Hawaii for a mixed group at the worst possible time?
August 9, 2016 11:14 PM   Subscribe

I'll be traveling with a friend to meet my sister and her husband in Hawaii over Christmas. It's the worst possible set of dates, I know. But it is the only set of dates which works. I'm looking for help in choosing between islands and hotel/hiking recommendations. I'm also looking for recommendations in Honolulu.

My sister has said she prefers either Kaua'i or Big Island. Unless I have a strong reason why not, I need to work with one of these two.

So, we all agree we love hiking. So that's good! However, my sister has some knee issues and my friend isn't happy about poor footing, so I will need to find a place where there is something to do besides hiking. A wide variety of different kinds of hiking trails is a giant plus. Beach is okay as long as it is not too crowded.

We'd prefer a place where there are food options around which are not the hotel or (possibly) a resort with a good variety of options. We all have very different eating styles and times. We will eat together most of the time, but it would be good to have options in case the morning people want to do one thing and the evening people want to do another.

We will be staying from the 23rd until the 31st. I know it will be expensive, but I'm more concerned right now about finding places with availability on these dates. We unfortunately have no flexibility at all on the dates for job-related reasons.

Help? Which of the two islands would you recommend? What are hiking trails which can make good day trips? We're all pretty fit, but as noted above, some issues which would make really treacherous hills difficult. Can you give me some ideas about hotels? Also, I will likely go early to meet some friends in Honolulu on my own. I'll be staying with them so any advice for things really worth seeing in Honolulu would be great too.
posted by frumiousb to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Would you guys consider a condo rental? There are VRBO condo rentals and resort condo rentals on the Big Island. Having a kitchen would give you a lot of flexibility to accommodate your varied tastes. I think a private condo would be cheaper although probably not as centrally located as a hotel or hotel condo.

On the Big Island, you can break up your hiking with stargazing and Kilauea. I've never been to Kaua'i, so I can't give you much advice there.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:48 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live on Oahu nowadays and married into a local family with branches on both Oahu and Kauai.

Keep in mind that what would be generally considered an "easy" hike in Hawaii is probably most people's idea of medium due to the heat and terrain. We've taken house guests from Germany on a hike described as easy in guidebooks to a waterfall/swimming hole, and they described it as hard. If you want spectacular views and cliff side or knife edge trails, Kauai is the winner. If you want less steep/surer footing/cooler then do the trails in and around Volcano National Park at altitude on the big island. FWIW, the big island is my favorite outer island because of Volcano National Park, and Kauai bores me to tears.

That said - neither Kauai nor the Big Island are great options in terms of food, even at the nicer resorts on either island. Both islands roll up the sidewalks fairly early, so the night owls in your group will not be happy.

If you want good hikes and also want food variety and availability, Oahu is the clear winner. That said - there are many Oahus. There's the north shore or Kailua Oahu. There's tourist Oahu that never gets out of Waikiki - which itself is divided into mainland tourist joints vs. Japanese tourist joints. You could spend an entire week exploring just one of the local beer, poke, locavore, or shopping scenes. Or history - focusing just on military history, or Hawaiian royalty, or land partitioning/missionary families would keep you plenty busy.

Short version: If you want to mostly relax, then any outer island is fine - just pick one. If you want culture or food, Oahu is the answer.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:40 AM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We love Kauai, and we've recently explored the Big Island and had a blast. I think for a week, you'd have no problem exploring either of the islands and having plenty to do/not being bored at all.

Here are some Kauai-specific recs since we've been there more often:

* We like staying on the North Shore because it's less touristy and more laid-back and beautiful. Hanalei is an awesome little town where you can walk to restaurants and grocery stores, but it's pricey. Princeville (where the St. Regis is) or Haena (north of Hanalei, more secluded) are also great choices. Poipu on the South Shore and Kapaa on the East Shore are popular destinations with lots of condos/resorts.

* We almost exclusively rent houses/cottages/condos on VRBO. Part of that is price, part of that is that we like to be secluded, and part of it is that we like having our own kitchen so we can eat whenever we want.

* If you rent a condo/something with a kitchen, the value for your money for groceries can be found at Costco in Lihue. We stock up when we land before we head to the rental. Food in Hawaii is expensive, but we often bring some dry goods with us (granola, noodles, sauces) and buy perishables when we get there. We've had better luck sticking to the local stuff, like pineapples and mangos, instead of trying to buy the stuff they have to import, like strawberries and bell peppers.

* The hike to Hanakapi'ai Falls is amazing (full disclosure: we got engaged there, so we're biased). It is definitely a day trip - two miles up and down switchbacks to a beach, two miles through even rougher terrain to the waterfall, two miles back to the beach, two miles back to the trailhead. Since you mention some hiking limitations, you might consider just doing the first two miles to the beach, eating a packed lunch there, and hiking back. There will be one or two spots where runoff makes the ground slippery, but it's a walk in the park, footing-wise, compared to the two miles to the waterfall, where you're sometimes scrambling over wet rocks through rivers. The trail, especially the first part, is full of *awesome* views, so go when it's clear rather then super cloudy. Don't swim at the beach (the surf is dangerously large all the time), do admire the adorable wild kitties that live there.

* The Powerline Trail is flatter and also awesome. It's super secluded and essentially a dirt road with some big ruts for awhile. Go out as far as you want and then turn around. It abuts a wildlife refuge, so gorgeous views off to your right as you're heading out on the trail.

* The Multi-Use Path in Kapaa is gorgeous, flat, and paved - perfect for a day when you want more of a stroll than a hike.

Other stuff to do:
* Drive to Poipu (if you're not staying there), check out the Tree Tunnel and Spouting Horn
* Drive to Waimea Canyon (possibly the same day you drive to Poipu) - there's lots of hiking here as well, though we haven't hiked here yet
* Snorkle/swim/SUP at Anini Beach or Tunnels or Hanalei Bay

* Get smoothies at The Coconut Cup in Kapaa
* Eat a fancy dinner at the Makana Terrace at the St. Regis, and time it so you're there during sunset (make a reservation ahead of time)
* Eat poke/sushi burritos at Sushi Girl
* Eat delicious tapas at Bar Acuda (make a reservation)

If you want more details, MeMail me! We've also found these guidebooks (for Kauai and for the Big Island) to be super helpful and spot-on with their recommendations. These sites (Kauai, the Big Island) might be good for finding more hikes.

The Big Island is even more packed with things to do - drives, hikes including at Volcanoes National Park, beaches, farmlands, horseback riding, surfing, ziplining, etc. I don't think it's possible to go there for a week (or even several weeks!) and get bored - it's huge and varied and fun. But Kauai is still our favorite :)

Have an awesome trip!
posted by bananacabana at 10:40 AM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

To help you make this choice grab the books Kauai Revealed and Hawaii the Big Island Revealed. Hands down the best guidebooks for the islands. They are fast easy reads and lay out basically all the best options, hikes, food, things to see, etc. I've been to Hawaii twice now and both times used those books to great advantage and had amazing times. They make one for every island. Good luck!
posted by FireFountain at 10:53 AM on August 10, 2016

Best answer: I've been to Maui, Kauai and Oahu and though the North Shore of Oahu is a lot like Kauai, I don't see any compelling reason to talk you out of either the Big Island or Kauai.

There's plenty of hiking of all types on Kauai, which is spectacularly beautiful. There are beaches all around the island, so being on a crowded beach is not a big problem. I think your best bet for food on Kauai is in Kapaa. Poipu has a decent number of restaurants as well, and I'm guessing the beaches there will be better for swimming in December. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the North Shore of Kauai in December, because the surf may be too high to swim. Definitely drive up though, if you don't end up staying.

I'd strongly recommend renting a house or condo and splitting the cost. It'll almost certainly be far less expensive and more comfortable, and as was mentioned above, having a kitchen is a big plus.

The "Revealed" guidebooks are great, but be aware that they're viewed negatively by locals. I'd either buy the smartphone version or be inconspicuous about them when you're out in public.

On Kauai, I really like Verde in Kapaa.
posted by cnc at 1:49 PM on August 10, 2016

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