Smouldering volcanoes, tropical rainforests, idyllic beaches, legendary surf and blistering sunshine: you need a good excuse not to visit Hawaii.
Oahu, home to the state capital Honolulu, is the most popular island. Big-wave surfing took off here in the 1950s and pros still pilgrimage to Waimea Bay for its epic swells. You don’t have to be a veteran boarder to take advantage of the conditions, though: Waikiki Beach offers an easier ride for those still finding their feet.
The second largest of Hawaii’s islands, Maui seems to win every best beach award going. But those looking to sizzle on the sand will struggle to beat Makena Beach, which is a regular Instagram star. If you’re not content lounging on the shore, ascend nearby Haleakala, the island’s highest peak, to marvel at its exquisite panoramas.
Just across the water, tiny Lanai’s luxury resorts and golf courses may bleed your wallet dry, but go for the day and you can rumble across lunar like landscapes in a 4-wheel drive, gaze at ghostly shipwrecks and hike through virgin rainforests. Unspoiled Molokai is also a short ferry hop from Maui and lays claim to the world’s highest sea cliffs.
And then there’s Kauai, Hawaii’s northernmost island. Offering jagged cliffs, primal rainforests and barrelling waterfalls, it’s paradise for adventure travellers, who can spot green sea turtles off Poipu Beach, hike through Waimea Canyon and kayak down the raging Waimea River. The only disappointment is leaving.
Adventures and Experiences
- Aloha Tower Marketplace – Shop or dine at the Aloha Tower Marketplace (www.alohatower.com), an attractive and modern waterfront development in Honolulu. It is one of the major attractions in the area, with shopping plazas, restaurants and pavement entertainers.
- Charter a boat – Sail the tropical waters surrounding Hawaii on a skippered or bareboat charter, or crew on one of the America’s Cup yachts berthed in Lahaina Harbour, Maui (www.sailingonmaui.com).
- Circle Island Tour – Take the full-day Circle Island Tour around Oahu. Attractions en route include Waimea Falls Park, Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Centre (www.polynesia.com), Sea Life Park (www.sealifeparkhawaii.com) (swim with the dolphins), the Waialua Coffee Visitors’ Center (on a former plantation) and Sunset Beach.
- Fishing – Go deep-sea fishing off the Kona coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.
- Hanauma Bay – A protected nature preserve on Oahu’s southeast coast that rents out snorkel gear and a supply of fish food guaranteed to work the wildlife into a tizzy you’ll never forget. Tickets start at $7.50 per person, free for children under 3 and Hawaii residents and it costs $1 to park. Open daily except Tuesday. Or swim with green sea turtles off the coast of Maui. (www.hanaumabay-hawaii.com).
- Hawaii by helicopter – An island helicopter flight (www.airkauai.com) is the perfect way to view pristine forests, plunging waterfalls and verdant valleys.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Maui’s most popular attraction is definitely Haleakala, the 10,023-foot-tall dormant volcano that rises above the island-the only other point taller in all of Hawaii is Mauna Kea on the Big Island, which you can see from the top of Haleakala. You will need a car to visit this popular tourist spot (unless you’re part of a tour group) and be warned that it takes at least two hours to drive the long and winding road up to the summit. We learned the hard way that it’s pretty cold at the top of the mountain–as in 35 degrees cold, because of the altitude–so pack a jacket! There are several lookout points on the way up, but nothing beats the view from the top. Some people recommend driving up in the very early morning to be there in time to watch the sun rise from the summit for the most stunning view, but we have yet to do that (our family prefers to do things a little later in the day.) Haleakala National Park offers horseback riding and a number of hiking trails through the crater. There’s also the opportunity to bike down the volcano, something I’m definitely doing the next trip.
- Hawaiian luau festival – If you get a chance, don’t miss a night of traditional Hawaiian food (kalua pork cooked in an underground imu oven, anyone?) music, and of course, a Polynesian pageant of hula performances that will make for one of the best memories of your trip. We went to the Old Lahaina Luau, but there are others throughout the island as well. Don’t be shy, since most luaus have a tradition of welcoming visitors up on stage to learn the hula–shed your inhibitions and shake your hips to the rhythm of the islands, enjoy the music, and make sure someone is snapping photographic evidence of your new dancing skills.
- Honolulu Academy of Arts – View the fine collection of Asian art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts (www.honoluluacademy.org).
- Honolulu Zoo – Visit the Honolulu Zoo (www.honoluluzoo.org), home to over 1,230 mammals, birds and reptiles. Meet Violet, the female orangutan. Nearby is Kapiolani Park, where the Honolulu Marathon is concluded annually. The park was created by King Kalakaua in the 1870s and is a beautiful 202-hectare (500-acre) park listed on the state’s Historic Register.
- Lanai Island – Delight in the spectacular natural attractions of Lanai Island (www.lanaicity.com). They include the dramatic Shipwreck Beach or Kaiolohia with its petroglyph rock carvings and the mystical Garden of the Gods at Kanepu’u.
- Maui’s Ka’eleku Caverns – Discover a weird and wonderful collection of rock forms in Maui’s Ka’eleku Caverns (www.mauicave.com), located beneath the Hana Rainforest, and take a self-guided tour.
- Molokai – Explore Molokai (www.molokai-hawaii.com), with its quaint and colourful shops in the harbour town of Kaunakakai, horseback ride the spectacular coastline, take a mule-drawn tour of a coffee plantation, or hike the trail to Moaula Falls.
- Na Pali Coast – Hike the rugged and beautiful Na Pali Coast on Kauai, and explore secluded coves and idyllic sandy beaches.
- Waikiki Beach – Relax on Waikiki Beach, Oahu, probably the most famous sunning and surfing beach in the world. Learn to surf or parasail, ride the waves on a surf outrigger or catamaran, or simply laze in the sun and people-watch in this tropical paradise.
- War memorials – Tour the National Cemetery of the Pacific or Punchbowl in Honolulu, a memorial and cemetery for US military veterans. Visit Pearl Harbor (www.pearlharbormemorial.com) and the USS Arizona Memorial (www.nps.gov/usar), the scene of Japan’s surprise attack that brought the USA into WWII. Free boat tours take visitors to the memorial spanning the wreck of the Battleship Arizona where 1,177 men died.
- Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii – Visit Wet’n’ Wild Hawaii (it used to be called Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park) (www.hawaiiwetnwild.com) on the leeward coast of Oahu to enjoy fun for all the family. The 10-hectare (25-acre) water park has waterslides, a wave pool, river rafting pool, play area, food court, video game arcade plus a swimming pool, hot tub and bar for adults.
- Whale watching – Take a whale-watching cruise to Lanai from November to April. Once known as the ‘Pineapple Isle’, Lanai is the perfect place for whale watching, as humpback whales make the waters around the island their winter breeding and calving grounds.There’s nothing quite like having a mother whale and her baby swim up alongside your boat for a look at you!
Places to Stay
Hawaii has a wide selection of accommodation choices. The hotels in Hawaii range from historic properties to luxury resorts and charming boutique properties. Cheap hotels can be found in the spring and autumn.
- Four Seasons Resort Lana’i– Situated above magnificent Hulop’e Beach, the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay features exotic plants and wildlife, championship golf, archeological sites and award-winning restaurants. The exquisite guest rooms (featuring wicker or rattan furnishing, king or queen beds, and first-class amenities) all face either the manicured gardens or have waterfront views, and each room features a private lanai, or balcony. If the stress of travel has gotten under your skin, indulge in one of the resort’s decadent spa treatments, like the hot-stone massage or the pineapple citrus body polish.
- The Grand Wailea – Offers Hawaiian opulence at its best with something for everyone, from hard-to-please children to the most discerning traveler. The 2,000-foot multilevel canyon river pool has slides galore, waterfalls, a lazy river and the only “water elevator” around, and the more elegant hibiscus pool welcomes weary adults for an undisturbed poolside snooze. The Grande Spa features a variety of spa treatments, including baths and scrubs drawn from local ingredients like Hawaiian macadamia nuts, coconut milk and cream, and pineapple. From the smallest details, like the 50 million dollars’ worth of art found in the gallery to the gardens, to the collection of gourmet restaurants, the Grand Wailea is a grand utopia.
- The Ritz Carlton – Kapalua’s most exclusive resort sits in splendid isolation at the top of a cliff with commanding views of Molokai Island. The resort is shaped like a horseshoe wrapped around manicured grounds and a tiered swimming pool connected by waterfalls. Sweeping walkways lead to D.T. Fleming Beach Park, 10 beachfront tennis courts and a casual beach bar that serves umbrella drinks. Dining options range from fine cuisine to poolside snacks. A children’s program, full-service spa and putting green are all on site, and the resort is surrounded by world-class golf courses.
- Turtle Bay Resort – the most luxurious hideaway on the North Shore, is ideal for families and travelers looking to treat themselves. The resort sits on nearly 5 miles of beachfront where you can soak up the laidback North Shore lifestyle with surfing lessons, a kayaking excursion, horseback-riding or by kicking back in a lounge chair. Set off on a hike along the 12 miles of oceanfront trails that weave through Ironwood trees and palms. Accommodations include comfortable guest rooms and suites, private beach cottages and spectacular villas with up to 4 bedrooms and plenty of living space, including a full kitchen and dining room where your private chef can prepare local specialties.
- Halekulani – The fountains and greenery of the Halekulani resort provide an oasis away from the urban clamor of Waikiki. The guest rooms are the hotel’s best feature, many with a fabulous ocean view. Other amenities include a glass-walled shower and separate soaking tub, top-of-the-line bath products, comfy robes and wireless Internet. The hotel houses La Mer, a beloved AAA Five Diamond Restaurant that is one of Hawaii’s finest oceanfront restaurants for elegant dining. Enjoy breakfast or sip Mai Tais later in the day at the House Without a Key, an informal spot that serves light meals and cocktails and provides live Hawaiian music in the evenings.