Read May 2021
★ ★ 1/2
Read for an upcoming trip to Maui as well as info-seeking on the value of island-hopping. Essential Hawaii was one of the few guidebooks available from my library that was current and available.
It is divided into a number of sections: Experience Hawaii, Travel Smart, Oahu, Maui, The Big Island of Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai. It also includes a number of maps and eight ‘features’ which don’t apply to all islands (cultural traditions, Pearl Harbor, snorkeling, birth of the islands, Volcanoes Nt’l Park, Napali Coast, plants 101, Haleakala Nt’l Park).
It opens with a two-page spread of a golfer on a course overlooking the ocean; a bit of a space waste when one considers how much information needs to be packed into a 591 page book on an island chain with six main islands and top U.S. destination for 2021 (I’m so on-trend).
Fodor’s deserves a lot of credit for pointing out that Hawaii was it’s own nation that has been successively colonized until becoming a state, and as such, has a particularly complicated relationship with the rest of the United States. It’s a relationship that remains complicated, as most of it’s economic strength has been tourist-based. The sections on cultural traditions and a two-page spread on language pay homage to this idea.
But was it useful? Like all guides, it has a brief overview of the area, with a nod to geology and history, then focuses on the nuts and bolts of planning. Information was interrupted with a sample ‘itinerary’ of things to do (Beach Day in West Maui, Marine Life on the South Shore, Haleakala Nt’l Park, Road to Hana), although on the proceeding page, it listed ‘Top Reasons To Go,’ essentially a duplicate list (it lists Waianapanapa State Park instead of the shore, and Hookipa Beach in particular). It has a very general ‘area’ map on the first pages with that list (‘North Shore,’ ‘Central,’ etc), but a larger, more detailed map farther in that actually has the town and beach names the text mentions. This is a trend I found throughout Fodor’s: much of the same information is repeated, albeit in a slightly different manner, making it redundant and confusing. One of the most helpful things in this section was a mileage/driving time chart, critical for a flatlander like me. (It is worth noting that the legendary Road to Hana, at a mere 88 miles, is estimated at 5 hours long). Also offering more explanation than the first page was a chart explaining the ‘vibe’ of the different regions in Maui and the pros/cons with staying in each.
Then it dials down into each region. There’s a quick overview of the region, which was interesting, but short. I had hoped for something larger and more helpful here that would give insight on the culture and curiosities in each area. Then subdivided by town, with top sights, hotels and eats in each. Special items get a starred entry, whether place, beach or eatery. Certain things are highlighted with an orange ‘tip,’ but usefulness on those will vary (“if you spend Friday afternoon exploring Front St., hang around for Art Night, when the galleries stay open late and offer entertainment“). Beaches get their own heading. There’s mini-maps within each section, which I found almost useless, but I suppose would be helpful if one actually carried guidebooks around.
I did make note of a couple places to eat (Alchemy, an eatery and kombucha tasting room!), but for the most part, I felt like the eateries skewed towards those for trained palates, “best of,’ and special occasions. It did mention a place or two that are hip on the local circuit, as I found when I added it to my Google maps (Star Noodle). Unfortunately, no doubt due to the pandemic–although this does try to take COVID into account–at least two of the eateries I tried to add were permanently closed. I think that lends support to my feeling that Yelp is one of the best ways to find current area food resources.
They do throw in some safety tips (“rip current are often present near Puu Kekaa“) but because of the mapping, organization, and lack of specificity, usefulness is doubtful (that seems to be a warning everywhere in Hawaii). There’s one safety tip about a beach pavilion (“it’s not the safest place“) with literally no other explanation–I found my curiosity aroused.
There’s one page for “top beaches” which seems pretty odd to me. As Fodor’s pointed out, Maui has over 80 beaches, all of which are accessible to the public to varying degrees, so perhaps a little more detail might be helpful? Another example of the scattershot approach preventing functionality.
It shines in it’s profile of Haleakala National Park, the extinct volcano that has a visitor’s center and a few hiking trails at the 1 mile peak. Driving up to experience sunrise above the clouds is apparently quite the tradition, but the authors also wax enthusiastically over the unusual ecosystem and scenery at the top. There’s also a sizeable spread on snorkeling, which is weird, because I wouldn’t start here if you were a snorkeler, for a resource, nor end here either. But maybe people have to start someplace. Where to go, you ask? Tropicalsnorkeling.com It also includes a section on whales, which isn’t germane on this visit, as that’s largely a December to April journey for them.
Good pictures and nuggets of good information but tries to be too many things to too many people, and with lackluster organization, it isn’t nearly as helpful as it could be. Definitely only worth checking out and not purchasing.