Oahu, Hawaii is a popular tourist destination for a reason…
The gorgeous island is home to the largest local population, plus the highest number of visitors per year of any of the Hawaiian islands. It is a place of long white beaches, pristine waters, deep green valleys, very high waterfalls, and white high-rise hotels.
Many tourists visit Oahu for a five-star resort style beach holiday, with rooftop sun baking, designer shopping and swim up bars (that I’ve always been concerned are too far away from the bathrooms). Though the 5-star experience can be expensive, being an adventurous and curious traveller can also hit the hip pocket. Hard.
Scuba diving, paragliding, horseback tours and chartered cruises are a great way to get some action in Hawaii. The catch is that you may end up needing to sell a kidney to pay for it all.
Never fear! To help stretch your adventure dollars as far as possible and keep yourself off the organ black market, here are some tips for saving a little of the hard earned to explore Oahu on a budget.
Rent A Car
Organised tours each day can add up. Even the wonderful tours at Kuala Ranch with their $$ ticket prices don’t offer transport for free. That’s always extra bank.
Get a car and get your freedom to explore on your own schedule. You can rent a car from the airport for as little as $150 per week (depending on how much room and luxury you want). I always shop around on sites like kayak or Expedia to strike the best deal.
Not much is more than 1.5 hours drive on Oahu, so you’ll see a LOT in a short time with your own wheels.
Tightarse Tip: Staying in Waikiki? Park on the boulevard at Ali Wai Canal and save yourself $30 per night valet. It’s worth circling the block a few times for!
Hotspot The Wifi
There are heaps of wifi hotspots in and around Honolulu and Waikiki (including the airport) to get your driving route sorted between locations.
Simply google “find wifi app” to uncover a bunch of apps that will tell you where the nearest hotspot is, so you’re always close to connection and far from an internetless meltdown.
Or purchase a prepaid SIM for the duration of your trip from a local mobile (cell) phone store if you can’t bear to be without the gram for an hour. No judgement. Ok, maybe a little.
The AllTrails app is pretty great worldwide for finding great hikes. The internet is definitely not short on hiking and adventure apps, and there are hundreds of hikes on Oahu.
Here are some hot tips for some of Oahu’s more popular hiking destinations…
It’s $5 for the carpark entry to the gorgeous and very tall Manoa Falls.
Manoa is a super popular, gorgeous hike that is very busy. Definitely avoid it on the weekend. However, the Lyon Arboretum next door (from the same carpark) has a lovely gentle hike to the far less busy Aihualama Falls.
Tightarse tip: There is a suggested donation of $5 to get into the falls, but that’s up to you.
This hike is very busy and quite difficult. But it’s FREE.
Definitely go early in the morning to avoid the searing heat beating down this extremely steep trail of railway sleepers up the side of a crater.
A lot of people do this hike in sneakers, some do it in thongs and some absolute athletic weapons do it barefoot. With lots of places to stub a toe or roll an ankle, hiking boots aren’t a terrible idea. Neither is sunscreen or plenty of water.
The view from the top is utterly breathtaking, especially if you have a fear of heights.
This one is a super easy hike just on the outskirts of Waikiki and you betchya it is PACKED. Due to being a fairly easy meander, there are a lot of folk going up and down the trail at any time of day.
Heading up early is your best option for less traffic.
Tightarse tip: Don’t pay the $5 car parking fee. Park just outside the entry tunnel and save $5 for parking your car.
Experience Pearl Harbour
National Monuments in the USA are free to visit! Which means a large part of Pearl Harbour costs absolutely nothing to see.
A lot of the memorials including the impressive USS Arizona memorial, with its short documentary film and boat ride, cost absolutely nothing. If you want to head over to the USS Missouri and Aviation Museum on Ford Island, that’s when it costs.
Definitely get online and book early to avoid disappointment if you are going for the ticketed options.
Tightarse Tip: It’s also free to park at Pearl Harbour, another great reason to have your own car. Save on that tour bus pricing!
Eat Like A Local
Hawaii is the most expensive state in the USA for food. Whether it’s eating out or getting the groceries, it’s easy to spend $30US per meal once you factor in tips and drinks, and that’s not even a fancy meal!
Tigharse tip: For those of us who wish to eat locally sourced, tasty AF food AND save money for activities, here are some places to get your munch on.
Follow Happy Hour
“Pau hana”, roughly means “finished work” in Hawaiian. It is often used in relation to knocking off work and grabbing a drink. It’s pau hana time somewhere!
Thankfully, Hawaii isn’t one of the US states to have banned happy hour. Which means you can often get half-price cocktails, seriously cheap beer and discounted snacks (often the size of full meals) during these hours.
Here are some articles we found useful for finding your happiest hour in Honolulu and Waikiki (there are heaps!).
Watch North Shore Surfing
The perfect beach and break do exist, on the North Shore of Oahu.
With your newly rented car, it’s only 45 mins (traffic dependent) to the North. Chances are the person who rented you the car can tell you if the surfs up or not.
If the surf is indeed UP, head to the Banzai Pipeline or Waimea beach, or heck literally any of the beautiful breaks along the coastline. From Haleiwa to Pupukea you can witness the local experts absolutely shredding it up. The beauty of having a car is having the ability to come back, again and again, depending on the conditions.
Tightarse Tip: The board hire on the North Shore is marginally cheaper than down in Waikiki if you fancy getting amongst it.
Rent your own snorkel gear
The water is clear, warm and filled with gorgeous reefs teeming with life. Whether it is the nationally protected and stunning Hanauma Bay or the pristine white sands of Lanikai Beach, the snorkelling is world class.
The prices, they’re also world-class expensive at up to $40US per day. Or you could go somewhere like Snorkel Bob’s and pay that for a week. I’m not great at math’s but as an expert tightarse, it seems like the smarter option.
Thanks for exploring ways to save money in Hawaii. Whether it’s to put aside for another adventure or to spend on more food and booze, it’s worth it.
Have any more tightarse tips? Let me know on my facebook page.