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Hawaii highlights and Maui guide

September 2, 2019
Girl looking at clouds below at Haleakala

I will happily spend a few days on island time any chance I get. If you need a reason to jet off, look no further than this guide to my favorite Hawaii highlights. Aloha every day! While planning your trip you should research the local culture and mistakes to avoid in Hawaii.

OAHU
We flew into Oahu from LA and NYC and spent a few days here first. I found the main island to be pretty commercial and didn’t enjoy it that much. We tried to hike the Stairway to Heaven following the directions to get there at 2am and try to sneak around the gates. However, police showed up immediately and we couldn’t get around all the barbed wire. Suddenly, I was really itchy, so we bailed and went to the nearest Walgreens. Funny enough the pharmacist said they received word to start stocking Poison Ivy removal soap just a few days prior. It’s still a life goal to do this hike and the photos look amazing so if you have any tips for actually getting there please let me know! We enjoyed eating at Nico’s Pier 38 which was on a nice boardwalk. We also visited the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and the Pearl Harbor museum.

Wai’anapanapa State Park in Maui

*When I went to Hawaii in 2016 poke (pronounced po-kay) wasn’t popular in the rest of the U.S. yet. You definitely want to have this local dish, and one of the Hawaii highlights, complete with traditional Macadamia nuts! It’s pretty easy to vegan-ize poke (they usually just use tofu instead of ahi).

MAUI
We took an easy flight across the islands on Hawaiian Air. Our accommodations in Maui rocked, but there’s a few things to note beforehand. We stayed at Sunseekers in Kihei. It’s a LBGT resort, which is awesome. However, we didn’t realize this before we booked and the pool and hot tub are clothing optional. Skinny dipping might be on your vacation bucket list. But don’t worry if it is not, the beach is right across the street and we didn’t ever go to the pool! How could you when THIS VIEW is just a few feet away? The hotel is comprised of private little villas and it’s extremely cheap considering you have a private beach!

The private beach across from Sunseekers in Kihei

This is the view across the street from Sunseekers!

That night we ate in a shopping center nearby in Kihei so my friend could try the famous fish tacos at Coconut’s fish café.

My favorite day of the trip was driving the amazing Hana Highway (one of the Hawaii Highlights).

We used info from this site – it’s really helpful because the mile markers are screwy and not in order. I printed it out to take along. Hana Highway is a 52-mile country road with all these stops and a MUST DO. We didn’t plan well so don’t make the same mistake! It’s a really winding road so you have to go 15-20 mph and it takes a good 3- 3.5 hours each way. We started out at 9 I think and finished breakfast in Paia at 12, too late to just be starting.

Our stops:

Mile marker 9 – Paia town (this is the start of Hana highway). Lots of cute places to have breakfast – we went to Charley’s restaurant & saloon.

Mile marker 2 – Twin falls. These are the most accessible falls. We came back the next morning and I went swimming in the pool beneath the falls.

Mile marker 10 – Garden of Eden arboretum. This is a hidden gem! Plants may not be your thing, but it’s a really neat property a family made into botanical gardens and has 100-year-old trees.

Mile marker 13.5 – Pe-ahi/”Jaws” – this is a cliff where you can see HUGE waves. Make sure to check the surf conditions and take notes of where to turn as it’s a little complicated to get there.

Mile marker 17 – Halfway to Hana farmstand. This is the best banana bread. We got 2 loaves and ate them every morning for breakfast for the rest of the trip.

Coconut Glen’s on the Hana Highway

Mile marker 27.5 – Coconut Glen’s ice cream – you can actually get coconut ice cream in a coconut shell.

Mile marker 31 – Kahanu Garden – largest temple in Hawaii. Check the hours! We really wanted to see this but by the time we got there (4 pm) they were closed. Super disappointing!

Mile marker 32 – Wai’anapanapa State park – MUST DO. This is the most beautiful black sand beach (top of the Hawaii highlights) with tons of sea caves. Amazing. We spent a good bit of time here.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

Sea caves at Wai’anapanapa State park

Mile marker 42 – Waimoku falls at Haleakala national park. We got here super late (about 5:30) and it was a huge mistake because it’s a 2-mile hike to the falls. We were super stressed and running to avoid darkness. The falls are amazing – 400 ft high! But the trek back was really tricky because it was getting dark and rough terrain (you want to be able to see your feet).

On our drive back to Kihei we stopped in Hana town for dinner at Travasaa Hana hotel’s restaurant. The food was really good but pricey. Again major planning fail when we realized it was 7:30 pm and we had a 3-hour drive back…

Wai’anapanapa State Park

On Sunday we planned to do whale watching/snorkeling but the trip we were going on had to reschedule for next day because of wind. Keep this in mind when booking excursions! So instead we went back to Twin Falls. That afternoon went to Haleakala State Park to watch the sunset. You drive up this windy crazy road with no guard rails for the view. It takes about 1.5 hours to get there from Kihei. You can do sunset or sunrise. With sunrise you can get there early and stargaze. If you choose sunset instead I don’t recommend you stay too long to see stars – you want to get going because the road is scary to drive down in dark.

View from Haleakala

This was another major of the Hawaii highlights. It is amazing to be able to see the clouds all around you! After Haleakala we tried Morimoto Maui and it was delicious!

On Monday we went for an early morning surf lesson in Kihei. I recommend Waves Hawaii Surf School. My instructor Ashley was amazing. I really advanced in 2 hours and Hawaii has nearly perfect conditions for surfing.

That afternoon we booked a snorkeling/whale watching tour with Four Winds Maui. It’s $44/person but there is an open bar, so it essentially pays for itself. We went to Hawaii in February which is the breeding season for whales so we saw several! It’s a great month to visit Hawaii.

  • Reply
    Catherine
    September 9, 2019 at 10:52 am

    Hawaii has always been on my bucket list and the more people speak of Maui, the more I want to visit! I’d love to check out Twin Falls… Hawaii really is an adventure-lovers paradise!

  • Reply
    Jordan
    September 9, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    I’m sorry you weren’t able to do the Stairway to Heaven. I’m always amazed by the stories and pics I see of those who were able to get through. And how was the surfing lesson? I so want to do that, but have never gotten up the courage.

    • Reply
      Summer
      September 10, 2019 at 1:03 am

      It was amazing! Surfing in Hawaii is so easy the conditions are perfect! I also used to surf in Gulf Coast, Florida and it does NOT compare. Much harder! You should 100% try it. The great thing about surfing is that it does not hurt when you fall into the water, wheras it does hurt when you fall trying to learn skiing or snowboarding haha!

  • Reply
    TravelByMaya
    September 10, 2019 at 12:07 am

    Hawaii is a big dream of mine. Especially visiting Maui, which as I can see from your post is definitely worth the hype !
    Visiting the stairway to heaven is also high on my bucket list, even though I didn’t know that there are problems getting there – bummer.
    Anyways, the Wai’anapanapa State Park looks like a landscape from heaven. I didn’t know this place exists, but now that I do it definitely is on my bucket list.
    Sounds like you had a lovely and unforgettable trip ! Great post !

  • Reply
    Smita
    September 10, 2019 at 10:31 am

    Maui is one of my dream destinations – the beautiful beaches and the pristine water look so alluring. Didn’t know about the Hana highway drive – seems really fun!

  • Reply
    Mei and Kerstin
    September 10, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Maui certainly looks like a place to be added to a travel bucket list. We’ve never been there and would love to someday, especially now after reading your post. Thanks for inspiring us!

    • Reply
      Natasha
      September 10, 2019 at 5:21 pm

      I’ve had family visit Maui, but I’ve never had the chance to go myself. Your photos look amazing! I’ll have to add Maui to my bucket list.

  • Reply
    Aditi Sharma
    September 10, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Hawaii has been on our bucket list and we’d love to take a trip there this year. It’s good to know that the prices at t Sunseekers in Kihei were on the lower side – and I’d love to stroll along that private beach. I’d love to stop by Coconut Glen – eating ice cream out of a coconut bowl sounds like fun! Thanks for all the information.

  • Reply
    Nitin Singhal
    September 10, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Ohio Hawaii is so beautiful. But it is so expensive that I might have to think of visiting it, maybe after 5-10 years. First the flights from India are super expensive, then accommodation cost are way too high. How much did you spend(minus flights) on your whole trip ?

    • Reply
      Summer
      September 10, 2019 at 5:12 pm

      I actually used miles from my Delta American Express card to fly to Hawaii! At the time the rates at Sunseekers were quite reasonable I think less than $200, maybe even less than $100 a night. I believe we found that they had vacancies from hoteltonight.com

  • Reply
    Josy A
    September 10, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    This all looks fantastic!

    Although to be honest, I don’t think the stairway to heaven from that direction sounds worth it. There are soooo many amazing hikes with epic views, I don’t want to trespass and visit one if the property owners are keen to keep me out. The the $1,000 fine doesn’t sound worth the risk, especially as you can hike it from the other direction legally (it’s called the Kaulana’ahane trail and finished at the same peak, looking down on the stairs.)

  • Reply
    Ann
    September 10, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    Gorgeous pictures of Hawaii. Thanks for the tips on what to see along the highway. Hawaii looks so beautiful I feel like I need about a month there to see everything.

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    September 10, 2019 at 11:36 pm

    We went to the North Shore in Oahu and it’s like the other iskands. We did Hana Highway and Haleakala in Maui but not whale watching not surfing (too old). But we went to Kauai, too. We have not been to the Big Island though.

  • Reply
    Medha
    September 15, 2019 at 3:36 am

    It’s a pity that you couldn’t hike the Stairway to Heaven. We visited Oahu more than 6 years ago and I did not even know about the stairway to heaven then, it was only a couple of years after the trip that I saw some amazing pictures and video of that place. But I did not know that it wasn’t allowed to go there, why did the cops come and stop you? Haven’t been to Maui but it looks wonderful!

    • Reply
      Summer
      September 15, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      Unfortunately the stairway is closed and the neighbors do not want people to do that hike so they call the police to arrest you for trespassing.

  • Reply
    Renuka Walter
    September 18, 2019 at 2:27 am

    Hawaii looks like paradise! Such pretty beaches. I feel like booking my tickets right away. 🙂

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