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The Hawaiian Islands are incredibly diverse, offering travelers practically an endless number of things to do. Whether you plan on visiting the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Oahu, or one of the lesser-visited isles, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience. To make the most of it, plan to include at least some of these things to do in Hawaii on your itinerary.
The Na Pali coastline is often named among the most beautiful spots in the world, and truly a must-see when visiting Kauai. Located along its north shore, it can only be accessed by hiking, boat, or helicopter, with the rugged Kalalau Trail recommended only for the more adventurous. Getting a bird’s-eye view is something you’ll surely never forget, soaring over the lush, emerald-hued pinnacles that tower along the shoreline for 17 miles, with emerald and red-hued cliffs along with magnificent waterfalls that plunge into deep, narrow valleys.
Waimea Canyon is a stunning 14-mile long, one-mile wide and 3600-feet deep ravine often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’. It’s best viewed from the Waimea Canyon Lookout, but if you can, aim to arrive about an hour before sunset to watch the ever-changing hues of red, orange and green cliffs when they’re at their most dramatic.
Wailua Falls is one of the most easily accessible and most spectacularly beautiful falls on Kauai. If it looks familiar, that’s because it was made famous by appearing in the opening credits of the ‘70s television series, “Fantasy Island.” The double-barreled falls plunge for about 85 feet into a 30-foot deep pool below. They’re best viewed from the overlook above, though in ancient times, legend has it that ancestral Hawaiian warriors tested their bravery by leaping from the top – of course, it was often fatal so that’s not something you should even think about trying.
While you’re on Maui, you’ll have to experience one of the world’s most scenic drives, the Road to Hana. More about the journey than the destination itself, it begins at Kahului and culminates in the little town of Hana. Along the 55-mile winding drive, you’ll notice the aroma of ginger and guava that fills the air and see an incredibly lush, tropical landscape that’s dotted with gorgeous falls, basalt-lined emerald pools and idyllic beaches. Be sure to stop at the Hana Lava Tube, one of the longest underground lava tubes on the plan. Travel into the dark realms of the earth, enjoying a cool break from the warm temperatures above the surface while getting a close up look at how lava flows down to the ocean.
There are few better sunset views than those found on the silky soft golden sands of Makena Beach on Maui. The sun dips below the horizon over the crystal-clear waters, creating a colorful painting in the sky. You might even want to spend the entire day here. Separated into two distinct areas, “Big Beach” and “Little Beach,” the first is nearly two-thirds of a mile long and boasts cerulean-hued waters that are ideal for body surfing and bodyboarding. As there is little reef in the area, the sandy bottom shines up through the water, making for an especially breathtaking scene. Little Beach is popular with nude sunbathers, as well as drum circles and professional fire dances.
Punaluu Beach sits on the southeastern coast of the Big Island and is one of the state’s most famous black sand beaches. It almost looks like a film negative of a traditional beach with its striking jet black sands made up of basalt, a common igneous rock formed when lava rapidly cools. Here, the underwater volcanic vents ooze magma, which rapidly cools and then explodes as it touches the ocean’s waters, creating the shards of basalt seen lining the beach. With coconut palms lining the upper edge of the sand, and the Hawaiian green sea turtles frequently visiting to bask on the sun on the sand, this is truly an unforgettable place to visit.
The famous manta ray night dive takes place along the shores of the Kona coast and is widely regarded as one of the most memorable dives on the planet. The rays first started coming to this area to dine on the plankton that was attracted by bright lights shining on the water either from the hotels or from divers. Today, tour operators bring the lights, shining them up toward the surface while swimmers hold onto a float with a light that shines down. The rays come to feed on the plankton that is attracted by the lights, filtering it out of the ocean by gracefully swooping through the water, mouths open. Watching the elegant rays dipping, diving, swimming and turning in the light beams makes for an amazing experience.
This paradise-like valley on the northeast coast of the Big Island is often aptly referred to as a ‘Shangri La’ of Hawaii. Practically cut off from the outside world, the mile-wide Waipio Valley dissects the Kohala Mountains. Challenging to reach due to the steep cliffs that are on three landward sides and powerful waves on the other that make it just as unapproachable from the sea, while the daring, mostly locals, drive the steep, twisting road to get there, most car rental companies don’t allow their vehicles down it, so many visitors choose to walk instead. Your reward for doing so will be a long, black sand beach where the valley meets the ocean, while colorful ginger trees, hibiscus and orchids decorate the landscape.
The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a top-rated attraction in Honolulu. The very spot where the Second World War began for America on December 7, 1941. While it is a rather sobering experience, literally standing over a gravesite where 1,177 men lost their lives, it offers a glimpse of one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.