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Things to Do in Hawaii

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Paradise Cove Luau
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One of Hawaii’s most popular luaus is held beside swaying palms and a stunning sunset at Paradise Cove. A Hawaiian village at Paradise Cove highlights island arts and crafts, and cultural activities include net fishing, the Imu underground oven ceremony and of course the hula.

After being greeted with a traditional floral lei and tropical mai tai, relax into the evening with a full Hawaiian buffet and tropical drinks. Transportation can be included as a package, along with souvenirs, deluxe seating and drinks.

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Lanikai Beach
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While we can’t exactly claim it as fact, there’s a good chance that at some point in time Lanikai Beach was a finalist for a Corona commercial. With sand as white as the clouds above and water which is a welcoming and rich shade of turquoise, this tranquil beach on Oahu’s windward shore is the Hawaii you’ve always dreamed of.

Because it’s on the island’s eastern shore, Lanikai is often graced with gentle tradewinds which cool you just to the point of comfort. Afternoons in the summer months can get a little blustery, although kitesurfers and windsurfers who have launched from Kailua Bay opt to make the most of the wind and zip across the turquoise waters which are capped in flecks of white.

Since Lanikai is set in a private neighborhood the beach is accessed by simple footpaths and isn’t too visible from the road, and while this semi-isolation thins out the crowds, it also means there aren’t any facilities and parking can come at a premium.

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Oahu North Shore
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For many visitors, Oahu’s North Shore means one thing: surfing! World-famous Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline are sacred sites to surfers the world over, and some big-name surfing contests are held here.

The main town is Haleiwa, a pretty boating harbor surrounded by beaches. For wannabe surfers it’s a particularly good place to take lessons or improve your board skills.

In summer, nearby Waimea Bay is a popular snorkeling spot, and beachcombers hit the rock pools when the tide is out. The Banzai Pipeline lies just offshore.

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Lahaina
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The city of Lahaina on the western coast of Maui is, today, sometimes seen as simply a way to get to the beaches of Kaanapali. If you're just passing through, however, you're missing the town's charms completely.

Lahaina was once the royal capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, from 1820-1845, and many of the attractions in the historic district date from that era – including the old cemetery, where you'll find royal graves, and a defensive fortress with reconstructed walls. Later, the city's economy was built on the whaling industry. Visitors today, however, come by the thousands to go whale watching rather than hunting. The Lahaina Historic District is the center of tourism in the town, with several 19th century attractions to check out, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. In addition to the historic attractions and whale watching, you can also enjoy snorkeling, surfing, sightseeing cruises, and luaus.

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Kewalo Basin
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In the heart of downtown Honolulu, just across the street and two blocks west of Hawaii’s largest mall, is the small boat harbor of Kawalo Basin and the starting point for a number of popular Honolulu water-based adventures. Deep sea charter fishing vessels moor alongside snorkel and scuba charters, parasailing vessels, winter whale watch pontoons, underwater submersible tours and even an 83-foot pirate galleon complete with water-firing cannons for daytime family fun or evening debauchery. If you’re looking to get beyond the beaches of Waikiki and out into the big blue, a stroll along its street-side dock will, at the very least, display your varied options.

Though there is no beach access here, a gentle but ridable wave that breaks left of the harbor channel is a popular surf spot with local groms (kids in surf speak). In addition to hosting the Rip Curl GromSearch competition, the break is a training ground for the Kamehameha High School surf team.

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Kilauea Volcano
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Kilauea Volcano is the star of the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii's only World Heritage Site. Kilauea Volcano remains active, spouting orange lava, venting steam, glowing and sputtering.

When conditions are safe you can drive around the volcano's edge on the 11 mile (17 kilometer) Crater Rim Drive, dotted with spectacular lookouts. Visit the park visitors center to learn about trail conditions and guided walks, and come prepared for changeable weather if you’re hiking the trails that crisscross the rim.

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Waimea Canyon
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Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is a wild and wonderful river gorge. Carved over the millennia by the volcanic activity and the floodwaters of the Waimea River, the red rock canyon measures up 16 km long, and 900 m deep. Known for its spectacular views and hiking trails, Waimea Canyon offers plenty of scenic lookouts, picnic areas and nature trails.
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Kualoa Ranch
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Family-owned Kualoa Ranch is a one-stop adventure playground in Oahu. Dating back to 1850, the cattle ranch is a popular location for horse-riding tours and all-terrain trails.

Scenically, the ranch embraces a variety of Hawaiian landscapes, from fertile countryside to rugged mountains and tropical white-sand beaches.

You may recognize some of the locations you’ll see from horseback or off-road ATV, as the ranch has hosted many TV and film crews, including Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Five-O and Lost.

Narrated bus tours point out famous locations, along with other historic and cultural sites.

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More Things to Do in Hawaii

Molokai Island

Molokai Island

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The island of Molokai may not be as popular with tourists as other Hawaiian islands, but it offers stunning scenery and plenty of opportunities to relax. Molokai's landscape includes two volcanoes, a large white sand beach, and a sacred valley – all in an island that's only 38 miles long and ten miles across. You can ride a mule through Kalaupapa National Historical Park (the only way to access the park), go camping at Papohaku Beach, and explore the Halawa Valley – where Polynesians are believed to have settled in the 7th century. Molokai is also said to be the place where hula comes from, where the goddess Laka first danced the hula. Today, there is an annual hula festival on Molokai each May.

During the mid-19th century, Molokai was the setting for a leper colony. The site of the settlement in Kalaupapa is still occupied by some of its former patients, so access is by invitation or organized tour only.

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Honolulu

Honolulu

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Let the vowels and loopy sounds roll slowly off your tongue—without even picturing the golden sands and palm trees swaying in the breeze, even saying the word “Honolulu” can make a person smile. Every year in Hawaii’s capital, where surfboards, sunsets, and taking it slow are simply a way of life, millions of visitors from around the globe all gather to soak in its warmth.

While the beaches and waves are what Honolulu is best known for, there’s much more to Honolulu than simply the front of a postcard. The capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom was here at ‘Iolani Palace, and the museums, temples, and historic homes are windows to Old Hawaii. Get lost in the markets of Chinatown or pay a visit to Pearl Harbor, and let your palette explore the local farm to table cuisine. Catch a show at a downtown theater or hit the late night clubs, or rise with the sun for a standup paddle off the shores of Waikiki.

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Mokolii Island

Mokolii Island

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The islet of Mokolii, or Chinaman’s Hat, is a rugged little outpost that’s home to wedge-tailed shearwaters and occasionally explored by adventurous visitors.

Its unusual shape makes it a popular landmark to spot from panoramic viewpoints such as Kualoa Point. The fish-filled coral reefs surrounding the island are home to sharks, adding to the island’s mystery and James Bond quality. When the tide is out you could even walk here, but it’s best to visit by kayak or boat. When you get here, you can explore sea caves or have two golden beaches all to yourself. A 20-minute climb winds to the top of the island for great views looking back to Oahu’s Windward coast.

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Kilohana Plantation

Kilohana Plantation

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About as touristy as you can get on sleepy Kauai, Kilohana Plantation, the former estate of a sugar baron, now boasts a short train ride through tropical orchards, an upscale alfresco restaurant, the headquarters for Kauai’s only major rum distillery, shopping and a spa, plus a luau complete with fire twirlers. Thanks to a 1980s restoration, the 16,000-square-foot manor house retains much of the structural charm it must have had when Gaylord Parke Wilcox, the head of the Grove Farm sugar plantation, built the Tudor mansion in 1935.

Though history buffs will find a few interior nods to the Hawaii Historic Landmark’s former use—vintage photographs, ornate carpeting, hardwood floors and wainscoting—this is no museum. The home’s bedrooms, sitting rooms and sunrooms now host shops purveying a huge variety of 8island-inspired souvenirs from glassworks to pottery, apparel and jewelry to coconut carvings, confections and spices.

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Kaʻanapali

Kaʻanapali

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Hawaii’s first planned resort town, Ka'anapali is a consistent favorite with visitors, with numerous hotels and condominium complexes sharing the prime waterfront location along Ka’anapali Beach. Once named America’s Best Beach, the spot offers three miles of sand and warm, swimmable water. Families play on the shores, keeping eyes open for a possible whale swimming in the distance. Tour boats depart directly from the sand during whale-watching season, which runs through the winter.

Along with numerous restaurants, there are a variety of stores located in Ka’anapali’s open-air Whalers Village shopping mall. Throughout the day, free Hawaiian entertainment, like hula dancing and lei-making lessons, are offered to guests. A walkway runs in between the beach and the line-up of resorts and businesses, making it easy to forget about the car and stroll from one spot to the next. There’s always a fun crowd of folks moving about.

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Wailua River

Wailua River

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Kauai’s Wailua River runs from the volcanic Wailua crater to the coast, flowing through the Wailua River State Park.

It’s Hawaii’s only navigable river, so make the most of the experience with a boat tour or cruise into the island’s rugged interior. Along the way, you’ll pass waterfalls, nature reserves and walking trails as the river slowly meanders its way inland. The river’s highlights are Fern Grotto, Wailua Falls and Secret Falls, reached by a secluded walking trail.

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Kaneohe Bay

Kaneohe Bay

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The best stretch of sand in Kaneohe Bay is out on the middle of the sea. That’s where the sandbar, or “Sunken Island” emerges during low tide, and its sugary white sands are like a floating cay that was made especially for you. Kayaking to the sandbar is one of the most popular activities on the Windward Side of Oahu, and while the beaches along the shoreline aren’t great for swimming, the protected waters make the perfect spot for paddling, boating, or kayaking.

In addition to the sandbar, five islands poke above the turquoise, reef-fringed waters. The tallest of the islands—Chinaman’s Hat—rises 200 feet from the northern edge of the bay and offshore of Kualoa Park. Known to Hawaiians as Mokoli“i, the island resembles a large straw that seems to be floating on the surface of the water.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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The mega attraction on the Big Island is Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii’s sole World Heritage Site. The volatile park’s centerpiece is Kilauea Volcano, which continues to blow its top and spout molten lava, ash and steam.

Crater Rim Drive is a spectacular driving route, skirting the rim of the caldera, stopping at lookouts and taking you from rainforest to desert. The eerie and easily accessible Thurston Lava Tube is a long hollow cave-like formation, created by flowing lava.

Another driving route to follow is the winding Chain of Craters Road along the slopes of the volcano to the coast, where lava has pooled from recent eruptions.

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Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach

Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach

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Ever had black sand between your toes? Because of the constant volcanic activity, sand comes in a variety of colors in Hawaii. Along with white, you can also find green and black, the latter of which is found on the well-known Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

Located on the southeastern Kau coast, between Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the town of Naalehu, this beach should be on your list of places to visit when on the Big Island of Hawaii. The coastline is framed by coconut palms, but what is often found at the edge of the sand tends to steal all of the attention. Large honu, or Hawaiian green sea turtles, basking in the sun are a common sight here. Take as many pictures as you’d like, but be sure to stay a safe distance away. Swimming isn’t ideal here due to waves and currents. There is an area for picnics, so plan ahead and come prepared to enjoy lunch with a view. Don’t take any black sand from the beach—legend says that a curse will also go home with you.

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Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku)

Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku)

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Set inside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Thurston Lava tube is the most accessible lava tube on the Big Island of Hawaii. Discovered in 1913 by newspaper publisher Lorrin Thurston, this dark recess is the result of subterranean lava which once flowed through this young section of earth. 400 years old and 600 feet long, the tube is now lit by electric lights to create an eerie glow for visitors who venture inside.

On the 15-minute walk down towards the cave the dense rainforest surroundings make it hard to believe that magma ever flowed through here at all. Nevertheless, as you make your way down a set of metal stairs, the entrance to the tube stares at you like a black abyss in the jungle. Although the ceiling can be a little low at points, the walk through the tube is completely safe and is a surreal contrast to the foliage outside.

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Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park

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Haleakala National Park protects the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala Crater. Exploring its huge expanses, it’s easy to see why haleakala means ‘house of the sun’.

The park is divided into two sections: the crater and the coastal area around Kipahulu.

Visitors come here to hike the wild lunar landscapes, with overnight treks particularly popular. Sunrise is an amazing sight over Haleakala, and the park is also well worth visiting at night, when the star-filled sky is crystal clear.

On the coast, the landscape is more lush, with fern-shaded pools and tumbling waterfalls to cool off in.

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Wailea Beach

Wailea Beach

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Although the Wailea resort complex is graced with numerous beaches, the epicenter of the beach scene will forever be Wailea Beach. Voted as the #1 beach in America in 1999, this stretch of golden sand which fronts the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons resorts offers everything from snorkeling and standup paddling to outrigger canoe paddling and playful bodyboarding. Fun-loving yet undeniably luxurious, Wailea Beach is the postcard of luxury you would expect from a Maui resort complex.

Even though private cabanas line the shoreline (and there is a great chance of spotting a celebrity), Wailea Beach is a public beach and is open to anyone in the community. Public parking lots are found at neighboring Ulua Beach as well as next to the Four Seasons, and a two-mile coastal path connects Wailea Beach with Polo beaches, which is a similar island favorite.

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Royal Lahaina Luau

Royal Lahaina Luau

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The Royal Lahaina luau is a family-friendly evening of oceanfront entertainment set inside of Ka’anapali’s Royal Lahaina resort. More economical than some of the larger shows in town, children will love getting on stage and trying their hand at the hula, and adults will love the buffet of Hawaiian food and open-bar of tropical drinks. Mai-tais and Blue Hawaiians are paired with luau classics such as kalua pig, lomi salmon, and bowls full of poi, and everyone can agree towards the end of the night that the fire dancers are the overall highlight. Oftentimes, the twirling staffs are a fitting end to a fiery sunset which has given way to darkness, the last rays having disappeared over the horizon which is visible from your oceanfront seat.

Since the Royal Lahaina luau is located in the Ka’anapali resort district, the luau grounds are only a short drive from neighboring hotels, or, if you’re staying in the immediate vicinity.

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