Whether you’ve been to Hawaii many times or are planning your first visit, you’re bound to be really excited….. Paradise awaits! A trip to Hawaii has the feel of traveling to an exotic foreign land, but no passports or visas are required, everyone speaks English, and America’s fiftieth state welcomes visitors with open arms. It’s called “The Aloha State” for a reason.
There are eight islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Two are mostly unpopulated and one has no population and is accessible only to volunteers doing ecological studies. The remaining five islands are all spectacular tourist destinations with differing features, landscapes and attractions that make each one unique.
If you love active sports like hiking, horseback riding, biking, snorkeling and diving, golf, tennis, surfing and windsurfing, you’ll find your niche in Hawaii. If you’re a nature lover or a photographer, Hawaii is a treasure trove of beautiful lush gardens, hidden lagoons, canyons and mountain peaks, volcanic lava flows, breathtaking waterfalls, and pristine white and black sand beaches. Maybe you just want to relax – luxurious beachfront hotels are all prepared to pamper you with fine dining, entertainment, spa and fitness centers and activity centers for the kids.
You’ll definitely want to visit more than one island on your visit. Three main airlines operate convenient daily schedules to get you from one island to another. Renting a car is a good idea so you can enjoy each island’s attractions on your own schedule. Another option is to cruise the islands. Cruise lines offer itineraries that begin in Vancouver and several cities in California and have ports of call on four islands. Or if you’ve already flown to Hawaii, you can cruise the islands beginning and ending in Honolulu.
Hawaii is a wonderful place for families, multi-generational groups, destination weddings and honeymooners, and adventure seekers. The weather is consistently gorgeous. Some islands have a dry side and a rainy side – drive a few miles and the sun will shine! The laid-back, casual atmosphere is so relaxing, you’ll feel your worries slide off your shoulders the first time you wiggle your toes in the sand.
As mentioned before, the Hawaiian islands each have their own characteristics and personality. Here is a list of the “must see” attractions on each island.
People visiting Hawaii will more than likely fly into Honolulu to begin their vacation. Honolulu is definitely worth visiting if for no other reason than to “people watch” on Waikiki Beach. It is a very busy place, very “touristy” and crowded, so most folks have had enough after a day or two. But Honolulu is just one of Oahu’s attractions – below is a list of other places to visit on Oahu.
- The Pearl Harbor Memorial and the USS Arizona Memorial are part of the Pearl Harbor Visitors’ Center, honoring the service men and women killed in the attack in 1941. You can also tour the USS Missouri which is docked there and get a feel for what life was like for the crew.
- The Diamond Head Monument is popular with hikers who are rewarded for their efforts to make the steep climb with a spectacular view of Oahu’s shoreline.
- The Lyon Arboretum contains a number of themed gardens and is home to researchers studying tropical forests. A short distance from the Arboretum is a path leading to Manoa Falls, where visitors can take a dip in the pool formed by the waterfall.
- The Polynesian Cultural Center is located on the other side of the island, about 40 miles from Waikiki. It is an amazing theme park showcasing the cultures of six different Polynesian Islands. Stay for the luau and entertainment in the evening – the kids will love the fire dancers!
Hawaii (The Big Island)
This island was originally formed by five volcanoes, some of which are still active and pouring lava into the sea, increasing the island’s size.
- Visit Volcanoes National Park where you can watch an active volcano (Kilauea) in action. This is especially thrilling at night as the red hot rivers of lava flow into the ocean with a mighty hiss! Visit the Halema-uma-u Crater to see steam escaping from the volcano’s depths and hike the Crater Rim Road. You can drive through the Thurston Lava Tube, a huge tunnel formed by cooling lava.
- Drive the Hamakua Coast road to the Waipio Valley Lookout. The valley is a remote paradise, surrounded by steep mountains on three sides and treacherous rocky shoreline on the fourth.
- Take a stargazing tour to the Observatory at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest mountain on the island. The high elevation and freezing temperatures make it difficult to do this trip independently – sign up for the Small Group Adventure Tour which includes a picnic supper, a ride to the summit and warm clothes as well as fascinating information about the star studded heavens above.
- Sunbathe, surf, snorkel and swim at beautiful Hapuna Beach. Hiking trails and camping facilities make this beach popular. Another great snorkeling spot is Kaunaoa Beach which is protected by a reef system so the waters remain calm. Great for beginning snorkelers.
- Visit Kona’s coffee plantations and macadamia nut farms – perfect places to pick out gifts for your family and friends who had to stay home!
Maui is visited by tourists more than any other Hawaiian island except for Oahu. Its fabulous beaches and varied landscapes from barren desert to dense rainforest make it a photographer’s dream come true.
- Drive to the top of the Haleakala Volcano – the drive up is impressive, but the views from the summit are even more breathtaking. Hoards of tourists wake up early to watch the sunrise from the summit (you’ll need a reservation), but sunset is beautiful also, and a lot less busy.
- If you missed the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, an Old Lahaina Luau is the next best thing. Traditional dishes are served on the beach, the sun sets, the torches are lit and the entertainment begins, including a narration of the history of Hawaii, authentic songs, dances and drumming demonstrations.
- Drive the road to Hana. Not for the faint of heart or for those who get carsick, this 40 mile trek from Paia to Hana is going to take at least 2 hours one way because of the large number of switchbacks, narrow bridges and the necessity to slow or stop for vehicles coming the other direction. The reason this experience is so popular is that it’s so VERY scenic – over 15 waterfalls are visible from the road or a short hike from it.
- Enjoy snorkeling and diving off Molokini, a volcanic ring shaped reef protecting a lagoon that is home to rare species of reef fish as well as turtles and dolphins. If you prefer to stay dry, visit the Maui Ocean Center, where an acrylic tunnel allows you to walk through an immense tank with sharks, rays and all species of tropical fish surrounding you.
- Learn to surf at the Kaanapali surf school, or play golf where the pros play at the Bay Course at Kapalua or the Wailea Golf Club.
Kauai (The Garden Island)
Kauai is called The Garden Island because of the tropical rainforest that keeps it lush and green year round. Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast are often used as scenery in Hollywood films (think Jurassic Park), and its quiet, laid-back lifestyle make it a perfect destination for kicking back and taking a break from the normal routine.
- Visit the Na Pali Coast State Park. The slopes of these steep mountains plunge directly into the sea, making it almost impossible to view except by helicopter, small plane or boat. The volcanic mountains hide caves, waterfalls, and exotic vegetation. Try a Kauai catamaran cruise that will take you close to the coast and give you the opportunity to snorkel and explore this hidden gem. Between November and March you may be lucky enough to spot some whales on their migration from northern waters.
- Hike the Waimea Canyon and discover why it’s called Hawaii’s Grand Canyon. Waterfalls and brilliant green slopes contrast with the red and black volcanic rock. This is a great place for bikers as well as hikers.
- Visit one of Kauai’s spectacular gardens. Allerton Garden is located close to Koloa, and the Princeville Garden also features cacao trees and beehives. As a bonus, you can sample chocolate and honey produced on site. Limahuli Garden features a waterfall with an 800 foot drop.
- Relax on one of Kauai’s many beautiful beaches. Mahaulepu Beach is located in an undeveloped area and is good for snorkeling, swimming, and windsurfing. Lydgate Beach Park is the place to go for families with young children as it features a picnic area, a playground and lifeguards. Polihale Beach is on the western shore, so it’s perfect for romantic strolls on the beach at sunset, although currents are strong here and swimming is discouraged at certain times of the year.
- Drive from Lihue to Hanamaulu and stop to see Wailua Falls. This dramatic double waterfall plunges 80 feet into a deep pool. It’s said that early Hawaiian chiefs were expected to jump off the cliff into the pool to prove their courage and ability to lead. You can just enjoy the view!
- Hike the Kalalau Trail at Haena State Park. The first two miles of this 11 mile trek are probably enough for all but the most experienced hikers. You’ll be rewarded with some breathtaking views of the ocean and the valley below the trail.
- Sail through the trees on the Koloa Zipline. This 8 line course offers hands-free harnesses and views of the Waita Reservoir and the rainforest canopy.
Molokai is the least developed of the five islands visited by tourists. Its airport has only three gates and there are no stoplights. There are fewer hotels and condos here, but bed and breakfast lodgings are common.
- Tour Kalaupapa – a former leper colony that is now an historical site. You can hike to the location or ride a mule along the winding trail with dramatic views of the ocean 1700 feet below.
- Visit the Halawa Valley for a glimpse into the early civilization of the first Hawaiians. This guided tour ends at the base of Mo’ole Falls where you’ll have a chance to swim in the pool formed by the roaring torrent.
- Try a kayak or stand-up paddle tour of the south shore reef with a little help from the prevailing wind.
- Send a coconut to a friend anywhere in the world from the tiny post office in Hoolehua. You get to decorate the coconut before it’s shipped.
- Watch the sunset from Papohaku Beach.
- Walk the boardwalk at Kamakou Preserve. This three mile hike gives you great views of Mount Kamakou, an extinct volcano that is the tallest on the island. The surrounding rainforest is home to a wide variety of birds and exotic plant life.
- Don’t miss a tour of Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm. This five acre farm has been attracting visitors since 1980 and has been delighting them with freshly roasted macadamia nuts ever since.