Aloha, everyone! As winter comes to a close and we begin to look forward to the summer, the warm weather cravings set in! Granted, Missouri winters are way less intense than Wisconsin and Minnesota winters (sorry Missourians, winters here are not THAT bad!). Winters in Wisconsin/Minnesota can start as early as October and stretch easily into May. As we would say up north, “Uuffdahh!”. By the end of the winter we are OVER IT. We’re totally those people walking around in Birkenstocks and shorts when the temperature inches above 40.
As winter drags on, there’s nothing better than looking forward to a sunny vacation full of beautiful weather, delicious food, and wonderful company. We took our honeymoon in Hawaii last June and it was easily one of the most wonderful parts of our wedding celebration. While many people find that Hawaii is the cliche honeymoon location, we thought what better excuse! For many people, the journey to Hawaii is a long one; numerous flights, layovers, and a long flight from the mainland to the islands (we flew Madison to Minneapolis to Seattle to Maui). It’s also expensive (if you don’t do your research!) and deters many people from making the trip. As wedding season approaches and some of you may be planning your own honeymoons to Hawaii, I hope this fun review will offer you ideas for places to eat, things to do, and where to stay! We’re on island time now!
** This is a longer post! I’ve linked all of our favorite things to do in Maui and Kauai at the bottom of the post!**
If you are a budget traveler like myself, avoid Hawaii in the winter. Winter in Hawaii is the high season. Think winter and spring break crowds; Prices skyrocket and can easily add up to crazy expensive amounts. Early summer or fall are the best times to visit the Hawaiian Islands. Since we wanted to take our honeymoon immediately after our wedding (highly recommend this strategy!), we lucked out with great weather and fewer tourists. Since we were traveling quite a distance to visit this exotic state, we wanted to include more than one island in our vacation, if you have the time and ability, definitely look into this option. Flights between islands are relatively cheap (flying Hawaiian Airlines) and each island culture is slightly different and fun to explore.
We spent our first five days of our honeymoon on the island of Maui. Maui is known for its beautiful stretches of beaches (obviously), volcanic hikes, and the famous Road to Hana. If you are traveling around the island and plan to do excursions throughout the week, I recommend renting a car. We were able to go out to eat, go to the grocery store, and see the island with ease. While much of Hawaii is home to large resorts and hotels, we opted for a smaller, boutique style hotel.
Where to Stay
The Mauian Hotel is located just slightly off the beaten path, north of Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach, in Napili. The hotel shares a private beach with a group of condos off to the left and a beach restaurant to the right. The white sand beach overlooks the island of Moloka’i and spectacular evening sunsets (see below!). Beach chairs are graciously provided by the hotel. Each room is outfitted with a small kitchen, comfortable beds, and a spacious bathroom. Every room has a wonderful patio/balcony that overlooks the main courtyard and pool area, rich with palms and lush island flora. Every morning, a simple, but delicious breakfast, is provided by the hotel: breads and pastries, eggs, coffee, and fresh Hawaiian fruits and juices. A breakfast tray is kept in each room to facilitate easy transfer of the breakfast back to your private patio to enjoy. The Mauian Hotel is quintessential Hawaii; tropical, hospitable, comfortable, and relaxing. There is never a need to dress up while on the grounds and the pretentious feel of a pricey resort is never apparent. We met families that travel from the mainland every year to this hotel for the exact same reasons we fell in love with it. We felt as though we had found our own little piece of paradise! Pro tip: every night, patrons of the hotel gather at the entrance to the beach to watch the sunset. There’s a little stone wall to sit on and sip a cocktail while watching arguably the best sunset on the island.
Where to Eat
Since we were still on Midwestern time, we woke up extremely early for the first part of the trip! So early that the breakfast kitchen wasn’t even open yet (like 3-4 AM!)! Luckily we found Hawaiian Village Coffee that opens at 5 AM every day! Hawaiian Village Coffee is located just down the road from the hotel on the Honoapiilani Highway (maybe a three minute drive) or on the back neighborhood road, Lower Honoapiilani Road. This adorable little coffee shop is clearly a favorite among tourists and locals alike. They serve hot Hawaiian coffee and scrumptious baked goods and pastries. Try one of their protein balls! They are so delicious and filling. We loved to grab some for little snacks throughout the day. The owner was nice enough to share the recipe with us to take home!
Without question, our favorite restaurant on Maui was Mama’s Fish House. This was not a cheap meal by any means, but it was also the BEST MEAL we’ve ever eaten together. If you are going to splurge on any food during your stay on Maui, do it at Mama’s. The restaurant is located on the north of the island, just north of Paia. The drive from Napili takes about an hour but it’s absolutely worth it! The drive is beautiful and the end result is delicious. If you have even a small desire to try Mama’s, even if you aren’t 100% sure you want to spend the money, make a reservation. We had a “dinner” reservation at 3 PM because we didn’t plan far enough in advance; we even booked a week in advance! All of their fresh seafood is caught daily by local fishermen. The menu lists who caught the fish and where on the island, bringing a sense of great commitment to their community. Each dish was sensational; flavorful, plated beautifully, and well portioned. The meal was made even better with a direct view of the ocean from our table. If you are celebrating anything (birthday, honeymoon, retirement, etc) let them know. They will make it an extra special experience for you! We were given a perfectly located table and a yummy dessert for our honeymoon celebration!
Other restaurants on Maui worth your time:
Miso Phat Sushi (we did takeout- super fast!)
Maui Brewing Company – Lahaina (Pineapple Mana and the Coconut Hiwa are the best!)
Olowalu Juice Stand (Honoapiilani Highway)- pictured below
What To Do
The list of things to do and see on the island of Maui is endless. From the water to the inland areas, there’s so much ground to cover! I recommend picking two or three things to invest your time in away from the beach. We’ve adopted an every-other-day activity plan for when we go on our vacations. A day of relaxation followed by a day of adventure. For our trip to Maui, we chose two fun excursions: the Road to Hana and snorkeling at the Molokini crater. We really wanted to watch the sunrise on Haleakala but we didn’t have enough time on the island to do everything. We will absolutely do it next time!
If you want to stay on land and snorkel along Maui’s coastline, Honolua Bay and Kapalua Bay are two of the best snorkeling areas. If you are looking for a little more adventure, sign up for a snorkeling catamaran excursion! We booked our catamaran day through Sail Trilogy. There are multiple types of catamaran excursions offered by Trilogy that leave throughout the day and offer different experiences. We opted for the Molokini Crater snorkeling. Breakfast and lunch were included which was awesome since we needed to arrive to the docks by 8 AM (it was a 45 minute drive from Napili). If you’ve never seen Molokini Crater, google it! It’s home to some of the most diverse sea life in the Hawaiian Islands. The visibility underwater is crystal clear and we saw so many sea creatures! We were lucky enough to come within a few inches of multiple sea turtles. The guides are extremely knowledgeable and ensure that everyone feels comfortable in the water and on the boat. Bring lots of sunscreen! Despite wearing SPF 50, Zach and I both burned. I also recommend you bring lots of water. Although beverages are offered on board, it’s good to have water close at hand. The Hawaiian sun is strong and after hours of activity, you can get pretty dehydrated. If we were to go back to Maui tomorrow I would totally do this again! **Photos to come soon!**
Both Zach and I wanted to make sure the Road to Hana was a part of our Hawaiian experience. It was our number one adventure priority! This old, winding road wraps around the east side of the island towards the northern shores of the island. It is comprised of many stops, or mile markers, along the way that consist of beaches, waterfalls, lookouts, and hikes. After talking to a couple of our friends about their experience on the Road to Hana, we realized pretty quickly that it would be a good idea to hire a driver or company to drive for us. The road is narrow, close to steep cliffs, and in some areas, isn’t in great condition. Instead of admiring the beauty of the coastline and the jungle, whoever is driving is so concentrated on the road in front of them that they miss everything else! After doing some research we found the one-man company, Jungle Tours Maui. The owner and guide, Alec, picks guests up in his open air Jeep and takes them through the Road to Hana, stopping at unique places along the way that are off the beaten path and aren’t swarming with tourists. He guarantees a personalized experience and even offers to hold your phone or camera so that he can capture your experience throughout the day. We have some pretty amazing photos and videos of just Zach and I enjoying the day and different stops along the way. You don’t have to worry about missing anything! Alec will take you to places along the Road to Hana you wouldn’t have guessed existed; waterfalls, cliff jumping, bamboo forests, the best banana bread shack, and pulled pork sandwiches at a food truck. While Alec is, mmmm, eccentric (?), he truly does provide a fantastic experience. Lunch and any food purchased during the day is included. Make sure to bring shoes adequate for hiking and water (Tevas or Chacos are great), swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
And now, our favorite island: Kauai. Kauai is everything you’d expect Hawaii to be! It’s beautifully lush, laid back, and welcoming. Kauai is not nearly as touristy as Maui. Half the island is uninhabited and is covered with natural Hawaiian terrain; it is only accessible by foot, air, or boat. This remote, yet magnificent, area houses one of Hawaii’s most well known coastlines: The Na Pali Coast. Known as the “Garden Island”, Kauai is simply breathtaking. The community totally embodies the idea of “island time”. There’s no rush to get anywhere or do anything; this is what vacation should be! If you’re truly looking to get away from it all, then Kauai is the island for you.
Where to Stay
After flying from Maui to Kauai, we rented a car and drove short distance north from Lihue to Kapaa. We stayed at a private residence/vacation rental condo unit within the Kapaa Sands Condo community. We enjoyed our own private beach and an incredible view. Our balcony directly overlooked the ocean and we woke up and fell asleep to the sounds of the waves. Once again, if you plan to explore the island, I highly recommend renting a car. This offers you the freedom to venture to other parts of the island and try restaurants all over! Kapaa is the perfect midway point to stay on the island. Many people will choose to stay in Poipu, as it is the sunniest area of the island. Since it boasts the sunniest vacation opportunity, it’s also very touristy. The hotels, resorts, and condos in Kapaa are more removed from the hustle and bustle (if you can even call it that!) in Kauai. Most places are within walking distance to a grocery store and places to eat or carry out meals throughout the day. We could easily walk to a little local farmers market and a newer storefront area called the Coconut Marketplace. We will absolutely be returning to this little studio condo in this beautiful community.
Where to Eat
While there are numerous delicious options throughout the island, we particularly enjoyed a little hole in the wall sushi place called Makai Sushi. Located inside the grocery store just outside of Poipu, Kukuiula Market, Makai Sushi is just a small counter with two employees rolling the sushi creations. When we walked up to the counter we were greeted with Hawaiian hospitality and ordered a couple rolls of sushi and poke (poh-kee) bowls, which are essentially bowls of deconstructed sushi. The wait was short and we were able to purchase drinks from the grocery during our time waiting. We took our food outside the store and sat at the picnic tables located on the sidewalk. We ordered SO MUCH FOOD. And we ate it all. I have NEVER had sushi like this in my entire life! It was so wonderfully delicious, composed of different textures, full bodied flavors, and fresh seafood. Makai Sushi did not disappoint! Of note, there are no restrooms on site. You will need to drive just a minute down Poipu Road to Long’s Drugs (similar to CVS or Walgreens) or one of the nearby shops to use the restroom. If you do happen to venture in this direction, Lappert’s Hawaii Ice Cream shop makes a fantastic desert option!
Other delicious restaurants in Kauai:
Check out the Kauai Farmers Market for yummy local produce!
What to Do
Kauai offers some of the most diverse activities on the Hawaiian Islands. From back country hiking to boating and water sports, there’s something for everyone! One of the most popular things to do on any of the Hawaiian Islands is attend a luau! We fell upon Smith’s Family Luau by chance. Originally we had planned to attend a luau on Maui but didn’t buy tickets soon enough, so we began looking for options on Kauai. We were lucky to snag a couple tickets to the Smith Family Garden Luau and boy were we lucky! We were welcomed into the lush property by staff and greeted with leis. We were then escorted via trolley to the large gazebo food hall for our delicious homemade Hawaiian buffet. The grounds are absolutely beautiful. There are wild animals roaming the land and swimming in the waterways, beautiful flowers and trees, and knowledgeable trolly drivers that share special facts along the way. There’s enough time to explore on your own before dinner and before the show. Before the dinner starts, guests are invited to watch the crew remove the pit-roasted pig from the underground oven. We found this to be pretty anticlimactic and opted to wander throughout the grounds instead. Definitely head to the gazebo before the pig is taken out of the oven. People begin to reserve their seats almost immediately! After dinner, guests are directed to the outdoor theater. The show is exciting, historic, and traditional. From fire throwers to traditional Hawaiian dance, the show is entertaining for all ages!
We discovered Hanalei Bay, on the north side of the island, on our last day and boy, do we wish it had been sooner! After a beautiful drive to the north side of the island, following a winding coastline highway, we found ourselves in the picturesque beach town of Hanalei. We parked along a neighborhood street (Weke Road) and made our way to the beach. Upon exiting the path we found ourselves on an expansive beach, stretching far in each direction. The sand was white and powdery and the bay was turquoise, sparkling, and calm. We set up our beach chairs (provided by our condo unit) under palm trees towards the back of the beach where we could stay under the shade. If we had an umbrella, we would have set up a little closer to the water. Since we were so far back, we took turns swimming in the beautifully warm water. While our private beach was enjoyable, this beach was just that much better. If you are spending anytime on Kauai, make sure you make your way north to spend a day (or more!) in this beautiful oasis.
Our favorite activity on the island was taking a doors-off helicopter tour of the island, including waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali Coast, which is only accessible by foot, boat, or air. After reading many reviews about helicopter tours in Kauai, we decided on the Mauna Loa Helicopter tour company. Mauna Loa offers doors-off private helicopter tours for the same price and higher ratings than other companies that offer semi-private doors-on tours. We drove to the the Mauna Loa storefront located in Lihue, right by the airport. We filled out our medical release forms and signed our safety agreements. We were then driven by van to the air base, only a few minutes away. We were greeted by our incredibly friendly pilot and given an informational tour of the helicopter. Once we got situated inside the helicopter, we put on our headsets and we were off! Doors off helicopter tours are windy! Ladies-wear your hair up! Do not try to look cute for this adventure. Additionally, even though you’re on a tropical island, it gets cold up there in the clouds. Bring a sweatshirt and wear long pants if you get cold easily. We flew over breathtaking views of multiple waterfalls, the infamous Waimea Canyon, and the internationally recognized Na Pali Coastline. At one point, we flew out over the coast and we truly got an “oh my goodness” moment looking up and down the coast… and hundreds of feet down to the sparkling blue waters below us. If you have the time (and the money) to afford a doors off helicopter tour while in Hawaii, do it! It is the best place in the world to experience such a thrilling adventure. If you plan to take pictures during your tour, invest in a wrist or neck lanyard for your phone and/or camera. The last thing you want during your tour is to lose your phone/camera on such a memorable experience.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading all of that! I hope you’ve been able to take away a few good nuggets of information for traveling to Hawaii. We loved our time on each of the islands and can’t wait to go back some day. If we could pick one island to visit again, it would be Kauai. While we loved Maui and our experience on that island, we both agree that Kauai offers a more relaxed, laid back, Hawaiian vibe. We loved our beautiful little condo with a private beach, walking to dinner and breakfast, and exploring the island together. Before you think to yourselves that “it must be nice to have the luxury to travel to such an expensive place”, please know that Zach and I spent many months saving for our honeymoon. We opted out of date nights with each other, nights out with friends, going to see movies, etc to save for our dream honeymoon. By staying at small family run hotels and AirBnb locations, we were able to cut costs in other ways. We spent about $30 on both Maui and Kauai on some simple groceries for breakfasts and lunches. Occasionally we ate out for lunch, but allocated the majority of our food money towards delicious dinners. When we visited areas of the islands that were further away from our home base, we packed snacks and sometimes, a light lunch (Hanalei Bay day). Hawaii can be affordable. If we can figure out ways to cut significant costs on the island, you can too!
Please see all the links below for our favorite Hawaiian places to stay, restaurants, and things to do. Mahalo!
Until next time,
Links listed below: