Recap – Inverness

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Inverness is a really charming, smaller town. It is cute, it was cold, and it is built with a river running through it. William and I arrived in the evening during sunset so that started us off with a pretty good impression of the place. However, since it is small there is not as much to do. We chose it solely because of its location next to Loch Ness. I will be listing how we spent our time in Inverness, how much things cost, and about how much time to delegate there.

River Ness – Free

  • The most prominent buildings of the town are all along the river. It is really beautiful just walking down one side. There are several bridges if you need to cross from one side to the other, and the river probably is not far from where you are staying. For us, it was about a 5 minute walk if that. I got some pretty pictures during the daytime, at sunset, and at night time. You will also pass St. Andrew’s Cathedral, several churches, a few shops including a kilt shop, and the Inverness Castle (not open to visitors).
  • Time we spent – 1 hour

Ness Islands – Free

  • If you walk far enough down the river, all of the sudden there are these little islands in the middle. They are all connected by bridges, and include various nature walks through beautiful trees as well as a playground. Granted it was January, but William and I were essentially the only ones there. We enjoyed the peaceful trails and playing on the teeter-totter!
  • Time we spent – 30 minutes

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Loch Ness – Free

  • We went to the very tip of Loch Ness, located in the town called Dores. We were able to take a public bus straight there from Inverness. I cannot locate the exact price of the fare, but it was very cheap (maybe $3 – 5 round trip?). First of all, the Dores Inn is a pub located right on the lake, and it has very delicious haggis. It also has the truly unique small town British pub feel. I highly recommend it. Secondly, right behind the pub is a walking trail that begins next to the giant Loch Ness sign by the lake. We didn’t follow it to the end, and there was no signage explaining where it went, but it basically followed the loch coast through the trees. It was peaceful, beautiful, and once again we were the only ones. We waked for about 30/40 minutes one way, and then returned. We also got to watch the sun set on Loch Ness which was really breathtaking. There are these higher peaks and valleys surrounding it that added to the scenery which was a surprise to me; I imagined it being more flat.
  • Time we spent – 3 hours (including dinner)

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And that’s pretty much it. One full day in Inverness/Dores was enough to see what I wanted to see. If you like to travel at a more relaxing pace though, another day definitely would not hurt. Also, I’d like to highly recommend the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at – The Quaich. The rooms were nice, the host was kind, and the breakfast was so yummy. It really added to our pleasant Inverness experience.

If I were to go back to this area, I’d specifically want to either:

  • Go back to the hiking trail we found at Loch Ness, and consider camping. Either that or allow a full day of hiking in the area.
  • See other parts of Loch Ness. Urquhart Castle and Fort Augustus are more common Loch Ness viewing sights, but they were harder for us to get to with such little time and limited transportation.

Recap – Molokai and Kauai

In continuation with last week’s post, I am reviewing what activities we were involved in when we visited the last 2 islands of our Hawaii trip.

Molokai is a more secluded and less visited island. My recommendation is if you really want to get away from it all, to come here instead of Lanai. I discussed Lanai last week, but Molokai actually has beaches, lots of beauty, and lots of hikes available. It is also more affordable than Lanai.

Kauai is known as the garden island, and is my favorite one hands down! Just on one island, you go from beaches to jungle to desert canyons. We had the best food here, and we participated in the craziest activities here. This is how much time we delegated to each island:

July 8, 2014 – arrived in Molokai

July 9th – Molokai

July 10th – Transferred to Kauai by air

July 11th – Kauai

July 12th – Kauai

July 13th – Kauai

July 14th – Kauai

July 15th – Fly home

Molokai

Kalua’aha Church – Free

  • We found this church purely by accident. We were driving on the south side of the island to the east coast to see the Halawa Valley and stopped when we saw this. It is a tiny, one room church and is very cute and quaint. However, I would not specifically drive out all the way just to see the church. The only thing special about it really is its size.
  • Time we spent – 15 minutesmolokai

Halawa Valley – $60

  • First of all, just the drive over here from the center of the island is beautiful. We drove about as far as we could, but to actually go into the valley and get closer to Hīpuapua Falls within, you have to go on a hike. Since the hike involves crossing private land, you can legally only do this by signing on with a tour operator. I searched a couple of different companies offering the tour, and it really varies. One offers an option called a Cultural hike that doesn’t cost quite as much, but doesn’t take you all the way to the waterfall. When it’s combined with seeing the waterfall, it was $60. Another website only offered one option going to the waterfall for $75. Do your research and book in advance if you really are interested. Just what we saw from far away seemed very beautiful and I would not turn down the opportunity to hike there. Also, I have read though that the hike is considered an intermediate/advanced route. So keep that in mind!
  • Time we spent – 2 hours (including drive there, not including hike)

Pālāʻau State Park – Free

  • After Halawa Valley, we drove all the way back towards the center of the island and then headed north to get here. We ate dinner at the picnic tables provided, went on a very short hike, and found the famous phallic rock. Although the park is nice, and if I lived here I would probably spend time here, I don’t think it’s worth wasting your vacation time on unless you are in Molokai for at least a week or more. It is very different from the stereotypical Hawaii scenery. However, there is a lookout point either directly in the state park or right next to it to see Kalaupapa. Kalaupapa is a small community near the coast, surrounded by giant cliffs isolating them from the rest of the world. This was originally a leper’s colony, and you still cannot visit the community without a permit. If you don’t plan on actually visiting, it is cool to at least get a view.
  • Time we spent – 1 hourMolokai3

Kalaupapa National Park – $60

  • As mentioned above, this area was originally established for people suffering from leprosy in the 1800’s. There is a lot of history and the journey to and from the colony, from what I understand, is quite stunning. However, since you must have a permit (which comes from someone residing in the colony), your only way in is to book through a tour or company. Hiking is the cheapest option at $60 a person. Keep in mind, you are literally hiking up and down a steep cliff. It is very strenuous. William and I did not do the hike on our trip, but William had done it previously as a teenager. He got really, really sick from the hike and almost didn’t make it through the whole journey. People can also book tours down on mules, or by flying, but the cost of course goes up from there. William and I sneaked past the first gate on the trail and walked until we reached the staircase leading down. At that point, there was a sign saying we would be fined if we crossed without a permit so we turned around. The only reason we didn’t do this hike is because I didn’t really plan anything on this trip in advance. Only 100 visitors a day are permitted access, so you definitely need to look into it. As I also mentioned above, you can at least look out on the colony in the state park if you don’t plan on going down.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour (not including hike)Molokai4

Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove – Free

  • All we did was stop on the side of the road when we saw it, and walked around a bit. Very cool for a quick picture stop, but nothing to go your of your way for. Just lots and lots of trees like you would imagine it to be.
  • Time we spent – 15 minutesMolokai6

Kepuhi Beach – Free

  • This beach is located on the west end of the island. We mainly went here for nostalgic purposes, since this is where William had spent a lot of time the last time he came to the island. He remembered it not being crowded, which we found to be true. In fact, even though it was July, we were some of the only people on the entire beach. There were some giant rock structures that were great for putting our stuff on, the sand was very soft, and it was very quiet. I found this beach very clean and relaxing.
  • Time we spent – 2 hoursMolokai5

Molokai Post Office (Post-a-Nut) – $18

  • We came here to mail a coconut home to my parents! They have coconut shells to pick from, as well as sharpies for decorating and coloring. The main reason it is so expensive is because coconuts require a lot more postage than paper. We had so much fun mailing our coconut, and our parents enjoyed opening the mailbox and finding it in there! Highly recommend, even if you do it from a different island. Note that, the price also differs based on the weight of the coconut shells you pick from so choose wisely.
  • Time we spent – 20 minutesmolokai7

Kauai

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay – Free

  • This is the hotel we stayed at (though when we were there, it was an Aston Resort). I include this because not only did it have its own beach, but it had a section blocked with a bunch of rocks, creating a calm pool. I really liked this because I was still straight up in the ocean, but didn’t have to worry about scary fish or big waves touching me. There was just a giant parking lot for the hotel guests, but I do not remember having a pass. I believe you could just park here, walk down to beach and enjoy the pool as well. However, now that it has changed ownership this may not be the case anymore.
  • Time we spent – 2 hourskauai2

Maniniholo Dry Cave – Free

  • For our full first day in Kauai, we were on our way driving north to hike a bit of the Na Pali Coast. On the way there, we stopped at this cave. It is just one giant room, big enough for you to walk upright throughout. It is also very, very wide. Right across the street is a beach so you could make a day of it in the area. Parking is a little difficult because it’s crowded, but free.
  • Time we spent – 15 minuteskauai3

Ke’e Beach – Free

  • This is basically where the main road going around Kauai ends on the north side. This beach is also right next to where the Kalalau Trail into Na Pali territory begins, and is located within Hāʻena State Park. It was mildly crowded, and we only really went in the ocean for a bit here after our hike to kind of wash off and refresh ourselves (I had gotten really sick on the hike). It was pretty, but I’m sure other beaches in Kauai are better.
  • Time we spent – 15 minutes

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    View of Ke’e Beach from the Kahalau Trail

Na Pali Coast – Free

  • If you come to Kauai, you have to see the Na Pali Coast in some way, shape, form or fashion – I don’t care how! Our first experience was the free way. We took the Kalalau Trail 2 miles in to reach Hanakapi’ai Beach. It’s definitely one of the most scenic hikes I’ve ever been on. You’re essentially walking up and down the dramatic cliff coastline to this secluded beach. The trail actually continues for a total of 11 miles into a valley. Several people take a few days to hike in, camp at the end for a bit and head back. The only thing is this a very strenuous hike. Lots of elevation changes even though it feels uphill both ways and it gets pretty muddy and slippery which is scary being on a cliff edge. Beauty is pain after all. William and I didn’t realize it would be like this and of course did the hike with only like 2 bottles of water on us. I also had been recovering from a parasite, and I think it took quite a toll on my body. I was fine going in, but on the way back I got pretty sick. It put me out of commission for the rest of the day but was WELL worth it. Also, Hanakapi’ai I think was one of William’s favorite beaches in Hawaii. It’s very secluded, quiet, and pretty small. There’s also (at least when we went) a large amount of water that kind of pools up on the beach, and actually gets pretty deep. So you can get in the actual ocean, or get in this calm body of water that goes up to about your hips. Now if you don’t hike the Na Pali coast, the only other way it is accessible is by boat or by air. We actually opted for both (we went a little crazy booking tours in Kauai). We did the helicopter ride a few days later out of the Lihue airport. It was my first time on a helicopter, so that was already exciting. But I can’t imagine picking a more beautiful location to see in the air. It took us all across the island – starting with the more desert like terrain of Waimea canyon, along the coast line of Na Pali, and then into the center of the island. At the center, there is an area known as the Weeping Wall. It is one of the wettest places on Earth, and this wall is covered in several waterfalls! I’ve never seen so many in one place and probably never will again. I’d also like to point out that the iconic Manawaiopuna Falls from Jurassic Park is only accessible from the air as well since it is on private land. If you see it in the helicopter, they even play the epic theme music for you. Finally, on our last day in Hawaii, we did a boat tour along the Na Pali Coast line. Though this was neat and I’m glad we did it, I probably would never do it again simply because of how exhausting it was. We did a raft tour, meaning we had to sit along the sides of the raft and hold onto a rope running along the side. We also had a rope stretched across the floor to put our feet under to help hold us in. It’s a miracle that I didn’t get seasick (I definitely had taken motion sickness medicine though in advance) because the waves were so big and intense. I would often go airborne, and there was no way you’d stay on the boat if you let go. This tour was about 4 hours long though, and it is difficult holding on for dear life for that long of a time. By the end of the tour, my hands and feet had rope burn, my back was killing me (not great for the flight home the next day) and I remember on the last 10 minutes of the ride back to shore, trying to decide if I really wanted to live or if letting go and dying would be more gratifying at this point. That being said though, it WAS very beautiful, amazing and unlike anything I’d ever done before. You can also book a trip by sea on a different kind of boat to make your experience a lot more enjoyable. It was really neat being able to go in and out of sea caves, waterfalls, and see the famous arch that Captain Jack Sparrow stands under in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
  • Time we spent – 8 hours (4 by boat, 1 by air, 3 by foot)

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Kapaa – Free

  • Kapaa has a lot of restaurants along the main stretch of road running through it. In fact, it tends to always have a bit more traffic slowing everyone down, and locals refer to it as the Kapaa Crawl. We decided to stop here for dinner one night. We just found a parking spot and walked until we found a restaurant that sounded good to us. Nothing to go out of your way for sightseeing wise, but a good place to find food!
  • Time we spent – 1 hour

Kilauea Lighthouse – $5

  • It’s a lighthouse on the edge of a cliff with a lot of beautiful scenery and natural surroundings. There’s a lot of wildlife around, particularly birds, to observe. If you have plenty of time on the island, I think it would be worth at least a short visit. William and I didn’t actually go into the lighthouse, and I don’t remember if that’s because it wasn’t open, or if tourists can’t go inside.
  • Time we spent – 30 minutes

Ching Young Village  – Free

  • Situated in Hanalei, this is a little “Chinatown” that we found simply by driving by. We thought it looked cute so we decided to stop. Lots of food and shops in a tiny little area, although many of them not don’t have anything to do with China. I believe we ate some hot dogs here. Nothing to go out of your way for.
  • Time we spent – 30 minuteskauai9

Tree Tunnel – Free

  • When you are taking the main ring road around the island, you will have to turn onto this road to get to Poipu. It’s a just a street surrounded by trees, but it’s really lovely! I enjoyed it, and our tour guides on our zipline tour had mentioned it, which is how I found out it technically had a name. Really, all you can do is just drive through it.
  • Time we spent – 5 minutekauai10

Poipu – Free

  • Poipu is on the south side of the island, and has a very popular beach known as Poipu Beach Park. It also has a lot of restaurants and shops. I have a fond memory of getting ice cream in one of the shops and being amused that a chicken was strolling through (Chickens are EVERYWHERE. It’s like the Hawaiian version of squirrels – at least on Molokai and Kauai). We also mainly stopped in one of the shopping areas to look for a waterproof phone case for the above mentioned boat tour.
  • Time we spent – 2 hourskauai14

Spouting Horn – Free

  • This is a famous blowhole where you get to watch tons of water spit up into the air every few minutes or so. William and I watched it go off quite a few times. Even though we never saw it go as high as I see in some pictures online, I definitely think it’s cool to see. And it’s free parking too.
  • Time we spent – 30 minuteskauai12

Waimea Canyon – Free

  • Waimea Canyon is so beautiful – you must see it if you go to Kauai! It is free since it is located within a state park. William and I drove to several different look out points for good pictures, and even did a little hiking. I do not remember the particular trail we went down, but I remember not having information on how long the hike was. We kept going for probably 45 minutes, but since we didn’t know how much longer it was or where it was going, we decided to turn around. Despite being in the canyon area, the trail was surrounded by greenery and was a relatively easy trek. Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the name is well deserved.
  • Time we spent – 4 hours

Harbor Mall in Lihue – Free

  • There is nothing very special about this place at all, in fact it seemed pretty dead. The only reason we came here is because our guides on the zipline tour (who seemed to LOVE food) had recommended us a restaurant here called The Feral Pig. It was good, although I admit I am not much of a burger person in the first place. William however, says it’s the best burger he has ever had. He always talks about coming back here. We had actually heard it shut down, but just to relocate so now there’s really no point coming to Harbor Mall at all.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour

Kipu Ranch  – $118

  • The tour has changed since we last went, but the zipline tour we went on offered 8 ziplines, including the longest one in Hawaii, and some time at a water lagoon surrounded by jungle with a high platform to jump off of as well as a little zipline into the water. Even though William is scared of heights, he had the time of his life and always is talking about wanting to do this again. The ziplines were all located on Kipu Ranch, which is private land. It has been featured in many different films, most notably Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. It was really scenic, really fun, and for movie buffs, probably the most fun way to get access to the grounds. I know there are also specific driving tours through Kipu Ranch as well though. Since I have not ziplined anywhere else except little ziplines in Texas, I don’t have much to compare it to.
  • Time we spent – 5 hours

Wailua Falls – Free

  • We did not get up and close to this waterfall. We simply drove to the closest scenic overlook. It’s very pretty, but probably only worth your time if you try to get closer. Be aware of flooding. Even though we were pretty far away, it looked like the roads and trails around us were covered in water.
  • Time we spent – 15 minutes

Fern Grotto – $25

  • This beautiful grotto is only accessible by boat, but is only a short boat ride up the river. We bought tickets on site. Many boats go every day and they seat a lot of people so you’ll probably always be fine as a walk on (though it is cheaper to buy tickets in advance). While you cruise down the beautiful river on the boat, they have dancers perform with items rooted deep in Hawaiian tradition. Once there, you actually get to walk off the boat and head to the grotto. They briefly talk about the history and science of the area, and then have a group perform a traditional love song in Hawaiian on the platform in front of it. Many couples get married in front of the grotto so it is considered a romantic place. I’d say overall, even if it’s a bit touristy, that this is worth the time and money.
  • Time we spent – 1 ½ hourskauai20

As mentioned earlier, Kauai was my favorite island. If you were to choose any of the islands, I recommend this one the most. I think William would agree as well. If I ever got the chance to go back, I think I would simply want to:

  • Check out more beaches and restaurants, and relax.
  • Spend more time hiking in Waimea Canyon

I’d like to spend more time on the Na Pali coast, but with it either being expensive or tiring to reach, I don’t know if I would do it a 2nd time. I probably would book a different kind of boat tour if I had the money to.

If I went back to Molokai, I’d like to:

  • Actually participate in the Halawa Valley hike with a guide
  • Ride a mule down to Kalaupapa and tour the colony

That’s a wrap on our trip to Hawaii. I’m sure we will be back someday since William asks to return on a weekly basis.

Recap – Maui and Lanai

Hawaii is a big place. William and I went on a 2 week trip covering 4 islands. Therefore, I decided to break this trip into two recap posts – covering 2 islands each instead of one giant Hawaii post.

My sister (once again) had requested a Hawaii post for her friend who is planning a trip there. I hope this helps, and please feel free to comment or contact me with any questions!

William and I flew in July 1st, 2014. We arrived in Maui in Kahului on the east side of the island. I have our basic schedule below to see how much time we delegated for each island.

July 1st – arrived in Kahului, Maui

July 2nd – transferred to west side of island in Lahaina, Maui

July 3rd – Maui

July 4th – Maui

July 5th – Maui

July 6th – Transferred to Lanai

July 7th – Lanai

July 8th – transferred back to Maui to Kahului for flight to Molokai

As you can see, I gave Maui a lot more time. It is a much bigger, more populated island with a lot more to see and do. In fact, I did not care for Lanai that much in general and would recommend skipping it unless you REALLY want to get away from it all.

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Maui

Kanaha Beach Park – Ka’a Point, Kitebeach – Free

  • We had flown all the way from Dallas to Kahului and had a bit of free time left in the evening, so I was just dying to see a beach. This was closest. We didn’t actually relax or swim there, but just walked around, felt the sand, and people watched a bit. The beach was quiet and it is apparently is a place where people like to fly kites and kiteboard. They were everywhere, and I can confirm it was very windy. I imagine based on the nickname and the location of the Kiteboarding school that this area is very windy a lot. I probably would not come here unless I had the intent to participate in an activity involving that much wind. Other beaches are more relaxed and just as beautiful.
  • Time we spent – 30 minuteshawaii

Queen Ka’ahumanu Center – Free

  • This is just a fun little shopping mall. It’s nothing special. We still had a bit more time in the evening, but didn’t want to go outside of Kahului for the night PLUS we were hungry so that’s how we stumbled in here. It did have a Starbucks.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour

Hana Highway – Free

  • I highly recommend making sure you have a rental car just so you can make this drive (plus public transportation in Maui is not great). It is a beautiful stretch of road, mostly along the coast and through greenery galore. It does change elevation a lot, is usually one lane, and has a lot of twists and turns. Even with my motion sickness medicine, we had to stop a few times because I couldn’t take it (and sometimes just to take photos). BUT IT WAS STILL WORTH IT. There are also really cute, remote little shops and restaurants along the way you can stop at. At this point, our plan was just to try and drive around Maui in a clockwise direction until it got late. We drove the entirety of the Hana Highway starting in Kahului, and ending in Haleakala National Park. It took about 3 hours of driving, not including any of our stops.
  • Time we spent – 4 hours

Waianapanapa State Park – Free

  • I mainly was interested in visiting the beaches here because I read they had black sand! I thought it was really cool to see. The beach was small. There were really cool rock formations right along the water that the waves would splash against. They were fun to climb and explore around. There were also underwater caves here. We weren’t planning on swimming so just saw the entrance to a cave with a group getting ready to swim in it. If you have time, I think it’d be worth your time. I know most people stay on the northwest side of the island though, so it is a bit far from there.
  • Time we spent – 1 hourhawaii3

Haleakala National Park – $25

  • Haleakala has two different sections to the park: the coastal area and the summit area. On this particular day with the Hana Highway, we did the coastal part. We first viewed the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o which is a really short, easy walk for a beautiful view. It’s all of this water flowing into the ocean, except it certain areas it kind of pools up (hence the name). Then we decided to do a 4 mile round trip hike to see the Waimoku Falls. It was a scenic, easy, flat walk. It is well worth it to see the waterfall, and it is one of the biggest waterfalls I have ever seen up close. There was a sign telling us we couldn’t go past that point, but everybody else was straight up under the falls and swimming around so we walked over too. I have mixed feelings about this decision: it was so beautiful and amazing to actually stand under it, but I also now realize the negative impact tourists have on nature. So, if you go, at least consider the consequences of crossing the sign unlike I did. I’d also like to add that even though driving here on the west side of the island is not part of the park, it was very interesting terrain and I’d recommend coming to the park on the Hana Highway and leaving in the opposite direction, or vice versa, like we did.
  • We came back a couple of days later to do the summit side (included in the 7 day pass admission, which is only per car by the way), which is also definitely worth your time. The drive up has a lot of switchbacks and can be a bit nauseating if you have motion sickness like me. It is also really, really, really high up. Above the clouds. So keep in mind the elevation change, as well as how hot and close to the sun you are. I got one of the worst sunburns EVER here. I also got proposed to on a hiking trail near the top! Where we stopped our car to start a hike, the hiking trail was pretty long so we only went about 30 minutes in, which was enough to see into the crater. We also drove to the visitor center at the very top for the ultimate high views directly inside. The colors are stunning, the terrain is fascinating and it’s crazy to me how much the summit area drastically changes from the coastal area in the same park.
  • Time we spent – 3 hours (coastal), 3 hours (summit)

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    Makena State Park – Free

  • I had read that this was a highly rated beach which is the sole reason we chose it for our “typical, lay on a beach in Hawaii” experience. If you know me though, I run 100 miles per hour and have a hard time relaxing. So we weren’t here all day, but I did read a bit, lay down, walk along the coast, and get in the water. It was a very beautiful beach, and a lot less touristy than all of the beaches in the north on the resort strip. Makena was not very crowded at all and pretty quiet.
  • Time we spent – 2 hourshawaii6

The Shops at Wailea – Free

  • This was a nice, outdoor shopping center not too far away from the Makena Beach. It is nothing special or out of the ordinary, although I would like to point out that this is where we discovered Ali’I Nui and signed up for a snorkel tour. I’d probably skip this unless you love shopping everywhere.
  • Time we spent – 30 minutes

Whaler’s Village – Free

  • Once again, lots of outdoor shopping! This area is larger though and surrounded by giant resorts right next to the beach. The whole area in and around Whaler’s Village is worth strolling through. If you stay at any of the main resorts in Kaanapali, you will already be in this area. I can definitely see how some tourists just come to a Hawaiian resort and spend the entire time there. There are plenty of restaurants, variety, and so much beach!
  • Time we spent – 2 hourshawaii7

4th of July Celebration in Lahaina – Free

  • This just a typical celebration in downtown Lahaina, which is a very cute part of the town. There are lots of restaurants, lots of people everywhere, and performers. We spent an hour just walking around and exploring, listened to an Elvis impersonator and then found a good viewing spot for fireworks over the ocean while watching the sunset since Lahaina is on the west side of the island. It was one of the most magnificent sunsets ever, the fireworks were great, and it was quite a way to celebrate our proposal. I recommend at least showing up in time for the sunset and fireworks.
  • Time we spent – 2 hours

Ali’I Nui catamaran snorkel tour to Molokini and Turtle Town – $189

  • This was quite a splurge for us. Since I didn’t have time to really plan this trip the way I usually do, we just signed up in a shopping center for this tour about 2 days out. I bet you could get better deals in advance, as well as compare companies. You could also get a tour that offers less to the customers but gets you to the same places. This was a baller, nice ship complete with all the drinks and food we could want. It also included transportation to Maalaea by bus to the boat. We also did the deluxe, longer sail since we wanted to do both locations. I had never snorkeled before, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. The first stop, Molokini, was a beautiful area and there were lots of colorful schools of fish in it. I didn’t see anything scary, and the water was very clear. At our 2nd stop, Turtle Town, we did in fact see and swim right next to sea turtles. Also lots of fish here. I’m glad we did both stops, but if you are on a budget, I’d recommend choosing the Turtle Town area. But maybe that’s just because I love turtles.
  • Time we spent – 8 hours including all driving and transferring

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    Molokini

Maui Ocean Center – $29.95

  • We actually did this after our time in Lanai. We took a ferry to Lanai from Maui and actually just parked our rental car for free in Lahaina (it was cheaper and more convenient). So when we were ready for our 3rd island, Molokai, the best option was to come back to Maui and fly over. So we had one more day and night here. We stopped here at the Maui Ocean Center just because it was on our drive back to Kahului, where we were staying next to the airport again. It was a nice aquarium, and we enjoyed our time there. I don’t think it’s one of the biggest must-see’s in Hawaii though.
  • Time we spent – 2 hourshawaii19

Lanai

Hulopoe Beach – Free

  • This is the only big beach in Lanai, and even then, there was hardly anyone on it. The Four Seasons resort is right next to it. If you stay on this island (at least when we went), your only lodging choices were $500 a night at the Four Seasons, or staying inland at the Hotel Lanai for much less. Guess which we picked? Even though we weren’t a Four Seasons resort guest, we were able to park in the parking lot and walk right through the hotel onto the beach with no problems. We came pretty late and watched the sunset there. Definitely a nice resort and beach if you are rich and literally want to get away from it all. Otherwise, it’s not special enough to make the whole ferry or flight over for.
  • Time we spent – 1 ½ hourshawaii18

Lanai City Center – Free

  • This is almost the entirety of Lanai City, and it’s basically just a square of shops, restaurants, etc. situated around a little park. Nothing special, but if you are in Lanai anyway, it is good to walk around, see what you can get in the town, and maybe find some food to eat. It has a very local feel.
  • Time we spent – 30 minutes

Shipwreck Beach – Free

  • This is pretty remote, and you can only get here if you have a rental with 4 wheel drive. Paved roads disappear and it gets bumpy and tight. I actually expected there to be something resembling a beach, but really it was just a drive to see an abandoned ship out on the water. You can’t even get that close to it. I wouldn’t bother.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour (including drive)hawaii16

Garden of the Gods – Free

  • This area is just a bunch of rocks. I was pretty disappointed. They are very red rocks, and it definitely does not seem like something you would ever see in Hawaii. However, just go to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and you’ll be a lot happier. Also, driving the vehicle on the roads in this area worried me.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour (including drive)hawaii17

As you can tell, I was not that impressed with Lanai. Due to its remoteness too, everything is SO expensive! The food is expensive. Rental cars are expensive, and the gas for them is insane. I wasn’t impressed with Lanai City, so really I didn’t care about anything on the island. If I ever came back, all I would do is:

  • Stay at the Four Seasons Resort for a very short period of time using points and relax without a car.

If I went back to Maui, I’d be interested in:

  • Staying in Kaanapali or Kapalua in the Northwest
  • Revisiting the Hana Highway and Haleakala National Park

I’m biased though. Since William proposed to me at Haleakala, it and all of Maui will always be pretty special for us.hawaii8

Recap – Cardiff

Similar to my Recap post on Edinburgh, I will be listing attractions in the area we visited in order (2013), along with my overall thoughts, cost (as of 2017), and about how much time we put aside for each one.

William and I only spent one night in Cardiff. We arrived earlier in the day by train, and spent the day exploring the capital. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Cardiff and felt like that was plenty of time to see the main sights. From what I’ve read and heard though, getting outside of the big cities is the key to seeing some of the best of what Wales has to offer. The next day, we took a day trip to some nearby towns with castles and found this to be the case.

Central Cardiff – Free

  • This is an area between the central train station and the castle in the heart of Cardiff, with lots of shops and restaurants. Although nothing special, it was lively and I enjoyed strolling through the area. It’s a great spot for people watching. Even though William and I didn’t shop, we still spent quite a bit of time exploring.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour

St. John the Baptist Church – Free

  • This is the only medieval building other than Cardiff Castle in the Central Cardiff area. It’s tiny in comparison to the main cathedrals people are typically visiting in Europe (St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre-Dame, etc.). We only walked by the outside since we were a bit “churched out” at this point, but if you are already in the area, you might as well stop by.
  • Time we spent – 5 minutes (allow more time if touring inside)

Cardiff Castle – 12.5BP

  • Another attraction that we unfortunately didn’t go inside to see. It was closed! Since it is located in the middle of the city, we easily were able to walk the entire perimeter. It seemed like a great, typical medieval castle that you picture in your head when you think of that time period. I really would love the opportunity to tour inside the castle grounds; I feel like I missed out a bit by not doing so. For an additional cost, you can also go on a tour that takes you to rooms not included with regular admission.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour (outside only, included walk through Bute Park)

Bute Park – Free

  • We stumbled upon this park by pure accident when we were trying to follow the perimeter of Cardiff Castle. It was so green and lovely. It has a river that runs through it, and when I went, it featured a giant dragon head! What more can a girl ask for? If we had more time in Cardiff (and if it was summer), a picnic here would be pleasant.
  • Time we spent – 30 minutescardiff1

Cardiff Bay – Free

  • As the name suggests, this is the area of town south along the water. There are several notable buildings/monuments as well as a pretty view of the sea. The Wales Millennium Centre is here, featuring giant words that are well illuminated in the night time. The Welsh inscription says “Creating Truth Like Glass From Inspiration’s Furnace,” and the English inscription’s wording is “In These Stones Horizons Sing.” The venue features a variety of artistic acts. We just found the building to be really neat! Right next to the Centre is Roald Dahl Plass, in honor of the author who was born in Cardiff (just learned this). At the time, I just thought it was a cool plaza with pretty lights! The poles around it light up different colors at night. Standing in the plaza and looking to the right of the Centre, you can see the Pierhead Building. It has a red color to it since the exterior is made from terracotta blocks. It actually reminds me a lot of the red church in West End of downtown Dallas, with just a bit more of a gothic twist. It is one of the most iconic landmarks of Cardiff. Just past on the same grounds is Senedd, which stands for the National Assembly building. It has a very cool, modern design in complete contrast to the Pierhead. After exploring this area, we continued west along the edge for about a minute to Mermaid Quay. Mermaid Quay is full of shops, restaurants and was the liveliest part of the bay by far. However, we were walking through this area REALLY late on a Sunday night so it was still pretty quiet. I believe most places were closed.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour (while everything was closed)

Castell Coch – 6.5BP

  • This castle is a lot smaller in comparison to most, but it was designed by a father for his little girl. It is in the small town of Tongwynlais, which is just a short bus ride outside of Cardiff, and about a 10 minute walk from the bus station. It is situated uphill in the forest on the outskirts of the town. Very cute, but unfortunately, we didn’t realize it was closed during winter time! Still glad we made the journey though. It was a neat feeling being completely alone in a forest with the castle – there were no guards, no security, no boundaries. I could just run up and knock on the door if I wanted to. We also discovered that there was a nearby trail going further into the woods. I don’t remember if there was a sign at all, or if it was in Welsh, but we had no idea where it went and decided to follow for a bit. The moss was so green, the ground was red in certain areas, and it was beyond foggy. It felt like some weird, enchanted forest. We really enjoyed our time here in the town.
  • Time we spent – 2 hours (not including inside of castle)

Caerphilly Castle– 7.95BP

  • Caerphilly castle is in the town of Caerphilly (no way), and is another short bus ride along the way from Tongwynlais. I loved this castle! It stands out clearly in the middle of the small town, has a moat, and is huge (2nd largest in UK)! Even though I like history, I’m definitely more of a visual person in museums and attractions. I like to just look at the buildings and items and if something really catches my attention, I may read more about it. This castle did not have very many signs or information, but it let you just run wild through the whole thing. You could go up the towers, walk along the walls, explore some of the rooms, and stroll across the grass. They didn’t add a bunch of furniture or decorations to make it look like “back in the day,” they just left most of it empty. It felt more authentic that way. Some parts of the castle were never repaired, some looked to be in perfect condition. I just loved the freedom I had to explore what I wanted.
  • Time we spent – 2 hours
    cardiff6
    Caerphilly Castle

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    Not too much decoration inside

Unfortunately, that was all the time we had in Wales. We had to take the bus back to Cardiff to get to the train station after Caerphilly. If I had the chance to go back to Cardiff, I’d be most interested in going back to a couple of places I’ve already seen to an extent. They are:

  • Cardiff Castle – actually visiting inside and doing the tour
  • Mermaid Quay at Cardiff Bay – visiting during the day time

Realistically though, if I go back to Wales, I’ll be spending my time in the north part of the country around Snowdonia National Park. It will probably require me transferring in or out of Cardiff at one point, so we will just have to see how much time is available! I definitely feel like the land of greenery and sheep has more to offer me.

Recap – Edinburgh

I’ve had a recent request about what to do in Edinburgh from my sister on behalf of her good friend, Leeann. I’ve put together the attractions we visited in order on our trip (2013), along with my overall review, cost (as of 2017), and about how much time we designated for each one.

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My husband at Edinburgh Castle

We took a 4 hour bus ride to Edinburgh from Inverness on a Thursday. We arrived around noon, got checked in, and then took a public bus to get to the main part of the city.

Princes Street – Free

  • This is the street our bus dropped us off at. It’s very big, busy and full of shops and restaurants. William and I used it mainly to find our meals throughout the days. It’s nothing really special to go out of your way to see, but if you chose to walk down it, it would take about 15 minutes. I’d recommend just going to have a meal here (since it is located just downhill from most of the other attractions). I guess if you are really into shopping, there are some cool places and department stores located here.
  • Time we spent – 15 minutes

Scott Monument – Free

  • This is just a really cool, tall looking monument similar in architecture to the buildings and churches in this area. It is right off of Princes Street next to the bus stop. However, I don’t think you need to necessarily make the trek all the way over specifically just to get close to the monument. Since Edinburgh has a lot of variations in elevation, you can see the monument from almost any of the higher points in the city, such as Edinburgh Castle or Calton Hill. Since our bus stopped right next to it, we took a few minutes to take pictures and admire it but then moved right along.
  • Time we spent – 5 minutes

Edinburgh Castle – 17BP (British Pounds)

  • This was probably my favorite attraction in Edinburgh, as well as one of my favorite castles in Europe. It’s really dark, gloomy, and haunting, which is also how I felt about most of Edinburgh. However, I was also at the castle at dusk on a gloomy, rainy day in winter. There are several different rooms and buildings to explore, as well as points of interest around the grounds. When we went, we were able to join a free tour for about 30 minutes. The only downside was the tour guide’s Scottish accent was so think, we could barely understand him. You can also visit the prison. Highly recommend!
  • Time we spent – 2 hours

    edinburgh5
    Edinburgh Castle at night

Royal Mile – Free

  • The Royal Mile is a can’t miss! It is a mile-long stretch of road between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. There are shops, inns, historic landmarks, and homes all along. I just love the atmosphere and look of it. William and I strolled back and forth multiple times along it as we waited for a night time tour we had booked to start.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour (most shops closed in evening time when we were there, but we are not avid shoppers anyway).

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    Royal Mile

Mercat Tours – 13BP

  • There are underground vaults you can access via a tour right off of the Royal Mile in front of the St. Giles Cathedral. Through Mercat Tours, we took the Hidden and Haunted Tour, which is the only one they offer after dark. They told us some history, but mainly just creepy tales and stories. I remember in each room the guide would tell us if there was a specific ghost that “inhabited” that room, and any interactions they’ve had with guests. It was definitely eerie, and I had trouble sleeping that night! More information on the history of the underground vaults can be found here.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour 30 minutes

St. Giles Cathedral – Free

  • This cathedral is built in the classic Gothic style, and it is along the Royal Mile. It’s got beautiful stained glass windows, and is well known for the Crown Steeple on top. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, it is definitely worth a quick peek inside!
  • Time we spent – 15 minutes

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    St. Giles Cathedral

Royal Botanic Garden – Free

  • This is a really beautiful, large garden area that we started our next morning at. It is a bit farther away from the main part of the city; we had to take a bus to get there. Though it is very lovely, I don’t know if it’s anything extraordinarily different from what you could see at other gardens in the US. Probably not worth going out of your way if you are short on time. Even though most of the gardens are free, the glasshouses do charge a fee.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour

Scottish National Gallery – Free

  • To be quite honest with you, I don’t remember much about this gallery! Sometimes I go to so many museums and see so much art in such short chunks of time, it starts to blend together. From what I do remember however, I enjoyed the selections. They were more classic pieces, and I wished that I had more time. It’s conveniently located between the Royal Mile and Princes Street, and there was a man playing the bagpipe right outside! If you are a super art lover, there are 2 other galleries that are free (just a bit more out of the way): The National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour (wish we had spent 2)

Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Abbey – 12.5BP

  • This is the official residence for the Queen in Edinburgh (and once long ago Mary Queen of Scots), and it’s filled with so much history! You get to view a lot of the rooms in their full, royal decor, and there’s a lot of information about events, past and present, available. You can also get to see the ruins of the Abbey. Audio guides are available, and though we didn’t partake, I’ve heard many visitors find them useful.
  • Time we spent – 1 hour 30 minutes

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    The Ruins of Holyrood Abbey

Arthur’s Seat – Free

  • This is where I nearly DIED. Since we visited the UK in January, and clearly spent a lot of time outside in the cold, I had developed a pretty bad cold myself. I couldn’t breathe and constantly needed to blow my nose. So naturally, let’s go hiking! I had seen this park on a map and pictured it being flat in my head. I liked the fact that it was supposedly tied to the legend of King Arthur (some say it got its name because Camelot was here). When we had finished the Palace of Holyroodhouse and were looking at this park from the bottom, it looked like it would only take about 20 minutes to climb up. We can do that, I thought. Then, 2 HOURS LATER, we finally got to the top. From the bottom, you couldn’t see the other larger hill terrain you have to continue climbing up. And even though normally, I could have probably hiked up in about an hour, I really struggled on this hike. We ran out of tissues for my nose, I was breathing through my mouth like crazy, and I needed constant breaks. I know it sounds miserable, but William and I really wanted to make it to the top. And the views were worth it. It really is a beautiful park, and seeing all of Edinburgh from that high up was awesome. You know what was not worth it, though? The actual “Arthur’s Seat” statue/piece of stone/maybe it’s nothing at the top. Call me crazy, I just thought maybe there would be a statue or chair or monument carved from some kind of artistic skill. Not a block.
  • Time we spent – 3 hours (including downhill climb and rest at top) 

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Calton Hill – Free

  • Calton Hill is mainly known to be a good area for viewing Edinburgh from above. It is much easier to climb up than Arthur’s Seat, and has a better view of the Royal Mile. It also has, what seemed to me, a really random mish-mash of monuments. One of them looks like the Parthenon in Athens. I just recently discovered that this is known as “Edinburgh’s Disgrace” because it ran out of funding to finish, but it still looks pretty cool. We probably could have appreciated this spot more if we were here during the daytime. Since we were up at night, there wasn’t a lot of lighting, and therefore we couldn’t read any signs (if there were any).
  • Time we spent – 30 minutes
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The top of Calton Hill with a beautiful view of the city behind (including the castle)

We spent a full day and a half in Edinburgh, but I probably could have easily spent at least another full day here. If I were to go back, some attractions I’m interested in checking out are:

  • National Museum of Scotland – Free
  • Royal Yacht Britannia – 15.5BP (Ship used by the Queen and the royal family/Princess Diana had her honeymoon on this yacht)

If you have any other advice/tips on traveling in Edinburgh, please share with me! I hope that anyone traveling to the area finds this helpful. Have a great trip Leeann!