The weather was tropical, as to be expected when we arrived, however, it was immediately evident that we were back in the US with the underfunded public transport. The bus finally arrived after 40 or so minutes, and we made our way –stopping every block– into Honolulu.
We booked a hostel in the epicenter of all things Honolulu, right in Waikiki, for two nights, hoping that we could figure out a way to spend some time in the better parts of Oahu for our other nights.
Waikiki was as expected: exorbitantly expensive and packed with tourists. Most of our time there was spent handling logistics, like shipping our winter clothes home. We also bought a few new items of summery clothing and supplies.
We managed to nap a bit in the afternoon of our arrival day, which greatly helped with our sleep schedule. Our dorm neighbor, a Swiss guy just coming from Australia (i.e. same boat with regards to jet lag), however, opted to sleep the whole day. We went to bed early that night, and were witness to a supremely weird night. The comings and goings of seemingly random people lent the place a halfway house sort of vibe, and the surrounding area and lack of real windows made for a very noisy bedroom. Our Swiss friend awoke at about 1am and headed out, as he was waking up we were convinced that it was morning already and steeled ourselves for the day ahead. Of course, we checked the time and realized that it was not a reasonable time to wake up. Interspersed throughout the remaining hours of slumber were brief awakenings from things like loud, drunken conversation making their way by our window, slamming doors, or romantic encounters nearby. We eventually called it quits at 8 or so, as no more sleep was to be gotten. Our Swiss friend eventually came back mid day and promptly went to sleep again, at least keeping his schedule consistent.
With the accommodation prices of Hawaii quite like those of Japan, but with much less quality in return, we booked a campground on Oahu’s North Shore in the interest of saving some money for the remainder of our time on the island. Our Swiss friend and another dorm mate, a Brit working in BC for the season, decided to accompany us to the North Shore for a day trip, so as to experience a bit more of the island in their limited time here. We all headed out to the Ala Moana center in central Honolulu to catch the number 55 bus, a stalwart of the North Shore, plying up and down Kamehameha highway day and night.
The bus trip took nearly two hours, and fortunately the driver paid no mind to our large backpacks (which are forbidden on The Bus, weirdly). We got off at Malaekahana State Recreational Area, and wandered around the grounds for awhile until somebody told us that our camp ground was actually up the road a kilometer or so. We headed back up the highway and found our spot, checked in with the makeshift office up front, and pitched the tent.
We all hung out on the beach, not even 50 meters from our tent, for a bit before heading into town to get some food. There was a beached sea turtle looking quite sickly, and we weren’t sure what to do with him/her.
We headed up to the next town, Kahuku, to get some food, and settled on a roadside fast food joint called Tita’s Grill. The food was spot on for the condition we were in, and we decided to head up to Sunset Beach after finishing up. The 55 runs pretty much every 35 minutes from 6am to 6pm, followed by hourly trips up until 10pm, making it a fairly safe way to get around the North Shore without worrying about getting stranded. We hopped off near the beginning of the beach and walked our way down the sand for a kilometer or so. It was getting late, so our friends would catch the next bus back to Honolulu. Again, we were just us, and happy to be so. With the sun setting, we were silently content, and sure that there was nobody else with whom we’d rather be.
We headed back down to our camp and made it back with an hour to spare before complete darkness. One downside of camping is the overall lack of things to do after sundown, but we were tired, no doubt left over from our trans Pacific trip just days before, and we fell asleep around 8:30. As we rested, we laughed at the thought that the last time we slept in the same tent was months prior, in western Mongolia.
We awoke before sunrise the following morning, mostly due to the incessant crowing (starting at 4am) of the ever-present roosters on the island, and headed straight to the beach for a refreshing (and cold) swim. The sun was coming above the horizon just as we were trying to enjoy the uncomfortably cold water. The beautiful setting made for a nice memory, but we didn’t last too long in the water. Nevertheless, a cold dunk isn’t a bad way to start the morning.
We took the bus up to Haleiwa, the North Shore’s center of activity, and spent most of the day there. The hazardously large waves were a sight to see indeed, but made any swimming impossible, so we stuck to land and wandered around town, exploring the variously overpriced design shops.
As the sun was going down we caught the bus back to our campground, by the time we got there it was entirely dark, so we navigated back to our tent by headlamp.
We spent our final full day on the North Shore mostly around our campground. After a morning on the beach, we headed down to Laie a few kilometers south. After awhile of waiting for the bus, we ended up hitchhiking with a Tongan construction worker. He was baffled that Tonga was on our wish list of places to go. He said he owned an island there that he takes tourists to, and enthusiastically gave us a business card (on which his name was misspelled and an area codeless phone number was his only means of contact) and made us promise that we’d get in touch when we come to Tonga. We’ll certainly try, but we’re not sure how far that number will get us.
Laie was quite boring. We saw the Polynesian Cultural Center on the map, which looked interesting, but we realized it was more of a Disneyland sort of place when we got there. They do shows and events which aim to educate people on Polynesian culture, but the basic entry fee is $60 per person, so we skipped that. The place was teeming with Asian and American tourists pouring from tour buses though, so it seems like some people like it.
We walked out to Laie point and marveled at the view, and the powerful waves crashing onto the rocks, but this only held our attention for a short while. We decided to bus up to Ted’s Bakery at Sunset Beach to get some dinner to go, and made it back to our campground before dark.
We hopped on the bus back to Honolulu the following morning in time to catch our midday flight to Kauai.
The flight was short and sweet, as usual from such inter-island flights. The views were incredible, at least, but the flight attendants were surprisingly rude (only to us, they were super lovely to everybody else).
A nice TSA employee at the Kauai airport originally from Kent, Washington, was on his way home and explained the very limited bus system of Kauai to us as we were waiting at the stop. From this point, it seemed clear that we’d need a car if we wanted to do anything on the island.
We made it to our hostel in Kapaa relatively easily after a transfer at Kukui Grove, and checked in. We were starving, so we went to a decent place in the trendy little area of central Kapaa, which was way above our budget. At any rate, pretty much anything in Hawaii was destroying our budget, even more so than Japan, so we were used to spending way too much.
The following day we took a helicopter tour around the island, which was Oona’s Christmas gift to Ian, and possibly also one of the coolest things we’ve ever done. Getting to the airport was a task, as the bus schedule is even more limited on weekends. We tried renting a car from a local agency in Kapaa, but they were booked until March. We tried hitchhiking on the main road for about an hour, but had no luck at all. Eventually the bus came and we made it to the airport just in time.
We were lucky enough to be seated up front, next to each other and the pilot, so the views were pretty much unbeatable, and the mind-blowing flight dynamics of the helicopter were on full display. The tour lasted about an hour, with the pilot giving us all sorts of history lessons on the island through our headsets as we cruised above the jungle. Everything about the tour was stunning, all the way from the liftoff pattern from the airport to flying down the impossibly steep canyons of the Napali coast. We spent much time over the Robinson Family’s reserve, which a very large portion of the island is part of including the waterfall memorable from Jurassic Park and the Waimea Canyon. Words really don’t do the experience justice, but we would definitely recommend such a trip, regardless of its budetary impact, for any traveler to the island. It was particularly great to see the island from above on just our second day there so that we could decide which areas we wanted to spend more time in.
When we landed back at the airport, we concluded that we will definitely need a car, so we immediately went to a rental agency and blew yet more money on a rental. At least we’d be camping or sleeping in the car for some of our time on the island, so we wouldn’t have accommodation to worry about.
We had one more night at the hostel booked, so we headed to bed early, got up early the next morning, and set off in our newly-rented vehicle. The feeling of ultimate freedom from having such a vehicle was definitely liberating, and we rode off into the distance. But first we stopped at WalMart and bought a GoPro, something which had been on our wish list for some time now. Expect some fisheye videos to find their way into the blog from now on.
We drove to the Waimea Canyon, which they call the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, for unsurprising reasons once one sees it. The red-brown canyon walls drop majestically from the jungle, and if it wasn’t for the aforementioned jungle, one could easily mistake this for the great American Southwest. We did a hike down to the valley floor following the Canyon Trail, it was a pretty moderate 9km round trip, with a short break at the bottom to stick our feet into the river. We made it back to the top just before sunset, and had time to watch the glowing orb drop below the horizon, slowly but surely.
We had no accommodation for the night, and the arcane and bureaucratic jigsaw of the Hawaiian camping permit system is mercifully closed on Sundays, so we had plans to sleep in the car somewhere, which is also illegal, for unclear reasons. We found a secluded place at the very end of highway 550, deep in the mountains, and far past NASA’s missile defense station. It became dark very quickly, and we were afforded magnificent views of the galaxy above from the pitch-black parking lot. We found that the back seats of our rental car could not fold down, so we reclined the front seats as far as they could go and tried to get some rest.
By sunrise, even with all the windows cracked, they were fogged beyond visibility. Weirdly, also around sunrise, three cars came peeling into the parking lot. With no intention of finding out what they were there for, we left with equal urgency, and only a small patch of unfogged windshield with which to do so. We made our way down the mountain to the much warmer air at lower elevations. The sun was shining brightly as we arrived in Waimea.
We had a brief stop for lunch and securing our camping permits in Lihue, which can only be done in person by filling out a paper form at one of several offices around the island, as if we’re still living in the 1980s. Securing the permit was easy once at the office, and we booked one night at Anahola and another at Haena for our last night on the island.
Without much more to do, we headed north to check out Princeville and Hanalae. We spent a few hours up north, and had a break at a cafe in Hanalae, after which point we headed back to camp with a brief stop at the Kilauea lighthouse.
The campground at Anahola was unimpressive, and seems to be frequented by locals on dirt bikes and all manner of beat-up cars parking next to each other for short amounts of time doing shady things. The wind was extremely strong, so we set up camp in the grass field behind the beach. Without much else to do we fell asleep not long after it got dark.
The weather looked to be improving the following morning, so we headed down to Poipu beach on the south side of the island. We spent the day hanging out on the beach, and went for a short hike along the shore.
We decided to book a night at the other hostel on Kauai (Kauai Beach House). We stopped by and were fortunate enough to get a shared bed on the back patio at a nearly fully-booked hostel. This one was a bit more enjoyable than the first hostel, with a palpably more laid back vibe and an unassuming clientele for the most part.
On our last full day on the island we finally made it to the famed Napali Coast trail. We didn’t do the whole thing, and instead opted for the shorter day hike to Hanakapiai Falls. Considering the frequent and numerous warnings about the trail’s difficulty and danger we were well-prepared for some death-defying stunt track of a hike, but instead found a well-maintained and -traveled hike with minimal elevation gain. We basically crushed it, blowing by the geriatrics and inexperienced hikers, and were no longer surprised by the warnings. It seems like just about anybody, including those who aren’t well aware of the dangers of Mother Nature, attempts to hike this trail.
The trail itself was beautiful, skirting the coast for the first portion, dipping in and out of the jungle with fantastic views down the coast and to the turbulent, turquoise waters far below. After some 4km, we descended to Hanakapiai Beach below, and aimed inland for the final 4km up to the falls. Nondescript, the trail wound its way up through the jungle, finally giving way to spectacular views of the huge falls ahead. We immediately jumped into the surprisingly deep pool beneath the falls, swam for about 30 seconds until hypothermia began setting in, and immediately got back out. While not actually hypothermia-inducing, it was surprisingly cold, and definitely not comfortable for more than a very short period.
After relaxing at the falls for a bit, we packed up and headed back. We took it much slower on the way back, and enjoyed the scenery and watched the massive waves crashing against the coast. There were even a few surfers, with the aid of some jet skis, dropping into the waves cresting off the coast.
We spent the night at Haena Beach campground, near the end of the hike. We woke up early and headed back to Lihue to do one last adventure on Kauai, which was a tube ride down the old plantation irrigation channels with Adventure Kauai. Probably not worth the $100 per head price tag, but a nice way to spend an afternoon nonetheless.
We had exactly two hours after the tubing to return the rental car and make it back to the airport, which was a cinch. A layover in Honolulu later and we were on Maui.
We arrived on Maui after dark, and with no accommodation nor transportation booked, we wandered around aimlessly until we happened upon the rental car kiosks. Only a few were open at the hour, and the prices were absurd. For lack of any alternative, we simply handed over what we owed in exchange for a tiny little Chevrolet Spark. The lack of accommodation was still an issue, but one that could not be easily rectified, as all the hostels were fully booked, and also extremely expensive. We knew of a campground somewhat close by, however, so we visited a grocery store and headed that way.
Hosmer’s Grove was the campground in question. We chose it mostly because it’s one of two county campgrounds on the island, and also because a permit is not required. The tradeoff is that it’s halfway up Haleakala, Maui’s famed (and huge) mountain. This means it’s actually quite cold at night, and still more than an hour of driving up steep switchbacks. The view on the way up was amazing, however, and there were no mosquitos, so we happily pitched our tent and slept for the night.
The following morning, since we were so close, we made our way up to the summit of Haleakala for the view. On suggestion of Ian’s friend from high school who was to be hosting us for our last several days on Maui, we looked for a car on Turo. Turo is a sharing app, something like Airbnb, but for cars. We ended up booking a totally functional, if not impeccably clean, Ford Focus from a nice lady in Pukalani, for about a third of the price of our original rental. We returned the airport rental early (for a small fee), and made our way around the island in our new wheels, with the added benefit of looking like locals.
We planned to camp at Kipahulu that night, and made our way around the east side of the island on the stunning highway 360 through Hana. Certainly one of the most beautiful drives we’ve done, we snaked our way through the tight and serpentine curves of the highway, dodging the locals (who infamously drive like maniacs on the highway). Looking somewhat like locals ourselves, we threw shakas here and there, thanking somebody for pulling over to let us by, or waiting on the other side of a one lane bridge (the likes of which there are many).
We arrived at the campground after dark after stopping for a loaf of banana bread, which the shop owners claimed was the best, at the Hana Market. The fee payment station was closed, but one is meant to pay the $20 (per vehicle) fee by credit card. We found a nice spot among the many other campers, some of which were quite lively, playing the drums, drinking, or smoking weed, and passed out for the night. The banana bread was certainly not the best, but it filled a need. The next morning, on our way out, we paid the fee in cash (the receipt is valid for three days and also works at Haleakala).
We continued our way along highway 360 on the southern coast of the island, which was also beautiful. We stopped for a picnic at a secluded grassy area on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Eventually we found ourselves back in Kahului in time to watch the Super Bowl from the Ale House in downtown. We left and decided to camp at Hosmer’s Grove once more. The following day, Ian’s friend was coming back to Maui, so there was no longer a need to camp. The night was extremely windy, and rains fell hard for some of the night.
The following day we met up with Ian’s friend, returned the car, and handled a few other logistical aspects. It started pouring down rain in the mid afternoon, so we didn’t end up doing much. The following few days were also spent in a relaxed manner, in the absence of needing to figure out a place to sleep every night, for example, we were free to do what we pleased with Ian’s friend’s car and have a bed to sleep on at night.
We spent a day in Lahaina on the west side of Maui, wandered around the shops, and got some shave ice at Ululani’s, which, for the record, is much better than the purportedly “best” shave ice at Matsumoto’s on Oahu’s North Shore. With the vehicle to ourselves the next day, we drove all around the western half of the island on highway 340. Like 360, 340 is a serpentine road with extremely tight turns and lanes hugging the coast, and much negotiation needs to be done between drivers in opposite directions. We stopped at Nakalele Blowhole for the afternoon, and were perfectly content just watching the waves come crashing in.
Nearly fed up with all these alleged “best” products in Hawaii, we stopped at Julia’s, a small shack on 360, also claiming to have the best banana bread. We succumbed, and bought one of Julia’s last loaves that day, vying to establish a benchmark for Hawaiian banana bread. This may, in fact, be the best banana bread that we have found, and we would thoroughly recommend the trip out there to get it. We even saw Steven Tyler and his biker crew rumbling by us shortly before stopping at Julia’s; the clerk at the shack excitedly asked “did you see Steve Tyler?!” when we pulled up.
Our time in Hawaii was finally winding to a close. In retrospect, it was probably too much for budget travelers like ourselves to handle, and would have been better suited for some quick getaway from a normal life once all this was over. Nevertheless, we came, and we saw. It was great to catch up with old friends, and to make some new ones, but we’re looking forward to our departure. We have a flight to Samoa at nearly 2am tomorrow morning, but we’re heading back across the dateline from whence we came not long ago, so we’ll be arriving in Samoa 24 hours later.