If Oahu was the Gold Coast then The Big Island (TBI) would probably be Ballina. Its a lot less developed but still has plenty of small towns with general amenities and sealed roads to the majority of the popular sites.
Ideally you’d want at least a couple days to hire a car and explore the sights at your own pace, if you’re planning on any hikes then its definitely the way to go. If however you’re on a bit of tight schedule then taking a tour is actually not a bad choice to make.
Normally we would steer clear of tours, mainly because of the restrictions of being locked into what they want to show you and for the time they allow, not to mention its always cheaper to just “go yourself”, however, after doing the sums with the flights and car hire for the day it worked out to be not much more for the tour, plus the fact you get to sleep while being chauffeured around = priceless.
After a bit of research we settled on Discovery Hawaii tours for their pretty much flawless track record and… it was well worth it. Not just for the ease of everything but the knowledge and humour of the guide and his effort to make the experience as enjoyable as possible, even going to the extent of switching destinations so our group wouldn’t clash with other groups, which was very welcomed not just for a better experience at the sights but also for getting a photo minus the tourist clutter.
Speaking of groups, Discovery is one of the few companies that still do small groups around 20-30 ppl on a smaller bus rather than a “cost effective” approach with large coaches. The thought of travelling around and waiting for double the amount of ppl to do the most basic things like getting on and off the bus is something I’m glad we didn’t have to experience!
Anyway, enough of that, on with the tour!
Travel Tip: The tour makes a stop at the start of the day at a local convenience store for everyone to grab water and supplies for the day. There is a lunch stop at the golf course but other than that, no other stops for food or water so you will need to stock up. If you have dietary requirements or want to avoid paying convenience store prices then pack all your food before hand for the WHOLE day. We arrived back at the airport early evening with about 15min to spare before the flight where there was only a small news agent store open, with no actual meals as such so keep those muesli bars handy.
The specific tour we chose was the One day Hawaii Volcano Eco-Adventure Tour which covered the following stops:
- Hilo Town & Rainbow Falls
- Historic Banyan Drive
- Queen Lydia Liliuokalani Gardens
- Kilauea Iki Overlook
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- National Park Visitors Center
- Kilauea Volcanic Steam Vents
- Jaggar Museum & Gift Shop
- National Park Admission
- Thurston Lava Tube
- Big Island Black Sand Beach
- No-Host Lunch at Local Restaurant
- Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook
- Volcanic Activity of Mount Kilauea
The actual sequence of stops varies depending on your driver, if yours is clued in like ours, he’ll know to leap frog some of the stops and return later if there are too many other tours at the one spot. The highlights in the order we travelled were:
Black Sand Beach – Small bay area just outside of Hilo. At first it looks like its just rich soil but on closer inspection you’ll see that it’s a rather coarse gravelly sand from the remnants of volcanic rock.
Photo tip: this bay sort of area has a lot of nooks with jagged rocks that would make for some great photos at sunrise/sunset. Unfortunately not a luxury we could afford being on a guided tour.
Travel Tip: Watch out for muddy areas in the grass or off paths, sulphur and who knows what else mixes with the sloppy stuff which will leave your shoes with an eu de canine faeces aroma = a very nauseating bus ride to the next stop!
Hilo – Basically like any other small coastal town, not really much to see, though the anecdotes from the guide were more than entertaining. (Not so) fun fact, the town has been wiped out completely due to natural disasters in the ‘40s and ‘60s, they’ve since rebuilt the town from scratch but further inland and now with some parkland as a buffer. As part of the rebuild, they kept the look and architecture of the original town.
Rainbow Falls – As far as falls go this was nothing special, not helped by the top down look out position and not enough time to venture down the bottom, even tho it wasn’t very tall. It would definitely be more impressive after some heavy rains.
Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens – One of those spots that you’d love to have in your backyard for a weekend chill out or bbq spot. Interesting floral, landscaping and traditional Japanese features such as pargodas, arch bridges and ornaments.
19th hole Golf Club lunch – a little bit fancy dining with the plaid sweater vest brigade but the food was good and our guide showed off his multiple talents and surprised us with songs on an acoustic guitar!
Volcano National Park – this is the school excursion part of the trip, we got a run down of volcano basics with a large model of the Hawaiian islands at the front of the information center then were ushered into a theatre for a screening of a short documentary on the history and formation of volcanoes as well as a finger shaking warning to be careful while out on the rocks and cliff faces. The short of it, bring proper sturdy shoes. A decent pair of runners will work but anything less like cutesy flats or slipons just wont cut it, in fact what will be cut is your feet.. into A MILLION PIECES!!!! Ok maybe not, but the dry lava and shards of rock are jagged and very sharp, which is why they wont even let you in to the park if you’re wearing thongs, sandals or none closed in shoes.
After the show we had the option of taking a short hike through the steam fields or getting a lift with the bus to the next stop, a lookout point. As unpleasant as it sounds to be walking through scrub billowing with sulphur and steam (they recommended anyone with respiratory problems or pregnant women to avoid it) it was worth the short 20-30min walk to see where the earth has opened up and was cutting the proverbial cheese.
At the top, the over look of Halema’uma’u shows a huge crater of the no doubt once active volcano. Now reduced to a smaller crater within the crater, it might not seem as impressive but with the plumes of sulphur clouds coming from it, enough to completely obscure visibility on the road passed it, one can only imagine the potential of that sleeping giant and imminent doom it could bring! Sorry, still channelling my Pierce Brosnan.
Thurston Lava Tubes – As impressive as some of the other sights were, this took the number one spot for us. A short 10min hike takes you to a series of tunnels where lava has carved its way through the mountain side forming tubes like some sort of prehistoric water park.
Photo tip: the tubes are very dimly lit, ideally you’d want a tripod but setting one up will completely block the path way which is 2-3 people wide in most parts. A monopod might suffice if you can dodge the other tourists, otherwise you will just have to crank the iso and steady that twitchy hand. These shots were taken at f3.2 1/15 to 1/25 at ISO12800
Kilauea Iki – is one of the most active volcanoes on the island but was rather quiet when we were there. What we did see however was the path of destruction it had left from its eruptions over the years. Lava flows, miles wide, has run from the top of the mountain down kilometres to the sea and as seen in the doco film, the lava tends to be brittle after hitting the water which eventually causes whole cliff shelves to just break away and fall into the ocean. These have left dramatic cliff faces and rock formations.
Rather ironically in the path of destruction from lava and all kinds of other toxic gases and chemicals, this most easterly point bears the winds of some of the most cleanest air in the world. So much so that it is used as a benchmark for measuring air clairity. Savour it, especially if you’re flying on to LA!
Another natural phenomenon that you will witness just about anywhere on the islands multiple times of day is rainbows. Yep, with all that sea spray the colourful light refractions are plentiful. Double rainbows are just as common and even triples can be viewed around coastal areas.
Jaggar Museum – cue Rolling Stones joke. This was the last stop which, while small, still housed plenty of information on volcanoes from art work, to vintage scientific equipment, historic moments and live seismograph readings. There’s also a lookout for Kilauea Iki.
All in all, it was a fun filled day and a refreshing change to be chauffeured around, the guide was informative and funny and knew when to keep quiet for everyone to take in the view or to have a nap on the afternoon stretch. While tipping was not encouraged unlike…well any other American service, we had no problem giving him a generous one at the end. Hopefully he’ll use it to buy some new jokes! Lol, kidding John, you’re ALL right!
Next we rejoin…err ourselves amidst some frantic retailing in Honolulu shopping – part b
Ala Moana Shopping Centre
If shopping is low on your list of priorities but you still want to venture out then Ala Moana is the one stop you should make, if you’re a shopaholic then it’s a good first stop to gauge prices and what’s available. Even better, it opens early and closes late.
The short of it, the place is huge. A mostly open aired multi-storey arrangement is home to nearly 300 stores so you’ll need a good couple hours even if you are moving at a moderate pace. In list form our picks of the bunch would be:
Animation Addict – A good place to start if you’re after Hello Kitty, Tokidoki or Angry Birds. They also have a good selection of Domo and the more popular items like Pop! Vinyl collectibles and Marvel merch. While most items are readily available just about everywhere, there were a few gems like a limited edtion Hello Kitty x Wish Come True collab bag. You know its scarce when even the staff at the Sanrio store have never seen one before!
Pac Sun – Local surf and skate store. Generous mix of designer and run of the mill wear with a few things on sale.
Crazy shirts – A Hawaii staple for tees. Its where you go if you want a souvenir shirt that isn’t from an ABC store. Shirts are good quality with a variety of themes, mostly surf/native based however the bump in price ($15-40) may have you heading back to the markets for a 5 for $20 deal.
Lego store – Doesn’t matter where we are in the world, if there’s a Lego store close by, we’re stopping in! This one had a nice bunch of dioramas built around different themes, the half size R2D2 and very large Star Wars star destroyer in the window were quite impressive. An instant souvenir was the minifig’ and Lego tag “I <3 Hawaii" keyring, shame these weren't available in other cities we've been to.
And of course you cant go past the American shopping mall staples – Champs, Footlocker, Hot Topic, Lids, Vans, Journeys, local surf/ski store Local Motion and cutesy overload is never too far away with Sanrio which seems to have signed a deal with the whole state as it and its associated local related merchandise is everywhere, they’re even in ABC stores! Just try to hold back a “nawwww” when you see a brown Hello Kitty in a grass skirt, its impossible! @~@
Pit stop time, roll out the pretzels! Unfortunately without a Wetzel‘s in sight we had to settle for Pretzelmaker. Not quite the same but tasty nonetheless (and still a damn sight better than anything on the streets of NYC! Yes, I realise using anything “from the streets of NYC” as a benchmark is a lazy and bias comparison :p)
One of the best things about Ala Moana is, it is central to a lot of other shops and eating spots, even better if you’re on foot, they’re all near each other and all buses lead to “Rome”.
Head out towards Nordstrom and you’ll come across three of Hawaii’s premium streetwear and sneaker boutique stores Kicks Hawaii, Noteworthy and Fitted all within a short distance of each other.
Kicks Hawaii (or KICKS HI – I know, sounds like a chorus line in Can can mode) – Is your one stop shop for sneakers and streetwear, very much in the vein of Kicks Tokyo, Undefeated and Dave’s Quality Meats. Prices are what you’d expect from such places but with limited edition prints and stock that wasn’t available on the website its a worthy tax for the “souvenir for someone who hates souvenirs”. I even spotted an unreleased ACG sneaker behind the counter which looked like a Terra Humara with “Powerlines”. Speaking to the owner it turns out we were both fans of rugged ACG’s but being a sample he quickly rejected my request to buy it :p Not being released for at least another six months didn’t help my case either!
They also regularly come by plenty of Quickstrikes so if you’re in the area for more than a week, it might be worth a return visit. You can keep up to date with their blog here.
Noteworthy – Is quite the illusive store if you’re on the same block as the store. It’s actually on the second level with access up an old flight of stairs behind the shop fronts, which you can only really see if you’re on the other side of the road. These guys are more along the lines of higher end street fashion. If you’ve ever had a penchant for $100 flannies, pants with the bottoms rolled past your ankles or have ever been referred to as a hipster then this is the place for you. Prices were well in the “you’re kiddin’ right?” range but they did have plenty of items heavily reduced on sale to help minimise that instant buyers’ remorse feeling.
Fitted – Very much like Lids but swap the run of the mill colours and teams for limited edition colours and exclusive branded designs along with their in house branding. Staff were very friendly and helpful, they even went to the extent of cracking open new, yet to be released stock a couple months early for me. Easy decision then
Crooks and Castles is also in the area, a couple doors down from Noteworthy in all of its clinic white glory but very same-same stock. We recommend sticking to online dealers like Karmaloop where this brand is always on sale.
A couple other mentions in the area are Walmart – come on, you’re in the ‘States, its pretty much a tourist attraction even if its just for “The people of Walmart“. It’s also a good stop if you’re after some cheap clothing/beach wear basics.
Morning glory is just across the road, yep, the one and the same that used to be in almost every shopping centre around Brisbane and the original cutesy Asian toy and knick knack chain. If you’re after plushes or stationary along these lines then it doesn’t disappoint – a huge range of items from little phone trinkets right up to bean bag sized Totoros.
..And with that, we’ll hit the pause button on this epic day of deep tissue retail therapy and insert a day volcano hunting at the biggest island in Hawaii’s chain of island, aptly called… The Big Island.
Having Chilli’s Bar and Grill on the ground floor of our hotel was one way to welcome us back to American food culture, tantalisingly delish but instantly regrettable. Luckily there was plenty of walking to be had around our new temporary home to help move along the couple pounds of meat, cheese and grease we had just ingested.
Waikiki is pretty much the Oahu equivalent of Surfers Paradise, ie. tourist central, but its not all bad! Street botherers and slow moving path blocking groups aside, between the scores of hotels there is a generous speckling of retail shops and eateries. Kuhio Ave is a good place to start with the Waikiki town center, Kings Village shopping center, Royal Hawaiian center. Here you’ll find almost any souvenir you can imagine with the usual excessive over redundancy of content and shops in tourist hot spots but it is still worth a look-through as some stores will stock different designs, colours or styles. The fixed shops make way for open air markets and mobile stalls in surrounding lanes and streets, thankfully very few are pushy with their sales.
The Royal Hawaiian is where the branded shopping begins with high end names like Fendi, Hermes, Bvlgari and even a Ferrari store but the one we were most interested in was Zumies – the token skate, surf, snow, moto-x store. They actually had quite the range of stock and brands, even a small section of Undefeated along with a bunch of sale items, always a good sign (:
Downstairs, it wouldn’t hurt your taste buds to pop into the Honolulu Cookie Company and try a few samples of their gourmet shortbread cookies.
Out on the streets you’ll find a couple 88 tees stores – kind of a designer vintage tee store dressed up like a rubbishy clearance store where shirts are in piles on large tables and in pigeon holes. There were some cool designs but prices were quite expensive for what they were (starting around $20). They did however have some other random items like old Hawaiian and American licence plates which were great for a slightly quirky souvenir (:
Alot of the high end stores made use of their massive store fronts for some intriguing art exhibits.
Finally, if by some chance you were walking around with your eyes closed, you may not have noticed that there’s quite literally an ABC store on every corner (not be mistaken with the Japanese Footlocker equivalent). Basically your one stop shop for souvenirs, convenience items and last minute life saving.
Next up, we take our best shot contracting mall dementia by running the gauntlet of the major shopping centres on the west coast… all in one day!
It might be a little cliché to honeymoon in Hawaii but can you really argue? Sun, surf, sand (if you go to the right beaches) and still plenty of sight seeing, activities and shopping to more than keep you busy.
I knew very little of “the rich man’s Bali” prior to researching and after viewing google maps and the associated scaled distances I was expecting it to be a lot smaller, however after a rather slow crawl through traffic from the airport to our Waikiki hotel it was instantly recognisable, for good and bad, as just about any other major American city.
But first, getting there. Like the savvy travellers we are, we held off till we could nab some crazy cheap flights and lo and behold a couple months out, Air Pacific had a sale and we were set. We heard and read a few horror stories about this budget Pacific carrier but didn’t really encounter close to a Tiger Airlines facebook post.
Of course the trade off for cheap flights is usually an extra stop over, which was in Fiji. Better than a slap in the face yea? Unfortunately it was more like a slow slap in the face, we were scheduled to arrive early evening so the choice in venturing out was limited and with the sun all but gone, it wasn’t even worth a look at the beach outside of the Nadi airport. So with 7 hours to kill we made the most of what the airport had to offer, 2 levels of shops and a food court….cool, now there’s only 6hours 50min left to go. Yep, the place is small, the shops uninspiring and mostly redundant. The food court is based mostly around a carvery style vender which served a variety of meals from classic American to a few Asian dishes. Prices were ok and the quality not too bad. Best thing was they took AU (or USD) currency without a transaction fee but you got your change in Fijian dollars.
Travel Tip: Carry small denominations of AU or USD notes to minimise the amount of unused Fijian currency you’ll have to get exchanged or just keep it for your return stop over.
So to kill the time? We came prepared with a season of Fringe on a netbook, then we just commandeered a table. Later we mixed it up and pulled up some carpet near an unused powerpoint.
Travel Tip: If you get bored from counting the number of Aussie girls with French braids or corn rows and want a bit of piece and quiet, head downstairs to the airline lounges. You can pay a small fee for creature comforts inside or just stretch out on the floor/seats out the front for free.
Time marched on with the slumping body language and expressions of center staff till we were finally on our way – but wait, whats this? An extra stop at Christmas Island??? Ok first shock was the previous no mention of a second stop and the second was Christmas Island?? Isn’t that in the opposite direction?? Turns out its part of Kiribati, a tiny little island that’s more lagoons and oases than island – but a perfect place if you want middle-of-no-where picturesque beaches, endless fishing and literally nothing else. The ground crew there reflected the laid back environment, some rode up to the airliner on bicycles, most were either wearing thongs or were barefoot and shirtless. One even took a break from doing nothing by lighting up a cigarette, apparently avgas is so laidback here it couldn’t be bothered exploding :-\
After another hour of sitting around (minus the break where US border patrol entered the plane and searched seats …and the poor guys that fit the stereotypical profile) we were on our way.
On arrival at HNL airport we picked up our hire car from Alamo, despite some negative reviews for this location we had no problems at all and even ended getting to choose a VW Jetta over a Ford Focus. After spending a couple thousand miles in a Focus last time, it was an easy decision to choose the German… and it wasn’t just because it was red You can get around the island quite sufficiently using public transport and mopeds but nothing beats having the freedom and convenience of a car especially when you have multiple activities planned for a day and a bunch of shopping to go with it.
Travel Tip: For the best prices on hire cars go to www.DiscountHawaiiCarRental.com – basically a blind selection from dealers of your car category choice, or better. Once your preferences are entered, you’ll get an email from the hire company with pick up details. A little daunting not knowing what you’ll get or from who, but they only deal with the bigger name companies so you should still have some choice depending on your nominated category. If you’re choosing “convertible” you’ll be mostly limited to a Mustang or Sebring … realistically you’ll end up with a Sebring (which is essentially an old Ford Taurus with the roof cut off. Yep, as ugly as it sounds) To give you an idea, a week hire for a “compact”, which going by the Jetta felt more like a mid-size was about $150 for the week, total of $350 with insurance which is always the killer. Still, at $200 less than the cheapest online advertised price, it was an easy decision.
The prepurchase of a $50 ebay gps complete with current US and Europe maps instantly paid for itself as we made a steady crawl towards Waikiki and our hotel for the week, The Outrigger – Ohana West.
There is of course a plethora of hotels to chose from, most going from “more than your flights” to “yikes!” but thankfully this (not so) little gem was significantly less than surrounding places including sister hotel, Ohana East, a mere half block away. Having the deal sweetened with Zuji’s package special made it even better. The only reason we could tell for the difference in price was from the décor. It looked like the last reno in the rooms was during the 80s but other than that nothing to complain about, good service, large room and balcony and a 5min stroll to the beach. There’s also Chili’s Bar and Grill on the ground level and a Denny’s just across the street, both with a wide range of foods and meal deals.
Travel Tip: Parking is a premium almost every where in Waikiki and of course they capitalise on it. There are a few cheaper long term parking spots but all a few blocks away and most not secured. Ohana East offers paid parking at about $20-25 a day with discounts for longer stays, which makes unloading and loading alot easier. The trade off is, the carpark is very limited so they tend to run out of spaces from mid to late afternoon but if you have already paid, you get directed to Ohana West down the road.
Travel Tip: A lot of the beach front hotels have “private” beaches ie. Its easiest accessed through the hotel. For off the street access you’ll want to head straight for Kuhio Beach Park (Waikiki Beach). Possibly one of the busiest beaches in Oahu, it has levies for shelter and corrosion prevention (I read somewhere that they actually import sand from Australia!), though the native sand is rather coarse. Great spot for a quick dip and kid-friendly but if you want to do anything other than a fun splash/cool down then its best you try elsewhere.
Bags dumped and a quick shower, we were ready to hit the streets of Waikiki!
….Well I wish I could say they all came for me thanks to an overly generous Santa but alas no, I wasn’t any where near the “Nice” list Just a few shots that I finally got around to uploading.
A Breach of Silence get angry like they’ve just spent a day Christmas shopping at a Westfield for our Time Off Magazine Live cover shoot this week.
Check them out in the final issue for the year #1608 and if we don’t see you, have a happy and safe holiday break! (:
Get it FREE from all the usual street press outlets or read current and back issues online @ Time Off magazine – Brisbane
It had been a little while since one of our favourite bands of all time, Reel Big Fish ventured out our way but even with the departure of their second guitarist (replaced with a new saxophonist) the energy was still there (even if Aaron already had a bit of a work out playing lead guitarist for Goldfinger) and a great show none the less.
Goldfinger were there.. well, minus everyone except the lead singer who apparently gave the band a screw you guys mere weeks before the tour! Kudos to be had for continuing on with the RBF brass section and lead singer and a familiar MXPX member on bass. Clearly this didnt stop them for rocking out even if the dude looks more like Leslie Nelson nowadays!
The lovely couple of Laneway swing by for our Time Off Magazine Live cover shoot this week.
Check them out in this week’s issue #1607.
Get it FREE from all the usual street press outlets or read current and back issues online @ Time Off magazine – Brisbane
We’ve got a bumper issue for you this week! First we have the dread-ed boys of The Floating Bridges, our Time Off Magazine Live cover shoot, then we head out to catch one of our fave bands, Reel Big Fish with support from Goldfinger and Zebrahead (stay tuned for a full gallery) and finally we hunt down the Boomgates after a last minute venue change.
Check all this out in this week’s issue #1606.
Get it FREE from all the usual street press outlets or read current and back issues online @ Time Off magazine – Brisbane
The ladies of Love like hate are our Time Off Magazine Live cover shoot this week.
Check them out in this week’s issue #1605.