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Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii. Courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii. Courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

Visitors from around the world flock to Hawaii for its sandy beaches, tropical climate, volcanoes and waterfalls. The state is part of the Hawaiian Archipelago, which actually spans 1,500 miles in the Pacific. The mountainous and volcanic islands, which nearly straddle the equator, are tropical and warm, with temperatures rarely deviating from the 80 degree mark down at sea level. Up on the mountains, however, snow and lower temperatures are not unheard of. Because of these variations, the Hawaiian islands are home to more than 150 ecosystems — many of which are becoming more and more fragile — and at least 10 of the dozen sub-climate zones found in the world.

Hawaii has gained a bit of a reputation for being expensive for tourists. The price of food imported nearly 2,000 from the mainland, combined with expensive flights and hotels can add up fast. But once you have arrived, activities on the islands don’t have to put a hole in your pocketbook. Let’s take a look at eight affordable activities in Hawaii — each one in a different sub-climate zone.

Tundra — Hike Mauna Kea ($0)

Sunset from Mauna Kea. Courtesy of Paul Bica.

Sunset from Mauna Kea. Courtesy of Paul Bica.

Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s tallest mountain. The peak of the dormant volcano reaches higher than 13,000 feet, although much of the hiking is actually done below sea level. Visitors to Hawaii can experience the tundra climate zone at the top of the mountain, where daytime temperatures typically hang below freezing. Hiking up Mauna Kea is free, although certain hiking equipment is recommended and precautions are necessary. At altitudes that high, the temperature drops fast and high-altitude storms can sweep in unexpectedly, bringing blizzard-like conditions, driving rain or whiteouts. The round-trip hike to the summit of the mountain, which is located in the northeastern portion of the big island, takes experienced hikers about 10 hours to complete. The National Park Service warns hikers to be finished before nightfall, when temperatures experience an even sharper drop. In ancient Hawaiian lore, Mauna Kea was home to the snow goddess Poli’ahu. She wasone of the most beautiful gods, the lores say, but she was also known to freeze people to death. Something to keep in mind during your hike. The views, however, are utterly spectacular.

Desert — Visit Ka’u Desert ($0)

Crack in the Ka’u Desert. Courtesy of Matt Midboe.

Crack in the Ka’u Desert. Courtesy of Matt Midboe.

Ka’u Desert is a little untraditional as far as deserts go. It’s not technically a desert, because rainfall exceeds 39 inches a year, but it does lack vegetation,mostly due to acid rain. The desert covers an area near the Kilauea Volcano along the Southwest Rift zone, where rain mixes with the sulfur released by the volcanic vents. The landscape is comprised mostly of volcanic ash, volcanic rock, sand and gravel. It’s a popular spot for tours and hikes when the volcanoes are inactive. To get there, follow Highway 11 south east from Kona and enter the trailhead at Crater Rim Drive. Although the desert is inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the trailhead is actually a 15 minute drive west of the park’s entrance, meaning you can avoid the national park fee. But beware, when there is high volcanic activity, the area will be off limits to visitors, as potentially poisonous gases may fill the air.

Monsoon — See the cliffs on the Hamakua coast ($0)

Cliffs on the Hamakua coast. Courtesy of rjones0856.

Cliffs on the Hamakua coast. Courtesy of rjones0856.

One of the reasons Hawaii has such a vast array of sub-climates is the trade winds that often blow in from the east. Due to these winds, only one part of the Big Island experiences the monsoon climate zone — a small section along the Hamakua coast on the north side of the island. Monsoon climates are created from seasonal winds that blow for months and usher in the rainy season. The harsh winds and relentless monsoon rains have created rugged cliffs along the cost that vary from the tropical, sandy beaches that typically come to mind when one pictures Hawaii. Infused with rock turned dark from the island’s volcanoes, the cliffs are certainly something to behold. Just deviate off your drive along Highway 19 somewhere between Honokaa and Paauilo and head for the coast.

Continuously Wet Tropical — Check out Akaka Falls ($5)

Akaka Falls. Courtesy of Jean Synodinos.

Akaka Falls. Courtesy of Jean Synodinos.

Along the southern side of the Hamakua coast and not too far from Highway 19 (a highway that goes around nearly all of the Big Island) is Akaka Falls State Park. It’s located on the windward side of the island and receives rainfall year round, giving it a tropical climate. Akaka Falls State Park displays those tropics in all their glory. There’s an entrance fee since it is a state park, but it’s only $1 per person (if you’re on foot) or $5 per car. Caveat: Vehicles with more passengers can get a little pricier. The 0.4-mile path back to the falls is paved and self-guided, and the 442-foot falls spilling into a stream-eroded gorge is surely worth more than any amount of exertion you could spend getting to it. Take your time and notice the flowers — tropical climates like that are few and far between.

Steppe — Watch a hula performance ($0)

Hawaiian hula dancers. Courtesy of Travis Jacobs.

Hawaiian hula dancers. Courtesy of Travis Jacobs.

Also known as a dry/semi-arid climate, the steppe sub-climate zone is a dry grassland where temperatures can reach 104 F in the summer and dip to -40 F in the winter. It doesn’t get that cold in any of Hawaii’s stretches of steppe, which reach around the northwestern coast of the big island and encompass the port of Kailua Kona and the Kona International Airport. Clearly, Kona is a big tourist area, and they have plenty of activities for visitors to partake in, including free hula shows. The local dancers dawn their leis and take to the stage at the shops at Mauna Lani for a free 30-minute show at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. every Monday. Schedules may vary depending on the season.

Dry Summer Tropical — Drive the Kohala Mountain Road ($0)

Kohala Mountain Road. Courtesy of Andrew K. Smith.

Kohala Mountain Road. Courtesy of Andrew K. Smith.

This is a sub-climate of humid tropical, marked by (as the name indicates) a dry summer. The northernmost and southernmost tips of the Big Island experience a dry summer tropical climate. The only other places on earth with this type of climate are parts of southern India and Sri Lanka. Driving the Kohala Mountain Road from Hawi in the northern tip of the island to Waimea, a town further inland, will give a good taste of the climate. Route 250 travels along nearly undeveloped land and its elevation varies thousands of feet. Passersby often spot wild turkeys and pigs, among other fauna. The best part? Driving the road and seeing all those sights is free, assuming you’ve already forked out the dough to rent a car.

Continuously Wet Temperate — Tour a coffee plantation ($0)

Greenwell farms. Courtesy of wfabry.

Greenwell farms. Courtesy of wfabry.

This climate zone covers most of the island inland from the beaches and below the mountain tops. The nearly year-round rainfall is conducive to coffee growth in these areas, and some of Hawaii’s coffee plantations can be found in the mountains just above Kona. Greenwell Farms, about 10 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Highway 11, offers free tours of its operation from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day. Guests can take a walking tour of the coffee fields and processing facilities, taste free samples of the coffee, and learn about almost every process in the production of Kona Coffee.

Winter Dry Humid — See the black sands at Milolii Beach Park ($0)

A black sand beach in Hawaii

A black sand beach in Hawaii

This limited sub-climate zone stretches down the southwestern beaches of the island. The climates change with the altitude, so those that experienced a dry winter at Captain Cook or Kealakekua could be disappointed at the constant rain in the towns that lie higher up the mountain. The climate zone only lies along the beaches, down near sea level, making it easy to experience. Milolii Beach State Park, just off Highway 11, is free to visitors and quite the beauty. It’s black rocks and sand that line the beach are evidence of the volcanic nature of the island, and stand out starkly against the blue Pacific waters.

Story by Ally Marotti

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Tagged: Beach, Cheap Tips, FREE!, Hawaii, Off-season

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You won't be surfing Oahu's Banzai Pipeline like the pros, but that doesn't mean you can't get your feet wet. Credit: surfglassy.

By Amy Drew Thompson

Okay, sure. It doesn’t hurt to be born and raised in Hawaii (or blessed with natural talent), but Oahu native John John Florence — at 19, the youngest-ever champion of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing — still had to practice. Where can you get your start? On a cheap Hawaii vacation, of course, learning from natives in the waves where many believe the sport was born.  You might want to avoid the monsters at Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline for now, but there are plenty of kinder, gentler beaches for beginners getting their sea legs. And it never hurts to get a lesson.

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Tagged: Beach, Sports

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Pretty in paradise: Explore Kualoa Ranch's lush landscape via horseback or ATV tour. Credit: mporter5.

By Amy Drew Thompson

Recent weeks have seen gas prices dropping, even in the Rainbow State — where fuel costs rank among the country’s highest. In Honolulu, prices have dipped below $4 per gallon, making conditions ripe for cruising the scenic Kamehameha Highway to hit out-of-town attractions on a self-guided loop that’ll have you back on the beach for dinner. Fuel up and say aloha to cheap Hawaiian vacations with these Oahu attractions:

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Tagged: Beach, Family

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Sunset from the Big Island. Credit: Alaskan Dude.

By Susan Johnston

Few places in the world offer as much variety and unspoiled natural beauty as Hawaii’s Big Island. Here you can snorkel or surf on the beach, take a helicopter tour above active volcanoes, and actually see snow atop Mauna Kea, which houses the world’s largest observatory, all without leaving the island. Here are three Hawaii hotels for your next vacation. Continue reading

Tagged: Beach

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The Royal Lahaina Resort debunks the myth that all Hawaii hotels are expensive.

By Susan Johnston

For many of us, going on a last-minute trip is about as easy as solving the budget deficit. But for the spontaneous types out there, here’s a reason to plan a cheap Hawaiian vacation. Next week is the 138th Banyan Tree Birthday Party, which is scheduled for April 23rd and 24th in Lahaina. Andno, we won’t be jealous while you consider this Hawaii hotel and we sit in the corner and stew. Pffft. Continue reading

Tagged: Beach, Family

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Mokeluleia Beach. Credit Anosmia.

The site where the fictional Oceanic flight 815 would fatefully crash-land, is Mokeluleia Beach on Oahu. Credit: Anosmia.

By Vince Font

Fans of the hit TV show Lost who are finding themselves at a loss for what to do now that the series is over need not despair. There are always reruns. And for the more adventurous among us there’s always Oahu, and cheap Hawaii vacations that can bring you closer to the Lost experience.

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Tagged: Beach

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By Whit Honea

Waikiki Marriott Beach Resort & Spa

Waikiki Marriott Beach Resort & Spa

I’m a fan of deceptively cheap Hawaii vacations, you know, the kind that still feel luxurious and breathtaking, all without breaking the bank. And that’s why I’m planning to visit the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa inHonolulu, where I can get my 4th night free and daily breakfast for 2 when I book before June 20, 2010.

Located on the south shore of the island of Oahu, Waikiki was the former destination of Hawaiian royalty. It’s not far from some of the biggest waves for surfing in the world, and it’s one of the most popular beach destinations. The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa sits right on the Pacific Ocean and is also within walking distance of excellent dining and shopping. During your stay, you’ll not only get to enjoy all the beauty of a Hawaiian beach vacation, you can also participate in the resort’s classes and concerts featuring Hawaii’s history and culture, or luxuriate at its Spa Olakino Salon. Personally, I’ll most enjoy kicking back on the beaches of Waikiki like modern-day royalty with the knowledge that I scored a great deal on a cheap Hawaii vacation.

Great flight deals endingsoon!

There’s one more reason to book your trip to Hawaii now: book by June 11 and you’ll save on super cheap flights with Hawaiian Airlines, starting as low as $330 round-trip!  Book your hotel and air together as well, and you can also benefit from great Hawaii travel package deals.

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Whit Honea is a travel writer living in Seattle with his wife and two children. He packs light and travels often to far-away places, exoticlands and more than a few theme parks.

Tagged: Beach, Last minute travel, Limited-time Offers

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Cheap flights

(Photo: Hawaii CVB)

Palm trees and tropical breezes arecloser than you think with cheap flights to Hawaii. It’s Hawaiian Airlines exclusive Hawaii sale on CheapTickets.

Now is the time to plan a cheap Hawaii vacation to Maui, Honolulu, Kauai or the Big Island. Cheap flights like these make it easy:

  • Seattle to Kauai: $294
  • San Jose to Kona: $358
  • San Francisco to Honolulu: $358
  • Portland, OR, to Maui: $362
  • Los Angeles to Honolulu: $344

Cheap flights shown are sample round-trip fares, good for cheap Hawaii vacations April 13 through June 10, 2010. Hurry, this exclusive flight sale ends March 24.

CheapTickets resources:

Tagged: Flights, FREE!

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Cheap-hawaii-vacation It's not too late for a cheap Hawaii vacation. Whether you want to swim and snorkel or just relax and enjoy the tropical beauty, a Hawaii vacation is the ultimate getaway. To help you plan, we've highlighted cheap hotels in some of the most popular areas. And don't forget, CheapTickets has reduced booking fees on all of its hotels. Just book by July 15 to get the discount.

Big Island: Located on a lava promontory and surrounded by water on three sides, the Royal Kona Resort is an ocean-lover's paradise. The three-star resort has a private sandy beach cove and sheltered lagoon perfect for snorkeling. With a split-level swimming pool, tennis courts and award-winning restaurant, you'll have everything you need for an active or relaxing vacation. Save 20% on stays at this cheap hotel through September 3.

Oahu: Spend your cheap Hawaii vacation steps from the beach and close to all of Waikiki's restaurants and entertainment at the Waikiki Resort Hotel. This three-star hotel just underwent a $11 million renovation, and rooms now boast microwaves and refrigerators and LCD TVs. Rooms start at just $99 a night for May 21, and now you can save 30% on stays through May 31.

Kauai: Save 50% on stays through June 15 at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club.
This four-star hotel offers a large family-friendly pool, spacious
rooms — many with balconies, and a variety of activities. Reviewers
give this cheap hotel a perfect 5 of 5 rating for its value and amenities.

CheapTickets resources:

Tagged: FREE!, Limited-time Offers

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Cheap-maui-hotel
This week's Deal of the day makes it easy to plan a cheap Hawaii vacation.

Just head to Maui — an island known for spectacular beaches, whale watching and the endless waterfalls on the road to Hana — and stay at this cheap Maui hotel: The Aston Kaanapali Shores. Right now the Aston Kaanapali Shores is offering guests 30% off their stay.

What makes this our pick among cheap Maui hotels? The Aston Kaanapali Shores is a condominium-style resort, with refrigerators or kitchens, private balconies, and room for the whole family. And, as the name suggests, it's located on Kaanapali Beach, a popular spot for strolling, swimming orjust catching some rays. There are plenty of dining and watersport options right along the beach, so everything you need is close by.

A cheap Hawaii vacation is right at your fingertips, with 30% off your stay at the Aston Kaanapali Shores.

CheapTickets resources:

Tagged: FREE!