Hawaii Travel Guide: Islands of Kauai + Maui

This post includes information about our personal experience traveling to Hawaii for our Honeymoon during the COVID-19 Pandemic; from what to expect to how we safely managed our stay to the best of our abilities. Be sure to check the CDC’s latest updates & State Travel Guidelines for your particular area of interest prior to your trip.

I’ve been so excited to share this travel guide of our amazing Hawaiian Honeymoon! This is a destination I’ve always dreamed of experiencing, and it did not disappoint – even with the lingering Pandemic. We truly had the most magical, 10-day vacation exploring two of the eight gorgeous islands making up the State of Hawaii. And there’s so much more we wish we had the time to do/see. All the more reason to work very hard to save up for another trip in the future!

If you have the opportunity to travel to Hawaii, whether it be for business or pleasure, I hope this post will serve as a helpful guide to navigating the two islands of Kauai & Maui. Even though our reason for being there was to celebrate our new marriage, everything that’s mentioned below is a relevant suggestion for any kind of traveler looking for ideas of where to stay, what to do and places to eat/drink on these two island destinations.

Hawaii COVID Travel Restrictions

Our Honeymoon trip to Hawaii began on October 25, 2021 & concluded November 6, 2021. At the time, this was pre-introduction to the rampant Omicron Variant sweeping the country. Nonetheless, we remained very diligent about checking up on the State Guidelines for non-residents/visitors in the weeks leading up to our departure date to ensure we’d be aware and prepared for any & all possible changes to our travel requirements. Unlike the Mainland, Hawaii is a few steps behind with its vaccine number progression & as a result, remains just as strict as it was back in the Summer of 2020 for many of us. In fact, the State of Hawaii had just lifted the outdoor mask mandate a few weeks before we arrived. Of course, we were happy to oblige and respected all the rules & requirements regarding mask-wearing as non-resident visitors. The fact we were able to be in Hawaii at all during this unpredictable, ever-changing time was a huge blessing.

About a week before the wedding (prior to the trip), we completed the Hawaii State Travels Program mandatory health form in order to submit our vaccine records for pre-approval to board the plane & bypass the mandatory 10-day self-quarantine. We did not have to get nor present a negative COVID test several hours prior. However, we did bring the physical copies of our Vaccine Records with us to present as “a second form of Vaccine ID” when checking in at the Safe Travels Desk by our gate. If you don’t have a hard copy of your Vax Card, you may present a second form of Vaccine Record ID through one of the three approved Digital Health Pass Partners –  AZOVA, CLEAR & CommonPass.

*I recommend signing into your Safe Travels Program account (or bookmarking it for quick reference) as you will need to present it several times in the airport – before & after you arrive at your final island destination.* I would also ensure you have (3) green check marks visible once logged into your account, as you’ll be required to show as proof of pre-approval to bypass the quarantine.*

KAUAI


TRAVEL TIME FROM NEWARK AIRPORT TO HONOLULU – 11 HOURS (NONSTOP)
TRAVEL TIME FROM HONOLULU TO LIHUE – 30 MINUTES (UNITED/HAWAIIAN AIRLINES)

We spent the beginning of our Honeymoon in Kauai, the oldest & most northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain. Known for its lush greenery and impressive mountainscapes, we playfully called it our “Adventure Island” as we scheduled most of our activities while here. After all, there’s a reason famous films like Jurassic Park, King Kong & Raiders of the Lost Ark (to name a few) chose to shoot on this island specifically. There’s no other place like it & we instantly fell in love with its beauty/charm. Every inch of it reminded me of the garden island Te Fiti in the movie Moana.

Kauai is a smaller, more manageable island to explore if you plan to cover a lot of ground during your trip here. It’s absolutely family-friendly, but you won’t find as many hotels to accommodate specific amenities for children or large party sizes. This island is geared towards couples or those traveling independently/in small groups looking to do more outside the resort. Of course, there are plenty of places to stay where you don’t have to leave the confines of where you’re staying – but you’d be missing out entirely if so!

WHERE WE STAYED

Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort

Anyone looking for an intimate & inconspicuous Hawaiian escape – this is where you should stay. We absolutely LOVED staying at Ko’a Kea & couldn’t recommend it enough for couples/honeymooners. There’s no shortage of views and relaxation at this oceanside resort – with two beachfronts (Kiahuna & Poipu) on either side & only steps away to enjoy, breathtaking sunsets on a clear evening, cozy fire pit stations, spa-like hot tub & its own poolside Tiki Bar. Thomas and I loved waking up and having our coffee on the lanai of our 1st floor ocean view room (Room 138) that we quickly learned was one of the best locations at the resort. Along with a sliding door to easily access the room from the lawn, our little outdoor spot had its own table & chairs to enjoy room ordered meals at and a recliner to hang out on if all the good sun-facing spots at the pool were occupied.

What we enjoyed the most about our stay at Ko’a Kea was the pleasantry of both the staff as well as the guests also staying the same week. The staff was beyond helpful and accomodating, from free water bottle delivery every night to sharing their own personal recommendations of local cuisines to try outside the resort. In terms of guests, everyone seemed to have just gotten married or were celebrating a milestone anniversary or occasion. So there was a common conversation to be had, and everyone we met/spoke with during our resort days were kind & pleasant. I think everyone, staff & guest, had an overall feeling of gratitude to be there and that was definitely the vibe that was felt throughout our time staying there.

WHAT WE DID

Waterfall ATV Tour

We booked an epic off-road experience with Kauai ATV to explore the unseen/unspoiled backcountry of Kauai’s South Shore – aka the heart of Hollywood movie locations where they filmed Jurassic Park & more! Thomas and I took turns driving one of their 2-person suited-up Polaris UTVs during our 4 hour group tour to a hidden waterfall, where we all got to jump in and wash away the mud accumulated on our persons. This is definitely something we’ve never done before & so happy we did! I will warn you that it’s a rain or shine experience guaranteed to be a dirty one. So don’t wear anything you care about staining if you choose to ATV.

For our specific tour, we were advised to wear water shoes if swimming in the waterfall pond. We didn’t pack any but were able to pick up pairs at Nukumoi Surf Co. on the way towards the check-in site. If you’d rather stay out of the water, there’s the Koloa Tour that takes you 18 miles on off-road trails for 3 hours.

Napali Coast + Niihau Boat Tour

Both Thomas and I wanted to do some ocean snorkeling while in Kauai, so we booked a 7-hour boat tour with Holo Holo Charters to do just that + see more of the gorgeous coastline of this magnificent island. We set off right at sunrise and got to see the beautiful colors while aboard the boat, as we headed up to the majestic Napali Coast and across the Kaulakahi Channel to Lehua Crater off the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau—our snorkeling destination! Breakfast & lunch were provided, as well as alcoholic beverages once we were done snorkeling.

We referred to this particular experience as “Deep Sea Snorkeling” due to the ocean’s behavior that day. I will say that despite my strong sea legs & iron stomach, there were moments where I didn’t feel all that well on this particularly rough voyage. The worst was when the Captain paused/cut the engine to idle while showing parts of the coastline; the intense side-to-side rocking was no bueno. Luckily, no one got physically sick while on the tour (at least to my knowledge) but things might have been different for me if I didn’t put my Sea-Band Nausea Relief Bracelet on the minute I started feeling queasy. TG I brought it with me just in case! So if you’re prone to being very seasick, this might not be the type of boat trip you’d enjoy.

Poipu Beach Park

We spent several mornings walking to this expansive beach with our coffees, checking out the surf and spotting enormous sea turtles resting on the sand (so cool!) Also, tons of chickens roamed EVERYWHERE. It’s like the Hawaiian pigeon! But back to the surf – Thomas actually went out on a longboard he rented from Poipu Surf shop for the day, which was so great for him to be able to do & for me to watch. Unlike most sacred surf spots, the break in front of the resorts at this beach was deemed “safe” for visitors to surf with locals. But if looking to surf elsewhere, I’d make sure to ask someone friendly who lives there if it’s ok to do so – local surfers are VERY protective of their spots, best not to chance anything.

Kōkeʻe State Park

Despite having run out of time to do more hiking while in Kauai, we did manage to explore the 7.5 mile Nu’alolo Trail in Kōkeʻe State Park which, in short, was WILD. By the time we got to the end, before turning around, we caught a glimpse of what was below before the clouds rolled in and disguised the drop – a vast birds eye view of the Napali Coast with an equally large valley of a canyon. Such an insane comparison to its size compared to how it looked from the boat tour a few days before.

I wouldn’t say this hike is particularly hard, other than a few steep inclines on the return back and slippery/muddy spots in the jungle. But if you’re someone who’s easily afraid of heights, this might not be the trail for you. After our hike, we grabbed coffees & smoothies at the Kōkeʻe Lodge which were simply delightful.

WHERE WE DRANK + DINED
*For all indoor/outdoor dining during this time, I highly recommend making reservations everywhere you intend to go regardless if it’s busy or not. As of now, Hawaii’s indoor dining capacity still honors the 50% occupancy rule. You’re better off ensuring a spot to eat rather than risking the chance of having walk-in patrons cap the number of available seating.   

Keoki’s Paradise

We found this place across the way from our hotel and stopped by to try it for lunch on our second day. Tiki torches adorn this kitschy option featuring Hawaiian fare & a bar serving aloha-hour drinks. It reminded me of a Rainforest Cafe location with all its open-air window space & tropical greenery, but way more geared towards adults with a fab drink menu. There’s a kid menu too, don’t worry!

Red Salt

One of our favorite dinners the entire Honeymoon was at this iconic spot, which happened to be steps from our room! Gotta love when your hotel is host to one of the nicest restaurants on the island. That was a very happy coincidence when booking our reservation at this upscale, modern dining space. We enjoyed several inventive Hawaiian plates of seafood & meat offerings; all were absolutely delicious. I definitely recommend trying to get a reservation here as soon as you book your accommodations; seating fills up very quick once dates become available.

Stevenson’s Library

Another hot spot to check out is this sushi & spirits lounge at the Grand Hyatt Resort. Thomas and I went for happy hour before our dinner at Tidepools, another restaurant on the Hyatt property, and we had the best time! Very cool atmosphere and gorgeous views of the ocean from the 2nd floor terrace. We called ahead to book a reservation, so I’d encourage to do so to guarantee a spot. We got there a tad early before opening, around 5pm for our 5:30pm reservation, and a line of walk-ins was already forming outside the entrance.

Tidepools

Let me paint you a picture: A very romantic dinner spot, nestled on a thatched-roof bungalow floating above a koi-filled lagoon at the base of a waterfall. Serving contemporary Hawaiian cuisine inspired by local ingredients and the rich culinary traditions of Hawaii. Another great dinner place to try at the Grand Hyatt Resort. Book a reservation here.

Brennecke’s Beach Broiler

We stopped by this casual, yet bumpin’ beachfront place for dinner on our final night in Kauai and it did not disappoint! Delicious burgers, live music, and a very happy crowd of locals & visitors in attendance. We walked in and got a spot at the bar without a reservation, but you can definitely make one if you have a large party size or planning to go at a typical busy hour.

Puka Dog

Have you ever had a Hawaiian hotdog? It’s a very unique, delicious experience and I suggest trying one while here. This spot is located in the same building as Brennecke’s, but I believe there are several franchises on the island/scattered amongst the 8 islands of Hawaii. I personally recommend the pineapple relish & honey mustard as your choices – you’ll understand what I’m talking about once there.

 — LOCAL SPOTS —

Eden Coffee + Chalupa’s

At the off-site location for our Kauai ATV tour check-in, there were a number of food trucks parked alongside the small, but busy parking lot. So after our tour, we decided to check the scene out for a quick bite. I’m SO HAPPY we did because it was beyond satisfying – easily the best locally brewed coffee & fish taco I’ve had in awhile. Google search “Koloa Neighborhood Center” or type in this address – 3481 Weliweli Rd. Koloa, HI 96756 – you’ll think you’re headed to a random spot in a neighboring town, but you’ll see the food trucks right away & trust me it’s worth the 15/20 min drive.

Little Fish Coffee

Across the street from our hotel was this small building that had a very long line every single morning. Naturally, we had to check it out and were satisfied to come across another amazing local coffee/breakfast spot that didn’t cost an arm & a leg to enjoy (those resort price markups for breakfast are ridiculous after a few days.) So we understood why this little spot had such impressive traffic each day haha.

Kalaheo Cafe + Coffee Company

En route to our hike at Kōkeʻe State Park, we stopped here for an amazing breakfast & smoothie bar I’m still reminiscing about. It was busy when we got there (around 9am) but it moves quick if you find yourself with a little bit of a wait for a table. This casual cafe is a favorite of locals & visitors, despite being a bit of a drive from the resort district. Totally worth it for the jumbo portions of omelets, sandwiches & Hawaiian dinners from local ingredients.

Hamura Saimin

Ok this is THE BEST place to get Hawaiian ramen on the island. It’s located in Lihue, HI (same town as the airport) in a small space down a local residential road. When you drive up, you’ll question if you’re at the right spot but here’s a great opportunity to practice not judging a book (or restaurant) by its cover. What lies inside this small local establishment is the best ramen meal you didn’t know you’ve been missing! Literally salivating thinking about it right now.

Bobbie’s

This local spot in the art district town of Hanapepe is what I call a meat lover’s paradise. Thomas read several reviews about it and wanted to try it out for lunch one day, so we took the drive to check it out. You literally get a plated dish of whatever meat (chicken, steak, etc) you ordered + a few sides of choice. It personally wasn’t my cup of tea & I was craving a salad that day, but Thomas loved it.

MAUI


TRAVEL TIME FROM KAUAI – 1 HOUR FLIGHT
TRAVEL TIME (RETURN) TO NEWARK AIRPORT – 5 HOUR FLIGHT TO DENVER (LAYOVER); 4.5 HOUR FLIGHT TO NEWARK

Our second island we chose to spend the remainder of our honeymoon was Maui. It was a tough decision between here and Oahu but ultimately chose Maui because it’s slightly less crowded than the latter during peak season. We also loved the access to the many public beaches of the island, and the fact we could drive around to visit several towns during our stay. That being said, HIGHLY recommend renting a car if you intend to explore off the resort and if you’re planning to drive the infamous Road to Hana. You also want to get something more substantial of a vehicle, something with all/4-wheel drive that’s NOT a convertible, if you intend on driving along it yourself – more on that below.

WHERE WE STAYED

Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort

We stayed at the BEAUTIFUL Andaz Maui and it far exceeded all expectations I had for our second part of the trip. Multiple pools, fabulous dining options on location, and the best part: direct access to the beach! I know a lot of people think the Four Seasons (where they filmed White Lotus btw) is the best of the best in terms of romantic honeymoon getaways, but the Andaz was just as gorgeous, romantic and relaxing. In fact, we overheard someone staying at 4S who was at the Andaz for dinner mention there’s a much nicer vibe to this resort than where he was staying. That’s not to pass any sort of cut/dry judgement, but I can totally see what he’s talking about. We absolutely loved our time staying here.

As I mentioned, the beach and having direct access to it was a major perk to choosing this resort. We also had the luxury of spending our entire last day here after checkout & using the lounge to shower/change before heading out for our evening flight. They held our bags for us and everything while we enjoyed all the amenities as typical guests. Definitely something to consider when booking hotels if you have a redeye return flight back to the mainland.

WHAT WE DID

Road To Hana

A lot of people say this road is a risky adventure – while I agree it’s not the easiest, it’s definitely not the most challenging route we’ve driven ourselves. I actually found the Pacific Coast Highway in Cali to be scarier. There are definitely some moments of eeek, primarily when the road narrows and you have to cross a bridge one car at a time with opposing traffic, but the entire first part of the road is paved all the way to Hana. After you get to the town of Hana, the road gets more “natural” and isn’t advised to be driven unless you have true 4-wheel drive; we didn’t do that portion & turned around after reaching Hana and enjoying a delicious meal at Hana Farms. We were told this was the spot to get lunch, as the places in town aren’t all that credible..

Tip: If you’re the driver of this adventure, best rule of thumb is to get in line behind a local and follow them the entire way if you can. Almost every car yields to the locals using this road to get to/from work, as they should do. So if you want to avoid some stress behind the wheel, just follow the leader and do as they do to the best and safest of your ability when it comes to narrow spots and one-way bridges.

There are lots of places to stop along the way, from hikes to waterfalls to attractions. However, there are some that aren’t worth pulling over for and others recommended to check out instead if on a limited time frame. Personally, I wouldn’t want to drive this road at night or in bad weather – especially because you lose service the entirety of the trip. Thank goodness there’s the Shaka Guide app to navigate you to all the best spots to stop along the way, including rest stops that are few & far between after a while! Download the basic package before you get going, while you have the Wifi to do so. It’s a $15 one time purchase & 100% recommended if you plan to tackle the Road to Hana. We would’ve been sunk without it.

The Feast at Mokapu

We got SO LUCKY to experience what reviews have deemed to be Maui’s Best Luau, hosted on the property of our very own Andaz Resort! We paid up for the Premium package for two and had a front row seat to 2.5 hours of entertainment along with a delicious dinner/open bar situation. This was my favorite part of our entire honeymoon trip, in all honesty. I learned more about the Hawaiian culture than I expected to, which to me is always a fantastic way to spend time in a new place.

Jaws Surf Break

I learned that this particular spot rarely breaks during this time of year, so the fact we got to check out these 20ft+ waves & the surfers taking them on during our time in Maui is amazing! I’ve never seen such tall waves like these in my lifetime; so large that the surfers had to be towed via Jetski into them & several ambulance boats were readily on standby. Getting here was an adventure in itself too – I was not prepared to walk 30 minutes in sandals down a dusty, off-road narrow trail to this cliffside view. Only people with Jeeps were able to navigate this terrain. That being said, bring proper walking shoes with traction & prepare to give the local guy who’s property you’re parking on $5-10 to leave your car there. It’s a must-see especially if waves are breaking, but be sure to ask around to ensure it’s worth the adventure to get there.

Waihe’e Ridge Trail

Thomas and I have hiked many different types of trails; this one I’d categorize as one of the easier paths we’ve taken. But that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park! In fact, it’s a 4 mile round trip up & over several tall hills to your final overlook, so prepare for a 2 mile rocky, winding incline at the beginning. The rest is all downhill though (lol.) Also — I’d get there early for parking purposes. The main lot only has several spaces, and there’s a paved hill up to the woods to begin the hike that feels like a rude awakening in itself. But if you’re late getting there and all the spots are filled, you’ll be forced to park in a lot that’s even farther down on the hill and walk an even longer incline to get to the trailhead.

WHERE WE DRANK + DINED

Morimoto

Another perk to staying at the Andaz was having a Morimoto establishment steps from our room! Beachfront dining with sushi & other stylish Japanese creations from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Definitely make a reservation here in advance; it’s one of the nicest spots to have a romantic dinner on the island. I’ve been to the one in NYC before it closed down, but this one hit differently with all the fresh local fish on the menu. By far one of our tastier meals with a delightful experience on the side.

Ka’ana Kitchen

The Andaz is also host to this dining option, offering family-style Hawaii Regional fare inspired by local produce, served in contemporary surrounds. Another hot spot you’ll want to make a reservation for in advance.

The Pint & Cork

To change things up for dinner one night, we checked out this convivial tavern with elevated pub eats, craft brews & cocktails, plus multiple TVs for sports fans. It wasn’t what I would call “local” in terms of charm, but I enjoyed the change of atmosphere and mostly the lower price of our total bill ahah. The plaza it’s located in reminded me of The Grove in LA; lots of shopping to be done around here if that’s on your agenda.


Mama’s Fish House

We got SO LUCKY to have gotten a walk-in spot at this beyond popular establishment in the historic town of Paia. After learning that patrons make reservations as far as 3 months in advance to go here, we took a shot and got there right at opening time (11am) to see if there was any availability to have lunch for two. AND THERE WAS! I can’t say getting there right at 11am will guarantee you a spot, but you might have the same stroke of luck if you didn’t get a reservation in advance. This local landmark did not disappoint either! We had the most delicious meal with breathtaking views of the ocean to admire.


4 Comments

  • Reply Emma Peach January 1, 2022 at 4:08 pm

    What an incredible trip! I’d love to go to Hawaii but it’s so far from the UK. Maybe one day! Thanks for linking up, Happy New Year!

    Emma xxx
    http://www.style-splash.com

  • Reply Brandi K January 27, 2022 at 10:04 pm

    Hawaii is such a beautiful place. I would like to go back! I remember the weather being perfect all the time. The process must have been a challenge but worth it. Thank you for sharing.

    -Brandi K
    http://www.cutebrandik.com

  • Reply Ashley Strickland-Horne February 18, 2022 at 2:05 pm

    Wow, the food, the ocean, and the resort all look amazing. I can’t wait to visit Hawaii thank you for the suggestions.

  • Reply Christine July 27, 2022 at 11:31 am

    I love Hawaii! The pictures that you took are beautiful! I am glad you had the chance to go. Looks like you two really had fun!

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