My wife and I — and yes, I know it’s only been two weeks and change, but it still feels weird using the words “wife” and “husband” — just got back from the greatest vacation ever, our honeymoon in Hawaii, specifically Maui and Kauai.
Much as I did after our previous trips to Washington, D.C.; Napa; Boston; Cape May; and Newport, I wanted to share the places and experiences we really enjoyed. This is by no means meant to be an authoritative and comprehensive list, but merely places that were special to us. If it helps anyone on a future trip, excellent!
I’ll start with Maui, since that’s what we did. First off, if you spend any time on Maui and have access to transportation, and you don’t eat at Mama’s Fish House, you suck at life. Our meal there was one of the absolute best I’ve ever eaten, and the setting is brilliant, both inside, as the walls are full of countless pictures and items that bring the place tons of character, and outside, where the sunset over the Pacific, just yards away, is breathtaking.
Road to Hana
Second, driving the Road to Hana is an absolute must. Ignore all of the naysayers and guide books that make it sound as dangerous as baiting a starving shark with a sushi platter: The drive is challenging and a bit nerve-wracking at times, but as long as the driver is on point and paying attention, it’s risk-free, gorgeous and definitely worth doing. Don’t be a sally and a wuss. Do it. The ocean views and the waterfalls are spectacular, as are some of the lesser-known spots.
However, one thing I noticed about Hawaii in general is that the road signs and street signs sort of suck and are very hard to see until you’re right on top of them, and this is especially evident on the Road to Hana, so I definitely recommend making the trip with both a guide book and a guide CD (we bought ours from a Shell station at the beginning of the route) so you don’t miss out on some of the hidden gems.
If you’re in Hawaii, you have to go to a luau, right? Everything about Old Lahaina Luau was fantastic — the food, the drinks, the show, the setting. I can’t compare it to other luaus because it was the only one we did — my stomach can’t handle more than one luau — but I can’t fathom the experience being any better.
Snorkeling in Maui was a tremendous experience and, for those who want to devote a half-day to it and hit spots you can only reach by boat, I definitely recommend the Trilogy trip to Molokini. The two snorkel spots could not have yielded better results, from a bevy of colorful, huge fish to being inches from a very charming and friendly large turtle. The lunch was delicious, and I don’t mean delicious for a boat ride: I mean flat-out delicious. The cinnamon rolls were to die for. And our crew — Captain Brett, dive instructor Dave and the two others whose names are escaping me — were friendly, hilarious and helpful.
Sunrise at Haleakala National Park
If you can deal with leaving your hotel room by 2:30 a.m. (doing it early in the trip, before your body adjusts to Hawaii time, is probably best), the sunrise from atop the volcano in Haleakala National Park is worth every second of lost sleep and tricky driving. The pictures don’t do it justice. As strange as it sounds to say this about packing for Hawaii, bringing warm clothes is a must, and I don’t mean one long-sleeved T-shirt. The temperature was 41 degrees the morning we went, with very strong winds, and those who didn’t dress properly were not happy.
Because I have a supernatural ability to find freshly brewed beer no matter where I am, one of our free nights (no reservations) was spent at Maui Brewing. The food was decent, but the beer was outstanding, particularly the Coconut Porter, the McGrumpy’s (a red ale) and the Black Pearl, which is the Coconut Porter aged in oak rum barrels. Prost!
Other excellent dinners we shared were provided by Plantation House and Lahaina Grill.
Sunset from The Beach House
Moving on to Kauai, our meal at The Beach House was a very close second for the trip to the previously mentioned Mama’s Fish House feast, as was the view of the sunset over the Pacific. It was another incredible experience on many levels, and the place is definitely recommended.
My wife and I in our Yamaha Rhino
One of the most fun days on our trip was the four-hour ATV tour from Kipu Ranch Adventures. The scenery at Kipu Ranch is breath-taking, and you can see why several movies were filmed there. The ATV (a Yamaha Rhino) was easy to learn and handled all of the bumps, rocks, roots and mud with ease. My biggest laugh of the trip came after watching a peacock wind up and kick a wild pig while the group of animals was being fed. We got to swim in two watering holes, one under a waterfall. And our guides, Troy and Randen, were a hell of a lot of fun.
The North Shore of Kauai was probably my favorite region on the trip, and I could easily see myself spending a full week there and taking full advantage of the numerous hiking trails, wealth of drop-dead-gorgeous beaches and fun and interesting local villages and restaurants. If you go to Kauai and have access to a car, the North Shore is a must, period.
Naturally, I found beer in Kauai, too. The Grove Café is the home of Waimea Brewing and, while I liked the brews from Maui Brewing better, the Waimea offerings were no slouches, particularly the porter.
I also found the best hotdog I have ever had (sorry, Rutt’s Hut): Puka Dog. I’m already going through serious Puka withdrawal. I tried Puka Dogs with both the coconut and papaya relish, and they were both worth drooling over. Puka Puka Puka!
We spent the last real night of our trip on Captain Andy’s Na Pali Sunset Dinner cruise, and the honeymoon couldn’t have ended on a nicer note. Na Pali is captivating, and it can only be seen via plane (which we did, as well) or boat. Captain Trent and his crew (Hans and Sterling) were engaging and entertaining, the scenery and sunset were rich, the food was excellent, and the Sneaky Tikis were quite sneaky, which is why I switched to beer. And depending on the time of year, you might be lucky enough to see a whale!
Whale sighting on Captain Andy's Sunset Cruise
We also had memorable and tasty meals at Plantation Gardens, Dondero’s (located in the Grand Hyatt, where we stayed), Wrangler’s Steakhouse and Keoki’s Paradise.
Our last official day was spent in Honolulu, at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, which was sobering and touching, and in Waikiki Beach. I was stunned to find out that the U.S.S. Arizona still leaks oil every day after nearly 70 years. As for the Waikiki area, truthfully, it did absolutely nothing for us. The beach was tiny and didn’t really have a boardwalk area, and the hotels and stores are on top of each other. And the stores were the same ones you’d encounter in any mall on the mainland. Dinner at Roy’s was great, but overall, Waikiki was like Los Angeles with a few more palm trees, and not spending a lot of time there turned out to be a sound decision.
This trip was one wonderful day after another, and I really didn’t want to leave. Hawaii and its people are fantastic, and I hope we get to go back someday (we’ve been joking about returning for our two-month anniversary). If you ever get the chance to go, jump on it immediately, even if you have to get married to do so!