Hawaii is certainly not a budget destination and our 3 week Hawaii itinerary called for some careful preparation. And we will share our top tips with you for getting the most out of a 3 week trip island hopping in Hawaii.
The biggest expenses include renting a car, accommodation, island hopping via air and of course the various activities. However, we saved quite a few pennies just by doing many things independently, such as getting to the summit of the magnificent Mauna Kea or watching a sunrise at the top of the incredible Haleakala volcano.
In fact, we didn’t use a single organised tour and managed to find everything ourselves and so can you! If you plan carefully, you will have an amazing time. Here’s our full run down on the amazing 3 weeks which we spent island hopping in Hawaii.
Week 1. Exploring Kauai Island
Kauai or the “Garden Island” was our absolute favourite place in Hawaii. Here we had our dreamy Hawaiian wedding and explored a number of stunning sites. We hope to come back here one day and explore it even further as it was such a great start to our 3 week Hawaii itinerary.
It’s the greenest of all the 7 islands which means it rains here a lot more too. So choose your time wisely when visiting. We were here in January – February and had a few rainy days. The sea was also a little too rough to swim in places, but the weather, despite the rain, was still really pleasant.
North Shore Kauai
Na Pali Coast
Kauai is abundant with amazing sites to see, but if there is one thing you have time to do on this island, head for the emerald green hills of the Na Pali Coast.
We can’t recommend enough the Kalalau Trail which starts at the beautiful Ke’e beach and stretches for around 11 miles along the tall hills. The views from the rugged mountains are out of this world with the sparkling Pacific Ocean bobbing away at your feet. What an incredible place to explore!
You’ll see people trekking it in flipflops and some in bare feet, but remember those people are only doing a couple of miles tops. It might start as an easy trek, a little slippy in places during winter months, but it gets rougher and more challenging half way through.
One thing we still have on our list is to do a helicopter ride over the coast and you should do it too, if you can spare some extra cash. The coastline is truly magnificent and you’ll feel like you’re in the film Jurassic Park!
Read more about Na Pali Coast
Hanalei Town and beach
The small and friendly Hanalei town is a true star of the North Shore. Used as a backdrop in several film productions such as ‘South Pacific’ and ‘The Descendants’ starring George Clooney, the town stole our hearts. We drove here everyday for a lovely Maki wrap served with juicy mango salsa and beautifully made Mai Thai’s, decorated with tiny cocktail umbrellas.
Take your time to discover Wai’oli Hui’ia Church perched in the heart of the town. You can’t miss it, it’s way too amazing not to be noticed. Pay attention to the scenery surrounding the church, it’s magical!
For a great Kona coffee option, visit the Na Pali Art Gallery & Coffee House, just a few minutes outside the town driving towards Na Pali Coast. The jewelry here is wonderful too.
Another great thing about exploring the North Shore Kauai is that you are never too far away from a great tropical beach. If you are heading to Hanalei town, throw your swimwear into your bag. The crescent shaped Hanalei Bay is gorgeous with the lush green Na Pali hills sticking out in the distance. Perfect for a cheeky swim.
Read more about Hanalei Town
For a soulful sunset, head to the Tunnels beach. It can get a little crowded with tourists, but it’s beautiful! We were so incredibly lucky to have it all to ourselves on our visit. The beach is a popular wedding spot due to it being located in the shadow of the stunning Mount Makana.
If you are looking for a tad of privacy, try the Haena beach, located a few steps away from the Tunnels beach. We loved it here and because it was February, we were the only people on this beach, how cool is that!
Read more about Tropical Beaches in Hawaii
South Shore Kauai
Once you’ve taken in the luxuries of the North Shore, head to the south for a more active experience. The south shore of Kauai feels very different from the luscious North Shore, ecologically and socially.
While the north side feels fresher with the breeze coming from the ocean, the south is more about the community. You will be able to feel this especially if you decide to attend the Friday Night Festival in Hanapepe.
In order to explore the glorious Waimea Canyon, we stayed in Waimea town just at the bottom of the canyon. It’s a very small town but has its own charm and a beach near by.
Visiting the Grand Canyon of the Pacific was the highlight of our stay on the South Shore. It took us two days to actually see the inner beauty of the valley due to heavy fog sitting in the canyon. The one thing that you have to take with you when driving up to the look out points is patience, especially if you are visiting in the winter months.
Due to to the look out points being some of the wettest spots on earth, the mist is a constant occurrence that drives the visitors away without seeing the true face of the canyon.
If you are not going to hike down into Waimea Canyon, you can take the Canyon Drive, which passes the main look out points. Just park your car along the road for a chance to have a glimpse into the eyes of Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
We were silly not to stay long enough the first time round as we felt very disheartened by the limited visibility. However, we didn’t lose faith and drove 10,000 feet up once again the next day. We were better prepared and actually went down into the valley following the Cliff Trail (0.1 mile) and continuing down the semi steep, 1.8 mile Canyon Trail. The hike was exhilarating! Make sure you grab a stick on your way, it will help you trek through the slippery bits.
Foodwise there is a cafe/restaurant Kokee Lodge at around 5,000 feet up. They serve good hearty food and have a massive fire place for you to warm up a little as well as a gift shop. Good spot to fill up before or after explorations.
Read more about Waimea Canyon State Park
While driving to Waimea town a couple of times we passed a big sign on the main road advertising the Hanapepe Friday Night Festival. We checked it out further online and found out that every given Friday Hanapepe hosts a fantastic event. We sure drove to check it out and you should too!
During the festival, this small, but very authentic and friendly town is smothered in fairy lights flickering in the dark. There’s great food, live music, amazing atmosphere and so much Aloha in this small place. We had a cracking time!
Read more about the Hanapepe Friday Night Festival
Spouting Horn blowhole
According to the Lonely Planet, the Spouting Horn Beach Park is one of the most photographed spots on the island. It’s easy to find and a great place to visit to watch the water blasting out of the hole in the shoreline.
From December to May, during the whale watching season, the Spouting Horn Beach Park is a great spot from which to watch beautiful humpback whales, have fun!
Glass beach, should you visit it?
If you follow a travel book, it will probably tell you to visit the glass beach. While it sounds exciting and somewhat exotic, we found it really hard to locate the beach. When we finally did, we were standing on some kind of factory site. It was kind of fascinating to walk on the smooth and incredibly colorful glass ‘pebbles’ shimmering in the sunshine, but we wouldn’t recommend going out of your way just to see it. It has slowly eroded away over the years so now looks much less impressive.
East Coast Kauai
East Coast Kauai, again, felt very different, more chilled and maybe even a little hippyish. That’s probably because we spend a few days with two fantastic people while renting a room in their beautiful house. After a day of explorations, we’d spend our evenings on their lanai drinking beer and listening to all sorts of tropical bird sounds.
While exploring the East Coast, we stayed in Kapaa, the only walkable town on the east side. The part of the town where we stayed sits along the Kuhio Highway, which makes it very unusual. A slightly bizarre place, but nonetheless a great location from which to explore the wonderful offerings of the East Coast. Also, there was lots of good food to be found here.
If you love jungly landscapes and rolling hills, you will love Wailua. Thinking of kayaking through the rain forests in Kauai? Wailua is the place to do it!
Opeakaa and Wailua Waterfalls
Conveniently located on the main road, both the 40 ft tall Opeakaa Fall and the double, 173 ft tall Wailua Falls are true show stoppers. However, due to fatal accidents, the trails down to both waterfalls have been closed to prevent further hazards.
Read more about Wailua
We really loved our Honeymoon Suite on the beautiful Haena beach on the North Shore. The best thing about this place was the beach. Even though the beautiful and more touristy Tunnels Beach was just round the corner, our beach felt very private and secluded. We loved falling asleep and waking up with the sound of the ocean.
Unfortunately the listing above is no longer showing in the search results on Airbnb, but you can always check out other options on or near Haena beach.
If you like getting to know the locals, we can recommend staying with a very cool couple T and Jennifer. We really enjoyed staying in their lovely house in Kappa. One morning we were treated to T’s organic gluten free pancakes for breakfast made from bananas straight out of their own garden. They don’t make pancakes for everyone so be nice!
Everything in their home is organic, but Charlie managed to leave his humongous (inorganic) sandwich in their fridge just before taking off to the airport. Charlie still hasn’t gotten over the fact that his lovely sandwich probably ended up in the bin (sob).
Week 2. Exploring the Big Island
Truth to be told, you might need more than a week to explore the Big Island. As the name suggests, it is big compared to the others in Hawaii. We spent 9 days here and still felt like we missed out so much.
The first impressions of the island were startling as we drove across the Volcanoes National Park. We were in awe as we explored so many different landscapes on this island which is still in a continuous rebirth; crystal clear waters of the Pacific, black sand beaches, villages covered in burning lava, steaming sulphur banks on the rim of the crater and snowy tops of the incredible Mauna Kea.
These are just a few sights you should include to your 3 week Hawaii itinerary of island hopping.
Mauna Kea Volcano
I think we both shed a tear when we were ascending this magnificent volcano. It’s an incredible place to visit and hands down the best sunset we have seen on our travels to date. You can’t stay cool when you are atop the one million year old volcano that has not been active for about 4,600 years and reaches over 13,000 feet in height. Now that’s what I call a proper honeymoon! We both got emotional watching the sun setting into the clouds.
Apart from the amazing views, be prepared for altitude sickness once at the top. We were running out of breath after every few steps. The oxygen there is 40% thinner than at sea level and that makes you feel a little dizzy.
You will come across organised tours to the summit of this ancient volcano, but we would like to encourage you to do this trip independently and save lots of pennies. Plus you can do the trip on your own terms without rushing.
For more information, you can read our full post on How to visit Mauna Kea Independently. We hope that the tips and tricks in this article will help you to get an idea of what’s involved.
Volcanoes National Park
With Mauna Kea and its star gazing observatory crossed off our wish list, we had another lifelong dream to fulfill – see the most active volcano on earth! The entire island chain is the result of volcanic activity, the ongoing birth of Hawaii. It’s one of a few places in the world where visitors can come face to face with an active volcano and we can’t believe we were there! What a trip!
We spent a whole day exploring the Volcanoes National Park and it still wasn’t enough. There’s so much to see and do and with limited time you have to choose the sights carefully. Make sure to arrive as early as possible, wear comfortable footwear and make sure you are protected from the sun. It’s gonna be a long, but a blooming brilliant day! It’s a must see in any 3 week Hawaii itinerary.
Start your day exploring the steaming sulphur banks on the rim of the crater and make sure to hike down to the Kilauea Iki Crater floor. It’s incredible to be granted the permission to step into the Kingdom of the Hawaiian mythological volcano goddess Pele.
Don’t forget to drive all the way down to the seafront and visit the Sea Arch beautifully carved out by the ocean. The drive down to the arch is an attraction in itself.
As the sun sets, make your way back to face the youngest and the most active volcano on earth. The grand finale to your day will be watching the hypnotising glowing lava bubbling in the dark, priceless!
Read more about the Volcanoes National Park
Lava rock sites
Spare a day to explore the fascinating lava rock sites on the East Coast of the Big Island. All 3 are located one next to the other and makes it a nice and chilled day out.
The Isaac’s Beach Park located approx 7 miles from Pahoa is great for camping and surfing along Pohoiki Bay. You can try snorkelling here too, but the conditions aren’t that great most of the time, which is a real shame.
The MacKenzie State Recreational Park is a great place to watch the rough waves breaking into the lava cliffs and explore the crazy landscape created by the lava.
The park is great for hiking, however, the volcanic cliffs are quite hazardous so take caution. Also, while fishing is allowed in designated areas, no pets, camping, alcohol or bikes are permitted in this park.
If you only have time to visit one lava rock site, make it Kaimu Beach also known as Black Sand Beach. The colour of the blue ocean here is amplified by the black sand, it’s gorgeous! This site was our favourite out of the 3.
At Kaimu Beach you will be able to take the Eco Path through the ancient Hawaiian village of Kalapana. The village and its beautiful black sand beach was completely covered by the lava flow back in 1990. We recommend checking out the photographs at the beginning of the ‘Eco Hike’ showing what the area looked like before the eruption of Kilauea volcano.
Read more about Lava Rock Sites
Pack your swimwear, sunglasses, sunscreen, boogie board and a hat, it’s time to hit the beach! After all the explorations you more than deserve a lazy day on the beach and the 2 mile stunning Hapuna beach is perfect for that!
The beach is great for swimming, boogie boarding, paddle boarding, bodysurfing and also provides a very safe practice ground for surfing newbies. It’s great for picnicking too so don’t forget to pack a few tasty goodies.
Like most places in Hawaii, Hapuna beach is hassle free. There is a large car park right near the beach, complete with some food vans as well as a WC .
If you fancy an easy and chilled walk in the jungle, head to Akaka Falls State Park about 11 miles north from Hilo at the end of Akaka Falls Road (Hwy. 220), 3.6 miles South West of Homomu town. The park is easily accessible and cost $1 USD to walk in or $5 USD if you are driving.
The trek is really easy and the majestic 420 ft Akaka Falls, plunging down the lush green fern is a hidden gem on the island.
Read more about the Akaka Falls State Park
Accommodation recommendations on the Big Island, Hawaii
We found the amazing Adventurous Lava Rock Hale on Airbnb and it was love at first sight. It was exactly what we were looking for, unusual, unique and secluded. A real highlight of our 3 week Hawaii itinerary.
While visiting, the lovely hosts Diane and Eric shared their story of how they built this unique house and showed us photos from the building process. It took them 6 years to construct this perfectly round household complete with a solar panel outdoor shower just behind the house. Outdoor showers in Hawaii are the best!
Read more about the Lava Rock House.
Kalaoa Cottage in Kona was a perfect home on the Big Island. We really loved spending time here. The cottage is well equip and has everything you need and more. The landlady is very lovely and friendly. Just make sure you keep the cottage nice and clean!
If you are interested in booking any of the accommodation above, please use this link and help us sustain this blog as well as get your free $25 credit on us.
Week 3. Exploring Maui and Lanai
Maui is another incredible island to include in any 3 week Hawaii itinerary. It’s a little bit more manicured compared to our beloved Kauai and at first sight felt a little overdeveloped. But after touring around the home of the world’s largest dormant volcano, we grew to love this wonderful island. Beaches here are top notch too. One week in Maui flies by too fast so plan it carefully and make sure to see at least some of the below sights.
Breaking Dawn at Haleakalā
I’ve said it before in my previous posts and will repeat myself again: ‘‘Hawaiians say, if you haven’t been to Haleakala, you haven’t been to Maui or at least looked into its soul.” It’s a magical place so by all means, get yourselves there!
Not only is Haleakalā a pretty place to look at, but also scientific. The white-domed buildings atop the volcano house powerful telescopes, connecting this East Maui Volcano to outer space! The observatories were built near the highest point on Maui because it offers the 4th best viewing conditions on the planet.
And to add even more awesomeness to this already awesome volcano, the volcanic landscape of Haleakala so resembles a lunar surface that astronauts practised mock lunar walks here before landing on the moon. Need I say more?
One thing you should absolutely do when on Maui is try and catch a sunrise from this volcano. However, we’d highly recommend visiting the volcano in the daytime and exploring the national park as well as check out the spot from where you’d like to see the sun rising.
That’s what we did. We sniffed out the volcano in the daytime and the next morning came back for the sunrise of our lives. Recently, due to high volume of visitors, a small fee ($1.50 per car) has been introduced by the national park authorities for those wishing to witness the breaking dawn.
Reservations are required as of 1st February 2017 and are only available at www.recreation.gov, for more details check their official page.
To avoid disappointment, arrive at least an hour before the sunrise to find a parking space, or even earlier. Make sure you have layers on and a warm blanket, if possible. It will be freezing and windy. Also, fill up a thermos with a tasty warm beverage to keep you warm while waiting.
Check out our simple tips to prepare for the sunrise at Haleakalā.
Road to Hana
The Road to Hana will be one of the most memorable rides you’ll have in Maui and maybe even in Hawaii. It was one of the best days we had on the island and would absolutely do it again!
It’s a jaw dropping jungly road around the island packed with exciting things to see and do, like bathe in waterfalls and roll on black sand beaches. You will be crossing 54 one lane bridges so drive extra carefully. Don’t forget to honk at hair pin bends as you won’t be able to see the oncoming traffic most of the time.
It’s a long journey and will most likely take you all day to complete. Have an early and hearty breakfast, pack your car with essentials such as water, snacks, swimwear and towels, have some cash, but above all, fill up your tank! The next petrol station will be in Hana.
There are designated picnic areas along the way and clean toilets, so no worries there!
Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden
If you love plants, be sure to visit the the unique Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden, locally known as the “Garden in a Valley on the Ocean.”
Dan J. Lutkenhouse purchased the property in 1977, developed this piece of land into a glorious botanical garden and opened it to the public in 1984. Later, in 1995, the garden was donated to a nonprofit trust.
Take your time to walk through the jungly bit of the garden, complete with refreshing waterfalls and elegantly slim palm trees reaching for the sky.
Read more about the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island
Paia, the surfing capital of the world
Paia was our ultimate favourite place to hang out in Maui. We fell in love with this little Hawaiian town and were really sad to leave. Paia, also known as the windsurfing capital of the world, has it all, the beach, the food, the sunshine and the vibe.
Ho’okipa Beach Park – the fearless surfers paradise is just minutes away. It’s also a great beach for windsurfing and if you’re lucky, you might spot some giant turtles sunning on the beach, so keep those eyes peeled!
Further along the coast (to the right when facing the ocean) there is a beautiful beach fit for snorkelling, swimming, lovely picnics or romantic sunsets.
Read more about Paia, the Windsurfing Capital of the World
There is only so much you can do without hitting a beach in Hawaii! Apart from the Ho’okipa Beach in Paia we really loved the Big Beach. We liked that the Big Beach was quite undeveloped. It’s also quite wide and over a half a mile long so never gets too crowded, awesomeness!
Read more about the Tropical Beaches in Hawaii.
Accommodation recommendations on the Big Island, Hawaii
We booked the Banyan Tree B&B at the last minute as the place we had already reserved wasn’t really for us. We were really lucky to snatch one of the rooms with Valentine’s day fast approaching. When we wanted to extend our stay for one more night, the reception lady was extremely lovely and helpful, booking us into the owner’s house next door for our final night as the resort was overbooked.
A beach day on Lanai island
If you have a spare day, spend it on Lanai island. It’s easy to get there by a public ferry from Lahaina town in Maui. The round journey takes around 90 minutes and can be spectacular. Ours really was, with flying fish catching up with the boat, dolphins shimmering in the sunshine and beautiful humpback whales waving their tails in the distance.
Read more on How to Get to Lanai By Ferry.
If you are after a beach day, you will love Hulopo’e Beach, the island’s finest golden sand beach looked after by the same gardeners who manicure the Four Seasons Hotel grounds nearby.
The public Hulopo’e Beach Park peppered with picnic tables, provides a great shade from the sun. Make sure you have some food and drink with you before heading to the beach as there might not be any food stalls available.
Read more about the gorgeous Hulopo’e Beach.
Getting around, transport options in Hawaii
While planning our trip, we had considered using other local airlines for island hopping. But after reading endless dreadful reviews on delayed and cancelled flights, we eventually gave in and arranged all our flights with Hawaiian Airlines.
I can not praise Hawaiian Airlines enough. They are not a budget airline, that’s for sure, but to us time was more valuable as we didn’t have that much of it.
Hawaiian Airlines made our journeys between the island smooth and effortless. Maybe we were simply lucky, but all the flights were on time and we didn’t lose even a minute of our precious time in the Hula land. The service was wonderful and we will always remember our island hopping experience as a comfortable experience if not luxurious.
We would highly recommend the airlines, especially if your time in Hawaii is limited. You don’t want to have delayed or cancelled flights if you only have a couple of days to explore around the islands.
Car Rental Recommendation
Throughout our trip around the islands we rented cars from Thrifty Car Rental. We booked the cars in advance while planning our trip from London, we were very organised back then! Also we wanted the trip to be as easy as possible once we arrived to each island.
The whole process, from booking a car on all 4 islands to picking it up at the airport and dropping it back off was easy and simple. Plus, after mentioning that we are going to be married on Kauai, we were upgraded to a beautiful brand new white vehicle. Maybe not the best choice for some of the rough Hawaiian roads, but a very appreciated gesture.
Bare in mind that on arrival, when picking up your car, you will additionally have to pay for a full tank of petrol, we paid around $50 each rental.
Have you been to Hawaii? Which Islands did you visit? Which one was your favourite? Let us know in the comments below….