I fell in love with O’ahu so much that I didn’t really want to leave; despite people telling me that the other islands were equally special.
I can now say that they were right.
For O’ahu and Honolulu tips, please check my previous blog post.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit Kauai, Big Island and Maui. Below are some tips in case you plan on visiting any or maybe all three, which I would definitely encourage.
Kauai – The garden Island ♡♡♡
Kauai, the oldest and consequently “wildest” / greenest island, was my 1st stop after O’ahu, the most “developed” / urban island of the archipelago.
I fell in Love with the island as soon as I step foot in the micro airport of Lihue. I was there for 4 nights but the island is relatively small and I hired a car, which I would highly recommend if you are staying less than a week. I’m glad to say that despite my short stay, I feel like I got to experience the island.
If you are on a backpacking budget I would highly recommend the Beach House Hostel in Kapaa. This family run hostel started as a chiropractor from San Francisco’s practice, evolved into a community health centre and organically developed into a hostel. The mixed dorms are on the patio, facing the ocean and you can hear the waves through the night.
The biggest perk is its East facing seaside location, which means you can see the sun rise over the ocean. – Book in advance if you can as they get booked up!
Food trucks seem to be the thing on the island. Maybe it seemed so to me because that’s all I could really afford haha!
Hanalei area is beautiful and has a great selection of food trucks, whether you fancy lobster poke or fish tacos.
For an affordable hearty sit down meal, check out family run restaurant Paniolo Santa Maria (4-1345 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa, HI 96746). They have an open mic every Weds and have delicious “home cooked” veggie options. And it’s nice to see the grandmother at the till, the father managing the restaurant and the teenage son serving the food.
Beaches, Hikes and Sightseeing
The beaches are very different depending on what side of the island you are on.
My favourite “beach” experiences were:
Queen’s Baths – There isn’t actually a beach, it’s a short slippery hike to get to it and parking is very limited, But, it’s a beautiful place where Big waves crash against the volcanic rock. Like nothing I had ever seen.
It is highly recommended to stay away from the edge, as waves have been known to ‘grab’ people. However, there is a little natural black rock pool you can snorkel in safely, as long as the sea is relatively “quiet”. Always good to ask people once you get there to see what they recommend.
“Secret beach” is a vast, white sand, deserted beach. The efforts to find and access it are totally worth it! Bring food and water if you plan on staying some time. The trees will provide you with shade but watch out for falling rocks. (Not sure how you watch out for that.. ha!)
Watch the waves for a short while before deciding whether you want to / can swim. There is no lifeguard and very few people around.
Kee Beach is located on the North Shore and marks the end of the coastline road. This beautiful white sand beach is protected by reef, making a large pool ideal for snorkelling. The energy in this part of the island is special. Stay open and see what you experience.
Hiking and outdoor activities
Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is a vast National Park with numerous hikes. We did a late afternoon hike, and got to see the sun set over the green mountains, reflecting into the ocean. The flora changes as you climb up and for part of it my guide, a generous mainland American gifted body worker become “local”, said that the pine trees in a part of the hike reminded her of a forest you’d find on the mainland.
Do smother yourself in an eco-friendly mosquito repellent and bring a headlamp if you go up near sunset. #learnfrommymistakes
Do drive all the way to the top of the windy road to see the breathtaking Napali coast. Do stop at some of the view points on the way up.
This is the “wildest” and most natural looking botanical garden I have ever been to. I was lucky enough to go with a botanist who happened to have volunteered there in the past – so lucky!
Kayak through the Waimea River
There are a couple of kayak tour options which I hear are worth doing. I was a little short of time so I decided to rent a kayak on my own, for an hour. It wasn’t long enough to reach the waterfalls but I enjoyed seeing the Waimea Valley from the river.
Big Island ♡
This is the youngest one of the islands and it shows. It is considerably less green than Kauai and I was disappointed not to find chickens roaming around the rental car when I landed in the tropical open airport of Kona. However, as I drove through the middle of the island to make my way towards Hilo, I was astonished by the fast changes in landscapes and matching climates. The island hosts 9 different micro climates, making it a fun ride. Again, I’d recommend hiring a car and booking it in advance if possible to avoid paying the extortionate sum I paid. #thecostofgoingwiththeflow
I confess that I spent most of my time in a beautiful yoga community, Kalani, which hosts classes, retreats and even yoga teacher trainings. As a result, I am perhaps not in the best position to give many tips for exploring the island but you can find below the few things I did do and would highly recommend if you make it to this magical island.
Beaches and other fun stuff
Kehena Sunday Funday
Do go to black sand beach Kehena on a Sunday to take part in a family friendly gathering and drum circle. Please note this is a clothing optional beach so you might see a few ‘sea cucumbers’ as my new friend would say.
This is a beautiful multi generational gathering where Everyone is welcome. If you decide to attend, you do not have to go in your birthday suit, but please respect people’s privacy by keeping your phone, camera, gopro, in your bag, where it belongs. Mahalo (thank you).
Do wake up before dawn to make your way to see the Fire Goddess Pele flowing in her full glory. If you park near the 1st sign that asks you not to go past you can hire bikes or walk about an hour. Bare in mind that if you’re aiming to catch the sunrise (totally worth it) you’ll be walking in the dark so bring a headlamp. Remember to bring some water and a hat, the walk back can be quite hot depending on the day. And then enjoy watching the lava pouring towards the ocean and witnessing the creation of the newest earth on our planet.
Do respect the signs that advise you not to walk past a certain point. One person has died and a few have been injured. Lava burns!
Don’t bother with photos, they’re a waste of time in ny opinion.
Turtle spotting on Punalu’u black sand beach
I’m not sure whether this is a usual hang out for turtles in the area or if I was super lucky but there were a dozen turtles on the beach when I went.
Don’t touch, feed, pet the turtles. Love them from a distance.
Do take a Hula class if you can. I took one at Kalani and was surprised by how challenging the beginner’s class was. This is not only a physical practice but also a mental and a spiritual one. Do expect to feel like the most uncoordinated person who has ever lived. And this is coming from someone who has been taking all sort of dance classes from the age of 4. #thingsyoudidntknowaboutme
If you have time and interest…
Traditional Weaving is an opportunity not only to make a beautiful bracelet like the one I made, but also an opportunity to share a moment with other weavers and learn about Hawaiian history.
Last but not least, Maui ♡♡♡
I’d say Maui is the island where I felt most like I could live for a short while.
If you are on a backpacking budget (even if you’re not) STAY AT THE BANANA BUNGALOW HOSTEL!!!
Please do keep in mind that the nature of hostels means that they are constantly evolving, as people come and go, but my personal experience there was magic! It felt like entering a big family home, where you can come and go as you please, find someone to chat or adventure with when you wanted to, as well as finding a quiet space to read or do yoga.
The hostel offers “free” tours on a daily basis. The tour guides are not paid by the hostel so it is recommended to tip between $10-$20 which is incredibly cheap for what you get.
Beaches & Hikes
If you’re feeling up for a challenge and are in ‘good shape’, definitely do this 20km (12mile) hike. It is totally worth the effort. The trail goes through a dormant enormous ‘shield volcano’. The views are like nothing I had ever seen before in real life. It looked like I imagine Mars would. The landscape changes as you go along, going from desert like rocks to abundant jurassic park like mountain. Oh, and you get to walk through the clouds!
Do watch where you step, rolled ankles are common and I hear it’s not fun to finish the hike hopping in the dark.
Do look out for the Nene, one of the 3 only animals that have acclimatised to this harsh environment. The others are a spider – do not lift rocks unless you want to see it. And a bird that leaves near the sea in the day and comes back to the volcano at night.
Do pack lots of water and some food.
Big beach & Little beach
Luckily, pristine white sand beaches do not get old because this is yet another one of those.
I didn’t spend much time there as I went straight to the clothing optional neighbouring Little Beach for another drumming circle. I got lucky again as the waves were small and we were able to stay in the refreshing ocean while we cooled down before we could dance again.
Again, you do not have to take part in the nudity or the dancing. I’d personally encourage both although not at the same time.
Paia beach, is another white sand gem. It was pretty quiet when we went and the waves were just perfect for body surfing (my 1st experience!).
Iao Valley State Park
This is an uphill 2-3 hour hike, depending on your pace. The views at the top are great and you get to walk through different micro forests. Take a bag to take guavas. When I went (beginning of (October) there were tons of ripe ones hanging in the low branches of the trees.
The best bit was getting in one of the freshwater swimming holes at the bottom of the hike. You could always skip the hike and go for a swim, but you won’t get the satisfaction of taking your sweaty clothes and socks off before entering the water 😉
Do go to ‘flat bread’ for affordable oven baked pizzas. They even had a vegan option!!! You can share a large between 3 if you’re not starving.
Do go to local grocer Mana in Paia, a bit like a local Whole Foods.
If you’re thinking about it, stop thinking about it and do it haha!
Hula girl in Paia town is the place to go. The shop is super clean, they take walk ins and Socialinkslinger is a pro and an all round awesome dude. He stayed open an extra hour so he could tattoo me the night before flying out.
I went for a little pineapple as they represent Hawai`i and theh happen to be one of my favourite fruits.
There is lots more to see and do on Maui, like snorkelling in Lahaina and hiking the road to Hana but my time was limited and I feel like I def made the most of it.
A few tips which apply to the whole archipelago
● Check flights on Island Air 1st, they tend to be the cheapest. Sign up for the free membership to pay $15 instead of $25 to check a bags.
● Note, traditional activities ought to begin with an opening chant in Hawaiian.
Do take part and do not worry about getting the words and intonation a little wrong, as long as you sing with intention.
● Do not bring fresh fruit and veg on the islands. The risk of bringing disease carrying insects is serious.
● Do wash local raw fruit & veg. / tap water is drinkable but it is preferred to buy bottled water.
● Do take care when near / in the ocean. Drownings are common in this part of the World
●I didn’t do any (I literally cannot fit an extra sock in my bag + I have blown my budget on a daily basis while on Hawaii…) but there are lots of beautiful hand crafted products. Worth keeping a bit of space in your suitcase and a bit of money if you’re not backpacking.
I resolved to putting one of the local white flowers you find everywhere, on my (right = not married) ear to rock my Hawaiian inspired look.
Mahalo Hawai`i, I will come back ♡