I like to think of myself as an adventure traveler. I prefer to immerse all of my senses in all things foreign and new. Hawaii never seemed exotic enough to me. It’s the United States after all. Too developed, I thought. Truthfully, I didn’t think I would like it and I never really wanted to go. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s on the East Coast, USA, it seemed like every middle class family’s dream to get to Hawaii. Not me. Nah.
Lucky for me a couple of years after graduating college of my best friends moved to O’ahu’s North Shore and suddenly I had an open invitation to visit. Playing one of the best travel cards there is (I am the queen of visiting friends around the world) I decided to buy a ticket to Honolulu. The fact that I invited four more people to join me notwithstanding (thankfully it didn’t end our friendship!) I learned the hard way, when you tell people you are going to Hawaii and ask nonchalantly if they’d like to join you, the answer is most assuredly a resounding, “YES!”
There are a lot of islands in this Pacific Ocean archipelago; I’ve visited two of them (not including a bump in the ocean off O’ahu’s coast to which I paddled in a kayak, which, by the way, was exhausting). Here’s the short of it. I loved Hawaii so much that I violated my second rule of travel: Never go back to somewhere you’ve been if there’s another place you are dying to go. The Hawaiian Islands are rich culturally and stunningly beautiful. They are clean, the roads are paved and everyone speaks English. Prepare to be spoiled. Even speechless.
To Maui, “I love you. Give my regards to O’ahu.” To the Big Island, “You and your friends can expect me soon.”
The island of O’ahu is known as The Gathering Place. No trip to Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital city on O’ahu, is complete without a visit to one of the world’s most famous gathering places – Waikiki Beach. It’s not the most beautiful but it is fun and you can say you’ve been there! While in the area hike Diamond Head volcano and be sure to visit Hanauma Bay, now a protected marine life nature preserve, known for an abundance of green sea turtles and parrotfish. I would be totally remiss if I didn’t recommend seeing the Pearl Harbor Memorials and Museum. Honolulu is a big city (the sky scrapers might take you by surprise) with lots to do and see.
A word on luaus: they are not created equal. Talk to the locals or take the advice of someone who knows of a good one. Some of them are really touristy, so if you can go off the beaten path, do it. You’ve got to attend this traditional feast. The Polynesian Cultural Center, also an interesting place, offers information on luaus as well as all things Hawaiian. Kailua Bay and the North Shore are also definitely worth seeing while you are on O’ahu.
Hawaii is also famous for its coffee, my first true love. My favorite souvenir from my first Hawaiian vacation? A bumper sticker from the Bad Ass Coffee Company proudly displayed on the rear of my VW Golf.
Maui is really different from O’ahu. Absent is the hustle and bustle of a big capital city; skyscrapers are nowhere to be seen. Maui is relaxed and lush. Coffee, papaya, pineapple and sugarcane are all farmed on the island for export. The island even boasts a winery, and if you like to imbibe, you’ve got to pay Maui’s Winery a visit. The winery got started in the 70’s by making wine from what was available and plentiful – pineapples. Eventually the grapes matured, but the sparkling fruit wines still steal the show if you ask me.
My travel companion and I stayed in Lahaina on Maui’s western shores. Lahaina should be called City of Rainbows; you’ll see them often, as though they were awaiting your arrival. Former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Lahaina is a beach town with a predictable laid back vibe. We really enjoyed wandering the main drag, Front Street, lined with restaurants, shops and art galleries. It goes without saying that if you are a scuba diver, opportunities abound. I had my first, and last, scuba lesson here. I believe in trying everything once, and as much as I enjoy the water, diving just isn’t for me.
True, one could simply sip twice-daily happy hour cocktails by the beach and be content. But my friend and I needed a little adventure. It just wouldn’t be vacation for me without it! I recommend you rent a rag top like we did and explore Maui’s famous northern coast via the Hana Highway. The Road to Hana, as this stretch is known, is a winding 60-some mile highway, but the drive takes hours thanks to the hairpin turns and narrow passes. The scenery is breathtaking. This part of Maui is actually a tropical rainforest, so if the top’s down, prepare to get wet.
We chose to spend just a day in the tiny town of Hana. The destination is really the getting there as much as it is the place. If you want to go horseback riding, Hana is an equestrians dream. Come to think of it, it’s got to be a horses dream too! The countryside is stunningly beautiful. We stumbled across this tree unlike any we’d ever seen. Turns out, the Rainbow Eucalyptus is the only species of Eucalyptus tree found in the northern hemisphere. As if that weren’t extraordinary enough, this stately beauty’s bark is streaked in vertical shades of yellow, green, orange and even purple.
Because we were only staying the day, we ate a delicious lunch at the luxurious Travaasa Hotel (formerly The Hotel Hana Maui) and toured the town. Open daily, the Hasegawa General Store is the oldest family owned business in Hana, established in 1910 and a fun place to shop for souvenirs, or maybe just pick up some snacks before you hit the highway.
There’s one more thing you should definitely do in Maui, especially if you are a foodie. Dine at the award-winning Hali’imaile General Store. The restaurant epitomizes hospitality and has a unique history. Owned by renowned Chef Beverly Gannon and located among pineapple fields in Upcountry Maui, the restaurant features eclectic American food with Asian flare, aka Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. Bev helped found the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement, championing the use of fresh local ingredients rather than importing ingredients. This concept of cooking has really inspired me over the years as I gain more knowledge and enthusiasm for feeding my own family quality, locally grown food. Enjoy and give my compliments to the chef!