Where to go in Hawaii
Hawaii is filled with dramatic tropical scenery, a unique culture and white sandy shores that are begging to be explored.
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There are few places in the world that capture the pureness of nature's beauty like Hawaii does. With its combination of coastal drives, plummeting waterfalls, crystal clear beaches and national and state parks, a trip to the USA's 50th state is sure to fill you with awe.
Towering cliffs, clear turquoise waters, untouched jungle and mighty volcanoes are enough to make these eight islands a place that you'll want to explore all of, so we've rounded up the top places to visit in Hawaii for a truly extraordinary trip that won't fail to leave you blown away.
Where to go in Hawaii
Acting as a gateway to the rest of the Hawaiian islands, Honolulu is the state's capital. It welcomes you with its famous crescent-shaped white sand beach, towering hotels, palm trees and popular neighbourhood Waikiki.
It's a city by the water where you get the best of both worlds: shopping and entertainment right alongside sunny and relaxing shores. The best nightlife in the state can be found here along with museums, a pulsing Chinatown, history and lots of nature to explore. Honolulu, though busy, never loses its island vibe.
- Best for: Beaches, shopping, nightlife, food, nature, history.
- Where is it: Honolulu is on Oahu's south shore. Non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne are available.
- Top 5 things to do: Hit up Waikiki Beach, pay a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbour), see the view from Diamond Head, hike the Koko Crater trail, explore underwater
- How long do I need? 3-5 days.
- Recommended tour: Explore the entire island of Oahu on a personal tour that takes you to film and TV locations and the best surf spots, all while learning about Hawaiian history, myths and more.
2. Oahu's North Shore
Though Oahu is one of the most visited Hawaiian islands, you can still escape to its less touristy side, the North Shore. It's no secret that the beaches here boast winter waves that can reach up to 12 metres high.
Oahu's North Shore isn't just for surfers. The laid-back vibe has travellers flocking to get away from it all and explore the water and land. The year-round beaches are also great for low-key activities such as kayaking or paddle boarding.
- Best for: Surfing, relaxation, water activities.
- Where is it: Oahu's North Shore is between Kaʻena Point and Kahuku Point. From Honolulu, it's a 40-60 minute drive. Buses take two hours from Honolulu.
- Top 5 things to do: Catch some waves, visit the historic town of Haleiwa, spot turtles at Turtle Beach (Laniakea Beach), enjoy the water paddle boarding, kayaking or snorkelling, explore the inland waterfalls.
- How long do I need? 1-3 days.
- Recommended tour: On a North Shore Tour you'll see famous beaches, a botanical garden, Waimea waterfall and Haleiwa, and you can tuck into a food truck for lunch.
3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to the nation's most active shield volcano, Kilauea, and the world's largest volcano, Mauna Loa.
Park staff lead education programs and guided walks and explain the connection between the power of this park to the people of Hawaii Island (the Big Island). See volcanoes, lava pouring into the sea, deserts and rainforests all in one park.
At times, the park may be closed due to major volcanic activity. Information regarding the safety of the park and the island can be found on the Hawaii Tourism Authority website.
- Best for: Nature, history.
- Where is it? Hawaii Volcanoes National Park extends inland from the southeast coast of Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. It's best to drive to the park as there are no transport options once in the park. It's a 45-minute drive from Hilo.
- Top 5 things to do: Drive the Crater Rim Road, visit the Jagger Museum, walk through the Thurston lava tube, hike the Devastation Trail, visit the Halema'uma'u Crater.
- How long do I need? 1-2 days
- Recommended tour: Join a Volcanoes National Park Adventure Tour from Hilo to see a black sand beach and an active volcano, and walk through a lava tube.
4. Haleakalā National Park
The dormant Haleakalā volcano is the true draw to this national park. You can hike to its top and gaze at the impressive crater views made from solid lava.
The park itself has two sections that look like they don't even belong together. One has a moonlike landscape with cone-shaped formations while the other is a coastal area with a bamboo forest, waterfalls and endangered Hawaiian geese.
- Best for: Nature, active travellers, scenic sites.
- Where is it?: Haleakalā National Park is in the southeast of Maui. The only way to get to, in and around the park is by car. No public transportation is available. From Kahului, it's a 50-minute drive.
- Top 5 things to do: Take in the views from the Haleakalā crater (sunrise or sunset is ideal), hike one of Haleakalā's summit trails, stargaze, bike down from the Haleakalā summit, spot endangered species.
- How long do I need? 1-2 days.
- Recommended tour: Jump on a Haleakalā Combo Tour for a day of adventure that can include biking down from the summit and ziplining across the stunning scenery.
5. Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
This park stands in stark contrast to the others in Hawaii with jaw-dropping views of the land and sea. Picture towering sea cliffs, lush valleys filled with native plants and animals, dramatic drops, gushing waterfalls, white sand beaches and turquoise waters brushing up against the shore.
The Nā Pali coast is a hiker's dream come true and a sea lover's scenic playground. You can see this park by helicopter, boat or on foot.
- Best for: Hiking, active travellers, water activities, scenic views.
- Where is it?: the Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park sits on Kauai's northwestern shore. Tours depart from various locations in Kauai to access the park.
- Top 5 things to do: Hike the Kalalau trail, go on a rafting adventure, take in the views from above, kick back on a cruise and stay overnight in a campsite.
- How long do I need? 1 day.
- Recommended tour: Hop on an Ocean Rafting Adventure and see sea caves, float under waterfalls, snorkel and take in scenic views of the Nā Pali Coast.
Molokai is one of Hawaii's largest islands. While it's often skipped on visitors itineraries, it should not be ignored. It's often regarded as the most Hawaiian of all the Hawaiian islands. This is because more than half of its residents are of native descent.
Molokai differs from the rest of the state, running on Molokai time where locals are proud to be independent and do things at their own speed, relaxing and enjoying life. If tourist hot spots are what you're after, you won't find them here. Instead, visitors come here to experience true Hawaiian culture, get away from the developments and take in the out-of-this-world beautiful scenery.
Best for: Culture, nature, scenic sites.
- Where is it?: Molokai sits between the islands of Oahu and Maui.
- Top 5 things to do: Ride the mules to Kalaupapa, hike through the Halawa Valley, snorkel the barrier reef, check out Papohaku Beach, see scenic views from above.
- How long do I need? 3-5 days.
- Recommended tour: If you're short on time, take a day trip to Molokai from Honolulu and see the "Friendly Island" by scenic flight, explore Palaau State Park and stop by some local farms.
7. Road to Hana
The Road to Hana connects Paia to Hana, stretching 103km long and hugging Maui's northeastern shore. This drive could easily be categorised as one of the most scenic and spectacular in the world, but it isn't for the faint of heart.
The road is marked with 54 one-way bridges that take you across waterfalls that will dazzle and amaze, as well as tight hairpin turns that can make even the most confident drivers a little nervous. Cliffs rise beside you and valleys invite the jungle to grow. We won't blame you if you stop at one or two of the many inviting pools that are dotted along the way.
- Best for: Scenic sites.
- Where is it?: The Road to Hana (Hana Highway) is between Paia and Hana on Maui's northeastern coast. The only way to get there is to drive.
- Top 5 things to do: Explore Paia Town, see the Twin Falls, dive into the Seven Sacred Pools, spend time in Hana, stop at Wainapanapa State Park.
- How long do I need? 1 day.
- Recommended tour: Take a Provider link: Full-Day Road to Hana Scenic Sightseeing Tour for a day of rainforests, viewpoints, swimming and waterfalls.
8. Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon is another state park to add to your ever-growing list of other-worldly scenic parks in Hawaii. Proudly named the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is 16km long, over 900 metres deep and striated with various colours of exposed rock.
A sunny day will impress you with its views, while rainy days encourage the waterfalls to gush. Take time to explore the area by foot and be sure to spend some time soaking up the remarkable views.
- Best for: Scenic sites, hiking.
- Where is it?: Waimea Canyon State Park is set on Kauai's western shores and works its way inland. It's best explored by driving and tours.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Stop by Waimea Canyon lookout, hike one of the many trails such as Waimea Canyon trail and Black Pipe Trail Loop, visit waterfalls such as Waipo'o Falls, see Puu Hina Hina Lookout
- How long do I need? 1-day
- Recommended tour: Explore Waimea Canyon and Wailua River for a day packed with history, scenic sites, lookout points and more with a knowledgeable guide.
Hilo offers visitors a refreshing break from all of the activity and wow factors that are dotted around Hawaii.
This small city on Hawaii Island is a charming place full of beauty, but on a smaller scale. It is laden with gardens, farmers markets and is the ideal base for exploring Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea, Puna and the Hamakua coast.
As America's rainiest town, it's also packed with waterfalls.
- Best for: Scenic sites
- Where is it?: Hilo is on the Hawaii Island's east coast and is accessible by driving, bus and the city's international airport.
- Top 5 things to do: Check out Rainbow Falls, smell the flowers in Lili'uokalani Park and Gardens, shop through the farmer's markets, chill out on the beach at Richardson Ocean Park, discover Hawaiian culture.
- How long do I need? 1-2 days.
- Recommended tour: On a Hawaii Big Island Circle Small Group Tour you can explore Hilo, the surrounding waterfalls and a black sand beach and take a peek at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
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