Hawaii: Reviews of Travel Books and Maps

If not for some pre-trip research, we wouldn't even have entertained doing a twilight and night hike to see flowing lava on the Big Island of Hawaii
The purpose of this page is to reveal to you the resources that we have used both prior to and during our trips throughout Hawaii. We have reviewed such resources so we can convey to you which ones we thought were most useful as well as those we didn't find useful. Hopefully, this may better direct your information gathering efforts for your own trip...

[Back to top]


The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook; Maui Revealed; Hawaii The Big Island Revealed; Oahu Revealed (Wizard Publications) [Overall Rating: 4/5]:
This series of books has definitely become the runaway favorite or de facto guide for independent travel to Hawaii. We've loyally bought these guides ever since our first trip to Maui back in 2003. We continue to use these guides on all of our subsequent trips to all of the islands of Hawaii.

So why have these guides become so ubiquitous throughout Hawaii? Why do the tourists love them? Why do the locals hate them? Obviously with such polarization there's something this guide is doing right, but there could also be underlying issues they bring to the forefront. There's always two sides to every story, right?

First the good. These are full-color guidebooks containing great maps, lots of photos, humor, attitude, and brutally honest reviews of things like attractions, restaurants, accommodations, and more. The helpful maps and aerial photos are understandable because apparently the authors have access to or are pilots of choppers themselves. They also have a penchant for telling would-be travelers what they want to hear (including things that other guidebooks tend to shy away from regarding strong opinions or conjectures). I've seen reviews saying that it's almost as if following the books are like being led by a local kama'aina.

I'd have to admit that much of the now well-known sights in Hawaii that we've documented on our websites were seeded from coming across them on these guidebooks. So indeed they seem to leave no stone unturned when it comes to revealing all of the islands' "secrets". Perhaps, only the excursions requiring a high degree of danger or severe time and preparation are left to our imaginations or our ignorance.

Now with all this said, the book's tendency to reveal everything and have strong opinions about everything also tends to make the book problematic with locals as well as those who fear for the long term state of the Hawaiian Islands as a place of genuine Aloha and not superficial tourist stereotypes. For example, the book tends to encourage trespassing, many of their "Ono" ratings aren't spot on (plus they cause a publicity effect where prices, crowds, and quality can suffer once word is out so buyer beware), and there's a tendency to advocate the type of tourism that is not sustainable (neither environmentally nor culturally). This is something that is not very apparent without repeated visits to the islands, but now that we have made repeated visits, the underlying issues that the books bring up have become even more apparent. We're now in a position to be seeing both sides of the issue.

Still, what does this mean for would be visitors? Well, with each visit we've made to the islands, we've seen the proliferation of more "No Trespassing", "Kapu", "Private Property", "Keep Out!" signs as more places that we were once able to enjoy are no longer available. Plus, we've been getting the sense that Hawaii as a whole is becoming more of an unwelcome place as a result of this conflict between tourists and locals exacerbated by these books. The nature of these closures range from irate landowners vigilant in keeping people out, frivolous slip-and-fall lawsuits forcing the hand of generous landowners, to outright destruction and/or desecration of once accessible areas, etc. Almost all of the waterfalls and other natural attractions that we once enjoyed in the past are now no longer accessible. The only things left are reserves like the National Parks and man-made attractions that aren't as appealing to us.

I think the deeper issue at hand is the government role (from its past treatment of native Hawaiians to it almost turning a blind eye to the conflict between tourists and private landowners). This book is really just bringing this conflict more into the public conscience and forefront.

So all in all, the things we like about these guides also are the things that polarize Hawaii. There's really no other guide on the market for Hawaii that comes close except for dedicated hiking guides that focus on hiking excursions that most tourists on limited time and budget don't care about. Thus, as the "blue bible" continues to enjoy its position as THE guide of Hawaii, we do worry about the state losing its spirit of Aloha.

The Hikers Guide to O'ahu [Overall Rating: 4/5]:
With the Blue Bible (see above review) pretty much conquering most of tourism literature in Hawaii, what else is there left to know about? Well, it turns out that there's still plenty of places that the Revealed series doesn't cover, and this book pretty much contains the remaining trails and natural excursions to independently explore on the island of O'ahu that the Blue Bible loyalists wouldn't know about.

This book focuses on the trails (most of them natural) of Oahu, which are primarily concentrated in the mountainous interior of the island. Like most no-nonsense guides, each hike contains boom boxes of trail summaries, elevation, difficulties, length, etc. Then, the blurbs are further divided into highlights and trail directions, descriptions, and notes. It's almost like the way the Falcon Guides are done except this is how a local Hawaiian does it.

The writeups also contain black-and-white Topo captures with the route and annotations clearly marked along the route. A large portion of the excursions contained in here are not easy and can easily consume the better part of a day, which leads me to believe that this might have greater use for local residents looking for a weekend getaway within the island, or nature-loving tourists trying to get away from the crowds, urban sprawl, and plastic unnatural pleasures of the tourism machine.

We've used this guide for hikes to La'ie Falls, as well as Jackass Ginger, but apparently I would find out later that some of those excursions had easier routes. So perhaps this guide focuses more on the hiking for the sake of hiking (even at the expense of taking a shorter or easier route), and that's its identity in terms of the type of readers it caters to.

Maui Mile by Mile [Overall Rating: 2/5]:
At a time we were about to make a second visit to the island of Maui in 2007, I decided to pick up this book to see from a second opinion what other things there might be worth seeing and doing that the Blue Bible might have missed. Once I got the book, I looked through the contents and started bookmarking the parts that I knew we'd be visiting by car, namely the Hana Highway.

To this book's credit, it organized the Hana Highway so it was easier to follow than the Maui Revealed revision that we had at the time. But that was pretty much it as far as this book's usefulness. The rest of this book pretty much was like it tried to be the anti-Blue Book where it tried to identify places the Blue Book advocated visiting while this book tried to call attention to its existence on or through private property.

I think the book tried to be respectful to the locals, but I can totally see how it failed compared to the Blue Book as it just wouldn't tell tourists what they wanted to hear. After all, why buy this book if you got the Blue Book and that's all you needed? So in the end, this book served as a backup resource, but I could argue that it ultimately wasn't necessary, especially since the information here was nothing new.

Topo! Hawaii (National Geographic) [Overall Rating: 3.5/5]:
I actually own two different versions of this particular map. It appeared that the original map that I bought was using some older arcane software that was poorly produced and it wasn't compatible with later versions to Topo that tried to integrate all the different map products. In other words, I couldn't upgrade it and I was stuck with the old version until I finally decided to buy a later version of the software that was more agreeable with the rest of my Topo maps a few years later.

That said, this map always was treated like a separate product because it doesn't normally show up on the opening map interface since it wasn't part of the contiguous US. So just even getting to the Hawaii map itself wasn't trivial and I had to know where to navigate to in the software to even open it up. And flipping from Hawaii to some other state on the contiguous US like California meant I had to quit out of the software then come back in.

But aside from those kludgy inconveniences, the map itself contained good USGS info from its contour lines (so I knew where the pali or cliffs were) to the marked trails. And with the 1:24k scale, I was able to identify specific landmarks as well as structures. I pretty much used this product for just about all of our Hawaiian trips, though it probably works best if venturing into the more rugged backcountry areas. Much of Hawaii is so developed that you really don't need this map except to identify map features like waterfalls or other things like that.

Nonetheless, the map data was really all the Topo! Hawaii had going for it as their GPS and user interface sucks (this is true for all the Topo! products by NatGeo). I actually needed to purchase supplemental patches to get added functionality including the ever-so-important live GPS navigation. In all honesty, I think Topo! maps are excellent for hiking and backpacking, but they're terrible for road navigation or even trip logging.

So I'd imagine it might be a little overkill for the common user to use this product, but for someone like me, it suited me fine since I needed to identify obscure landmarks and get oriented with the topography of each island. I wish I had a Mapsource version of Hawaii, but I don't so I pretty much have to refer back to this map for this state. So the bottom line is that this is an average product with good info but limited functionality. I'd bet that most people won't be missing much if they chose to pass on this product and go with the free GoogleMaps instead.

[Back to top]

As opposed to trip planning resources or field guides where I have reviewed resources that can help with planning out an itinerary or managing through an excursion, the following writeups pertain to resources that are more of educational value.

A Concise History of the Hawaiian Islands [Overall Rating: 4/5]:
This short book that condensed the history of the Hawaiian islands into less than 100 pages was a surprisingly good read. After going through this book, I found myself learning and appreciating more about the human history behind the Hawaiian Islands than I ever did before. And perhaps more importantly, it got me to think more deeply about the plight of the native Hawaiian population with what was taken from them and how they have to cope or move beyond the past as they face the realities of today.

The book pretty much started from its first settlement from the peoples of what is now Tahiti. Then it chronicled its developments through the unification under King Kamehameha, the exploration of Captain Cook, then onto Hawaii being a US territory during Queen Liliuokalani's reign. Then, the book went into the events of World War II (where Hawaii figured very prominently), then it becoming a US state, and onto the modern issues that continue to shape the politics and day-to-day happenings of Hawaii to this day.

I'm sure one could go much deeper into each topic that was covered in this book, but I'd say it was an excellent introduction or primer into the fascinating history of the islands without overwhelming readers with merely a casual interest on the subject.

So the bottom line is that I found this book to be extremely informative and easily digestable, and it motivated me to want to learn more about the Hawaiian Islands in depth. I'm sure if you take the time to read this short book (especially after experiencing Hawaii firsthand), you too may want to learn more and more importantly, have a better understanding of what's going on in the islands today as well as its people...

Islands in a Far Sea [Overall Rating: 3.5/5]:
After having read through the Concise History of the Hawaiian Islands, I was motivated to learn even more about the natural history of the islands themselves. That was where this book came in. It was a very matter-of-fact no-nonsense treatise on the state of Nature of the Hawaiian Islands from pre-settlement all the way to its present state of affairs to this day.

I saw this as a powerful book detailing the past, present, and future of Nature in the Hawaiian Islands, where the events stated within opened my eyes to this often-overlooked topic. Its thoroughness left no stone unturned as the book meticulously built its case of the state of every aspect of the Hawaiian ecosystem and the human intervention within (generally trending towards decline).

It definitely wasn't an easy book to absorb as it was thick with nearly 400 pages of case studies, arguments, evidence, and content. I can see that not everyone who possesses the education nor the attention span to absorb such information would persist through. However, once I got past that bit of getting used to the book's style, I then got into a rhythm where I can essentially see how this book pulled no punches when it came to the facts about the declining Nature in Hawaii and how the "real" paradise would have been prior to settlement. So in that regard, I can see this as must reading for those who really care about Hawaii and who might want to take action to preserve what's left of it.

With this being a University of Hawaii book, it can easily be seen as some kind of college level text, but when read deliberately and in small chunks, I found myself able to get through the book while taking the train to work, and I was done reading it after about a month of staying in this rhythm.

So the bottom line is that this book isn't for everyone, but if you do persist and get through the book, you'll better appreciate Hawaii as its true self, and you may never view the islands the same way again...

Sugar Water [Overall Rating: 3.5/5]:
Like the other educational books that I bought about Hawaii, this one held particular interest to me because it was about a topic that was very relevant to the state of its waterfalls. That topic is the history of the use of water for the purposes of agriculture (and to a lesser degree power) through Hawaii's plantation ditches. If you've noticed along the Hana Highway in Maui how most of the waterfalls are temporary and ephemeral, then this book can very easily shed some light on why - most of the watercourses have been diverted in ditches to feed the thirsty sugar cane crops on plantations in Central Maui.

Of course, other islands had also historically gotten into the sugar trade as a cash crop in its heyday. And this book pretty much went through all of them on all the islands. It also covered other topics like water use and rights as well as the politics behind it all.

The book requires some bit of an interest in the topic because it's not in a prose that will entertain you or maintain the interest of a casual reader. The aim of this book was to state the history and the facts and try to steer clear of taking political sides.

Nonetheless, it was a fascinating read and it opened my eyes to the political and economic forces that were at play at the time that still affect the state of Hawaii's waterfalls to this day. If you're interested in learning more about how Hawaii's watercourses became what they are today from a human intervention standpoint, I highly recommend this enlightening book.

[Back to top]


Have Comments, Suggestions, Or Recommendations?

Have comments, suggestions, or recommendations, about what you've read on this page?

Fill out the form below and let yourself be heard!

Click here to see visitor comments for this page

Click here to go to the Comments Main Page

[Return from Hawaii: Reviews of Travel Books and Maps to the World of Waterfalls Home Page]