Hawai’i’s floral-infused air, tranquil lagoons, and breathtaking emerald mountains are enough to make you wish you were on your way to the airport right now. Why not? We’re here to plan your perfect trip to Hawaii! We’ll get you snorkeling in coral gardens with tropical fish, helicoptering along towering sea cliffs to witness thousand-foot cascades thundering into rain forests below, catching the sunrise from the top of Haleakalā before an easy, downhill bike ride, or learning about Polynesian history and culture. Our favorite islands for Off the Beaten Path Hawaiian vacations are the big one (Hawai’i), Maui, and Moloka’i. Here’s what you have to look forward to:
The Big Island
The list of fun things to do on the Big Island is long! You can swim, snorkel, and surf along the coast. Hike, bike, and stargaze at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Go on a night dive with manta rays or take a sunny swim with sea turtles. How about taking an inventory of the island’s best beaches, which come in white sand, black sand, and even green sand? The Hilo side is perfect for lush rain forest walks and waterfall showers. And if you’re interested in learning about Polynesian culture, the many historical parks are your outdoor classroom.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was closed for a while because of the dramatic 2018 Kilauea eruption, but the park is reopening on September 22—appropriately enough, National Public Lands Day. At this writing, park officials were in the process of determining the location of a viewing area where visitors can see first-hand the impressive and fascinating aftermath of the massive lava flows. What a great chance to see earth processes at work!
For culture buffs, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park preserves examples of some of the most significant, traditional sites in the Hawaiian archipelago, such as the Great Wall, and the Royal Grounds, home to ancient fishponds that today provide habitat for rare indigenous invertebrates. You can also learn about Hawaiian justice here. Until the 19th century, noncombatants in battles or disputes among chiefs, defeated warriors, and defiant villagers who had broken kapu, the Hawaiian sacred laws and code of conduct, could find a place in City of Refuge, now contained inside the park.
Along the Kona Coast you can visit Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park to wander through prehistoric and historic Hawaiian settlements, sacred temples, and fishponds that show off impressive Polynesian artistry and engineering skills. The Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site offers the chance to explore the great temple of Kamehameha, built with red stones transported from the inland Pololū Valley along a 14-mile-long human chain and constructed by hand without mortar. And don’t forget to walk the white sands of Honokōhau Beach, keeping a watch out for Hawaiian green turtles, native birds, and Hawaiian monk seals sunning on the shore. If you’d like, we can arrange for you to take part in an authentic luau, a true island tradition.
Maui is Hawai’i’s second largest island, beloved for its beaches, humpback whales, farm-to-table cuisine, Haleakalā Crater, and sacred Iao Valley. It’s said that the sunrise from Haleakala is the most spectacular on earth—Mark Twain called it “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed. “Legend has it that the demigod Maui imprisoned the sun here to make the day longer. You will wish for longer days to explore the many great hiking trails Haleakalā National Park has to offer, through landscapes that range from red deserts to coastal forests with waterfalls.
If you’re into whales and whale watching, Maui is your place. Kohala (humpbacked whales) have been an integral part of Hawaiian culture for millennia. Ancient petroglyphs found on Maui, as well as on the Big Island and Lanai, depict a human figure riding on a whale. Whales are generally in the area from November through May, with the best months to see whales being January through March. February is usually considered to be the peak whale-watching month. It’s thrilling to see the behemoth animals breach, spy hop, slap their flippers, and arch backward into a slow rolling dive. Maui is the best place in Hawaii to see whales from shore, and we can also recommend the best whale-watching boat tours for you.
Molokai is a great bet for getting off the beaten path in Hawai’i. The island is only 38 miles long and 10 miles across at the widest point, but it’s infused with the spirit of aloha and filled with natural beauty and cultural significance. Molokai’s beaches offer quiet seclusion with no endless strings of resorts to mar the peace. And the Halawa Valley is one of the state’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. You can only explore this lush cathedral valley with a guide, who leads you to sacred temples (heiau) and cascading waterfalls.
Most people know Molokai for Kalaupapa National Historical Park, located on a remote peninsula jutting from the island’s north coast. For more than 100 years, from 1866 to 1969, the Kalaupapa settlement took in more than 8,000 Hawaiians afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). The best way to visit the preserved settlement is by taking the exciting 2.9-mile mule ride which winds down the 2,000-foot sea cliffs with breathtaking views of the ocean.
Whichever island or islands you pick, and whatever your style of journey, your vacation travels in Hawaii will be filled with sparkling blue waters, palm-fringed beaches, marine wildlife, and a welcoming sense of aloha. No one would blame you if you got on a plane right now.