We are a family that loves the ocean, but we don't much enjoy sitting on the beach. I mean, don't get me wrong, when our kids were little we enjoyed building sandcastles and jumping sand dunes, but now that they are older, we are more of the get off your butt and explore variety of family. Because of that, we had always kind of written off Hawaii. We thought it would be super touristy with full beaches and lots of drinking and sunbathing. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it just didn't line up with our idea of perfect ocean vacation. I had a few friends that really changed my mind, so we took the leap, booked a cool VRBO for a week and found cheap flights online. So, what would I recommend to other families like ours?
#1: Book an apartment on VRBO or Airbnb
We love hotels--mostly for the pools, but when we go somewhere for an extended stay, we always book an apartment through VRBO or Airbnb. This time we stayed here. I didn't take any photographs in the apartment so I'm sharing one from the pool ;) Honestly, it was perfect for what we needed. There was a pool(although they don't heat there pools there, so in the winter months it was cold--even for this Canadian). There was an air mattress that my son used as my kids are too old to share a bed. The master bedroom even had a second tv so the kids could watch their shows and we could watch ours. Mostly, we love getting apartments to save money on food and in Maui, that was huge. The couple of times we did eat out, we were surprised how expensive it was. And, our kids don't eat off the kid's menus anymore so--4 adults gets pricey quick. Plus, with a kitchen, we could just make our own snacks and pack a cooler every day. We bought groceries at Target by the airport and the farmer's market down the road.
#2: We found a super cheap car rental
We used Kihei Car Rental. This was not a luxury car rental service. In fact, there were times when we asked ourselves 'should the car be making that noise?'. hahahaha. But, we had no issues and they picked us up from the airport. Having a car on Maui meant we were free to go where ever we wanted and that kind of freedom is important to us.
#3: Hawaiian Shave Ice
So--true story--I googled about buying one of these machines and learning to make them myself. I had dreams of bringing a 'shave ice' food truck to the Calgary area. It should be said that not all shave ice are equal....and, from our experience, the very best is available at Ululani's. I love how the tables are made to hold the cups and the wild chickens running around with their babies. It is a must do thing after a long day of being in the sun(or in the middle of the day to break it up or when you are just driving by-ha...don't miss it).
We LOVE museums and science centres, so we knew we would be going to the ocean centre and we were not disappointed. We caught the awesome Turtle presentation and the Deep Ocean Presentation which alone is worth the price of admission. If you go, plan your trip around that presentation. You do NOT want to miss it.
So, for us, any trip to the ocean is mostly about finding good snorkelling spots. We were warned that Maui had been having lots of rain and that visibility wasn't what it could be, but we were still AMAZED at how many INCREDIBLE spots there were. Many of which were NOT very busy. Some were, in fact, on a weekday pretty empty. Something I found unbelievable was the information at the snorkelling shops. We only had to rent one pair of flippers(which was SUPER economical for the week and had me wishing we hadn't lugged all of our equipment with us but rented it instead) and the shop we rented from gave us so much FREE information that our minds were blown. We visited a Snorkel Bob's and they told us that the trade winds mean that great snorkelling kind of moves around the island depending on how the winds were blowing. They sent us to some great spots that we never would have tried if not for them. I'll list them separately, but--if I wanted to snorkel alot, I'd check in with one of these shops and ask for recommendations.
#5: Honolua Bay
This is a super rocky beach but lead to some great snorkelling. It was fairly busy, but we went early in the day to avoid the crowds. It can get super windy here, so someone told me that if there is a snorkelling tour boat parked there, take that as a sign that the snorkelling is good. When we got there(before 9:00am), there was only a handful of people out snorkelling so we just took the chance and were pleased. We left in the early afternoon when it was starting to get super busy.
A quick note to say that my friend, Ross Dance, suggested this location thanks to the amazing forest you must walk through to get there. Do not just walk by this forest. Explore it. Go early in the morning so the light is amazing.
#6: Napili Bay
The folks at Snorkel Bob's told us to go here. It was quite close to our accommodation so we went there. We loved that there was a large amount of public parking so finding a parking spot was not an issue. It was one of the busier beaches we went to, but we saw so many turtles that we had to mention it. I think we saw a total of 11 turtles--including one that was 5 feet or so long and a turtle cleaning station. And, there were LOTS of people on the beach, but not as many in the water so it didn't feel super busy to us. When you get to the beach, go to the far right(when you are looking out at the ocean) to see the most turtles(at least that was our experience). It was a little bit rough, but we all managed it. Children under 10 might have struggled--in my opinion.
Kanapali Beach is also close by, but it wasn't for us. All of the resorts line that beach so it was beyond crowded. The snorkelling wasn't too bad for how busy it was and we were there for the lighting of the torches at the Black Rock, but we wouldn't go back next time. (I'm not one for crowds)
#7: The Road to Hana
Okay...so truth time here. I only included this because I wanted to share my point of view. I know it's a popular destination in Maui, but we thought it was a bit overrated. It may have been because the weather was absolute CRAP the day we drove it, but...well, we had problems with it. First, we encountered a rather large mudslide which held us up for some time. Apparently, these are quite common so be prepared. Our main issue was--we like to stop and smell the roses but there were so many suggested stops on this road that it was hard to know which ones to hit and which ones to miss. Some of them that were promised to be hits were definite misses for us. And, well...the pay off is huge in some spots--I mean we LOVED some of the spots, but the drive is even bigger. We feel like we spent a day in the car when we could have spent a day in the ocean. And, thanks to the mudslide, we didn't get to do the big hike at the end to the bamboo forest because it was getting dark when we arrived. Every time we stopped, we felt rushed to get back in the car so we could get to the next thing. So, for us...we wouldn't recommend it necessarily. If we did it again, we would book a night in Hana and take two days to do the trip. Just wanted to make that suggestion.
#8: Nightsky Tour at Haleakala
This was one of our favourite days. Our day at Haleakala. We only wish we went on a day time tour or hike, but we split this day in two instead of spending the whole day there(ah such are the decisions one has to make when there is only 7 days). We watched the sunset and then spent two hours looking through a telescope at some awesome stuff. The tour guide provided us with winter gear(very needed as it was super cold in the dark) and hot chocolate. There were so many stars it was shocking(and we have some pretty amazing skies here in Alberta). We highly recommend the tour company: Maui Stargazing
#9: Mile Marker 14
So, we were told to check out Mile Marker 14 for some great snorkelling and it was so worth it. Some of the best snorkelling of the trip. A couple of downsides--the highway is right there, so if I had unpredictable small children, I might skip it. The plus side is Leodie's pie shop is also right there and DUDE those pies are out of sight.
I might mention that we also paid a large amount to go on a guided snorkel tour...but, truthfully, even though it was a great tour, it wasn't really worth it. Our best snorkelling happened just off shore. So, if budget is a concern--skip the expensive snorkel tours and just rent a car and ask the guys at Snorkel Bob's where to go.
#10: Paia Town
We thought this was the cutest little surf town and would maybe even stay in this area next time. The kids tried to master the boogie board at the public beach there. It took a few epic wipeouts(and lots of sand in Georgia's hair), but eventually, she managed :)
#11: Kahekili Highway and the Nakalele Blowhole
We decided one day to drive along the Kahekili Highway. Honestly, we enjoyed it more than the Road to Hana. Partly because the weather was incredible, but it was maybe more our speed. We saw the Nakalele Blowhole. We stopped for the most incredible smoothies at some random trailer on a hill. We stood there for a second and then the owner came up the hill on his ATV to help us. Best smoothies ever. As we drove through the little town below, a girl stopped to sell us her banana bread. Of course, we bought it--just buy the banana bread from the roadside stands, you won't be disappointed. This one was pretty special because of the girl. We called her Lilo(as in Lilo and Stitch). She literally jumped in front of our car to ask us if we wanted to support her church by buying banana bread. As we were struggling to find change, a line of cars was forming behind us so we said we were going to pull over to let people pass. Lilo was like 'uh no way man...I need to sell to them, too'. As we drove away, we were laughing about how we had been hustled by Lilo. Oh well, I like a kid who knows how to hustle ;)
#12 Makena Beach
We parked and walked to this beach. We laid out our towels beside this older couple and then we went snorkelling and didn't come back for almost 3 hours. The older couple was starting to get worried about us....but, you see, we had went around the corner and found a beach that was LITERALLY EMPTY. It was a little bit of a rough go, but we stayed away from the rocks and rested on the empty beach before we made our way back. Anytime you can find yourself alone on a beach, it's a good day ;) There were some people learning to scuba dive there and Georgia had fun playing in the bubbles.
So, those are all of the things we enjoyed on our trip. We have also been converted and our now huge fans of Hawaii :) Who knew that it wouldn't be crowded and touristy? The only question on the table is next year do we go to Maui or do we explore Kauai? I guess we'll see :)