One Week in Maui and Kauai

Hawaii. Where do I start? Hawaii holds such a special place in my heart having visited the islands every summer growing up, some of my favorite childhood memories take place on Maui! As I've grown older opportunities to make the long trek to the middle of the Pacific have presented themselves less often and years passed without any family trips to the state. This past year, however, my brother and his now wife(!!) decided to get married on Maui and just like that I had a ticket booked to the Valley Isle! I wanted to get the most out of my time in the islands and decided to split the week between Maui and Kauai. That week went by in the blink of an eye. In my usual fashion I tried to cram as many adventures and experiences into our week as I could. That meant many early mornings and full days. Read on for my recommendations for a trip to Maui and/or Kauai! 


Iao Valley State Park

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Iao Valley was one of my favorite spots. It is small but the views are huge, so it is a nice place to visit if you only have an hour or less to spare but still want gorgeous views. We arrived at the park just as a strong rain storm was ending so the waterfalls pouring over the valley walls were numerous and strong. Walking around Iao Valley feels a little like walking in the prehistoric past, if the prehistoric past also had an outhouse, parking lot, and wooded paths. There is a $5 entrance fee but the sights were well worth it. I would also highly recommend bug spray, our time at the park was cut short because we were getting bitten by so many mosquitos. 

Sunrise at Halekala

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It took Alex and me two attempts to see a famous Halekala sunrise. We woke up at 3am the morning after our arrival and began the drive to Haleakala National Park. We figured the morning after we arrived would be the easiest morning to wake up early since our bodies were still on CST, which is 5 hours ahead of Hawaii time. Despite this fact and the anticipation of a glorious sunrise it was still an effort to get out of bed. When we left the condo it was drizzling, but the summit looked fairly clear so we decided to give it a go. Unfortunately by the time we reached the summit it was blanketed in clouds and visibility was barely more than 20 yards. Being disappointed and exhausted we navigated our way back down through the hairpin turns and resolved to try again the next morning. We had much better luck the second morning! The park was also much busier and we were worried about missing out on the sunrise because we wouldn't find parking at the summit. Instead we parked in one of the pulls offs, the Leleiwi Overlook. I would highly suggest this overlook for sunrise viewing. From the Leleiwi Overlook parking lot cross the road and follow the short trail leading to the overlook where you will be welcomed with sweeping vistas of the crater and have a perfect vantage point of the sunrise over the clouds. Despite this being such a panoramic viewing area there were only a handful of others with us, making the sunrise viewing that much more serene. We later ventured to the summit and found cars were parked 5 deep and the summit was overflowing with tourists, we were thankful we didn't have to deal with that chaos. 

After sunrise is over don't head back down quite yet! Take some time to hike down into the crater along the Sliding Sands Trail which is accessed from the parking lot at the main visitors center. The trail descends 2,800 feet and 4 miles to the valley floor but you can turn around at any point, keeping in mind the trek back up will feel much more strenuous than the hike down. 

Swimming in the Olivine Pools

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Was this ever an experience for the books! The drive alone could be considered an adventure. It's only a mere 17 miles from Kahului to the pools but the drive takes over an hour. The "2 way" road is windy, narrow, and poorly maintained. There are many hairpin turns with a sheer drop on one side that requires the utmost attention and care. The drive, however, is only the first portion of the journey to the pools. Once parked at the trailhead you begin the hike down the rugged, steep lava. Initially it looked like there was no way down to the pools but with a little careful maneuvering we were at the base of the pools. The hike down to the pools is probably not the best for young children or people with unsure footing. Another cautionary note: it's important to be very aware of your surroundings as people have died here by being swept out to sea from a large wave. The waves were fairly small for most of the time we were there but a giant rogue wave came and knocked Alex around a bit and he cut his toe pretty bad on the lava. 

Road to Hana

Upper Waikani Falls aka The Three Bears at mile marker 19

Upper Waikani Falls aka The Three Bears at mile marker 19

Pua'a Ka'a Falls at mile marker 22

Pua'a Ka'a Falls at mile marker 22

The Road to Hana is known as being very narrow and windy but after the road to the Olivine Pools this drive seemed like a piece of cake. The Road to Hana is a beautiful drive with numerous breathtaking stops and perfect for a full day trip. We didn't go by the guidebooks but instead pulled over whenever we saw something that struck our fancy. Our favorite stop was Pua'a Ka'a Falls at mile marker 22. It's a small waterfall that is perfect for swimming in. The water was brutally cold but that didn't stop us from jumping in!

Camping at Wai'anapanapa State Park

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Wai'anapanapa is always listed as a stop on the way to Hana but the incredibly scenic park has so much to offer that it could be a final destination itself: a beautiful black sand beach, sea arches, cliff jumping for the brave, hikes through lava fields, and a blow hole. By spending a night at the park you are also treated to a fiery sunset and sunrise. 

Wai'anapanapa State Park is located at mile marker 32 on the Hana Highway. The park has limited parking, but many of the tourists are making quick stops on their journey to Hana and the turnover for parking is fast. If you want to spend a night, which I highly recommend, you will need to obtain a permit ahead of time (purchase a permit here:

Hiking to Red Sand Beach

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Red Sand Beach is a hidden cove beach located just past Hana. It was difficult to find and we considered just skipping it after a few unsuccessful attempts to find the trailhead but were thankful we persisted because the spot was idyllic. We were following some vague directions from a guidebook and ended up going the wrong way but were redirected by some kind construction workers who were probably fed up with tourists stumbling into their worksite. The best way to find this beach is to turn left onto Hauoli Road (if coming from Hana), drive to the end of the road and try to find street parking around the intersection of Hauoli Road and Uakea Road. Once parked follow Uakea Road to the very end which will be right next to a school. In order to reach the trailhead you must walk through a grassy area to the school's right. Across the grassy area is a forest and the trailhead is fairly easy to spot, this trail will take you all the way to the Red Sand Beach, which is about 10 minute walk (.2 miles). Be wary, this is a narrow trail and there are some spots that have an exposed side where a fall could be dangerous. That being said we saw children successfully making the hike. Once at the beach you will be in for a treat. Given that the spot is hard to find and a bit difficult to reach there often aren't many people at the beach. When we first arrived there were only two other groups. There is a rock wall that protects the beach and makes swimming very pleasant. Don't venture past the rock wall, though, because beyond that the currents are strong and the waves are relentless. 


Doors off helicopter tour with Jack Harter Heli Tours

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A doors off helicopter tour was the highlight of our time in Hawaii, I may even go so far as to rate it one of the top experiences of my life! The tour lasts an hour and covers the entire island: Waimea Canyon, the Napali Coast, the valleys and innumerable waterfalls on the island including the waterfall in Jurassic Park's opening scene. The pilots are incredibly knowledgable and make sure both sides of the heli get time to take in and photograph all the views. We were able to see so many parts of the island that are inaccessible by land. I was astounded at the number of waterfalls on the island, it seemed every corner we turned and every ridge we flew over greeted us with yet another waterfall. The doors off aspect added to the thrill of the ride and gave us perfect, unobstructed sweeping views of the island. I was sandwiched in between Alex and the pilot; they do seating arrangements based on height and weight and the smallest person sits in the middle, while everyone else has a "window" seat. Being uncomfortable with heights I was completely okay with this, I probably would have had an entirely different experience had I been on the outside.

Hike to Hanakapi'ai Beach on the Kalalau Trail

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The Kalalau Trail hike is an iconic 22 mile round trip trek along the Napali Coast. It requires a permit and overnight camping and is something that Alex and I would have done in a heartbeat given enough time. But we had only one full day on Kauai which was not enough time to complete the full hike. Not wanting to miss out at least a peak into the Napali Coast we opted to do the short 2 mile portion of the hike to Hanakapi'ai Beach. This hike is short but offers stunning views of the Napali Coast. 

Visit Waimea Canyon State Park

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Waimea Canyon has been dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific". I was going to attribute that quote to Mark Twain as many people do but when researching the quote further for this blog post I found out that is a misattribution as the Grand Canyon wasn't even named until after Mr. Twain's death and he allegedly never set foot on Kauai. It is still a highly accurate description of Waimea Canyon, though. Waimea has many hiking and backpacking opportunities, but again, Alex and I were strapped for time so we had to make do with driving through and stopping at the lookouts for Waimea Canyon. Despite the fact we weren't able to hike down into the canyon we were awe-struck with the sweeping views of the canyon from the overlooks. Clouds and distant rain storms were passing through which made for some beautiful photo opportunities. 

Stop at Wailua Falls

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Wailua Falls is a short 20 minute drive from Lihue. There is a small parking area and a viewing area protected by a guard rail. The views from this lookout are spectacular. The thundering twin falls roaring over the cliff is humbling to witness. Apparently when there is more rainfall the falls merge into one giant falls which sounds like quite the sight! There is also a way to access the shore of the falls by climbing past the "Do not pass" ropes and winding your way down a crude path. We saw a few people at the shore swimming and hanging out. It looked fun but we had a helicopter to catch!