Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park

Island hopping: Seeing six Hawaiian islands in 15 days

March 22, 2010, 7:16 am

High on an outcropping above Oahu's northeast coast, we parked our Harley Davidson and spotted a fisherman on a rocky point below, struggling with something in the water. Finally we saw that he had snagged a giant sea turtle and now was trying to free it.

As we watched, the angler carefully hauled the heavy reptile up. He removed the hook from a flipper and the turtle dived back into the blue surf and disappeared from view. Unexpectedly — thanks to our biker rental agent who had sent us to this unmarked lookout point — we had caught a glimpse of the unique intersection of climate, geology, wildlife, tourism and daily life in the Hawaiian islands.

It was the first of many payoffs for our work planning this trip. And indeed, it had been work. For although a seven-day cruise was at the heart of our two-week trip, we had no intention of just sunning ourselves on crowded beaches or following tour guides on shore excursions. We wanted to see and experience so much more.

Eight airplane flights, eight car rentals, four cab rides and a cruise; sightseeing by motorcycle, mule, bicycle, submarine and train (if you count the Pineapple Express at the Dole Plantation). That's how my boyfriend and I toured six Hawaiian Islands.

We're baby boomers and empty nesters, eager to see the world. As hard as it is to get to the 50th state from the 27th, we wanted to fit it all in one trip — who knew if we would get back?

We wanted to watch the sun rise over Haleakala, ride mules to the isolated spot that had once been a leper colony on Molokai, snorkel in the crystal waters of Lanai and see the stunning gorges and waterfalls on Kauai. Bill wanted to add more stamps to his aging National Parks Passport.

So we scheduled three days on our own exploring Oahu before our cruise would depart, planned independent forays on the three islands where the ship would dock, and booked flights to Molokai and Lanai after the cruise.

A lot of advance planning made the seemingly complex schedule easy to follow, and each day brought anticipation and delight.

Oahu

The national parks in the islands are a big draw, and Bill got his first Hawaiian stamp on his passport at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor — the kickoff of our self-guided tour of the Honolulu area. Seeing the sheen of oil floating above the sunken warship, still leaking fuel that was loaded on it 66 years ago, brought the attack to life.

We rented a car to explore Hawaii's biggest city, where we made a strenuous but immensely rewarding climb up Diamond Head, did some people-watching in Waikiki, and toured museums, the state capitol and Punchbowl Cemetery. We stopped at the drab storefront office of cable TV's "Dog the Bounty Hunter" — one of Bill' s favorites — and discovered that even it has a souvenir shop.

A motorcycle carried us to Oahu' s other scenic vistas, funky towns and historic locales. The Harley rental agent who guided us to that unmarked lookout was full of other great tips, and it was on his advice that we bought lunch at one of the large white vans parked along the east coast near shrimp farms — scampi with two scoops of sticky white rice.

Whether we were on two wheels or four, most of the roads we traveled on the populated islands were nicely maintained, but not so easy to follow. On our maps, the routes were numbered. But the signs at intersections had names — often similar and hard to pronounce. We headed in the wrong direction more than once.

A 13-letter alphabet that relies on unfamiliar vowel combinations and too many syllables caused the confusion. And not only do many of the town names sound the same, they are the same. The state has at least three Waimeas.

Best known may be the surfing mecca of Waimea Bay on the northern coast of Oahu, but the most impressive is Waimea Canyon on Kauai. The "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" has plenty of lookouts on the road that parallels 10 miles of colorful gorges dotted with waterfalls.

To get to Kauai and two other islands more easily, we booked a cabin on Norwegian Cruise Lines' Pride of Hawaii. The floating hotel offered ample convenience in inter-island transport.

The itinerary had four destinations — two overnight stops in Kauai and Maui and one on each side of the aptly nicknamed Big Island. We lined up a rental car at each port and hustled to disembark as soon as the ship docked.

Big Island

The first stop on Hawaii was Hilo, the closest port to Volcanoes National Park. We walked by steam vents puffing through the caldera (shallow summit craters) and on lava that flowed to the ocean just three years ago.

The other side of the Big Island offered the unexpected: a Russian fort, cattle pastures and windmills to the north. The climate changed as we moved from sunny coast to misty hilltop.

South of the tiny port of Kailua-Kona are coffee plantations, cozy towns and ancient settlements. We surrendered to the temptation of homemade macadamia nut and coffee ice cream before visiting Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park and its giant tiki carvings, 12th century artifacts and bay of sea turtles.

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