Say aloha to 12 adventures of a lifetime in Hawaii

December 23, 2015                 9m read time
Kristen Bailey


Hawaii is far more than the sum of its parts. Read on to discover infinite island fun.

How do you introduce Hawaii when there’s just so, so much to discuss? Do you describe each of the eight main islands, pointing out, for example, that the Big Island features 11 of the world’s 13 climatic zones, including beaches, forests, and snow-capped mountains? Or do you focus on the 750 miles of legendary shorelines and describe the yellow, white, black, red, and even green sandy beaches and list off all of the various activities you can do there, like surfing, paddling, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, swimming, whale watching, and sunbathing?

Maybe we should focus on great Hawaiian traditions, like the ubiquitous luau and the ancient drumming, dancing, feasting, and drinking that makes attending one so special. Or perhaps we should describe the incredibly diverse scenery across the islands, including sky-scraping bamboo forests, ginormous banyan trees, massive waterfalls, imposing cliffs, mighty lava flows, uncommonly deep canyons, crystalline tide pools, and lush rainforests.

Or better yet—maybe we should just jump into describing 12 of the most exciting adventures that the islands have to offer.

1. Hike Waimea Canyon or see It From a Helicopter

Waimea Canyon in Kauai in Hawaii, from a helicopter Safari Helicopters

Waimea Canyon in Kauai in Hawaii, from a helicopter

Safari Helicopters

 

Waimea Canyon on Kauai’s west side is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Explore this massive, 14-mile long, 1-mile-wide canyon by foot or by helicopter. Waimea Canyon Drive leads you to a lookout point with views of stark red crested buttes, rugged crags, and impossibly deep—as in 3,600-feet deep!—gorges. When you’ve had your fill of this spectacular eye candy, continue along the canyon road to Kokee State Park, where you’ll find numerous trails for both beginner and advanced hikers. If you want to see the sights from above, Safari Helicopters in Kauai offers hour-long flights that'll zip you over the canyon and its subtropical forests, the Waimea river's red waters, and numerous waterfalls.

2. Bike Down An Active Volcano

Kilauea on the Big Island in Hawaii Joe Belanger

Kilauea on the Big Island in Hawaii

Joe Belanger

 

Located on the south end of the Big Island, Kilauea is the youngest and most active shield volcano in Hawaii. Head to the Kilauea overlook with BikeVolcano.com for a mountain bike tour of the area. Marvel at the staggering size of the crater and the heat emanating from the ground as your guide leads you along the rim of the caldera. Other stops include the Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook, which offers views of Pu’u Pua’i's cinder cone, lava trees (tree trunks that were coated in lava), and large craters. Hop off your bike to wander through the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year-old lava cave, before ending your ride at Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu, where you can watch flowing lava change the landscape in real time.

3. Watch whales play in Maui

Whales in Maui, Hawaii idreamphoto

Whales in Maui, Hawaii

idreamphoto

 

Two-thirds of the entire North Pacific whale population migrates from the Gulf of Alaska to the warm, shallow waters around Hawaii each year. They stay from late November through May, but the best time to see them is January through March. A prime viewing area is the ʻAuʻau Channel between West Maui, Lanai, and Molokai. Try a whale-watching tour with Pride of Maui in Wailuku, or drive the stretch of Highway 30 between Ma’alaea and Lahaina. Pull over to spot humpback whales breaching and playing in the distance—their water spouts alone can rise as high as 20 feet.  

4. Travel the Road to Hana

The Road to Hana in Hawaii Lee Prince

The Road to Hana in Hawaii

Lee Prince

 

Adventurers the world over know about Maui’s Road to Hana. Also known as Highway 36, this route is famous for its natural beauty, including taro patches, impressive seascapes, crystal clear waterfall pools, dense rainforests, and lush botanical gardens. The 50-mile drive winds throughnarrow, dirt and gravel roads, some of which are steep and often muddy. Plan to spend the entire day exploring the legendary path and its pit stops. Disembark at Twin Falls for a dip in a waterfall pool and pull over at Wai'anapanapa State Park to walk on its shiny black beaches. Once you arrive in Hana, stop in at the Hasegawa General Store for a taste of local flavor. It's been family-owned since its doors opened in 1910.

5. Get Your Luau On

Luau in Hawaii Deborah Kolb

Luau in Hawaii

Deborah Kolb

 

You can’t do Hawaii without partaking in a luau, and the Old Lahaina Luau on Front Street in Maui is the luau of choice. Around 500 guests come here each night to enjoy the hookipa (or "hospitality"). You’ll feast on traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian fare, including tender meat wrapped in taro leaves, pork slow-cooked in a traditional pit oven, and poi, a staple Polynesian starch made of taro. The evening's entertainment includes traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music and chants along with daring Samoan fire dancers. And what would a luau be without hula dancers? Not a luau, that’s for sure. Watch as these graceful and highly expressivedancers tell traditional stories through their movements.

6. Climb the cliffs on Kalalau Trail

The views from Kalalau Trail in Hawaii along the Na Pali Coast Robert Linsdell

The views from Kalalau Trail in Hawaii along the Na Pali Coast

Robert Linsdell

 

National Geographic named Kauai’s 22-mile Kalalau Trail one of the best in the world. The route leads you from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Valley along the rugged Na Pali coast and takes three to five days round trip. You'll hike steep trails and high cliffs, pass through five deep, narrow valleys that hold ruins of stone wall terraces once inhabited by native Hawaiians, and you’ll likely see some wild goats along the way. Once you make it to Kalalau Valley, you’ll find a lush, tropical jungle and numerous waterfalls to explore.

7. Take a SUP Lesson on Maunalua Bay

Person on a SUP in the water in Hawaii EpicStockMedia

Person on a SUP in the water in Hawaii

EpicStockMedia

 

Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP-ing, is all the rage in Hawaii. Sign up for a class with Hawaiian Surf Adventures in Honolulu. You’ll receive a two-hour lesson in a secluded location on Maunalua Bay, far from the prying eyes of tourists. Paddle around the bay while receiving instruction, tips, and tricks that’ll render you an expert in no time. If you’re already an accomplished SUP-er or you want to go back for more after your lesson, Hawaiian Surf Adventures also rents SUPs by the half-day or full-day.

8. Visit 400-Foot Waimoku Waterfall

Waimoku Waterfall in Hawaii Sekar B

Waimoku Waterfall in Hawaii

Sekar B

 

Ten miles south of Hana on Hana Highway is Pipiwai Trail, a three- to five-hour hike that ends at the Waimoku waterfall. The biggest waterfall on Maui, the roaring Waimoku plummets 400 feet down a sheer cliff and you’ll be able to get close enough to it to feel its cool mist. As impressive as that is, half the fun is in the journey there. First, you’ll come across—and maybe take a dip in—the tiered Pools of Oheo. Also called the Seven Sacred Pools, this gorgeous spot is surrounded by a towering bamboo forest. From there, continue on to an outlook that provides a spectacular view of the 200-foot Makahiku Falls. Near the end of the trail, you’ll stumble upon the Big Banyan Tree, into which scores of hikers have carved their name.

9. Snorkel Molokini Crater

Boat in Molokini Crater in Hawaii Phil Romans

Boat in Molokini Crater in Hawaii

Phil Romans

 

Don’t even consider leaving Hawaii without going snorkeling. Some folks say the best spot is Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui. This Marine Life Conservation District is only accessible by boat and the water is some of the clearest you’ll ever find—expect to see up to 200 feet below the surface. The shallow, sunlit water near the crescent-shaped shoreline is the best place to see coral and more marine life than we can possibly list, including damsel, squirrel, and soldier fish, wrasse, tang, and chub, needle, hawk, and emperor fish, and eels, crustaceans, and reef sharks. You might also spy a humpback whale, whale shark, manta ray, or a pod of Hawaiian monk seals, which frequent the area. Go on a tour with Four Winds II Maui Classic Charters or Tom’s Barefoot Tours, or head out into the sparkling water on your own.

10. Hike to a macadamia nut farm in Honolulu

Kuliouou Ridge Trail in Honolulu in Hawaii Eugene Kim

Kuliouou Ridge Trail in Honolulu in Hawaii

Eugene Kim

 

Take a half-day or full-day guided hike in Honolulu with Hiking Hawaii Cafe. The daylong, five-mile round trip hike takes you along Kuliouou Ridge Trail and includes a stop at a macadamia nut farm, several beaches, and a botanical garden. The half-day, two-mile round trip Lighthouse Hike takes you to the clifftop Makapu’u Lighthouse, built in 1909. Both trips afford you the opportunity to sample the fruits that grow wild here, including passion fruit and strawberry guava, and you’ll get to take a dip in the ocean or in the tide pools that dot the rocky shoreline.

11. Paddle in a Double-Hull Canoe in Maunalua Bay

People paddle in a double hull canoe in Hawaii with Hawaiian Surf Adventures Hawaiian Surf Adventures

People paddle in a double hull canoe in Hawaii with Hawaiian Surf Adventures

Hawaiian Surf Adventures

 

On the southeast shore of Oahu, embark on a double hull canoe trip with Hawaiian Surf Adventures. The trip will take you through the deep blue, crystalline waters of Maunalua Bay and past Koko Head Crater's imposing cliffs. Hear all about traditional Hawaiian folklore and the history of the ancient art of Polynesian open-ocean canoe travel, as well as fascinating tidbits about the geography and geological forces of the area. Oh, and feel free jump on into the warm water for a dip along the way.

12. Zip-line Over a Waterfall at Akaka Falls State Park

Zip lining at Akaka Falls State Park with Skyline Eco Adventures Akaka Falls Skyline Eco Adventures Akaka Falls

Zip lining at Akaka Falls State Park with Skyline Eco Adventures Akaka Falls

Skyline Eco Adventures Akaka Falls

 

Zip-lining is a great way to see the natural beauty of the Big Island. Skyline Akaka Falls Course, located at Akaka Falls State Park on the northeastern Hamakua Coast, offers a two and a half hour tour of all seven zip lines that run through the park. Each line offers its own mind-blowing views of the ocean, the lush green canopy, plentiful banana trees, tropical farmland, and deep ravines. The best line is saved for last and provides you with a once-in-a-lifetime, bird’s-eye view of KoleKole Falls, a 250-foot wailele, or waterfall, which you will fly over at a dizzying height of 450 feet above the ground on the longest zip line in the state.

Kristen Bailey

Kristen is a freelance writer based in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska, which is conveniently located smack in the middle of the country for easy access to both coasts and everywhere in between. When she isn’t writing articles or exploring new cities, you’ll find Kristen building things in the backyard, writing songs for her indie rock band, The Inbetweens, or creating sweet, yet macabre, collages from images found in old textbooks and other ephemera.

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