Hawaii on a budget

by Jim Byers

Hawaii isn’t known as a cheap destination. But it can be quite affordable if you plan things right. I’ve probably been 25 times now, and I’ve discovered a number of ways to make a dream trip to the Hawaiian Islands a vacation that doesn’t break the bank. Here are some suggestions:

GO IN THE OFF-SEASON: Winter and summer are very popular, so you’re wise to try the shoulder seasons; April-May or September-October. Given our weather, April and May are probably nicer getaway times for Canadians. Not only are hotels and condos usually less expensive in shoulder season, but rental cars often drop in price as well. You’ll also find it easier to get a table at the best restaurants, such as the legendary Mama’s Fish House on Maui.

GET OFF THE BEACH: Waterfront condos and hotels obviously command a greater price than those that are set back a block or two. If you plan to spend most of your time ON the beach, do you really need to see it out the window of your hotel room? At famous Waikiki Beach on Oahu, beachfront properties often go for $400 CAD per night or more. But you can find places a couple of blocks from the water for around $225 CAD. The Ohana Waikiki East is one option. The Vive Hotel Waikiki is more stylish but also reasonable.

GO THE CONDO ROUTE: Eating out in Hawaii can be expensive at the better restaurants. For day-to-day meals, you’ll want to eat in. Look for a condominium unit with a kitchen, and preferably a barbeque. Costco is a great option for saving on groceries. There’s one that’s just a few hundred meters from the main airport on Maui. You’ll also find one on Kauai and one on the Kona side of Hawaii Big Island. Oahu has four of them. Costco also is a great spot to buy gas and liquor. Maui’s cheapest condos tend to be in the Kihei region.

DINE WHERE THE LOCALS GO: Nobody wants to go on a holiday and not eat out a few times. So be judicious about it. Try something fancy or creative such as Merriman’s in Kapalua on Maui, or perhaps The Pig and the Lady or Senia in Honolulu. But go where the Hawaiians go if you want inexpensive, well-prepared, filling food. On Oahu, The Shrimp Trucks on the northeast shore of the island are great options. I quite enjoyed the Shrimp Shack in the town of Hauula on a visit last year. Over on the other side of the island, you’ll get huge portions for very reasonable prices at a place called Hannara in Waianae. Sam Sato’s serves up great noodles and Hawaiian “plate lunches” in an industrial area of Wailuku, the county seat of Maui. If you’re not familiar with a Hawaiian plate lunch, it’s usually an entrée with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. You might need a 20-km swim to work off the carbs, but it’s a cheap and filling meal. Another option on Maui is Aloha Mixed Plate , behind the Lahaina Cannery Mall. On the island of Kauai, Chicken In A Barrel is a tasty, inexpensive barbeque chicken option in both Hanalei and Kapaa. In Hilo, on Hawaii Big Island, Ken’s House of Pancakes is a legendary breakfast spot with huge portions and budget-friendly prices.

FREE ENTERTAINMENT: A nice luau is a lot of fun. But they can be pricey, and you can always find a free Hawaiian show somewhere. The Kaanapali Beach Hotel voted the most Hawaiian hotel in the state and smack dab on one of Maui’s best beaches, has free shows every night that anyone can attend. The newly refurbished International Marketplace in Waikiki also has free shows, as does the Cannery Mall in Lahaina, Maui. On Hawaii Big Island, the Shops at Mauna Lani has free shows, activities, games and Polynesian cultural lessons on Mondays and Thursdays. There’s a wonderful free show and torch-lighting ceremony in Kuhio Park on the shores of Waikiki Beach on Oahu every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at sunset, weather permitting.

GOLF FOR LESS: You can spend hundreds of dollars (the expensive, American kind) if you play the big-name courses such as Kapalua or Wailea on Maui. They’re great courses, but hard on the wallet. Try one of the fancy ones, then spend the rest of your golf dollars playing with locals at a cheaper course. One of the finest values in all the U.S. is Kukuiolono, a nine-hole course in the hills on the dry, western side of Kauai. It’s not in the best of shape, but it’s fun and has a couple of challenging holes, along with terrific views out to the Pacific Ocean. Last I checked it was $10 USD. Also on Kauai, the municipal course at Wailua is both reasonably priced ($48 USD weekdays) and challenging.  On Maui, it’s $58 USD to play the municipal course outside of Wailuku, where you’ll find several holes on the Pacific Ocean and a friendly vibe.

IN SHORT: Get yourself a condo and cook your own meals. When you do go out for a meal, try a food truck or a restaurant where locals go. Rent a place just off the beach to save on accommodations. Travel in shoulder seasons to avoid crowds and high prices. Play golf at the enjoyable municipal courses. And take advantage of the free Hawaiian shows you’ll find all over the state.