Are you headed to Hawaii? Whether you choose The Big Island, Maui, Oahu or Kauai (or all four) here is your guide to eight essential experiences:
In This Hawaii Travel Article You Will Discover:
- Live Volcanoes
- Hidden Beaches
- Epic Treks
- And More!
My first out-of-country vacation was a trip to Maui. I had just turned five years old and my family headed south from Canada for three glorious weeks in sunny Kihei, on the island’s south shore. I’ve yearned for Hawaii ever since; I returned from my fifth visit last June. I’d always assumed it had been exposure at a young age that seared these sandy shores into my mind so indelibly. But in conversation with an Oahu local a couple of years ago, I learned an alternative theory.
“The Islands call Old Hawaiians home,” she explained. In short—those of us around the globe who feel a compulsion to visit Hawaii, and a sense of home while we’re there, may just be reincarnated royalty from ancient Polynesia.
I like that explanation better.
Even if you’re not a believer in such romance, there is little doubt Hawaii is a top-notch destination. There is so much to do—or not to do—along with easy freedom to experience the islands as you desire. My wife and I simply choose an island, rent a car and peruse the best Hawaii vacation rentals to find a beachside respite. The rest, we take day by day.
Looking for some travel advice? Try these eight essentials on four major Hawaiian Islands:
Hawaii Island (The Big Island)
Essential Adventure: Volcanoes National Park
Smoldering Kilauea Caldera, hardened lava flows along the Chain of Craters Drive, the eerie Lava Tube, an epic trek through Kilauea Iki Crater and much more make for one impressive park. Plan to spend at least a full day exploring this dynamic environment—preferably two, overnighting in Volcano House so you can revel in the crimson glow of the magma visible from Jagger Museum.
Hidden Gem: Kua Bay
The Big Island isn’t known for its abundance of white-sand beaches, but those it offers are top-notch. Let the crowds flock to popular Hapuna Beach while you zip to lesser-known Kua Bay, opposite the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery about 16 kilometres north of Kailua-Kona.
Essential Adventure: Hana Highway
Hana is my favourite location on Maui, but it is a bit remote for exploring the island. So make a daytrip—you rented a car, right?—and get Hana-bound early in the a.m. Viewpoints galore, banana bread shacks, a lava tube (and former fallout shelter), 600 hairpin turns and black-sand Waianapanapa Beach dot this oceanside roadway. Your final destination is Hamoa Beach, a glorious crescent of soft silver-sand just north of Hana townsite. Get there by ten-ish and you can leave for a mixed-plate lunch just as the crowds show up in the afternoon.
Hidden Gem: Upcountry
Though located only a few minutes’ drive from the beach, breezy Upcountry Maui feels like a different island. This is where locals live, and where the pace slows down. Chow a burrito at Polli’s, book a B&B stay in a heritage home like the Hale Ho’okipa Inn and browse the artsy boutiques of Makawao. Unwind—you’re on Island Time.
Essential Adventure: Waimea Bay
My overarching recommendation is to stick to Oahu’s North Shore—Waikiki and Honolulu are just too busy to catch the real Hawaiian vibe. While on the North Shore, Waimea Bay is a must-visit—you’ll have two vastly different experiences from summer to winter. In the former, expect glassy water and lazy days. Maybe brave the jumping-rock on the beach’s south end; maybe you’ll just suntan and swim the day away. In the latter, staggeringly huge waves roll in—10 metres or higher—making Waimea home to the world’s best big-wave surfing, a thrill for the beachside spectator. (Arrive early any time of year, Waimea’s parking lot fills up fast.)
Hidden Gem: Pounders Beach
Located at the south end of Laie—a town best-known for the Polynesian Cultural Centre—Pounders Beach (a.k.a. Laie Beach Park) is usually reserved for locals. But if you like boogie-boarding, this is the beach for you. The shore-break at the south edge of the beach is absolutely out-of-control. Expect to get pipelined on your boogie-board and watch skilled locals huck backflips with ease.
Essential Adventure: Kalalau Trail
Does your Hawaiian packing list include hiking boots and a tent? Well, it should if you’re headed to Kauai. Running along the island’s dramatic Na Pali Coast, the Kalalau Trail is one of America’s great hikes. Wander through five lush valleys and past high sea cliffs, marveling at vistas over the vast Pacific from the edge of one the world’s most remote island chains. The trail is 17 kilometres each-way; adventurous folks camp under the bright Hawaiian moon before trekking back out the next morning.
Hidden Gem: Glass Beach
In a triumphant move, Mother Nature took all the glassy garbage dumped at a nearby industrial site and turned it into a gorgeous stretch of smoothed-out beach glass. Located near an industrial park in Ele’ele, Glass Beach is an example of trash turned to treasure as well as a reminder that our natural areas deserve more respect. (Even if, like in this case, the result is pretty cool.)
And there’s so much more. We haven’t even gotten to snorkelling at Shark’s Cove (Oahu), sunrise at Haleakala (Maui), stargazing from atop Mauna Kea (Big Island) or… well, I’ll leave it to you from here. Mahalo!