Contents
  1. 1. Difficult Travel Planning
  2. 2. 12/24 Day 1
    1. 2.1. Flight Cancellation
    2. 2.2. Hosmer Grove Campground
  3. 3. 12/25 Day 2
    1. 3.1. Haleakala Sunrise
    2. 3.2. Sliding Sands Trail Hike
  4. 4. 12/26 Day 3
    1. 4.1. Sunrise Whale Watching

This content was automatically generated by gpt-4-turbo-preview (No human review). The original post is in Chinese.

During the Christmas holiday of 2021, we spent 6 days in Maui, camping for 5 nights, watching clouds and sunrise at an altitude of 3000 meters, experiencing the best snorkeling, seeing over a dozen humpback whales and 9 sea turtles, accompanied by morning glow and rainbows every day, walking on two unique trails for two days, and driving the toughest road we’ve ever driven in our lives. This blog will share our Hawaii trip itinerary in a narrative style.

Difficult Travel Planning

Originally, the plan for this Christmas and New Year holiday was to visit several national parks in the southwestern United States (Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend). Perhaps because I felt somewhat bored inside (I had visited Zion and Bryce at the beginning of 2021, and Grand Canyon at the end of the year), the idea of going to Hawaii started to germinate. Around December 2, I began to check flight tickets to Hawaii, and at that time, the one-way ticket from SAN or LAX to several Hawaiian islands in late December could be within $200 at its cheapest, with the return flights costing about the same, which seemed affordable. Thus, I started planning the trip, mainly booking flights, renting cars, accommodations, and figuring out which days to take off. Considering I’ve only accumulated 3 days of annual leave since I joined the company two months ago, and our company only offers one day off for both Christmas and New Year, so with my annual leave plus the 3-day long weekend, I could at most arrange a 6-day trip (or 5 days if avoiding the Christmas and New Year holidays).

We wanted to visit Hawaii without spending much, so we set ourselves a goal to keep the total expenses of the trip within $1500. But after 2 days of planning, we found that keeping the budget for a 6-day trip to Hawaii for two under $1500 was an impossible mission.

Firstly, regarding flight tickets, I made several spreadsheets, recording the ticket prices from the three airports near our home (LAX, SAN, SNA) to the five airports on four Hawaiian islands (Kauai, LIH), (Maui, OGG), (Oahu, HNL), (Big Island, KOA ITO) for various dates. After considering the flight prices between the Hawaiian islands, we concluded that flights to Maui (OGG) were the cheapest, with many dates offering round-trip flights for just $129 per person.

Secondly, concerning car rentals, by early December, many platforms were already out of car rental options for the Christmas holiday in Hawaii, with the few available options costing $300 per day. Fortunately, we found a lot of affordable options on UCI’s car rental platform. I highly recommend the car rental platform that UCI provides for employees, which has saved us a lot of money for our trips to Alaska and Hawaii. Through UCI’s rental platform, we discovered that Hertz allowed rentals on all islands (not KOA, but cars were available for rent at ITO and could be returned at KOA), with prices mostly around $30 per day and $200 for a week. Most dates were available for rental, but some islands required a minimum of one-week rental, making it impossible to rent for just 1 or 2 days.

Accommodation was the most challenging part, as hotels around the Christmas holidays in Hawaii are very pricey. In Maui, accommodations were the most expensive, with the cheapest hostel (the northshore hostel maui) costing $199 per night for a single room and dormitory rooms at $80+ per person, with only a few days available for booking. Most hotels demanded $300 per night. Accommodations on other islands were slightly cheaper, but we did not delve too deeply into them.

After considering the dates for taking leave, flight ticket prices, car rental, and accommodation from four aspects, we decided to spend the 6-day Christmas holiday on one island, choosing Maui. Since flights to Maui were the cheapest, for the outbound journey, we used Delta SkyMiles to book 2 tickets (with an additional fee of only $11.20), and for the return journey, Alaska Airlines tickets were $126 per person. Renting a car for a week was more affordable, and moving between islands was also costly, leading us to abandon plans for visiting multiple islands. With only 6 days available, managing 1 or 2 islands was realistic. Since saving money was key, we opted for a single island. Regarding accommodation, camping in Maui was challenging, and if that failed, we planned to sleep in the car. We made a table listing all the campgrounds in Maui and found that most were fully booked around late December. However, after booking our flights and rental car and spending over a week refreshing booking sites, we finally secured a reservation at Camp Olowalu from December 24 to 29 for tent campsites at $50 per day, with flush toilets and hot showers available.

Besides flights, accommodation, and car rental, we also needed to book tours, as Christmas is the peak tourism season in Hawaii. Thus, planning in advance was crucial. My main anticipation for this trip to Hawaii was snorkeling, given my disappointing experiences in San Diego. Moreover, December to March is the whale watching season in Hawaii, another activity on our list.

After finalizing everything, packing was the last step. Considering plans to camp at an altitude of 3000 meters, watch sunrise and sunset, hike, and account for Maui’s potential heavy rain, we brought a comprehensive range of items.

All in all, this was our most challenging travel plan to date, consuming numerous weekends for pre-trip planning and packing. Altogether, we spent at least 50 hours on preparations.

12/24 Day 1

Flight Cancellation

On the first day, we woke up at 3:50 am, got ready, and set off from our accommodation in San Diego. We chose to fly from SAN because the San Diego airport is close to downtown, unlike LAX, which is far from Irvine and expensive to reach by cab. SNA was the first to be ruled out due to its higher ticket prices and limited options. I left my car at my company’s parking lot next to Santa Fe Station, where I could park for several days without additional charges because I paid a monthly parking fee. We then took the 992 bus to the airport, saving even the taxi fare to the airport.

Yet, as we departed on the morning of December 24th in a heavy downpour, driving on the freeway already hinted at dreadful weather, with strong winds and heavy rain. We jokingly speculated that our flight might get canceled, and indeed, after braving the rain to get to the airport, we learned that our Delta flight was indeed canceled. Unexpectedly, San Diego, known for its usual good weather, picked our departure day for one of its rare downpours. Delta’s app automatically rescheduled us to a Hawaiian Airlines flight, changing our departure from 6:18 am to a little after 10 am, delaying our arrival in Maui by more than 2 hours. Worse still, we had to pay $60 for two checked bags with Hawaiian Airlines (Delta would have allowed us one free checked bag each). After negotiating with Delta airport staff, they only offered an alternative Delta flight arriving in Maui at 8 pm, clearly unacceptable to us. They proposed compensating us with 500 SkyMiles each (worth about $5), which I refused, intending to further discuss compensation with Delta customer service. So, we reluctantly switched to a Hawaiian Airlines flight, arriving at 2 pm. Despite a mere 2-hour delay, it significantly inconvenienced our itinerary.

Because today was Christmas Eve, and many stores would close early (remaining closed the next day), this included ACE Hardware, where we had hoped to purchase fuel canisters (Fuel Canister) for our Camp Stove. However, due to the flight cancellation, we couldn’t reach it before their 2 pm closing time, meaning we couldn’t prepare instant noodles for the next few days. So, we headed to Costco after landing to stock up on supplies, skipping instant noodles altogether.

The car we rented was a Mid-size Sedan, as SUVs were either unavailable or extremely expensive (around $300 per day). In the end, we received a black 2021 Nissan Altima, almost brand new and seemingly never driven before, with the odometer showing just 10.2 miles. (Driving a new car is always a thrill, featuring many advanced options not found in our 2016 model.)

Due to flight delays, we were rushed for time on our first day, with the sunset anticipated at 5:50 pm. Our plane landed at 2:18 pm, and after queueing to disembark, collecting our luggage, and getting our rental car, it was already past 4 pm by the time we finished shopping at Costco and prepared to head up the mountain. The drive was quite interesting. It took over an hour from Costco, beginning in sunny weather with a rainbow in the distance that we gradually approached until we were in the rain. The mountain road was very winding, with cliffs on one side, ascending from sea level to 9,740 feet. As we climbed, the weather changed rapidly. Occasionally cloudy or sunny, we eventually rose above the clouds. Anticipated to reach the summit by 5:35 pm, fortunately, the queue at Haleakala National Park Entrance was not too long, delaying us for less than 5 minutes. By the time we reached the Haleakala Visitor Center, the parking lot was crowded, with no spots available, as many people were already gathered along the road awaiting the sunset. The road to Puu Ulaula Summit was closed, indicating it was full (the summit is the prime spot for sunset viewing). Directed by park staff, we parked in a non-designated spot at the parking lot. The summit was indeed cold, prompting us to quickly don our down jackets, hats, and gloves. With only 10 minutes to sunset, fearing we couldn’t reach the summit in time, we settled for watching the sunset near the Visitor Center.

The weather atop the mountain was clear, completely cloudless, with only a sea of clouds below, not as dense in some areas, allowing views of the city and ocean. Thus, the sunset wasn’t particularly spectacular due to the lack of twilight glow. The cloud below remained white, gradually darkening at sunset. Unlike the clouds overhead, which would turn orange or pink at sunset, making for a beautiful sight.

After the sunset, it was already dark. We returned to our car for dinner. Due to the flight cancellation, we were pressed for time and couldn’t stop for lunch or dinner earlier, only managing a visit to Costco. Fortunately, we had Costco’s roasted chicken, providing a warm meal atop the cold summit, accompanied by bread and celery, making up our dinner. An interesting encounter occurred when a high school classmate, coincidentally also in Maui and visiting Haleakala for the sunset that day, joined us. We met at the summit (it had probably been 5 or 6 years since we saw each other), watched the sunset together, and shared food. It was my first time meeting a high school classmate in the US, especially on Christmas Eve, marking a rare moment.

Hosmer Grove Campground

Our plan for the first night was to camp on the mountain, as we intended to watch the sunrise the following day. The name Haleakala means “House of the sun,” and viewing the sunrise requires a reservation, with park entry between 3 am to 7 am requiring a sunrise ticket. It’s said that park staff might check the parking area at midnight to prevent people from staying overnight without permission. Fortunately, we secured a campsite at Hosmer Grove Campground (yes, our experience in Hawaii felt like a series of reservations and ticket scrambles, but thankfully, we had strong ticket-grabbing skills), eliminating the need for a sunrise ticket.

Camping in darkness is my least favorite, as setting up tents and familiarizing oneself with the campground’s surroundings become challenging. However, with no choice due to the canceled flight, we visited the summit for sunset and had dinner before descending to Hosmer Grove Campground (about a 30-minute drive from the summit). The campsite is quite small, with only 6 sites, one non-flush toilet, a handwashing station, and a parking area, all on a grassy field marked by campsite numbers on the ground. The damp terrain and sparse grass meant camping directly on the wet soil. The campsite, being at a lower altitude, wasn’t as cold as the summit and had milder winds, offering a quiet atmosphere. Although it rained that night, our tent’s waterproofing performed well, keeping the inside dry. Our newly purchased Kelty Cosmic 20 Down sleeping bags excelled (with the night’s lowest temperature possibly at 45°F), sometimes feeling too warm. Who would have thought this would be the best sleep of our trip?

12/25 Day 2

Haleakala Sunrise

Waking up around 5 am, we had to pack our tents,sleeping bags, and mats, as today’s hike would likely last until 2 pm, past the campsite checkout time. By the time we drove to Haleakala Visitor Center, it was nearly 6 am, with a fair number of people already gathered. Since sunrise viewing requires a reservation, there were plenty of parking spaces available. The sunrise was expected around 6:55 am, allowing us ample time for toiletries and breakfast in the car. Today’s sky mirrored the previous sunset, clear above with a sea of clouds below. By 6:30 am, the sky was already bright, and people quietly lined the railings, waiting for sunrise. As the moment approached, a group, appearing to be native Hawaiians, began singing hymns. Although the lyrics were unfamiliar, the songs seemed to praise the sunrise. I found a video on YouTube closely resembling our sunrise experience, accompanied by a hymn that felt sacred. For those interested in the hymn, I discovered the lyrics and audio.

Sliding Sands Trail Hike

The Sliding Sands Trail is an 18km hike estimated to take 6 hours, with a total ascent of 850 meters. Starting from the Haleakala Visitor Center at an altitude of 2968.7 meters, the trail descends about 850 meters, primarily in the first 6km, followed by a flat 3km stretch, leading to Kapalaoa Cabin, a small lodge, before returning on the same path. As anticipated, the final 6km climb was particularly challenging.

After watching the sunrise, it took us an hour to prepare our gear, carrying 2.5L of water each, along with food, clothing, sunscreen, a pair of walking poles, and more before setting off. The weather was perfect, offering an unobstructed view of the volcanic crater (Martian landscape). Many hikers were on the trail, mostly experienced walkers moving quickly. Due to our heavier load, we walked relatively slower. The most memorable hikers we encountered were a couple carrying three children, with the father carrying a larger child on his back and a smaller one in front, while the mother carried another large child on her back. The oldest child appeared to be around 4, with the youngest looking about 1 week old. We dubbed them “Super Mom and Super Dad,” amazed at their pace, which initially matched ours before they pulled ahead, eventually disappearing from our view.

The trail’s scenery didn’t vary much initially, offering views of volcanic cones from above, which then towered over us as we descended closer. Plant life, however, changed significantly, starting with rare and beautiful silver-white flowers called haleakala silverswords and gradually introducing greenery and ferns. The vegetation changed distinctly in patches, such as a large area dominated by Haleakala Silverswords followed by a zone of dried ferns. The trail was mostly wide and well-defined, leading to Kapalaoa Cabin, our turnaround point, where we rested and ate snacks with restroom facilities nearby.

On our return, the surrounding clouds seemed to drift toward our direction. Previous Alltrails reviews mentioned rain and low visibility on the trail, alongside rapid weather changes. We had clear skies so far, but prepared for potential rain with raincoats and backpack covers. Observing the speed of the approaching clouds, we quickened our pace, fearing being caught in a downpour. We frequently looked back to monitor the thick clouds’ movement, effectively racing against them. Fortunately, despite their swift movement, the clouds dissipated rapidly, with a brief instance of light sun showers.

This hike was the most challenging we’ve ever attempted, especially the last 5 kilometers, where fatigue from walking 13 kilometers/4 hours set in, alongside the daunting task of climbing 850 meters at altitudes between 2000-3000 meters. It felt akin to running a marathon, with the final few kilometers demanding frequent stops. We were grateful for our walking poles, which eased our effort significantly. Several couples followed the same route at a similar pace, but as we neared the end, our lead grew, with everyone visibly struggling and needing breaks every few hundred meters. Ultimately, it took us 6 hours and 24 minutes to complete the journey, with my watch indicating a distance of 18.83km.

The hike ended around 3 pm, later than anticipated. We then drove to Puu Ulaula (Red Hill) Summit (3055m) and Kalahaku Overlook (2842m) for additional views, finding only the Summit worth visiting. On our descent, we passed the park entrance to find a long queue of cars waiting to enter, with an estimated half-hour wait around 4:30 pm. Today being Christmas, many shops were closed. After purchasing dinner, we reached Camp Olowalu around 6 pm, facing another night of setting up our tent in the dark and exhaustion. With an early morning departure for the Sunrise Whale Watching Tour planned, leaving us scant time for showers, tidying up, and rest, the day ahead loomed challenging.

12/26 Day 3

Sunrise Whale Watching

We joined the Ultimate Whale Watch 1.5HR SUNRISE TOUR, costing $49 per person, which I found to be a mediocre experience and would not recommend. Most whale watching tours last 2 hours, but this sunrise tour was only 1.5 hours, with our actual sailing time being just about an hour, thus significantly shorter. Another issue was their small boat, resembling a zodiac, where due to a mix-up with our boarding pass,

Contents
  1. 1. Difficult Travel Planning
  2. 2. 12/24 Day 1
    1. 2.1. Flight Cancellation
    2. 2.2. Hosmer Grove Campground
  3. 3. 12/25 Day 2
    1. 3.1. Haleakala Sunrise
    2. 3.2. Sliding Sands Trail Hike
  4. 4. 12/26 Day 3
    1. 4.1. Sunrise Whale Watching