[As written for Travel Eye, hosted on The Huffington Post UK, May 2012]
Travel Eye: Now YOU can do Hawai’i on ANY budget
For years, dreamy Hawaii was known as that heavenly place far, far away where pretty girls danced in coconut shells and grass skirts, superstars sipped cocktails on white sandy beaches, Jurassic Park-esq creatures roamed in the wild and loved-up honeymooners spent thousands of their hard-earned pounds on their first few days of marriage.
Rihanna has been snapped cavorting on her beaches, George Clooney made an Oscar-winning movie there and Britney Spears has her own room at her favourite island hotel. Basically, in the past Hawaii wasn’t really somewhere that us regular folk would considered travelling to for a holiday.
But with more people willing to travel out to the most far-off spots around the world and flight price gaps narrowing, it seems this six-island paradise has become more accessible. And with a quick stopover in Los Angeles or San Francisco, you could be on an exotic Hawaiian beach in a mere 13 hours… not bad when you think about how far you’re going! But just how easy is it to explore Hawaii? And even more importantly, is it manageable on a budget?
With that latter question in mind, I flew out to these Pacific islands to experience them for myself. I was on a budget (a tiny one) but was determined to find out what was on offer to every kind of visitor (but yes, particularly the ones like me; skint). Here are a few examples of what I found on where to go, what to see and where to stay – it turns out there really is something for everyone…(yay)
On the cheap:
Where? If you’re after cheap and cheerful, the well-known island of Oahu is the place for you. Honolulu, the capital, has the most in-coming flights from LA and the infamous Waikiki Beach is just down the road – which means the choices of things to do and stay are abundant. Despite Waikiki being tourist-central, it isn’t too hard to escape the crowds and find the local hangouts – a few roads back from the beach and you’ll find some cosy little eateries that serve everything from home-made Japanese food to freshly caught local fish. And a bus ride away, you can stroll through the Chinese markets and watch Hawaiian bands perform in the street. The Aloha Tower in downtown Honolulu gives you a panoramic view of the island – and if you don’t mind the touristy lark, a visit to Pearl Harbour is an absolute must. The history there and the stories told are phenomenal. And quite a bit of what you can see is FREE!
Maui Island, although a bit further away has also has some bargain-tastic deals. Stay away from the golfing hub of Wailea and tourist route to Hana, but instead head to the cute little town of Lahaina and up the west coast – you’ll find some kind locals who love the beach life and enjoy cooking up a treat. Ho’okipa Beach is where to go if you fancy watching some surfers – or want to get involved yourself.
Stay at: Hostelling International Waikiki
They can provide you with a dorm room for $25* (£16, sweet) and a double for $58 (£36). Single sex dorms are available as is a communal kitchen if you want to save on eating out.
If hostels are not your bag, then The Royal Grove Hotel In Waikiki is a homely equivalent on Uluniu Avenue. $55* (£34) will get you a room with kitchenette.
The Lahaina Inn, Maui
It has rooms starting at just £62* per night – and they’re clean, cosy and quaint – cute! Restaurants and bars line the main road so you’ll never go hungry.
Middle of the range:
Where? Take a punt and head out of the touristy locations of Waikiki, Oahu and Everywhere, Maui and head to the lesser known islands of Kaua’i and Big Island.
Both are a little further away on the plane but it’s worth the journey. Over in Kaua’I, the Kalalau Valley at Koke’e State Park is possibly one of the most stunning sights you’ll come across in Hawai’i. There are 45 miles of trails to cover and your hikes will take you through lands of green velvet – it’s like walking through the worlds of Lord Of The Rings or Jurassic Park. For those after bigger adventures, there are some serious climbs on offer if you’re up for them!
Over on the southern-most island, Hawaii’s Big Island, you’ll find pretty and simple Hilo – the special little town which, in its past, has fought tsunami destruction and deadly lava. For this reason, you can imagine it’s pretty special to the locals – and its lush green landscapes and child-friendly beaches just make Hilo more unique. Make sure you pay a visit to the farmers market and Rainbow Falls (an 80ft waterfall which, when it catches the morning sun, is surrounded by pretty rainbows). Fun-seekers – the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is in driving distance.
Stay at: Koke’e’s State Park Cabins, Kaua’i
One of the very few accommodation sites in Koke’e, which doesn’t involve camping. $65* (£41).
The Orchid Tree Inn, Hilo
Just two miles out of town, this quiet retreat offers comfortable rooms for $109* (£68) per night – just what you need before exploring a volcano-heavy park!
Swanky for a special occasion:
Where? If you’re looking to enjoy a bit of luxury – there’s no contest as to where you want to be… Wailea Beach on Maui Island. Spanning most of the south west coast, Wailea is known for attracting some big names to its golden sands including Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. But with a range of beautifully laid-out hotels to choose from, you get a good choice for your buck – with golf courses, spas, water-based activities and some amazing restaurants all available and all to be enjoyed within a ten minute walk.
Stay at: Four Seasons Resort and Spa, Maui
Rooms start from $655* (£410) a night and breakfast can be added as an option. The hotel has its own spa and beauty salon (offering everything from massages and body scrubs to manicures and haircuts) as well as three splendid pools, one of which is an infinity pool; adults only and looks over the Pacific Ocean. The beach is just a stroll away, with shopping facilities nearby too.
Activities: If you have the cash to spend, then make the most of seeing some of the other islands while basing yourself in Wailea. Air Maui runs flights over Big Island and Lanai, where an afternoon of flying will show you active volcanos (lava and all), cascading waterfalls and incredible rounding rainbows. It’s a sight like nothing else, but you’ll have to part with $395* (£245) per person to witness it.
Maui is also known for their visiting whale populations, who are regularly spotted off the Western coasts between the months of November and May. $48* (£30) will take you on a wonderful ride out on a boat from Maalaea Harbor to see these stunning creatures in their own habitat – and although never guaranteed, they’re a likely sight. If you’re lucky, you’ll see them breaching – breath-taking! All activities can be arranged through the Four Seasons Resort.
Flights to Maui is the cheapest option, with prices starting at around £780* with Continental Airlines. British Airways fly there from £860*. Flights into Honolulu are slightly more expensive, with the other islands following suit. Remember, you’ll have to stopover in the US en route, and as Hawai’i counts as a US state, you’ll need to have a visa (or ESTA) to enter the country.
Get yourself a hire car. Not only will you need it to get around locally (public transport is hard to manoeuvre away from Honolulu and Waikiki) but the Hawaiian islands are definitely places you’ll want to explore in your own time. If you have a car (4×4 recommended), then you’ll be able to see some of the most spectacular sights without going near a pricey tour bus!
Hawaii is a beautiful place – of that there is no doubt. And I’m pleased to say that despite the presumption that it is a honeymooners destination which costs a fortune, there are several options for those on a short budget and after a unique experience.
Much like a trip to the USA, Hawai’i isn’t really a place that can boast backpacker discounts or give you a room and board for five bucks like you can get in South East Asia or South America.
But the point is it isn’t just a destination just for the celebrities or the cashed-up people of the world either – and if you’re a young professional looking for a unique holiday for your next break, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the beauty of these wonderful islands.
So if you are lucky enough to be able to get out there, be prepared for a great adventure!