Hawai'i A-Z

After returning from trips, I like to summarize the places I've been in an A-Z fashion. Since I just got back from a 9-day vacation in Hawai'i, here is my A-Z summary for all of the islands we visited including O'ahu, Maui, Moloka'i, and Lanai.

A - airlines/airports

This was only my second time making a connection in my life. It was my first time at LAX and MSP, and I loved seeing the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains on my way to California. Seriously, I haven't seen anything more spectacular from the sky … ever before.

Then, at touch down, at 10 PM that Saturday night, we entered the cutest, smallest airport I had ever been in (up until that point). That was only one of the first of our "tiny airport" experiences. Especially considering we would later get to walk onto the tarmac photographing planes as the sun rose behind them. (Obviously, that wasn't the sole purpose, but a fun perk nonetheless!)

B - Banzai Pipeline

Located on the north shore of O'ahu, the Banzai Pipeline with its humongous waves was my absolute favorite beach to explore. We found it the Saturday night before we were set to leave Hawai'i. Bag of pineapple and my camera in hand, we found a spot to sit and watch surfers as the sun went down. As tired as we were, we could have sat there all night, but alas, light rain moved in and we moved out.

C - chocolate macadamia nuts from Hawaiian Host

Who knew these were so hard to get? Turns out Hawaiian Host only sells their chocolate macadamia nuts in Hawai'i, California, and New York. And our only experience trying them was as we were in the HNL airport headed home. We bought a few boxes as souvenirs to share with family. Turns out, macadamia nuts are yummy! And chocolate covered? Even better!

They also have variations that include caramel and Kona coffee caramel. You can't go wrong no matter which you choose!

D - The Descendants

Featuring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley, I didn't know what I was in store for as I selected this movie on my return flight to the mainland. (Can you ever really go wrong with George Clooney?) Well, as it turns out, this book turned movie was a delightful reminder of the beautiful islands I had just come from.

George Clooney, as Matt King, is a hard working real estate lawyer and the heir to mass amounts of land and fortune in Hawai'i. He's married and has two children; really, it is the set up for a perfect life. That is, until his wife gets injured during a boating accident. Now, the busy tycoon has to get to know his daughters. What he finds out is a surprise to all, except engineers, like my husband. *sigh* ;)

While we were on the plane, my husband noticed the sweeping views of Kaua'i, a prominently featured island in the movie. He asked "weren't we just there?" to which I had to tell him "no". :( Next time, maybe?

If you are looking to learn more about the Hawaiian culture, I think The Descendants is a great place to start. Obviously, I am not Hawaiian, but I noticed things about the movie that I would have questioned had I not been on a return trip from there. Like business meetings in flip flops and shorts?!

And, even if you aren't interested in the Hawaiian culture, I simply think The Descendants is just a fun movie. Drama + comedy. Why not? :)

E - "E Komo Mai" (or welcome/enter)

One of the things I loved most about the island was how welcoming the people were.

While on Moloka'i, Justin made a wrong turn. We ended up following the road into a neighborhood with a one-way street, practically running into a Hawaiian native who was driving the wrong way down that one-way street. She stuck her head out of her large Ford truck and said, "Where are you going?" We told her we were just turning around. She persisted, though. "Where are you going?" she asked a second time. We told her. She said, "follow me!" And we found ourselves driving the wrong way down the one-way street, making a few stops as she picked up her kids from school, and waving to her neighbors all while she led us to a tourist destination. Who would have thought a native would have cared about helping tourists?

This casual and friendly nature only continued when we arrived to one of the places we were staying. The owners had left the house entrance door ajar (easy access to food and a big screen tv!) and an envelope with our room key placed nearby. They obviously weren't worried about people breaking in and stealing their things; how refreshing is that! :)

Then, there was that time when we arrived at the Lanai airport an hour early and the only people there were a security guard and cleaning person. We did not get to our gate until 10 minutes before plane departure. And then we were encouraged to walk out onto the tarmac to board our plane! What?!?!

If I ever return, it will be because of the amazingly sweet and kind people and beautiful scenery rather than any amount of tourist attractions or souvenirs I could bring home. You don't find that welcoming nature just anywhere. :)

F - flip flops

You wear flip flops everywhere. And you take them off at the door of your residence. (Obviously not if you are staying at a large hotel.) It is the craziest thing.


How is this even the airport name for Maui? … Just how? :)

H - Honolulu

One of the most shocking experiences for my husband and I was traveling from Moloka'i to O'ahu. We went from seeing a max of 8,000 people on an island to approximately 100,000 in about 30 minutes. Instead of one lane back roads that led to secluded beaches, we were faced with crowds, hordes of tourists, filling the sidewalks seeking out expensive souvenirs and cheap (in style, not price) beachside entertainment. Instead of dark starlit nights and secluded roads, we found traffic, noise, and more city lights than we ever imagined could exist in Hawai'i.

However, what Honolulu lacked in secludedness, it provided in history. Our first day on O'ahu, we went to see the Pearl Harbor Memorial and learned more about the US entrance into World War II than we ever realized we didn't know. Following that, later in the afternoon, we immersed ourselves in old world Hawai'i run by King Kamehameha I all the way up through Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of the Hawaiian nation, during a visit to the 'Iolani Palace.

While I can't say that Honolulu was my favorite place to visit during my time in Hawai'i, I do feel like it was critical to my understanding of the place and would highly recommend a visit for any future Hawaiian tourists.

I - shaved ice

A Hawaiian treat best served on top of ice cream with condensed milk poured over it all (and mochi, if you are into that type of thing).

If you've ever had a New Orleans snoball, it's very similar to that. The biggest difference is that the shaved ice is smoother.

And, before you question it, there is a big difference between good shaved ice in Hawai'i and bad. In my opinion, it all has to do with the texture of the ice, what kind of ice cream was used (homemade is always best!), and syrup flavor. I recommend tropical flavored syrups with vanilla ice cream. (Of course, they usually have "customer favorites" or "recommended combinations" for you to try if you want something a little different.)

J - Japanese tourists

At this point, my husband and I have explored many different locations all over the world. In Europe, you are likely to see loads of Chinese tourists, New York City is filled with European guests, and Hawai'i seems to be most frequently explored by the Japanese.

No, I don't know why.

It probably has something to do with the proximity of Japan to Hawai'i.

One note on this, though, it's typically to the main city of Honolulu and the island of O'ahu. While we did see Japanese tourists on other islands in Hawai'i, we saw the largest numbers of Japanese in Honolulu, specifically.

Photo credit: miss karen via VisualHunt / CC BY
K - kālua pig

Cooked in an underground oven, kālua pig is pretty popular in Hawai'i. We ate some at a lūʻau, but you can find it all over the islands, especially at small roadside stands and mom and pop stores.

To borrow from Wikipedia:

Traditionally, a fire using 'Iliahi (sandalwood) is built in a dirt pit called the imu. The pit is usually about 6 feet (1.8 m) long, 4 feet (1.2 m) wide and 3 ft (90 cm) deep. Rocks are then placed in the pit to retain cooking heat long after the flames have burned down. Once the rocks have become extremely hot, the hole is lined with traditional vegetation, such as banana leaves. The meat to be cooked is salted, stuffed with more hot rocks, then wrapped with ti and banana leaves. To maintain even heating and to retain the meat's natural moisture, the meat is covered with wet burlap, then with a layer of sand or soil. The meat is then left to cook in the pit for six to seven hours, absorbing smoke and steam from the koa wood and banana leaves. When the meat is fully cooked, it is removed from the imu and shredded. This is done to allow the melted fat to mix with the meat to help maintain its uniform consistency and flavor.

L - lūʻau

While I'm certain you have heard of lūʻaus before, a lūʻau is a Hawaiian party often featuring hula dancers and kālua pig. Once again referencing Wikipedia,

the lūʻau name comes from that of a food often served at a luau; squid or chicken lūʻau, which consist of meat, lūʻau (or taro) leaves, and coconut milk. The main dish of the luau is Kālua pig. Another dish that is served is poi, made from the roots of taro. This feast was usually served on the floor; on the mats there were usually large centerpieces. In most cases the centerpieces were made of tī leaves. Utensils were never present during a luau; everything was eaten by hand.

Wikipedia also shares that the first lūʻau was under one of Hawai'i's oldest kings, King Kamehameha II in 1819 when he threw a party where women were invited and then proceeded to eat with them, a once taboo concept. From that point forward, men and women could eat together without scandal.

Hooray for equal rights! :)

M - Moloka'i

One of our favorite islands to visit, Moloka'i is known for being the "friendly isle", which we definitely found to be true. However, Moloka'i has a deep and troubled past beginning with their production of pineapples, which wasn't to be, and continuing on into the medical field as home, in the Kalaupapa Peninsula, to leprosy patients, often ripped from their families, lives and jobs to come live here.

While my husband and I have not yet visited the Kalaupapa Peninsula, the Moloka'i Museum and Cultural Center depicts it as a sad yet wonderful place for those who lived there. Obviously, it is absolutely heartbreaking to hear of families being torn apart, but to see how the community comes together in support of one another? That is truly beautiful. I love how Moloka'i chooses to remember the leaders of the settlement – as positive uplifters during a time of crises and family to all who needed them. :) Isn't that how we all would want to be remembered?

N - Nakalele Blowhole

Some of the most beautiful locations on Maui are also the most difficult places to access. For example: the road to Hana, the back road to Hana, and the northwest coast of Maui. One lane, dirt roads with cliffs on one side of you and mountains on the other.

My husband and I ventured to the Nakalele Blowhole our last morning on Maui shortly after sunrise. Originally the goal was to see the blowhole at sunrise, but when the driver ends up "motion sick" after a night of drinking, your plans change quickly. *sigh*

The Nakalele Blowhole exists as a place water is pushed up through a hole in the land, like what you see from a whale or dolphin. Of course, the current has to be just right for you to see this odd natural wonder, but when it is, it is fascinating to see. :)

A fun option for breakfast either before or after the Nakalele Blowhole is The Plantation House. My husband and I ordered a fruit platter with five different kinds of fruit, malasadas (Portuguese donuts – very similar to New Orleans stuffed beignets with a topping), and the classic eggs benedict. While the food was delicious (especially the fruit!), I think my favorite aspect of our breakfast was our view looking out over a golf course at the ocean. Yes, I can hear you swooning just thinking about it. :) Just get there early so that you can have prime seating!

O - Maui Ocean Center

We went for the aquarium, but fell in love with the food at their restaurant.

Seriously, when you've been to such aquariums as the Tennessee Aquarium, the Georgia Aquarium, or the South Carolina Aquarium, expectations are high. The Maui Ocean Center, while big and next to the ocean (two awesome benefits!), I just didn't fall in love with the Maui Ocean Center like I had the others. The aquarium glass was old, scratched, and hard to see through, the outdoors animals seemed to be hiding, and I didn't think that there were enough hands on opportunities for people to learn about the ocean – especially when you are as close to the ocean as the Maui Ocean Center is!

While I can't necessarily recommend a visit to the Maui Ocean Center, simply because there are better other things to do in Maui, if you decide to go, be sure to check websites like Groupon or Costco to get your tickets for cheaper. Because we purchased our tickets on Costco's website, we saved $10 a person, which is essentially enough for an entree or drink at a restaurant! And when you are visiting Hawai'i, every dollar saved makes a huge difference!

P - piña coladas

Having never tried piña coladas, I had been waiting since the fall to get my first taste. I knew that Justin and I had "free" drinks at our booked-well-in-advance lūʻau, so I was holding out with the goal of not wasting money on a drink I was certain I would hate.

Only I didn't.

Pineapple + coconut? Yum! :)

And, if you add strawberry, in Hawai'i, it becomes a Lava Flow.

There's no going back now!

Q - quiet

One of the best things about Hawai'i is how quiet it is in certain areas there.

Want to go out and see the stars? On a clear night, you actually have a chance!

The one night Justin and I stayed on the island of Lanai, we grabbed drinks and sat on the large front porch listening to the rain and wind in pitch black darkness just enjoying the silence. It reminded us a lot of southern nights in our home state. And honestly, aside from perhaps listening to the ocean from one's front porch at night, I can think of nothing more comforting or relaxing, especially when every moment up until that one is hectic and filled with activity.

R - Road to Hana

A long meandering road that at some points is one-way through the rainforest and along the coast of Maui is a great way to learn about the island. I cannot suggest you go your first day on Maui though. Wait until you are well-rested and as over jet lag as you can get. Then, once adjusted, awake early to get a head start. Grab a picnic breakfast, lunch, and snacks, fill up the car with gas, and go! Nothing can stop you now! :)

While I do recommend staying overnight in Hana (and perhaps departing from the Hana airport to another island if you would like?!), Justin and I did not do this. In fact, we didn't even drive through the town of Hana! And we do recommend either getting a guide or downloading a guide phone app. (Our guide canceled on us at the last minute, so we were grateful to have the phone app leading us along and directing us as to where to stop along the way.)

There is much to see on the road to Hana and you won't have time to see it all. I'd offer suggestions, but, really, even with my intense amount of research my husband and I were still just following along with the app we had downloaded, stopping where we thought we might enjoy stopping and passing up places we didn't know anything about.

The key to road to Hana is starting early in the day and just enjoying the drive.

The back road to Hana (and continuing around the island of Maui) is a lot of fun, but not for the meek. I was not driving, so it seemed easy enough to me, but my husband later informed me that the drive was much more difficult and daring that it initially looked to me. However, when you are driving with cliffs on one side of you (leading to the ocean) and mountains on the other at sunset, you don't even consider the danger you are facing! Plus, there is nothing like cows crossing the road in front of you. That's when you know you are in the backwoods.

(I'll have a more in depth post later on the topic.)

S - surfing

I've already mentioned this, but Banzai Pipeline has ginormous waves during the winter. They are beautiful to photograph, and, to someone with experience, I imagine great fun to surf. Just keep in mind that if you aren't a great surfer, you may want to stay away. Surfing in Hawai'i is not for the faint of heart or, in some places, the beginner. Be aware before you jump in.

T - turtles

A must-do on O'ahu is a visit to Turtle Beach. More often than not, you will be able to spot sea turtles and even learn about them from Hawaiian experts stationed there to protect them. Justin and I stopped for a bit to see, but we were on a tight schedule. Next time we find ourselves in O'ahu, we will be sure to spend more time at the beach learning as much as we can about this magnanimous sea critter.

U - unfazed

In a hurry? Well, forget it. In Hawai'i, you are on Hawaiian time. Relax, grab a cocktail, and listen to the ocean waves. Hawaiians are not going to be the least bit fazed by your anxiety to get back on the road.

V - vow renewal

Justin and I decided to check out the Old Lahaina Lūʻau while we were in Maui. We signed up and paid in October knowing that the first to pay often get the best seats, and that this particular lūʻau sells out early. When I paid, I had the option to leave comments with my request. The main comment I left on all reservations was that my husband and I were celebrating our 5 year anniversary and anything they could do for us would be appreciated. :) Well, in January, Old Lahaina Lūʻau took us up on that; they contacted us and recommended we take part in a Hawaiian vow renewal ceremony.

Have our vows renewed in Hawai'i?!?

Heck yeah!

And thus we arrived at the Old Lahaina Lūʻau early on Valentine's Day, and with approximately 20 other people renewed our vows in the most Hawaiian of ways, with a conch shell, a white lei, and a professional photo. Afterward, we celebrated at the lūʻau with a grand feast and hula dancers to accompany us. It was quite the event!

W - World War II memorials

Along with visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, which was a must for us, we visited a submarine also located on the property getting an in-depth look at what it was like for men at war on the submarine in the 1940s. Then, at the end of the day, we went back to our hotel, The Royal Hawaiian, where, as it turns out, these submarine men also stayed during their time off.

It is absolutely astounding how much World War II memorabilia and history is located on the island of O'ahu. In some ways, it's almost like stepping back in time and seeing the world as it was.

X - excited

While I have to say that at first, I wasn't the most excited about exploring Hawai'i due to the weather, I found far more beauty and history than I could have ever possibly imagined. No, Hawai'i was not like any place I had ever traveled to before, and this made me glad. There is something so beautiful about exploring the unknown, expecting to dislike it, and, in the end, falling in love instead. ❤️

Y - youthful

Hawai'i is known for it's warm, tropical days and healthful living. You can't help but feel youthful when you come to visit – like anything is possible!

Z - "living" zoo

All over Hawai'i, you will find various animals wandering the streets. Before we had left O'ahu on our last day, we had seen swans, turtles, (endangered) nene geese, chicks and their mothers, flamingos, turtles, cows, horses, goats, and whales all without setting foot in a zoo! Exploring Hawai'i is truly an immersive experience and one in which you don't need a whole lot of money to have fun! (Though resorts do cost a pretty penny!)

After experiencing such a wonderful vacation in Hawai'i, I do believe I am ready to return. What was your favorite part of my A-Z list? What would be a must see or do if you were to go to Hawai'i?

*Linking up to MummyTravels & WanderMum for #CityTripping.

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