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Hi friends!! I’m SO excited to share all about our recent trip to Hawaii! Patrick had visited Hawaii twice as a kid, but it had been at the top of my travel bucket list for years. So when Patrick’s Uncle (a Hawaii local) proposed to his girlfriend and they invited the whole family to the island for their wedding, it was the PERFECT excuse to plan a Marlow family vacation! The wedding was on Maui and we ended up splitting our trip between Maui and The Big Island. The two islands are both incredibly beautiful with unique characteristics and vibes. We had a blast exploring both islands and taking a few off the beaten path adventures along the way. Here’s a little breakdown of our time in Hawaii and some of my favorite moments!
We left Atlanta bright and early, flew to Dallas, and after a quick layover we were on our way to Maui. After about 10.5 hours on planes, we touched down in Maui around 3pm local time (9pm EST). We were jet-lagged and super hungry, so after picking up our rental car and dropping off our luggage in the cutest little cabin the Marlow’s rented in the upcountry, we were off the famous Mama’s Fish House. It did NOT disappoint and it was the perfect way to kick off our vacation!!
How dang cute are my in-laws?!
The next day we were ready to hit the ground running and see allll the things. Our morning started with a 2 tank scuba dive at the Molokini Crater. It was an incredible dive! The water was crystal clear, the seas were calm, and we saw white tip sharks, eels, and lots of colorful fishes! My personal favorite was the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the Hawaii state fish… try saying that name three times fast! After the dive, we grabbed a quick lunch at Flatbread Company and hit the road to explore. We did a tour and tasting at Ocean Vodka Distillery and watched the sun start to set at Maluaka Beach, where we saw sea turtles were nesting! We wrapped up the day with a fantastic dinner with the entire family at Hali’imaile General Store.
We knew our time on Maui was going by quickly, so were out of the house early on day 3 to do some more island exploring. We walked the streets of Lahaina, the largest town in Maui, popping into coffee shops and boutiques along the way. This cute little town was giving me Key West vibes and I could have spent all day there! We stopped for our first shave ice of the trip (from Ululani‘s!) and walked along the beach. We grabbed lunch and drinks at Maui Brewing Co. where I fully enjoyed their pineapple hard cider. Looking at Google Maps, we opted to take what appeared to be a more scenic route back to the house (Kahekili Highway) and oh boy, were we in for a treat. Kahekili Highway is a strip of one-lane paved road framed by rock on one side and sheer cliff drops on the other. It was a terrifying drive, full of several blind turns where we just prayed another car wasn’t coming, but the views were incredible and overall it was beyond worth it!!
After our scenic drive, it was time for the wedding! Patrick’s Uncle Shane married Josi on beautiful land behind the Twin Falls Fruit Stand. It was a laid-back, untraditional, and intimate wedding which seemed to fit Uncle Shane and Josi’s personalities perfectly. Josi is currently battling breast cancer and going through chemo, so many of the women attending the wedding wore fun, bright colored wigs in support of her. Shane and Josi were surrounded by family and friends and it was wonderful to catch up with all of Patrick’s extended family who had made the trip as well.
This was the first time in a long time that I attended a wedding as a guest instead of a photographer!
Our last full day on Maui was spent driving the road to Hana! The legendary road to Hana is only 52 miles from Kahului; however, the drive can take anywhere from two to four hours to complete since it’s fraught with 59 narrow one-lane bridges, 620 hairpin turns and incredible island views. We got up super early for this drive which turned out to be perfect since we didn’t run into too many other cars. We really took our time, stopping along the way to take in the sights and appreciate all the island had to offer. Our strategy was simple: if we came across something that looked or sounded cool, we stopped to check it out. That’s how we ended up visiting: Kahanu Botanical Gardens, Hana Lava Tubes, the Red Sand Beach, and The Pools at ‘Ohe’o in Haleakalā National Park.
Other than waking up early, our other tip if you’re planning to drive the road to Hana is to drive Hana Highway TO Hana and Honoapiilani Highway back! Most tourists just drive Hana Highway both ways, but Honoapiilani Highway had some of the most incredible views of the island and very few other cars! Sure, they suggest a 4-wheel drive for portions of the road, but our Camaro convertible made it just fine.
In total, our adventure on the road to Hana was almost 8 hours. If you plan to add this to your Hawaii itinerary, definitely make sure you have a full day to enjoy it!
Our night ended at the Feast at Lele, a Hawaiian luau! As a first timer to the islands, a luau seemed like a must-do, and we had a great time with the entire family! The food was tasty, they offered an open bar, and the performers were beyond talented.
The last morning in Maui we were dying to see the sunrise at Haleakalā, the tallest volcano on Maui measuring 10,023 feet. However, the National Park restricts the number of visitors for sunrise by only releasing a certain number of tickets each day. We made several attempts to secure tickets, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Instead, we decided to go right when the park gates opened (about an hour after sunrise) and it ended up working out perfectly because we were the only people on the summit! All of the people who came for the sunrise had already left and it was too early for the crowds yet, so it was the best treat to have the volcano summit to ourselves! It was beautiful (and chilly!) at the summit and we took our time to soak in the beautiful views above the clouds.
We then grabbed breakfast at Kihei Cafe (a recommendation from Jenna Kutcher!) and was again blown away. Hawaii seriously does not mess around with food, we were more than pleased with everywhere we went! After breakfast we met up with the rest of the family at the Maui airport and took a tiny 10 passenger plane that we had to ourselves over to The Big Island.
Even though I have a fear of flying so it’s generally not my favorite thing to do, Mokulele Airlines may have provided us with one of the best flying experiences ever! There was no security, or checking of bags, all you had to do was walk out to the plane and get right on. Plus, seeing the islands from above was a special treat!
When we arrived in Hawaii (The Big Island) we picked up our rental cars and headed to our VRBO. After a quick dinner and drinks at Seafood Bar and Grille, we called it an early night and headed to bed.
Our first full day on the big island included the most anticipated activity of the trip- a night dive with giant manta rays! To kill time before our dive that evening, we took a Kona coffee farm tour at Hula Daddy and grabbed lunch at the local-favorite, Da Poke Shack. We were SO excited to see the manta rays we tried our best to keep ourselves busy until we had to check in at the dive shop. Hawaii is one of the only places in the world that you can experience something quite like this dive. We went with the awesome guys from Jack’s Diving Locker out to the reef, and they put bright lights on the ocean floor at 35 feet deep. When it got dark, the light attracted krill, and the mantas came to feed while we sat on the sandy bottom in awe. It was AMAZING. 10 mantas showed up for dinner and these beautiful animals were so much bigger than I imagined when they were up close… they weighed up to 1,500 pounds and measured more than 12 feet wide. It’s honestly hard to describe how majestic they looked and how surreal the entire experience was.
After being in Hawaii for a week, we finally embraced the whole “island time” concept. You see, Patrick and I are definitely more of the go-go-go type of vacationers because we always want to see everything there is to see! But we finally took a bit of a slower day- lunch at one of the island’s awesome breweries, Big Island Brewhaus, a little exploring in the Pololu Valley with our new friend Sunny Golden of Lindsey Roman Photography (more on that in a later blog post!) and a casual dinner at Huggo’s where all of my poke nachos dreams came true!
Another day, another coffee farm. Day 8 began with a trip to Heavenly Hawaiian coffee farm in Kona! This place really blew us away, the coffee was great but they also had homemade chocolates! Coffee + chocolate = I was in total heaven (so the name fits!). After coffee we ventured to Ola Brew Co. for some more craft beers and ciders!
The ladder half of the day was reserved for an adventure up Mauna Kea, the tallest volcano in Hawaii at over 14,000 feet. In fact, since most of the volcano is underwater, when measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world (taller than Everest!) at more than 32,000 feet total. To summit the mountain, it’s required to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle and we quickly found out why… the road isn’t paved and you slide a LOT if your car can’t grip the gravel. There’s also casually no guardrails and sheer drop-offs so let’s just say I was trying not to look out the window as we drove up. When we left the house, it was 90 degrees but by the time we made it to the summit the temp was right around 30 degrees… it was freezing! We ate a picnic dinner and waited for the sun to set. The views during the sunset were breathtaking. It was one of those moments when I couldn’t stop thinking that God REALLY knew what he was doing when he created Hawaii. After the sunset, we stuck around to star gaze. Mauna Kea is the number 1 place in the WORLD to see the stars. The Milky Way was so clear and we even saw the Southern Cross! Mother Nature was seriously showing off for us.
At this point I was SOLD. Hawaii may be my new favorite place on earth. The diversity in landscapes, the people, the food, the adventures… it was all just so GOOD! I honestly didn’t think it could get any better. Until it somehow DID! We had the most incredible experience with Paradise Helicopters on their doors off valleys and waterfalls tour! I got to sit up front with our pilot (which was pretty much the best view in the house!) as we saw parts of the island completely inaccessible to people unless you were in a helicopter. It was AMAZING. I had to turn my microphone off on my headset because I was literally squealing the entire ride. I couldn’t get over it. Hawaii is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!
We even flew over the debris of a World War II Bomber Plane that crashed on this part of the island.
I could not wipe the huge smile off of my face for the rest of the day. After our helicopter ride, we went over to the Hilo side of the island to do a little exploring. Now Hilo is typically the rainy side of the island, and this day was no exception. Despite the rain, Hilo was beautiful and we enjoyed a sushi lunch at Hilo Bay Cafe. Afterwards, we visited Volcano National Park (although it was a short trip due to the rain), Volcano Winery (because obviously if there is a winery nearby we have to try it!) and ended the day with dinner at Sam Choy’s.
By this point, we had explored every part of the big island. We decided to brave the heat to check out the iconic green sand beach (Papakōlea Beach). Fun fact: It is one of only four green sand beaches in the world, the others being in Guam, the Galapagos Islands, and Norway. To reach this beach we had a 2.5 hour drive and a 5 mile hike but I’d say it was worth it! We ended the day with a bottle of wine and the most delicious takeout sushi at the house.
We wanted to make the most of our last day in Hawaii (and a 6pm flight giving us almost a full day) so we ended our trip back on the Hilo side of the island. We sat on the beach and watched surfers at a local surfing competition. I felt like I was watching real life Blue Crush!
As we headed back towards the house, we stopped for a big pre-flight lunch at Kohala Burger & Taco. It was honestly the best burger and pineapple milkshake I maybe had ever had and the perfect way to wrap up our trip to paradise.
Hawaii truly captured my heart and adventurous spirit. I fell a little more in love with the islands every day and one thing is for sure- we will be back one day!! Aloha and Mahalo, Hawaii!!!