Hawaii Trip - Maui and the Big Island

We’re planning a Hawaii trip in late March/early April - minus travelling time, we will have roughly 10 days to play with and had planned to divide our time between Maui and the Big Island.

I’m looking for advice on a few things, apart from the obvious question of what should we see/do while we’re there…There are two of us, only one of us is a driver so whilst we are happy to rent a car, I don’t want to spend every day in the car.

Do you have any recommendations for good places to stay? How many days should we spend in each location? Would we be better off with a hotel or a condo? We had originally though to divide our time evenly between locations but if there’s more to do in one place than the other, we can change that.

At the moment, we are flying into Maui and out of the Big Island…what we do in between those two flights is a mystery!

Maui is an island of many microclimates, ranging from tropical rainforest to windy to very dry. Here are some things to do/see while there:

Haleakala National Park- The centerpiece is the 10,000 foot Mount Haleakala, a volcano that last erupted over 400 years ago. Plan at least half a day just to see the summit.

The road to Hana- Can be driven in a day, but you will not have time for all the sights/attractions and will spend 60%+ of the day in the car. Best done over a 2 day period. (The link, by the way has a ton of info about stuff to do on Maui)

We did a horseback ride that went up into the mountains overlooking a huge waterfall and valley, then all the way back down to the coast. Fun and gorgeous scenery. We also did a sunset harbor cruise out of the port of Lahaina that was fantastic.

Surf lessons were fun, offered by many companies.

The Lahaina itself was interesting, but mostly touristy stuff and souvenir shops.

Watching sunrise from up there is popular, but it will be cold. You’ll need warm clothing. Haleakala is also home to the rare silversword.

I’ll be watching the thread with interest as we are heading to Maui at the beginning of March. I’ve been to Maui several times as a child in the 80s and this will be my first visit as an adult.

We are staying in the Kihei area and so far have planned kayak tour out of Makena Beach and a luau in Lahaina. We are coming from the east coast of Canada and are planning to use the jet lag to our advantage by doing the sunrise at Halaekala on one of our first days (my wife is a budding photographer and is looking forward to trying to capture some star pictures as well as the sunrise). My daughter (10yo) also wants to visit the Maui Ocean Center so that will be on the schedule. Other than that we are going to beach it a lot and relax. Maybe some quick drives towards Hana but I doubt we will go all the way. Just stop and spend time at some of the touristy things along the way (pretty sure I remember some waterfalls and pools as well as some early churches).

We stayed in Volcanoes Park, at the lodge. Was a big hit with the entire family. Huge ever-burning fireplace around which we dried our shoes. Wer tend to gravitate towards state/Nat’l park lodges. Hiking out to the lava vents was - for us - a lifetime experience. You can walk up to within feet of where lava is flowing. Wear good shoes and carry water - it is a couple miles in heat over jagged rocks.

Driving N from Kona, there are several small beaches. One of them - associated with a resort - Mona Lea/Koa? - allows a limited number of cars daily. We found it worth getting there early. Snorkeling off the beach was amazing. Fish, turtles, etc.

We also got a kick out of hitting south point - the most southerly place in US. Tide pools and turtles. Just west of the turnoff to south point there was a diner/store on the N side of the road that sold macadamia nut pies that were to die for.

Hilo is a neat town, but when we were there, it was rainy/cloudy every day. We NEVER saw the mountains once from Hilo, and on the day we hiked down to the valley N of town (Waimea? Waipo?) it rained 14". Definitely an adventure.

We flew into Hilo, stayed a couple days, drove to Volcanoes for another couple of days, then to Kona for another 2-3. Driving was manageable. But we eliminated the entire top quarter of the island.

On Maui, if you rented a condo, be sure to hit the Costco and/or Walmart just down the street from the airport exit, for essentials, like Mango vodka, and Coconut rum for your mixed drinks, as well as Kona coffee (100%) and other non-perishable food items, like Maui Onion chips. The prices elsewhere on the island are higher.

Do stop at the local farmers markets- you can get the bestest apple-bananas as well as very good pineapples there, along with papaya, mango, and other fruits you may not have ever tried - they have samples. There are also impromptu farm stands along the roads.

Be sure to try Cook-kwees - Maui’s locally baked treats. Hard to get on the mainland. Up the road from the Ocean Center toward Kahului is the Botanical Gardens, a nice respite from the sun, and you can get a lot of Maui items there, too (say hello to the soap lady). A tad touristy, but still cool.

We have stayed in the Napili area a few times, far west end of the island, north of La-hiney. Very good snorkeling and sunsets (with Molokai and Lanai in view for good measure). A drive around the smaller “lobe” of the island, West Maui, is a much shorter adventure than Hana, but still loaded with scenic wonder, including road that is barely one-lane wide.

I will come back later with ideas for Big Island - only been there a couple of times.

On lava - there is no guarantee. We were there the only time in 20 years that there was no lava to be seen anywhere. AND we got the tsunami (the big one that hit Japan) - so our Big Island resort experience was a night in the car for evacuation, followed by a volcano tour where the whole family was DRAGGING, followed by a day where everything was closed because they’d been hit by a surge - it wasn’t a big surge, but it was enough to close beaches.

By the time we got to Maui, the area we stayed in was pristine - we were up from Lahaina and stayed in the Aston Kaanapali Villas - they were ok - their biggest benefit was they were not very expensive for right on the beach. In Maui we mainly beach bummed - did a whale tour and took surf lessons (my son, to no one’s surprise who knows him, turned out to be a natural surfer - so natural that the instructor gave up lunch to give him a private lesson to take him out to the bigger waves than us Midwest tourists).

Try to get to Kauai if u can

The Big Island has really contrasting weather. The Kona side is quite dry, while the Hilo side is very wet.

Do try to go up saddle road to the telescopes if the road is open. It is like Mars up there.

My last trip to Maui we stayed in Kihei. It’s not as touristy as West Maui. We drove to Lahaina one day and I couldn’t believe how busy the area had gotten since my last trip (2004). The Kihei area is in central Maui so it’s easy to get anywhere on the island. We stayed in a condo so we could have a little freedom when it came to meals, i.e. making breakfast or dinner one or two nights instead of spending money at restaurants.

The Road to Hana is not about the destination, it’s about the trip. It will take you all day and if you don’t stop to see anything it’s not worth the trip.

I always recommend Haleakala. My wife and I enjoyed it so much we went twice this last trip (only did the sunrise once, the second time we went later in the day and did some hiking). Cyros had the right idea with taking advantage of jet lag. You can take a tour up but if you drive yourselves you have more freedom to explore on your schedule.

If you want to get off the beaten path check out Paia on the North Shore. It’s a quirky little town with some good restaurants. If you stop by Charlie’s Restaurant and Saloon you may see Willie Nelson (he’s been known to stop by and play a few sets when he’s in town).

Journey Upcountry and check out Makawao and Kula. It’s a Hawai’i that you wouldn’t expect. Stop off at one of the ranches and get some grass fed Maui beef.

Head to the Haliimaile General Store for some pretty damn good food. Then head across the street to the Haliimaile Distillery for the tour and tasting room. They distill vodka from pineapples grown on the island and rum from the sugar cane fields surrounding the area. Mark, the master distiller, is a fun guy and he’ll autograph any bottles you buy. If you see someone who looks like Sammy Hagar it’s probably Mark, but it could also be Sammy since it’s his rum they make.

In Lahaina stay away from places like the Hard Rock and Bubba Gump’s. A friend swears by Lulu’s at the Cannery Mall. Mick Fleetwood has a place on Front Street and is known to stop by with his blues band on occasion. If you go for dinner be prepared to pay–it can be pricey.

My family did Big Island/Maui in 10 days just a few years ago.

Personally, I’d stay 3 nights on Big Island, then spend the rest of the time on Maui.

Here’s what we did:

Flew into Kona airport from the mainland. Rented a car with National because it allowed pick-up in Kona and drop off in Hilo, which are on opposite sides of the island.

After arriving, we ate dinner then hit the sheets at the Marriott Waikaloa. You’ll be tired after that long plane ride. The next morning, we hit a few beaches/ snorkel spots, beginning with 2 Steps.

For dinner, we ate a local restaurant and chatted it up with some locals. About a half hour before dusk, we met our captain at the pier for a night manta ray snorkel. (If you SCUBA, they offer dives, too). You take a boat ride and watch the sunset. Then you get to a spot where someone has dropped several light rings into about 20-30 feet of water. The light attracts plankton, which attracts these huge manta rays. You get in the water with them and watch them glide within feet of you. It was magnificent and I highly recommend it, even though I got pretty sea sick. (Take your Bonine if you suffer from motion sickness.) We spent the night at the Marriott again.

The next day we checked out and headed to Hilo. If you go clockwise around the island, you can stop and Zipline on your way. It took us about 5 hours to get to the other side of the island, including stops for lunch and sightseeing. I think you can get there in about 3 hours if you don’t stop.

We arrived in Hilo at dusk. We’d booked a room at Aloha Junction B&B, which is about 5 minutes outside of Volcanoes National Park (VNP). Ate dinner at Kilauea Lodge (make reservations ahead of time). (You can also stay at the lodge or inside VNP at Volcano House, but we liked Aloha Junction and it was very reasonably price.) Then we headed out to see the lava at night. It’s one of the few places on earth where the ground you’re walking on is younger than you.

Spent the entire next morning and early afternoon at VNP, hiking the trails and the cave.

We booked an early evening flight out of Hilo to Maui on Hawaiian Air. Renting a car with pick-up on one side of the island and returning it on the other side of the island saved us several hours of driving. I’d highly recommend this. (Note that mainland flights fly into Kona, so plan your trip to arrive from the mainland into Kona (if you do BI first) or depart from Kona (if you do BI last)).

I’ve been to Maui a half dozen times now. It’s my favorite island by far. We usually stay in Ka’anapali, but have also stayed in Wailea. We prefer West Maui because it’s closer to Lahaina than South Maui. Lahaina has tons of shops and restaurants and it’s also one of the only 3 deep water harbors on the island, so if you plan to spent lot of the water, it’s very convenient.

What to do on Maui? Depends on what you like to do. My top 11 things;

  1. Trilogy’s All Day tour to Lanai is my #1 activity. It’s pricey but awesome. You should see plenty of whales in March on your way over.

  2. Snorkel at Honolua Bay (ocean conditions permitting). If conditions are rough, park and watch the surfers tear it up.

  3. Spending the morning at Ho’okipa Beach and watching the surfers and wind surfers, then lunch at Mama’s Fish House. Or pack a lunch from one of the restaurants in nearby Paia. Visit some funky shops in Paia if you have time.

  4. Kayaking trip near Makena Beach aka “Turtle Town.” Go with a guide for safety’s sake.

  5. Morning ziplining on Haleakala with Skyline EcoAdventures (check Groupon or Living Social for a discount), then head to the summit. On your way down, stop by the Visitor’s Center just inside the park entrance and have a picnic lunch. Or drive a short way to Iao Needle State Park, and take one of the trails down to the stream and have lunch on the boulders. (Bring your bug spray). Then hike up to Iao Needle.

  6. Warren & Annabelle’s Magic Show in Lahaina - good, corny fun. You don’t like magic? You will after seeing this show.

  7. Resort day - Nothing better than sitting by a beautiful pool, reading a book, and ordering cocktails from the poolside waiter.

  8. Snorkeling at Molokini - If it’s a clear day, you can see forever. It’s touristy, but so worth it if the conditions are good. Book a smaller boat that arrives earlier than the bigger boats, such as Captain Steve’s. Or, if money is tight, book with Pacific Whale Foundation as they offer the most reasonable tours in town.

  9. Sunset catamaran or sailboat ride - We used to do the Kiele V but it tragically sank a few years ago. Now I’d book with either Trilogy or The America II. Enjoy some cocktails while watching the sun set. Could there be anything more romantic?

  10. Hiking West Maui mountains - Don’t venture off the beaten path if you’re not an expert hiker. West Maui Mountains are the #1 location where tourists need assistance because they got lost. We booked an all day tour that included a hike to a waterfall, then a drive counter clockwise around West Maui mountains (which is an adventure all on its own), to an art gallery, then to Nakelele Blowhole before ending up at DT Fleming Beach for a few hours. Great day.

  11. Bluewater rafting - okay, this isn’t a trip for people with back issues because it’s on a zodiak and the captain FLIES. But we did a really cool cave tour followed by a snorkel trip on the backside of Molokini (very rare to do this on other tours). It was a lot of fun but not for the squeamish.

Things I haven’t done but are on my bucket list:

Helicopter tour - my motion sickness is preventing me from booking this, but I think it’d be a gas.

ATV tour - I love ATVs. Just haven’t had time.

Stargazing at Haleakala - Booked it once, but the summit was too cloudy and we had to cancel. But this sounds like an incredibly great time. Book later in the week after you’ve adjusted to the time difference a bit.

Stargazing on the water - You can only book this a few times per month when the moon is darkest, but I’ve always wanted to do this. Something about being out on the water at night that intrigues me.

Things I’ve done but wouldn’t necessarily recommend:

Road to Hana - A loooong drive, and I get motion sick, so not my favorite activity. The backside of Hana is actually way more interesting than the waterfalls, IMO, but I’d never do this in one day again. I’d book a night in Hana. And if I only had 6 days on Maui to begin with, I’d pass. If you simply must go, know that there are tons of hairpin turns so the driver will get fatigued from having to concentrate. Pack your longs, plenty of food and drinks, and bring TP cause a lot of the potties don’t have it. Oh, and if you hike to waterfalls, you must know what the weather is on top of Haleakala because the streams you’ll encounter are subject to flash flooding.

Horseback riding - Okay, but not earth shattering.

Sunrise bike ride down Haleakala - The national park shut down bike rides that used to begin at the summit due to the number of deaths on the road (picture tons of switchbacks, sun in your face, and a bike sharing the road with cars), so now bikers have to start outside of the national park. That turned a special thing into a “meh” thing IMO. Sunrise might still be worth seeing, but book it early in the trip when you’re still on mainland time and 3:30am won’t be so daunting.

Old Lahaina Luau - It’s supposed to be the best, but it’s a tourist trap IMO. The dancing is good, but the food itself is meh and the syrupy sweet cocktails are terrible.

Hope this helps. Aloha!

Where to stay? Me? I love condos and villas over hotel rooms. Grocery shopping allows you to spend less of your budget on food (because you cook or pack a picnic lunch) and more on doing more interesting things. And I love, love having a washer/dryer because you can pack light!

The first year we stayed at the Renaissance in Wailea, which no longer exists. Didn’t love Wailea because it was too somnulent and too snobby. (Shopping at Gucci isn’t on my agenda.)

Didn’t care for Kihei either because the beaches aren’t as nice and the resorts are 2-3 stars max. However, it’s much more affordable in Kihei if you’re budget is tight, and it is centrally located. For us, Ka’anapali aka West Maui hits the right note with us because of its proximity to Lahaina.

Our second year, we stayed at Ka’anapali Shores, which is a 3-star condo complex north of resort row. Our condo was clean and comfortable and the grounds were nice, but not ritzy. Plenty of rentals for this on VRBO and directly through the management firm. I’d recommend our specific unit, but it was a 2 bdrm, so too much space for you. However, KS has a nice location as it’s north of “resort row” which tends to be more crowded.

If you want someplace cheaper, I’d recommend looking on VRBO for a studio or 1 bdrm in Ka’anapali, Napili or Honokowai. Maui Kai is a place I’d definitely consider if money was tight. All their villas have incredible ocean views because the complex is built on the beach. Not back from the beach. On the beach.

Other places I’d consider with a bigger budget: Honoa Kai, which is a new development and reasonably priced. Ka’anapali Alii and any of the hotel timeshares (Marriott, Hyatt or Westin).

In 2006, we bought a timeshare (on the resale market) at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas. I absolutely love it there. The units are very nice, the grounds and pools are gorgeous, and you get the convenience of a condo ( kitchen, washer/dryer) with the perks of being at a hotel (e.g. fitness center, poolside service, valet parking, on-site spa and restaurants/bars.) And if you stay at any of the Starwood properties, you get free use of their shuttle which runs into town. You can have a few cocktails at dinner and not worry about driving home.

The downside of booking either a condo or timeshare is that they usually only rent Sat-Sat, so you’ll have to plan your visit around that. (For instance, we arrive on BI on a Wednesday and then flew to Maui on Saturday.) If this interests you, either find a villa with good ratings on VRBO (free) or pay the small fee ($15?) to join Redweek.com and rent one of the hotel timeshares directly from an owner. It will save you tons of money from renting from the hotel directly.

Let me know if you have any questions.

How do you feel about a really ridiculously expensive restaurant? (That I thought was totally worth it). I’m talking about Mama’s Fish House. Get your reservation now if that sounds like your cup of tea.

We were in Hawaii last week. Different island.

You are already too late to find decent accommodation. You need to book nine to twelve months out for a decent, affordable place. But you might get lucky.
[li]Fly Hawaiian Airlines and join their FF program. That way you can get intra-island flight discounts.[/li][li]Pack much less than you need. Just a change of clothes plus. Buy the rest there if you are into t-shirts and Hawaiian shirts.[/li][li]Sample/eat the local cuisine. Get away from chain restaurants. A local dive where the locals eat are hidden gems.[/li][li]Don’t shop at a chain if it exists on the mainland (excluding Costco).[/li][li]Eat Spam for breakfast.[/li][li]Haleakala National Park has restrictions. Too many people want to watch the sunrise. You need to be there by 3:00 am if you want to get in, if they let you in at all.[/li][/ul]

Here is a past thread on things to do on the Big Island:

And here’s another thread from someone specifically requesting non-beach activities:


Looking over those old threads, I see a few things that have changed in the past few years; Hawaii is a very active island, topologically and geologically speaking, so things really do shift:

Kekaha Kai State Park (the easily accessible part entered across from the Veteran’s Cemetery) - Last time we were there it had really taken a beating due to recent storms. Unless a lot of sand has been trucked in, it is much reduced from its former glory. I wouldn’t recommend a special trip unless you can verify that it is nice again.

Tom the Baker, alas, has gone out of business :frowning:

Some of the Volcanoes National Park hikes may not be off-limits depending on how Pele is feeling, but you can check at the visitor’s center. If the Kiluaea Iki trail is closed, you can always ask, “what’s a similar experience in terms of difficulty/timing?” And so on.

Since posting those lists, I have discovered the incomparable Pu’u Wa’a Wa’a hikes: http://www.bigislandhikes.com/puu-waawaa/ Going to the top and back takes several hours (best to start in the morning when it is cool) but there is an easy nature walk at the bottom where you can see all kinds of interesting native plants and it is not at all strenuous.

Another place I’ve discovered, but haven’t made it to yet, is Three Ring Ranch: http://www.threeringranch.org

A lot of Maui fans sing the praises of the road to Hana, but a lot of us from the Big Island think it’s a poor alternative to driving the Hamakua Coast along the NE rim of the Big Island. Both are beautiful, but the Hana road is exhausting for the driver - lots of narrow twists and turns and blind spots, with plenty of crazed local drivers. The advantage of the Hamakua coastline is that not only is it equally beautiful, with several good stops along the way (Laupahoehoe, Hamakua Forest Reserve), it is a sufficiently relaxing drive that both passenger(s) AND the driver can enjoy the scenery.

I don’t think anyone has mentioned the “Revealed” guides yet. There are separate guides for the Big Island and Maui (as well as the other islands). We used the Maui one and found it to be a great resource both for planning (they list and review a ton of lodging options) and once we were on the island.

Hana - Definitely recommend spending a night or two, although the accommodation options are limited. We stayed here and loved it. Instead of driving there and back along the northeast coast, which is what most people do, we drove there the “back way” along the southern coast, stayed a couple nights, and then continued back the typical way, but early enough that most of the traffic was on their way to Hana. We really enjoyed Hana and liked being able to explore the sights around there without feeling rushed to get back on the road.

The rest of the trip we stayed in a vacation rental in Napili, and I would recommend it as well. We had a studio at the Napili Bay Resort, which is at the southern end of Napili Bay, just steps from a great breakfast place called The Gazebo, known for its mac-nut pancakes. Get there early because there will be a line! The condo itself wasn’t anything special, a bit dated, but functional and had everything we needed.

My Dad grew up in Hawaii and something his mother used to do was put a quarter in cooling lava and then chip it out so that she had a quarter in solid rock.

Did Maui and the Big Island last year (had to go for a wedding - poor us).

Plenty of good advice here. Obviously rainforests on Maui, volcanoes and boating - whale watching snorkelling etc. Our particular highlight not mentioned here

Kiholo Bay

Just north of Kona (20-min drive I think). A bit of walking involved. But - wow - swimming and walking the beach with turtles - the water that is cold in the top 18 inches and warm below (freshwater spring), the Queens Bath.

We went twice.

We went to Maui last March, and even with 9 nights we left lots of stuff to do next time. Make sure you set aside some time to do nothing but sit on a beach and read a book. Lots of good ideas up the thread.

Haleakala is magnificent. We didn’t do sunrise, but we went up to do a little bit of sightseeing late in the day and stuck around for sunset, and that was just spectacular. If you go - keep in mind that it gets pretty chilly at 10,000 ft., even in the tropics.

We did the Road to Hana in a day, and next time we’ll probably do it and make a point of stopping at more of the places we missed the first time, or try to figure out how to make it a two day trek.

GyPSy app (kind of a tour guide app) was worth the $10 on road trips. Particularly useful on the Road to Hana.