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The 5 Most Overrated Things About Hawaii

In between recanting my Hawaii travel stories, one of my colleagues suggested I start a travel blog called “Keepin’ it real with Diana”.  Ha!  Little did he know I was halfway there already! 🙂  I usually like to post about the things around the world that I think are truly worth seeing and tend to stay away from the attractions and experiences that left me less than impressed (it’s not as fun to write about the stuff that makes me go “eh”), but in the spirit of keepin’ it real since I was recently in Hawaii, I’ve got to admit some of the most overrated Hawaiian tourist experiences:

1) Maui’s road to Hana

(photo credit)

Every resource I’ve found on Maui, always without fail, recommends you drive the road to Hana.  While the drive is scenic and lush with waterfalls here and there, the road is also windy and somewhat treacherous given that the eastern end of Maui is often met with rainfall.  In some places the road is so narrow that only one car can pass at a time which makes the drive painfully slow – it takes at least 4 hours to drive the ~40 miles to Hana.  By the time you arrive in Hana, you’re hungry, tired, and potentially carsick – not to mention, underwhelmed that Hana is just another homey Hawaiian village.  With all the hype about the road there, you’d expect it to be more like the Garden of Eden.  And, if you only gave yourself one day to make this drive, you’ve pretty much got to head home pretty soon afterwards — you don’t want to be caught trying to make it back on that windy road after the sun sets!

2) Watching the sunrise on Haleakala Volcano

(photo credit)

People say this sunrise is life-changing, but I’ve never understood how “life changing” a sunrise can be.  Years ago, Mr. T and I got up before the crack of dawn to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat since that was the “life changing” sunrise there.  We woke up early and followed the ginormous crowd of fellow tourists in the pitch black darkness to witness the first signs of light over Angkor Wat and was our life changed?  No.  It was a beautiful sight and we got some pretty cool photos, but it was also freezing and hard to find a good spot to sit down and enjoy the spectacle.  I imagine the sunrise at Haleakala would be similar except even colder at 4am than it was in Angkor Wat…. so, I’ve always turned it down.  If I’m in Hawaii, I’m on vacation, and if I’m on vacation, I want to sleep in!  I am open to life-changing sunsets in Hawaii, though.

3) The beaches

Hawaii is full of ’em, but the beaches just aren’t that awesome… especially when I compare them to the beaches I’ve seen around the world.  The Pacific Ocean is deep blue in Hawaii – not that turquoise hue that you find on practically every Caribbean beach (the little turquoise strips that appear under the right lighting don’t count).  The beaches are long and not very wide.  A lot of them are also lined with hotels.  Most of the good beaches are also crowded with fellow tourists.  If you’re in Hawaii looking for world-class beaches or remote virgin beaches you’re going to be disappointed.

4) Restaurants

For a string of islands that gets so many tourists a year, it’s amazing how “just ok” the dining there is.  I’ve been to many of the highest rated restaurants in Hawaii and while good, none of were really “knock-your-socks-off-good” when I compared them to the restaurants I’ve had elsewhere in the world.  I can’t even say that Hawaiian food tastes better in Hawaii than on the mainland.  So, not only is the food “just ok”, it’s also really expensive in Hawaii – a situation I’d avoid if I could but I tend to accept when I’m in Hawaii (especially after a couple of overpriced mai tais).

5) Kauai’s Napali Coast

(photo credit)

What the Road to Hana is to Maui the Napali Coast is to Kauai.  On every Kauai “must see” list, these cliffs are only accessible by hiking or by boat.  We took a boat there to view what the big deal was and what we found instead was a boat full of sea sick travelers!  I guess when they tell you to visit the Napali Coast, they don’t tell you how choppy the water can be!  The rugged mountain side is cool enough but we just didn’t see anything to write home about (certainly nothing worth getting sea sick for).  I’ve seen similar and much more impressive rock formations in Turkey, Argentina, and Iceland.Have you been to Hawaii?  What do you think?

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Mark - November 2, 2012 - 10:55 am

Do you share your travel pics anywhere like flicker/fb/etc? would be interesting to see 🙂

and very true – the best part of Road to Hana is driving past Hana and looping back around, the backside of the volcano is quite nice.

Just Wanderlust - November 3, 2012 - 5:13 pm

Hey Mark! I sometimes upload my pics to picasa… that’s about it. Let me know if you want to see and I can send them to your email. 🙂 Hope all is well!

Jan Ross - November 3, 2012 - 7:38 pm

Well, I have to say that we loved our visit to Hawaii, especially flying over an active volcano, but there are definitely some things that are over rated. I would add visiting Waikiki to your list – we hated it. Tourists flock there and it’s nothing but an overcrowded beach, overpriced hotels and a shopping area where you might as well be in any big city. Also the Fern Grotto on Kaui – what a rip-off. A river that looks like any other river and a pitiful cave with some ferns, along with tons of tourists. I agree with you about most of the beaches as well; the Pacific is not nearly as beautiful as many Caribbean islands.

Mark - November 4, 2012 - 12:50 am

yah! would love to see all your global travel pics 🙂
shoot me a link to my email would be great.

Headin’ to Russia in a few days, quite excited!

Tiny Girl with Big Bag - November 4, 2012 - 8:54 am

Never been to Hawaii but I think there are such attractions everywhere in the world which are overrated.. which is good to know beforehand coz with lower expectations we can only have a good experience 😉

Just Wanderlust - November 5, 2012 - 6:26 pm

True, true! Don’t get me wrong – overrated attractions are still good/cool but just not worth their hype is all… def agree on the expectation setting being very important!

TheFalls7 - March 12, 2013 - 11:43 am

I spent over a week in Maui and I was nonplussed. I stayed with friends who live in Kahalui and drove all over the island and got the “non-tourist” tour. Having traveled all over Asia and North America and being from the Pacific NW in the US, I’ve driven much more beautiful windy roads before. Not much is going on in Hana. The people were nice and the food was fine. I was a little disappointed by the beaches which were narrow and rockier than I thought they would be. I’ve been told Kauai is better, but at this point I think I will put my travel dollars into going equally expensive, yet more gorgeous and culturally diverse/interesting/geologically amazing places in Central and South America this coming year. I think Maui (and I suspect more of Hawaii) is fine for a quick sunny getaway, wedding, staying at a resort, and/or if you are looking to lounge and kick back. If you want to be off the beaten path or be astounded, the world has more to offer for your hard-earned resources.

Just Wanderlust - March 13, 2013 - 1:17 am

I couldn’t agree with you more! Kauai is alright – only a few roads and just lush so it’s a good place to get away if you’re looking to be somewhere “tropical” but have all the comforts of a 5 star hotel without having to exchange currency either. 😉 But, you hit the nail on the head – there are tons of destinations outside of the Hawaii that are more interesting and diverse and if you’re at all adventurous or a traveler by heart, venture outside the U.S. for sure! Tons of things to see/do/experience. The world is an amazing place.

Dmitri - March 15, 2013 - 2:38 pm

I’m gonna have to disagree about the beaches. Lanikai Beach, Waikiki, Makaha, Hanauma Bay, Kailua Beach…all those beaches and more all have “Caribbean-looking” water. Turquoise hues and such. Perhaps you went to some beaches where there was a lot of surf; thus, the water wasn’t as clear. If you ever get the chance, go to the beaches I mentioned above. You won’t be disappointed.

Just Wanderlust - March 19, 2013 - 10:13 am

Dmitri – thanks for taking the time to comment. Hawaiian beaches are fine for the average tourist, but my point is that the Hawaiian beaches only look turquoise under the right lighting – otherwise it just looks like, well, like a deep/dark blue. The other beaches I’ve seen elsewhere in the world still retain their gorgeous blue/green hue regardless of the lighting. The other thing that makes the beaches in Hawaii less exciting is that they are overcrowded (Waikiki for sure!), there isn’t that much sand before you reach the water, the sand is coarse, and I’ve even seen trash in the ocean occasionally. I’m sure you can find a “one off” beach in Hawaii that breaks this mold, but why look for a “one off” one when I can opt for the Bahamas (as an example) and plop myself on the beach at a resort and find the turquoise water, soft white sand, shallow clean waters, and even manageable waves for swimming? I’ve been to Hawaii more than a handful of times as a visitor and I’ve yet to find any beach that rivals the beauty of beaches in other parts of the world.

Shain - September 13, 2013 - 1:55 am

I’m laying in my ugly overpriced studio right now reflecting on my mediocre day of just trying to get into the water and past the coral.

Rekha Devarapalli - June 2, 2015 - 4:25 pm

Can’t agree more! I made up Maui in my mind for 4 years and when we actually went there for our fourth anniversary, I felt “meh” and am glad to know I am not the only one 🙂 Our anniversary trip to Alaska on the other hand blew me away!

JustWanderlust - June 11, 2015 - 9:12 pm

I’ve heard that Alaska does that to people. I can’t wait to go there someday!

PKA - October 30, 2015 - 1:34 pm

Honestly, the reason Hawaii is so…”meh” to most is because in the last 30 years it has been overdeveloped, over commercialized, and well, over Americanized. The natural beauty and charm of this place has been bulldozed, paved,and built upon, all because outside (non Hawaiian) interests have taken over. If you think it’s frustrating to come here for a visit because it’s crowded, touristy and expensive; then try living here all your life. I can’t even get to the ocean in certain places without getting harassed by a security guard or property manager, all because I “look like I don’t belong here” meaning I’m a brown local and I don’t have money to spend at the hotel/shopping center; and god forbid that I just want to go to the ocean to do something Hawaiian like go fishing or surfing. for us born and raised here, you feel like the best beaches are reserved only for rich tourists or the “happy aloha filled” slaves I mean workers making next to nothing catering to them. But hey, come any way. Spend your money at the oversized walmarts, get on the Costco diet, if not go to one of the hundreds of fast food chains on every other street corner. Stay at the Hilton, or the Fairmont, or the Disney land hotel. Because we all know that’s the true Hawaiian experience…

Brooklyn - June 14, 2016 - 9:00 pm

I think you are just not being appreciative and grateful of what the aina has to offer. Probably because you’re trying to compare it to other places. Be grateful in the moment for what is around you. Hawaii chooses people and clearly it did not choose you. I live in a farm in Oahu and it is the most populated island and I still find ways to appreciate it every day, it’s called finding the positive in everything. And I’m vegan and have no issue finding amazing and healthy resturaunts.

Denis Kharin - January 26, 2020 - 9:50 pm

Agreed so much. Maui is general island that very overacted and overpriced. We did not like Maui compared to Oahu.

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