Myself and a girlfriend embarked on a lifetime trip of Hawaii travel, from Australia. Our minds full of green scenes from ‘50 First Dates’, we chose to avoid the high-rises of Honolulu on Oahu. We flew straight to The Big Island – a geologists dream – to see Hawaii’s immense natural side and active lava .
We balanced this with a few days Hawaii travel on Maui, or The Valley Isle, which has year on year been voted ‘best island’. Maui is famed for incredible beaches, migrating humpback whales and unbeatable sunsets. Heaven.
3 THINGS NOT TO MISS ON MAUI:
We based ourselves in Kihei, in part because it’s a good central point from which to drive the popular Hana Highway. In part, because accommodation for Hawaii travel surprised us by how difficult it was to find good value. The hotels seemed expensive yet dated.
In hindsight, a great idea would be to get a villa with other friends or a big group. These Hawaii beach homes offer a luxurious slice of heaven. The sunsets are just incredible in Maui, so a spot close to the beach is highly recommended!
From Kihei and this surrounding west coast line, it’s possible to see Lana’i (pictured) – Hawaii’s sixth-largest island – and Kaho’olawe (the smallest of all eight). The latter has more gentle, sloping slopes, which deceptively shield a volcano. Admire in awe, happy to be at a distance, cocktail in hand.
ROAD TO HANA
I cannot recommend this drive enough. It opened my eyes to how lush and tropical Hawaii travel is. It’s also a great excuse to hire an open-top Jeep and listen to Hawaiian local radio – which is delightfully cheerful.
You will need an entire day set aside for bending roads, narrow bridges, slow speed limits and lots of breath-taking scenery. We travelled clockwise from Kihei, so first marvel the fearless surfers at Pe’ahi, a record-breaking surf spot with a legendary break named Jaws.
In the heat, waterfalls are an obvious choice, such as popular Twin Falls (also on the north coast). As lush earth contrasts constantly with mighty water, the Painted Bark Eucalyptus trees along here are also beautiful. Which brings us on to our next stop…..
GARDEN OF EDEN ARBORETUM
No one spot epitomes paradise like this botanist’s heaven. Due to the price tag ($15 adult, $5 child, plus concessions) make it a planned stop, to break the drive and soak up the tropical flora. If you look at the before and after photos on their website you’ll be truly impressed at the efforts.
This lush botanical garden is set on 26 acres of well-tended land. You can access trails, viewpoints and picnic spots. For the film buffs out there, see Keopuka Rock (pictured) – nicknamed ‘Jurassic Rock’ – as it features in the opening sequence of Jurassic Park. Cue music.
Very close to the Garden of Eden is Honomanu Bay, a smaller and quieter black sand beach than Waianapanapa State Park. Waianapanapa is undoubtedly the most famous as you can also explore the sea caves.
3 THINGS NOT TO MISS ON HAWAII, THE BIG ISLAND:
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
I should probably throw in a quick caveat…. We were really quite disappointed by our first foray in to active lava hunting! That said, lava will be one of the main reasons you’ve decided to visit The Big Island – hence you should check it out.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, is the main attraction along with the active craters that surround it. There’s also Mauna Loa, the world’s biggest shield volcano. Despite this we were unlucky and didn’t see any molten lava action – it’s not on tap like I naively expected! What you will definitely see is miles and miles of endless black, solid lava rock. It’s cool, but also very bleak.
During your Hawaii travel, drive the Chain of Craters Road – it takes you right to the ocean. The panoramic view emphasises the dominance and power of lava in this wild and brutal landscape. Also stop at the Holei Sea Arch and a lava tube that you can hike in to.
Feeling a little wearisome from hours of driving amongst an endless sea of black lava, our enthusiasm for Hawaii travel was running low. We LOVED this next unexpected star gazing adventure! I was not aware that The Big Island is also home to one of Earth’s most renowned astronomical sites. Wow.
The drive up the dry, red stony sides of Maunakea feels like being on another planet. Rise almost 14,000 feet above sea level as you climb for two hours. Persevere and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular sunset above the white clouds. Stay for a few more hours and watch the stars sparkle in the spectacularly unpolluted air.
Find great beaches on both islands, but the contrast with the stark volcanic land to the east makes Hawaii Island’s western beaches even more exotic.
We snatched a short afternoon of Hawaii travel on the beach before flying from Kona airport to Maui. Apparently this coastline is the sunniest place in the USA. With not much time, we hit up sandy Hapuna Beach as it regularly appeared as one of the best beaches in search results.
1 TRIP & LIFETIME HIGHLIGHT:
Undoubtedly the most magical single experience we had in Hawaii was diving during the migrating humpback whale season (peak season is January to March). Called Kohola in Hawaii, these magical animals noisily called to each other as we were underwater.
Alternatively book a boat trip to see these mighty beauties, who regularly breach and even appear to show off to their captivated audience. Hawaii offers one of the best viewing spots in the world, sandwiched in the shallow channel between Maui, Lanai and Molokai.
AND KNOW THIS: No wonder I thought Hawaii travel on The Big Island felt like another planet… Astronauts have trained for moon voyages by walking on the lava fields, whilst NASA has simulated a Mars space station here.