Beyond the high-rise hotels and mai tais of Honolulu’s legendary Waikiki beach, Hawaii’s eight main islands* offer unexpected and other-worldly landscapes and surprising adventure.
1. Sea-kayak off the Na Pali coast
The road on Kauai goes only three-quarters of the way around the island because the rugged Na Pali coast defies road-building.
It’s a primeval landscape of razor-edged ridges cloaked in greenery, with tumbling waterfalls and pristine sandy coves. You can sea-kayak along the coast on day and half-day trips.
The more adventurous can kayak in and camp overnight on remote beaches. Those who seek a little more luxury can sail the coast on a catamaran.
2. Watch the sunrise (or sunset) from Haleakala
Head up-country on Maui (leave early – it’s a two-hour drive from Wailea) for a stunning sunrise from the crater of the dormant volcano Haleakala, the “house of the sun”.
It gets mighty busy (you need to book a spot) but sunsets are also brilliant so, if you prefer a smaller crowd, go late in the day.
Haleakala National Park is filled with surreal landscapes for walking and hiking.
3. Fly over the lava-spewing volcano Kilauea
On the island of Hawaii, “the Big Island”, a river of red-hot lava ripples across the landscape, overflowing into the ocean from Kilauea, the home of Madame Pele, the volcano goddess.
Fly over the circle of fire in a helicopter, take a boat trip to see the lava as it oozes into the frothing sea, or (depending on volcanic activity) explore some of the surrounding moonscape within Volcanoes National Park.
4. Snorkel with manta rays – at night
You think swimming with dolphins is special? Trying snorkelling with manta rays – at night.
Depending on your skill, you can dive with them or just snorkel on the water’s surface watching as these giant rays, with an average wingspan of four metres, cruise the waters filter-feeding on plankton. Join a tour on the Big Island’s Kona Coast.
5. Soaring over Waimea Canyon
More than 1000 metres deep, 1.6 kilometres wide and 22 kilometres long Kauai’s Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, is spectacularly craggy, richly coloured and spliced by waterfalls.
Take in an eagle’s eye view from a helicopter, or get up close on a driving or hiking tour along routes that snake through the canyon.
6. Stand-up paddleboard
The laid-back, hippie vibe of Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s North Shore is an idyllic spot to try a little stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP).
The water near the pier is usually calm or you can paddle up the tranquil, tree-lined Hanalei River for kilometres. Afterwards, fill up at one of the town’s renowned food trucks.
7. Discover Jurassic Park on Kauai
Kauai, the “garden island”, is wild and beautiful – it’s also just like a film set and you can see where literally dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed, from South Pacific and Gilligan’s Island to Jurassic Park.
Strap in and literally fly through the sky as you zipline over Maui’s North Shore, through the tree canopy and across tropical jungle, with views across to the Pacific Ocean.
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Australian citizens on holiday need a USA Visa Waiver form, known as an ESTA. Apply online. It costs $US14 ($A19.60) and is usually processed quickly.
Make sure to use the official government site. Some sites look official but will charge an extra $US75 or more to “expedite” the visa waiver, others sites are actually a scam and you just lose your money.
There is no ferry system for moving between the islands so everyone flies and it can be chaotic at the airport. If you are flying inter-island allow plenty of time.
*Hawaii’s eight major islands are Hawaii (the Big Island), Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, Kahoolawe.