Aloha! I’m so excited today because we are going to be talking about the super amazing Hawaiian Islands. Which is why – as you can – see my normal greeting of Howdy! has been swapped out with the well-known Hawaiian greeting! I recently had the pleasure of having Robin Basso, the Senior Director of Travel Industry Partnerships at Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau as a guest on my video chat series. And – thanks to the fact that she has been representing Hawaii for 25 years now – going back and forth to the islands for the majority of those years and now living there for the past three – she came with tons of fabulous information and updates on America’s 50th state. So, grab a lei, a cup of Kona coffee and let’s fly away for a virtual view of heavenly Hawaii!
The Aloha State
Did you know that Aloha doesn’t mean hello? Although it is often used as a greeting, it really is so much more than that. As Robin explained it’s actually a value system that’s woven into the fabric of the Hawaiian people with a deep meaning. The term Aloha actually means “the breath of life” in Hawaiian so it’s literally giving and receiving the breath of life. And you know you really can’t have a more intimate connection with someone than letting them know your essence and it’s something that is really intangible. Hopefully those of you that have never been to Hawaii will have that opportunity to experience it and those that have been, you know it when you feel it and it’s something that’s synonymous with Hawaii and such an important part and a differentiator in the experience in Hawaii. So, guys you know that I have been preaching for the longest time about traveling in the pure state and really experiencing the purest life and Aloha allows you to do just that. I live by that I preach it and it’s so amazing and it’s so important. You know now more than ever the world could use a little Aloha. We also need to really understand a lot of the different cultures out there so that we can be better world citizens and travel really allows us to do that. And even though this is a US destination it has an amazing culture that you are not going to find in any other states. It is an incredible exotic Pacific Island culture – I mean there’s not many destinations where you get another language or the beautiful art of hula or this incredible history. Did you know that Hawaii was once a kingdom ruled by kings and queens? It was and thanks to that history and all of these wonderful cultures coming together you really feel like you’re in another country!
The Malama Hawaii Program
Let’s talk a little bit about this amazing opportunity that you can have in Hawaii called Malama. Robin explained that this is actually something that was launched over a year ago – in November of 2020. After going through a record setting year for tourism and then going through COVID, it was more important than ever to take a step back and to really kind of think about tourism in a very different way. Malama is a Hawaiian value, and it means to take care of our earth, of each other and ourselves which is such an important concept now more than ever. Robin went on to say that it was really time to say, “how can we create tourism that’s going to be sustainable and regenerative for the future?” So, the Hawaii Tourism Authority got together with local hotels and nonprofits and said that if visitors will come back and agree to participate in a voluntourism opportunity, we’re going to give them something for it – either a discount or free night. Since then, the program has expanded exponentially, and they now have over 75 nonprofit organizations that include anything from beach cleanups to reforestation to making quilts for the elders – or as they are called in Hawaiian – the kupuna. It’s a way to connect with the people, to connect with the culture and to leave Hawaii better then when you found it. You can find lots of great information on this program on gohawaii.com – including a voluntourism site. And – if you want to see some incredibly moving videos that feature these Malama ambassadors – check out their YouTube site – trust me, you will be so inspired by the locals! And you know my thoughts on travel by now – here you can not only give back with labor – but you can also give back to the local economy. And when I do your bookings, I focus on making sure that the tourism dollars that you spend also affect the local economy as it’s really important overall in making sure that we really are affecting the local economy and making them as independent as possible through tourism. It’s my life mission to make sure through travel you become a better world citizen and if I can impact one person at a time, I’m good with that!
Robin shared that she was born and raised in Chicago and but after living in Hawaii for three years she can attest the weather is much better in Hawaii year-round – although I suppose we all suspected that – wink, wink. And she said people always ask what’s a good time to go to Hawaii and her response is that there’s never a bad time. The weather is so consistent throughout the year – they are basically at the very upper 60s to the mid-80s year-round with beautiful trade winds coming in off the ocean. It can get very cool but it’s very comfortable and very temperate. The water temperature stays at around 74 degrees year-round so they don’t have huge peak and shoulder seasons because they have such consistent weather throughout which really means as Robin pointed out – that there’s never a bad time to visit Hawaii. It’s really just about what you want to experience and as we plan your trips together, I will confer with Robin and make sure that what you want to see and do is the time we send you there.
Social Distancing Galore
Thanks to its wide-open spaces and no need for a passport Hawaii draws visitors looking for exotic islands and a domestic destination all in one. The majority of visitors rent cars so you can really experience Hawaii and get off the beaten path completely on your own and do it at your leisure. For me one of the most amazing things is that everyone always says that they want to go to a destination where they can see right through the water, yet everyone forgets that we have this amazing, wonderful state of ours where they can do that. And Robin added that after representing Hawaii for over 25 years she has to say that she has never seen the water so clean and crystal clear. Think about it – pre-pandemic they were at record setting visitor arrival numbers at 10 million visitors – and unfortunately over tourism brings its own set of challenges. She noted that with this pause in tourism and visitation it is incredible how the marine life, the coral, everything is just regenerated. You see the turtles and the monk seals coming back on the beach and just this crystal-clear water – making it such an incredible time for people to come and experience the islands!
The amazing thing with Hawaii is there truly is something for everyone in terms of the variety of accommodations. If you want a beautiful luxury resort with the multiple restaurants, the shops, the spa – all of that kind of stuff you absolutely can have that. If you’re looking for something moderate in a nice convenient location since you’ll be out exploring and engaging in activities and not spending time at the resort, they have got that as well. If you’re looking for a condominium product because you are traveling with your family or you’re traveling with friends you can have the convenience and comfort of having separate sleeping areas, the full kitchen, the laundry and all of that great stuff all wrapped up into one!
In terms of the islands, you truly have six distinct destinations with six distinct personalities. It’s like Robin said if you asked 100 people in a room, they would all have a different favorite. And the great thing is that’s what I am here for – I can ask you those right questions to match you with that perfect island or island combination and deliver that vacation experience of your dreams. It is also important to note that the majority of flights come into the island of Oahu to Honolulu International Airport but the average flight time island to island is only 30 minutes, so it makes it very easy to island hop!
Robin started the overview from north to south or as she said – kind of oldest to the youngest which means we’re gonna start with a beautiful island of Kauai. This is the northernmost as well as the oldest at over 5,000,000 years old. It’s known for its natural beauty and Robin said that when you think about Kauai think about terms like lush, idyllic, peaceful, immersed in nature – someone even described it as endless shades of green. So, if you’re somebody that wants to escape the busyness of everyday life and aren’t really interested in crowds and nightlife but want to just immerse yourself in rejuvenation, relaxation and outdoor activities then Kauai is an absolutely incredible island for you – especially if you love physical activity because this is where you’re going to go hiking and really do a lot more strenuous activity than you would in some of the other islands. And what’s interesting with Kauai is that 80% of it is inaccessible by car, so if you’re just driving around, you’re gonna miss the majority of its unspoiled natural beauty. It’s a great island to just get out and explore. Some of the activities you can partake in include the beautiful Nepali coast which lines about 17 miles of the northwest side of the island and is only accessible by hiking, boat or by helicopter. You’ve got beautiful Waimea Canyon which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and is about ten miles long by one mile wide and over 3500 feet deep and can be beautifully viewed by helicopter – however even just driving around in a rental car and stopping at various observation points you can see it and it is absolutely stunning. And Robin said you may be surprised to learn that there are six zip lines on the island including the longest one in the state at 4200 feet – and what a beautiful and rare perspective you can have of the island partaking in this activity! You can also opt for an ATV ride that takes you on private land or mountain tubing which is something very unique that takes place in old irrigation ditches that used to irrigate the sugar cane fields. You actually float down about 2 ½ miles of open canals and you go through five hand dug tunnels so you got your little helmet light on so you can see exactly where you’re going and it’s a great adventure even for children as young as five. And I just had to add that you need your GoPro charged and ready to go and bring your GoPro attachments so that you’re not trying to hold a stick while you’re doing these activities – just speaking from a little bit of personal experience. The food is such a part of the culture and in Hawaii and the culinary experience have come such a long way in terms of not only the restaurants but also farm to table experiences. And Kauai has some really unique things like Tasting Kauai which features local restaurants and farmers, and they do all of these wonderful different tours and a lot of them are seasonal meaning every time you go it’s something different. But in any case, you are always tasting fresh from the land which is absolutely spectacular. Then if you are a chocolate lover Lydgate Farms, which is run by fifth generation producers of chocolate that do cacao farming have wonderful tours from branch to bar. Bonus – you get to taste all these wonderful chocolate treats! Something else that’s really been so popular throughout the islands are distilleries. Kilohana Plantation on Kauai has the Kōloa Rum Company which has won numerous awards in the Miami Rum Festival, and they do an incredible job because they’ve got all this sugarcane. It’s really like a step back in history going to this old historic plantation on the South Shore of the island that features beautiful grounds as well as artwork and carriage rides. Robin said the whole experience is absolutely spectacular. So, you guys you have got chocolate, rum, historical experiences and all the wellness you can possibly have all in one shot! How amazing is that! And don’t forget the off the beaten path aspect because half the island is truly off the beaten path. And speaking of off the beaten path, Robin advises taking a little side trip into the town of Hanapepe where you can visit the farmers markets and some of the local festivals and really connect to the local culture as well.
Moving on to Oahu – which Robin shared that the amazing thing about the island of Oahu is that people know it for its contemporary feel – for the shopping, the dining, the nightlife that Honolulu and Waikiki offer. And it’s not only the backdrop of a beautiful tropical island, but also this town and country feel because you can be in the heart of Waikiki then you drive 15 minutes, and you are in the middle of a bamboo rainforest. It is the only island that truly offers those very diverse experiences on one island. And if you are into history and culture there are so many incredible experiences that get into so many different aspects of the history of Hawaii – it is absolutely fantastic. And if you love festivals and events this is an incredible island as well. You really have anything you can imagine right at your fingertips. Now when you think about some iconic things to do in Waikiki there’s hiking Leahi which is the Hawaiian name for Diamond Head, surfing – and its history of surfing – Kahanamoku was the first Olympian that put surfing on the map for Hawaii, and outrigger or canoe paddling – just to name a few. Waikiki is, of course, the heart and soul of the island with the majority of the hotels and the shopping and dining options right there. Getting into the history and culture there’s Pearl Harbor – which Robin said she’s done this more times than she can even recall and every time it is so incredibly moving. Home to the USS Arizona Memorial the Pearl Harbor National Memorial also offers an amazing and oh so emotional documentary film before taking that boat onto the memorial. Then when you’re standing on that memorial looking down, seeing that outline of the ship below, oil still bubbling up – a quart and a half per day – and realizing 1177 crew members are still entombed in that ship below, is beyond emotional. One of the things that I loved when I was there is that we had a truly local guide. She was little when everything was happening and now that she’s older she’s guiding people – so in terms of having a first-hand account these personal stories were absolutely amazing. Now if you want to go further back into history visit Iolani Palace – which is one of three royal palaces in Hawaii and was built by King David Kalakaua. Here you can really see what it was like when the royalty ruled Hawaii – they even have docent led tours and private white glove tours. Depending on how much detail you want there are so many different ways to experience it. If you want a broader view then head to the Polynesian Cultural Center up near the North Shore that gives you a wonderful perspective of all the different Pacific cultures from Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand and the Marquesas. If you’re a first-time visitor or if you haven’t been in there in a while, then definitely make time to visit or revisit the Polynesian Cultural Center. One of the things that I love about the Polynesian Cultural Center is that for families it is age appropriate, and they really do make it a point to have things for all age levels of children and adults, whether we’re five or 85, everybody is included and learning and really experiencing the history and the cultural aspect. Afterwards head up the North Shore to the charming town of Haleiwa to experience that country ambiance and enjoy the shrimp trucks, the wonderful local feel and the beautiful wide beaches. Now we touched on surfing a bit already, but did you guys know you can even take surfing lessons? I mean how awesome is that – I mean where else can you go and take a surf lesson? And here those active things we talked about are abundant! You can take hikes over at Mōkapu Peninsula or head to Waimea Valley if just wanna little leisurely stroll to some beautiful waterfalls or to Gunstock Ranch for eco tours and horseback riding. And at Gunstock Ranch they even have a wonderful give back opportunity (as they are one of the partners and the Malama Hawaii program) where you get to plant a legacy tree which is an awesome activity for families and really creates one beautiful experience. And if you guys thought that there weren’t dude ranches or that kind of experience in Hawaii – surprise – Oahu does! So, if you want that dude ranch experience, here you go! And even beyond that there is Kualoa Ranch which is a 4000-acre working cattle ranch on one of the most sacred and beautiful spots on the island. Here you will find ATV’s, horseback riding and movie set tours. They even have a wonderful way to really appreciate sustainability thanks to the output system which is an ancient land division from the mountains to the sea. There’s this wonderful tour that really gives visitors the insight into how the ancient Hawaiians really created a sustainable way to live. So, all of these different excursions and attractions are offering that deeper level of knowledge and experience. Its the same thing with North Shore Eco Tours. They are perfect for people that want to get out and be active and see beautiful scenery but also these tours are led by a native Hawaiian guide so you’re hearing about the flora and the fauna, the history and culture and so it really gives visitors a more meaningful and enriching experience. Then there are the culinary experiences which are beyond amazing here. You’ve got different farmers markets that you can enjoy on various days and then you’ve got areas like Chinatown where you can really just go out and splurge and just tons of incredible dining options from the high end to the low key. West of Waikiki you will find Kaka’ako which is really growing and an emerging area where they have a huge city block where all these chefs create these incredibly diverse, dining experience. There is also a rum distillery in Central Oahu called the Kohana Distillery where they have a variety of tastings and tours. So not only from restaurants but farm to table there’s so many different ways you can really immerse yourself in the incredible diversity of the culinary experiences in Hawaii.
So, Maui is one of my most favorite islands ever and I have so many amazing memories not only with myself and my significant other but also with my family. As most of you know my sister has downs and we bring her to Hawaii and she absolutely loves this island as well. And how could you not love it? With Maui it is all about being laid back, that small town feel and an overall amazing vibe. If its relaxation that you are after you’re going to get in Maui! Myself – I am a big fan of Kaanapali – and Robin agreed that Kaanapali is great because you’ve got this beautiful resort area with access to everything you could imagine. You’ve got the beaches. You’ve got the golf. You’ve got the dining. But – if you just want to get off the beaten path you can do that as well. You can go into Lahaina and enjoy oceanfront dining and cocktails, take a ferry over to Lanai, go on a cocktail cruise or head to the upcountry area to the slopes of Haleakalā. That’s the great thing about Maui – you’ve got this sophistication of the resort areas and all the amenities but this really small-town charm that makes it just a really incredible experience. And those sunsets! My favorite sunset is being Cheeseburger In Paradise on Front Street – such a beautiful location and those sunsets are amazing – and if you’re lucky you’ll get a gentleman playing acoustic guitar to kind of set that right tone as you sip your Mai Tai. And Robin agreed there’s no such thing as a bad sunset in Maui – and the cool thing is not only sunsets but sunrises as well. In fact, Haleakalā means “House of the Sun” and it’s an absolutely magical experience to watch the sunrise from its summit. Speaking of Haleakalā – it is a crater which is the world’s largest dormant volcano. It stands about 10,023 feet above sea level and is almost as large as the island of Manhattan. It is an absolutely beautiful place to enjoy the incredible fresh air and blue skies. The most popular time to visit – and of course, the busiest – is sunrise. There is really tight availability so it’s important to prearrange – which of course I can do for you. Robin shared that for her recent 50th birthday she actually did a tour where they went up and watched the sunrise and did the bike ride down, stopping halfway through and it was just absolutely amazing. She also said that one of her favorite things is going to the upcountry area of Maui. It’s farms, ranches and vineyards and charming little towns. You have Ali’i Kula Lavender, you’ve got a winery and just tons of great things to do – and it is very similar to the Road to Hana in terms of a beautiful drive from Central Maui to the east side to the town of Heavenly Hana because you’re going to experience about 67 one lane bridges, curves and beautiful waterfalls and scenery along the way making it a journey to unspoiled Maui – so definitely something unique to experience. Then if you enjoy the snorkeling and diving experience, Molokini Crater is one of the top snorkel and dive destinations in the state as well. And of course, we must talk about the culinary side of Maui. We touched on the farmers markets but they also have amazing food festivals on the island as well. Again, there’s going to be restaurants at every level, there’s going to be food trucks, there’s going to be the high end and then the local fare thanks to the farmers markets. One of Robins absolute favorite things are the fruits and stuff that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. She also noted that O’o farms does an incredible lunch with this beautiful trellis area where you take a tour with a local farmer and showing you how they are growing a lot of their produce and then they have a chef prepare a lovely gourmet organic lunch where you’re overlooking Central Maui. Then there’s The Surfing Goat Dairy and she raved that these goats are the cutest thing ever They make over 20 different varieties of gourmet goat cheese that you can sample and you can even take a hands-on tour to really interact with the goats – great for families! Robin told us that when she was there in February, she actually visited Hawaii Sea Spirits which has expanded over the years. It’s a beautiful open area where they produce vodka, rum, and gin – all in an organic manner. They also have a beautiful café where they serve all locally grown and produced products where you can just grab a little table with your group and enjoy amazing locally produced items with some of the most incredible views you will ever see. And then hopefully, in 2022, more and more food festivals will come back adding even more culinary options. And you guys we can check ahead of time to make sure your dates coincide with some of the incredible food festivals happening!
Molokai is one of those islands that really touches me in the sense of not only of awe inspiring but just of feeling completely rustic. Robin agreed it really is such a special place. It’s one of the most isolated locations with the tallest cliffs in the world and is the legendary birthplace of the hula. It is just a place that is old Hawaii – simpler times where the people live very much in traditional ways. They hunt and they fish – so if you are really looking to connect with the authentic simpler times of Hawaii, Molokai really does give that very intimate and authentic feel. And – just so you guys know – if you’re going to do more than a day trip in Molokai, your accommodations are going to be rustic, meaning you’re going to be in truly living in the same manner than the locals live – so I need to point out. So, a lot of you guys may just opt for a day trip just to experience it – which we can easily do from Maui or from any of the other islands where we can fly you or ferry you over for the day.
Lanai is actually Maui’s other sister island – so it’s Maui, Molokai and Lanai and another island, Kahoolawe, which is uninhabited. Lanai is kind of like your own private island – it’s all about luxury, serenity, exclusivity and seclusion. Robin said she got to spend a few days there last year and although you can fly there you can also take a ferry which she did. It takes about 45 minutes over from Maui and she said she loved it because the dolphins and the whales swam right up to them because they love that shallow channel between the three islands and it is just such an amazing sight. Now Lanai is definitely about luxury combinations – there are two very high-end properties – one beachfront and one nestled up into pine trees. Beyond that if you enjoy outdoor activities there are plenty to be found. You can get a four-wheel drive and drive around as there’s only 30 miles of paved road and it’s an incredible island for just getting out and exploring. You can golf, dive to a shipwreck, participate in incredible hiking tours – so there is a lot of outdoor activities to do on this small island. Fun Fact: There are only about 3000 people on living on Lanai so you definitely get that private island feel – so when you guys really want to be taken away from it all you can do that here!
- Island of Hawaii
Robin noted that it is always referred to as the Island of Hawaii or Hawaii Island and people do get confused because just saying Hawaii encompasses all these islands, but the Island of Hawaii is one of them – you may know it by its nickname the Big Island. By far it’s the largest of the islands – in fact, it is twice the size of all the other islands combined – or to put it into perspective it’s about the size of the state of Connecticut. It’s also the youngest and the southernmost and it is the most ecologically diverse as it is home to all but four of the earth’s 13 climate zones on one island. So, as you drive you go from dry, arid, desert-like to rainforest to waterfalls to snowcapped mountain to an active volcano on one island! It’s really amazing and if you’re the kind of person that’s active, and kind of adventurous, and have that curiosity for history and culture and you want those once in a lifetime Instagrammable brag worthy moments this is the island for you. It’s got so much to offer and such diverse experiences and even though its biggest in size it is the smallest in population. And of course, it is synonymous with the volcano and what’s amazing is that at the end of September 2021 the active volcano started to flow again so you can actually see the glow of the lava at Halema’uma’u Crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is open 24 hours a day so even if you get there early in the day you can explore thanks to 150 miles of hiking trails and then at dusk you can go to various viewing points and see the lava flow. Or – you can even do a helicopter ride over the lava flow and to see it from that perspective which is not only absolutely amazing but is something that will absolutely transform you. Robin agreed and stated that a lot of people see it as destruction, but it is creation. All of these islands were created from a hot spot. This is Madame Pele – or the goddess of fire – and the last flow in 2018 which got a lot of publicity added over 900 acres of land to the island – so it truly is all about creation – and to witness that is something that’s so incredibly special. Beyond that on the east side of the island, in addition to volcano – because that’s not all that is out there – it’s the waterfalls, botanical gardens, it’s this lush area of Rainbow Falls, and Akaka Falls where you have easily accessible water that you can just walk up and experience. Plus, there’s ziplining through the botanical gardens on the east side and a winery in the town of Hilo. Then when you go to the west side you have the town of Kona, you have snorkeling at Kailua Bay – which is one of the most beautiful and pristine areas that Robin said she has ever snorkeled in her life and is something that she would recommend highly. Plus, the star gazing is absolutely amazing here as well – you’ve never seen so many stars as when you go to the summit of Mauna Kea. In fact, you can see 90% of all stars visible from earth from that spot! Robin shared that when she went up, she could actually see the rings of Saturn with a handheld telescope so again – highly recommend a guided star gazing experience where you have astronomers pointing out the stars and the constellations for you. Something else too that is one of those life changing things is the night dive/night snorkel with the manta rays where you can see and interact with these creatures in their natural habitat and it’s so easy that anyone could do it. Basically, you’re snorkeling, they shine the white lights down and that attracts the plankton from the bottom and that’s what the manta feed on so they come up and they literally just do these backwards somersaults within inches of your face! So cool! There is also a big ranching culture on the island as well. You can do open range rides and talk story with the paniolo’s – aka the cowboys – and really get a feel of that part of the culture of the island of Hawaii as well.One of the things that we talk a lot about is coffee and it’s right here in our own backyard so to speak. Kona coffee is amazing and I think it’s one of the best coffees in the world. It competes with everything that you get from Central and South America in terms of coffees or even some of the Arabic coffee – it really holds its own. And I can’t tell you guys what it is like to experience coffee straight from the coffee beans that have come directly from the coffee farm. If you’ve never done that anywhere in the world it is an experience to be had! That being said there’s so many wonderful hands-on experiences at a variety of coffee farms on the island so definitely I would recommend to book one of those. Then if you’re interested in other unique things there’s Big Island Bees where you can visit a honey farm and see how that is harvested. Or one of Robin’s favorite spots – the Hawaiian Vanilla Company and fun fact – this is the only state in the US they can grow the vanilla orchids because the climate is so perfect. Here you can do little tastings and they have a three-course vanilla luncheon where they incorporate vanilla into every course and they even have wonderful body products that they use the fresh vanilla in. It’s a family run business and its they have a lot of special events as well and because of all this it is one of her favorite little culinary experiences on the island.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing Hawaii is open for visitors!
For the CDC’s most up to date information on COVID-19 click here. And for the most up to date COVID protocols at Hawaii click here.
So, as you can see there are so many activities on every single island that you will probably need a good four or five weeks just to run you through all of them. Maybe what we need to do is plan a number of different trips back to the islands for you so that you can truly immerse yourself one island at a time! Hawaii is a very special place and it’s not a one size fits all – no two packages are the same. It is really something that I can curated for you based on your passions and what you love to do. So, you guys if you’re ready for paradise no passport needed and, in your backyard, then let’s get planning!
For more details on things to see and do in Hawaii, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!
Aloha and Namaste!