better shots since it was deemed unsafe due to the spinning prop behind me, which is half understandable).
After the short flight, we drove up Waimea Canyon. That was truly beautiful, and after visiting the different points there, we hiked around 6 miles round trip to a very nice vantage point on top of the Canyon.
this shows how the Islands, mountains and volcanoes were formed: the plate was on a north western conveyor belt while magma was coming to the surface
I managed to grab one, although it wasn't too happy about it :)
the trail we hiked
the vantage point at the end of the trail
That's all folks
After a bit more than 3 weeks, it was time to go home. What we learned from the trip was
don't plan the busy days right at the beginning of the vacation in case we're tired when we arrive
big Island overall weather is not known for good visibility (Kona mostly gets localized sun, or at least no rain, but that does not make Mauna Kea or Volcano visibility any better).
Maui probably had the best diving of all 3 places if you don't count the Manta Ray dive in Kona. It also had a lot to see and do with better weather.
Kauai is quite nice too, especially for hiking. Diving wasn't bad either.
Going to Niihau for diving is nice with the monk seals, but it's just damn far and an unpleasant boat trip.
Mosquitoes were bad almost everywhere, as announced.
All in all it was quite nice, and there is plenty more we can still see there.