We’re on the verge of completing our 2-week trip to the Hawaiian islands and I wanted to take the time out and write down a travel report. Given its remoteness, a trip to Hawaii costs significant $$$; in order to limit our spending, we relied on cooking (AirBNBs with kitchens), cheaper non-luxurious stays and leveraging discounts as well as points for car rentals and flights.
Pre Trip Research
Hawaii was added to our bucket list a few years ago. However, like most haoles, we didn’t have a good understanding of the different islands and what each offered. To learn more, we relied on two main resources:
We started thinking seriously about this trip in the last week of March and wrapped up booking all the essentials (flights, lodging etc.) by March 27th. We planned to vacation for 1 week and work/travel the next week. A lot of newly vaccinated travelers (including us) were flocking to Hawaii which led to a rental car shortage on the island. This caused prices to soar with some travelers resorting to booking U-Hauls to get around. Luckily for us, we had access to corporate codes which brought our costs down to $490/week. This was still steep given we’re used to daily rates between $30-$45 and was a nice foreshadowing of how expensive our trip was going to be.
Which Islands to visit?
The state of Hawaii consists of a few islands:
- Oahu: Home to the city of Honolulu, Oahu is a touristy city with a YouTuber describing it as the NYC of the islands; don’t let that distract you from the fact that it still is ludicrously beautiful.
- Maui: The resort island; crystal clear blue water, humpback whales and the green Yao valley can all be found here.
- Hawaii: Also known as the Big Island, this island feels less like a modern city and offers a lot more nature to explore. You’ll find the Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Kea observatory here.
- Kauai: More laid-back, nature getaway with the insta-worthy Na Pali coast.
- Lanai: The island owned by Larry Ellison.
- and a few more small islands
For week 1, we were looking at Big Island and Maui (ruling out Kauai because a week seemed too long). We settled for the Big Island because of two reasons: the variety of activities on offer and Mauna Kea. Well, actually, there’s only one reason: Mauna Kea. For the second week, we chose the island of O’ahu. Given that both my wife and I planned to work, we required decent internet speeds. O’ahu boasts of the best internet speeds among the islands plus there are nice things to look at.
Hawaii is taking the pandemic seriously. In order to get entry to the islands, you need to show a negative COVID-19 test when you arrive at the airport. This test should be taken within a 72-hour window from your last leg of departure. You’ll need to quarantine for 10-days at pre-approved locations if your result isn’t in the 72-hour time window or your result is positive or your result hasn’t yet arrived. The strict adherence to this policy has meant reduced number of positive cases among the locals.
Luckily, both — my SO and I — took our two vaccine shots before we embarked on our trip. Although there have been talks, there’s no consensus right now (as of April ‘21) whether you’ll be waived from the strict testing formalities if you’re vaccinated; so our plan revolved around taking a RAPID NAAT test done at Walgreens (approved testing partner) the day before we travel. Rapid tests are quick (took around an hour for our result to come through) and are free which works out perfectly for us.
Here’s how our two weeks panned out.
- Flew to Kailua-Kona; done there around 10 PM. Get a rental car and drive to our AirBNB (< 15 minutes drive from the airport). Rest and recharge.
- Drive around the island; learn more about the history through the Gypsy app
- Visit the Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
- Stargaze at Mauna Kea through this AirBNB experience
- 45 minute Coffee Plantation tour at Greenwell Farms (free)
- Attend Farmers Market at Kona (and this one in Hilo) and buy local produce (especially fruits)
- Try the famous Kona Coffee
- Hike in the Hawaii Volcano National Park
- Frolic in the Green Sand beach at Papakolea (after doing the hike) and the Black Sand beach at Punalu’u
- Visit Waipio Valley and the Polulu Valley lookout
- Do some snorkeling
- Try the Mai Tais at Don’s
- Explore Wakiki, Ala Moana and surrounding beaches
- Flytography at the Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden
- Swim at the Lanikai beach
- Do one of those Pillbox hikes
- Drive around the North Shore
- Explore the Pearl Harbour Museum
- Big Island was — by far — our favorite. O’ahu felt like a mainland city in the Midwest with mountains/beaches in the background.
- I saw plenty of “locals” dissuading people not to visit the islands right now both on YouTube and IG; however, locals we talked to were incredibly nice and polite.
- The Veggie Power wrap and Thai Latte at Local Joe’s is delicious.
- Birds and mongooses like walking on the road; I can’t remember the number of times I cursed the birds while driving.
- Roaches are pretty common on the Big Island. We ran into a bunch of them while we were in the Kona AirBNB.
- If I had to re-do the trip again, I’d spend more time at the Volcanoes National Park.
- Get a car. You’ll need a 4x4 AWD if you’d to go to Mauna Kea and off-road beaches (like this one).
- You can find a cute dog-companion for a day through the Field Trip program run by the amazing Hawaii Island Humane Society (two branches on the Big island).
- Carry rain-jackets and umbrellas because the weather in Hawaii is unpredictable.
- Stash away an extra set of dry clothes in your car or your bag.
- If you’re planning to hike to the Papakolea Green Sand Beach, we recommend starting early (8 AM) because it gets hot.
- Car break-ins are common here (we witnessed one in Hilo). Don’t leave any important valuables in your car while you’re out exploring.
- Highways on the Big Island are one-lane; drive carefully. Also, drive around with the Gypsy guide app.
- Try a Mai Tai or Shaved Ice at Matsumato’s or Poi while you’re there.
I want to go back already.