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The International Writers Magazine
: Hacktreks in Hawaii

Hawaii On A Budget
Peggy Ellett

Let me be the first to admit that Hawaii frightened me for years. Everything I read and heard indicated costs there were prohibitively expensive...

Even when I read reviews of places to eat, the writers referred to a $30 meal as "inexpensive" or "moderately priced." By my own calculations, based on what I read, I expected to pay $15 per person for breakfast and anywhere from $30 to $40 per person for dinner. I fully expected meals for two people to cost about $1000 for a one-week stay. Rooms seemed to be in the $200 per night (and up) range. When I added airfare from our home in the Midwest and a rental car, I envisioned the trip costing us well over $4000, and that was before we even thought of the entertainment expenses such as luaus and golf and any tours we might take. I worried that $6000 might easily be the total tab for a one-week visit; however, my husband had always dreamed of taking me to Hawaii. I finally consented and we visited a travel agent and started planning our trip for September.
Planning Your Trip:
My first surprise was the range of price choices available. Our travel agent gave us a brochure from Blue Sky Tours and we began studying the options. Our plan was to spend two nights in Oahu and five nights in Kauai. I logged onto the Internet and started researching the hotels listed in the brochure. I discovered a website called Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) that proved to be invaluable in selecting lodging. It offers unbiased reviews of the hotels written by guests that have stayed in the hotels. What I discovered was that some of the more expensive hotels had lower ratings than some of the more affordable places. I checked out all the possibilities and chose the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki for two nights and the Aloha Beach Resort in Kauai for five nights. Both hotels offered affordable pricing that included a breakfast buffet, something I considered important, as I was concerned with saving money and both places had excellent reviews from previous guests on the Trip Advisor web site. My first advice is to research your choices before booking the trip. My initial choice of lodging in Kauai had uniformly terrible reviews from almost every respondent at Trip Advisor and I finally chose the moderately priced Aloha Beach Resort as it had great reviews.

We were able to book a trip through our travel agent, using Blue Sky Tours that specialize in Hawaiian trips, for about $2700. This price included airfare, shuttle transportation to the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki and a return shuttle to the airport, lodging with a breakfast buffet on both islands, a rental car for Kauai, and a lei greeting at the Honolulu airport. Although you can book your own trip, I found the use of a travel agent both inexpensive and convenient.

My second advice is to skip the rental car on Oahu. There is an excellent bus system and you can find out more by visiting www.thebus.org on the Internet. Visitor passes are available for $20 per person for a four-day unlimited use ticket. The tickets can be purchased ahead of time by writing to the address listed on the web site or they can be purchased at any ABC store in Waikiki. All of the popular tourist attractions are available by bus and not only do you save money, you are free to enjoy the scenery instead of fighting traffic, which is always congested.

My third piece of advice is to immediately, if not sooner, visit Hilo Hattie’s on any (and every) island you choose to visit. In Honolulu and Waikiki, Hilo Hattie’s has a free open-air trolley that services most of the popular hotels. The trolley will take you to Hilo Hattie’s, where shopping for souvenirs is addictive thanks to the quality of the products and the affordable prices. We also received discount coupons that were well worth the trip to the store and free Hawaiian coffee mugs. The coffee mugs were beautiful enough that we used them to hand out to people at home as souvenirs, saving even more money. The coupons are good for lots of 2-for-1 offers that are actually very valuable. Our rental car contract in Kauai included another coupon for a free coffee mug from Hilo Hattie’s. Needless to say, one of our first stops in Kauai was…Hilo Hattie’s. We received another page of coupons good for things such as a 2-for-1 admission to the Fern Grotto cruise (saving us $15), a 2-for-1 admission to the McBryde Botanical Gardens (another $15 savings), several 2-for-1 lunch and dinner coupons and other 2-for-1 coupons for several tourist attractions such as whale watching boat tours and snorkel gear rentals. If you want quality souvenirs at reasonable prices and if you want to save money, you absolutely must visit Hilo Hattie’s. There are stores on all the islands.
Lodging
There are many reasonably priced lodging alternatives in Kauai. A travel agent can be invaluable in helping you select the type of lodging and the location that best suits your needs. Once again, if you have access to the Internet, do some research on your own to determine what you want. If at all possible, I would recommend renting a condo with a washer and dryer and a kitchen that features at least a refrigerator and microwave. Doing a load of laundry will allow you to pack lightly for your trip, leaving room in the suitcase to bring home the souvenirs that you will undoubtedly acquire.

Princeville and Hanalei dominate the northern part of Kauai. Some of the island’s most beautiful beaches are located here and it is also an excellent location for hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and enjoying breathtaking sunsets over Bali Hai. Whether staying here or just sight seeing, plan a visit to the Kilauea Lighthouse. It is free and the views are magnificent. Golf on this part of the island can be extremely expensive. The scenery is spectacular and the atmosphere is geared toward relaxation. Although it is generally more upscale, especially the resorts, inexpensive lodging can be found if you look. The shopping and dining options are somewhat limited and it can be a long drive to other locations on the island. While the island is only 25 miles by 33 miles, the highway is a winding, two-lane road that can be very congested in certain locations. You quickly learn to judge driving by time rather than by distance. The drive to the northern part of the island is easily a one-hour trip from the airport. If you are traveling from the northern part of the island to the Poipu area on the southern part of the island, it will take even longer and plan on a two-hour drive if you want to visit the western part of Kauai.

Similarly, the western part of Kauai is more isolated and requires longer driving times. This old town of Hanap_p_ is located here, as is Waimea. Many of the island’s historic areas are found on the western shore, including the Captain Cook’s landing site (the first white man to visit the island), several locations associated with the Menuhune (the legendary little people prominent in many local legends), and beautiful Waimea Canyon (dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific by Mark Twain). There is also a coffee plantation, in case you want to see where they produce that wonderful Kona coffee that is served all over the island. Most of the hotels feature Kona coffee packets for their in-room coffee service and I found it wonderfully delicious. There is no charge to visit the coffee plantation and it offers a wide variety of free coffee tasting. Both the towns of Hanap_p_ and Waimea offer fun shopping in quaint, small-town settings. If you want to see the sun sink into the ocean at twilight, this is the place to choose.

The southern part of the island, popularly called Poipu, is filled with resorts and lodging options that range from moderately expensive to very expensive. Once again, research on the Internet can help you find more reasonably priced lodging, especially if you choose a condo. This part of the island offers shopping and dining options in a variety of price ranges. Be sure to visit old Koloa Town. It was built in 1830 and is the site of Kauai’s first sugar plantation. The original buildings have been refurbished as shops and restaurants. What was once a hotel is now a gift shop and Internet café, with Internet access priced at only $5.00 per thirty minutes. Most of the shops offered very reasonably priced souvenirs and gifts and simply strolling through the historic location is delightfully relaxing and interesting. Large trees overhang the shopping village, providing shade and a feeling of having stepped back in time to a quieter, simpler life. The Spouting Horn State Park is also worth a visit and is free of charge. Ocean waves are forced through a natural lava tube, where they emerge spouting high into the air, before receding and creating a mournful horn-like sound. There is room here for children to run and play, clean restrooms available, and an array of vendors peddling island-crafted gifts. While some decry the vendors that set up at tourist locations, I find them fun, entertaining, and a chance to talk to local residents. Talking to people that live in the area offers insights and suggestions about where to go and what to do, as well as often learning more about local history.

The eastern shore of Kauai, the Coconut Coast, offers the most lodging options at reasonable rates and is ideal for the budget-minded tourist. It is also an ideal central location for driving to other parts of the island. We stayed at the Aloha Beach Resort and were delighted with the price, the location, the landscaping and the accommodations. Pricing through our travel agent (from Blue Sky Tours) ranged from $96 per night for a garden view room to $232 per night for a one-bedroom cottage. All included a choice of a daily breakfast buffet or a fifth night free. Reasonably priced packages can also be found on the hotel web site (www.abrkauai.com). The staff was amazingly helpful and the rooms were spotless and comfortable. All rooms offered beautiful views of the ocean and/or the beautiful landscaping. Breakfast on the terrace at the restaurant was stunning, with views of the ocean and the mountains and sunrises that were incomparable. It is worth getting up early to enjoy the experience. The Aloha Beach Resort is located next to Lydgate Park, featuring an enclosed lagoon that is perfect for snorkeling and swimming. The lagoon is shallow enough to be safe for children, it is protected from the ocean currents, and it is filled with tropical fish that swarm eagerly to your side to be fed. Fish food is available at the desk in the Aloha Beach Resort lobby. Lydgate Park also offers the Kamalani Playground, an amazing structure that was designed by the children of Kauai and built entirely by volunteers. It is difficult to imagine any child not being charmed by the lava slides, mazes, climbing areas, and swings. There is a pavilion in the park and during our trip we visited often in the evenings to watch island children participate in Polynesian dancing lessons. Accompanied by rhythmic drums, the dancing was every bit as entertaining as the dances performed at a costly luau. There are other beautiful and inexpensive places to stay on the Coconut Coast and all seemed to feature lovely landscaping and are close to beaches. If you are on a budget and still want to enjoy all the luxury of a Hawaiian vacation, I definitely recommend the Coconut Coast area.
Meals:
Meals need not be expensive in Kauai, especially if you locate on the eastern shore. The town of Kapa’a is a short drive from any location on the Coconut Coast and offers a wide array of inexpensive dining establishments. We especially enjoyed Eggberts. A hearty breakfast was available for just over $5.00, with lunch and dinner items also very inexpensively priced. Eggberts is located in the Coconut Market Place, which also offers over 60 shops and restaurants. In Kapa’a you will also find grocery stores and drug stores. We discovered that after a day of swimming and touring, dinner in our room was not just economical, but relaxing. We purchased cooked and peeled jumbo shrimp for about $10 a pound, deli items that were ideal for making a microwave meal or sandwiches, and soft drinks to keep in our refrigerator. All were surprisingly affordable, despite what I have always heard about grocery prices in Hawaii. If you are traveling with children, this is a wonderful option to dining nightly in a restaurant, especially if the children are tired and slightly cranky. The town of Lihue is also a short drive from the Coconut Coast and offers many dining and shopping opportunities. There is a WalMart store, a K-Mart, a shopping center, and Hilo Hattie’s. A local establishment called Fish Express is just across the street from WalMart. This very popular place features pre-packaged, freshly cooked, large-portion meals. We purchased two dinners of Mahi-Mahi with rice and vegetables for only $4.95 to pop in our microwave. The food rivaled anything we ate in the nicer restaurants. There are also lots of local places to eat and some of the best offer plate lunches. Plate lunches are an island specialty, offering huge servings of rice and meat or seafood at extremely reasonable prices.

© Peggy Ellett Feb 2004
joepeg3748@cableone.net

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