Hawaii – people call it paradise – and yes, it is. This group of islands in northern Polynesia offers a tropical escape for tourists from all over the world.
Influenced by Polynesian and Western cultures, the Hawaiian Islands feature almost everything: ancient kingdom remains, active volcanoes, mountain tops, black, white and even green sand beaches, world-class surfing, Walmarts, Cheesecake Factories, multiple shopping centres and Pearl Harbour. Regardless of age or what sort of trip you’re planning, whether a relaxing holiday or a spectacular adventure, Hawaii is the place for you.
Having been fortunate enough to spend a year in Hawaii, I’ve experienced the magical islands as a local. I lived in Waikiki and went to university in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, which is also known as the ‘Gathering Place’. After just a few weeks in the hustle and bustle of the city, where tourists and business people from all over the world mingle with the locals, I ventured out and found the most peaceful and spectacular places in no time.
Leahi Beach Park is one example; a quiet parkland adjacent to a tiny white sand beach just 15 minutes east of Waikiki. The picturesque precinct is nestled in between the houses of a neighbourhood at the bottom of Diamond Head, the famous saucer-shaped crater standing 182 metres tall on Oahu’s southeast coast. At the top, you can take in panoramic views of Waikiki, Honolulu and beyond, as well as the Pacific Ocean. At the little beach below, you can enjoy a break from the crowds of the world-famous crater.
A lesser known site, further away from Waikiki, is Koko Head crater. A more secluded option, you can enjoy the views with no one else around. The peak rises 196 metres above sea level, and offers views over the southeast corner of Oahu. Within the crater are horse farms and the Koko Head Crater Botanical Gardens.
A stone’s throw from the crater is Hanauma Bay. The embayment is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Oahu, and is both a nature preserve and a marine life conservation centre. The bay hosts over 400 species of fish and is a nursery ground for newborn turtles, so it’s perfect for snorkelling.
Another great place for ocean activities is the North Shore of Oahu. A peaceful, un-crowded beach paradise in summer, it is host to some of the heaviest waves in the world in winter. During the surfing season, the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay switch it on for big wave surfers, creating their ultimate challenge. People flock on the beaches to see them take on barrels big enough to swallow cars.
Oahu is just one of eight islands in Hawaii, surrounded by Niihau, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui and the island of Hawaii (the Big Island). Some are uninhabited, or privately owned, but most of them are open to tourists, and each one has something unique on offer.
My favourite island is Kauai, located a 30-minute flight north of Oahu. The island, known as the ‘Garden Isle’, has a population of less than 70,000 people and is small enough to drive around on a short holiday. It offers an abundance of beaches and unforgettable scenery, including the Napali Coast State Park along the northwest coast. The 18 kilometre long Kalalau Trail finds its way through the park, along a landscape of sheer cliff faces, deep valleys, waterfalls and beaches.
Maui, or the ‘Valley Isle’, is Hawaii’s second largest island with a population of just 145,000 people. Small towns and luxurious resorts are dotted along the coast, and Haleakala National Park stretches across the southern and eastern coastline. In the park, the highest peak on Maui rises over 3,000 metres above sea level, but measured from the sea floor, it reaches over 8,000 metres and is one of the highest mountains in the world.
Apart from high peaks, Maui features rainforests and some of the best beaches in the world, and is an ideal spot for whale watching.
Finally, the island of Hawaii, or the Big Island, is the largest and most diverse island in the state. It is home to three active volcanoes; Maunaloa and Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Loihi, which is located underwater off the south coast. The National Park is the most popular tourist attraction on the island, where spectators can watch Kilauea spit lava into the air, which finds its way to the ocean.
Big Island offers more than volcanoes. There are other attractions, such as the highest peak, Mauna Kea, which stands 4207 metres above sea level and offers panoramic views of its surrounds. The island is surrounded by many white and black sand beaches along the coast, and is home to one of only four green sand beaches in the world, as well as the black Ka’u Desert in the south.
So, while Oahu is the most populous island in Hawaii, all four major islands are equally beautiful, with natural wonders and world-class beaches. Regardless of which one you choose for your next trip away, you are sure to enjoy your time in the Aloha State.