OAHU: van rental, Waikiki beach, Waikiki accommodations, 2010 tsunami, Hanauma Bay, Halona Blowhole, LOST filming locations, Byodo-In Temple, Kualoa Ranch, Tropical Farms (Macadamia Nut Factory Outlet), Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, Dole Plantation, Mokule'ia Beach, Camp Erdman, Waimea Valley, Waimea Bay, Turtle Bay Resort, Waikiki attractions, Polynesian Cultural Center
CRUISE: Pride of America
• Maui: van rental, helicopter tours, Ka'anapali Beach, Iao Valley, Wailea Beach
• The Big Island: shore excursion to Volcanoes National Park (Kilauea volcano), evening sail by Kilauea volcano, Kona
• Kauai: van rental, Kilauea Lighthouse, Hanalei Valley, Opaeka'a Falls, Luau Kalamaku shore excursion, afternoon sail by Na Pali Coast
click on the symbol in the review for pic
By James Glasbergen
For those who are looking for a vacation destination that offers beautiful weather, breathtaking scenery, numerous sightseeing options, and great accessibility, Hawaii is the total package. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian islands offer a perfect tropical climate for those who enjoy warm sunshine without the unbearable heat. The state of Hawaii consists of over 130 islands (most of which are small and uninhabited), although most tourists only visit the 4 largest islands -- Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii, the last of which is commonly referred to as "The Big Island" to differentiate between the name of the island and the name of the state. To visit only one island would not give you a complete picture of Hawaii as each of the 4 islands has their own unique characteristics that make each island worth visiting. From the changing colors of Kauai’s massive Waimea Canyon, to the power of the Big Island's erupting Kilauea volcano, to the unbeatable sunrise over Maui’s Haleakala crater and the unforgettable history of Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian Islands offer a seemingly endless supply of awe-inspiring sights and unforgettable highlights. The best part is that it's all very accessible!
It had been over 7 years since my last trip to the Aloha state, and given that Hawaii is by far my favorite warm-weather place to visit, I was excited to make my way back there for two weeks in February/March 2010. My aim this time around was to explore the islands in ways I hadn't done previously--by renting accessible vans to drive around the islands on our own, and by cruise ship. We started by spending a week in Oahu, where we spent part of the time enjoying Waikiki Beach and the rest of the time driving around the island to check out some of Oahu's notable landmarks. Then we were off on a 7-night Hawaiian cruise, a convenient way to see the islands since it saves you the hassle of having to fly to each island. The ship was in port every day, so it gave us the opportunity to rent accessible vans in Maui and Kauai for some self-touring, as well as to do a helicopter tour in Maui and a shore excursion in Hilo. The cruise also provided the possibility for a close-up view by water of two of Hawaii's most notable landmarks -- Kauai's Na Pali Coast and the Big Island's Kilauea volcano. Overall, we managed to see a lot in 2 weeks, although it would be difficult to see everything that Hawaii has to offer in just a couple weeks. You can definitely see some of the highlights though!
Upon arrival at Honolulu Airport, we exited the baggage claim and made our way out to the curb to wait for our rental van to arrive. We rented a wheelchair accessible minivan (, , ) for the first 4 days in Oahu so that we could drive around the island and do a little exploring on our own. There are a couple accessible sightseeing companies that have wheelchair accessible buses in their fleet, but their day tours tend to be whirlwind tours where you don’t really get to spend a lot of time at each place. They are a great option for first-time visitors to Hawaii as they give a great overview of the island and save you the hassle of driving on your own, but since I had been there previously and had done those tours before (see Oahu 2000), I was more interested in seeing things at my own pace this time around.
We stayed in Waikiki, a tourist-haven on Oahu’s south shore about a 20-minute drive from Honolulu. The focal point is Waikiki Beach, a 2-mile-long white sand beach with dozens of hotels and Diamond Head volcano serving as its backdrop. For most of the beach the sand is too soft for a wheelchair to wheel on to, but there was an area where it was hard enough for my power wheelchair to get quite far on onto the beach. Several years ago this area was located across from the volleyball nets by Ford DeRussy, although I discovered that now you have to go down a little bit further towards the Hilton to find a part of the beach that is hard enough for a wheelchair user to wheel on to. Of course, there is also a beach wheelchair available for those who actually want to transfer into a proper beach wheelchair to go onto the beach.
We stayed at the same hotel that I stayed at previously in 2000, which is conveniently located right on the beach. The room had 2 queen beds (, ) and a large bathroom with a roll-in shower (, , ) . There was also an accessible lanai that gave us a view overlooking the hotel pool and the ocean (), although the lanai wasn’t really big enough for a wheelchair and there was a considerable lip to go over to get out onto it (, , ) .
Our first morning in Hawaii started unexpectedly with a siren going off in our room at 6 a.m. An earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 had struck Chile earlier in the day, so a tsunami watch had been issued for the entire state of Hawaii. It was supposed to strike Hawaii shortly after 11 a.m. with waves of up to 6 to 10 feet possible. Judging by the commentary on all of the new stations, it seemed to be pretty much a sure thing that we were going to be nailed by one or more pretty big waves that could cause some serious damage. A similar event occurred in 1960 when a Chilean earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed 61 people in Hawaii, so it was cause for concern. We had until 10 a.m. to leave Waikiki and drive further inland; otherwise, we could stay in the hotel and everyone on the first three floors had to go to the fourth floor or higher and just wait in the halls. Fortunately our room was on the sixth floor, so we just stayed in our room and watched the events unfold from our lanai and on television. It was quite eerie as the streets of Waikiki were completely empty by 11 a.m. and the sirens were blaring over the loudspeakers throughout the neighborhood. It reminded me more of a war zone than a tropical paradise! Thankfully, the huge waves that were expected never arrived and we got the “all clear” at around 2 p.m. It only left us enough time in the day to head to the beach for a couple hours, so it was a wasted day of our van rental. However, it obviously could have been much worse had the huge waves that had been predicted actually come to pass.
The next day we drove over to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a beautiful beach park situated inside a volcanic cone. The bay is known for its great snorkeling, although for many years the reef and the marine life suffered from overuse. As a result, visitors are now charged $7.50 for admission and upon entering are first required to watch a short 9-minute video describing conservation efforts at Hanauma Bay. There is a steep road leading from the entrance of the Preserve down to the beach, but there is a wheelchair accessible tram available to transport passengers between the top and bottom (, ) . There is also a beach wheelchair available for free from the Beach Information Kiosk so that wheelchair users can get over the sand to the water.
Before leaving to go back to the hotel in the afternoon, we made the short drive down the road to check out the Halona Blowhole. The Halona Blowhole is an underwater lava tube that was formed thousands of years ago by volcanic eruptions. The force from the ocean waves crashing into the tube causes water to shoot up through the tube and straight up into the air, sometimes as high as 20 or 30 feet depending on the size of the waves. It wasn’t all that impressive when we were there, but still a pretty neat thing to check out if you are nearby. There is an overlook along the highway to view the blowhole, so sightseers can just pull off on the side of the road and get out for a few minutes to see it.
We spent the next day checking out some sites in eastern Oahu. Fans of the television series LOST might be interested to know that the entire series was filmed on location all over the island of Oahu. As a fan of the show myself, I was particularly interested in checking out some of the filming locations on the island that were clearly recognizable from the show. So, our plan for the next two days was to drive around the island and pay a visit to some of those locations, as well as to stop in at some other notable Oahu landmarks along the way.
We started the day out at the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, where thousands of people of many different faiths are buried. It is also home to the Byodo-In Temple. The temple is a replica of a Buddhist temple in Japan that is over 900 years old. Fans of LOST will recognize it from the Season 1 episode depicting the mansion of Sun’s father. It served as the backdrop for Jin and Sun’s wedding. The temple was also featured in a couple of Magnum, P. I. episodes. Visitors are able to visit the temple and walk around the temple grounds on your own, but there is a small admission charge. The temple is wheelchair accessible.
Next, we drove over to Kualoa Ranch, a 4000-acre ranch on Oahu’s windward coast. The ranch is home to the Ka’a’awa Valley, which has served as the filming location for numerous movies and television shows, including Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, Godzilla, Tears of the Sun, Hawaii Five-O, Magnum P.I, and others. However, I was most interested in visiting the ranch since it served as the filming location for many scenes from LOST, including the scene involving Hurley’s golf course, the scene where Hurley jumpstarted the van, the hydrogen bomb scenes, the camp scenes for the “the Others,” and all of those scenes where the cast members were walking through the valley.
Kualoa Ranch offers a few different tours of the property, although the only wheelchair accessible tour is their 1-hour “Movie Sites & Ranch Tour”. Advanced reservations were not required, although they are recommended for wheelchair users to ensure that you get an appropriate vehicle and the departure time that you want. When we arrived for the tour, they pulled the tour bus around to load me in. It was actually more like a school minibus () than a tour bus, and it didn’t have a hydraulic lift for wheelchair access like I thought it would. Instead, they backed the bus up against a porch, and then I just had to take the ramp up to the porch so that I could wheel straight into the back of the bus. There were no tie-downs in the bus either, which made for a bit of a rough ride for most of the tour. Afterall, we were touring a ranch, which meant that we were driving over bumpy dirt roads and grass for most of the tour rather than paved roads. My friend had to keep one hand on my wheelchair at all times to make sure I didn’t slide off too far when going over any unexpected bumps along the way.
The tour stopped at a few filming locations in the Ka’a’awa Valley, including the spot from Jurassic Park where the scientist and the 2 kids had to jump over and hide behind a big log to avoid a stampede of dinosaurs fleeing from a T-Rex. We also passed by a couple large footprints used in Godzilla. The highlight for me, however, was passing by a few locations from LOST, including a World War 2 army bunker that served as the entrance to one of the Dharma stations on the show (the Tempest), Hurley’s golf course, and a grass/stone house that I’m quite certain served as Richard Alpert’s home in Spain back in the 1800s. Our tour guide mentioned that LOST had been filming scenes at that house the previous week. In fact, he said that throughout the whole series they were often filming scenes for the show at the same time that they were conducting tours of the ranch, so visitors were often fortunate to see the actors at work while on a tour. Unfortunately, we missed them by one week!
Overall, the Kualoa Ranch tour was pretty worthwhile if you are into television and movies. However, if you are a wheelchair user and you are not particularly interested in movies or television, you might want to think twice about doing this tour. The cost was $21 per person, which isn’t cheap for a 60-minute tour. Another big factor to take in consideration is that it is also a very bumpy ride for most of the tour, which means that a wheelchair is going to slide around a lot given that there are no tie-downs. The rough ride might also be a little much for wheelchair users with back issues.
Next, we drove a couple miles down the road to Tropical Farms, better known to many as The Macadamia Nut Farm Outlet. Tropical Farms grows macadamia nuts and other fruits right on the property, and there is a store there where you can buy a whole variety of macadamia nuts, jewelry, and souvenirs. The property isn’t known just for its macadamia nuts, though. There have also been many television shows and movies that were filmed on location here, including Gilligan’s Island, Fantasy Island, and LOST.
Tropical Farms offers a 60-minute tour of the property called the Alii Tour. The tour typically takes visitors around the property in a big bus, starting off by showing them the different plant life. Then there is a stop at a little amphitheater for a short cultural demonstration, and finally they go to the fishpond where everybody gets into a boat for a little boat ride around the pond. Unfortunately the vehicles that they use for the tour are not accessible, and neither is the boat ride. However, the owner was nice enough to arrange a private tour for us in our own vehicle. So, one of their staff members hopped into our vehicle and we drove around the property while he explained the different plant life and things that they do at Tropical Farms. Then we stopped at the amphitheater and got out for a private demonstration on how to make fire from sticks. The tour would normally end with a boat trip on the fishpond, but that was not accessible, so we just did a drive-by to see the area. This is where a lot of television scenes were found, including the famous scene on LOST where John Locke blew up the submarine.
To end the day, we made a brief stop at the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout. This lookout provides an amazing panoramic view of the windward side of Oahu. It is incredibly windy up there though, so hold onto your hat!
For the final day of our van rental, we headed to Oahu’s North Shore. Our first stop was along the way at the Dole Plantation in central Oahu. The plantation has a number of activities for visitors, beginning with the famous Pineapple Express. The Pineapple Express is a small train that takes visitors on a 20-minute ride through the plantation to see all of the pineapple fields and other vegetation. Other activities include a Plantation Garden Tour and the World’s Largest Maze. All activities, including the train tour (), are wheelchair accessible. While admission to the plantation is free, there is a small fee for each of the Pineapple Express, the maze, and the garden tour.
Next we made our way to Mokule’ia Beach on Oahu’s North Shore. Mokule’ia Beach is a beautiful beach that was used for the plane crash scenes in the pilot episode of LOST. It isn’t very accessible for a wheelchair user though, so we just went for a short drive along the beach before turning around.
Across the road from Mokule’ia Beach is YMCA Camp Erdman, a camp for kids. As you drive by, fans of LOST will instantly recognize the camp’s yellow “houses” as the Dharma barracks from the show. We weren’t sure if we were allowed to walk around the area, so we went inside the administration office to inquire. Sure enough, they gave us a visitors pass and said we could walk around the property freely as long as we didn’t take any pictures of the kids. Fortunately, there weren’t even any kids there at the time, so we were able to stroll through the “barracks” and get a good look at the area that was seen so often on the show. Across the street from all of the yellow houses was the Assembly Hall, where all of the Dharma registrations took place on the show and where Kate was held captive by “the Others”. The hall was empty at the time, so we were able to go inside and have a look around…pretty cool! (if you’re into the show, that is).
A couple minutes down the road from Camp Erdman is Dillingham Airfield, a very small airport. It was depicted in an episode of LOST as an airfield in Nigeria where Mr. Eko’s brother was shot while trying to stop a drug deal. Part of the wreckage from the Oceanic flight 815 plane that was used in the pilot episode is also located at Dillingham Airfield. We took a quick drive through the airfield to check out the wreckage, although there wasn’t much to see since it was behind a fence covered by a big black tarp.
Next, we made the 15 or 20 minute ride down the road to Waimea Valley, a large nature park that is home to a wide variety of plant life. The park is highlighted by Waimea Falls, a very recognizable waterfall for viewers of LOST. The waterfall was seen in a few notable scenes on the show, including the scene where Kate and Sawyer went for a swim and came across two corpses and a case full of guns. It was also the location where Hurley and Kate landed following the Ajira plane crash that brought them back to the island, and where Jack dove from the top of the waterfall as he came to help them. There is a big concrete viewing area with bleachers alongside Waimea Falls, and visitors are even allowed to go for a swim in the water. It is a bit of a jaunt to get to the waterfall, though. It is located at the end of the park, which is probably a good 15 or 20 minute walk from the entrance. However, the path along the way is completely paved as you pass through many different types of plant life to get there. Admission to Waimea Valley was $13 per adult.
On the way out of Waimea Valley, we decided to pick up some food from the snack bar and head across the street to Waimea Bay. Waimea Bay is known internationally for its big waves and surfing competitions. It isn’t the safest place to go swimming, but it is a fun place to hang out on the beach and watch the surfers.
Our final stop of the day was the Turtle Bay Resort. It probably wouldn’t be of interest to most tourists, but a lot of scenes from LOST were filmed on location there, and some of the cast actually stayed at the hotel during filming. So, we thought we would check it out and perhaps even get lucky and catch them filming there. Once inside the lobby, I asked a couple different bellmen about LOST, and they did say that many scenes from the show were filmed in the lobby and throughout the hotel, although they didn’t really know any details since none of them actually watched the show. However, another employee did tell us that they were expected back at the hotel the following week to film more scenes for the show. So, we were a week late to catch them filming at Kualoa Ranch, and a week early to catch them filming at the Turtle Bay Resort. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess! Several scenes were also filmed outside on the resort grounds, including some beach scenes and the scene where Walt was hiding from the smoke monster in the big banyan tree. Those areas aren’t accessible for wheelchair or scooter users, though. In the end, the resort wasn’t really worth the stop if one is only going to see LOST filming locations as there was a small fee to park the car there and the outside area was not very accessible.
With our van now gone, we spent 2 of the last 3 days just hanging out in Waikiki. While the main attraction is the beach, there are other things to do in the area as well. There are many restaurants to choose from, and shopping opportunities abound. The most popular shopping areas include the International Marketplace, home to over a hundred shops and vendors selling their wares under a massive banyan tree, the Royal Hawaiian Center, which is also home to over a hundred shops and restaurants, and Waikiki Beach Walk, a new development on Lewers Street that is home to restaurants, retailers, hotels, and entertainment.
In keeping with the theme of the previous couple days, we also went for a walk around Waikiki to check out some filming locations that were used in LOST. Our first stop was the Ala Wai Marina, located right at the end of Waikiki Beach. This is where Penny’s boat was docked on the show. The scene where Ben shot Desmond was filmed there, as was the scene where Charlie and Desmond crashed the car into the marina in Season 6. This marina was also used in the opening theme song of Gilligan’s Island. Viewers of the show may recall the S. S. Minnow departing the marina “for a 3-hour tour.”
Across the street from the Ala Wai Marina is the Ala Wai Canal. On LOST, this canal served as the location in South Korea where Jin & Sun first met. Right next to the canal is the Hawaiian Convention Center. All of the scenes depicting Sydney Airport were filmed in the lobby of the convention center.
We spent the other full day that we had in Oahu at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a park in northern Oahu dedicated to sharing the history and culture of 7 Polynesian islands – Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii, Marqueses, New Zealand, and Tonga. Each island has a different area in the park where they have cultural demonstrations and periodic shows during the day. The one can’t-miss show is always the Samoan show, where a funny guy does a fire-making demonstration and another boy climbs a really tall palm tree in just a few seconds. Other events that should not be missed at the center include the “Rainbows of Paradise” canoe parade, the Ali’i luau, and the evening show (currently called “Ha: Breath of Life”), which in my opinion is the highlight of the whole day. The Polynesian Cultural Center is located approximately 45 minutes away from Waikiki, but the center does arrange round-trip transportation from hotels in Waikiki. A wheelchair accessible bus with a hydraulic lift can be arranged with advance notice.
At the end of the first week, we were off to Honolulu Harbor to board Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America for a 7-night Hawaiian cruise. I chose this particular cruise because it offered a great way to see the highlights of Hawaii in a short amount of time. The cruise itinerary called for two days in Maui, two days on the Big Island, and two days in Kauai. The ship was in port every day, so it would probably not be a good cruise choice for people who enjoy their days at sea to relax and experience everything that the ship has to offer onboard. However, it is an ideal itinerary for people who want to see as much of Hawaii as they can in a limited amount of time.
Upon boarding the ship, it didn’t take long to see how the Pride of America got its name. We first made our way through the Capitol Atrium, which was clearly designed to look like the rotunda of the US Capitol building. In fact, all of the main public rooms on the ship were themed and named after different things that are distinctly American, such as the Hollywood Theater, the Liberty dining room, and the Mardi Gras Lounge.
We stayed in a wheelchair accessible balcony cabin. Upon arrival, I was happy to see that the medical equipment that I had arranged to rent was waiting for us in our cabin. Access in the cabin was quite good as the bathroom had a nice roll-in shower (, , ) and there was plenty of space to move around in the cabin (, , ). The balcony was also accessible, although it was a little small (, ) and the ramp leading out onto the balcony was somewhat annoying to have to go over all the time since it was a little bumpy (, , ). However, given that the ship was in port every day and we didn’t spend much time at sea, I didn’t end up spending much time out on the balcony anyway.
The first port of call on our cruise itinerary was Kahului, Maui. The ship was scheduled to arrive in Kahului early in the morning on the first day, dock there overnight, and then depart at 6 p.m. the next day, which meant we had two full days to spend on the island. Rather than booking organized day tours to see some of the island (which I had done on a previous trip – see Maui 2002), I arranged to rent a wheelchair accessible van (, , ) so that we could drive around and see some of Maui on our own for a couple days. The van rental company delivered the vehicle right to the cruise pier, and since we had our disabled parking placard with us (a necessity when renting an accessible van -- see Travel Tips), the security guard gave us permission at the end of the first day to park overnight in the lot next to the cruise terminal entrance. Of course, he first gave our vehicle a thorough inspection and we had to fill out some documentation, but it was definitely convenient. At the end of the second day, we just left the van in the parking lot across the road from the ship and the van rental company picked it up later.
Our first stop in Maui was only a 5-minute drive down the road at the Kahului Heliport, where we had arranged to do a couple helicopter tours. In my opinion, the only way to see the true beauty of the Hawaiian Islands is by helicopter because there are so many things that cannot be seen by land, such as countless waterfalls, pods of humpback whales, and even red-hot lava (on the Big Island). I had previously taken helicopter tours in Kauai (see Kauai 2002) and the Big Island (see Big Island 2002), and they were spectacular. So, this time I wanted to see Maui by air.
Since the process of transferring into a helicopter is a huge hassle for someone like me (6’2” tall with little mobility from the chest down), it was something that I only wanted to do once. However, there were no helicopter tours that covered the whole island in one ride. It was possible to cover the island in 2 different rides, though. The helicopter company we used offered one tour that covered Haleakala volcano and eastern Maui, and another tour that covered West Maui and the nearby island of Molokai. I don’t like to miss out on things, so I was able to arrange to do both helicopter tours back to back so that I only had to transfer into the helicopter once to see all of Maui and Molokai. At the end of the first tour, we just touched down at the heliport to drop off a few passengers, and then we picked up a couple more and lifted off for the next tour.
Boarding the helicopter was an interesting experience as this particular helicopter company actually owned a portable chair lift specifically for people who cannot step up into the helicopter seat. They assisted me with a 2-person transfer from my wheelchair to the lift, and then they raised the lift up alongside the helicopter seat. It was not an easy task getting me into the helicopter seat, though. I was pretty much flopping all over the place as they tried to get me seated decently. While I never did get very comfortable, the hassle of transferring and sitting uncomfortably for a couple hours was a small price to pay to be able to see Maui and Molokai by helicopter just once. The scenery was spectacular as we flew by numerous waterfalls in eastern Maui, pods of humpback whales off the coast of Lahaina, and the world’s tallest sea cliffs in Molokai. There is simply no better way to see Hawaii than by helicopter!
After the helicopter rides, we got in our van and drove to Ka’anapali Beach for the rest of the afternoon. Ka’anapali Beach is a popular tourist beach on Maui’s sunny northwest coast. It is lined with big hotels and resorts, and there is an accessible walkway that runs the length of the beach. However, I found that the beach wasn’t very accessible at all as there was a sizable hedge between the walkway and the sand which made it hard to even see much of the beach from the walkway (). So, it probably isn’t a place that I would go again, although it was fine to hang out for a couple hours.
We started off our second day in Maui with a visit to Iao Valley, a scenic valley in West Maui. The focal point of the valley is the 2250-foot-high Iao Needle, a large volcanic peak that rises up from the floor of the valley. There is a paved pathway throughout the valley that allows tourists to walk or wheel to a number of scenic viewing points. A stairway provides the only access to the lower part of the valley near a brook, but wheelchairs can still access the main viewing areas, including the lookout area overseeing the Iao Needle.
Next, we drove south to spend the rest of the day at Wailea Beach. There was accessible public parking available at the beach, but unfortunately the beach itself wasn’t very accessible as we found that it had a similar layout to Ka’anapali Beach. There was a paved walkway that went around the beach, but again there was a hedge between the walkway and the sand that made it difficult to even see the beach (, , ), not to mention the fact that much of the walkway was located on a hill () which made beach access almost impossible. The pathway did branch off at one point, though, and at that point it went down the hill () to beach level and then ran along the beach between the sand and the Grand Wailea (a popular luxury resort). Access to the beach is better from there, although it really isn’t that good anywhere.
On the third morning of the cruise we woke up on the Big Island as our ship was docked in Hilo for the day. It was here that we did the first of two accessible shore excursions which I booked through the cruise line. This first tour was a 5-hour tour to Volcanoes National Park, home to Kilauea volcano which has been erupting since 1983. An accessible bus with a hydraulic lift was waiting for us outside the ship. After everyone who was booked for the tour was onboard, we made the long drive to the top of Kilauea.
Our first stop atop Kilauea caldera was the Jaggar Museum, which houses a number of displays that provide general information on volcanoes and volcanic activity in the park. The Jaggar Museum overlooks Halemaumau Crater, which once was full of boiling lava. On my previous visit in 2002, there was no sign of any volcanic activity in Halemaumau Crater, but this time there was a large plume of steam billowing from a portion of the crater, a definite sign of hot lava flowing beneath the surface.
Next, we drove over to Kilauea Iki Crater, which was located just on the other side of Halemaumau Crater. Kilauea Iki Crater last erupted in 1959. There was a scenic overlook at the edge of the crater, so our tour bus stopped briefly so that everyone could get out and have a look. We also made a couple other brief stops that were not accessible, including the Thurston Lava Tube and Lua Manu Crater. They were fairly short stops though, so I just stayed on the bus while people went out to snap pictures.
That was pretty much it for the tour of Volcanoes National Park. For anyone interested in doing the tour, it is important to note that you will not see molten lava on this tour. If you want to see molten lava, your best bet is to do a helicopter tour. As I mentioned before, it is the only good way to get a glimpse of all of the spectacular scenery that the Big Island has to offer, including red-hot flowing lava.
Following our tour of Volcanoes National Park, we spent the afternoon on the ship relaxing before our ship set sail for the next port. In the evening, our ship was scheduled to pass by Kilauea volcano as we sailed along the southern coast of the Big Island from Hilo to Kona. This was the event that I was looking forward to the most on the entire cruise as cruise passengers are usually able to see lines of glowing orange lava streaking down the side of Kilauea and into the ocean. Unfortunately though, we were shut out that night as there was no lava visible to us at all. It was easily the single biggest disappointment of the entire trip. I don’t think it happens too often that lava is not visible. One of the crew members on the ship mentioned that there had been an earthquake a few days before we were there, and a lot of times when there is an earthquake the lava seems to stop flowing for a short period of time. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it was definitely disappointing not to see any lava.
The next day our ship dropped anchor in Kona for the day. This was the only port on our cruise itinerary where the ship had to anchor at sea and tenders were required to bring passengers onshore. Since none of the tenders were accessible for scooter or electric wheelchair users, I stayed on the ship for the day. It didn’t bother me much since I had previously seen pretty much everything I wanted to see on the Big Island, not to mention the fact that our cruise itinerary did not have any days at sea as we were in a different port every day. So, I didn’t mind at all spending the day chilling out on the ship, especially with a lot of the other cruise passengers off the ship touring around.
Our last port of call was Nawiliwili, Kauai, where our ship was to be docked for the next day and a half. There are two main things to see in Kauai for first-time visitors – Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. Since our ship was going to be sailing by the Na Pali Coast on the second day and I had already seen both sites previously anyway (see Kauai 2002), we started out the first day by renting a wheelchair accessible van (, ) so that we could spend a little time exploring the northern part of Kauai on our own. Unfortunately we got a bit of a late start as there was a miscommunication between the van company’s head office (who I made the reservation through) and the local supplier. The local supplier knew nothing about it, so it was a couple hours before we got it sorted out and they delivered the van to us at the ship.
We made a few short stops as we drove through Kauai. The first stop was at Kilauea lighthouse, which was built in 1913 to help guide sailors around Kauai’s North Shore. The lighthouse itself is not accessible, but it was a pretty nice area to get out and see the waves come crashing in on the rugged coastline. Off in the distance, we were also able to see humpback whales periodically jumping out of the water, which is something that can typically only be seen during the winter months as the whales migrate elsewhere during the summer months.
Next, we drove a few minutes down the road to the Hanalei Valley lookout. The lookout offers a great view of the colorful taro fields in Kauai’s fertile Hanalei Valley. We made a brief photo stop, and then we began the drive back to the ship. Along the way, we made one more stop – this one at Opaeka’a Falls. Opaeka’a Falls is a large 150-foot-high waterfall in eastern Kauai. You cannot get very close to it, but unlike most waterfalls in Hawaii, you don’t have to go far off the beaten path to see it. You can actually see this huge waterfall from the road. There is accessible parking nearby, and there is a pedestrian viewing area overlooking the waterfall. There is also a viewing area on the other side of the road where you can get a good view of the Wailua River.
We were back at the ship by mid-afternoon so that we could grab a quick bite to eat and get ready for the second shore excursion that we booked through the cruise line. This excursion was a trip to Luau Kalamaku, one of the best luaus that I have been to. The luau is located on a big plantation, and we had the option of purchasing a ticket for a train ride that takes visitors around the plantation to see all of the different vegetation. The train is accessible, so I did decide to purchase the train ride as part of the package, but we never actually ended up doing it. The train rides took place before the luau, but since we found a pretty good accessible spot at our table, I preferred to stay put and not lose our place rather than go on another train ride (which looked to be pretty similar to the one at the Dole Plantation which we had done a week earlier). The food at the luau was quite good, and the evening show following the luau was excellent, complete with hula dancers and amazing fireball twirlers. Like the other shore excursion that we booked on the Big Island, the cruise line was able to provide an accessible bus with a hydraulic lift for the excursion.
On the last full day of our cruise, our ship departed Nawiliwili at 2 p.m. and sailed along Kauai’s northern shore until we reached the Na Pali Coast. The Na Pali Coast is a 16-mile stretch of rugged sea cliffs along Kauai's northwest coast. It is one of two “must-sees” for visitors to Kauai (along with Waimea Canyon), and it is the second of two major highlights on this 7-day cruise itinerary (along with the evening sail by Kilauea volcano). There are only two ways to get a good look at the Na Pali Coast – by helicopter or by boat. I was fortunate to see it by helicopter on my previous trip to Kauai, although I always hoped to one day also see it by boat for a more extended look at it (helicopter tours seem to go by so fast sometimes!). The trouble with seeing it by boat is that most (if not all) sightseeing boats and catamarans are not accessible for electric wheelchairs and scooters. So, I was excited that a sailing along the Na Pali Coast was included on our cruise itinerary as it was my only option to see the coast by water. Our ship slowly sailed along the whole length of the Na Pali Coast, and then at the end we turned around and sailed back up the coast before continuing on back to Honolulu to end the cruise the next morning. It was a good way to end our 2 weeks in Hawaii as the towering cliffs along the Na Pali Coast are quite an impressive sight.
Overall, I was quite happy with the cruise. While it wasn't the nicest ship I've been on and there was the tender issue in Kona, accessibility was otherwise good on the ship and for the 2 shore excursions we did. However, it was the cruise itinerary that was the real selling point for this cruise.
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