The Aloha State, made up of several volcanic islands, boasts an array of natural wonders and hosts hundreds of years’ worth of historic events that shaped a lions share of this political world as we know it. Primary islands that attract tourists are the Big Island (or the Island of Hawaii), Kauai, Maui, and Oahu, each having a different charm to lure tourists back multiple times.
Ever wondered why the flag of Hawaii has an Union Jack in it? Read more here
Every travel website, Tripadvisor or friends who have been to Hawaii will tell you that you cannot cover everything these tiny islands has to offer in one trip. And they are entirely correct. Each of the four larger islands will take a minimum of 7 days, yet probably leaving out a few things to do and experience. Please be warned that trying to visit any of the islands in anything shorter than 3 days is a sin and you will be taking on Pele’s Wrath! Kidding. We will get to know Pele soon, but first know that we have actually covered three Hawaiian islands in 9 days even though it was an extremely tiring trip, and definitely need to go back to each island again. You will find the itinerary below, and there cannot be any slack. Still, for the brave-heart traveler, this might be a good option at least for the introductory trip to the heaven on Earth.
Key Points of Interest in Hawaiian Islands (Not exhaustive)
Big Island/Island of Hawai’i
|Mauna Kea||Road to Hana||Waikiki Beach|
|Hawaii Volcanoes Nat’l Park||Molokini Crater||Pearl Harbor|
|Haleakala Nat’l Park|
|Day 1||Big Island||Kailua-Kona||Arrive in Hawaii (HNL); then connect to Hilo|
|Day 2||Big Island||Mauna Kea Summit||Morning – Enjoy Kailua-Kona area; Afternoon-Midnight: Mauna Kea Summit and Stargazing|
|Day 3||Big Island||Hilo||Drive along the coast through South of the island to Hilo; Explore Volcano National Park|
|Day 4||Big Island/ Maui||Volcano National Park||Explore Volcano National Park; Fly the shuttle from Hilo to Maui in the evening|
|Day 5||Maui||Molokini Crater, Haleakala Crater||Early morning snorkeling in the Molokini Crater, Drive up to Haleakala Crater for sunset views, hiking|
|Day 6||Maui||Road to Hana||Drive to Hana and return, Dinner and Lu’au|
|Day 7||Maui/ Oahu||Lahaina, Waikiki Beach||Enjoy beaches in Lahaina, Maui; evening flight to Honolulu, Waikiki Beach|
|Day 8||Oahu||Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach||Explore the history of WWII in Pearl Harbor, watch a beautiful sunset from Waikiki Beach or hotel pool|
|Day 9||Oahu/ Return||Sunrise from North shore, Waikiki||Hike up Makapu’u lighthouse for a stunning sunrise, explore Waikiki Beach area, Return.|
Food is an integral part of the trip to Hawaii, especially because the island cuisine tends to be pretty monotonous. Over in Hawaii, however, probably because of the cross cultural influences, typical food has evolved a lot. Obviously a heaven for seafood, islands like Oahu are full of authentic Japanese food including street food. Typically during Lua’u dinner shows, the full breadth of Hawaiian food can be savored. Read below for some of the most memorable food/restaurants we explored in the three islands –
- Punalu’u bake shop (Yelp Review) – How about a quick breakfast stop in the Southernmost bakery in the US? Some famous hawaiian bread donuts (Malasadas) in various flavors, and some coffee to get you back on the road. Should not take more than 15-20 minutes to swing by and cost per person is less than $10/$15.
- Fresh fish at Suisan Fish Market (Yelp Review) – Looking for a quick lunch in the Hilo area? Check out this fish market style joint for some authentic poke. Delicious seafood at extremely affordable prices.
- Rim Restaurant in the Volcano House (Yelp Review) – Time for a romantic dinner while in the volcano national park? Add in a surreal view of the lava filled crater while you sip on that sparkling chardonnay. Although slightly pricey, this is a classy restaurant with an upscale ambiance and delectable Michelin star level food. Your spouse or travel buddies will thank you for taking them here for a quaint dinner.
- Mama’s Fish House (Yelp Review) – Maui has a ton of upscale restaurants, but this one carries a lot of hype. It is a good enough place with an iconic past clientele, interesting menu, and a fantastic ambiance. It is hard to find classy fish restaurants, so five stars on that. We thought the food and service were impeccable, yet low value for money. Tip is to do a late lunch here just to have the check box checked; it is easy to get reservation for lunch and you get to enjoy the view of the expansive beach and surf. Try the Black Pearl dessert without failure.
- Hula Grill (Yelp Review) – Located next to the Westin on the Kanapali beach, this place gets really crowded. But food and service is impeccable, thereby justifying the rush. Maui has a lot of upscale restaurants but this one is right up there. Try their corn on the cobb if they have it.
- Old Lahaina Luau (Yelp Review) – Out of several Luau shows around, this one is definitely the best as the food, open bar and amazing service is coupled with an intriguing Hula dance show that focuses on the mythological history of the Islands. Read more on our collective wisdom and experience on the show here.
- Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin (Yelp Review) – It was such a cool find while having a lazy evening stroll. Small joint serving authentic Tonkatsu, this place excels at serving great food at an affordable price coupled with excellent service.
- Marukame Udon (Yelp Review) – I am a big fan of udon and Japanese street food style ramen and this little cafe style joint became my favorite. Even for a late lunch, you’d have to wait in line but once inside, the tables clear up fairly quickly. So a good operations in place. It is also very popular with the locals. MUST try if you are in the area.
- Azure Restaurant in Royal Hawaiian (Yelp Review) – Customary in all our trips, we tend to splurge a little bit for our last nights dinner, and what better place to do so in Honolulu than Azure. The steak and lobster along with the fresh caught fish here is to die for. Executive chef Shaymus Alwin brings this gem of a restaurant that is already recognized by Honolulu Magazine, Hawaii’s best restaurants critics choice and so on. Give it a try
Essential Travel Tools
A couple of iPhone apps we found were amazingly helpful and entertaining on our trip to Hawaii –
- Shaka Guide – GPS Driving Tours for all Hawaiian Islands. Find out more here. We used the Big Island Volcanoes National Park tour (~$4.99) and was really impressed with the accuracy and stability of the app. Well made app. Give it a try.
- Gypsy Guide – For the Road to Hana (cost ~$4.99) in Maui, we used another app from Gypsy Guide. Similar to the Shaka guide, this one also worked really well in the narrow passages of the Road to Hana where getting radio signal was excruciatingly painful. Five stars for both apps.