Category Archives: Hawaii Travel Blog

A European Visitor’s Guide to Hawaii

Looking down to the Na'pali Coast from the top of Waimea Canyon
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 02-10-2019 12:35 | Resolution: 5583 x 3489 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Waimea Canyon | State/Province: Haena, Kauai, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Sunbathing, service, costs and chickens!

Hawaii is a great place to visit, but based on our recent experience some things may come as a surprise to European visitors, used to comparable destinations in Europe, the Caribbean or mainland USA. For those planning a trip, here’s what you really need to know.

The TL;DR version:

  • Sunbathing is not a thing
  • Housekeeping is not a thing
  • Service is not a thing, especially in the evening
  • Opening hours are only just a thing
  • Coffee shops are almost not a thing
  • Public restrooms are not a thing
  • Chickens are everywhere but the roosters can’t tell the time
  • Bedding is wildly inappropriate
  • It’s frighteningly, eye-wateringly expensive, and accommodation is a complete rip-off
  • However, the scenery is great, and Americans do organised tours very, very well

Sunbathing is Not a Thing

Here’s a pattern which should be familiar to travellers to Southern Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean (and indeed most sunny parts of the world which welcome tourists). On a quiet day, or maybe after a busy day’s exploring, you go down to the beach or pool. You lie on a sunbed and slather on the sunscreen. Some helpful lad or lass brings you a nice cocktail. If you’re not at your hotel maybe the deal is that you pay a local a few dollars for the use of the sunbed, and as an added incentive he sells a few more drinks at his bar. Win-win.

Not on Hawaii, or at least not anywhere we managed to go. The concept of “lying in the sun” appears to be an almost alien one, and the idea of practical support for this activity almost taboo. Some beaches have a car park and a changing/toilet block, but that’s about it. Nowhere did we see sunbed rentals or a beach bar or similar. You are welcome to lie on the beach on a towel and bring your own supplies in a cooler, but that requires rather more specific provision than most people doing a fly-drive will have with them. Now it’s possible that this is to try and keep the beaches “unspoilt”, which would be fair enough, but then you’d expect to see an alternative at the hotels. Only one hotel in our entire three weeks had sunbeds by a pool, and that area was plastered with signs forbidding almost all enjoyable activities, including the possession of alcoholic drinks anywhere nearby. Of the rest, a couple had chairs which could be moved into a relaxing corner in the sun, most didn’t even get that far.

Mainland USA doesn’t have this problem. The two California hotels at each end of our most recent trip, including Handlery’s within 100m of Union Square in San Francisco, both provided for a quiet hour in the sun. We’ve even managed to lie by the pool in Idaho, Montana and Vermont – under glass, admittedly, but that’s a good solution in colder climes. It’s just something which decent mid-range hotels do. Why the Hawaiians don’t provide for you to quietly lie in their sunshine is a mystery.

From the beach outside the Hana Kai Lodge (Show Details)

Housekeeping is Not a Thing

Most hotels in civilised countries service your room on a daily basis, making up the bed, changing at least the linen you’ve left in the bath-tub, replenishing supplies. This is not a regular provision in Hawaii. There were a couple of honourable exceptions, mainly in the most expensive properties, but as a rule the patterns were either “every three days” (= “once in your stay if you’re lucky”) or even in one case “at the end of your stay” (= “None, but we can’t write that down on and we probably can’t get away without changing the sheets and towels for the next guests”). A couple of times we put in requests for some specific assistance with bedding and were completely ignored.

Service is Not a Thing, Especially in the Evening. Opening Hours Are Only Just a Thing

The lack of hotel housekeeping is one symptom of a more general challenge. A lot of Hawaiians seem to be unable to reconcile the fact that tourism is their major industry with the fact that this means operating shops, bars and so on for a reasonable number of hours in which tourists may wish to purchase what’s on offer, and then cheerfully providing service to the punters. It’s not so bad in restaurants where the serving staff rely on tips, but elsewhere it can be a real challenge to get any help. We stayed at one expensive lodge where there were no dedicated hotel staff – you had to ask in the shop and restaurant and see if anyone could help you. At the “No housekeeping ever” “boutique hotel” the woman who gave us our keys and showed us to the room literally ran in case we had questions or needed help. Another hotel staffed the office so rarely that we thought the manager was just another guest looking for help. Their check-out arrangements were positively Kafka-esque, with a large notice in the room demanding check-out before 11am, but an office which did not open until after that time. Good luck if something needed sorting out on the bill.

Opening hours on Maui and Kauai are so arcane and limited they make a joke of it. We found shops which didn’t open until 11am but were shut again by the end of the afternoon. On our drive down Haleakala we found a wonderful coffee shop but arrived only 10 minutes before it closed – at 2pm. On our day in Hana we failed: that coffee shop had turned off its coffee machine at 3pm, and only sold banana bread by the whole loaf, not the slice. Paia may be a busy tourist centre, but try getting a coffee or a beer after 8pm…

From the summit of Haleakala. Mauna Kea in the background. (Show Details)

Coffee Shops Are Almost Not a Thing

Even if you’re there in core hours (11am – 2pm, any day except Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday ), it can be tricky to find a good latte in some centres. Even some quite substantial shopping streets appear not to have a coffee shop, or if they do, it’s well hidden and probably shut! Maybe it’s the lower popularity of hot drinks in the warm climate, but where you do find a place with a coffee machine and an open door they are usually doing a steady trade.

At the same time, sparkling water seems to be a bit of a novelty, and we found several locations where this wasn’t an option. That’s even more of a mystery. You shouldn’t go thirsty on Hawaii, but some compromise may be required!

Public Restrooms Are Not a Thing

Hawaii can be a challenging place to get caught short. It’s not so bad if you’re somewhere run by the Parks Service, or a shopping mall or larger restaurant, but most shops and smaller cafés have a sign in the door “No Public Restroom”. This doesn’t just mean “customers only”, it can mean “no customer restroom at all”, even in medium-sized restaurants, which elsewhere in the world would by law have to provide a customer WC. Keep your fingers, and your legs, crossed!

Luau Kalamaku (Show Details)

Chickens, Chickens Everywhere

Wherever I travel there are species which have adapted to living off the scraps of human activity: pigeons, the little brown birds on Barbados, the feral dogs of Bhutan. In Hawaii it’s feral chickens. If you’re eating outside you’re unlikely to miss one or two padding around, and it’s rare that you can’t hear a cockerel. The islanders welcome them as they also feed on insects which would otherwise be a problem, and the chickens are effectively protected.

This would be OK if their timekeeping followed acceptable norms, with roosters announcing the dawn but keeping schtum the rest of the time. Unfortunately they don’t, frequently crowing all the way through night and day. Added to inappropriate bedding and noisy air-conditioning this contributes to the likelihood of disturbed sleep.

After watching a few we can confirm that Hawaiian chickens have adapted to modern life and have got bloody good at crossing roads. It’s just a shame they can’t tell the time.

The "Jurassic Park" trees, and a feral chicken, in Allerton Gardens (Show Details)

Wildly Inappropriate Bedding

Hawaii is a bunch of tropical islands. Unless you’re right at the top of Mauna Kea or Heleakala, the temperature usually reaches 30°C in the day, and rarely dips below 20°C at night. It’s therefore puzzling to find that the standard bedding provision is a nice warm 15 Tog duvet! The problem with this is that it may be just cold enough you need something, but a duvet is massive overkill. A couple of times we tried getting said duvet downgraded to “just a sheet, please”, but without success. Eventually we just got into the habit of extracting the duvet from its cover and using the latter on its own. At least with only intermittent housekeeping we weren’t having to do this every day…

It’s Frighteningly, Eye-Wateringly Expensive

Hawaii is scarily expensive. I accept that it costs a fair amount to get there in the first place, as you’re travelling halfway around the world. Also I know that all holiday costs for British visitors have been inflated by about 20-25% after the 2016 Brexit vote, and I have to discount that. However even comparing like for like Hawaii is just so much more expensive.

The entry level cost of accommodation in 2019 seems to be about $180-$200 a night. For that you get very little: a small room, minimal service, no food, maybe a coffee machine and free toiletries, maybe not. (One of the hotels actually listed “toilet paper” as a specific provision, I kid you not.) There won’t be any sort of a view or casual/communal seating area. If you are on an upper floor you will be personally manhandling your luggage up and down stairs. If you want something a bit better the price rises quite steeply – the nicer lodges we stayed in were all between $250 and $300 a night. To put that in perspective, we have four other experiences of spending $180 or less per night on accommodation in the last year:

  • Copenhagen is a notoriously expensive city, but this July about $180 per night got us a very nice hotel about 100m from the tourist hub of Nyhavn, and within a short walk of most of Copenhagen’s other attractions. The hotel had very helpful 24 hour front desk staff, a high quality hot and cold breakfast included in the price, an outdoor bar overlooking the harbour for when the sun was out and an indoor bar for when it wasn’t. We had a small but fully appointed room on the 5th floor overlooking Sankt Annae Platz, with a view of the beautiful old port authority buildings.
  • The hotel in Pacifica (just outside San Francisco) on the way back from Hawaii cost about $170 per night. That included breakfast, a sea view, a large room with jacuzzi, and a front desk who cheerfully booked us in, including a room change to avoid too many stairs, at 11pm.
  • We paid about $180 per night to stay in a Norfolk mansion house for my friend’s 60th birthday. As well as the elegant building set in extensive and beautiful gardens, the cost included breakfast, snacks and some booze!
  • The Heure Bleue Palais in Essaouira, Morocco was easily 5 star, excellent service – nothing too much trouble, great food with a wonderful cooked breakfast included in the price, top location in the walls of the old city with a view of the whole town from the roof-top pool. It cost about $145 per night.

At the other end of the scale the better accommodations in Hawaii could be compared in quality and provision to something like the Peaks of Otter Lodge at which we stayed on our 2014 trip to the USA South-East. That was probably the most expensive accommodation of that trip, at about $140 per night.

The Hawaii accommodation costs do seem to have escalated dramatically in the last couple of years. We had originally booked our trip in 2016 and had to cancel at short notice, but re-instated it this year with almost exactly the same itinerary. That means I can directly compare 2016 and 2019 prices. One example, the Kula Lodge cost less than $210 per night in 2016, but more than $290 this year. The Hana Kai had also increased by about $80 per night in the same period. These increases of 35% or more are massively higher than inflation. It’s not clear whether this is a continuing trend, or there’s a common one-off cause.

Food and drink are also much more expensive than elsewhere. Outside the very centre of San Francisco, the going rate for a beer is about $4. Take into account the fact that a US pint is about 20% smaller than a UK one, and prices are comparable to home. However in Hawaii we were paying up to $8 or $9 for a pint of beer! It’s the same story for a latte – about $4 most places in the UK or California, up to twice that in Hawaii.

Waterfall from the Garden of Eden (Show Details)

On a Positive Note…

This might all sound a bit negative, and I don’t want to put readers off going to Hawaii, but just help to set realistic expectations. We enjoyed our trip, but it was impossible to not feel somewhat ripped off by the poor service and high costs. If we’d been primed properly on what to expect we might have ridden more easily over the challenges, and enjoyed the good bits even more.

The scenery is great, especially Haleakala on Maui and Waimea Canyon on Kauai. We saw everything from lush greenery to a volcanic “moonscape” so convincing it’s where they trained the Apollo astronauts. Despite the dire warnings you read in some places even the Road to Hana is perfectly straightforward to drive over its entire length. Hawaii is a feast for the eyes.

The various organised tours and trips all worked very well. Each had a friendly, knowledgeable and helpful guide/driver/pilot and each was an experience we will treasure. While not cheap, the prices were comparable to similar events elsewhere, and represent decent overall value. I could certainly recommend the Blue Horizon helicopter tour of Kauai, the Pearl Harbor and Allerton Gardens tours, and the Laua Kalamaku.

The highlands of Kauai from a helicopter (Show Details)

Regarding travel, eating and accommodation the trick is probably to do some independent research. TripAdvisor seems to reflect reality fairly well, whereas sites like Booking.Com seem to have less detailed independent advice.

Plan, set your expectations, and you’ll really enjoy Hawaii.

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Amusing Pineapples, Hilarious Beach Blanket!

A sea of yellow merchandise at the Dole Plantation shop
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 08-10-2019 11:18 | Resolution: 3978 x 3978 | ISO: 3200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 13.0mm | State/Province: Poamoho Camp, Honolulu, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 17

The original plan for today was to visit the famous snorkelling beach of Hanauma Bay but Sod’s Law kicks in, it’s now closed on Tuesdays. Instead we opt for a drive up to the north coast of Oahu.

Much of the journey is on a busy freeway, as wide and full as any we have seen in any American city. Honolulu doesn’t have a mass transit system or any public transport beyond a few buses and the result is very busy roads. They are currently building an overhead rail system around the airport and Pearl Harbor and it will be interesting to see if that alleviates the problems.

Once off the freeway onto the smaller roads of the North the first recommended stop is the Dole Pineapple Plantation. This doesn’t sound very exciting, but the car park is absolutely packed. After a short debate we decide just to visit the shop and get a coffee.

Entry into the shop is an experience – it’s enormous, buzzing, and filled in every direction with a sea of bright yellow merchandise. Pineapple clothing, pineapple soft toys, pineapple art, pineapple jewellery. I suspect if you fell asleep (which would be a challenge) they would just paint a pineapple on you and add a price tag.

We forgo the $1200 pineapple brooch with real diamonds, but Frances finds some excellent costume jewellery, including, naturally, a small pineapple pendant. Coffee is served with a pineapple Danish pastry. When in Rome…

Lunch is a nice Fajita at a small "historic" shopping centre on the coast, entertainment provided by yet more feral chickens. After that we have a short walk on a pretty beach, but as usual there’s no provision for casual visitors to spend time there, and anyway it’s too rough to swim. We end up at the Waimea State Park, a small botanical garden developed in a fertile canyon ending in a waterfall. Sadly it’s not the season for many of the flowers, but the park is full of colourful birds.

191008 G9 1009170 (Show Details)

Waimea State Park (Show Details)

Almost without discussion we both decide we want to go back to the "Bakery" at Macy’s. Service and food are again excellent, it’s a good way to finish our last full day in Hawaii.

Day 18

Sadly we say goodbye to Hawaii. (Confusingly that’s "Aloha" again.) Our drive to the airport, car hire return, check in and security take a total of less than an hour, which must be some sort of record. The flight is smooth and unremarkable, although Hawaiian Airlines really don’t have the trick of onboard customer service.

There’s a bit of a trek at the other end to the San Francisco car hire centre, but yet again the Avis Preferred system works beautifully and we get shown straight to our car with one signature on pre-prepared paperwork. However, having booked a Ford Edge, a tiny SUV at the bottom of the range, I’m a bit surprised to be presented with a VW Atlas, which appears to be their response to the Lincoln Navigator. For British readers, that’s about the same size as the Queen Mary. However the controls are all identical to Frances’ VW Polo.

We manage to get the Ark Royal out of harbour and onto the road, and find our way to Pacifica, on the coast just south of San Francisco. I dock the Starship Enterprise, we’re checked in by a charming young lady who has no problem providing service at 11pm, and we gratefully tumble into bed just after midnight.

Day 19

Even though we’re only a few yards from Highway 1, we get a decent night’s sleep and awake to a sunny Pacifica. The primary purpose of today is taking things gently, breaking the travel and helping to unwind the jet lag, but we also do a bit of "practical" shopping, for things like jeans and shirts where we prefer American products (and manage to get several sale bargains).

Lunch is accompanied by further hilarity courtesy of TV adverts. The advert in question appears to be completely straight, but features "The Midden Family". I know for a fact that "midden" has the same meaning to American historians as English ones, and a British advert really wouldn’t feature a family by name if that name happened to be "Rubbish-Heap" 🙂

We get a very pleasant couple of hours in the sun in the afternoon – at last, a hotel with some provision for this activity! Then it’s off to San Francisco for the wonderful Beach Blanket Babylon revue.

As always, this provides equal opportunity offense, thoroughly sending up a range of politicians, celebrities, ethnic and national stereotypes with a stream of hilarious songs and outrageous costumes (with some very, very big hats). The audience covers a range of ages, genders and colours, but you suspect that we all have a similar political standpoint, and the Trump character is treated as a pantomime villain. The "Von Trump" family singing a version of "Doe, a Deer" which ends "That will make us lots of dough, dough, dough, dough" sticks in my head, but that’s just one moment from almost two hours of laughter.

Sadly this will be the last time we see the show, at least in San Francisco, as after 45 years it’s coming to an end, but it’s a great way to end our holiday.

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Pearl Harbor

USS Missouri, Pearl Harbor
Camera: SONY DSC-RX100M4 | Date: 07-10-2019 20:53 | Resolution: 3648 x 3648 | ISO: 125 | Exp. bias: -0.7 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 2.8 | Focal Length: 12.8mm (~35.0mm) | Location: USS Missouri, Pearl Harbor | State/Province: Pu‘uloa, Honolulu, Hawaii | See map

Day 16

Today we have another long-awaited organised tour: Pearl Harbor. Preparations are complicated by an additional security directive since we tried to arrange the same trip in 2016 – you are allowed no bags of any form, quite a challenge if you’re going to be out all day and one of you is not big into pockets.

Frances does have one pair of pink trousers with pockets, and is busy stuffing them when there is a loud cry of pain. We discover that the rear pockets are partially closed with dressmaking pins, from a previous start to removing the pockets altogether. Hoist by her own petard, I think they call that.

An aside: this is yet another arguably pointless example of American “security by theatre”. At no point in the day are we closer to the operational parts of Pearl than the range of a very high-powered rifle. We interact mainly with Park Service rather than Naval personnel, and at no point does anyone X Ray us, pat us down or ask us to disclose the contents of our pockets, so it’s hard to see why a small camera bag or purse would be such a risk.

Our taxi from the hotel arrives bang on time, vindicating the hotel staff, but the driver then announces that he has only been on the job a few days… Why is there only one city in the world which regards “taxi driver” as a qualified profession? However thanks to our previous reconnaissance we get promptly to the pick up point and meet our tour. The same cannot be said for another couple, who get completely lost in the mall and have to be collected later.

The tour’s first stop is the USS Missouri. I have been fascinated by this ship’s story since we first saw Under Siege. She saw active service in WWII, including the Japanese surrender, was brought out of mothballs in the 80s and ended up firing the opening shots of the Gulf War, an event which is nicely echoed in the film.

Another aside: there are only two significant female characters in the film. Both play themselves – “Mighty Mo” of course (although her sister the USS Alabama did most of the “static” work), and Erika Eleniak, who really was Miss July ’89.

The tour of the Missouri is excellent. We are broadly familiar with the military history, but get a lot more detail about the formal end of the War. Mcarthur’s speech from the surrender ceremony still rings today:

Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain death — the seas bear only commerce men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is quietly at peace. The holy mission has been completed. And in reporting this to you, the people, I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and the beaches and in the deep waters of the Pacific which marked the way. I speak for the unnamed brave millions homeward bound to take up the challenge of that future which they did so much to salvage from the brink of disaster.

We were not, however, aware that the Missouri survived a Kami Kaze strike. The ship and crew were very lucky – the bomb and much of the plane went to the bottom, leaving a small fire, a large dent in the deck edge still visible today, and no American casualties. When they were cleaning up they recovered the pilot’s body, and the Captain insisted he be given a military burial at sea, complete with a rapidly stitched together Rising Sun flag. Treat others as you would wish to be treated.

Lunch includes a whirlwind visit to the aviation museum, and then the afternoon is dedicated to visiting museums about the Pearl Harbor attack, and finally the USS Arizona which lies in the harbour with over 800 sailors and marines “eternally at their post”.

USS Missouri from the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor (Show Details)

Day 16, Supplemental

While the day has been hot and sunny so far, on the ferry to the Arizona we watch rainclouds literally spilling over the ridges behind Honolulu and by the time we are back on the bus it’s tipping with rain.

The Call to Duty tour by Hoku has run like clockwork, no waiting in line, tickets and provisions handed to us exactly when needed, and Mark, our driver, is friendly, professional and very knowledgeable.

The last stage of the trip is a drive-by tour of the military cemetery in a small extinct volcanic caldera, and a number of Honolulu landmarks, although sadly the weather impinges somewhat on visibility.

We leave the bus in the centre of Waikiki to have a look at the posh hotels and shops. We know we’re in trouble when we go into the loos in one of the malls, and the seats have a control panel! Frances had a hot seat, but dared not try any adjustments.

Dinner is in a nice restaurant above one of the malls. Very pleasant, but essentially the same meal as the previous night costs twice as much.

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Waimea to Waikiki

Waikiki Beach at sunset
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 06-10-2019 18:10 | Resolution: 5106 x 2872 | ISO: 250 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 16.0mm | State/Province: Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 14

Waimea is an odd place. After a lazy morning we go out in search of a coffee. The tiny cinema opposite has updated its programme. Apparently this week it’s "Angry Bird 2", showing on 5 days, "Sat cloed". There are two obvious inferences: they’ve run out of Ss, and they are closed on Saturday. However neither is supported by the evidence – last week the film was "Hobbs and Shaw", and later on (on Saturday evening) there is plenty of evidence of punters arriving…

We walk the length of Main Street looking for a coffee shop in increasing desperation. We’re just about to give up, when we realise the very last building has about 10 signs saying "coffee" or "expresso". It’s only missing a Terry Gilliam hand in the sky pointing down.

Can I get a coffee here? (Show Details)

The lady who runs the coffee shop cheerfully announces to us that she’s an old hippy but we could probably have guessed… However she then goes on to explain that before she dropped out she was a professor.

I am about to say "What were you a professor of?" but some sixth sense kicks in, and it comes out "Of what were you a professor?"

"Comparative linguistics."

"I’m glad I just got the grammar right then."

"Don’t worry. I used to correct my husband’s love letters to me."

The conversations we have on holiday.

Day 15

We have a very quick and efficient transfer to Oahu. After the other islands Honolulu is a bit of a shock, but the busy freeway takes us to within a few hundred yards of our hotel. This turns out to be a rather twee historic guest house up on the hill well above the bustle of the city.

The check in process is slightly fraught as the hotel seems to be staffed entirely by an oriental family each of which commands a different subset of the English language, and Frances is also somewhat concerned about the reports of multiple dogs and cats. However in practice the only real problem is a very low door into the bathroom which leads to a few "ow, bugger" moments.

The hotel is near the University and we get lunch at a nice student café, followed by a second course at McDonald’s when Frances gets a sudden craving for an apple pie.

After settling into our room we go down to the Ala Moana Beach Park, to see what’s going on and to case the joint for catching our tour in the morning. The recce proves to be worthwhile as the Ala Moana Centre covers multiple blocks and houses a mall of over 300 shops.

The beach front is a hive of activity. We see fishing, surfing, jogging, family parties and multiple weddings or photo shoots taking advantage of the late afternoon light. We get a great sunset and in particular dramatic golden light on the big buildings behind Waikiki Beach.

Waikiki Beach at sunset (Show Details)

Back in the shopping centre we go into Macy’s and look for their food court. There’s something called "The Bakery", which suggests a couple of old ladies with a stack of sandwiches and a coffee machine, which would do fine. However this turns out to be a lively full service restaurant which does a great prime rib for very little money. Result.

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Tours and Shows

Luau Kalamaku
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 04-10-2019 19:52 | Resolution: 2913 x 2913 | ISO: 3200 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/50s | Aperture: 5.0 | Focal Length: 62.0mm | Location: Luau Kalamaku | State/Province: Puhi, Kauai, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Day 13

We have booked a guided tour of the Allerton Gardens. We are both expecting a short walk through a botanical garden with someone spouting a lot of Latin names, but it turns out to be nothing like that. Robert Allerton was a contemporary of Hearst and created what can best be described as an "outdoor Hearst Castle", a series of wonderful "outdoor rooms" spread over a large bay previously owned by Hawaiian Royalty. Robert’s companion John was a talented architect, and the gardens are full of clever water features, all still working well as they approach their centenary.

Allerton Gardens (Show Details)

Our guide Dave is very entertaining. A successful farmer and botanist in his own right he is knowledgeable about both the history and the biology of the gardens. In addition he tells us about the extensive use of the gardens as film locations, including for the famous "fruit kebab" chase in the second Pirates of the Caribbean. However the highlight are the enormous ficus trees which provided not one but three separate iconic scenes in Jurassic Park.

Allerton Gardens (Show Details)

In the evening we celebrate Frances’ birthday at a Luau, a classic Hawaiian dinner and entertainment. We have chosen well, the floor show is up to West End standards with great costumes, dancing and a thrilling fire eater/dancer. We also get on very well with the others at our table, yet again (as in the helicopter) comprising not one but two honeymooning couples.

Luau Kalamaku (Show Details)

Tomorrow is Frances’ birthday – we’ve celebrated very well.

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Helicopter over Hawaii

Flying above the rainbows (Waimea Canyon, Kauai)
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 03-10-2019 10:12 | Resolution: 5176 x 3235 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/250s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 12

The morning is centred on an activity I have been looking forward to all summer, my helicopter flight. After a short drive I arrive on time, check in, pay, and watch the safety briefing, which seems to be significantly more involved than that for flying over Namibia with the doors off, or over Barbados in a motorbike with wings.

Then about two minutes before take off I discover that they’ve actually managed to miss me off the passenger manifest, so we have a short panic while that is resolved. However I end up with the prime seat in the front of the chopper, next to a very small lady to balance the load!

The Na’Pali Coast from the air (Show Details)

The flight itself is wonderful. Shay, our pilot is very entertaining, the scenery is magnificent and we fly really closely to the Jurassic Park waterfall, the Na Pali Coast and the big mountains in the middle of the island. The doors make photography a bit more challenging and I’m continually adjusting the polarising filter to try and handle internal reflections, but the results look promising.

Proof! (Show Details)

In the afternoon we explore the tourist centre of the south of Kauai, and end up having dinner at a hotel restaurant watching a classic Hawaiian sunset. Perfect.

Typical Hawaiian Sunset (Show Details)
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Waimea Canyon

Looking down to the Na'pali Coast from the top of Waimea Canyon
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 02-10-2019 12:35 | Resolution: 5583 x 3489 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Waimea Canyon | State/Province: Haena, Kauai, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 11

Sleep is again interrupted by bedding problems and over-keen roosters.

Chickens are in fact a major factor on Kauai. Almost everywhere you look you can see one or two padding around, and it’s rare that you can’t hear a cockerel. We learn later that although most are feral, they are quite welcome as they feed on insects which would otherwise be a problem, and are effectively protected (in contrast to feral pigs, for which the Parks Service will happily give you a permit and probably a gun.)

One of many feral chickens in Hawaii, here at Allerton Gardens
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Wherever I travel there are usually species which has adapted to living off the scraps of human activity: pigeons, the little brown birds on Barbados, the feral dogs of Bhutan. Here it’s chickens, and they’ve even got bloody good at crossing roads!

We opt for a light breakfast and then head up into Waimea Canyon. This is just as dramatic as billed – deep and full of interesting forms, but a combination of rock with contrasting greenery and dramatic waterfalls, unlike its cousin in Arizona.

Waimea Canyon
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An entertaining and informative busker at Waimea Canyon
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The views are also enlivened by quickly changing weather. At one point we are looking down onto the inaccessible Na Pali coast, the view is clear, then completely disappears in low cloud and then clears again, in less than 5 minutes. We eat our sandwich lunch sheltering in the car from a sharp shower, and read that the mountains in the west of Kauai are arguably the wettest place on earth.

After exploring the canyon we have a relaxed afternoon shopping in a local historic town. However it proves surprisingly hard to purchase a cup of coffee after 4 pm. Kauai shop working hours are so short they make a joke of it themselves, but it does seem oddly un-American.

We have a good dinner, and then an early night, with a rather more restful nights sleep.

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To The Summit

At the Summit of Haleakala
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 29-09-2019 11:17 | Resolution: 5381 x 3363 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 16.0mm | Location: Haleakala NP | State/Province: Kaʻonoʻulu (historical), Maui, | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 8 – Haleakala

For a mountain lodge the night is surprisingly noisy: large vehicles on the road, guests moving cars around all night, and a rooster who gets confused and starts crowing at 1 am. In addition we have a somewhat binary provision on bedding – a quilt which is far too hot, but it’s too cold for nothing.

We make an early start. An excellent breakfast makes up for some of the privations, and then we head up the mountain. In contrast to the Road to Hana the road up Haleakala is consistently two cars wide and beautifully surfaced and cambered. It would be a joy to charge in a sports car, but on a normal day it’s also very pleasant to motor up gently observing the speed limit and the great views.

At the top there are three viewpoints providing different perspectives on the volcano’s crater. This isn’t a true caldera – the main vulcanism stopped a long time ago and what’s now visible is the result of erosion by wind and rain, with a few volcanic vents breaking the surface. However the range of colours and shapes make for some great photos, with Mauna Kea (on the Big Island) visible in the background, showing what Haleakala looked like in its prime.

From the summit of Haleakala. Mauna Kea in the background. (Show Details)

The crater of Haleakala (Show Details)

On the way back down I’m getting a bit mesmerised by the constant turns and the warm afternoon, and we stop just outside the park at an excellent coffee shop. We get there just a few minutes before they close. At 2pm!

Back at the hotel mid afternoon we have a pleasant few hours in the sun, although we have to sit at a picnic table (no loungers) and I become slightly annoyed at the bureaucracy one shop assistant attempts to impose on my buying a second beer…

Dinner is again very pleasant, we dismantle the quilt to just use the cover, and the rooster keeps quiet until after 4 am. Much better.

Day 9

We bid farewell to the mountain and spend the morning exploring the west coast, location of the main tourist beaches and hotels. It’s OK, but not visually exciting and the retail opportunities are very poor after Paia and Makawao.

On the way back into Kahului Frances finds a fabric shop. After about an hour we leave with several lengths, including both a fish pattern and Angry Birds for future shirts for me.

We have a quiet afternoon by the pool and an early dinner – tomorrow we move on to Kauai.

Day 10

The flight to Kauai is full but short and uneventful. It flies very low and we get great views of the intervening smaller islands. As the plane is a Boeing 717 I reckon that "completes the set" and means that over the years we have flown all major models of the company’s jets.

There’s a slightly annoying bus ride to the Lihue airport car rental lot, but once there I literally just show my ID and get handed the keys to a shiny new Mustang. Whether this is astounding efficiency or the general Hawaiian avoidance of work is hard to assess.

The road to Waimea is heavily reminiscent of the main road through northern Barbados, but with occasional glimpses of much higher scenery in the island’s centre. When we reach the hotel it turns out to be more of a motel – perfectly well equipped but again nowhere to sit in the sun, and very limited on-site service. The most confusing instruction is an 11am check-out time, before the office opens in the morning!

Waimea is where Captain Cook first landed in Hawaii (Show Details)
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We’re On The Road FROM Hana!

Waterfall from the Garden of Eden
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-09-2019 13:00 | Resolution: 5184 x 3456 | ISO: 1000 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/125s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 50.0mm | Location: Garden of Eden | State/Province: Haiku, Maui, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Back on “The Road to Hana”, but now “from”. The northern stretch is well-surfaced but we’re soon back to regular single-lane bridges. Our early start means we are well advanced on the way back before we meet consistent traffic, but you can imagine that later in the day in peak season it could get a bit frustrating.

This is the wet side of the island and there are some great waterfalls along the way. However some of the expected landmarks seem to be either absent or hidden, and others are a bit underwhelming, although the wet weather doesn’t help.

The honourable exception, and definitely our favourite attraction, is the Garden of Eden, a charming arboretum laid out just above the road, reaching about a mile up the slopes with views of a couple of dramatic waterfalls and also right down to the sea. We get a latte at the coffee stand (at last!) and have an entertaining chat with the operator who admits that at age 20 she effectively “ran away to sea”. This appears to be a common pattern among the non-Polynesian Mauians.

Waterfall from the Garden of Eden
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“Rainbow trees”, alongside the Road to Hana
(Show Details)

We finally get back to Paia in the early afternoon, and head up the mountain. First stop is Makawao, a small town with a twee “western style” shopping street housing a range of galleries and boutiques. Frances and I are both attracted to one gallery where the artist puts her designs on a variety of media including T Shirts. Apparently Mick Fleetwood is a regular customer, but we establish that he is a rather different shape to yours truly, and sadly I come away empty handed, but Frances buys two.

Colourful shop at Makawao
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The road continues rising, and eventually we reach the Kula Lodge. Dinner is Prime Rib while looking down on a very dramatic sunset over West Maui.

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Hunting Coffee in Hana

From the beach outside the Hana Kai Lodge
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 27-09-2019 06:40 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 64.0mm | State/Province: Hana, Maui, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Day 6

I make a fairly early start and go down to the small beach to watch the sunrise. Just as the sun is getting established it starts raining, but the result is an amazing rainbow behind the hotel, and great light on the beach.

From the beach outside the Hana Kai Lodge
(Show Details)

This was planned as a rest day, so we have a gentle morning. After lunch we try the Museum and Cultural Centre, but it’s shut. Fortunately the Lava tubes are open, and absolutely fascinating. I learn a bit about the different types of lava, which seem to be most accurately described using Hawaiian and have fun trying to photograph the cave with camera in one hand and torch in the other.

Inside the Hana Lava Tubes
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Hana does seem to be a town without a coffee shop. We stop at the banana bread stall, but at 3.30 they have switched off their coffee machine and are not prepared to just sell us a slice of cake, only a whole one. Useless. Is this really America?

I have no idea why, but I don’t have much luck with sandals. Today for the third time in about as many years, both of my relatively new sandals decide to simultaneously self destruct, on this occasion with both soles completely detaching. The Hana local store sells me a pot of glue, which turns out to be a sort of foaming filler. The soles are now firmly attached, but with odd blobs of yellow filler poking out around the circumference. Frances not amused at the inelegance. Evo Stik added to holiday checklist.

Dinner is accompanied by an entertaining game of "do you know what it is yet?" Crowd pleaser standards, played on a Ukulele and sung in an impenetrable Hawaiian accent. 🙂

Inside the Hana Lava Tubes
(Show Details)
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We’re On The Road To Hana…

The Pools at Ohe'o
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 26-09-2019 13:42 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 13.0mm | Location: The Pools at Ohe'o | State/Province: Kīpahulu, Maui, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 4 – Retail Therapy

We’re awake early, and spend an hour catching up with political developments in the UK. Then at 7am we discover behind a nondescript door next to the “boutique doss house” a wonderful coffee shop which does the best breakfast of the trip so far.

Fed and watered we explore Paia. There are some good “retail therapy opportunities” (much needed after the previous night), but we have to forgo those which don’t open until 11, or only when there’s a Q in the month… Nevertheless I get a couple of great T shirts in a shop part-owned by Alice Cooper (Alice in Hulaland). Frances finds some pineapple fabric to replace the net curtains which she washed when slightly the worse for wear after a glass of wine at the end of a long day, removing the pattern!

Frances also takes a fancy to a rather nice blouse embellished with one-off appliqué. We start to move away when we realise it’s $300, but the sales lady seals its fate when she points out that the workshop has added pockets. “I don’t do pockets,” Frances announces, “in fact I usually remove them if a garment has them.” Of which more later…

After that we bite the bullet and drive back towards Kahului, the island capital, and find a more suitable hotel. Lunch is delayed slightly while we pay a visit to the Hawaiian version of Primark: Frances has yet again come on a hot holiday without any summer dresses! For the princely sum of £30 we get not one, but three. Sorted.

The new hotel is in a less charming location, but everything works, the staff are friendly, the room is a good size, and we get a quiet afternoon by the pool and a decent night’s sleep. Tick.

Day 5 – The Road to Hana

Maui is dominated by two main features. In the middle of the main part of the island is Haleakala, a 10,000 ft volcano. Around the edge is “The Road to Hana”, named for the small town at the opposite end to Kahalui. Read the tourist guidance and you would think this is a slightly scaled down version of Bolivia’s “Road of Death”. Fortunately that’s bollocks.

Recovering from the Road to Hana
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It is a small road which gets a lot of tourist traffic, especially along the North shore of the island. A lot of people try and drive the road to Hana and back in one day, and that can be a bit fraught. The southern section is shown on maps as unsurfaced and is described with dire warnings. However we’ve been told that a counter-clockwise circumnavigation is not only possible but desirable as there’s a lot less traffic, so that’s what we decide on.

The Western section is a good road up over the edge of Haleakala. We stop at a charming new church, a garden dedicated to Sun Yat Sen and all the Chinese who helped develop Hawaii, and a great little coffee shop attached to a winery. We decide against the wine tasting, just in case the southern section is really as bad as described.

Sun Yat Sen Garden
(Show Details)

It isn’t. Most of the road has a very good tarmacked surface with appropriate barriers where required. One stretch is down to the standard of the roads in Surrey, with multiple patch repairs but still surfaced. A few short stretches don’t have any asphalt, but they are well graded. This is the dry part of the island and has almost a moorland feel, but it’s a moorland which borders a dramatic Pacific coast, and for a while we can clearly see the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island, peeking out from a cloud just like Bali Hai. Our own island is the same, with our views up Haleakala truncated by low cloud a couple of thousand feet up the slopes.

Church on the Southern Road
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As the road rounds into the Eastern section things change a bit, with the road hugging the base of dramatic cliffs. Some parts are narrow and we have to pay attention to passing places. Things are somewhat fraught for a few miles north of the park and waterfalls at O’heo Gulch, but only because the more substantial traffic has to carefully juggle through narrow stretches including a number of one lane bridges.

After a while the road widens again and we come into Hana itself. We find that in contrast to Paia we have lucked out with a great apartment with a stunning sea view. Excellent.

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Off To Hawaii

Panorama from Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 23-09-2019 14:16 | Resolution: 17390 x 3581 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Location: Union Square | State/Province: Downtown, San Francisco, Califor | See map

We finally managed to make our trip to Hawaii, which was cancelled at the last minute in 2016. Here’s how we got on…

Day 1

We have a faultless flight by Virgin to San Francisco. Despite dire prognostications we leave and arrive on time, and speed quickly through US Immigration. I decide we should try the BART which gets us fairly quickly half way (after being shown how to work the ticket machines), but we then sit forever at a station awaiting clearance through a section undergoing engineering work (this is a Sunday afternoon). We transfer to a taxi and complete our ride to Union Square that way. Our hotel Handlery’s is still as it always was. However there’s just a suspicion that this trip may have some aspects which take a few goes to get right.

Day 2 – San Francisco

Thanks to copious jet lag we’re awake in the middle of the night, but then manage to get back to sleep through to nearly 7, amazing.

American TV is weird, and some of the adverts are unintentionally hilarious from a British viewpoint. We love the drug adverts, with their long lists of potential side-effects, just like the "Caine Madness" in Evolution. There’s a new nadir today which has us both in stitches: a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, but the compound has apparently "… been linked with PBL, a brain disease leading to paralysis and death". I’ll take my chances with IBS, thanks.

We find an early breakfast, then do some shopping around Union Square based purely on who’s open (Forever 21!!). By the time we’ve shopped and had coffee the queue for the cable car is around the block. We decide to walk across the city and try and get the cable car back, which turns out to be both good exercise and a great way to observe the changes to San Francisco since we were last there. The tourist spots are definitely busier, and some areas look a bit dingy and in need of a bit of TLC, but otherwise the changes aren’t too dramatic. We visit Lombard Street, "the crookedest street in the world" and Fisherman’s Wharf, then manage to get the cable car back for an hour by the pool and an early night.

Sea lions near Pier 39
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Day 3 – The "Boutique Doss House"

Back to San Francisco Airport, and we get our flight to Maui. It all goes like clockwork, the plane arrives 1/2 hour early, and we’re punished by an equivalent delay before the luggage even starts to come through. Fortunately the car hire process is very quick and we reach our initial destination, Paia, in time for a late lunch.

Arriving at Maui
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Paia is clearly where artists, surfers and hippies who don’t quite fit in elsewhere end up. The shops are charming, but some of the practical arrangements less so. Our "boutique hotel" turns out to be poky, noisy and with zero customer service. The woman who gives us our keys literally runs before we can ask any questions, there’s a long list of dos and don’ts on the bed, and I realise it’s the only hotel of the whole trip which has taken full payment in advance (probably due to a history of people cancelling when they see "the accommodations"). The toilet is not so much as "en suite" as "dans chambre", next to the head of the bed separated by a thin curtain. I suppose "boutique doss house" doesn’t work as well…

We have an interesting hour watching wind and kite surfers at the local beach, then an early dinner.

Wind-surfing at Ho’okipa Beach
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Our much-needed beauty sleep is interrupted by pillow problems, what appears to be a loud lecture in Dutch at about 1 am, and a literal cat fight at about 4…

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