Hawaii With Limits
January 20, 2017 5:37 AM   Subscribe

On Monday, my partner and I leave for a 12-day trip to Hawaii (the Big Island and Maui) with his mother, who is in remission from leukemia and who can't do more than an (easy) mile hike here and there. I'm looking for suggestions on ways for us all to make the most of this trip, despite these limits.

We will be spending 8 days on the Big Island (staying near Volcano National Park and then near Kona) and then 4 days in Maui (including driving the road to Hana)--and of course renting a car in both places. Along with his mother's inability to do any long walks, she also can't do stairs (bad knees), and doesn't like swimming, sunbathing, or shopping. We've done extensive research about fun things to do, given these limits (and searching for travel info for those with mobility issues has helped a bit), but we could use more help! Here's what I'm looking for:

*Unmissable views that are easy to access (i.e., don't require a 4-mile hike)
*Cultural activities/tours that aren't ridiculously expensive or which are at least well-worth the cost (free is always better, of course!)
*Best farmers markets/groceries
*Towns that are interesting, and not too challenging, to explore
*Reasonably priced, unmissable food (she is a bit picky as an eater, but as long as there are some nonspicy, nonsushi options, we should be ok)

We are staying in multiple places on each island and will have a car, so nothing is probably that far out of the way for us.

(Note that this is a trip that she was supposed to go on 20 years ago, when she got very ill and couldn't go, so this is something she's always wanted to do, and something that we wanted to help her have. So we're ok with the limitations we're working within, though we know they're a little challenging. She's a lovely person who deserves this.) Thanks for any help you can provide!
posted by carrienation to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Are you planning to do a luau? The Old Lahaina Luau in Maui is awesome and the food is great -- it's expensive, but worth it IMO. I also recommend going on a whale watch tour - I like Pacific Whale Foundation, and enjoy the early morning one because you get to see the sunrise, but they have a variety of options.

As for views, if you have time to drive up to Haleakala, you'll get some amazing views on the road up (depending on cloud cover) and the view into the crater from the summit is awesome (no hiking required). They're instituting a new ticket system for sunrise viewing at the summit starting on 2/1 (I think midday and sunset are just as awesome, so if you're not into driving winding roads in the dark, I'd avoid sunrise). Maui Wine up in Ulupalakua also has great views and some tasty wines. The Waihe'e Coastal Dunes has a flat 1mi-ish loop hike through a nature preserve that is nice/relaxing/waterfront/rainforest-y (note that if you hear what sounds like a woman screaming, it's probably just one of the peacocks).

For your Road to Hana trip, I'd bring sandwiches or something, the food selection out in Hana is underwhelming. Note that the Pools of O'he'o (7 Sacred Pools) are closed indefinitely due to landslides from the ridiculous amount of rain that fell in December. I still think the drive out to Kipahulu (or the full loop around the back side of Hana) is worth it, but you won't have much to *do* once you get out there.

Towns for walking around: Paia, Lahaina, Makawao; Haiku doesn't really have a place to walk around, but it has good food options. There's a block party every Friday night on Maui (First Friday in Wailuku, 2nd in Lahaina, 3rd in Makawao, 4th in Kihei); the original one in Wailuku is the best b/c there's a beer garden, but each one has a bunch of food trucks and local vendors and entertainment.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:11 AM on January 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The view from the summit of Haleakala is completely unmissable, and it's also very accessible by car. There is a crater hike there, but it's not necessary for a great experience. Just get to the scenic lookout some time before sunrise (bundle up, it gets colder than you'd think!) and wait. (On preview, I didn't know about the ticket system. So, yeah, it's really just as good any other time of day. And the drive up is much nicer when it's not dark out.)

Kilauea is also pretty good, the visitor's center, which is car-accessible, has some of the best views. For a mild hike, I believe there's a portion of the park with walkable lava tubes. It's not a rough hike at all, by my recollection.

For food and stuff, I can't make good recommendations since it's been about 15 years since the last time I was on either Maui or the Big Island. I believe the Mauna Loa candy factory has tours, though, so that could be fun.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:18 AM on January 20, 2017

Best answer: Haleakalā is very much worth it, even if you don't go at sunrise. I also second the recommendation of Old Lahaina Luau. It's located in downtown Lahaina, which is fun to walk through and not challenging. For unmissable food in Lahaina, Aloha Mixed Plate and the Maui Brewing Company Brewpub are both delicious and reasonably priced. Star Noodle is also great, but a bit more expensive (and definitely requires a reservation).
posted by neushoorn at 6:29 AM on January 20, 2017

Best answer: I can't recommend the Hawaii Revealed guidebooks enough. They're excellent!

I will second the Old Lahaina Luau and driving to the summit of Halekala.

January is the start of whale watching season. Going whale watching is one of my most treasured memories from our visit to Maui. We went in a Zodiac style raft, which was amazing, but I think any tour would be memorable. Or if that's not her thing, some other coastline tour.

I actually enjoyed driving around the Big Island more than I enjoyed the Road to Hana. There are a lot of great waterfalls just off the road, as well as black sand beaches and green sand beaches which are really cool.
posted by Kriesa at 6:34 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cultural activities, definitely music. Take some ukulele lessons!

Sheldon Simeon who owns Star Noodle seems like a good person to follow on Twitter/Facebook for updates on happenings that are local and plugged in during the time you are on Maui.

The Big Island is so amazing, and the terrain so varied, you will find it really interesting just to drive around. The northern side is absolutely gorgeous.
posted by BibiRose at 6:36 AM on January 20, 2017

Best answer: The view from South Point was the most amazing thing I saw on the Big Island. It is the southern most point in the United States. You can drive right up to the cliff and look out (I can't recommend looking over--it's a long way down). The water is so, so blue there, and the idea that there is nothing between you and Antarctica, 7500 miles away, is mind blowing.

I can also recommend the Botanical Gardens in Hilo -- the garden is wheelchair accessible. If you don't have one, you might call and ask if they have one you can borrow (most museums and botanical gardens do). It's a really cool way to see lots and lots of tropical plants.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:39 AM on January 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you're okay with a short day trip, Akaka Falls is about an hour's drive from Volcanoes National Park. It's a paved trail of about half a mile, and I don't remember it being particularly steep, but I haven't been on it since I was a kid.

(And if you're cool with taking a quick jaunt to Hilo, Big Island Candies has SUUUUUCH good shortbread and candies.)

I grew up on O'ahu, so I don't have as many specific recommendations for the Big Island and Maui, but if you come across an L&L Drive Inn or a Zippy's, these are cheap, local institutions that do a solid plate lunch and have a wide range of tasty foods that aren't fish-based. Zippy's is famous for their chili, but some of the plate lunch favorites are kalbi short ribs, chicken katsu, and kalua pork and cabbage.

Have a wonderful trip!

P.S. McDonald's, of all places, does a solid enough saimin noodle cup, and they have a Spam and eggs and Portuguese sausage breakfast if you want to start your morning off on the cheap!

P.P.S. Use this opportunity to eat as much local fruit as you can because MY GOD it is SO GOOD. You may never be able to eat a mainland mango again, haha.

OMG P.P.P.S. 7-11s have Spam musubi and manapua for soooo cheap and they are delicious and very much a local snack staple.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:43 AM on January 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, local papayas are amazing. Papayas from anywhere else are basically inedible to me by comparison.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:58 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was on the Big Island about a year ago with my in-laws, who are in their 70s, so we kept an eye out for fun things to do that didn't require much walking or physical exertion. Here are a few ideas:

I'll second the recommendation to visit the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden just north of Hilo. It's accessible and really interesting. The Tsunami Museum in Hilo is also engaging.

If you like astronomy, the drive up to the Visitor Information Station at Mauna Kea is worth it. Volunteers set up telescopes outside the center so you can see several interesting things after sunset. It gets cold up there at night, though, so bring warm clothes. It's just over an hour's drive each way from Kona.

Near Kona, the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation tour is short, free, and interesting.

Whale watching is also fun. We went out with Captain Dan McSweeney. There's no guarantee of seeing whales, but if you don't, he gives you a voucher for a free second trip.

We mostly cooked in our rental, but the best meal that we had in Kona was at Phuket Monkey, which is in a nondescript strip mall. It's genuine Thai home cooking.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:15 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The NPS has published a brochure concerning day hikes in Volcano national park. Any of the hikes marked "easy" might be good candidates. The hike from Steam Vents to Sulphur Banks sounds particularly cool, though if your partner's mother has respiratory issues it might not work. Similarly, many of the activities described along the Crater Rim Drive might be doable; the Thurston Lava Tube in particular is pretty neat.

The Hilo Farmers' Market is open on Wednesdays & Saturdays, and features a wide variety of produce. It's pretty neat to see things like bananas, papayas, breadfruit, and lychees for sale.

Finally, if you can afford it and your partner's mother can handle being on a boat in rough surf, a boat tour to see lava entering the Pacific Ocean would be a real treat. Your visit is timed well, as lava just started entering the ocean again this past July. The pyrotechnics are extra-spectacular at dusk & at night, but the boat tours are correspondingly more expensive at that time.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:52 AM on January 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you like to read about the places you are going to visit, take Garrett Hongo's book on the plane, share and discuss among the three of you.
posted by BibiRose at 8:29 AM on January 20, 2017

Best answer: When we drove from Hilo to Kona, we enjoyed stopping at the southern-most tip of the big island (it's the southern-most tip of the US, of course). The view was spectacular and actually kind of trippy, and you can drive up within yards of it. It was a great way to break up that drive.

There are several places where you can stop and do coffee tastings on the drive, too.
posted by Pearl928 at 8:48 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Has anyone mentioned Da Poke Shack in Kailua-Kona? cheap food that was voted best of yelp a few years back.

On Maui, the town of Makawao is a great place to explore, much less touristy than Lahaina. We found out about it by talking to some locals and they were really happy when we brought back treats from the big bakery there to thank them. Apparently that bakery is a THING. We had a beautiful lunch in Makawao when we stumbled through a garden courtyard and it turned out that it was the seating area for a restaurant. And I found my mother some beautiful hand printed dishtowels in one of the shops.

Nthing a luau. Tickets are expensive but once you're there, you get tons of food, beverages, dessert, scenery and a show.
posted by Pearl928 at 8:58 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think a great stop for you guys on the road to Hana would be the Garden of Eden, a family-owned botanical garden that you can drive through, or get out and walk. There are some simple trails that should be do-able for your partner's mom. It's a lovely spot to get out of the car, stretch your legs and see some nice views.
posted by imalaowai at 9:40 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I only have recs for the Big Island, since it's been a long time since we've been to Maui.

* nthing the Hawaii Revealed book (there's one for Maui too)

* In Volcanoes National Park, definitely drive the Chain of Craters Road. You can stop at some little info areas, which is cool, and there are lots of good photo opportunities. Stopping by the lava tubes is also cool, but try to time it so you're not going in right as a giant tour bus is also going in.

* On the Hilo side, Rainbow Falls is gorgeous and super accessible - it's maybe 20 steps from the parking lot to the viewing area? Definitely worth a stop if you'll be on that side of the island. 'Akaka Falls, recommended above, is pretty, but the short trail involves a lot of uphills and downhills, including stairs if I'm remembering correctly. I'd probably skip that one given your limitations.

* Also on the Hilo side, What's Shakin' is a super cute little food/smoothie shack with delicious fruit smoothies and wraps, etc. Totally worth a stop in my opinion.

* On the north side, we love Big Island Brewhaus - delicious craft beer, solid burgers and tacos. It's also definitely worth driving through the Waimea area anyway for a really different microclimate. The rolling green hills and grazing cattle look like Texas - except with the Pacific stretching out beyond it.

* Also on the north side, Waipio Valley is gorgeous. Don't hike or drive into it, given your limitations, but just enjoy the view from the lookout. While you're in the area, the town of Hawi is cute and worth a stroll. I think from somewhere around there, you can see Maui on a clear day.

* On the Kona side, we strongly suggest having breakfast Monday through Saturday at Manta at the Mauna Kea Resort. It's probably overpriced (though not as expensive as Sunday brunch), but if you figure that you're paying for the amazing view as much as for the food, it's definitely worth the splurge. You can also grab a cabana on their lawn and read for awhile afterwards - not sure if it's officially allowed if you're not a guest at the hotel, but we've done it!

Have an awesome trip!
posted by bananacabana at 11:53 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came to recommend the botanical garden near Hilo and the little town of Hawi (both on the Big Island), and see others have beaten me to it.
posted by vunder at 12:10 PM on January 20, 2017

Best answer: (We just got back from the Big Island the other day, after our fifth trip in seven years; it's safe to say we love it there. I'd be happy to share more info via memail if you're interested)

About 10 minutes south of Captain Cook, which is in itself 20 min south of Kona town, is a breakfast place called The Coffee Shack. The view of Kealakekua Bay is jawdropping (the pic on the home page hints at it, but doesn't even come close to doing it justice), and the food is really good too - get the French toast made with their Aloha bread.

Da Poke Shack is indeed good, but it's a small place with no seating except a couple tables in the parking lot. if your MIL wants to sit down somewhere, I would recommend either Umeke's (two locations in Kona town) or Sun Dried Specialties in Kealakekua, a bit south of Kona town (between Kona and Captain Cook) - both IMO just as good as Da Poke Shack (Sun Dried might even be better) but with more comfortable seating options. And both have "nonspicy, nonsushi options" so your MIL should find something she will enjoy.

That botanical garden others have mentioned on the Hilo side is really, really nice, with the caveat that it is a super steep walk of about a quarter mile down a (paved) path from the entrance to the main gardens and, obviously/conversely, it's super steep to get back up. there are benches along the steep trail to stop and rest though, and also many benches in the gardens themselves, so it may be doable even for your MIL if she wants to go but isn't sure she's strong enough.

Caveat #2 with those gardens: bring and use your bug spray. It's mosquito heaven down there and you WILL get eaten alive without bug spray. About 25 minutes north of the botanical gardens, which is a beautiful drive, is the Papaaloa Country Store, home of one of the best plate lunches I've had on that island. Plate lunch is the best thing, and that place does an amazing one.
posted by pdb at 6:06 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is all very helpful--thanks so much! She probably wouldn't be ok with using a wheelchair, for what it's worth.

My only other question (which I should have asked before), if anyone is still looking, is I would love ideas for things to do in the evening. She doesn't drink or like loud music, so any ideas of low-key places to go at night would be welcome.
posted by carrienation at 4:45 AM on January 21, 2017

Best answer: For your question about night activities, what are your accommodations like? Resort or condo or cabin or what? I ask because just watching the sunset in a nice chair in Hawaii is a true pleasure. Sometimes people at B&B's or condo-type accommodations with a common area will all get together and do a potluck BBQ, drink cocktails, and watch the sunset.

A picnic on the beach (somewhere quiet, like Kihei) might be fun. When my husband and I go to Maui we always make sure to take a walk at night on the beach in Kihei. It's beautiful and quiet. In fact, that's where he proposed.

Lahaina is a great place to have a nice dinner out after a long day, even though some of the restaurants can get busy. And I can definitely recommend the restaurants in Volcano Village on the big island. We were surprised how much we liked Kilauea Lodge and how not-expensive it was.

Again, Mauna Kea Observatory is a night thing - there are paid tours you can take which include blankets and hot cocoa as you look at the stars. Luaus are a night thing, too.
posted by Pearl928 at 5:29 PM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We'll be mostly staying at AirBnb apartments--we do have one for a few nights that has an outdoor tub, which we may use in the evening to relax, but an evening on the beach sounds nice too. Thanks!
posted by carrienation at 7:11 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the Big Island, I recommend the Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Farm Tour and the Vanilla Company lunch. Only a few hundred metres of walking and a tasting for the former, and an optional short, steep walk for the latter- but some or all of the party could skip the walk for the latter.

At South Point, there is a small group of trucks that will drive people to the green sand beach nearby- though it is a steep walk down, it's a beautiful area.

The Keck Observatory in Waimea has I think exhibits and a telescope trained on Mauna Kea open until about 2pm weekdays- check the times, though. And Isaac's Art Centre is also nearby in Waimea- they have free exhibits (Madge Tennent when we were there, her work is beautiful) of paintings and crafts, plus friendly guides.

In Kona, Broke da Mouth Grindz and Kanaka Kava are very tasty. Kona Brewing has some seasonal beers on and the food is fine. Hawaiian Style Cafe near Waimea, Moon and Turtle in Hilo. Yelp is reliable on the island.

South of Kona, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau is a national park and a beautiful, interesting, short walk.
posted by slanket wizard at 8:08 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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