Planning a trip to Hawaii and looking for things to do? Stay organized with this list of attractions, tips and must-sees for all ages and tastes.
1. Green Sea Turtles of Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is probably the busiest spot in all of Hawaii and what would seem like the unlikeliest place in the entire state to witness one of the shyest creatures in the world. Yet, the protected green sea turtles here are curious creatures. While they’re far from plentiful on this beach, keep an eye out in the shallow surf and you may be in for a treat.
Travel Tip: Wade out and watch the graceful swimmers play effortlessly next to the many swimmers and surfers and be amazed by it all, but remember, no touching!
2. North Shore Surfing – Oahu
A great year-round destination and the ultimate surf town, the beaches east of laid-back Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore explode with surfers and spectators each December as it hosts the prestigious VANS Triple Crown of Surfing events. World-renowned beaches like Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay and the aptly named Banzai Pipeline are the mecca of surfing, where 20-foot waves are commonplace and provide the ultimate backdrop to an exciting afternoon of watching the best in the business.
Travel Tip: Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the side of the road on the drive up from Honolulu is an absolute must stop.
3. Helicopter Tours – Oahu, Kauai and Big Island
As most of the Hawaiian Islands are blanketed in thick, lush rainforest, dramatic mountain ranges and deep canyons inaccessible by car or even foot, there is no better way to see them in all their glory than from a height. Helicopter tours offer more than just a bird’s eye view of the stunning terrain as your headset connects you to a knowledgeable local tour guide (doubling as the pilot) who explains the geology, ecology and history, answering any questions you may have. On Oahu, check out Dole’s pineapple-shaped plantation, the immense Waimea Canyon in Kauai or the still-spewing Kilauea volcano on Big Island.
Travel Tip: Eat after the tour.
4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Big Island
Although the island of Oahu receives the most tourists, the most visited attraction in the state of Hawaii is found on the Big Island. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park houses Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes (active since 1983 and continuously flowing ever since) as well as the world’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa. Spectacular Crater Rim Drive is an 11-mile road surrounding the summit and lookout stops en route offer jaw-dropping vistas of the plunging Rainbow Falls and lava tubes you can actually walk through!
Travel Tip: On Crater Rim Drive, stop at the Volcano House Restaurant for a bite, or, for a truly unique experience, spend a night in one of the 10 refurbished cabins of the Volcano House Hotel.
5. Traditional Polynesian Tap Tattoos – All Islands
Nowadays, every second person and their grandmother sports some sort of body art. What many don’t know is that the art of tattooing (Tatau) originated with the Polynesians and the traditional method of “tapping” has been around for thousands of years. Putting the electric machine away, the artist dips his self-made needle in some homemade ink and delicately taps out the always traditional and passed-down design over many painful hours. As tapping is quickly becoming a dying art, tattoo enthusiasts make appointments, sometimes months in advance, to fly across the ocean for their chance to get worked on by a legend.
Travel Tip: Do not ask your mom for permission.
6. Local Food! – All Islands
You don’t have to visit the Polynesian Cultural Centre for a luau (but you should) to sample some of the islands’ fantastic local dishes. Besides the obvious native Polynesian influence, Japanese, Chinese and Korean settlers have created a delicious mash-up of flavours resulting in some amazing culinary experiences. From ceviche and Poke to Pipi Kaula short ribs (smoked and dried, jerky style) and the whacky desert simply called shaved ice (it’s not a snow cone with beans in it!), the local food here is a pleasant surprise.
Travel Tip: Hawaiians are strangely in love with Spam. That’s right, Spam. Try the Spam musubi – slices of Spam wrapped in rice and seaweed then deep fried.
7. Pearl Harbor – Oahu
Hawaii’s largest natural harbour was the sight of the Japanese air attack that signalled the beginning of America’s involvement in WWII, known forever as The Date of Infamy. Complete tours take you to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine, USS Missouri Battleship, Pacific Aviation Museum, Punchbowl National Cemetery, and include a Historic Honolulu City Tour. It is the only naval base in the USA to be designated a National Historical Landmark.
Travel Tip: If you’re planning a visit on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec 7), think again. Along with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day, all monuments are closed.
8. Diamond Head State Monument – Oahu
Reminiscent of Rio’s Sugar Loaf, Diamond Head is Hawaii’s most famous landmark. Locals named it Le’ahi for its resemblance to the forehead of a yellow-fin tuna, but thinking the crater contained diamond deposits, settlers called it Diamond Head. The mile or so hike up snakes through military bunkers offering spectacular panoramic views of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, ending at the 560-foot high summit.
Travel Tip: As temperatures climb quickly, start your climb early and don’t forget to bring good shoes and lots of water!
9. Whale Watching – Maui
It turns out that Maui isn’t just a romantic island for us humans! Our winter months bring the ocean’s acrobats west from Alaska to the warm waters off Maui’s western shore to mingle, mate, give birth and to nurse their young. Between December and March each year, 10,000 humpback whales make the pilgrimage and whale watching tours provide a magical glimpse into the lives of these gentle giants as they breach and interact just meters away. It’s true you can spot whales from shore here but one look through a set of binoculars and you’ll wish you were a lot closer.
Travel Tip: To minimize your time in getting out to prime whale watching territory and maximize your actual whale watching time, book a tour aboard The Explorer (a fast, large zodiac) and add an extra half hour of viewing fun.
10. Waimea Canyon – Kauai
Mark Twain called it ‘The Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ for good reason. At 13 miles long, 1.5 miles wide and almost 4,000 feet deep, Waimea Canyon may not be as big or old as Arizona’s monster but the crater still takes up almost the entire western half of Kauai. Hike down the gorge to the canyon floor and be blown away by your surroundings as the sun changes the rock’s colours with every passing cloud. Relax on the banks of the Waimea River and watch the double waterfalls of Wailua drop a dramatic 2,000 feet before you.
Travel Tip: Make sure you fill up before heading out on Waimea Canyon Road as there are no gas stations further.
To start planning your next Hawaii vacation, speak with a Flight Centre Expert Traveller online, in-store, or by calling 1-877-967-5302