Hawaiian Indecisiveness
March 29, 2017 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I booked a honeymoon trip to the Big Island, but now I'm wondering if it would be better to go to Maui. Help!

I think I might just be overthinking things. I'm very invested in creating the ~perfect~ honeymoon experience, and I know we're going to have an amazing time no matter what! But for your consideration....

I've been saving up rewards points for my honeymoon for a long, long time. We were super pumped to find a dirt cheap rewards flight to Kona, Hawaii in June and booked it immediately — however, I've started to have regrets about staying on the Big Island as opposed to Maui. We have a bunch of Marriott points.

We have four nights booked in the Mauna Kea Beach Resort and three nights booked at an Airbnb on the Hilo side, by the beach near Pahao. But I keep reading that the Big Island is not quite the experience I imagined. I was hoping for rainforests and white sand beaches and beachfront cocktails (ideally delivered straight to my outstretched hands) and romance, I guess? And the Big Island seems dry and rocky and beautiful in it's own right (at least on the Kona side)... but I want to pretend I'm living in Lost, minus the smoke monster and ambiguous ending. And I keep seeing pictures of the Road to Hana and being very jealous! (and one person on the internet said "it doesn't look like hawaii - it looks like a horrible barren wasteland" and I am so susceptible to what One Person on the Internet says, hi everyone).

(Kauai would be even more ideal but there are no easy ways to fly there from Kona without adding another 2+ hours of flight time.)

I hear Volcanos National Park is not to be missed but I would rather have a few days wandering around a rainforest tbh.

Of course, the Mauna Kea beach is supposed to be completely amazing, but it's in a pretty secluded area, meaning we're limited to their (v. v. expensive) food and drink options... and the luau doesn't even have an open bar, which I find personally offensive. (Joke.) We could also stay at the Waikoloa, which provides a few more options but may still be under renovation.

Or we could take a cheap flight non-stop flight to Maui (basically adding a 45-minute leg to our flight) and stay in the Wailea Beach Resort for four days and then get an Airbnb on that island. We could even swing three nights in the Ritz-Carlton and then four nights in an Airbnb.

Another option would be flying to Maui to stay in the Ritz-Carlton for three days, taking a flight back to Hilo, and staying in our Airbnb for the remainder of the vacation. But a flight in the middle of the trip sounds like a pain.

Am I overthinking this? I know both islands are wonderful and I'm suffering from grass is greener syndrome - but would it make sense to consider changing my plans, considering my specific vacation goals?
posted by good day merlock to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a Hawai'i expert but I've stayed both on the Big Island and Maui. I think you'll be fine on the Big Island. Maui has more to offer in terms of normal life and towns and stuff, but the Big Island has plenty too. It's more geared specifically to indulgent tourism.

You're right the Kona side of the Big Island is super dry and rocky. That's why all the resorts are there; the dry weather makes for the perfect beach vacation. Most of the resorts have extensive landscaping and irrigation so that when you're at the resort itself it feels lush. I can't comment on the Mauna Kea resort itself. If you get bored of the beach one day you're very near Waimea, the area there is interesting and different again, particularly up on the Kohala coast to the north. I took a helicopter tour of the cliffs there and it was gorgeous.

But the Hilo side is super wet and rainforesty. It has a fantastic botanical garden and lots of other lush outdoors stuff. I think if you look a little you'll find plenty of walks and rainforesty things to do there. Volcano National Park is indeed pretty neat, but will also seem very dry and rocky.

Wailea in Maui is nice, the string of hotels along the beach there interconnect for lots of recreation options. But just like the Big Island the resorts are there because that's the dry and rocky side. The Road to Hana is indeed very lush but it's a long, long drive and not so exciting unless you go very early so you have plenty of time to hike out to swimming holes, etc.
posted by Nelson at 12:36 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Both are beautiful. The Big Island is a tad less crowded (Maui feels, in spots, like one giant kindergarten) and has a lot more to do and see.

There is a rainforest around the Kilauea Iki crater on the Big Island too. You really can't lose on the Big Island.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:38 PM on March 29, 2017

I really do believe Maui is what people have in their heads when they think "Hawaiian island paradise."

I've not been to the Big Island, but I have been to Maui with my wife and family, and Maui is all that and a bag of taro chips. We stayed on Ka'anapali Beach for fantastic, romantic sunset views and went into Lahaina often for food (especially Star Noodle, which is the best restaurant on the island) and supplies. Ka'anapali resorts have plenty of poolside and beachside cocktail services, and the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel in particular has a fabulous daily breakfast buffet and an in-resort luau.

I can't speak to the remote jungleness of the Road to Hana or the beauty of the sunrise from the summit of Haleakalā because I didn't do this. I feel a little bit like I missed out because I didn't do them. Be warned--both of those are remote experiences that come with a bit of risk and peril of injury to life, limb and wallet.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:39 PM on March 29, 2017

I honeymooned on the Big Island about a year ago and adored it. Get the guide book Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed. It will give you a good sense of the great variety of things to do and see.

The west side of the island, as you know, is dry, which works in your favor for beach-going and snorkeling. The center of the island is lava fields, which are spectacular in their own way. Volcanoes National Park is definitely worth a visit. The east side is wet and lush. The North Kohala coast is rugged and gorgeous. (Perhaps checkout Pololu Valley.) If you take a helicopter tour, I believe there is still lava flowing into the ocean at the south end of the island, which should be interesting to see. Hilo was fun, though small and very rainy. We had delicious fruit and foods at the Hilo Farmer's Market that I had never seen elsewhere.

Overall, we had an excellent time. I can't promise you'll have more fun on the Big Island, but I don't think you need to second guess yourself here.
posted by reren at 12:47 PM on March 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

You're not going to have buyer's remorse on the big island. Pack some tropical drinks and get yourself to the Waipio Beach, below the overlook, on your drive from the dry side of the island to the wet side. Also beat the crap out of your rental car driving it to the top of Mauna Kea. And see lava if you can. The big island is awesome.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:48 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm certainly not an expert, but we went to the Big Island, Kauai, and Maui for our honeymoon. Maybe it's just because that's where we went to last, but I thought Maui was the least interesting of the three islands (still great, but I just really loved the other two).

The Big Island always seemed to me to be at least 3 (maybe 4) distinct ecosystems. On the west coast, there are all the resorts. It is dry, but tropical. There's a reason all the resorts are there. The north coast (and parts of the east coast) really does feel like a rain forest. It's not as extensive as the rain forest parts of Kauai, but the climate feels really clearly distinct from the west coast. The southeast (where the volcano is erupting) is the Moon. The center-west of the island has ranches and feels like parts of the American West.

Overall, if it were me, I would pick the Big Island without a second thought. You can get all the cool resorty beach things you can get on Maui, plus the amazing Volcano landscape, plus the "real town" feel of Hilo. What you're describing as what you want (Lost - smoke monster + cocktails) would probably be marginally better on Maui if you wanted nothing else. However, the Big Island does that pretty well and also has a volcano and some really gorgeous other things (seconding the Pololu Valley).
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:55 PM on March 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Also, just to say (even though I was just advocating for the Big Island above), inter-island flights were (relatively) cheap and dead-easy when we were there, especially between Maui and the Big Island. The sunset flight in the small plane back from Maui to the Big Island at the end of our trip was also one of the most beautiful parts of our trip.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:58 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also think Maui is the least interesting island; it's pretty but I find that it lacks a local feel. It's true that the Big Island is kind of an odd man out in terms of beauty. The Kona side is strange-looking, beautiful maybe, but not the same as other places. But there's no place like it.

My parents have lived in Hawaii for many years. They finally did the Volcanoes boat tour thing and said it was absolutely a must-do.

If you were choosing between Kauai and Hawaii, I'd maybe say Kauai. But if choosing between Maui and Hawaii, I'd go for Hawaii. I think your itinerary with some resort and some air bnb is great. The Mauna Kea is nice - I haven't stayed there, but I have eaten there and it's in a good spot.

If you like podcasts, the second season of Offshore is about the Mauna Kea observatory and the conflict between native Hawaiians and the UH astronomers. So far, it's pretty interesting and you'll get some deeper cultural knowledge about the place too. (The first season is really good too.)
posted by vunder at 1:14 PM on March 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was hoping for rainforests and white sand beaches and beachfront cocktails (ideally delivered straight to my outstretched hands) and romance, I guess?

This is pretty much the definition of Maui, in my experience. But I stayed at the Mauna Kea Resort and it's just as Hawaii-y as you could hope, if that makes sense. It's awesome. But then if you get sick of the beach and cocktails you can go up a volcano, which is also awesome.

I was totally underwhelmed by the road to Hana, fwiw. A windy, wet road filled with super insane drivers, not really my cup of tea. And nothing too interesting at the end, either, although that might just be that I didn't know where to go.

There's plenty of rainforest, for sure. Plenty of everything you can get on Maui, plus a lot of stuff you can't. You made the right choice.
posted by Huck500 at 1:22 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh and the Mauna Kea is only in a 'secluded area' because it's away from other resorts, which you might not be that into being close to. Some of that area, and this was my experience in Maui too, was a little too Margaritaville. But you can go up to Hawi (it's tiny, but there was good sushi there when I went) and over toward Waimea.

Generally speaking, there's no night life anywhere in Hawaii, so you're not going to be missing out on much.

Don't worry, it's going to be great.
posted by vunder at 1:24 PM on March 29, 2017

Go to the Big Island. Rent a car. It is the opposite of desolate and rocky! I mean you can find rocky bits, but there is lush vegetation everywhere even on the Kona side. You can get to: rainforests, volcanoes, white sand beaches, black sand beaches, green sand beaches, incredible stargazing, kayaking and snorkeling, coffee farms, horseback riding, etc. There can be all the resort cocktails -- though I'd highly recommend going to Kanaka Kava as soon as you get there; you might seriously choose kava over cocktails. (I mean it.)

(Spent our honeymoon on the Big Island and adored every minute of it.)
posted by snowmentality at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2017

The Ritz-Carlton is at Kapalua which puts it right on the border between the more arid scrubland of much of the developed part of West Island and the greener more rainforest-ey environments of the other side. Most of the development on Maui is on the dry side, so you're not going to get drinks delivered into your hands on the beach and rainforests in the same spot. Nor would you necessarily want to -- the most obvious element of a rainforest is that, well, it rains a lot.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:52 PM on March 29, 2017

My parents have done anniversary trips and far preferred the Big Island over Maui.
posted by jeather at 2:06 PM on March 29, 2017

Response by poster: You guys are making me feel so much better. As always, I'm overthinking things!
posted by good day merlock at 2:08 PM on March 29, 2017

Seeing lava pour into the sea is a once in a lifetime event! Also, I swam with sea turtles on several occasions, which is just lovely. The Big Island is awesome.
posted by gryphonlover at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to all your variables but yes, having stayed on each island several times, I can reassure you the Big Island will be wonderful. I haven't been to a place in Hawaii that I didn't like, but if forced to choose I would go back to the Big Island before Maui.

Try to read Garrett Hongo's book before you go.
posted by BibiRose at 2:19 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also did my honeymoon on the Big Island and loved every moment of it! We stayed at a similar resort (Mauna Lani) on the Kohala side and did a B&B in Hilo. Honestly I loved both bits but for different reasons. It was great ending the trip with the resort, because I got my fill of snorkeling followed by lazing on lounge chair followed by beachside cocktail etc. But before that we did Hilo and that was wonderful too - the lush tropical beauty of the place, the farmer's market, the botanical gardens, the amazing fruit for breakfast every day, getting to ride a boat to see actual lava flows into the ocean! I wouldn't change a single detail. Seconding the Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed book. You're going to have an amazing time! Don't second guess yourself.
posted by peacheater at 3:12 PM on March 29, 2017

The Big Island is amazing. You'll love it.
posted by grouse at 3:21 PM on March 29, 2017

The big island is lovely, as is Maui.
posted by w0mbat at 3:39 PM on March 29, 2017

We have been to the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai. We got married and honeymooned on Maui and it was wonderful... but the Big Island is my favorite. Don't change your plans!
posted by Kriesa at 6:13 PM on March 29, 2017

Went to Big Island, as a compromise between beach-loving Mr. Nat and "this is not extreme enough" me. He was happy and so was I. Waipio Valley was great, enjoyed the botonical gardens, and snorkeling off the Kona side. We didn't get to windsurf though, evidently that's not so much of a thing there.

Also when we were there, there was no lava flowing into the sea-- but now there is! I had seen it before as a little kid and it really is something.
posted by nat at 7:02 PM on March 29, 2017

My husband and I went to Maui and the Big Island. We spent about 4 days on each island. Maui was great, but I regret each and every day that we spent on Maui, because it could have have been spent on the Big Island. I wish that we had spent all our time there instead.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:42 PM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

We got back from our 6th trip to the islands last month; currently planning trips #7 and #8. Think of this as a sampler first trip; you will likely be back to Hawaii at some point in your life -- and you can start saving up points again ASAP.

FYI... I see you're in NYC. Which airline are you flying? Because the Hawaiian Airlines Card has a 50,000 introductory mile offer if you pretend to book a flight online and get all the way to the end of checkout but don't put in your credit card info -- suddenly there will be an ad on the right hand side teasing the 50k miles offer (vs the usual 35k miles offer).

And they fly JFK-HNL non stop year round.

Hawaiian Airlines also have added KOA to LIH nonstop service but only 1 flight each way daily as this is a brand new route.

I wouldn't change to Maui and go stay at the newly renovated Marriott in Wailea. Why? Because they have literally just added an insane new waterslide (5 1/2 stories high!!) and in June, the resort is going to be crawling with kids/families/ec. due to the brand new waterslides. Not very honeymoon-ish.

I was hoping for rainforests and white sand beaches and beachfront cocktails (ideally delivered straight to my outstretched hands) and romance, I guess?

Note that the sand on Hawaii tends to be golden and coarse (but it means it brushes off more easily), and beaches are public so... technically the hotels cannot serve you alcohol on the sand (but by the pool is fine).

What you have in your mind's eye is actually more like the Caribbean or Mexico... but Hawaii is still awesome.

I want to pretend I'm living in Lost, minus the smoke monster and ambiguous ending.

Most of Lost was filmed on Oahu, so add that to a future trip to do list.

I keep seeing pictures of the Road to Hana and being very jealous!

Instead I would look for pictures of Rainbow Falls, the Onomea Scenic Route, Akaka Falls, Lapahoehoe Beach Point, Waipio Valley Lookout, and Pulolu Valley. Those don't look like some "horrible barren wasteland" to me. Do you have an Apple TV? That gorgeous lush Hawaiian valley screensaver? That's the Big Island. Also a thing that you may not realize, as mentioned above, is that Volcanoes National Park has parts that go from lush to lava very quickly. Look online for photos of various hikes or the Thurston Lava Tube.

You will have a great time on the Big Island!

Just try to get on island time, don't let FOMO get to you, and go with the flow. For many people the BI is their favorite. Try to let go of any preconceived notions you have from the movies or TV.

That said....

Please please please don't support the Hawaii Revealed series. At the very least do not flash it around or leave it lying in your rental car. Many residents hate it. There is some bad advice in there, as well as incorrect place names, and inaccurate historical details in their guides. Some friends ran into serious kayak trouble after following their instructions on the Big Island and had to be rescued by strangers. Me, I prefer the Fodor's guides instead.

(Note: we love Maui, it's just different. Each island is unique and each side of each island is unique. The best restaurants on Maui right now are probably Merriman's, the redone Mill House, Humble Market Kitchin, and the new Restaurant at the Hotel Wailea. Star Noodle might make my top 10 but not top 5. We love seeing Haleakala Crater and the Road to Hana. They are not really as "dangerous" as described above unless you're a poor or nervous driver or purposefully go during bad weather.)

NOTE: the lava entry into the ocean on the Big Island is not visible as of last Friday. The situation changes all the time; by June it may be visible again, or not. Impossible to predict.

And the Coast Guard has just set a safety zone around Kamokuna so the Big Island lava boat tours may be gone soon as well. It's a long time coming because there have two shelf collapses recently and luckily no boats were nearby, or else they would have gotten caught up in that. So don't necessarily count on being able to see live flowing lava via hike or boat.

(I also would not drive all the way up to the summit of Mauna Kea in your rental car, as it voids your rental car contract to go beyond the VIS. And especially because it's very dangerous as you don't know exactly what condition the brakes may be in. There was a terrible fatal accident a few weeks ago on Mauna Kea past the VIS involving a runaway SUV with tourists driving, and brakes failing. It's an extremely steep road with hairpin curves above the VIS. Go to the VIS but don't drive past that.)

Have a great trip, and do let us know what you decide and how it was. :)
posted by kathryn at 8:19 PM on March 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

I love the beaches on Maui but you can't beat the Big Island for variety! And VOLCANOES ... LAVA ... so cool!
Maybe it was just bad luck, but we never were really impressed with the food on Maui -- Star Noodle was meh, the mixed plate places were gross, Eskimo Candy pretty great, and the fancy places were really OR to us. On the other hand, we had incredible luck on the Big Island and ate so well. We got stuck behind the Santa Claus parade in Waimea and found ourselves the Redwater Cafe, having a positively orgasmic sashimi experience, and there were delicious eats to be had from the Hilo farmers' market.
posted by bluebelle at 8:45 PM on March 29, 2017

I had only 1 day on the Big Island, and wished for more, especially at Volcanoes Nat. Park.
posted by theora55 at 9:15 AM on March 30, 2017

I spent eleven days on the Big Island over the 2015-16 holiday season and could happily have stayed on longer. If you want a good, cheap meal around Kona, Phuket Monkey is authentic southern Thai cuisine. Seconding the recommendations for Pololu Valley, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden north of Hilo, and the VIS on Mauna Kea. For most people it's not worth going above the VIS, not only because of the serious challenges that kathryn mentioned, but also because your vision is actually less acute at the summit due to the lower oxygen level. Amateur astronomers set up scopes at the VIS every night, so you can see the Andromeda galaxy and other neat phenomena. Plus there are some nice short hikes there.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:07 AM on March 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Visiting Mauna Kea and seeing the stars, planets and the transit of the Space Station, as shown by the amateur, but knowledgeable, astronomers was one of the highlights of my trip to the Big Island. Don't forget to take your coat, hat, and even gloves. It gets very cold at that altitude and while there is a gift shop all the programs occur outside. I'd suggest getting there shortly before sunset, as the parking area is small and latecomers end up parking along the sides of the road to the Visitor's Center - it might be quite a trek up the mountain.

The botanical garden was also incredible. If I remember correctly there is a visitor's center where we parked, and then were transported in small buses to the gardens. The drive there along the dramatic coast was an attraction in itself and because we hadn't expected it was doubly special. We plan to return to the Big Island and revisit both it and Mauna Kea.
posted by citygirl at 1:41 PM on March 30, 2017

When I was struggling with the same question a couple of years ago, I googled 'Which Hawaiian Island Am I?" and it turned up a whole bunch of Buzzfeed-style quiz thingys. I did a few of them, and the results seemed fairly consistent and relevant to my interests.

So maybe give that a try if you haven't already.

(PS - we ended up picking Maui, and it was awesome!)
posted by spilon at 2:38 PM on March 30, 2017

Forgot to mention but if you're into snorkeling or scuba diving at all, you can do a night time manta ray snorkel or dive only on the Big Island. No other Hawaiian island offers this.
posted by kathryn at 6:23 PM on April 3, 2017

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