As Michele Bigley herself notes in the introduction, the title of her book, Backroads & Byways of Hawaii, is a bit misleading—there aren’t too many backroads and byways in Hawaii because there is little unexplored territory on the islands.
Her book is part of a series of Backroads & Byways guides that cover regions from New England to Arizona, seeking to bring the curious traveler off the well-touristed trail.
But in a state where just about every trail is well-touristed, is a book of “backroads and byways” still useful?
This one is. Bigley’s guide is chock-full of color photos that she took herself and “interesting fact” boxes that make it more reader-friendly than many other guidebooks. These boxes of factoid asides range from a round-up of O’ahu’s best farm-to-table restaurants to the legend of the fiery goddess Pele. The book covers O’ahu, Kaua’i, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Maui and Big Island, a plus since visitors often experience more than one island in a trip.
More importantly, the format of the book—each chapter details a drive with stops listed and described along the way—provides value in its organization and lively writing style. Whether the roads are backroads or not, this is a good guide for people who don’t know the islands well, giving them a path of options without having to spend a lot of time piecing together an itinerary.
Following the path Bigley lays out for Kaua’i’s “sunny side” in chapter four, for example—a drive she estimates at 68 miles/2.5 hours, or four leisurely days—she first lists the highlights of the route, then dives into a detailed narrative that meanders from saimin stand to beach to plantation and more.
She gives brief but valuable attention to each stop; describing Hamura Saimin Stand in Kaua’i, for example, she entices us to “join the government officials (wearing aloha shirts, of course), construction workers, and tourists on the 35 low stools to slurp up piping-hot bowls of saimin. Order the special which adds more meat to the bowl. Afterward, scoop up the remaining slices of their lilliko’i pie before it sells out.”
The author’s chatty tone makes for easy reading, as if your friend were sending travel tips to you in a personal note. Helpful little pointers include warnings of when and where traffic will be heavy, and pointing out free places to snag parking in downtown Waikiki.
This sprinkling of local knowledge is the sign of an author who has spent some time roaming the roads of which she writes. You might assume that’s a pretty basic criteria for a guidebook writer, but sometimes the people behind big-name guidebooks have barely explored their territory, and it shows.
I travel to Hawaii every so often for beach breaks. Because visiting touristy destinations is not my priority, I’ve never thought of bringing a guidebook with me. Next time, though, my copy of Backroads & Byways of Hawaii will be packed in my luggage, and I’ll be following Bigley on some relaxed and relaxing journeys of these beautiful islands.
Author: Michele Bigley
Features: Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Big Island
Highlights: Self-guided driving itineraries of Hawaiian islands, with lively descriptions of each stop.