I’m a huge fan of the high/low approach to travel. Without sacrificing style, I like to splurge in one place and save in another at the intersection of chic and cheerful. My 10-day trip to Hawai’i Island was no exception. Trying the entire volcanic island on for size, I applied the high/low methodology to hotels, activities, and dining, netting a tasteful trip, plus a balanced vacation budget to boot!
Since everyone likes to go luxe and lean in different places and spaces while traveling, here are a few ideas to get you started for Hawai’i, The Big Island. First things first, shelter. While Hawai’i has a host of hotels sprinkled all over the island, the two main beachfront resort areas are Kona and the Kohala Coast.
As one of the most established towns on the island, Kona has a bevy of budget hotels – some even starting under $100 per night. If you’re serious about saving on accommodations, check out the 1956-built and family-run Kona Seaside Hotel (from $100 per night) in the center of Kona, across from the pier. Sporting vintage aloha design from top to toe – think lava rock walls and tropical-print furniture – and two pools, this stay will allow you to splurge elsewhere. Lomi lomi massage anyone? Read on.
For a taste of the upscale beach life – think Hamptons meets Hawai’i – drive 40 minutes North and settle between an 1890s lava flow and a white sand bay at the 2012-built, four-cottage Lava Lava Beach Club. Surfside life costs $450 a night, but the happy hour next door and option to cook in the partial kitchen helps to pinch pennies. A bonus is the nightly sundowner cocktails and pupus that are delivered to your porch at 5 p.m. in preparation for sunset. One evening my husband and I planted ourselves on the porch from pupu delivery to bedtime – about five hours – sipping wine and savoring the balmy, breezy moment.
Hawai’i Island’s garden-, farm-, and ocean-to-table fare is so fresh (just look at the bounty around you), some restaurants advertise a 15-mile sourcing radius. At Da Poke Shack, saving on lunch is a tropical treat where just-caught ahi is chopped seven days a week in a standing room-only market barely visible from the road by a small neon-colored sign, and two picnic tables out front. If you like avocado and ahi, the $10 dynamite poke bowl is tender and dreamy, so much so, I became a regular during my Hawaiian holiday. Visit early for the best selection of fresh catch.
Viewfinder Tip: Coordinate your dinners around the beautiful sunset viewings.
If you’ve traveled across land and sea to reach Hawai’i Island, dinner must be accompanied by a sunset (and preferably a musician strumming a ukelele tune). Serving up a painted sky and locally-sourced, sustainable dishes like citrus lavender-scented ono, Brown’s Beach House mingles a wind-in-your-hair locale with chic cuisine. Once night fell and tiki torches illumined the inky backdrop, I longed to freeze the view in time (and vowed to never eat indoors again!).
Home to 4/5 of the world’s major climate zones, Hawai’i Island is a natural and exotic beauty boasting landscapes that drastically change every few miles. One moment you’ll be driving through a crunchy lava flow, and the next through a lush coffee plantation. Later on you’ll pass cows grazing atop rolling hills, and suddenly a tumbling waterfall or a palm-packed cliff commands your glance.
Exploring Hawaii’s heights and depths doesn’t cost a dime aside from your rental car fee and gas. In fact, all beaches are public in the Hawaiian islands. Because true beauty doesn’t need much upkeep, most of the natural wonders can be experienced for free. Just don’t go DIY with the broiling lava – leave that molten moment to a guided professional.
While it’s easy to get distracted with a long list of turtle-spotting sites, black sand beaches, and tropical hikes – trust me, I made a to-do list on vacation – take some time to relax, r-e-a-l-l-y relax in a splurgy sanctuary by the sea. The 110-minute Ali’i Experience at the Fairmont Orchid’s Spa Without Walls ushers complete escape while your body is scrubbed with crushed sandalwood, and kneaded with hot stones following the rhythms of the sea. The last 20 minutes sent me into Hawaiian heaven – literally, I had visions of myself dancing the hula at the top of Mauna Kea to the sweet sound of IZ’s “somewhere over the rainbow” – as warm coconut oil slowly tricked down my head. Ah, bliss on the beach; a week of saving to splurge is worth it for this moment alone.
What are your top save/splurge tips for traveling to island destinations?