In Hawaii no one says “goodbye”; they say “until we meet again”.
And rest assured, you will want to go back again: those islands came out from the most beautiful painting, and will make you discover color shades and shapes you didn’t know could exist.
Don’t make the unforgivable mistake to reach Hawaii and visit only one island: they are all different, each one with its own uniqueness and breathtaking beauty.
They all will encounter your soul, and steal a piece of your heart.
Here’s what you absolutely shouldn’t miss on your first trip to Hawaii:
O’AHU, “THE GATHERING PLACE”
Oʻahu attacks your senses. Tropical aromas and temperatures, turquoise waters, a kaleidoscope of colourful fish, verdant rainforest and sensuous scenery, plus so much to do.
Once a Hawaiian royal retreat, today Waikiki looks like a tropical Beverly Hills and it’s a retreat for the masses.
Avoid the worst tourist mistake of staying more than a few hours there: it offers great restaurant and bars for a relaxing evening, but during the day you must take your car (even better, your Mustang!) and go East, towards the real natural wonders of the island. In one day you can circle the entire island, stopping along the way to every beach that catches your eye.
Not to miss and to plan in advance:
HANAUMA BAY – THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO HAWAII
“Hana” is the Hawaiian word for “Bay” and “uma” refers to the curves of the indigenous canoes.
This wonderful bay is a park and a nature preserve, and only a limited number of visitors is admitted every day. Arrive here as soon as the park opens to beat the crowd! You will have to watch a brief video to learn more about the bay and how not to damage it in any way.
Turquoise waters protected by a coral reef and backed by palm trees, Hanauma Bay is a paradise for snorkelers.
PEARL HARBOR – THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO HAWAII
Dedicate a few hours to visit Pearl Harbor’s unique collection of war memorials and museums, all clustered around a quiet bay where oysters were once farmed.
The sunken USS Arizona, the USS Bowfin submarine, aka the “Pearl Harbor Avenger”, and the battleship USS Missouri, where General Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII. Together, for the US, these military sites represent the beginning, middle and end of the war.
For “LOST” addicted:
The grail for “Lost” fans is Mokuleia Beach, also known as Army Beach, a thin strip of white sand with rock-strewn waters. It’s here that the “Lost” plane crashed in the opening episode.
Close by you’ll find YMCA Camp Erdman, which was “The Others” camp.
HAWAII, “THE BIG ISLAND”
Big Island is nature’s majesty. The biggest and the youngest Hawaiian island is a vast frontier, full of unexpected wonders.
You can travel through all the four world’s different climate zones here, ranging from Wet Tropical to Polar Tundra, a result of the shielding effect and elevations of the massive volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
To manage and visit the most of the island, split your available days in two: Kailua Kona (West) and Hilo area (East), booking you arrive and departure flights accordingly.
Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park: literally, “a place of refuge”, it’s one of the state’s most evocative experiences of ancient Hawaiʻi.
Puʻuhonua o Honaunau combines an historical experience with some of the best wildlife-spotting on the island; early morning or late afternoon is an optimal time to visit to avoid the midday heat and crowds. On the weekend closest to July 1, show up for the park’s annual cultural festival, an extravaganza of traditional food, hula dancing, Hawaiian crafts and cultural demonstrations.
Kekaha Kai State Park: It’s the most beautiful beach in Big Island, also known as “Salt & Pepper” beach because of the white powder sand sprinkled with unforgiving black lava rocks.
It’s not easy to reach it, but it’s definitely worth it! Bring water with you, as it can be brutally hot, and once you reach the sand you’ll want to stay till the last drop of sunlight.
Waipi’o Valley Lookout: Located on the Hamakua Coast, the sacred Waipio Valley was the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I, and an important center for political and religious life in Hawaii. Not only is “The Valley of the Kings” an important site for Hawaiian history and culture, it’s also a place of dramatic tropical beauty.
You can view the valley from the coastal Waipio Valley Lookout at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive.
Mauna Kea: While all of the Big Island is considered the first-born child of Wakea (Sky Father) and Papahānaumoku (Earth Mother), Mauna Kea has always been the sacred piko (navel) connecting the land to the heavens.
Go here before the sunset: You’ll witness the amazing biodiversity of Hawaii from one of the only places on earth where you can travel from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet in a two-hour drive.
As the highest point in not only Hawaii but the entire Pacific Basin, Mauna Kea serves an important role in the scientific community as a hub of astronomical observation. From the dry, cloudless atmosphere of Maunakea, it is possible to observe galaxies at the farthest edges of the observable universe. The volcano is home to more than a dozen massive telescopes from around the world, making it the largest observatory of its kind on the planet. (NOTE: Observatories are not open to the public.)
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park: From the often-snowy summit of Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive volcano, to the boiling coast where lava pours into the sea, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a micro-continent of thriving rainforests, volcano-induced deserts, high-mountain meadows, coastal plains and plenty of geological marvels in between.
At the heart of it all is Kilauea – the earth’s youngest and most active shield volcano. Since 1983 Kilauea’s East Rift Zone has been erupting almost nonstop, and while an active volcano tends to draw visitors, it can also be a geologic liability.
The extraordinary natural diversity of the park was recognized in 1980 when it was named a World Biosphere Site by UNESCO and in 1987 when the park was honored as a World Heritage Site.
Of all the national parks, this is the one where you really want to check conditions before visiting!
MAUI, “THE VALLEY ISLAND”
“Maui no ka oi” Hawaiians say, “Maui is the best one”.
The golden sands of Keawakapu Beach. The rumpled green flanks of Haleakalā. The graceful beauty of Wailua Falls.
Big Beach, also known by the names Makena Beach and Oneloa Beach, is the most famous one, and for good reasons.
It’s a beautiful, long, wide and undeveloped sandy beach, boasting huge views and a large shore-break.
Its neighbour Little Beach is a small charming paradise for hippies (and nudists).
Lahaina: Once known as Lele, which means “relentless sun” in Hawaiian, Lahaina is a historic town that has been transformed into a Maui hotspot with dozens of art galleries and a variety of unique shops and restaurants.
It will give you a breathtaking sunset view. During winter months, set sail from Lahaina Harbor for an unforgettable whale watching tour.
The Road to Hana: There’s a sense of suspense you just can’t shake while driving the Road to Hana, a serpentine road lined with tumbling waterfalls, lush slopes, and rugged coasts – and serious hairpin turns. Spanning the northeast shore of Maui, the legendary Hana Hwy ribbons tightly between jungle valleys and towering cliffs. Along the way, 54 one-lane bridges mark nearly as many waterfalls, some tranquil and inviting, others so sheer they kiss you with spray as you drive past. The drive is ravishingly gorgeous, but certainly not easy.
Stay for the night, and you’ll have the chance to explore this wonderful area: follow the Pipiwai Trail among giant bamboos, visit the The Pools at ‘Ohe’o (Seven Sacred Pools) and discover the incredible Red Sand Beach.
KAUAI, “THE GARDEN ISLAND”
The oldest and northernmost island is draped in emerald mountains, weeping waterfalls, red-rock canyons, jaw-dropping beaches, clear seas and big waves. Kaua‘i’s natural gifts are unparalleled in Hawaii, and in the world.Some parts of Kauai are only accessible by sea or air, revealing views beyond your imagination.
Driving around the island, make a stop at the picturesque Kilauea Light House.
Kauapea Beach (Secret Breach): true to its nickname, it’s a bit difficult to reach, but you’ll be rewarded by one of the most suggestive and beautiful beaches you’ll see in your life.From the main highway take Kalihiwai road, park the car when you can and then walk. It will be worth it!
Na Pali Coast: Spanning 17 miles along Kauai’s North Shore, the Na Pali Coast is a sacred place defined by extraordinary natural beauty. These emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing beautiful beaches and waterfalls that plummet to the lush valley floor. The rugged terrain appears much as it did centuries ago when Hawaiian settlements flourished in these deep, narrow valleys, existing only on the food they could grow and the fish they could catch.
There are many ways to explore the Napali Coast, but the safest access and best views are found by sea or by air.Kalalau Trail: Hawaii’s most spectacular hiking route, the world-class Kalalau Trail inches along the Na Pali cliffs for 11 miles, from Ke‘e Beach to Kalalau Valley. It returns to sea level once en route, 2 miles along at Hanakapi‘ai Beach, from where a 2-mile trail climbs to Hanakapi‘ai Falls. The round-trip to the falls, the longest day-hike option, takes up to 8 hours.
Kalalu Valley Lookout: It’s a view into the heart of the Kalalau Valley, a place of truly incredible beauty, arguably one of the earth’s greatest natural wonders.
Waimea Canyon State Park: Of all Kauaʻi’s unique wonders, none can touch Waimea Canyon for grandeur. Few would expect to find a gargantuan chasm of ancient lava rock, 10 miles long and over 3500ft deep. It’s so spectacular that it has been popularly nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.Flowing through the canyon is Waimea River, Kauaʻi’s longest, fed by tributaries that bring reddish-brown waters from Alakaʻi Swamp’s mountaintop.
LANAI, “THE PINEAPPLE ISLE”
Although Lanaʻi is the most central of the Hawaii islands – on a clear day you can see five islands from here – it’s also the least ‘Hawaiian’. Now-closed pineapple plantations are its main historic legacy, and the locals are a mix of people descended from immigrant field workers from around the world.
Lanai can feel like two places. The first is found in luxurious resorts where visitors can indulge in world-class amenities and championship-level golf. The other is found bouncing along the island’s rugged back roads in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to explore off-the-beaten-path treasures.
You’ll find serenity, adventure and privacy among hidden beaches, archaeological sites, oddball geology and a sense of isolation let you get away from it all, without going far.
MOLOKAI, “THE FRIENDLY ISLE”
Molokaʻi is often cited as the “most Hawaiian” of the islands, and in terms of bloodlines this is true – more than 50% of the residents are at least part Native Hawaiian. But whether the island fits your idea of “most Hawaiian” depends on your definition. If your idea of Hawaii includes great tourist facilities, forget it.
But if you’re after a place that best celebrates the islands’ geography and indigenous culture, then Molokaʻi is for you. Ancient Hawaiian sites in the island’s beautiful tropical east are jealously protected and restored, and island-wide consensus eschews development of the often sacred west.
Whether you’re led by a guide along the cliffs leading to Kalaupapa National Historical Park or discovering Papohaku Beach, one of Hawaii’s largest white-sand beaches, Molokai is truly an island of outdoor adventure where Hawaii’s past comes alive.