How to select the best island for your wedding...
photo by Dave Miyamoto & Co.
First, you may want to consider when you want to travel to Hawaii. Some like to travel during the high season, which is the most expensive and the busiest time to travel to and stay in Hawaii. The high season generally runs from mid-December through March or mid-April, and the last two weeks of December. The best travel bargains are during the off-seasons, spring (mid-Apr to mid-June) and fall (Sept to mid-Dec). Fortunately, that is also when the best weather occurs. If you're looking to save money, or if you just want to avoid the crowds, this is the time to visit. Hotel rates and airfares also tend to be lower. Although summer used to be the off-season, large number of families traveling in summer (June-Aug), have made it a more popular time to go. So, you may not get the fantastic bargains of spring and fall.
It is pretty difficult to go wrong with selecting any of these islands, as they are all beautiful. Each island offers unique qualities, and we suggest you research them a little bit before making a decision. Here is some basic information to start your research...
The liveliest island is Oahu. It is relatively small in size, although very populated. Honolulu is the most metropolitan of all the Hawaiian cities, offering beautiful beaches, an array of entertainment locales, and various accommodations. For a quieter setting on Oahu, we sugest the windward side or the north shore. There is ample transportation available if you choose to not rent a car. To collect information in advance, here are some contacts:
Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), Suite 801, Waikiki Business Plaza, 2270 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815 (tel. 800/GO-HAWAII or 808/923-1811; www.gohawaii.com). Among other things, the bureau publishes the helpful Accommodations and Car Rental Guide and supplies free brochures, maps, and the Islands of Aloha magazine, the official HVCB magazine.
The Oahu Visitors Bureau, 1001 Bishop St., Pauahi Tower, Suite 47, Honolulu, HI 96813 (tel. 800/OAHU-678 or 808/524-0722; www.visit-oahu.com), distributes a free 64-page visitors booklet.
HAWAII...The Big Island
The Big Island of Hawaii--the island that lends its name to the entire 1,500-mile (2,415km) long Hawaiian archipelago--is where Mother Nature pulled out all the stops. Simply put, it's spectacular.
The Big Island has it all: fiery volcanoes and sparkling waterfalls, black-lava deserts and snowcapped mountain peaks, tropical rain forests and alpine meadows, a glacial lake and miles of golden, black, and green(!) sand beaches. The Big Island has an unmatched diversity of terrain and climate. A 50-mile (81km) drive will take you from snowy winter to sultry summer, passing through spring or fall along the way. The island looks like the inside of a barbecue pit on one side, and a lush jungle on the other.
The Big Island is the largest island in the Hawaiian chain (4,038 sq. miles--about the size of Connecticut), the youngest (800,000 years), and the least populated (with 30 people per sq. mile). It has the nation's wettest city, the southernmost point in the United States, the world's biggest telescope, the ocean's biggest trophy marlin, and America's greatest collection of tropical luxury resorts. It also has the highest peaks in the Pacific, the most volcanoes of any Hawaiian island, and the newest land on earth.
Five volcanoes--one still erupting--have created this continental island, which is growing bigger daily. At its heart is snowcapped Mauna Kea, the world's tallest sea mountain (measured from the ocean floor), complete with its own glacial lake. Mauna Kea's nearest neighbor is Mauna Loa (or "Long Mountain"), creator of one-sixth of the island; it's the largest volcano on earth, rising 30,000 feet (9,144m) out of the ocean floor (of course, you can see only the 13,796 ft. that are above sea level). Erupting Kilauea makes the Big Island bigger every day--and, if you're lucky and your timing is good, you can stand just a few feet away and watch it do its work. (In just a week, Kilauea volcano can produce enough lava to fill the Astrodome.)
Steeped in tradition and shrouded in the primal mist of creation, the Big Island called to the Polynesians across 2,000 miles (3,200km) of open ocean. In fact, ancient Hawaiian chants talk about a great burning in the night skies that guided the sojourners to the land of volcanoes. The Big Island radiates what the Hawaiians call mana, a sense of spirituality that's still apparent through the acres of petroglyphs etched in the black lava, the numerous heiau (ancient temples), burial caves scattered in the cliffs, sacred shrines both on land and in the sea, and even in the sound the wind makes as it blows across the desolate lava fields.
The Big Island is not for everyone, however. It refuses to fit the stereotype of a tropical island. Some tourists are taken aback at the sight of stark fields of lava or black-sand beaches. You must remember that it's big (expect to do lots of driving). And you may have to go out of your way if you're looking for traditional tropical beauty, such as a quintessential white-sand beach.
On the other hand, if you're into watersports, this is paradise. The two tall volcanoes mean 350 days of calm water on the leeward side. The underwater landscape of caves, cliffs, and tunnels attracts a stunning array of colorful marine life just waiting to be visited by divers and snorkelers. The island's west coast is one of the best destinations in the world for big-game fishing. And its miles of remote coastline are a kayaker's dream of caves, secluded coves, and crescent-shaped beaches reachable only by sea.
On land, hikers, bikers, and horseback riders can head up and down a volcano, across black-sand beaches, into remote valleys, and through rain forests without seeing another soul. Bird-watchers are rewarded with sightings of the rare, rapidly dwindling native birds of Hawaii. Golfers can find nirvana on top championship courses, less-crowded municipal courses, and even some unusual off-the-beaten-track choices.
This is the least-explored island in the Hawaiian chain, but if you're looking to get away from it all and back to nature in its most primal state, that might be the best thing of all about it. Where else can you witness fiery creation and swim with dolphins; ponder the stars from the world's tallest mountain and catch a blue marlin; downhill ski and surf the waves in a single day? You can do all this, and more, on only one island in the world: the Big Island of Hawaii.
Maui is home to the famous Mercedes Tournament for all of the golf fans. With numerous golf courses, excellent restaurants, beautiful beaches, and a variety of accommodations, this island is no ka oi (the best)! Maui offers seclusion as well as a night life. It is not as commercially developed as Oahu, but developed enough so that you'll never be bored. It all depends on what you want. You can stay in Hana where it is truly "heavenly." It is Hawaii in its truest form, offering a peaceful, restful escape. The West Side is a bit busier than the South Shore, and wonderful for families. The South Shore offers more of a "resort feel," and is a bit drier than the West Side. Upcountry is beautiful and windy enough to keep the kite and wind surfers happy.
For advance information on traveling in Maui, contact the Maui Visitors Bureau, 1727 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, Maui, HI 96793 (tel. 800/525-MAUI or 808/244-3530; fax 808/244-1337; www.visitmaui.com). If you want to stop by once you're on the island, here are directions from the airport: Go right on Highway 36 (the Hana Hwy.) to Kaahumanu Avenue (Hwy. 32); follow it past Maui Community College and Wailuku War Memorial Park onto East Main Street in Wailuku; at North Market Street, turn right, and then right again on Mill Street; go left on Imi Kala Street and left again onto Wili Pa Loop.
The Kaanapali Beach Resort Association is at 2530 Kekaa Dr., Suite 1-B, Lahaina, HI 96761 (tel. 800/245-9229 or 808/661-3271; fax 808/661-9431; www.maui.net/~kbra).
The state agency responsible for tourism is the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), Suite 801, Waikiki Business Plaza, 2270 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815 (tel. 800/GO-HAWAII or 808/923-1811; www.gohawaii.com).
Kauai is the lush garden isle, with natural beauty everywhere. The South Shore is drier than the North Shore. The prettiest sunsets can be seen from Ke'e Beach on the North Shore, and Baby Beach or in front of the Beach House Restaurant on the South Shore. Don't let the occasional rain showers keep you away...remember, without rain, there wouldn't be rainbows!
Frommer's says the following:
Kauai's three main resort areas, where nearly all the island's accommodations are located, are all quite different in climate, price, and type of accommodations offered, but it's a wide, wonderful range. On the south shore, dry and sunny Poipu is anchored by perfect beaches. This is the place to stay if you like the ocean, watersports, and plenty of sunshine. The Coconut Coast, on the east coast of Kauai, has the most condos, shops, and traffic--it's where all the action is. Hanalei, up on the North Shore, is rainy, lush, and quiet, with spectacular beaches and deep wilderness. Because of its remote location, the North Shore is a great place to get away from it all--but not a great place from which to explore the rest of the island.
Lihue & Environs--Lihue is where most visitors first set foot on the island. This red-dirt farm town, the county seat, was founded by sugar planters and populated by descendants of Filipino and Japanese cane cutters. It's a plain and simple place, with used-car lots and mom-and-pop shops. It's also the source of bargains: inexpensive lodging, great deals on dining, and some terrific shopping buys. One of the island's most beautiful beaches, Kalapaki Beach, is just next door at Nawiliwili, by the island's main harbor.
The Poipu Resort Area--Poipu Beach--On Kauai's sun-soaked south shore, this is a pleasant if sleepy resort destination of low-rise hotels set on gold-sand pocket beaches. Well-done, master-planned Poipu is Kauai's most popular resort, with the widest variety of accommodations, from luxury hotels to B&Bs and condos. It offers 36 holes of golf, 38 tennis courts, and outstanding restaurants. This is a great place for watersports, and a good base from which to tour the rest of Kauai. The only drawback is that the North Shore is about 1 to 1 1/2 hours away.
Koloa--This tiny old town of gaily painted sugar shacks just inland from Poipu Beach is where the Hawaiian sugar industry was born more than a century and a half ago. The mill is closed, but this showcase plantation town lives on as a tourist attraction, with delightful shops, an old general store, and a vintage Texaco gas station with a 1930s Model A truck in place, just like in the good old days.
Kahaleo/Lawai--Just a short 10- to 15-minute drive inland from the beach at Poipu lie the more residential communities of Lawai and Kalaheo. Quiet subdivisions line the streets, restaurants catering to locals dot the area, and life revolves around family and work. Good bargains on B&Bs and a handful of reasonably priced restaurants can be found here.
Western Kauai--This region, west of Poipu, is more remote than its eastern neighbor and lacks its terrific beaches. But it's home to one of Hawaii's most spectacular natural wonders, Waimea Canyon (the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific"); and farther upland and inland, one of its best parks, Kokee State Park.
Hanapepe--For a quick trip back in time, turn off Highway 50 at Hanapepe, once one of Kauai's biggest towns. Founded by Chinese rice farmers, it's so picturesque that it was used as a backdrop for the miniseries The Thornbirds. Hanapepe makes a good rest stop on the way to or from Waimea Canyon. It has galleries selling antiques as well as local art and crafts, including Georgio's surfboard art and coconut-grams. It's also home to one of the best restaurants on Kauai, the Hanapepe Cafe & Espresso Bar. Nearby, at Salt Pond Beach Park, Hawaiians since the 17th century have dried a reddish sea salt in shallow, red-clay pans. This is a great place to swim, snorkel, and--maybe--observe an ancient industry still in practice.
Waimea--This little coastal town, the original capital of Kauai, seems to have quit the march of time. Dogs sleep in the street while old pickups rust in front yards. The ambience is definitely laid-back. A stay in Waimea is peaceful and quiet (especially at the Waimea Plantation Cottages on the beach), but the remote location means this isn't the best base if you want to explore the other regions of Kauai, such as the North Shore, without a lot of driving.
On his search for the Northwest Passage in 1778, British explorer Capt. James Cook dropped anchor at Waimea and discovered a sleepy village of grass shacks. In 1815, the Russians arrived and built a fort here (now a national historic landmark), but they didn't last long: A scoundrel named George Anton Scheffer tried to claim Kauai for Russia, but he was exposed as an impostor and expelled by King Kamehameha I.
Today, even Waimea's historic relics are spare and simple: a statue of Cook alongside a bas-relief of his ships, the rubble foundation of the Russian fort, and the remains of an ancient aqueduct unlike any other in the Pacific. Except for an overabundance of churches for a town this size, there's no sign that Waimea was selected as the first landing site of missionaries in 1820.
The Coconut Coast--The eastern shore of Kauai north of Lihue is a jumble of commerce and condos strung along the coast road named for Prince Kuhio, with several small beaches beyond. Almost anything you need, and a lot of stuff you can live without, can be found along this coast, which is known for its hundreds of coconut trees waving in the breeze. It's popular with budget travelers because of the myriad B&Bs and affordable hotels and condos to choose from, and it offers great restaurants and the island's major shopping areas.
Kapaa--The center of commerce on the east coast and the capital of the Coconut Coast condo-and-hotel district, this restored plantation town looks just like an antique. False-front wooden stores line both sides of the highway; it looks as though they've been here forever--until you notice the fresh paint and new roofs and realize that everything has been rebuilt since Hurricane Iniki smacked the town flat in 1992. Kapaa has made an amazing comeback without losing its funky charm.
The North Shore--Kauai's North Shore may be the most beautiful place in Hawaii. Exotic seabirds, a half-moon bay, jagged peaks soaring into the clouds, and a mighty wilderness lie around the bend from the Coconut Coast, just beyond a series of one-lane bridges traversing the tail ends of waterfalls. There's only one road in and out, and only two towns, Hanalei and Kilauea--the former by the sea, the latter on a lighthouse cliff that's home to a bird preserve. Sun seekers may fret about all the rainy days, but Princeville Resort offers elegant shelter and two golf courses where you can play through rainbows.
Kilauea--This village is home to an antique lighthouse, tropical-fruit stands, little stone houses, and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a wonderful seabird preserve. The rolling hills and sea cliffs are hideaways for the rich and famous, including Bette Midler and Sylvester Stallone. The village itself has its charms: The 1892 Kong Lung Company, Kauai's oldest general store, sells antiques, art, and crafts; and you can order a jazzy Billie Holiday Pizza to go at Kilauea Bakery and Pau Hana Pizza.
Anini Beach--This little-known residential district on a 2-mile (3km) reef (the biggest on Kauai) offers the safest swimming and snorkeling on the island. A great beach park is open to campers and day-trippers, and there's a boat ramp where locals launch sampans to fish for tuna. On Sundays, there's polo in the park and the sizzle of barbecue on the green. Several residents host guests in nearby B&Bs.
Princeville--A little overwhelming for Kauai's wild North Shore, Princeville Resort is Kauai's biggest project, an 11,000-acre (4,452ha) development set on a high plain overlooking Hanalei Bay. This resort community includes a luxury Sheraton hotel, 10 condo complexes, new timeshare units around two championship golf courses, cliff-side access to pocket beaches, and one B&B right on the golf course.
Hanalei--Picture-postcard Hanalei is the laid-back center of North Shore life and an escapist's dream; it's also the gateway to the wild Na Pali Coast. Hanalei is the last great place on Kauai yet to face the developer's blade of progress. At Hanalei Bay, sloops anchor and surfers play year-round. The 2-mile- (3km) long crescent beach, the biggest indentation on Kauai's coast, is ideal for kids in summer, when the wild surf turns placid. Hanalei still retains the essence of its original sleepy, end-of-the-road charm. On either side of two-lane Kuhio Highway, you'll find just enough shops and restaurants to sustain you for a week's visit--unless you're a hiker, surfer, or sailor, or have some other preoccupation that just might keep you here the rest of your life.
Haena--Emerald-green Haena isn't a town or a beach but an ancient Hawaiian district, a place of exceptional natural beauty and the gateway to the Na Pali Coast. It's the perfect tropical escape, and everybody knows it: Old house foundations and temples, now covered by jungle, lie in the shadow of new million-dollar homes of movie stars and musicians like Jeff Bridges and Graham Nash. This idyllic, 4-mile (6.5km) coast has lagoons, bays, great beaches, spectacular snorkeling, a botanical garden, and the only North Shore resort that's right on the sand, the Hanalei Colony Resort.
The Na Pali Coast--The road comes to an end, and now it begins: the Hawaii you've been dreaming about. Kauai's Na Pali Coast (na pali means "the cliffs") is a place of extreme beauty and Hawaii's last true wilderness. Its majestic splendor will forever remain unspoiled because no road will ever traverse it. You can enter this state park only on foot or by sea. Serious hikers--and we mean very serious--tackle the ancient 11-mile (18km) long trail down the forbidding coast to Kalalau Valley. The lone, thin trail that creases these cliffs isn't for the faint of heart or anyone afraid of heights. Those of us who aren't up to it can explore the wild coast in an inflatable rubber Zodiac, a billowing sailboat, a high-powered catamaran, or a hovering helicopter, which takes you for the ride of your life.
Visitor Information--The Kauai Visitors Bureau is located on the first floor of the Watumull Plaza, 4334 Rice St., Suite 101, Lihue, HI 96766 (tel. 808/245-3971; fax 808/246-9235; www.kauaivisitorsbureau.org). For a free official Kauai Vacation Planner or recorded information, call tel. 800/262-1400. The Poipu Beach Resort Association, P.O. Box 730, Koloa, HI 96756 (tel. 888/744-0888 or 808/742-7444; http://poipu-beach.org), will also send you a free guide to accommodations, activities, shopping, and dining in the Poipu Beach area.
If you'd like to learn more about Kauai before you go, contact the Kauai Historical Society, 4396 Rice St., Lihue, HI 96766 (tel. 808/245-3373; firstname.lastname@example.org). The group maintains a video-lending library that includes material on a range of topics, including Hawaiian legends, ghost stories, archaeology, and travelogues on individual areas around Kauai. Mainland residents can borrow tapes for up to 3 weeks. Rates are $1 for society members, $2.50 for nonmembers; shipping and handling costs $5.
Frommer's says: Lanai is not an easy place to reach. There are no direct flights from the mainland. It's almost as if this quiet, gentle oasis--known, paradoxically, for both its small-town feel and its celebrity appeal--demands that its visitors go to great lengths to get here in order to ensure that they will appreciate it.
Lanai (pronounced lah-nigh-ee), the nation's biggest defunct pineapple patch, now claims to be one of the world's top tropical destinations. It's a bold claim, since so little is here. Don't expect a lot of dining or accommodations choices (Lanai has even fewer than Molokai). There are no stoplights here and barely 30 miles (48km) of paved road. This almost virgin island is unspoiled by what passes for progress, except for a tiny 1920s-era plantation village--and, of course, the village's fancy new arrivals: two first-class luxury hotels where room rates hover around $400 a night.
As soon as you arrive on Lanai, you'll feel the small-town coziness. People wave to every car; residents stop to "talk story" with their friends; fishing and working in the garden are considered priorities in life; and leaving the keys in the car's ignition is standard practice.
For generations, Lanai was little more than a small village, owned and operated by the pineapple company, surrounded by acres of pineapple fields. The few visitors to the island were either relatives of the mainly Filipino residents or occasional weekend hunters. Life in the 1960s was pretty much the same as in the 1930s. But all that changed in 1990, when the Lodge at Koele, a 102-room hotel resembling an opulent English Tudor mansion, opened its doors, followed a year later by the 250-room Manele Bay Hotel, a Mediterranean-style luxury resort overlooking Hulopoe Bay. Overnight, the isolated island was transformed: Corporate jets streamed into the tiny Lanai Airport, former plantation workers were retrained in the art of serving gourmet meals, and the population of 2,500 swelled with transient visitors and outsiders coming to work in the island's new hospitality industry. Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates chose the island for his lavish wedding, buying up all of its hotel rooms to fend off the press--and uncomplicated Lanai went on the map as a vacation spot for the rich and powerful.
But this island is also a place where people come looking for dramatic beauty, quiet, solitude, and an experience with nature away from the bright lights of Waikiki, the publicity of Maui, and the hoopla surrounding most resorts. The sojourners who find their way to Lanai come seeking the dramatic views, the tropical fusion of stars at night, and the chance to be alone with the elements.
They also come for the wealth of activities: snorkeling and swimming in the marine preserve known as Hulopoe Bay; hiking on 100 miles (161km) of remote trails; talking story with the friendly locals; and beachcombing and whale-watching along stretches of otherwise deserted sand. For the adventurous, there's horseback riding in the forest, scuba diving in caves, playing golf on courses with stunning ocean views, or renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the day and discovering wild plains where spotted deer run free.
In a single decade, a plain red-dirt pineapple patch has become one of Hawaii's top fantasy destinations. But the real Lanai is a multifaceted place that's so much more than a luxury resort--and it's the traveler who comes to discover the island's natural wonders, local lifestyle, and other inherent joys who's bound to have the most genuine island experience.
Born of volcanic eruptions 1 1/2 million years ago, Molokai remains a time capsule at the beginning of the 21st century. It has no deluxe resorts, no stoplights, and no buildings taller than a coconut tree. Fortunately for adventure travelers and peace seekers, Molokai is the least developed, most "Hawaiian" of all the islands.
Molokai lives up to its reputation as the most Hawaiian place chiefly through its lineage; there are more people here of Hawaiian blood than anywhere else. This slipper-shaped island was the cradle of Hawaiian dance (the hula was born here) and the ancient science of aquaculture. An aura of ancient mysticism clings to the land here, and the old ways still govern life. The residents survive by taking fish from the sea and hunting wild pigs and axis deer on the range. Some folks still catch fish in throw nets and troll the reef for squid.
Modern Hawaii's high-rise hotels, shopping centers, and other trappings of tourism haven't been able to gain a foothold here; one lone low-rise resort, Kaluakoi, built more than 25 years ago, is Molokai's token attempt at contemporary tourism. The only "new" developments since Kaluakoi are the Molokai Ranch's ecotourism project of pricey camping in semipermanent "tentalows" (a combination of a bungalow and a tent) and an upscale 22-room lodge on the 53,000-acre (21,448-hectare) ranch, now managed by Sheraton. The focus of both is on outdoor recreation and adventure, with all the comforts of home.
The slow-paced, simple life of the people and the absence of contemporary landmarks attract those in search of the "real" Hawaii. But what makes these visitors stand in awe is this little island's diverse natural wonders: Hawaii's highest waterfall and greatest collection of fish ponds, the world's tallest sea cliffs, sand dunes, coral reefs, rain forests, hidden coves, and gloriously empty beaches.