Palm-backed beaches, exotic wildlife and awe-inspiring mountainscapes, Hawaii in the North Pacific Ocean, conjures up so many wonderful images in my mind, although I’ve never been. Travel writer and photographer, Richard Atkins, however, is no stranger to the archipelago’s white-sand shores. Here he shares his experience of three of Hawaii’s islands Maui, Molokai and Oahu.
Maui, Molokai and Oahu
Words and photography by Richard Atkins
Hawaii. The allure of these magical islands never diminishes. From the Mars-like summit of the Haleakala crater on Maui to Molokai’s towering sea cliffs, the islands invite you to explore their rich history, culture and stunning scenery.
The island of Maui is quite diverse with something for every age and demographic. For those wanting to bask in the lap of luxury, high-end oceanfront hotels cater to your every whim. For a more adventurous experience, there is world-class surfing and excellent hiking in the upcountry. Regarding cuisine, Maui has been coined the “Foodie Island” as they have some of the most exquisite food truck fare in the world, fit to compete with any Michelin rated, five-star fine dining establishment.
The Maui Ocean Centre
Top of our bucket list was a visit to the Maui Ocean Centre. It’s considered one of the ten best aquariums on the planet and rightly so. We took in the sites of graceful stingrays, rare sea turtles, solitary sharks and the world’s largest display of Hawaiian corals. But, most fascinating of all was the Centre’s captivating 3-D film on humpback whales. The circular screen is 17 metres in diameter allowing the whales to be viewed at their astounding size. One of the true highlights of our trip!
Paia and the road to Hana
The cliff-top road along the north coast of the island from Paia to Hana is spectacular and takes about 90 minutes to drive, with stunning views along the way.
The somewhat eccentric little surfer town of Paia has two main thoroughfares, with a plethora of window-shopping opportunities including art galleries and jewellery stores, plus coffee bars, souvenir shops and places to eat.
If you’re planning on driving the road to Hana, a perfect layover stop is the Paia Inn, a charming boutique hotel right in the heart of town. It boosts an exceptional Japanese restaurant called Vana Paia featuring creative sushi in a hip, party atmosphere
Top Tip: Before you depart for your road to Hana drive, there are plenty of cafes in Paia that will pack you a delectable lunch at a reasonable price.
Pua’a Ka’a Falls
About the midway point of our trip to Hana, we encountered the Pua’a Ka’a Falls. a fabulous waterfall and swimming hole, perfect for a refreshing swim. It’s one of many picturesque waterfalls that can be found in the Northwest of the island.
When we finally arrived in Hana, we were rewarded with the breathtakingly beautiful Koki Beach. Here you can indulge in an idyllic picnic lunch, overlooking the sweeping waves of the surf. There are no lifeguards and the undertow can be treacherous so swimming is not recommended.
Haleakala National Park and Summit
Our drive to the summit of the Haleakala Crater in the Haleakala National Park was another must-see bucket list attraction. From Paia, it’s about an hour drive through the serenely beautiful, Maui upcountry, but watch out along the way for free-range cattle that occasionally stroll across the road. We were told Oprah has a compound along this route, but I won’t go into detail here. Just google “Thompson Ranch Road” and “Oprah” and you’ll get detailed instructions on how to get there.
Once at the summit of Haleakala, above the clouds, the colourful landscape is otherworldly. It’s a popular spot to watch the sunrise, however securing a sunrise parking pass is virtually impossible, but the site is phenomenal any time of day.
There are impressive hiking trails in and around the crater, but you’d have to be a die-hard outdoors lover to brave the wind chill, let alone the strenuous hike. Plan on staying about 30 minutes for photo-ops and a visit to their smart little souvenir shop.
Top Tip: Bring cold-weather gear as temperatures range from 0 to 18 degrees Celsius at 3,048 metres high.
On the west coast of the island, PacWhale Eco-Adventures is a great place to book an extraordinary dolphin or whale watching adventure, as well as world-class snorkelling. We joined a magnificent celestial cruise where our astronomy guide, Harriet Witt, provided a wealth of entertaining, yet informative commentary on everything from how the Polynesians of yesteryear used the stars to find the Hawaiian islands to where Venus, Saturn and Mars situate in the bright, night sky. The tour includes cocktails and delicious appetizers, but the real thrill here is the heavens. Since you are closer to the equator, the stars seem that much closer and we felt as if we could almost touch them. It was a highly unique experience we won’t soon forget.
Better still, all profits raised support the Pacific Whale Foundation’s education and conservation programs to protect dolphins, whales and our precious oceans.
Where to stay in Maui
The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa
The Hyatt is a spectacular, newly renovated 40-acre complex of pristine beachfront, enticing pools and tempting restaurants, located conveniently on the west coast and just a short, 30-minute drive to the Maui Ocean Centre and Pac-Whale Adventures.
Our oceanfront room gave us a sense of calm with its minimalist decor, clean lines and zen-like ambience to ensure the most striking sunrise and sunsets. Taking a stroll through the meticulously manicured grounds, we were rewarded further with endless photo-ops of lush tropical gardens, gazebos, swaying palms and the sweet sound of the breakers.
Things to do at the Maui Resort and Spa
We were amazed at how much there is to do onsite at the Hyatt, from the 25-foot water slide and graceful waterfalls to the abundance of wildlife including a koi pond, flamingos, majestic swans and the entertaining feeding of African Black-Footed Penguins every morning in the lobby at 9:30 a.m.
We were also pleasantly surprised at being able to carry on amusing conversations with an array of exotic birds that perch themselves strategically in the lobby, ready and willing to respond back.
If travelling with younger individuals, Camp Hyatt is there to entertain your 5 to 12-year-olds in grand style any time of day with activities that emphasize Hawaiian culture. And, if they desire to spend the day at the pool, inner tubes, rafts and pool noodles can be rented for their enjoyment.
The Drums of the Pacific Lu’au is an exciting entertainment of historical significance and is performed with robust energy by the multi-talented cast of singers and dancers while the audience partakes in unlimited drinks and a delicious dinner.
For ultimate relaxation, we booked a couples massage at the Marilyn Monroe spa with reputedly the best massage therapists in Hawaii. Afterwards, relax and rejuvenate in their special indoor/outdoor rehydration room overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific.
Directly next to the spa is the 24-hour Moana Athletic Club, a full-service gym with state-of-the-art fitness equipment that hosts a variety of daily classes in a private studio. For further athletic pursuits, the Ka’anapali Kai Golf Course is a short walk from the hotel and Hyatt guests have full access to this championship, 18-hole course with the Maui mountains as the perfect backdrop.
Dining at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort
Regarding restaurants, go no further than Hyatt’s alfresco Japengo, where we enjoyed their delectable Asian fusion fare while gazing out across the sunsetting horizon. On another evening, we dined at the elegant Son’z Steakhouse which presents itself in front of a serene pond of swans relaxing amongst multi-coloured waterfalls. Both dining experiences were some of the best we had ever experienced.
The intriguing island of Molokai
Maui’s neighbouring island of Molokai is remarkably bonny for one of the lesser travelled islands. Upon hearing its name, some people say, “Isn’t that the leper island?” And indeed, there were hundreds of people in the mid-nineteenth century afflicted with leprosy that were deported to the island. Today, some former lepers, now cured still inhabit Kalaupapa National Park.
If you venture up into the backcountry to hike, you’ll come across magnificent scenic vistas at the highest elevation points. However, at sea level, you won’t want to miss Papohaku beach. It’s a 3 mile long, 91 metres wide pristine, white sand beach that’s usually deserted, so you’ll most likely have this grand oasis of coastline all to yourself.
Top tip: There’s only one supermarket and just a few convenience stores, so when flying to Molokai, pack a few days worth of snacks in case you can’t purchase food for a day or so once on the island.
Where to eat on Molokai
Hiro’s Ohana grill at the Hotel Molokai serves excellent surf and turf fare as well as Paddlers Restaurant and Bar along with a host of exceptional food truck fare.
Where to stay on Molokai
We stayed at one of two, Dunbar Beachfront Cottages that were outstanding as we had our own private beach and the cottages were roomy with full kitchens and multiple bedrooms.
How to get to Molokai
We flew on the only airline that has service to Molokai which is Mokulele Airlines. The planes are 6-8 seaters, but their safety record is flawless and the views from the plane are intensely beautiful as our photos will attest. The flight from Maui to Molokai was a short twenty minutes.
Oahu, home to Pearl Harbour
Another short, fifteen-minute Mokulele flight from Molokai to Honolulu International Airport and we were ready to explore Pearl Harbour. Since we have never been to Oahu and only had about seven hours before our return flight, we checked out the impressive Pearl exhibits and took a tour of the USS Battleship Missouri. This still left time to visit the bustling beach in Waikiki, have a tasty lunch at Tikis Grill and Bar and a drive up to Diamond Head for more great views and photo-ops.
Having visited all the major islands of Hawaii now except for Lanai, I can honestly say this magical chain of islands has become our home away from home as it is a place to relax and unwind. A place steeped in history and local culture. A place of immense beauty and spectacular landmarks. A familiar place to return to. Again and again…
Hawaii Travel Restrictions
About the author, Richard Atkins
Richard Atkins is a travel writer, photographer, playwright, screenwriter, actor and pianist. He can be reached at: [email protected]
See more photographs from Hawaii by Richard in this slideshow with music (choose full screen or download and watch for slow internet speeds) and on Flicker (press the icon in the upper right-hand corner for a slideshow.)
All photos and words by Richard Atkins ©2021
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