The Hawaiian Islands are the type of place that is so naturally beautiful that it feels as though it couldn’t possibly exist – even when you’re looking at it with your own eyes. To help you get the most out of your Hawaiian vacation, we put together our top tips for traveling in Hawaii so that you can truly take it all in.
1. The Road to Hana/Maui
Definitely spend a day driving on Maui’s famous Road to Hana. The winding drive takes you around the sides of the Haleakala volcano, through dense jungles, past waterfalls, along stomach-dropping cliffs and – of course – shows off some of the most awe-inducing views on the island. Take your time as you drive. Get out of the car to explore, swim in some of those waterfalls and take a million photos at the overlooks. You should also drive slowly. This is partially necessary because of the hairpin turns and steep drops, but you should also take in the scenery even if you are the driver, so don’t be afraid to pull off to the side to allow other cars to pass you. You should also avoid following other cars too closely; as the driver, you’ll be more likely to keep your eyes on the car in front of you, which takes away from your ability to truly take in the surroundings.
2. Go Stargazing/The Big Island
Because of the vast ocean surrounding the islands and the height of the volcano, the summit of Mauna Kea is literally the best place in the world for stargazing. Fun fact: when measured from the sea floor to the summit, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain. Take a guided tour for the best experience. The guides will fill you in on the history and science behind the island and the collection of observatories at the summit. When the stars come out, they’ll also help point out the most interesting parts of the night sky. Be warned: the summit of Mauna Kea is cold! Check ahead to find out if your guided tour provides warm clothing such as parkas, and dress in long pants (no shorts here!).
3. The World’s Highest Sea Cliffs/Molokai
Lining the northeastern coast of the island, Molokai’s sea cliffs are the highest in the world, reaching to heights of 3,900 feet. The best way to see and experience these sea cliffs is by taking a mule on the 3-mile trail to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. The cliffs are contained within the historic Kalaupapa National Park, which also houses some of the island’s most compelling history. This isolated area was once home to Saint Damien and Saint Marianne Cope, who cared for victims of Hansen’s disease on this island in the late-1800s.
4. Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods)/Lanai
About as far from the traditional lush image of Hawaii that you might dream of, Keahiakawelo – also known as the Garden of the Gods – is an otherworldly landscape of rock towers, formations and spires. Though it is fascinating to explore this area at any time of day, the most beautiful time is at dusk when the setting sun casts a warm red-and-orange glow on the rocks. Accessing the Garden of the Gods is a bit tricky, but with clear directions from your hotel concierge and a four-wheel drive vehicle, it’s no problem. Just remember: taking rocks or stacking them is forbidden; leave nothing behind here but your footprints.
5. Iolani Palace/Oahu
This former residence of Hawaiian monarchs is the only royal palace to be found on U.S. soil. Located in downtown Honolulu, Iolani Palace was last inhabited by royals in the late-1800s and was home to Hawaii’s first electric light system, flush toilets and telephones. The palace is a center of Hawaiian history, with a place of significance in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and subsequent annexation as a U.S. Territory. Surrounding the palace area number of other important and historical landmarks, so consider taking a walking tour to see them all.
6. Waimea Canyon/Kauai
Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is one of the most stunning natural formations on the islands (and that’s saying something!). The canyon stretches 14 miles long, a mile wide and over 3,600 feet deep. The whole canyon is a patchwork of colorful layers of rock walls, lush greenery and twisting valleys. The best part is that it’s fairly easy to access. Start at the Waimea Canyon Overlook for dramatic views, and ten continue into the mountains to Kokee State Park for a day of hiking.