Thanks to a dear friend, Louise Zahorsky is off to Maui and Kauai. Here's what every first-timer should know
In June 2003, Louise Zahorsky ran into Deleano Benjamin at their 45th high school reunion in Worthington, Minn. The old friends hadn't seen each other since the 40th reunion. They caught up, discussing news both good (Louise's husband, Gerald, was retiring in a year) and bad (after battling breast cancer in the early '90s, Louise recently found out she needed further treatment).
"If you could travel anywhere," Deleano asked Louise, "where would 'anywhere' be?"
He had barely finished speaking when Louise blurted out, "Hawaii!" But it would never happen. Gerald didn't want to be on a plane for the long trip, and besides, it would cost too much.
So Deleano told a story. His mother had wanted to go to Hawaii for her 50th wedding anniversary, but Deleano's father was reluctant to spend the money. "My mom finally told him that she was going," Deleano said. "She'd simply take someone else." Deleano's father relented, and wound up loving the islands -- before he died, he even requested that he be buried in his Hawaiian shirt. "Can you believe my surprise when I looked into his casket?"
Concerned about her family's retirement funds, Louise remained hesitant. But Deleano wouldn't drop the topic and offered up his time-share to bring their expenses down. Over the next few months, Louise and Deleano discussed the possibilities, settling on a week in Kauai and a week in Maui, beginning in November, after Gerald's retirement. The time-share program wasn't free for the Zahorskys, but it would cost less than $1,000 total. "This is one of the sweetest ladies you'll ever come across," says Deleano. "I just had to help."
Deleano had never been to Hawaii, so he didn't have any advice for the Zahorskys, who hadn't traveled much. "We mostly just visit friends and family," says Louise. Neither Gerald nor Louise use the Internet, so Deleano posted questions for them on the message board at our website, budgettravel.com. From the answers Deleano found there, he ordered them free brochures from the Hawaii Tourist Board (800/464-2924) and sent them a show about Hawaii that he had taped from the Travel Channel.
Mahalo, Deleano, but we can do better than that. We looked at options from several tour operators and airlines, and the best deal came from Worry-Free Vacations: $1,153 per person for charter flights between Minneapolis and Oahu, all flights within Hawaii, rental cars on Maui and Kauai, airport transfers on Oahu, and four nights at Oahu's Ohana Waikiki Surf.
Louise hoped to save money by skipping the rental cars, but we think they're essential on Maui and Kauai. Neither island has much in the way of public transportation. (Oahu has buses, shuttles, and taxis.)
The Zahorskys also asked for advice on what to do and where to eat affordably on Maui and Kauai. They'd be staying in Maui at the Sands of Kahana Vacation Club time-share, north of Lahaina. An old whaling town, Lahaina is popular these days for its galleries, T-shirt shops, and restaurants. Hawaiians love their "mixed plate" meals, with big portions of homey food, and we suggested the Zahorskys kick back in plastic chairs overlooking the coast at Aloha Mixed Plate, where the Hawaiian Plate, with Kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, poi, and rice, costs $7.95. Another favorite with tourists and locals is Cheeseburger in Paradise. The cheeseburger is overpriced ($7.95, and that doesn't include fries!), but in the morning, there are no tipsy tourists to ruin the serene sea views and the macadamia nut pancakes ($6.95) are delicious.
Driving on Maui is an activity in itself. Loads of tourists wake up before dawn and head up to Haleakala, a 10,023-foot dormant volcano, to watch the sunrise -- but we advised the Zahorskys to save their sleep and go for sunset.
The other famed drive on Maui is the Road to Hana, a cliff-lined stretch with waterfalls, incredible views, and more twists than a Hitchcock movie. Most tourists drive for hours, look at the black-sand beach at Hana Bay, and turn back. But there's an overlooked snorkeling spot at Red Sand Beach (Kaihalulu). The small beach is part of a caved-in cinder cone, turned red through oxidation. There's parking near the community center on Ua Kea Road, and a steep dirt trail to the beach starts near the back lawn. The beach is almost never crowded, and the water is always calm and clear.
Gerald was interested in golfing but wasn't up for forking over $200 a round (which is what some resorts charge). We told him about the Waiehu, an 18-hole public course right on the ocean, where greens fees start at $26 on weekdays.
Regarding Kauai, our first piece of advice is to buy the Kauai Underground Guide, now in its 17th edition (we purchased a copy for the Zahorskys). It has the lowdown on beaches, restaurants -- everything.
Gerald and Louise would be staying at the Makai Club in Princeville, on the north shore. Princeville itself doesn't have many cheap places to eat, so we directed them 10 minutes west, to the magnificent crescent beach at Hanalei Bay. The town of Hanalei has good energy -- it feels like people live there and love it. (At the Sunday church service, some of the songs are even sung in Hawaiian.) We suggested sitting in the back courtyard at Bamboo Bamboo, taking in the view of taro fields and waterfalls, and ordering a chicken, pesto, and artichoke brick-oven pizza ($15.95). Another affordable spot on Kauai is Eggbert's, a landmark in the town of Kapaa that specializes in huge omelets.
Also near Kapaa: the oceanfront Wailua Municipal Golf Course, where weekday greens fees start at $32. Kukuiolono Golf Course has ocean views, too, and greens fees are an unbelievable $8. The course, near Kalaheo on the southern shore, is a three-hour drive from Princeville -- too far just to play golf -- so we told the Zahorskys to pair a morning on the links with an afternoon at nearby Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain called it "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." There's an easy hike along the ridge trail, from the Puu O Kila Lookout.
Before they head back to Princeville, we insisted that they make a detour to the southwestern corner of the island, along highway 50. At the end of a dirt road is one of Hawaii's best beaches, at Polihale State Park. The currents are too strong for swimming, but the beach is usually empty, and picnic-perfect.
How was your trip?
Debbie Escobar and her sons Evan, 11, and Andrew, 12, are back from Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. "Like you recommended, the boys did research on the two cities," says Debbie. "The Smithsonians in D.C. had tons of neat exhibits -- especially the planetarium at the Air & Space Museum. In Philly, we went to the Museum of Art and the boys imitated Rocky's run up the steps. We saved our last day to tour the Franklin Institute of Science, which was amazing. The boys loved the flight simulator."