Hawaii travel tips

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NOTE: This page is a daughter page of: Travel


I had never visited Hawaii before, but always wanted to go. I was an Australian living in San Francisco and in Nov 2020 (during the pandemic) I finally decided I should try to visit Hawaii. Here's all the notes and advice I've compiled from others, plus some of my own hot tips at the end.


Tips for a Hawaii Trip

Traveling During Covid

Warning: This section was last updated Nov 28, 2020 (the day before you must get your test results before your flight), but in a world where rules change every week I can't promise it will stay current. Please use the official links in this section to see what may have changed.


From early 2020 until Oct 15, visitors had to register their flight with travel.hawaii.gov AND quarantine in a hotel (never leaving) for 2 weeks else face a ($5000 + 2 years in jail) fine. Yes they take it seriously! After Oct 15 2020, you can register and show up with a Negative COVID test result (to skip the 2 week quarantine) *BUT* it's not quite all that simple... the test has to be by an approved testing partner and within a certain time (72 hours) of your arrival, and skipping quarantine isn't supported by all islands. Details here:




Covid Warning: Unlike normal times, where you'd buy flights ahead of time to get a good deal, there's no obvious order of events, and always a fear that your COVID test could take more than 72 hours or even come back inconclusive or positive. If you buy flights ahead, definitely get flights that you can refund or reschedule for free. Personally, I actually waited for my ColorLab test results... and then booked a flight quickly and then filled in travel.hawaii.gov to upload my details. They also want you to have an address in Hawaii and return flights... using their interface you upload a PDF of your test results from the trusted site (like this) and then they email you a QR code you'll need at the airport (like this). It's a nervous process for sure!



Decide on an Island (or two)

I created this graphic to summarize what you need to know:


I've summarized the different islands and what they are good for (and their popularity among tourists).


Videos

  • Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia: Feel good videos which cover most islands:
    • Honolulu (Oahu Island) - big city, popular Waikiki beach, downtown, barracks, Pearl Harbor, the zoo and more.
    • Maui - the "most beautiful island" with watersports, galleries, rent a car to drive to Hana.
    • Hawaii's Big Island - feel good overview of the main island, and attractions like the volcanos, painted church, captain cook monument and more. They also have videos for:
    • Kauai island - 30 minutes from Honolulu, the garden island with stunning waterfalls and scenery. No building can be taller than a coconut tree.
  • Matt's Travel Tips: Great guide including places to visit and general tourist tips but only for Oahu:


Decide On Your Experience: (a) Resort Only or (b) Experience The Island

Accommodation in Hawaii is expensive, the fancy resorts on most islands are easily $200-400 a night (plus resort fees) so unless you are privileged level rich, you'll only be able to afford a few days and won't actually export the island - which sounds like a wasted trip to me - but to each their own. During covid there are deals for $100 on certain islands which means you can stay twice as long plus easily afford a hire car and at that point it doesn't matter what part of any island you are at (unless it's the rainy side and it rains all week), you can drive to fantastic beaches and waterfall hikes each day of your visit. Score!


Car Rental (you definitely want one)

You can use Lyft to drive you about 20 miles for $20 on most islands, but it doesn't give you the flexibility of a rental car to easily explore beaches and hikes each day. It appears there are pretty resonable car rentals on most islands. You can use a service like Expedia to look across multiple rental agencies and might get a base rate as good as ~$20 a day (without insurance) for a gas efficient sedan or ~$30 a day for a midsize SUV if you book a few days (sadly the fees and taxes added will increase this a lot). You'll probably want a pickup and drop-off from the airport... so for instance for Maui you'd probably want Kahului Airport (OGG). Don't forget to ask about their sand policy... depending on your insurance you'll probably want to stop by a Shell to vacuum up sand because it's pretty much impossible to keep the beautiful beach sand out of your car.


Tip: I'm not well versed on rental car insurance, but when I called Geico, they said my auto insurance on my own car (honda accord) also covered any rental car I used in the US for physical damage and liability, so that made me decide not to get insurance. I am worried that you simply don't know how good any of these policies are until/unless an accident happens, then you find out the reality.


Warning: When I arrived on Maui I used Budget for a $18 a day base rate Hyundai Elantra 4 door sedan, but I was a bit disappointed that the "fees & taxes" added up to an additional $13 a day (including a $5 per car Hawaii rate). I eventually returned it and tried a local one kiheirentacar.com to get slightly cheaper for a used car... I maybe saved a bit (it was around Xmas, so prices suddenly jacked up)... but I have to admit the old school car locking was a pain that made me miss modern car and there was also some break light issues and it was hard to open the gas tank door! Second hand cars can come with issues.. that's the problem.



Accommodation (try vrbo/airbnb over any resorts)

Think about what experience you want. Depending on how long you stay, there can be a few good deals floating around. Instead of just using AirBnB, you should also try VRBO for Hawaii.



Weather (pick your part of the island wisely)

Always remember to check the forecast ahead of your trip. Weather in the Hawaiian Islands very consistent and warm throughout the year. There are only two seasons in Hawaii: summer (kau) from May to Oct and winter (hooilo) from November to April. The average daytime temperature at sea level is 85° F (29.4° C) during summer and 78° (25.6° C) during winter. Temperatures at night are ~10° F lower than daytime. The wettest months are from Nov to Mar, but winter rains do not generally disrupt vacation plans, since the weather is very localized. This means that if it is raining where you are, there is almost always a sunny spot to be found around the coast. Most of the rain falls in the mountains and valleys on the windward (northeastern) side of the islands. It is this weather phenomenon that creates Hawaii’s rich, green, tropical environment. Wind can vary throughout the day. Wind and rainfall varies hugely between different part of each island, and obviously the vegetation is most lush in the rainy areas. Using Google Maps Satellite Mode to see the dark green areas helps indicate vegetation and rainfall.


Warning: I had friends stay on the rainy (northern) side of Maui at the same time I visited and it rained there for weeks straight (yes, it does happen)... I was just a little lower in Kihei and the rain was very brief. It can get very windy most days though!



Advice From My Maui Trip

I went on a solo trip to visit Maui in Nov 2020. The flight had some turbulence, but the real suck was at the airport. It was a massive line to get past security (and to baggage claim), it took 1.5 hours and at the end I showed my QR code and they let me in. Phew. Hopefully they have smoothed out the process since. I was afraid that somehow my QR code wouldn't work, so not until I was in, did I book my rental car (the rental car pickup area is not far from arrivals via a quaint and easy little free tram)... I went with Budget for a $18 a day electra - which was more than enough to handle Maui - it's not like jurassic park so 4WD seemed overkill. I booked a beautiful one bedroom in Kihei where I heard the weather was always pretty nice, and indeed it was. I would have been more comfortable booking all this way beforehand, but COVID makes it kind of necessary to be more spontaneous. The following is advice I have if you've committed at least a few days to explore the island !


Big Shopping Trip First

It's tempting to explore immediately, but first think about going shopping for some food for your stay (breakfast, fruit, snacks, etc). Get one big shop out of the way now, and then you can easily buy little extras as you need. If you're smart you'll decide to buy some snorkeling gear too! On Oahu, you'll see ABC stores everywhere and they are actually terrific! The beach mat is <$4 and fantastic, then they have lots of fun floating toys (donuts, air mattresses, and more) already inflated ($4-8 each), and everybody loves buying the poke bowls or the little spam musubi treats.


Bring or Buy Your Own Snorkeling Set

There's some magnificent fish just off the beaches of Hawaii - and a great probability you'll see green turtles in the water. You'd be crazy not to snorkel! Oh sure, you can rent gear in some places, but half-decent snorkel and googles sets are as low as $15 in many stores (ABC or even Safeway) so that's the better option for sure! Each day you can drive to different places, and you'll be pretty frustrated if you don't have snorkeling gear with you. If you don't have baggage room on your return you can write a little note to leave it as a gift for housekeepers or the next guest (being generous will make you feel awesome also). Snorkeling fins help you go fast (~$30 for an okay set), but are not really critical if you are an okay swimmer already.

Some tips on your mask. (1) Whatever quality mask you have, they all have a film on the inside of the glass you'll want to remove else it will fog like crazy.. you can rub toothpaste on it with your finger, or burn it off carefully with a lighter.. the first is easier. (2) You should be able to hold it to your face by sucking in through your nose (without fingers), and the silicon makes the mask... the stuff in the ABC stores you can't try on beforehand (they come sealed) and the rubber around the edge is only good for a few days, so if want something that lasts go to a dive shop and pay $50 to $100 for a proper silicon mask.

Now another hot tip. Always respect the wildlife. You must keep 30 feet from turtles that you see on the beach or in the water. I always respect "do not feed the wildlife" signs, but nobody mentions feeding fish, cuz with fish it doesn't matter. So try this... put a few of slices of bread in a ziplock bag to put in your back pocket when you go snorkeling for even more fun snorkeling!


Diving Tips

I'm not a diver, but I met so many people that enjoyed the diving. There's many spots that are "once in a lifetime", but unfortunately the reason they say that is that diving in Hawaii can be three times more expensive than anywhere else! Check prices and maybe think of saving your diving money for Mexico.


Prep Your Car for The Beach

Put that car to good use! You've already unloaded all your bags into accommodation, but now take anything you'll possibly want for the beach and hiking and put it into your car. If you are lucky your accommodation might provide more than just towels, they might have fun things like beach umbrellas, boogie boards and portable chairs! :)

Here's some things you'll want in your car:

  • MANY towels!! - I'm talking 3 per person... the sand is really fine, so you can easily use one to lay on the beach, one to dry off, one as a pillow, one to clean your feet, one to sit on in the car... you get the idea.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses - Very important. Apply sunscreen early and every couple of hours (it will wash off in the water sadly).
  • Rain jackets, umbrella - In case or rain.. probably it will pass quickly, but if it doesn't a rain jacket is still good to keep you warm as night falls.
  • Dry / warm clothes for night - As it becomes night you will get cold - especially if you're wet.
  • Flip-flop / boots - These would seem pretty useless in your room right? You can walk everywhere around your accommodation barefoot anyway.
  • Snorkeling gear / swimmers - As mentioned above... bring or buy them on the first day and always leave them in your car!
  • Lots to drink - I think one-time use drinking bottles are bad for the environment, but since you don't have room in luggage for 50 reusable containers, it's a good option to buy a big set of green teas or whatever to help keep hydrated wherever you go. Just reuse as much as you can and pick up litter to help balance out your (my) naughtiness.
  • Car chargers - Duh.
  • Binoculars - If you're serious about bird or whale watching.


Drive Around the Whole Island (for your wholistic lay of the land) with Narration

Driving around the whole island gives you an amazing feel for what there is!

I consider this getting a "lay of the land". In a new place I feel like it's fantastic to quickly survey the whole area to work out what areas you might want to avoid (eg: where the expensive resorts are - the ones with the big fat white guys on their mobile phones while their fish lip wives take selfies) and what areas you want to explore more (eg: farmers markets, amazing looking rainforest or bamboo hikes, specific snorkeling beaches etc). Sadly with COVID some of the amazing activities like boat/helicopter rides are going to be closed... but talk to the locals wherever you go to ask for tips about what might be open and fun to do. I got tips about places for live music in restaurants and events where people dance on the beach.

Now if you really want to 2x enhance your drive, I highly recommend downloading the appropriate GyPWy Guide Audio Tour onto your phone before you leave! On Maui I did the Road to Hana narration and it was absolutely worth the $7, including really detailed tips from the beginning to fuel the car and which were the must see stops. So much great history is given along the drive too... and once downloaded it works without reception. Hopefully you've also already downloaded the whole island offline on Google Maps also.

For Maui you need one day for the northern half, one very full day for the southern half (waking up early) if you want time to stop at various beaches along the way. Tune into a local FM station like 103.9 (the tunes of the island) to drop into a nice relaxed mood pretty quick!.. but yes, an audio tour will really be incredible, and probably just as good if not better quality than you get for booking some of the $150 bus tours you see advertised. Ick... better to go at your own pace.


Drive Safe, Don't Speed - Especially On Windy Roads

If your drive takes you around cliffs or mountains all those turns it can be scary. Wake up early so that you don't have to night drive - avoid any situation where you have to drive fast. Most island will have cows and or dear that can just show up on the road after a sharp turn or at night... and yes, it could kill you. The locals drive really fast, but don't feel pressure to match their speed.... they know the roads you don't. If there's a group of cars all doing 10 over the limit you might try to keep case, but it's when your car is by itself that suddenly you realize there's a cop on the road with a speed gun. Happened to one of the guys I met... $160 fine.


Warning: Some of the roads at the northern and southern cliff areas of Maui are one lane wide! It's pretty scary, but it means hugging your side of the road, because the locals speed... and if you come across someone in a one lane section you may have to reverse until you reach a section which is wide enough to pass. It's scary. The only real tip I have is time your trip so you're not doing this at night and hopefully not when locals are speeding back home. The drive to Hana is spectacular - Hana itself doesn't have much, but there are so many hikes I didn't reach Hana till close to sunset... meaning driving back in the dark, but luckily I got behind a bunch of other cars and that made the windy roads easier to be behind someone else who was driving at a safe speed. I guess at night the positive is that there are fewer cars driving the other way and you can see their headlights and thus can give them room for the one lane regions when you need.



Be Careful of Theft

Most island young or homeless locals breaking into cars is a huge issue. Everyone I talked to suggests carrying all the valuables (phones, keys, wallets) with you even for short hikes else you might return to a broken window. Putting stuff in the trunk doesn't ensure safety. It's safer to keep that kind of stuff like your suitcase in your hotel or even hostel.



Be Cool With The Locals

Some of the locals tolerate tourists... others do not! Some locals realize that tourists are half the reason why they can barely afford to live on their island anymore. Indeed there are many homeless and big issues with drugs. Locals have a very nasty word assigned just for tourists, and so if you can try your best not to look or behave like an idiot - that's a good start.

One place this starts is on the roads. Lots of the locals speed, so if you see a car in your rear view mirrors, pull onto the shoulder and let them pass... often they appreciate this so much they will wave, but if you wait too long you'll get the finger instead.

Be a good human, be friendly to everyone. Even at the cash register, ask them how their day was, and their favorite thing to do after work. Drop you big city "gotta-run-everywhere-cuz-I-hustle" or "I'm-a-big-shot-at-my-company-on-the-mainland" attitude off at the airport, because locals will spot that from a mile away and hate you before you even open your mouth. Embrace flip flops. It's okay to admit you are visiting for the first time and would hugely appreciate advice, just do it from a genuine place. Give away compliments to locals and smile. Notice the difference between what locals wear and what idiot tourists wear and try to look as much like a tourist as you can manage. :)


Follow your Own Path

Okay, once you have a lay of the land and talked to a few locals, hopefully something has tempted you.

Oh, and once again - don't get sunburnt on your first day! Hahaha.



Advice From My Oahu Trip

After a month in Maui I decided I wanted to check out Oahu - the one with the big city of Honolulu. I heard that it doesn't have the same charm of Maui, but I really wanted to see Pearl Harbor and if you're a foodie the food in Oahu is really quite good. The best selling point was that, at the time, you didn't need to get retested if you were flying from any other island into Oahu (any other inter-island travel requires a test, and that might be costly!). I arrived on December 24th 2021 - almost forgetting to register my trip on travel.hawaii.gov, but I got the QR code instantly (because it doesn't require a test). This trip isn't vacation just as an FYI... I work for Google Maps, so I need to code, and while I did a fun stay in a hostel in Maui and made lots of friends, you can't work in a hostel, so I went with the Coconut Waikiki Hotel (which I recommend) for ~$100 a night - knowing that I could easily work from my room, and also had a great view. I decided not to get a car though, since I'd be working Mon-Fri.

Although I broke this up into a Maui and Oahu, most of the advice from Maui applies here to Oahu too.


Beware Honolulu Big City Traffic and Parking

Coming from Maui to Honolulu is almost a shock... you suddenly see eight lane highways. Make no mistake, this is a big city. There are almost a million people on Oahu, mostly in Honolulu. Parking can be tricky, just as with any city... another reason I decided to try avoiding a rental car - for the start at least. Car theft is also a worry here too apparently, but most of my friends had no issues touch wood.


Waikiki - Tourist Central

My hotel is in Waikiki, which is basically a whole suburb for tourists just west of Honolulu downtown and separated from the "local" parts by a slightly smelly artificial canal, the Ala Wai canal. Imagine Venice beach shoved up against Beverly Hills... so insanely expensive designer bag stores along the esplanade. The beach is magnificent though. It's crowded, but beautiful to relax on, or learn surfing in one of the most forgiving gentle surfs you'll ever see. You can walk almost a hundreds of meters and still be standing on the sand.


Exploring Oahu - Biki Bike riding and Epic Hiking

If you're doing a week definitely pay $25 on your first day to get 5 hours work of "Biki" - a ride service with bike stations all around Honolulu. After a long walk along the beach you'll often just want to "Biki" home. Although most people stay in Waikiki, it's not a huge walk or bike ride to get to quieter beaches or a beach like Queens beach with often has surprisingly good snorkeling against the walls. I saw my first Hawksbill turtle there! But to visit Oahu and not see the other parts of the island, like the famous "North Shore" (with its huge surf in winter) is sightly sinful. I was lucky to find some lovely people to travel with, but there are good bus tours around the whole island, and the rainforest hiking around the island is incredible! Oahu might just have better hiking than Maui I think, but I haven't done enough honestly!



What to Wear to Hawaii

So this should be pretty obvious. Pack a swim suit. I knew this, yet for some crazy reason I packed 2 jeans (plus the ones I wore on the plane) and only 2 swim suits and maybe 4 shorts. I should have just no jeans, and 4 swim suits - the ones with pockets - because you never know when you start with a "I'll just walk along the beach", but then want to jump in for sunset. Multiple swim suits mean you just dry one out at any time. Light t-shirts are good, plus a pair of flip-flops, *and* if you do hiking on Oahu, take a pair of hiking boots that have good grip *but* which you are also okay being destroyed in the mud. They will be destroyed! I think a good hiking bag is a good idea... mine wasn't quite big enough! I'll let you know anything else I think of... it's subtle things like bringing a wireless charger for your phone because there's a good chance you'll get sand in the charging slot of your phone. Bet you didn't think of that1 Obviously you want lots of sunscreen - careful to put it in your checked in luggage or it will get confiscated.




Hawaii Wildlife

It's great to go into Hawaii knowing a little about the wildlife there. In Maui I was lucky enough to come across a wonderful turtle watch group, looking over a nest of Hawksbill sea turtle eggs. There are two types of turtle you might see... the Green Sea Turtle, and the Hawksbill Sea Turtle - but the Hawksbill is much less common because it is endangered and struggling to survive. The Hawaiian Monk Seal is also endangered.


How can you help? At a base level, make sure you keep 10-15 feet away from turtles, which can be seen basking. Maui is one of a few places where turtles regularly bask (nobody knows exactly why - but it's probably mostly to just rest in peace for a bit).... and there are many beaches you can walk where you might see the big green turtles just climbing onto the beach to bask (or at certain times lay eggs). This happens night and day - at night on the beaches of Kihei I saw a cluster of twelve beached turtles - but it's definitely more magical during the day because you can get a good look at these beautiful creates while still respecting distance.


You can also help by knowing:

I actually ended up using this hotline on my 3rd day in Maui soon after I was snorkeling and I saw a small green turtle (length of my forearm) which had fishing line in it's mouth that had wrapped around its neck many times and then once around it's back. You are obviously not supposed to touch turtles, but in this case I tried to catch it to help, but I didn't have fins at the time, so the animal got away. Thanks to this hotline, they took down the time and location and are going to dispatch some volunteers to try to find him and try to save his life. If you want to support them check out Hawaii's Wildlife Fund at: www.WildHawaii.org.


I've already mentioned Hawaii has some amazing fish diversity when you snorkel, but it's not a bad idea to go out with others, as there can be occasional tiger sharks around certain beaches. Attacks are very rare, but in the unlikely even you see one, just stare it down - do not turn and try frantically swim away - that just signals that you are prey.


Hawaii has whale watching opportunities at certain times of year, and some fun colorful birds, so bringing binoculars with you is a great idea if you are hiking or trying to spot whales off the coast. :)

See Also

Links


Acknowledgements: Zzina for sharing some of these links so I can finally get my act together and come visit! Also Natalia for seeding the idea of Hawaii in the first place. Also Ben the turtle photographer man for all his great tips! :)


Cutsie version of different islands.