10 of the Most Striking Spots in Hawaii

Discover our favourite activities in the Aloha State.

There are iconic spots in Hawaii that first-time visitors need to see to believe, but there are also the lesser known gems that the locals know are just as worthy of your time–especially on that second or third return trip. For a mix of both, add these 10 experiences to your list of things to do on your next visit to the Aloha State.

LEARN TO SURF

You could be forgiven for thinking that it was best to leave the wave-riding to the professionals in Hawaii. Surfing isn’t just a casual pastime here: it’s legendary. Each winter, surfers from around the world marvel at the pros during the Vans Triple Crown. Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach on Oahu's North Shore are popular viewing spots—two of the most challenging surf locations in the world. If your experience level borders on newbie, opt for the South Shore instead. Under the watchful eye of the surf legend Duke Kahanamoku’s statue at Kuhio Beach, you’ll find plenty of options to learn the sport. For calmer waters head to Big Island’s Kahalu’u Bay in Kona, where surf instructors will show you the ways of the board. For a change of scenery pull out a snorkel mask and set out in search of colourful marine life in the protected waters.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

BIRDS AND FISH ON MOLOKINI

Hop on an early morning catamaran to Molokini. The small, crescent moon-shaped island is actually a partially submerged volcanic crater and a state Marine Life Conservation District and Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary. Reef-filled waters make it a prime spot for snorkelers and divers who love the clear visibility of more than 250 marine species. Bird-watchers can expect to see Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Bulwers Petrels nesting on the rocky shores.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WATER FRAME, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

EMBRACE THE DESTINATIONS AFTER THE ROAD TO HANA

Dripping with green ferns, bordered by waterfalls, and dotted with must-try food stands, the iconic, winding Road to Hana is truly about the journey. It would be a mistake, however, to turn around and head back after you reach the town of Hana. If green pastures and ocean views are your things, spend a night or two here. During the day, drive further to take in Haleakala National Park from its eastern end. Take a three-hour hike (varies depending on your stops) on the Pipiwai trail, which includes the stunning bamboo forest and the 121-metre tall Waimoku waterfall. You can also pack a swimsuit and spend an afternoon taking in the views at Oheo Gulch, or Seven Sacred Pools.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WESTEND61, GETTY IMAGES

MAKE THE EFFORT FOR SUNRISE AT HALEAKALA ON MAUI NUI

The road to the 3,055-metre summit of the dormant volcano Haleakala isn’t for the weak. Those in the know get there early (often by 4:30 a.m.), suffer the white-knuckle drive, dress in winter hats and gloves, and carry thermoses of hot coffee. It’s all worth it for that pure magic moment when the sun peaks out above the clouds. New regulations require a reservation for sunrise viewings, so book early to ensure you can work it into your visit. And whatever you do, don’t confuse the summit drive to Haleakala on Maui Nui with the eastern entrance that is hours away past Hana. When it’s over, wait out the line of cars snaking back down the mountain with a quick stop at the half-mile Pa ka’oao trail for a different view.
PHOTOGRAPH BY YINYANG, GETTY IMAGES

GO WITH THE LAVA FLOW AT HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

There are five active volcanoes in the state of Hawaii and four of them are on Big Island. The one to watch is Kilauea Volcano, which has been erupting continuously since 1983 and considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Get a good view of the crater from the 18-kilometre Crater Rim Drive, which circles the summit caldera. For a bigger thrill, drive the Chain of Craters Road (30 kilometres) that descends 1,128 metres to the coast and watch the lava enter the ocean.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CULTURA RM, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

MEET THE HUMPBACKS WHERE THEY PLAY IN MAUI

Stand on the shores of Maui between January and March and you’ll likely see humpback whales jumping and splashing in an awesome display off the coast. More than 10,000 whales make their way from Alaska each winter to mate, give birth, and nurse their young. Hawaii is the only state in the nation where all three activities take place and the only route that has reported an improved whale population in recent years. A new visitor centre partners with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) with the hopes of better educating visitors on conservation and the age-old relationship between Hawaiians and the sea.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE FLEETHAM, GETTY IMAGES

REVISIT WAIKIKI

While this popular tourist spot is well-known for its beach, it continues to draw crowds for its other offerings. New hotels, a reimagined International Market Place, world-class restaurants, and upscale retailers offer new options for tourists. Don’t miss the Honolulu Biennial, a new, multisite, contemporary visual arts festival. The exhibition showcases the diversity of ideas, art, and culture of more than 30 artists from Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, Asia, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
PHOTOGRAPH BY REGULA HEEB-ZWEIFEL, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

DEVELOP A COFFEE HABIT IN KONA

Ask for directions to the nearest Starbucks in Kona and you’ll be met with raised eyebrows and a lecture. With hundreds of coffee farms in the area, the only coffee locals want to talk about is 100 percent pure Kona coffee—island grown, harvested, and brewed. The distinct taste can be credited to the high elevation, constant cloud coverage, and rich volcanic soil from Hualalai Volcano. Many plantations offer tours and history lessons. You can head to Daylight Mind, where you can try “coffee cupping” (similar to a wine tasting ) to find your perfect brew. For a deeper look, time your trip for one of the island’s coffee festivals, such as Kona Coffee Fest in early November and the Kau Coffee Festival in May.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LORENZO MOSCIA, ARCHIVOLATINO/RED

TOUR SHANGRI-LA ON OAHU

Doris Duke—American heiress, philanthropist, and daughter of a tobacco tycoon—filled her home of Shangri-La with inspiration from her travels around the world, including stops in Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria. Her extensive collection led to the founding of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and the repurposing of her home into the Centre for Islamic Arts and Culture. Tour the incredible home, meet the resident scholars and artists, and learn about the fascinating woman who lived there.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CAROL M. HIGHSMITH/BUYENLARGE, GETTY IMAGES

Header Image: SEE KAUAI LANDSCAPES BY LAND, SEA, AND SKY There’s a reason there are so many jaw-dropping scenes in Jurassic Park. Those views of Kauai can’t be rushed and should be taken in from every angle. A helicopter tour will show you the stunning waterfalls; sailing along the coast will leave you feeling small and insignificant against the natural majesty; a catamaran snorkelling excursion reveals aquatic wonders; and Zodiac tours get you closer to sea caves, Hawaiian Monk seals, pods of dolphins, or green sea turtles. Kauai is the only island in the state with navigable rivers, making it perfect for a kayak adventure or inner tube excursion. Prefer a challenge? Hike the legendary coast, a 35-kilometre round-trip trail that is considered the state’s best backpacking route. PHOTOGRAPH BY CULTURA RM, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

 

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