Hawaii is one of the destinations featured on our ‘dream travel list’. Unfortunately, at present, global travel is at a standstill. Nevertheless, we can keep our travel desires burning by researching and planning itineraries for our future journeys. Therefore, in the upcoming weeks, I’ll be crafting an ‘armchair traveller’ post about each destination on our bucket list. To make these posts even more insightful, I’ve sought the expert advice of my fellow travel bloggers to contribute their ‘must-see’ recommendations for each destination. I hope you enjoy this series, book a few tours with HawaiiTours.com, and maybe you too can include some of the suggestions in your future travel plans.
Road to Hana
Embarking on the journey along the Road to Hana, also known as the Hana Highway, is considered a must-do when in Maui. Originating from the main town of Kahului, the route extends 103 km along the northern coastline, all the way to the quaint town of Hana. Officially known as Hawaii State Route 36 & 360, the journey encompasses 54 bridges, nearly 600 twisty turns, and a plethora of natural wonders. The Road to Hana is often lauded as one of the most scenic routes worldwide.
Taking a detour to Twin Falls is highly recommended. Located just 2 km in, these captivating twin waterfalls and their accompanying natural pool are nestled within private land. A brief, five-minute walk along a petite trail leads to the first waterfall. The public Kaumahina State Wayside Park is another pitstop worth spending time at. Further along, between km 16 and 17, lies Ke’anae Arboretum, a verdant haven by the Pi’inau’au river. Here, visitors can embark on a nearly 1.5 km walk that reveals the full spectrum of tropical fauna. A visit to Hawaii would be incomplete without traversing the Road to Hana.
Poipu Beach in Kauai
Positioned on the southeastern edge of Kauai, Poipu Beach is a crown jewel of the island’s shoreline. Its blend of natural splendor and convenient amenities make it an idyllic spot for travelers visiting Hawaii. Close to the sandy beach, you’ll find restrooms and a playground, while eateries within walking distance offer the convenience of take-out meals for a beachside picnic.
Although the modern amenities near Poipu Beach facilitate an effortless beach day for visitors, it’s the captivating beauty and abundant wildlife that keep people returning. The sight of seals and sea turtles nonchalantly sunbathing amidst beachgoers is a common one. Sea turtles are frequently spotted near a calm bay at the eastern end of Poipu Beach, an area that is particularly suitable for families with young children visiting Kauai.
North Shore of Oahu
Oahu, Hawaii is brimming with magnificent places to explore, and one of my top recommendations is the North Shore. This region represents the authentic Oahu experience, showcasing breathtaking beaches and snorkeling locations, lush tropical gardens, valleys ripe for adventure, and enticing swimming waterfalls. Among charming western-style towns in the area, Haleiwa stands out as a refined gathering spot filled with trendy galleries, eateries, and food truck zones, attracting both locals from Honolulu and international tourists.
The North Shore is also home to globally renowned surfing locations like Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline, which are particularly famous during the winter. However, if you’re more inclined towards peaceful beaches and snorkeling, consider visiting Sharks Cove or Waimea Beach for a delightful day basking in the sun and swimming in the beautiful waters.
The North Shore of Oahu offers a stark contrast to the bustling city of Honolulu and the tourist-centric Waikiki. It provides a genuine snapshot of the local lifestyle, complete with outdoor adventures and delicious local cuisine.
If you’re keen to explore beyond Honolulu’s urban landscape, the North Shore of Oahu is a fantastic choice. For more inspiration, visuals, and must-visit locations in the area, check out my post about visiting the North Shore of Oahu.
Enjoy the virtual exploration of Hawaii from the comfort of your armchair, particularly focusing on Lahaina, Maui. Unwind at home while discovering the myriad of activities that Lahaina has to offer. The Old Town of Lahaina is a favorite among visitors.
Once a bustling whaling town, Front Street was the center of all activities. Here, you’ll discover numerous historical buildings, such as the Wo Hing Chinese Temple, Alexander Baldwin Home, and the Old Lahaina Courthouse. Also present are the ruins of Kamehameha I’s Brick Palace.
Make sure to explore Lahaina Banyan Court. This public park boasts the largest banyan tree in the United States, the Old Lahaina Courthouse, and the remnants of the coral-brick Old Fort.
Lahaina’s harbor is well-known as the launch point for a variety of aquatic adventures, from whale watching tours and snorkeling trips to Molokini Crater, to sunset dinner tours, and more. The majority of Maui’s tour boats depart from here for exciting day trips out on the water.
Big Island Road Trip
Traveling to the lush, stunning islands of Hawaii would be incomplete without visiting the Big Island, also known as Hawaii itself. One of the best ways to explore this island is undoubtedly by taking a scenic road trip around it. Perfect for first-time visitors, the Big Island offers picturesque beaches, majestic volcanoes, and exciting wildlife encounters. Whether you’re traveling on a budget or indulging in luxury, there’s something for everyone here.
Your adventure could begin in either Kona on the west side or Hilo on the east. The distance between these two towns is substantial enough to warrant an overnight stay in each during your journey, though day trips are also feasible. Along your route, make sure to include a stop at the City of Refuge near Kona, also known as Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, where you can delve into Native Hawaiian culture. Adjacent to this is a spot for top-tier snorkeling. As you proceed south, don’t miss out on the Volcanoes National Park, where you might get to observe active lava flows! Hilo town is known for its gorgeous waterfalls and botanical gardens, and of course, make time to relax at the beautiful beaches along your route, ideally catching a sunset.
Pipiwai Trail inside Haleakala National Park, Maui
Venturing along the Pipiwai Trail on Maui is undeniably a highlight of any traveler’s visit to this enchanting Hawaiian island. Located within the Kipahulu district of Haleakala National Park, the trailhead for this easily navigable 4-mile round trip is easy to find.
The initial mile of the hike will take you past numerous lookout points offering views of distant waterfalls and an ancient banyan tree. As you approach the second mile, you’ll begin to immerse yourself in a tranquil bamboo forest. The gentle rustle of bamboo in the breeze creates a soothing ambiance, while the towering bamboo offers respite from the Hawaiian sun’s intensity.
Just when you think the experience couldn’t possibly improve, you’ll reach the climax of the hike, the Waimoku Falls. Cascading down from a height of 400 feet, these falls are a mesmerizing sight. While swimming beneath these falls isn’t permitted, there are ample rocks to rest upon and appreciate the beauty around you.
With waterfalls, captivating bamboo forests, and picturesque banyan trees, this hike is ideal for family outings and certainly deserves a spot on every travel enthusiast’s bucket list.
Black sand at Punalu’u beach
The Hawaiian Islands are renowned for their incredible natural diversity, with not only flora but also beaches exhibiting a variety of hues, courtesy of the powerful volcanoes. The most vivid beaches are located on the younger islands in the archipelago, Maui and the Big Island, as the colors on older islands tend to fade due to sunlight. West-Maui primarily features golden beaches, while on the east, along the Road to Hana, you can discover a red sand beach named Kaihalulu beach and a black sand beach known as Honokalani or Waianapanapa beach.
On the Big Island of Hawaii, numerous beaches are composed of volcanic rock. However, with a little exploration, you can stumble upon soft sandy beaches too. These include white sandy beaches, a unique olive-green sand beach called Papakolea beach, and the striking black sand beaches in Hawaii. Punalu’u beach, located just half an hour from Hilo town, is the most popular of these.
The sight of black crystals sparkling beneath the undulating waves, juxtaposed with the azure ocean and verdant vegetation, is simply breathtaking. The black sand also offers a more soothing visual experience compared to the glaring reflection off white sand. However, caution is advised when touching the sand as it can get very hot. As you lounge on your beach towel, soaking up the soothing warmth of the sand, you might be joined by a honu, or Hawaiian sea turtle. These enchanting creatures are equally fond of the warm sand as we are.
Diamond Head hike, Oahu
Whether you’re seeking a taste of history, breathtaking vistas, or an invigorating hike, Diamond Head hike is a must-add to any Oahu, Hawaii visit itinerary.
Formed from an eruption around 300,000 years ago, the rock crater came into existence as ash and particles settled around its center, creating a floor area of 175 acres. The hike up to its 760-foot peak offers stunning panoramic views of the Hawaiian coastlines, making the ascent thoroughly rewarding. The hike is relatively short, spanning less than three kilometers.
Although it’s bound to elevate your heart rate, the climb isn’t overly challenging and there are numerous spots to take a breather along the way. For military history enthusiasts, the WWII outposts en route to the peak are worth a stop. Given the crater’s strategic position, it was a natural choice for monitoring enemy ships.
Being one of the most frequented hikes on the island, expect it to be bustling throughout the day. For those interested, it’s recommended as an extraordinary location to witness both sunrise and sunset, provided these times align with the crater’s opening hours.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, situated on the south side of the Big Island between Hilo and Kona, is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive places to visit in Hawaii. Despite being a bit of a drive, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a wealth of attractions and activities. Make your first stop at the Jaggar Museum where you can gain insights about various types of lava flows and ongoing scientific research.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park provides the best opportunity to observe actual lava and traverse old lava tubes. The park boasts numerous intriguing hiking trails and also offers camping facilities. An exceptional feature of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is its Special Ranger Programs, which offer hands-on activities and tours designed to educate visitors about Hawaiian culture.
However, if your visit to the Big Island is time-constrained, consider undertaking the Crater Rim Drive. This scenic route covers all the major highlights in the shortest possible time. Regardless of your schedule, a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an absolute must!
Street Art and Microbreweries in Honolulu
While in Honolulu, don’t miss out on exploring the vibrant street art and thriving microbreweries in Kaka’ako. It’s a brief 12 or 13-minute bus or Uber ride from Ala Moana Mall and certainly warrants a visit.
Once a nondescript industrial region filled with warehouses and auto body shops, Kaka’ako underwent a transformation ten years ago following the inaugural ‘Pow! Wow!’ art festival. This event saw local and international artists paint large, vivid murals all across the district. Every February, artists from around the world gather to create fresh street art murals. In 2020, ninety artists produced a range of new murals, from funky to classic, all of which are worth checking out.
The district’s transformation also brought with it a variety of microbreweries, speakeasies, and cafes. Given that the area has been involved in beer production since the mid-1900s, once you’ve finished admiring the artwork, consider stopping by one of the craft breweries. Sample the specialty beers, whiskeys, and unique local food offerings that the area is known for.
Diving with Manta Rays, Kailua-Kona
Located in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island, one of the world’s most awe-inspiring diving and snorkeling sites awaits. Each night, just after dusk, powerful spotlights mounted on the seafloor illuminate a wide circle. These lights soon draw swarms of krill – tiny organisms that feed many larger marine species. Divers position themselves on the seabed, just outside the circle of light, while snorkelers float above, holding onto large rafts for a clear view of the spectacle below. The suspense builds until, suddenly, enormous manta rays, boasting wingspans of 2 meters, emerge from the darkness. With their mouths wide open, they swoop in to feast on the krill.
These manta rays offer a truly unforgettable sight as they elegantly glide and loop in circles, flipping upside down near the surface to the delight of the snorkelers, and passing mere inches above the heads of the mesmerized divers.
Multiple boat operators offer snorkeling and/or diving trips to witness these manta rays, which frequent this site throughout the year. While sightings can’t be guaranteed, the odds of observing these gentle giants are high. However, boats are prohibited from venturing out in rough weather, and the seas tend to be more turbulent in January and February. If your travels bring you to the Big Island, this remarkable experience is not to be missed!