If you’re a follower of this blog (thank you!), you’ve already read about my week on Maui Island. With this article, I’ll go a little bit back in time to introduce you properly to Hawaii, the different islands and all that you need to know about them. Then I’ll take you to Oahu and Honolulu in my next blog entry and finally I’ll make you discover the incredible beauty of Big Island. Like the pilot of my flight from Vancouver to Honolulu said: “let’s fly to paradise!”
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Flying to paradise yes, but landing in hell before that. I had to write a few words about Honolulu Airport, probably the worst I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few during my travels).
If you ever visit Hawaii, that’s most likely where you’ll land first. Important advice: if you can, try to arrive during the day. My flight landed at 9.30pm, and everything was already closed. Once I passed the baggage claim, there was no place to eat or to drink; worse than that, the only foreign exchange counter I found was also closed and no ATMs were visible (and of course I didn’t have any US dollars). I could have asked for help at an information center… but no one was there either and there were no signs of life behind the airport shuttle’s desk. Icing on the cake: the airport wifi is really expensive (9$ for 2 hours is the cheapest you can get).
Luckily for me I bumped into a French Canadian couple that was as desperate as me. They informed me that public transport wasn’t an option either as buses refuse to board people with huge backpacks (at the airport!), so the only possibility to reach Downtown Honolulu was a taxi. At least we could share it between the three of us…
So be aware that flying to Honolulu will not come with a very friendly welcoming from this huge and ugly airport building!
The Hawaiian Islands
In the beginning of my previous article I gave you a quick geographic lesson about the Hawaiian archipelago. Now that you know how it was created, let’s focus a bit more on the islands. There are 6 that you can visit; for most of the people the first one will be Oahu. That’s where Honolulu is, but I didn’t really like this part of the island. It was too busy for me, there were too many tourists (even if I wasn’t there during the high season) and it just didn’t look like the paradisiac image of Hawaii I had in mind. But as you’ll see in the next article, there are still some amazing things to see on Oahu.
I found Maui and Big Island much more interesting, and everyone told me that Kauai is really beautiful too (and the pictures I’ve seen looked incredible!). But I didn’t have enough time to go there, which brings me to another tip for you: if you have a limited amount of days to visit Hawaii, don’t try to rush and see as many islands as possible. It takes at least one week to explore Maui and Big Island, and I could have stayed there much longer without getting bored at all.
Finally the two last islands Molokai and Lanai are also the smallest ones and could probably be visited in a couple of days, but I don’t know much about them.
There’s only one way to go from one island to another: by plane. Why no boats or ferries? It simply would take too long compared to a quick flight and also the waves in this part of the world are quite big and strong so that wouldn’t be the safest way. There are three companies operating these flights, but one of them is really special: it’s called Mokulele Airlines.
The 2 other companies (Island Air and Hawaiian Airlines) are everything you can expect from an airline. Check-in at the airport, baggage drop, security gates, wait for boarding, planes carrying dozens of people on every flight. None of this with Mokulele. The 8-seat minuscule planes of this company are not so easy to find: in Kahului on Maui, where I chose Mokulele to fly to Big Island, I had to walk to the very end of the airport to find a small building with just a woman behind a desk who took my bags and asked me for my personal weight (!), and a few outside benches to wait until the captain himself came to tell us it was time to board. Yes, that’s how it goes: no security gates, not even a single look at my passport, just the pilot calling our names and escorting us to the small plane.
If you’re not as stupid as me to book your flight after sunset, the view you’ll get from the plane will be extremely spectacular. I took the pictures above with my phone, while flying from Honolulu to Maui with Hawaiian Airlines and I can guarantee you that the view would have been even more spectacular from the small Mokulele plane!
There’s only one island where public transport is acceptable: Oahu. The bus company (simply called “The Bus”) serves most of the interesting sites and the different suburbs of Honolulu quite efficiently. But as it’s the most touristic island, a car will allow you to avoid the crowded beaches and explore some more isolated and extraordinary places.
You don’t even need to ask yourself if you should rent a vehicle before exploring Big Island: it’s basically impossible to visit it without your own transportation. A normal small car will be enough for almost the entire island but you’ll absolutely need a 4×4 if you want to drive to the top of the Mauna Kea for example, and trust me (article coming soon, pictures already online here) it’s really worth it… Same for Maui, but if you stay at the Banana Bungalow Hostel you’ll be able to visit the entire island with the free tours provided from the hostel, as I described in my previous article.
Finally, be aware that driving in Hawaii takes a very long time. The distances might seem pretty short on a map, but there are actually much longer than you’d expect (at its greatest dimension Big Hawaii is 150 km across) and the roads are not that great (there are no highways with separated lanes anywhere else than on Oahu). Also the speed limits are incredibly low: most of the time you’re not allowed to drive faster than 40mph (60km/h)! That’s another reason whyyou need to take your time to explore Hawaii.
When you think about Hawaii, you probably picture it with a bright blue sky, a lot of sun and no clouds at all… wrong!
Yes it’s hot, yes it’s very sunny and yes you’ll need a lot of sunscreen, but because of the geography of the islands there are also quite a lot of clouds, especially on the North and East coasts. The huge volcanoes (more than 4,000m high for the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa) are a natural obstacle for them and Hilo on Big Island is even one of the places where it rains the most in the United States! This is why everything is so green there, like on this picture on the right.
The whole archipelago is home to almost every possibly type of climate, from the hot and wet rainforest to the dry and cold mountain tops so don’t be surprised by the very particular microclimates in some parts of the islands. One afternoon, we were enjoying a lovely sunny day on a beach in Maui when we saw a big cloud coming toward us. When it was over our heads it started to rain but 5 minutes later the cloud was gone and it was perfectly sunny again.
So before heading to Hawaii, remember that it’s almost impossible to predict the weather and that if it’s raining somewhere it might be sunny less than 50 kilometers away!
I hope these details might help you if you’re planning to explore Hawaii! Mahalo for reading and don’t hestitate to share and comment!
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Have also a look at my article about the crazy week I spent at the Banana Bungalow hostel on Maui!