Help Me Hawaii Please
June 30, 2018 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Mr. Westridge and I have never been to Hawaii. We are planing a week and a half vacation there this winter (December most likely). What should we see and do? Where should we stay? Our snowflakes are inside. Thank you!

We are thinking about staying on Oahu, but if you know of places on a different island that would better suit our needs, we would love to hear them.

Mr. Westridge would like to learn to scuba dive (get certified) during our vacation if that is possible. I am concerned about that, because I'm not able to scuba since I can't clear my ears. I don't mind spending a day or two doing my own thing while he learns to dive, but if its going to take all week to get certified, I'd rather he learn before we go, and just do a dive or two while we are there. He is under the impression he can get certified in a day or two on the island. If anyone has recommendations pertaining to diving and diving schools that would be very appreciated!

Mr. Westridge would also like to visit a volcano. He does not seem to be inclined to express a preference for how this might be accomplished (ie hiking, driving, helicopter tour etc. etc.) so, that's wide open...

What I 'm interested in are things like;

Hiking trails
Swimming (in natural bodies of water, not swimming pools really)
Sea Turtles/Whales (anything involving them, I love them!)
Running trails
National parks
Botanical gardens
Tide Pooling/Snorkleing
Art Museums/Natural History Museums
Self guided walking tours of historic neighborhoods
Good Food (I LOVE SUSHI)
A really QUIET hotel.

What I'm not particularly interested in;

Sunbathing type beach stuff. In other words, I don't want to spend a whole day at the beach sitting or laying around. I would do an evening or morning at the beach for an hour of so if there's not a lot of wind. I'm not keen on wind.

Shopping. I don't like shopping much. I do enjoy the little shops at National Parks and some museums but shopping in general is not my thing.

Any type of group tour.

Crowds. I realize this is gonna throw me into the "asking for a unicorn" category, but I stubbornly cling to hope. This is a big one for me. I hate crowds! I will go to some serious trouble and expense to avoid them. Suggestions and tips for avoiding busy times at touristy places will be invaluable. I'd love recommendations for quiet resorts and hotels. I don't need casinos or nightclubs in the place where we stay. Having said that, I wouldn't mind if there were casinos and nightclubs there, as long at there are rooms that can get you away from it all. I'm not looking for bed and breakfast type stuff, I'm thinking more an Eco Resort type of thing. I don't think we need to stay right on the beach, but it would be a nice bonus.

I expect we'll get a rental car so we can get to places to do hiking and stuff, but if you have other suggestions for how to get around I'm keen to hear them.

Thank you so much in advance for your suggestions. We haven't been on a proper vacation in years, and I'm really excited to get the most I can out of this one!
posted by WalkerWestridge to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mr. Westridge would like to learn to scuba dive (get certified) during our vacation if that is possible

Have Mr Westridge look around for dive shops in your home area. He can sign up for a course now and get all of his classroom work and pool dives out of the way before your vacation, get a referral from his dive shop, and just complete his certification dives once he arrives. PADI is the biggest certifying organisation; you'll be able to find a shop that does PADI referral with ease almost anywhere in the world (and definitely many that will complete his cert in Hawaii).

It is possible for him to get fully certified on the trip, but it'll mean spending two or three days mostly sitting in a boring classroom memorising Boyle's law and/or sitting at the bottom of a boring pool practicing mask-clearing drills, which seems like a waste of vacation time.

Depending on where you stay, you may be able to find a dive shop that offers combined dive/snorkel tours; that way, you and Mr Westridge could still go out on the boat or to the site together, and you could snorkel while he dives. If you have any interest in trying diving yourself, most operators offer what are called 'resort dives' -- it's a half-day, fully-escorted training dive that lets you see if you like diving without committing to a full course.

Make sure you both get decent-quality masks, snorkels, and fins! You can get them before you go and bring them along, instead of fussing with ill-fitting rentals. (If either of you wear glasses or contacts, prescription masks are a thing and really improve the underwater experience for the nearsighted.)
posted by halation at 3:20 PM on June 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

Oahu is probably not for someone who wants to avoid crowds. Check out the North Coast of Kaui (my personal favorite). Amazing hiking (Google Na Pali) and pretty good snorkeling beaches too, and the area around Hanalei Bay is small but might check some of the boxes for bookstores and museums. I love botanical gardens and one of my favorite ones I've ever been to was actually a miniature golf course there, if you can believe it! We stayed at a modest but gorgeous and very quiet cottage at a place called North Country Farms and I'd highly recommend. (Would give you links but I'm on mobile--all easy to find stuff).
posted by lovableiago at 3:49 PM on June 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Puzzled why you're aiming for Oahu when most of what you're looking for is elsewhere?

Volcano = Big Island.

Few crowds = Big Island or Kauai.

Turtles are everywhere. Snorkeling is best in Maui, on the Big Island, and I've heard of some spots in Kauai.

I've never seen a certification course that goes less than three days, but you don't need to be certified to "resort dive" as explained above. (Certification means being qualified to go out on your own.)

I wear contacts with a very high prescription. I'm honestly baffled as to what the use case is for prescription masks -- if you can't see without a corrective lens then you're wearing glasses until you put your mask on, and god forbid the glasses would be lost? Contacts + well fitting standard mask works great for me.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:52 PM on June 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

if you can't see without a corrective lens then you're wearing glasses until you put your mask on, and god forbid the glasses would be lost?

I always just wore my prescription sunglasses on the boat, and kept them in my mask case, tucked it into my gear bag, while diving. Flooding a mask is a handy way to clear it or defog underwater, but any time I tried I'd end up losing at least one contact lens and it got to be a pain -- plus they make you do this drill a bunch of times while certifying. I also tend to sweat a lot, and sunscreen + stinging eyes + contacts is a bad scene for me. And I got tinted corrective lenses in my mask, which improves colour contrast, as well!
posted by halation at 3:57 PM on June 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you want quiet, and he wants a volcano, the Big Island is the way to go. If you don’t need a volcano, Kauai is incredible and very quiet.
posted by advicepig at 4:13 PM on June 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

Wow, North Country Farms looks amazing!

I would normally say the Big Island is perfect for you, but it's a little hard to tell with the recent devastation from Kilauea. If places are open, they will certainly be glad for the tourist dollars and for me, that would be a reason to go. The word right now from Kilauea Lodge-- which is lovely-- is, "Trade winds are currently at 17 mph and the air quality is good. We have been experiencing intermittent seismic activity but the Lodge has sustained no damage."

I have been on boating excursions from the Big Island where you could snorkel or scuba, and they were amazing.

O'ahu is one of my favorite places on earth but it is not where you want to go for the bulk of this vacation. And you really need to be picky about your hotel/resort. You might want to try somewhere in Hana on Maui. Almost any place you go in the whole state is going to have families and weddings and stuff. You don't have to worry about casinos though, there are none.
posted by BibiRose at 4:16 PM on June 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Check out Kathy YL Chan's Hawaii blog if you want to go nuts with some hotel possibilities.
posted by BibiRose at 4:20 PM on June 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that you would probably enjoy Kauai or the Big Island a lot given your list of priorities. I’ll let someone else handle the Big Island recs, but here are a lot of our faves on Kauai:

Note: We had our son in November and have been out of the loop - we’re just now reading about the flooding in Kauai, so apologies if any of these recs are not currently applicable. Hopefully by December most things will be open again!

* Anini Beach (amazing swimming, snorkeling, turtles)
* Na Pali/Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi'ai Falls (amazing hiking, you can run it if you’re really sure footed and adventuresome, we’ve seen whales from a few of the high spots)
* Hanalei Bay (swimming, SUP, and amazing for sitting on the grass in the shade near the ocean and reading if that’s appealing to you)
* Hanalei River (SUP)
* Kapaa Multi-Use Path (running path with amazing views but not shaded so it gets pretty hot)
* Sushigirl Kauai (amazing fresh sushi)
* Kenji Burger (don't think we tried the burgers but the sushi burritos are delicious)
* Bar Acuda (awesome tapas-style dining)
* Makana Terrace at the St. Regis (food is just decent, not amazing, but the view is spectacular, especially if you time your reservation for sunset)
* Coconut Cup (amazing smoothies, one of our first stops when we get to Kauai)

Diving and the big resorts tend to be on the South Shore (the dry side) and jungle-y hiking and fewer crowds tend to be on the North Shore, but it’s not a big island and you can easily do day trips to the other side.

We usually stay in VRBOs, but take a look at the St. Regis if it’s in your price range or the Hanalei Colony Resort. They both seem like quiet places, though we haven’t stayed either place.

Also highly recommend Kauai Revealed (or the same series for any of the other islands) for a really great guidebook.

No volcano on Kauai but I think it definitely checks a lot of your other boxes.

Have fun! Hawaii is amazing (if you haven’t gathered that from how many times I used that word above!)!
posted by bananacabana at 5:37 PM on June 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

Nthing Kauai, it was absolutely amazing. Quite rural (there is only one highway on the island) and lots of jungle, hiking, and quiet beaches. Surfing lessons at Hanalei were a lot of fun; we would definitely recommend! There are lots of places to eat amazing fish tacos (if you like fish). There's also a delicious shaved ice place in Hanalei that mixes shaved ice with ice cream. =)

We found Anini beach (North shore) to be the best spot to swim with sea turtles, although Poipu (South side) was also very good for snorkeling.

Na Pali coast was a beautiful hike, and there are a number of trails so you can choose one that suits you for distance. There's a large canyon that apparently is beautiful and has hiking but we didn't make it there (West shore).

The one thing I would recommend above all else (other than the sea turtles!) is a short little hike through mud down to the Queen's Bath- a volcanic rock basin that at times is above the tide and becomes a clear aqua bath tub. It's a dangerous spot at high tide and high surf (I.e. don't actually go in the Bath under those conditions) but watching the waves crash over the basin was gorgeous!

Ultimately if you are looking to avoid crowds I would highly, highly recommend Kauai! Very peaceful and the most beautiful place I've ever been. As others have said , no active volcano, but if you're adventurous you can take an ATV to the inner island and do some hiking through the jungle on the inactive volcano. There's a famous waterfall hike there. Again you need to be careful of conditions and safety, as it is a very wet spot (one of the wettest places on the planet) and is known for flash floods.

North and South are both amazing- we stayed on the North shore in Princeville and loved it!
posted by DTMFA at 8:01 PM on June 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing Oahu not being where you want to go to avoid crowds. The north shores of the islands experience heavy surf in the winter, so things like a swimming, SUP or snorkeling may be difficult or impossible on the north shores in December.

I'd also throw in Maui (Kihei/Wailea) as an option. Maui has a dormant volcano, and Kihei is south/west facing, so you should have water you can snorkel, swim and SUP in. We've seen turtles repeatedly off of Maluaka Beach. There's tons of hiking all over the island. Strongly consider VRBO or AirBNB and renting an apartment. We've always had good luck doing this, the places are less crowded, you get more space, laundry in your place and you can cook your own food. Kihei and Wailea in general are pretty peaceful.

If you want the least crowded experience, I would agree on Kauai. The whole island is spectacularly beautiful and there's an absolute TON of outdoor experiences to be had. I might not stay on the north shore in December if your goal is to be in the water. I'd probably stay in Kapaa or Poipu, which are also a little more centrally located for the attractions on the south part of the island.
posted by cnc at 9:28 AM on July 1, 2018

We love Maui-we almost always just rent a condo, rather than a resort, which is perfect if you want to avoid crowds. You can hang in your own space, cook meals if you want, without having to do restaurants three times a day. And of course, you have Haleakala on Maui and absolutely amazing snorkeling and diving.

I use a prescription snorkel mask and it works well for me. I can’t wear contacts, so they aren’t an option, and I guess I’ve never been more worried about losing my glasses snorkeling than I am worried about losing my car keys or phone. I just have someone watch my stuff.
posted by purenitrous at 4:45 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Avoid Oahu at all costs. Kauai as stated above is amazing.
posted by jasondigitized at 8:18 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you end up on Oahu, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu is pretty cool, along the lines of art/natural history museum. As a bonus, it was pretty much dead when we went.

Given the opportunity, I'd probably skip the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Dole Plantation if we went back.

We visited both the Big Island and Oahu last summer, and had a great time. I preferred the Big Island, because I, too, try to avoid crowds at all costs. If you find yourself in Kona, breakfast at Bongo Ben's is a can't miss if you want a great breakfast with an even better view.
posted by draw at 6:23 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nthing the crowds on Oahu--summer and winter are peak season for visiting Hawaii and the surf is too high on the North Shore (which is usually less bonkers with people than Waikiki/Honolulu) to swim.

That said, if you are spending a few days on Oahu, the Hawaii Nature Center is really great for hiking and history and they have programs for adult visitors (the website kind of makes it seem like it's only for kids--it's not!)

The Bishop Museum is definitely good for natural and cultural history. The Hawaiian Mission Houses is also an interesting place to check out if you like living history and learning more about 19th century Hawaii. Iolani Palace might be a little crowded, but it's also gorgeous and historical.

I hesitate to suggest this because it would definitely involve crowds, but it would also tick a lot of your boxes: hiking up Diamond Head crater. Because you'd be going in winter time, there is a non-zero chance of seeing humpback whales from the summit. The hike is a little unconventional, but it's kind of cool all the same.

Finally, you might want to plan a day in the Waimanalo area. The Makapu'u Lighthouse Hike is pretty fun, and they also have some very well known tide pools. Have fun!
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:47 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can get scuba certified in a lake. Even the open-water certification dives are 90% performing skills and waiting around for your classmates to finish their skills, and about 10% enjoying your surroundings. For me, it's a complete waste of vacation time when you can take two weekends any time you want at home and spend your Hawaii time enjoying Hawaii. It wouldn't be a bad idea to take a PADI "specialty" like Underwater Naturalist there, so you'd have an instructor with you instead of being buddied up with a random person who may be just as inexperienced. I loved that course, I came away with so much more awareness of what's going on in the ocean ecosystem. Kohala Divers is a full-service woman-owned dive shop if you want a recommendation. Do you get seasick? It would be a shame to book several days of snorkeling and diving if you're going to be nauseated the whole time. Definitely look into appropriate medications if needed. The manta dives on the Big Island are supposed to be great.

As for crowds, if you stay away from the big resorts and big beaches, Hawaii is downright rural. That's even true on Oahu. The Big Island has a population density that's between Colorado and Maine, and decent chunks have no cell service. The active eruptions are all on the southeast, the northeast area by Waimea and Kohala is nowhere near and you can probably get a better deal and less crowds. We were up there during spring break, and if you just stay away from the coast, you can go hiking in a gorgeous rain forest or cinder cone and maybe see one other person.
posted by wnissen at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

From your list:

Hiking trails - any of the islands, really

Swimming (in natural bodies of water, not swimming pools really) - any, though the older islands have had time to develop neat little coves vs. raw beaches exposed to open ocean currents

Sea Turtles/Whales (anything involving them, I love them!) - turtles everywhere, whales most often seen off Maui, but depends on the season

SUPing - anywhere

Running trails - anywhere

National parks - big island's Volcano National Park is where it's at

Botanical gardens - wet sides of any island should have something. There's a good one on the east side of Oahu. Just walking around Hilo area on the big island or Kauai in general will probably do, too.

Tide Pooling/Snorkleing - anywhere, but Oahu has the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Bookstores/libraries - outer islands are not cultural hotspots - you want Oahu for this

Art Museums/Natural History Museums - Oahu

Self guided walking tours of historic neighborhoods - Oahu

Good Food (I LOVE SUSHI) - Oahu. Outer island food is serviceable, but not great. Oahu has Japanese restaurants stood up by people from Japan for Japanese tourists

A really QUIET hotel - can be had anywhere

What I'm not particularly interested in;

Sunbathing type beach stuff - this exists on all islands, and is easily avoided

Shopping - on Oahu, almost exclusively - also easily avoided

Any type of group tour - on all islands, also easily avoided

Crowds - if you're on the tourist trail, you'll be in crowds regardless of which island you're on

If you're looking for the mainland ideal of a Hawaiian vacation, then the outer islands are usually the best bet, as their tourist trails are kind of Disney's Hawaiian Adventure parks at this point. If you're looking to actually engage with a local culture and learn something about a place's history and people, then you need to go where the locals are - and that's Oahu. There's plenty of undeveloped, uncrowded nature on Oahu to experience - you just need to know enough to get there.

Do your research on scuba certifications/snorkeling outfits. I've seen incredibly sketchy scuba classes just off harbor channels catering to mainly Chinese tourists, and there've been reports of people being injured or even dying when using the new full face snorkeling masks. You might not like crowds, but the benefit of putting a lot of people in scuba/snorkeling gear means the folks on Oahu really know what they're doing.

WRT bookstores/libraries/self-guided history tours: read "Land and Power in Hawaii" before you come. It's (still) the definitive book on how we got to where we are, and will provide a really enlightening lens as you make your way around the islands.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:27 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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