When the dark days of winter cling on like unwelcome Christmas guests, frost-covered Canadians warm themselves with daydreams of sun-dappled escapes. And for many that fantasy—palm trees, cobalt-blue waters and white sand beaches fringed with straw-canopied cocktail bars—means Hawaii.
But what’s the best way to make the most of a trip to this hibiscus-covered paradise—and ensure your budget doesn’t shatter faster than a fallen coconut?
First-up: itinerary. Unless you have a month to spare, don’t consider hopping all the main islands in one visit or you’ll return frazzled. Instead, aim for one island per week—unless you’re doing Maui.
If you’re keen to flop on a few beaches and indulge in surfing, snorkeling or whale-watching, Maui’s western edge is lined with great oceanfront sleep overs. But while nightly rates in swanky Kaanapali resorts can top US$300, well-priced alternatives include the ever-friendly Two Mermaid’s B&B (twomermaids.com).
Low-season months like February and October can also provide sleep over discounts but Hawaii’s savviest visitors know that vacation condo rentals are the way to go. Often well-located and with budget-stretching cooking facilities, check your options for Maui and beyond at bestbnb.com.
West Maui is also the best spot for adding a second Hawaiian island to your holidays. Schedule at least two nights for a side-trip excursion from port town Lahaina—via ferry rides that take one or two hours—to either Molokai or Lanai. Both are ideal for immersive unwinding.
Lush Molokai is striped with sigh-triggering hiking trails winding alongside hidden coves and secret waterfalls—also consider a guided mule tour here in breathtaking Kalaupapa National Historical Park. For area accommodation rentals, see molokairesorts.net.
Ethereally tranquil Lanai is a former pineapple plantation and its two Four Seasons resorts cater to everything from golf cravings to spa desires—and each has top-end prices to match. The alternative? Charming but tiny Hotel Lanai (hotellanai.com) with rates from US$149.
Maui-based writer Lehia Apana—tweeting local insights via @everydaymaui—also offers some good value-dining suggestions, including Da Kitchen, Mana Foods and CJ’s Deli & Diner—especially for its famous mochiko chicken. “Maui’s greatest attractions are free, including beaches and hiking trails. Skip the high-priced resorts, rent a condo and join the locals for free live music, hula performances and lei-making classes.”
Most visitors, she agrees, spend at least 10 days on a visit to West Maui and one of the nearby islands. But if you have longer—don’t forget the rest of the archipelago. A favourite island among outdoor activity nuts, Kauai lures steel-calved travellers looking for everything from kayaking to mountain biking. Or, base yourself in local capital Lihue and consider hiking the dramatic Napali Coast or Kokee State Park. Alternatively, try a Tasting Kauai tour (tastingkauai.com). And if you’re looking for a local gem sleep over, consider quirky Hanalei Surfboard House (hanaleisurfboardhouse.com) or Marjorie’s Kauai Inn B&B (marjorieskauaiinn.com).
Oahu and the Big Island—aka Hawaii Island—are each crammed with experiences. Museums, attractions and galleries abound in Oahu’s bustling Honolulu, while surfers should make a pilgrimage to Waikiki, the famed birthplace of tiki art and bars.
Honolulu-based blogger Mari Taketa (frolichawaii.com/deliriyum) has lots of suggestions if you’re hungry in the city, including Marukame Udon, Helena’s Hawaiian Food and farmers’ markets (hfbf.org/markets) for treats like “gourmet ice pops, guava-smoked pork and corn dipped in passion fruit butter.”
But every Honolulu visitor, she says, should save time for a Saturday morning Chinatown wander. “Everyone turns out for deals on apple bananas, lotus root, and live abalone. You’ll spot things you’ve never seen before.”
Finally, there’s the Big Island. Expansive beaches, indigenous culture and tourist-magnet towns lure many here. This is also the home of the must-see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—KapohoKine Adventures (kapohokine.com) organizes fascinating guided tours here.
Getting around in Hawaii is also a key consideration. Air Canada and WestJet flights from Toronto service several airports here and easily connect to well-priced inter-island hops. Book ahead for the best rates on Hawaiian Airlines (hawaiianairlines.com) or Mokulele Airlines (mokuleleairlines.com) and you’ll be paying around US$70 each way.
On the ground, most islands have some inexpensive bus routes but taxis are pricey so car hire is popular. Daily rates vary from US$30 and US$70.