If like me a couple of weeks ago you don’t know anything about Hawaii, let’s start this article with a quick lesson of geography. This American state (it’s hard to remember that it’s in the same country as New York!) is made of 137 islands, formed by the presence of an undersea hotspot. Because of the movement of the tectonic plates, this hotspot drifted over time and created volcanoes that became new islands. That explains the shape of the Hawaiian archipelago: the oldest island, Kaui, is at the extreme North-West point while the youngest, the island of Hawaii (also called Big Island because it is, well, the biggest) is at the furthest South-East, following the drift of the hotspot. A new undersea volcano was even discovered in the 70’s and will most likely form a new island… but not before 10,000 to 100,000 years.
When I started planning my tour a few weeks ago, I decided to focus mainly on two of the six islands that you can visit: Big Island because it’s the only one with active volcanoes, and Maui because a few people I met in the last months strongly advised me to do so. They all told me the same thing: I had to go to the hostel called “Banana Bungalow”. After one week in this place, it’s now my turn to confirm that if you visit Hawaii you absolutely need to stay there for at least a few days. Trust me: you won’t regret it.
What makes this place so special? It’s not the cheapest hostel ever, and the location is pretty bad: far away from the beaches, no bar or anything interesting around; even the grocery store is 20 minutes’ walk away! But this hostel was the best I’ve ever stayed in because of one thing: its free tours.
Every day, you can register to the tour leaving the next day to explore a different part of the island. Depending on how many people decide to go, one or two guys from the hostel will drive you around with two old vans (one without air conditioning, the other one with AC but also with cockroaches – be careful if you have food with you!). It’s completely free, apart from a 10 to 20$ tip for the great volunteer drivers who totally deserve that money. Just to give you an idea, a 5-hour tour to the Haleakala volcano is valued 170$. With Banana Bungalow, the 12-hour day-tour is free.
If that crazy bargain is not enough to convince you, let’s talk about what made that week my best travel week ever: the people. Spending the whole day with young fellows from everywhere around the world (our group was mostly French Canadians and Germans with also travellers from Italy, UK or Australia) is the best way to meet new people. After the first tour, you’ll be friends. After a couple of days, it will feel like you’ve known each other for years. After a whole week, we called ourselves the “Banana Friends” and we’re already planning the next time we’ll see each other.
This article will present you all the tours organised by the hostel, ranked in the order I did them myself. Even if you decide to stay somewhere else you should keep reading – you’ll go to the same places anyway! And if you want to enjoy your stay as much as possible, I really advise you to book a whole week and not during the high season if possible: there are limited seats on the tours and it’s first come first serve so if the hostel is full you might not be able to register every day; being there on the first week of October was a perfect timing. Are you ready for the best week of your life? Let’s go! And to see more pictures of Maui, visit also my gallery.
Thursday – Turtle day
Where: Ulua Beach in the South-West of Maui, then “Life is a Beach” bar in Kihei for happy hour and sunset
Duration: 10:30am to 7:30pm
What to expect: a nice beach with a perfect snorkeling spot. Coral reef, colourful fishes and highlight of the day: turtles!
My opinion: if this is your first tour as it was for me, I’m sure you’ll already be in love with Maui by the evening. Ulua Beach is lovely, and even if it’s surrounded by 5-star resorts (I usually prefer more remote places) the lava coast is beautiful. But the most interesting part is below the water: there you’ll be able to snorkel over a coral reef with lots of fishes and even with turtles if you’re lucky. The battery of my Go-Pro was low unfortunately but the image of that huge turtle swimming just in front of me will stay in my mind forever.
Later in the evening, the 1 liter of delicious Mai Tai for just 8$ at the bar called “Life’s a Beach” in Kihei was much appreciated too, as well as enjoying my first Hawaiian sunset with the great people I met during that first tour.
Friday – North shore
Where: Paia, on the North shore of Maui
Duration: 10:30am to 5:30pm
What to expect: a little surf town with many shops and a beautiful beach. Good to know: if you’re in the whale season (December to April), you’ll sail to see the whales instead of that tour.
My opinion: it’s one of the two tours I didn’t take part in during that week, but I went to Paia though on my last day, with the only German girl remaining from our “Banana Friends” group after everyone else left. We wanted to go surfing but the waves were way too strong for beginners (or should I say: people who had never surfed in their life before) so we just walked on the beach instead and later had a great pizza at Flatbread Company followed by a delicious ice cream from Paia Gelato. A nice relaxing afternoon!
Saturday – walking on the moon
Where: Haleakala volcano
Duration: 8:30am to 8:30pm
What to expect: a 12 miles/19 kilometers hike inside the volcano’s crater followed by a breathtaking sunset. It’s a long and not easy hike that requires a decent condition, plenty of water, sunscreen and warm clothes, but it’s so much worth the effort.
My opinion: it was the tour I was the most waiting for, and I wasn’t disappointed. Don’t miss it under any pretext! The sight of that ancient crater is different from anything you could have seen before in your life. During the hike it will be warm, cold, cloudy and suddenly sunny; you will walk on lava flows that look like the moon surface, sometimes in the middle of the clouds. If you stop talking for a minute you will hear… absolutely nothing, no sounds at all. We played a game that we called “something alive”; the goal was easy, being the first one to see a living animal, insects included. It took us 2 hours before we finally saw a fly! Actually there are only 2 species living there: a spider and a goose endemic to Hawaii called Nene. At the end of the day, the gorgeous sunset was the best possible reward after that long hike, and slowly driving back down into the clouds with songs like Queen’s “We Are The Champions” in the van’ speakers was so cool. My favourite day of the week!
Sunday – Hippie Beach
Where: Big and Little Beach, on the South-West of Maui
Duration: 1:00pm to 8:00pm
What to expect: a nice beach to relax (Big Beach) followed by the craziest place I’ve ever been on earth (Little Beach)
My opinion: a quiet day to recover after the long hike to the volcano. That’s what Big Beach is for: a large white sand beach where you could play volley-ball or just lay in the sun and go swimming when it gets too hot. At the end of the afternoon, you’ll climb some cliffs and enter a completely different world: welcome to Little Beach.
This place is completely out of time. I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I doubt that it will ever happen again. It’s a nudist beach: clothes are optional and lots of people go topless or completely naked (I didn’t). There were drums playing on one side, with many people dancing in front of the musicians. Everybody looked just so happy and not caring about anything.
It felt weird at the very beginning: it was hard to know where to look and I didn’t want to take any pictures because I was too afraid to catch some “sausages” on camera. But you quickly start feeling much more comfortable and at some point you just completely “let go”, like everybody else. We all had some beers with us, and if we wanted some “extra” it was the place to be (once again, I didn’t). So we were drinking, dancing, screaming, watching the sunset and at some point one guy came in front of us and played with fire; it was insanely beautiful. It’s the kind of completely unexpected moments you’ll remember forever, especially if you’re part of such an amazing group as our “Banana friends” family!
Monday – Jurassic Park
Where: Iao Valley State Park
Duration: 10:30am to 2:30pm
What to expect: a 2 to 3-hour hike in a gorgeous valley followed by swimming in a little river
My opinion: another day, another completely different experience. It’s crazy how this small island has so many different things to offer! The Iao Valley, dominated from the Iao Needle (a beautiful sharp rocky peak) is an historical place of Hawaii: here in 1790, the king Kamehameha defeated the Maui army and managed to unify the Hawaiian Islands. Nowadays, it’s a wild, green and narrow valley, with a river subject to fast flooding in case of rain. The hike leads to a beautiful lookout at the end of the valley, through various kinds of rainforest; the kind of scenery where you wouldn’t be surprised to see a dinosaur coming out of the wood. The guides from the hostel pointed out a lot of tropical fruits on the way and made us try guava and Surinam cherry – both yummy!
It’s not a difficult hike but it can get very warm so cooling down in the river is a great feeling, I can tell you!
Tuesday – Road to Hana
Where: along the East side of Maui, until the village of Hana
Duration: from 8:30am to 8:30pm
What to expect: a dangerous drive on a winding and scenic road in the middle of the rainforest, including lookouts, waterfalls, black and red sand beaches and 56 bridges.
My opinion: this is the second highlight of the week and usually the tour where most of the people want to join. They’re right: it’s amazing. I’m glad our 2 guides were experts concerning that road because it’s probably one of the most dangerous that you could drive on: it’s narrow (sometimes only one lane), there’s a lot of turns, it clings directly to the cliffs and a lot of tourists drive on it every day. It was nice to be carried at the back of the van. On the other hand, if you do it by yourself you could allow for 2 or 3 days to stop everywhere; even if we left early and came back by night time, there are so many more places I wish we would have stopped at. Be prepared to a lot of beautiful waterfalls, some of them perfect for cliff jumping if you’re brave enough (I’m not).
The coast and the black and red sand beaches are also really amazing, even if it started raining every single time we stopped at one… The vegetation is not that green without a reason! On our way back, we played a drinking game called “Bridge”: every time we crossed one, everyone in the van had to scream “Briiiidge” and take one sip. Now I let you read again at the top how many bridges can be found on the road…
Wednesday – exploring Lahaina
Where: Black Rock Beach and Lahaina, on the North-West of Maui
Duration: 12:00pm to 8:00pm
What to expect: snorkeling at Black Rock Beach and discovering the lovely town of Lahaina
My opinion: I didn’t join the beginning of the tour and didn’t snorkel on Black Rock Beach but it’s apparently a very good spot and people who went there saw turtles again. With a friend of mine we took a bus in the afternoon and visited Lahaina which is a very nice little town, with lots of shops, restaurants… and tourists. The sunset was (once again) gorgeous, as you can see below…
Bonus – the evening tours
Where: common area at Banana Bungalow
Duration: every night, until late
What to expect: socializing, making friends, playing drinking games and having a lot of fun
My opinion: of course these are not official tours, but that’s an important part of the week: sitting all of us together in the common area of the hostel playing Jenga or beer-pong and sharing our stories and pictures from the day. During this week I met some of the best people I’ve ever come across during all my travels and felt so happy to be part of this adventure. I’m sure that you’ll feel the same if you decide to stay at Banana Bungalow during your visit of Maui!
Mahalo Banana Bungalow and cheers-santé-prost to the Banana Friends!