If not Oahu, where?
May 2, 2011 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Another "help us go to Hawaii for the first time" question. (Two adults, no kids, looking for relaxation and privacy, September or early October.)

I’ve read through a number of the previous Hawaii questions and it’s helped narrow down a few things—mainly that we’ve ruled out Oahu and are leaning toward the Big Island or Kauai (I’m ambivalent about Maui). Beyond that, I’m a little overwhelmed.

- We’re in our 40s and are looking for quiet relaxation. Location doesn’t need to be super-isolated (and due to health issues I should have relatively quick access to medical facilities if I need them, knock on wood), but we do prefer a getting-away-from-it-all feeling. (This is probably my main concern with Maui, though perhaps staying Upcountry would be remote enough?)

- Accommodations: looking for clean, quiet cottage/B&B/boutique hotel type place. Top end of budget is $200/night. Garden or beach setting. A pool is nice but not required. Zero interest in large resorts/hotels/condo complexes.

- We’ll rent a car and are mainly interested in sightseeing (parks, gardens, historical/cultural sites), but are not hardcore outdoorsy (so a relaxed couple-of-miles walk is fine, but a strenuous 10-mile hike to see obscure waterfalls is not going to happen).

- Love good food but don’t need to spend a lot to enjoy it (though we might want to splurge once or twice). An afternoon at a (not crazy expensive) spa would be nice. Never been snorkeling but would consider it. Shopping, golf, nightlife, etc. are not priorities.

- Is it likely there’s a single place to stay for the full week that would fit the bill, or would we probably have a better time splitting the week between two locations (either on the same island or two islands)? And is travel between islands costly or relatively inexpensive?

- Time frame is September or early October.

posted by scody to Travel & Transportation around Oahu, HI (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and to be clear: we're looking to go for about a week, flying out of Los Angeles.
posted by scody at 7:24 PM on May 2, 2011

Big Island will not let you down. We are a hotel family, but some of the stuff here VRBO might fit your lodging description. The botanical gardens on big island are really cool. And in true broken record on mefi fashion, if you like looking at the most amazing starscape in the world and its in the budget, this is not to be missed: sunset and stargazing tour.

Oh, and stay in one place is my advice.
posted by H. Roark at 7:34 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend Kona, Big Island (we stayed at King Kamehameha, which was nice, but I'm not sure it's what you're looking for). Kona itself is a pretty relaxed place.

Definitely go check out the volcano, they have hiking areas, and they have a road through out the whole park (though some parts will be closed based on the activity).
posted by pyro979 at 7:37 PM on May 2, 2011

I'm vaguely planning a trip to Big Island in the future and I've settled on the Outrigger Keauhou Resort near Kona. It seems to be small for a 'resort' and it has gardens, a pool, historical sites, on-site tide pools and, most importantly, free parking and internet.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:39 PM on May 2, 2011

I spent a week on Kauai for my honeymoon last year.

What I was looking for was natural beauty, and not a lot of people. Kauai had that in spades. The island's total population is only like 50,000, so it's pretty unpopulated. The north side of the island has some adorable little towns and hiking trails along the Napali coast.

The south side of the island has a bunch of hotels, but there are some beautiful mountains over there, not to mention an awesome waterfall I spent an afternoon jumping off of. Also, if you're into that kind of thing, you can check out the waterfall from fantasy island.

The east side of the island had some really awesome freshwater streams that you could kayak up to visit...more waterfalls.

And the west side of the island is all the Napali coast and huge mountains that are fun to hike around in.

I'm not big on guided tours, but I was really glad that we took a snorkeling tour boat along the Napali coast, because the view is pretty insane. Just riding along the coast was more breathtaking for me than the snorkeling.

We stayed on the north side of the island in an awesome, secluded little cottage that we rented. It was a steep path to the beach from the cottage, and the water had a reef pretty close to shore so it wasn't a great place to swim, but the beach was totally secluded and totally beautiful. We actually slept out there one night. Additionally, we were very close to Hanalei bay, which is a great place to swim (and there's a dock that you can jump off of into the water!) It was pretty affordable, and the caretakers were really nice. Feel free to memail me if you want more info.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 7:46 PM on May 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I live in Hawaiʻi on Maui and have been here for most of my life. I am not a big fan of the Big Island. I prefer Maui or Kauaʻi. A legal Maui vacation rental is Ocean Breezes. It is in a Hāʻiku, which is on the north shore, about 5 miles away from the closest beach. You will also be near Makawao and Pāʻia, two funky towns. Maui is not very cosmopolitan and most of the island is very undeveloped and rural. If you need to be near a hospital, Mauiʻs main hospital is very good. I know, I have been a guest there three times for major surgery.

Most of Maui is remote, very remote. The built-up areas are the two resort areas and the main city, Kahului. But believe me this is not mainland style "built up." The resort areas have beautiful beaches. All beaches in Hawaiʻi are open to the public.

Kauaʻi is my favorite place, but it is kind of unhappy. The Big Island is also pretty depressed. If you want to know more, memail me.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 7:54 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Big Island and Kauai are both great destinations. A lot of interesting stuff is happening with the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island right now, so if you're interested in that, you might want to do Big Island this time and save Kauai for another time.

Big Island advice:
If you are looking for a tropical feeling (read: rain), staying near Volcano for a few days is really cool. I have stayed at Crater Rim Cabin, and while it's not a luxury property (no pool, no tv, the bed could be slightly more comfortable), it's immaculately clean and pleasant. And really, really close to Volcanoes National Park. If I were you, I think I would split a week on the Big Island between Volcano and somewhere else. Maybe someplace upcountry, like Jacaranda Inn. (I have not personally stayed there, but I have reliable friends who recommend it.) It's in Waimea, which is, like, a totally incongruous cattle town high up in the hills on the Big Island. Waimea also has some good restaurants, and relatively good access to cool stuff like the mountain Mauna Kea, the Kohala Coast beaches, and the heiaus (sacred Hawaiian sites) on the north part of the island. (Pu'ukohola Heiau, for example, was built by Kamehameha the Great right before he united the Islands. And the heiau where Kamehameha was born is off-the-beaten path, but really eerie.) Back to beaches: There's no better beach in the world than the one at the Mauna Kea Resort (you don't have to be a guest to use the beach.) I would avoid Kona town in general given your constraints; it's a lot of Senor Frog's-type nonsense, although there are some interesting historical sites. (The Hulihe'e Palace, notably. And the first church built by American missionaries, which is across the street.)

Kauai advice:
I love staying on the north part of the island, and have had good success with VRBO around Kilauea town (not the volcano; a lot of things in Hawaii have the same names). It's not so far north that it's impossible to do anything elsewhere on the island, but it's got the lush, far-away feeling that I like about Kauai.

As for general advice: the blue books are indispensable references, even if you find the writing style hokey (I do) and the lack of copy editing maddening (copy editors are cheap! Why not employ one?!)

I have lots more advice; if you have specific questions, please memail.
posted by purpleclover at 7:55 PM on May 2, 2011

Oh, as for travel between islands, it costs between $65-100 one way. You need to fly and go through TSA screening. If it were my trip I would spend 3 days on Maui and 3 days on Kauaʻi. I find Kauaʻi breathtakingly beautiful, but the local folks (of which I am one) were rather unhappy.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 7:57 PM on May 2, 2011

I've done all three of these, and they're all great. Most of the things you want to do can be found on all three.

The Big Island is, well, big. It's the most varied in terms of geography (11 of the 13 biomes can be found here), and the only island with active volcanoes. The Kona side is drier, and where the resorts are; you can also find smaller towns there with cottages. The Hilo side is lush, rainy jungle. Very beautiful, but very different. In the middle are the mountains; the climate is more temperate and you get a more "genuine" island experience. We stayed in Hawi, on the far north side. Very quiet, but a little remote.

On Maui, we stayed upcountry, which was nice. If you don't like condos and resorts, avoid Lahaina and Kihue. Some of the smaller towns like Paia would fit your needs. Maui did feel a little bit crowded to me.

Kauai was probably my favorite of the three. We rented part of a house near the beach. Very mellow and slow-paced, with beautiful scenery everywhere. Waimea Canyon is awesome, and easy to drive through, with hiking trails of all levels.

Long story short, you've got a good problem to solve - all three places are gorgeous, and will satisfy your requirements.
posted by chbrooks at 8:00 PM on May 2, 2011

I love, love, love the Big Island. The first time my wife and I went, we were there for eight days - three on the Hilo side, one spent driving between the two (it's a 4ish hour drive but we took all day) and four on the Kona side.

The Hilo side was awesome because it is absolutely not touristy - there are a few tourist things to do but by and large Hilo town itself shuts down about 7pm. Within a 30-45 minute drive from Hilo are all sorts of cool beaches, parks, and sites that don't require hiking or rigorous activity, too. Hilo's also the closest home base to go see Volcano National Park.

On the Kona side, we stayed at Kealakekua Bay, in this place, and once we got there I never wanted to leave the balcony. It's a fantastic, amazing, really mellow B&B run by two really nice guys who keep a wonderful house. As others have said, Kona town itself is kinda dumb party central, but Kealakekua Bay is beautiful and quiet and nice and away from all that. I can't recommend it highly enough.

And definitely, if you go to the Big Island, go to the top of Mauna Kea on a tour. You will not regret it. You could do a whole lot worse than staying the whole week on the Kona side - it's a great getaway, but you can still get to stuff if you need/want to.
posted by pdb at 8:49 PM on May 2, 2011

I'm in Hawaii, Right Now. I posted this, and got good answers. Even the cheesy Wikiki strip is pretty cool, because there's a beach on the other side. It would be pretty hard to have a bad time here. Went to the Big Island for 1 day (circumstances preveted more) and loved Volcanoes Nat'l Park. The Aloha Spirit is alive and well. You'll probably fly into Honolulu. If you have any time here, it's way more wonderful than you might think.
posted by Mom at 9:20 PM on May 2, 2011

I've been to Maui three times and don't feel any compelling need to return.

"Upcountry" consists of the highway that leads out of Kahului and up the slope towards the summit of the volcano, and whatever's on both sides of that road, mostly scrub.

Kihei is an unzoned abomination and while Makena and points south is nice, it's not I gotta see it again nice. The best part of this area is closed for another year apparently as the link says.

The best beach I guess is Big Beach, but the sand quality of Maui is only so-so, none of this "white sand" stuff you think you're going to get.

Lahaina fits the "call someplace paradise is kissing it goodbye" thing a bit, it should since it's featured in that song, but further up & around the coast the views get Big Sur quality (awesome on a bicycle but I guess that's out for you).

The big island has mass going for it I guess, and Kauai has a million more years of erosion. . .
posted by mokuba at 9:21 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I stayed on the Big Island this year, on the Kona side in Puako. There's lots of little beaches in the area, plus it's an easy drive to lots more. The one at the Mauna Kea resort is beautiful though the waves were pretty big, if you want to just relax in some warm water try Spencer Beach.
We rented through a local management company called AlohaDebbie properties they have homes and condos to choose from and the prices were reasonable compared to what you would pay in a resort. It was quiet and beautiful but fast to get everywhere.
posted by meringue at 10:21 PM on May 2, 2011

The Ironman triathlon world championships will be held on October 8th this year in Kailua-Kona. Accommodation can get pricey around the time of the race. Some roads will be restricted/closed for at least the day.

That said, if you are a triathlon fan, bonus! If you aren't, and will be there anyways, watching thousands of people swim 4.2km, then cycle 180.2km, and then run 42.2km is a very impressive sight. Being at the finishing line watching someone finish after 15 hours and getting a massive massive cheer from thousands of spectators is (almost) enough to inspire you to try to qualify...
posted by trialex at 10:21 PM on May 2, 2011

Response by poster: Lots of amazing info here -- looks like we are strongly leaning toward the Big Island now, but are still feeling a little tempted by at least a few days in Kauai (esp. Waimea Canyon). Thanks for the heads-up re: Iron Man dates, too. There are a few folks I will probably be memailing for a little more info. (And, of course, further info/suggestions still welcome!)
posted by scody at 12:13 AM on May 3, 2011

I grew up in Hawai'i (on Oahu), and definitely recommend the Big Island. If you can, visit Bird Park, part of the Volcanoes National Park. Old growth Koa and O'hia forest; excellent birding and botanical specimens.
posted by wowbobwow at 12:17 AM on May 3, 2011

Kauai is amazing. See this thread:

Hawaii 5-0
posted by jasondigitized at 8:33 AM on May 3, 2011

I spent a week in Kauai last year, and it was fantastic. Our best moments came from hiking, so no good for you -- but even for a mostly driving trip, Waimea Canyon is totally worth it.

I stayed in a hotel, but I ran through the cottages at Kiahuna Plantation a few times, and they looked great -- do a search and see if they catch your fancy. We definitely preferred the Poipu area to the Princeton area up north. It seemed less pretentious. Also, a lot closer to Waimea.

In regards to a comment above: please be careful if you go to Kipu Falls.
posted by liet at 9:46 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all who answered! In the end, we've decided to do a week on the Big Island, splitting the time between the Kona side and the Hilo side (we did try to split the week between Big Island and Kauai, but weren't able to make it work logistically).
posted by scody at 12:30 PM on June 2, 2011

Hope you can make it to Kauai on a later trip...both islands are definitely worth visiting. Big Island has plenty of sights to keep you busy for a week--I think it's wise to stay there the entire time...interisland travel is *very* costly and plus you'll have more time to relax.

If you do go to Kauai one day, try these food places: Josselin's in the Kukui'ula shopping center has a refreshing lychee sangria and fabulous fusion tapas, Mark's Place (out of the way place with great plate lunches), Hamura's Saimin (local favorite). Also the best shave ice on the island is probably Hawaiian Tropics in Kapaa.

Definitely visit Waimea Canyon, do an easier hike in Koke'e State Park, see the sand dunes at Polihale (western-most beach in US?), take a boat from Port Allen to snorkel by the Na Pali (inaccessible by car), try stand-up paddleboarding on the Wailua River...

I'm less familiar with the Big Island but watching the lava flow at night is neat...would definitely check out Mauna Kea (see if you can visit the observatory there).

Wherever you go, consider applying for a library card which is good for all 51 branches of the Hawaii State Public Library System--$10 lasts for 3 months and gets you free internet access. :)
posted by lirael2008 at 1:32 AM on August 6, 2011

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