Hawaii is a great place for vacation. Whether you love water sports and adventure, or you just want to enjoy nature, quiet place and do some sightseeing, they have it all. This blog post is based on my trip to Hawaii a while ago.
If you’re currently planning to go vacation to Hawaii, the first thing you need to decide is which island to visit. Though Hawaii has 8 major islands, if you go to most tourism sites, they will guide you to choose among 4 islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Big Island. Oahu is the most populated island. Honolulu is on this island, along with the famous Waikiki Beach. Being the most populated place, this place probably has the most things to do. The other three islands are, let’s say… more nature. If your aim is to go shopping and enjoy the feel of “major city”, then Oahu should be your choice. If you prefer to spend some quiet time, truly enjoying nature, you might want to visit Maui, Kauai or Big Island.
I personally choose to spend 3 nights in Big Island and 5 nights in Oahu. Me and my wife was curious with the world’s most active volcanoes in Big Island, and we want to see the Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu. That’s probably our main reason for selecting these.
Why must choose? How about just visit all 4 islands during one trip? Well, it’s certainly doable, but not recommended. First reason, you need to take inter-island flights to move from one island to another. This costs money, and most inter-island flight tickets don’t include any checked-in baggage allowance. So if you’re from other country, carrying two big luggage for your shopping, you will have to pay extra for those. The process of inter-island flights take longer than the actual flight itself. You know, because you have to arrive at the airport early to perform all those airport checking with long queue. Not to mention if you book shuttle to bring you from hotel to airport, they might pick you up much earlier than your flight time because they have to pick up other passengers as well. So yes, at least half of our daytime will be gone for this flight.
Another option is to take helicopter ride from island to island. More practical, at least time-wise, but certainly more expensive. It will all depend to how much money you are prepared to spend in Hawaii.
Even if you do manage to “optimize” your timing for inter-island flight, I would still suggest to visit 1 island only, if your trip is shorter than a week. You might want to visit 2 islands if your trip duration is between 8 to 14 days, 3 islands is your trip duration is between 15 to 21 days and so on. Why? Because you will need time to actually enjoy an island and see much of it.
Water sport is not my thing, so my trip was more about sightseeing and exploring rather than sport adventure.
While most people choose to spend some time in Honolulu / Waikiki (Oahu island) for their first few nights in Hawaii, I chose to do something different. me and my wife started my vacation in Big Island. So right after our arrival at Honolulu International Airport, we need to clear immigration and custom, then head to inter-island terminal. Prepare at least 3 hours between your flights, I would suggest. Because the queue for inter-island flights are normally long.
The next important thing for me in any overseas vacation is preparing to have internet connection. Why? Mainly because I rely heavily in Google Maps to find locations of places, find my own location and check out public transport routes and schedules. Using my own SIM card from Australia is simply out of question. The cost might still be reasonable for short voice calls or sending text messages. But for data, it’s super expensive.
For Hawaii, I would say we have two main options: buying a local SIM card or rent a mobile WiFi device. Renting mobile WiFi device is great because we can share internet connection to multiple devices (usually 5 devices) and the internet is unlimited. The downside, the cost is not-very-cheap, and we need to plan carefully about pickup and drop-off location. I choose an even cheaper solution: buying local SIM card. In this case: T-Mobile SIM card. T-Mobile has “unlimited” prepaid package that costs $3 per day for 3G / 4G speed, or $2 per day for 2G / GPRS / EDGE speed. If your vacation is less than 14 days, I would say this is the best option.
I read a lot of forum questions online about people asking questions on T-Mobile’s coverage in Hawaii. Now I can tell you this. By the time of my trip (mid 2013), I got very decent 4G coverage in Honolulu and Waikiki. I got 3G coverage in some other parts of Oahu Island, sometimes EDGE, sometimes no service at all (when traveling to tourism places far from any city). In Kona (Big Island), I only got EDGE. In most places I visited, I usually got EDGE coverage as long as I am near a city. When no city is around, it automatically switch to AT&T roaming, which will allow me to keep receiving voice call or text messages, but no data service at all. I use unlocked iPhone 4S and there was no problem at all. Simply changed the SIM card when arrived at the airport, turn on the phone, and start browsing Internet. Very simple.
Kona, Big Island
Arrived at Big Island, we checked in to our hotel in Kailua-Kona. There are two sides of “cities” in Big Island: Kona and Hilo. We choose to stay in Kona, then took a tour to visit places on Big Island, including Hilo and the famous volcanoes. The first thing that caught our attention was Kona Airport. It’s an open-space airport, not a “closed” building like most other airports I’ve seen. They still have “gates”, and sections, but there is no “solid wall” separating those areas.
On the way from airport to our hotel, we saw a very unique view. No “common soil” around us. All we can see are black volcanic rocks.
Getting around Kona is easy. If your hotel’s location is good, then almost everything can be reached within walking distance. If you need to go further, you can choose to rent a car or go by public transport.
There’s a trolley service named Keauhou Trolley (runs by Roberts Hawaii, the largest tour company in Hawaii). Check out with your hotel’s front desk, most of them will give you a trolley schedule and the nearest stop from your hotel if you ask. It runs from 9am to 9pm and costs $2 per ride. You need to prepare exact amount of fare, not change will be given. You will need this trolley especially if you choose not to rent car and you need to go to some “difficult” places. Big Island is a volcanic island, thus you will find hills in Kona city. Kona’s only Walmart, for example, is located on a hill, it will be difficult to go there walking. Trolley will save you time and energy.
If you need to buy something in Kona, you will most probably find it in one of its shopping centers. They have Kona Inn Shopping Village, Kona Coast Shopping Center and Kona Commons Shopping Center. Or you can go directly to some specific places like Macy’s, Walmart, or Hilo Hatties. There are stores called ABC Stores there. It’s something similar to 7-Eleven, I guess. You can get basic needs from soap, shampoo, bread, fruits, milk and bottled water. But you can also buy gifts and some common sporting accessories.
It is a good idea to bring a bottle with you as you travel. In most places, there’s always a water fountain right next to restrooms. So you can keep refilling your bottle throughout the day.
My tour across locations in Big Island is written in a separate post.
Coming to Waikiki after spending 3 nights in Kona does come with very different impression. In contrary to the “nature-based” Kona, Honolulu (and Waikiki) gives the obvious vibes of “big city”. Yep, it’s crowded, tall buildings, and heavily commercialized area around Waikiki Beach. It’s certainly part of Hawaii and they do say “Aloha” just like in Kona. But it’s nothing like I expected before.
Getting around in Oahu without car is very easy. They have bus service called “The Bus” that we can take to almost any point of interest I can think of. The fare is $2.50 per person. After paying, bus driver will give us some sort of tickets with expired time. Means, we can ride The Bus again for free as long as our ticket has not expired yet. Formally, the expiry time is 2 hours after our paying ride. But in our experience, we often got 3 hours or even 3.5 hours. We can’t ask though, it all depend on bus driver. In case you wonder how to “read” the expiry time in your ticket, simply read the top-most time printed there. The ticket is ripped right before the time indicated as expiry. In most cases, we always can get a “return” trip with one payment. Unless if you plan to spend more than 3 hours in a place, of course.
Another method of getting around is by trolley. There are three different trolley routes: pink line (shopping locations), red line (historical locations) and green line (sightseeing locations). You can get 1 day, 4 days or 7 day pass for each lines (and there are some deals for multiple lines), but you need to purchase your pass in advance (can’t buy the pass from the driver). You can purchase the passes from DFS Galleria or Royal Hawaiian Center (just use Google to find their locations). Only for pink line, you can actually get on without day pass and just pay $2 per person per ride. There is no “free return trip” within 2 hours like “The Bus” though.
The largest shopping center in Oahu is Ala Moana Shopping Center. Various lines of “The Bus” or trolley’s pink line will take you there easily. It’s an open space shopping center, with excellent food court on ground level (plus you can get free WiFi in the food court). Before going to Ala Moana Shopping Center, I suggest you get their booklet / brochure first, find out the list of stores and their locations, then plan your journey there. It will be very tiring just to explore everything randomly since this place is big. You can get the brochure at the airport or visitor center, or probably your hotel lobby. Some of the main streets also have spots where you can get lots of brochures.
The next place of my recommendation is Waikele Premium Outlet. They sell branded stuff, original, but cheaper. To get there, you need to study the routes of “The Bus” (depend on your hotel location), or you can just ask your hotel’s front desk about shuttle service to Waikele Premium Outlets. They will pick you up at hotel lobby (most Waikiki hotels), takes you there, and also brings you back to the hotel. One return trip will cost you $10, and it’s worth it because the place is far from Waikiki.
If you stay in Waikiki area, you will see ABC Stores in almost every block and every corner. While they only have 4 ABC Stores in Kona, my tour guide said there are 48 stores just in Waikiki area. It means, you can’t even walk for 15 minutes in Waikiki without seeing at least one ABC Stores.
I took three different tours in Oahu, and I will write about them in separate post.
Diamond Head Crater, Oahu Island, a moment before sunrise
Hawaii was a pleasant destination. If you haven’t been there, I suggest you add it into your wish list. Aloha (means hello, goodbye and love) and mahalo (means thank you).