The view from here
I wish someone told me this before we went to Hawaii! But our loss is your gain because these tips will help you avoid rookie mistakes.
Me and my friend fulfilled one of our mutual bucket list dreams last month and went on a trip to Hawaii! We spent a total of eight days on the two islands of Oahu and Maui (four days on each island) and had an incredible time! We were extremely lucky with the weather (it only rained for one full day out of eight) and I'm still buzzing with excitement when I think about all the things we saw and experienced during our time there. Hawaii sure is a little piece of paradise and I urge you all to go and explore it for yourself!!
Apart from having the most amazing time no matter where we went or what we did, there are some things that I wish I had known before our trip so I've put a list with my Top 11 Travel Tips for Hawaii together for you below ;-) Read on to save yourselves money and hassle.
But first! - How to choose your islands
Just before we jump into the practical tips, one of the hardest things for us to decide was which one of the Hawaiian islands we should visit. They all sound magical and all have something special and unique to offer so it’s not easy to decide which one to choose. Here is a quick personal rundown for you on how we ended up deciding what to see.
Below is what I found out while researching the eight major Hawaiian islands. I will focus on the unique/main things you can experience here. They all (obviously) have a lot more to offer than the bullet points listed below but they should at least help you identify some of your must sees and dos .
Here we go!
1) Taxes & Tips (for foreign visitors)
Some of you may already know this about the US, but taxes aren't included in any of the prices you see on menus, price tags, etc. The GET (general excise tax) is 4% throughout Hawaii and 4.5% on Oahu so expect to pay more at the counter no matter where you go. On top of that, you have to tip waitstaff in restaurants and cafes (etiquette suggests 15-20%) so make sure you bring some extra cash when eating out.
2) Rental cars
In Hawaii, we found that car insurance is usually almost double the price of the actual rental car price per day. Most rental car places also don't show you the cost for the different insurance packages unless you specifically ask them for it and they usually recommend you the most expensive one so make sure you double check before signing on the dotted line. If you can include car insurance in your travel insurance before going to the US even better!
Also, be aware that if you pay for your rental car with a debit card you need proof that you are leaving the country on the same day you are returning the vehicle (which might not always work for you if you only rent the car for a few days) so it's definitely a lot easier if you use a credit card instead.
3) Traveling in between islands
If you travel to Hawaii from overseas, chances are you are traveling with check-in luggage (aka a suitcase of about 23kg). The airlines flying in between islands allow you to take your carry-on luggage on board for free but you have to pay extra for your check-in luggage. Hawaiian airlines charges US$ 25 per check-in bag each way (US $50 return). However, when you sign up to the Hawaiian Airline loyalty program (which is completely free and done in less than 5 minutes) your check-in baggage fees will only be US$ 15 per bag each way instead of $25. Definitely worth it ;-)
4) Eating out
If you like to eat out, I'd recommend that you research restaurants in advance. Unless you are in Waikiki/Honolulu it's quite tricky to walk out of your hotel and find a proper restaurant or cafe with ease. Whenever we spontaneously asked someone for the closest restaurant, we were usually directed to either McDonalds, Burger King or KFC. Don't get me wrong, I loved our random breakfasts at Mexican Fast Food Chains or McDonalds but if you don't feel like embracing the American Fast Food culture 24/7 during your stay it might help to consult Google to find dining places close to you no matter where you stay.
5) Taxis/ Ubers & Public transport
Both taxis and Ubers are quite expensive in Hawaii. They are also unpredictable, especially everywhere around Honolulu where traffic is insane and traffic jams are to be expected at any given time of day. I'd recommend booking yourself shuttle busses instead. A lot of tour companies offer hotel pick-ups and drop-offs for free if you book certain tours. If you need to get to and from the airport, I'd also recommend that you book yourself a shuttle service. This one here is a good one for example.
If you are opting for public transport to get to and from the airport, be aware that some busses from Honolulu airport into the city don't let you on the bus if you have any check-in luggage (a suitcase bigger than a carry on). Most of the bus drivers wouldn't let us on the bus claiming they didn't have enough room for suitcases. You can wait it out as one bus let us on eventually but again, it might be easier to organise yourself alternative transport before you get to Hawaii.
It's also good to keep in mind that bus drivers don't give out any change in Hawaii so make sure you have the right amount of money before you board your bus. It's worth checking for day passes as they often cost the same amount of money as a return ticket.
Parking around Waikiki/Honolulu is an absolute nightmare and insanely expensive. Get in touch with your hotel prior to your stay and ask them if they have parking available and what their daily fees are. Most of them seem to charge around US$ 30 per day and allow you to come and go as often as you want (within 24 hours). Still not cheap of course but on-street parking is scarce and in most cases even more expensive. If you want to save money you could consider renting a car for only a day or two so you don't have to pay for parking overnight.
7) Pearl Harbour
Pearl Harbour is definitely worth a visit! Bookings should be made well in advance for tickets that give you access to all museums and sights. They only cost US $1.50 and can be booked online. Make sure you book it as far in advance as possible as tickets sell out weeks in advance and you might end up having to queue from 7am to get yourself a daily "walk-in" pass which seems to sell out fast every morning.
Alternatively, if you aren't really interested in the museums, you can access the grounds without any tickets and have a look at everything from afar. Meaning you can look at the ships but you can't enter them and you won't have access to any of the museums or Ford island.
8) Kualoa Ranch
If you are a Jurassic Park fan, or want to see where Godzilla, Jumanji, 50 First Dates and the like were filmed, make sure you visit the "Kualoa Ranch". They offer a lot of different tours and ways to explore the famous movie sets scattered all around this picturesque valley. Make sure to opt for the specific "Movie Sites" or "Premier Movies Sites" Tour if this is what you are specifically interested in. Cheaper tours like the "Jurassic Jungle Expedition Tour" are still great but they cover a lot more broad history of the valley and don't really stop at any of the famous movie sites. Also, if it's a rainy day, make sure to bring a rain cape or proper waterproof clothing as most of the jeeps you drive around in are completely open around the front, back and sides and provide little shelter when it rains - we learned this the hard way ;-)
9) Oahu's North Shore & Turtle Beach
Oahu's North shore is incredibly stunning and definitely a must-see when going to Oahu. It has some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen and an absolute must-visit is Turtle Beach (or "Laniakea Beach" as it's usually referred to). It definitely delivers what it promises.
From what we've heard and experienced ourselves, there seem to be at least a couple of turtles on the beach at any given time. Most of them are surrounded by massive crowds of people unfortunately, so it will pay to get to the beach super early or late to have the best shot at not having to share your experience with too many others. Regardless of the dozens of people surrounding the turtles though, we had the most incredible time watching them sunbathe, eat algae off the rocks (perfectly camouflaged) or watch them swim back out into the open sea. One of my favourite experiences of the entire holiday and a definite highlight. We hired a car to explore the north shore on our own but there are plenty of buses and shuttle services that offer day trips to the most popular beaches from Waikiki/Honolulu.
10) Road to Hana
Exploring the Road to Hana is an amazing day trip/road trip when you are visiting Maui and a definite must-do! The whole Road to Hana route is only 52 miles in total but it takes a lot longer than you'd expect. The roads are very windy and the speed limits are super low so make sure you allow a full day for this one. There are plenty of stops along the way that are worth exploring.
The majority of the route features tropical waterfalls, stunning ocean views, beautiful beaches and lots of tropical forests and plants. There are a few additional food stops you should incorporate as well ("Coconut Glens" for "the world's best ice cream" as well as the "Nahiku Market Place" were a couple of my favourite ones). As a little side note, if you are originally from Australia, New Zealand or an equally beautiful country with beautiful beaches, waterfalls and coastal views, expect to see things you've seen before ;-) The sights aren't any less beautiful but something we've heard a few people "complain" about who had similar sights in their backyards back home ;-)
11) Whale watching
If you book a whale watching tour in Maui DON'T book any that include extra entertainment like for example snorkeling (unless you really want to of course). If you really want to make the most of your whale watching time, tours offering additional entertainment might not be the right choice. The tours end up being all about the snorkeling trip (or whatever else is included) and won't allow time to follow the whales around if you see any (or wait for them to pop out of the water after you've spotted a glimpse of them).
Also, try to go during peak season to give yourself the best opportunity to spot some of these majestic creatures. They are around from mid-December till mid-April but the best chances to see them are between January to March (February being the peak season). Another thing to take into consideration is the size of the boat you book for your tour. In general, the smaller the boat, the closer you'll be able to get to the whales. Bigger boats need to stay a minimum distance of 100 yards away from the whales.
Author - Natalie Gruner
Nat is one of the co-creators of Travelher and loves travel, family and all things beach. She is currently working in NZ and getting away for an adventure as often as she can.