Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Family of Four visits Oahu, Maui and Kauai for Spring Break

I just got this amazing trip report from the Miller family of four! You have to read it if you have ever had a tiny thought of visiting Hawaii - Angie

Hawaii 2016

Honolou, Oahu

Arrived in Hawaii and made our way to baggage claim where we were greeted by our representative from Aloha Tours and presented with Dendrobium flower leis. They smell beautiful! We were taken to the Ohana Waikiki East Hotel. The hotel staff were helpful and friendly, the rooms were neat and comfortable. We enjoyed the pool and were within walking distance of Waikiki beach. The city is being developed and built up extensively and there are many one way streets and the streets curve and do not run straight--very glad we were not trying to drive here. Locals and visitors alike walk around in swimwear and even barefoot. This was probably the best place for shopping and we picked up long sleeve swim shirts for the family at Billabong for reasonable prices. We needed the shirts for both the surfing and kayaking tours. Would highly recommend purchasing shirts rather than borrowing them--plus, I sunburn easily and will get much use out of this!

Pearl Harbor
We arranged a ride to Pearl Harbor using the same service that brought us to the hotel for $15/person. Please note, this service will be picking up other customers and dropping them off at other locations so allow a little extra time. There was already a line forming when we arrived at Pearl Harbor around 6:40 am. No bags (including purses) are allowed into the memorial and there is a place to check your bag for a small cost. You can take in cameras. The line moves quickly and we arrived before the tour buses began rolling in at 7am. We were able to be in the first group, which meant it was very quiet at the USS Arizona and this was very fitting and helped to reinforce the gravity of the experience.

There are small museum style exhibits and memorial walkways around the park while waiting for the short film. From the film, you exit for the boat ride over to the USS Arizona, where it is submerged. The oil is still visible on the surface of the water almost 75 years later. It is a very moving experience--heavy. I was proud of my children for behaving in a manner that reflected respect for the massive loss of life that occurred here.

The information is well-presented and the park is laid out well to allow for good traffic flow, very accessible and easy to walk while also allowing for quiet areas to reflect. I'm thankful we had the opportunity to visit this memorial and take in such a significant part of our history as a family.

Surfing Waikiki

We found several places on the beach to sign up for surfing lessons. We chose a 1- hour lesson with the 4 of us and an instructor. Long sleeved swim shirts were required. They did have some available for borrowing. We received an orientation and instruction on the beach before entering the water. As beginners, we did not go out very far (we could still touch). All of us got up on the boards (at least to our knees) and had several good runs. My 10 year old is not a super strong swimmer and does not like going underwater--she went out on her own board and was able to do fine. She and I got tired out pretty quick; paddling back out to take another run is hard work. My husband and 14 year old son continued and they both did really well. We opted to buy the photos they offered. While a little expensive, this allowed us to get some great close up shots and we did not have to worry about it. We got to enjoy the experience--and I have pictures of my 14 year old smiling and having a good time :) 

Chief's Lua with Sea Life Park (Paradise Combo)
We took a taxi out to the park and spent a couple hours exploring it. The entrance takes you around a giant aquarium with sharks and manta rays. There are dolphin shows, sea lion shows, penguins, seal monks and green sea turtles. The park is fairly small and 2-3 hours should be perfect to explore it. Part of "50 First Dates" was filmed here. Having the wristbands from the park, allowed us to re-enter after it closed but before the luau. This was a plus as there were several activities offered before the program--fire making, spear throwing, shopping, temporary tattoos, braiding headbands. The lines were short and we all got to try several things with very little wait while the other guests were still making their way in.

The Chief was fantastic! There was much attention to detail and everyone was made to feel like they were part of the family. Children were invited onto the stage to learn dances, all of the guest were invited to learn the hula and others (including my husband!) were hand-picked to be on stage for different demonstrations. They were also hosting 3 children from the Make a Wish Foundation. They were brougt onto stage and give special gifts. Couples celebrating anniversaries and those married for 30 years or more were also brought up onto the stage. It was a very nice way to make the evening personal and to celebrate life. Explanations of the different Polynesian Islands were given along with demonstrations of their traditional dress and dance. This group includes some of the world's top fire dancers--and it was AMAZING. I would highly recommend this! (The food was good, too!)

This was probably the best place for shopping as there were so many different types of stores and shops from upscale to basic souvenir stands

Kahului, Maui (The Valley Isle)

Arrived in Maui early in the morning and proceeded to the car rental, Dollar. The agent was pushy and kept trying to get us to upgrade. Convertibles and Jeeps are very popular on the island with tourists, however, due to the frequent rain showers a convertible is not practical. Also, things like coconuts, papayas and other hard shelled things fall from the trees frequently. A soft-top car would be at risk. The Jeeps, while fun, are not necessary. We drove the Hana road in our mid-size Nissan Elantra and did fine. We saw other sedans, mini-vans and even tour buses on that road and it is the most difficult road there to navigate.

The island is separated by a short "neck" with the Kahului Airport at the north of the neck. West Maui is where we stayed at Kaanapali Ocean Inn in Lahaina.  Due to roof damage, we were upgraded from our original room to the main hotel, the Royal Lahaina Resort. I think this offered a better view-- we could see the ocean and part of the golf course. The beds were super comfortable, very nice room. The beach was easily accessible. It drops off quickly and bigger waves in the afternoon made it harder to float and for younger swimmers this was not the best place. The pool or swimming in the ocean in the morning would be recommended. While eating lunch, we saw whales breaching and playing in the water--truly exciting and awesome. When in the water, be sure to put your head under several inches and listen for whale song--we heard it! 

We signed up for a kayak/snorkeling tour with Kelli's Kayaks. From our hotel, it was about an hours drive to Makenna Landing (South East part of island, Western shore) where we parked and walked along the road to find our guide, Jeremiah. We took mostly double kayaks out to our snorkeling sites. The gear was provided--but not much instruction beyond the basics. This was my first time snorkeling and my 10 year old daughter had been practicing in the local pool. Our guide was great at helping her get into the water and trying to help her get past her fear of being in the open water instead of a pool. It took some coaxing, but we got her in and she did great! It was amazing (I know I'm using that adjective a lot). We saw turtles and quite a few different kinds of fish, lava tubes. Getting into and out of a kayak on the open water is not something that can be done gracefully--at least not by me. It did provide for entertaining pictures of my efforts. We again opted to purchase pictures so we could enjoy the excursion, and it allowed for me to be in them. Our guide also included some of his best shots over the years so we got pictures of other sea life, coral and lava formations that we did not see.

This was more of a snorkeling experience than kayaking; if you want something more like a tour while kayaking, I'd suggest the river kayaking tour on Kaui Island. It's a private access river and looked very quiet beautiful scenery and several protected areas for swimming. 

The Hana Road
From our hotel, we drove back up the neck of the island and past the airport to the North East part of the island. This takes you to the start of the Hana Road drive, which lasts 3.5 hours. There are over 65 hair pin turns and over 20 one-way bridges. It reminded me of driving mountain roads in PA or WV. It was rainy and wet which added to the difficulty of the drive. There are several lookouts and places to get great pictures--problem is, they are not announced until you come around a sharp curve and see cars pulled over. Signage, in general, is poor--there is a local ordinance about the height of things (no taller than a coconut tree) so getting around can be tricky. It's a small island, really, so adjust to "island time" and you will find where you want to go eventually.

There are 7 waterfalls along the drive (you may want to google images of this from the air--makes it easier to see and understand where you are driving) and most of them have ok views from the road. The views of the ocean and forest are breathtaking. You end up at the far Eastern tip of the island, in Hana. There is a great bay here for swimming or snorkeling (We did not do this). Be sure to stop at Wai'anapanapa State park to see the caves, black sand beach and blow hole.  Going past Hana a few more miles will take you to the base of the 7th waterfall in Ohe'o Gulch (seven pools). This is as far as you can go on the road with a rental car.

The hike to the base of this fall is challenging. 4 miles round trip, it takes you through a bamboo forest. This was amazing! It looked really cool and was even more so when the wind would blow and the bamboo waving sounded like applause. Once you get to the waterfall, it really is worth it. Even with over 7 hours of driving that day, we logged over 16,000 steps according to my son's phone. We were really worn out from this and took it easy the next day. If you plan to do this drive/hike, it is an all day deal. You want to leave no later than 2 hours before sunset to head back--this road after dark would be very challenging. And according to my map--Charles A Lindbergh's grave is past Ohe'o Gulch and Kukui Bay at Palapala Ho'omau Church. This drive also takes you along the Eastern most edge of the Haleakala National Park. We did not make it to any other parts of it this trip. There is a crater within this that sounds like it would be worth a trip--locals recommended it would take 2-4 hours and you would want a jacket as it becomes much cooler at the higher elevations. You would access this drive from the "neck" of the island, south of the airport on Hwy 37.

Maui is the best place for whales. They come in the winter months (December through March mainly) to feed and calve. This island is more protected as its in the middle of the chain. We still saw and heard some while there in early April. It also offers rainbows! Full rainbows (I've never seen one before and we saw several)! This is an active place but much less commercial than Oahu--hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and surfing.

Lihue, Kaua'i (Garden Island)

The smallest, oldest and most Northern of all the Islands, only 10% of the island is accessible by car. The lack of signage was again noticeable but with such a small place, it was not a hindrance, if you can lay back and adjust to "island time," that is. We arrived on the Eastern side of the island and got our rental car to go to the Southern side of the island at Po'ipu. The beach closest to our hotel/condo was not as protected as Po'ipu beach, a short drive just to our East. This little cove had a lifeguard stand, covered pavilions, showers and food available. There are also monk seals that sun here and we saw a sea turtle up on shore. Decent snorkeling, lots of rocks and if you go beyond the cove, the current becomes strong (like near the hotel).

We stayed at Castle Kiahuna Plantation and the Beach Bungalows. There was plenty of room with a small kitchen and living area upstairs and two bedrooms and baths downstairs. Short walk from the water and there were complimentary beach chairs (All of the hotels offered beach towels). This was a neat, pleasant place. We were right across the stress from a plaza that offered restaurants and shops. We preferred swimming in a little bay West of us, heading towards Spouting Horn just past the Beach House Restaurant. Pull off the road and head on down--the water was calmer and the snorkeling was great. Spouting Horn is also worth a visit--the Old Faithful of Hawaii. As waves come in, blow holes become apparent. Easy to access--lots of parking, an open market and very little walking on paved trails.  

Waimea Canyon

This trip took about 2 hours; it was rainy and we were not interested in more hiking after the Hana Road hike. There are several hiking trails if one is interested. The lookout points are beautiful and there can even be a view of the Ni'ihau island--we were unable to see anything here as the fog was so thick. We did attempt one short hike; if you see walking sticks at the head of a trail--take them. It was slick and muddy, making the trail more difficult. We turned back along with several others who had set out looking for a nice stroll/hike and finding this more strenuous (and wet--it was raining) than desired. The canyon itself offers amazing views; on our way down, these same views were completely obscured by the fog. The canyon is also visible from the ocean if you do the Na Pali Sea Cruise. It was really neat seeing it from the top and from the ocean.

Na Pali Sunset Dinner Cruise

"Pali" means cliff and "Na" is plural. Thus--"Many Cliffs" 

Kauai Sea Tours - We booked a catamaran tour rather than try hiking into the coast line (11 miles and rated an 8 out of 10 by the Sierra Club in difficulty). The boat, The Lucky Lady, boasted a crew of 4 including Captain Kauai, who was raised along the Na Pali Coast and was able to give first hand information about it. The water was calm--waves of only 2-3 feet. The days preceding our tour, they had not been able to go out due to larger swells. We had driven the coast line on our way to Waimea the day before, so it was neat seeing it from the ocean. We did not see much sea life-- a few turtles and fish. Some saw whale spouts but we did not. The coast line was--you guessed it--amazing. Seeing Waimea Canyon from the water and the way the shore line was created from volcanic activity and the carved and changed by the wind and waves. There is an archway that makes appearances in several movies, including Pirates of the Carribean. There is a small beach just west of the archway that can be rented out at the small price of $15,000. A day. Our crew told us Pirates rented it for 2 weeks and used about 6 seconds of film. 

The crew were incredibly friendly and helpful. My daughter got to steer the boat. Biggest smiles ever from that! We zig-zagged quite a bit until she got the hang of it; then we just zig-zagged a little less. We got some great pictures with the crew and the captain gave her some shells upon returning that he had collected and uses to make shell necklaces. They are some of her favorite souvenirs. 

The dinner was delicious. This was one of the strangest buffet lines I've ever been in--trying to balance while on a boat (driven by a 10 year old) and make a plate of food was an interesting challenge.

This was definitely a great excursion and a wonderful way to see part of the island that is inaccessible by car. You can only reach this area by hiking or by boat.

Hanalei Road/Bay

On our last day, after checking out, we took advice from the locals to drive up to Hanalei Bay. This drive took us up the Eastern side of the island and around the entire North Shore. Between this drive and the Na Pali cruise, we almost circled the whole island (90 miles of coastline). This drive was a smaller version of the Hana road, twisty roads and a couple one-way bridges. The Northshore is known for bigger waves in the winter months (some locals won't even go there during those months) and known for good surfing. It was more commercial than the part of the island where we stayed. The drive took us past Kilauea Point and the lighthouse; there is a nice lookout point here and a short hike took us to other great views. The wild bird refuge is here as well but is closed during the winter. We passed several great beaches and Hanalei Bay (protected from the ocean, it's a great place for swimming) and the drive ended at Ha'ena State Park. I finally found a beach activity I could do without getting sunburned--spelunking! There is a cave right there for exploring along with bathrooms and a lifeguard station (not all of the beaches offer lifeguards and they actually have roaming guards to help cover more of the coast line). 

We stopped near Wailua but did not get to the waterfalls or Fern Grotto here. We did not have the map with us and as noted before, signage is not great.  A friend shared that there is a hike to the bottom of the Wailua Falls and you can swim at the base of it. We did see the river and this was the area where the river kayaking tours were offered-- more of a tour than a snorkeling excursion. This would be a great way to see more of the island as only 10% is accessible by car. We also think they lower the front bumper on all rental cars--we scraped it a lot. And not just while trying to park or pull over for lookouts but on some of the paved roads as well--driving takes a little more attention due to the uneven roads and sloping; that added with a low -to -the -ground car (here we had a Dodge Dart) made it near impossible not to scrape it. 

This was the quietest of the 3 islands we visited and most laid back. It was my favorite (also my husband's), including ocean, rainforest and desert along with valleys for cattle grazing. Climate was cooler in temperature (high 70s/low 80s). The Northern part is a little more commercial (think small town/tourist type area) so if you prefer this, staying in Princeville or nearby would be recommended. Po'ipu on the Southern side was also comfortable with shops and restaurants nearby--just fewer.

Thanks again to Trips with Angie for another fabulous vacation. This is our 4th year booking Spring Break with Angie and she does a superb job of giving us details and helping us to plan. She sent us luggage tags and a folder with all of our information. That made it easier to find what I needed while traveling and checking in places. It was so well organized, all I had to do was pack and show up. I would highly recommend booking with Trips with Angie; we will use her for our next vacation for sure!