Travel destination reviews that highlight 'The Best of...' invariably refer to the Hawaiian Islands as the best place for sun, sand and natural attractions - the place to head for a fun holiday.
This is the location of some of the finest beaches in the United States, each unique in its dimensions, shapes and hues. These sandy stretches are fronted by crystal waters teeming with tropical fish darting through forests of coral. Some of the world's best surfing and watersport opportunities are offered here and for those intent on premium sightseeing it is hard to beat the thrill of watching lava flow from the world's longest erupting volcano.
Visitors who relish exploring different cultures and ancient civilisations will find the best of Polynesian relics in which to indulge their passions, as they soak up some of the 'Mana' (spiritual power) with which the islands were imbued by the legendary gods and goddesses.
Hawaii's nightlife is centred on traditional festivals which visitors are encouraged to experience as they don 'leis' (necklaces of flowers) and dance the famous 'hula' after sunset.
The state of Hawaii includes approximately 130 islands in the Pacific Ocean, many of which are uninhabited. The islands lie about 1,600 miles (2,600km) off the coast of mainland USA. The largest island, Hawaii, is known imaginatively as the Big Island, but the state capital, Honolulu, and most of the population is located on the smaller island of Oahu, which is also the main tourist destination. The other main islands are Maui, Molokai and Kauai. Between them the islands boast an amazingly diverse geography providing endless recreation opportunities, from snowboarding on mountain summits to hiking through rainforests. The possibilities offered by a Hawaiian holiday are limited only by the boundaries of the imagination.
The main attraction for visitors to Oahu are the range of 139 beaches which, from the pounding waves of the north shore to the gentle swells of Waikiki in the south, offer the chance to bathe and soak up the sun, or tackle a variety of active watersports in water temperatures that never fall below 75ÂºF (24ÂºC) all year round. The south shore is favoured by families, offering picnic spots and opportunities for snorkelling, tide-pooling and swimming. Magic Island near Waikiki is a peninsula where the beach is protected by a man-made breakwater offering safe bathing and a stretch of shady, grassy areas on which to picnic. At Ala Moana Beach a half-mile of white sand is protected by a reef, washed by calm shallow waters. Hanauma Bay marine sanctuary is located in the crater of an extinct volcano and is an ideal snorkelling spot while Waikiki Beach, the most famous stretch of sand in the world, draws about four million visitors a year to its sands where sun worshippers can buy fast food, snacks and cocktails to enjoy under their rented umbrellas. On the West coast the Ko Olina Resort and Marina offers seven crescent shaped sandy beaches with palm trees and views of the Waianae Mountains, and Yokohama Bay is a quiet, beautiful spot away from the madding crowds. The North shore is favoured by surfers, particularly during the winter months when waves can reach heights of 25 feet (8m) at beaches like Ehukai with its famed Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Waimea Beach. The East shore boasts lush tropical beach settings with conditions ideal for windsurfing and sailing. Kailua Beach Park is picturesque and usually in the 'top ten beaches in the United States' lists. Lanikai is even better. Sandy Beach is popular for kite-flying, and Waimanalo offers four miles of uninterrupted white sand framed by palm trees.
Polynesian Cultural Centre
Hawaii's top tourist attraction, the Polynesian Cultural Centre, is situated on the Kamehameha Highway in Laie on the scenic north shore of Oahu island. This remarkable venue, visited by more than one million people a year, consists of seven Polynesian 'islands' in a beautifully landscaped 42-acre setting, representing Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Tonga, all sited in a freshwater lagoon. The centre gives visitors a holistic insight into the culture of the different Polynesian communities, employing students from the nearby Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus to bring various activities, from pageants and ceremonies to tribal tattooing demonstrations, to life. A highlight of a visit to the Centre is the evening show spectacular, 'Horizons', presented in the 2,770 seat Pacific Theatre with its multi-level stages allowing for fiery volcanoes and brilliant fountains to erupt as special effects in this huge Polynesian song and dance revue.
The Bishop Museum in Honolulu is the largest museum in Hawaii and the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific, recognised worldwide for its cultural collections, research projects and educational programmes. The museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, in honour of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family of Hawaii. Originally the museum housed the extensive family heirlooms of the royal family, but now the collection includes millions of artefacts, documents and photographs relating to Hawaii and other Pacific island cultures. It also has one of the largest natural history specimen collections in the world. All these treasures are housed in the former Kamehameha School for Boys in Bernice Street, Honolulu, established by the princess, which moved to a new location in 1940.
Valley of the Temples
Opposite a bustling shopping centre on the Kahekili Highway in Kaneohe, below the Koolau mountains, nestles a little piece of Japan tucked away in Hawaii. The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park contains oriental gardens and koi ponds, a massive nine-foot Buddha statue, Japanese Tea House and an exact replica of Japan's 900-year-old Byodo-in Temple, the original of which stands in Uji near Kyoto. The temple was recreated to honour the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
The only royal residence in the United States, the Iolani Palace, stands on the corner of King and Richard Streets in Honolulu, its opulent interior giving a glimpse into the lives of Hawaii's last reigning monarchs between 1882 and 1893. Initially it was home to King Kalakaua and his Queen, until he died in 1891. His successor, Queen Lili'uokalani, then took up residence until the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by the US Marines in a palace coup. The palace has been fully restored. Visitors on guided tours can see the portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens, valuable vases and statuary, the grand staircase, the throne room decorated in crimson and gold, the state dining room and the royal family's private quarters.
USS Arizona Memorial Museum
The USS Arizona was one of several United States battle ships that were sunk by the Japanese Imperial Navy during its surprise historic attack on Pearl Harbour, Oahu, on December 7, 1941, causing the US to enter into World War II. Visitors are carried by Navy shuttle boats to the unusual memorial centre, which has been constructed over the sunken hull that lies six feet (2m) below. The Arizona sank in about nine minutes, along with 1,177 sailors and marines who were on board. The names of the dead are inscribed in stone inside the memorial. Visitors are shown a documentary film and can view artefacts and exhibits explaining the tragedy. The memorial is open daily, but there is always a large queue for the free tickets, which are issued on a first-come-first-served basis, so be prepared to wait. Bookings are not taken.
Enter Honolulu's Chinatown neighbourhood through the Gateway Plaza on the corner of Bethel and Hotel streets in the city's downtown business district, and you step into an exciting and exotic world made up of a colourful and eclectic blend of Southeast Asian cultures. Here Vietnamese, Laotian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino, and a myriad of other ethnic groups work in harmony to sell their wares, serve their delicacies and perpetuate their cultural traditions. The market sells an array of delicacies from noodles to duck eggs, and tantalising smells issue from the numerous inexpensive speciality restaurants in this 15-block area. Visitors can also consult a herbalist, view an art exhibit, watch a dragon procession, make an offering at a Buddhist temple, or perhaps buy a precious jade memento in this rich and memorable part of town.
Haleakala National Park
The Haleakala National Park extends from the summit of the volcano, down into the crater, then across the volcano's southeast slopes to Maui's east coast, beyond the town of Hana. The main reason for the park being visited by nearly one and a half million people a year, is the attraction of peering down into the crater of what is the world's largest dormant volcano. Haleakala last erupted in 1790, and has been deadly quiet ever since, although it is not considered to be inactive. The massive crater covers 19 square miles (49 sq km): big enough to hold the whole of Manhattan. Hawaiians regard the crater as a sacred site. It is possible to drive to the summit along a twisting road that climbs 10,000 feet (3,000m) in just 37 miles (60km); visitors can also explore the desolate landscape inside the crater on hiking or biking trails. There are numerous other opportunities for recreational activities in the National Park too. The Park's headquarters just inside the park entrance provides information of activities and programmes offered. The Haleakala Visitor Centre near the summit of the volcano explains, via exhibits, the history, ecology, geology and volcanology of the area.
Maui Ocean Centre
The Maui Ocean Centre is an unrivalled aquatic experience and the largest tropical reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. The Centre is located in oceanfront Ma'alaea Village off the Honoapiilani Highway, within minutes of all major resort areas. It consists of indoor and outdoor displays allowing visitors to see, touch and explore Hawaii's unique marine environment. The walk-through aquarium contains thousands of fish showcased in more than 60 interactive habitat exhibits.
Whalers Village Museum
The whaling museum in the heart of Maui's commercial centre, Lahaina, documents the sleepy port city's evolution into a whaling boomtown in the middle of the 19th century, combining exhibits and educational displays. The Whaler's Village Museum is home to an impressive collection of whaling memorabilia including harpoons, sea chests and a re-creation of the crew's quarters on a typical whaling boat between 1825 and 1860, when men spent months afloat in a harsh environment chasing their massive quarry. The centre also shows films about whales and whaling history throughout the day.
Baldwin Home Museum
One of Lahaina's best preserved 19th-century landmarks, the house in Front Street built by Rev. Dwight Baldwin in 1834, stands now as the oldest house in Maui. Baldwin was a missionary who started a farm on the island and was responsible for growing the first plantations of Hawaii's indigenous pineapples, the fruit that is now enjoyed worldwide. Baldwin's home gives an insight into island life in the missionary era. Alongside is the Master's Reading Room, another of Maui's oldest buildings, which used to be frequented by visiting sea captains when missionaries closed down seafront bars in the early 19th century. The building is now occupied by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which issues maps and guides for visitors wishing to take a walking tour around Lahaina's historic attractions.
No visit to Maui is complete without hitting the highway - the Hana Highway, that is - that runs for about 50 miles (81km) between Kailua and Hana on the northeastern coast of the island. This hair-raising but incredibly scenic coastal drive was built in 1927 by gangs of convicts. It twists and turns its way along the coastal cliffs, containing 56 bridges and 600 hairpin bends. The route winds through numerous lush valleys lined with dozens of waterfalls, dense rainforest, bamboo thickets, fern groves and tulip trees. Visitors need at least a day to traverse the route, stopping to enjoy a dip in mountain pools or exploring off-shooting hiking trails, many of which lead to historic sites, like the little 19th century church built of lava and coral in the village of Keanae. There are two national parks on the route, some lava caves, blowholes, temple ruins and of course unsurpassed views.
The stately mansion of Hulihe'e is situated on Alii Drive in Kailua Kona on the west coast of Hawaii's Big Island. It was built in 1883 and served as the holiday home of Hawaiian royalty until 1925 when it was turned into a museum; it now houses a collection of ancient Hawaiian artefacts and personal memorabilia of the Hawaiian royal family. The bust of King Kalakaua's presides over the entrance hall, while the beautiful Koa dining table carved from a single log of wood graces the Kuhio Room. Little touches like Princess Ruth's hatbox made from the trunk of a coconut tree and the cradle of Prince Albert, son of King Kamehameha IV, bring alive a sense of history in the house. The highlight of the collection is the impressive wardrobe in the Kawanakoa Room, which is made of koa wood and trimmed with the King's crest and carvings of classic Greek muses. The palace suffered significant damage from an earthquake in October 2006 and attempts are being made to restore it to its former glory. Hulihe'e Palace suffered damaged in the wake of the tsunami of March 11, 2011, and some parts may be closed to visitors.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
In the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park surrounding the earth's most massive volcano, Mauna Loa, visitors can actually watch lava flow into the sea from Kilauea, the still active on-site volcano. Park rangers direct visitors to the daily eruption activity on a dramatic burnt landscape, which transforms the landscape with the ongoing eruption. The park is located 30 miles (48km) southwest of Hilo on Highway 11, on the south-east coast of Big Island. Inside the park the Thomas A Jaggar Museum provides a fascinating insight into the geology of a volcano, as well as the cultural aspect of Hawaii's legendary volcano goddess, Pele. Visitors can view seismograph readings, study earth science displays and enjoy photographs of volcanic eruptions.
Pacific Tsunami Museum
Hilo has been destroyed several times by tsunami (tidal waves). The first-hand oral testimony of tsunami survivors is now preserved along with some other fascinating information in the Pacific Tsunami Museum, located on Kamehameha Avenue in the town. The museum features a series of permanent exhibits that interpret the tsunami phenomena, the Pacific Tsunami Warning system, the history of tsunami in the Pacific Basin, tsunami of the future, myths and legends about tsunami and public safety measures for tsunami disasters.
Forget about the Wild West, Hawaii gave birth to the original cowboys about 40 years before they took over Texas. The history of the Hawaiian Paniolo (cowboy) culture, going back 200 years, is captured in the Parker Ranch Museum and Visitor Centre in Waimea. Here visitors can experience paniolo herding, cutting, roping, branding and cattle-sorting on a wagon-ride that also takes in some ancient Hawaiian artefacts and historic corrals in the hill country, over and above the working cowboy station. The Parker Ranch is the third largest privately owned ranch in the United States. The Museum contains antique ranching tools, historic photographs and furnishings and is complemented by two historic homes on the site, which are open to visitors. The Mana Hale saltbox house, built of koa wood by Parker Ranch founder, John Palmer Parker, dates from the mid-1800s. The large Victorian home Puuopelo houses an art gallery containing some original works by Renoir, Degas, Dufy, Corot and Pissarro. Professional and amateur rodeo competitions are held regularly at the arena.
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
*Most areas of the park are currently closed, due to damage suffered during the tsunami of 11 March, 2011.*This important Hawaiian cultural and historical site on the black-lava Kona Coast of the Big Island contains some forbidding-looking giant idols, although it was in fact built as a refuge for ancient Hawaiians who had violated kapu (social taboo) or as a sanctuary for defeated warriors. The surrounding area outside the huge enclosing wall was home to several generations of powerful chiefs. The 182-acre park also boasts other archaeological sites including some temple platforms, royal fishponds and the ruins of ancient villages. The Hale o Keawe temple, which contains the mortal remains of 23 Hawaiian chiefs, and some thatched buildings have been reconstructed.
Kona Coffee Museum and Farm
For a taste of the coffee industry that flourished in the early 20th century on the Big Island visitors can tour the Uchida Coffee Farm, south of Kealakekua town on the Kona Coast. Tour guides in period costumes show off the original farmhouse, bathhouse, coffee mill and drying platforms. Only a few miles away is the Kona Historical Society Museum, housed in the old Greenwell family store, where photographs, ranching and coffee farming exhibits are on display. The store was built by Henry Greenwell in 1875.
Ellison S Onizuka Space Centre
Visitors passing through the Kona International Airport will not be able to miss the clearly marked space centre that is dedicated to the memory of Big Island born astronaut, Ellison Onizuka. The astronaut died in the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, and the educational centre not only commemorates this event, but also contains displays about other manned space flight programmes, an interactive rocket propulsion exhibit, a moon rock, astronaut suit and models of spacecraft.
Since 90 per cent of Kauai is inaccessible by road, hiking is a great way to experience the island's celebrated natural bounty. There are a number of good hiking trails around the island, but by far the most famous, and the most popular, is the strenuous 11 mile (about 18km) Kalalau trail, which winds along the Na Pali Coast. This spectacular coastline is dotted with waterfalls and swift-flowing streams, which over centuries, have cut steep, narrow valleys, that terminate in rugged cliffs overhanging the ocean. The trail begins at the end of the road at Kee Beach, and most hikers will opt to camp out for at least one night before returning. It is possible only to hike the first two miles (about 3km) of the trail, which will lead hikers to Hanakapiai Beach, where they'll be greeted by breathtaking views of Kauai's North Shore. Note that the Kalalau trail will take even well-conditioned hikers a full day to complete, and should not be undertaken lightly; however, those who are willing to put in the effort, will be richly rewarded.
The award-winning Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu is home to more than 3,500 plants and animals. One of the oldest aquariums in the United States, the facility is a great place to say hello to the colourful inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean, including zebra shark, giant octopus, monk seal, and giant clam. The aquarium offers classes and activities for children, however these are very popular and must be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.
Diamond Head Crater
One of the most famous landmarks in Hawaii, Diamond Head dominates the landscape over Honolulu. Officially termed an extinct volcanic tuff cone, the mammoth cone is a US Monument, and a popular attraction on Oahu. Located near resorts and beaches in Honolulu, Diamond Head has a hiking trail that takes roughly two hours to complete; while the trail is uneven and includes nearly 200 steps, the view of Oahu from the summit is well worth the effort. Hikers should bring plenty of water and protection from the heat, as the only comfort station is located at the base of the crater.
NÄ Pali Coast State Park
A rugged coast of extreme beauty, the NÃ Pali Coastline stretches 15 miles (24km) from Ke'e Beach all the way to Polihale State Park on the island of Kauai. The rugged cliffs create a paradise of peaks and valleys, bubbling streams and dramatic waterfalls. The area is inaccessible by car; the Kalalau Trail from the end of Hawaii Route 56 (called the Kuhio Highway) provides the only land access for hikers, traversing 11 miles (18km) and crossing five major valleys before reaching Kalalau Beach at the base of Kalalau Valley. A popular way to explore the NÃ Pali Coast is by kayak as the original islanders did, allowed by permit between May and September.
Honolulu International Airport
Location: The airport is located on Oahu Island about six miles (10km) west of downtown Honolulu and nine miles (15km) west of Waikiki Beach.
Contacts: Airport information desk: +1 808 836 6413.
Time Zone: GMT -10.
Departure tax: None.
Transfer between terminals: The three terminals are connected by shuttle buses and outdoor walkways.
Facilities: The airport is well supplied with restaurants, bars and shops, including duty free. There are ATMs and bureaux de change throughout the airport terminals, and a massage centre, a hairdresser and a nearby hotel, which offers shower facilities and rooms charged by the hour. The business centre in the main lobby offers fax, Internet and photocopy services. Facilities for the disabled are good; those with special requirements should contact their airline in advance.
Parking: There is parking located near each terminal. The first 15 minutes are free, then charges are $1 for 30 minutes, $3 for an hour, and $2 per hour thereafter. Lot J caters for long-term parking, charging $12 per day with a minimum of two days.
Transfer to the city: There are several city bus services that follow different routes and schedules connecting to central Waikiki. Many hotels offer pick-up services; if not the Airport Waikiki Express shuttle bus meets all flights and drops off at hotels along Waikiki Beach. Taxis are also available; the ride to Waikiki Beach takes around 20 minutes and has a flat fare of $30.
Car rental: Major car hire companies represented at the airport include Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz and National. Some other car rental companies are located off-site and provide buses to ferry passengers to their offices; it's worth checking the rental companies' location before booking.
Location: The airport is located 3 miles (5km) northeast of Kahului Town in Maui.
Contacts: Tel: +1 808 872 3830.
Time Zone: Local time is GMT Â 10.
Departure tax: None
Facilities: Kahului Airport features shops, restaurants and visitor information kiosks.
Parking: Short-term parking is available.
Transfer to the city: Maui County operates a public transit system from the airport which operates daily. The Maui Bus stops at marked locations fronting the terminal and the fare is $1 per person per ride.Metered taxis can be hailed from outside the baggage claim area and shuttle services are also located here, run by SpeediShuttle.
Car rental: Car rental agencies include Thrifty, Avis, Hertz, National, Enterprise, Dollar, Budget and Alamo.
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