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feb 08 2010

Hawaii: Answers to 5 common travel questions

Here's an interview with Rachel Klein, editor of Fodor's Hawaii 2010. Klein is also the Hawaii expert for Fodor's 80 degrees, a Web tool that lets you find a warm-weather escape best suited for your personality based on 20 criteria.

1. Which island should I go to?

Oahu is sometimes referred to as "one stop Hawaii" because it offers visitors a sampling of experiences and activities that can be found on all the other islands. Those interested in history won't want to miss Pearl Harbor and the Bishop Museum.

Maui is a popular pick for honeymooners, as its beaches are considered some of Hawaii's most beautiful and the resorts of West and South Maui are spectacular. The breathtaking views on Maui's Road to Hana are sure to inspire romance.

Kauai offers a more secluded, slower-paced island vacation on its splendid, lush Napali Coast, sunny South Shore beaches, and the sleepy quaint town of Hanalei.

The Big Island is a good choice for families, as there are tons of active adventures with a scientific spin, including visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and taking a trip to the top of Mauna Kea to see some of the world's largest telescopes at the Keck Observatory.

Molokai and Lanai are your best bets are for those truly looking to get away from it all.

2. What's the weather like?

There isn't a bad time to visit Hawaii when it comes to warm weather, as temperatures hover around 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round on all the islands. However, the change in seasons can bring more or less rain; in winter, some beaches become unsafe for swimming due to currents and tides, and hiking trails tend to become flooded. Also, each island has its own unique weather patterns based on elevation and other factors, meaning that you may find rain in one spot and brilliant sunshine just a short distance away—something to consider if you plan to rent a convertible.

3. What are some special Hawaiian activities for kids?

Aside from water activities—snorkeling and body-boarding being two popular choices—and outdoor adventures such as zip-lining and mountain tubing that are available around the islands, most of the larger Hawaiian resorts have cultural programs for kids. Everything from storytelling about Hawaiian mythology to native craft-making is often part of the experience. There are also luaus to attend on every island, some more authentic and others more of a show, but most are very kid-friendly.

4. What are some of the best one-day itineraries I can take on each island?

On Oahu: You'll be up at dawn due to the time change and dead on your feet by afternoon due to jet lag. Have a sunrise swim, change into walking gear, and head to Diamond Head for a hike. The climb is fairly strenuous—think lots of stairs—but it affords spectacular views of Honolulu, Waikiki, and the ocean. After lunch, nap in the shade, do some shopping, or visit the nearby East Honolulu neighborhoods of Mo'ili'ili and Kaimuki, rife with small shops and good, little restaurants. End the day with an early, interesting, and inexpensive dinner at one of these neighborhood spots.

On Maui: If you don't plan to spend an entire day hiking in the volcanic crater at Haleakala National Park, this itinerary will at least allow you to take a peek at it. Get up early and head straight for the summit of Haleakala (if you're jet-lagged and waking up in the middle of the night, you may want to get there in time for sunrise). Bring water, sunscreen, and warm clothing; it's freezing at sunrise. Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the various lookout points in the park. On your way down the mountain, turn right on Makawao Avenue, and head into the little town of Makawao. You can have lunch here, or make a left on Baldwin Avenue and head downhill to the North Shore town of Paia, which has a number of great lunch spots and shops to explore. Spend the rest of your afternoon at Pa'ia's main strip of sand, Ho'okipa Beach.

On the Big Island: Take a day to enjoy the splendors of the Hamakua Coast, or any gorge you see on the road is an indication of a waterfall waiting to be explored. For a sure bet, head to beautiful Waipi'o Valley. Book a horseback, hiking, or 4WD tour or walk on in by yourself (just keep in mind that it's an arduous hike back up, with a 25 percent grade for a little over a mile). Once in the valley, take your first right to get to the black-sand beach. Take a moment to sit here: The ancient Hawaiians believed this was where souls crossed over to the afterlife. Whether you believe that or not, there's something unmistakably special about this place. Waterfalls abound in the valley, depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Your best bet is to follow the river from the beach to the back of the valley, where a waterfall and its lovely pool await.

On Kauai: Start your day before sunrise and head west to Port Allen Marina. Check in with one of the tour-boat operators—who will provide you with plenty of coffee to jump-start your day—and cruise the iconic Napali Coast. Slather up with sunscreen and be prepared for a long—and sometimes big—day on the water; you can enjoy a couple of mai tais on the return trip. Something about the sun and the salt air conspires to induce a powerful sense of fatigue—so don't plan anything in the evening. The trip also helps build a huge appetite, so stop at Grinds in Hanapepe on the way home.

5. What are some Hawaiian "street foods" I must try?

For something easy, inexpensive, and very local, try a "plate lunch," which usually consists of a main entrée (often meat-based), a scoop of macaroni salad, and two scoops of rice. Also cheap and filling is Spam musubi, a Hawaii-only version with the canned ham topping the traditional Japanese rectangular seaweed-wrapped rice snack. Everyone will love "shave ice" (note: not "shaved ice," which if uttered will immediately let people know you're a tourist), a plastic cone filled with extremely finely-shaven ice, sweetened with food coloring and often topped with a scoop of ice cream plus a dusting of tart li hing power, made from dried plum. Also don't miss the great fresh fruits, baked goods, at roadside stands and weekly farmers markets.

REAL DEALS!

See Budget Travel's hand-picked vacation package deals for Hawaii

Earlier: Reader tips on where to eat and sleep in Hawaii

Get Inspired with more from BudgetTravel.com


Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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