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While Hawaii boasts year round sunshine, sandy beaches and tropical fruits galore, calling it paradise is an oversimplification. Beyond the undeniable natural beauty of the islands, it’s the distinct ‘local’ culture that makes Hawaii unique. Hawaii always has something to celebrate.
Hawai’i - aka the Big Island - is nearly twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined. Geographically it’s the most diverse island of the archipelago, with deserts, rainforests, volcanoes and, surprisingly, snow-capped mountains. The most unique attraction on the island is the active volcano Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The endless stretches of lava terrain are humbling and, depending on nature’s whims, you might even witness fiery-red molten lava glowing.
The Big Island Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is unique among American parks, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains two active volcanoes and terrain ranging from tropical beaches to the sub-arctic, 4103m (13,679ft) summit of Mauna Loa. The centrepiece is Kilauea Caldera, the still-steaming sunken centre of Kilauea Volcano. Kailua-Kona, in the 19th century was the favourite retreat for royalty. Today it is the largest vacation spot on the big island. Great lodgings, blue skies a central location for exploring the Kona Coast are all drawcards.
Hilo has a classical crescent shaped bay and lush rain forest terrain and is undeniably scenic. Although it’s the county’s capital and commercial center, it has by and large remained ‘old Hilo town’. Here you will find very few tourists among the long time locals.
Iao Valley State Monument: This valley is allegedly named after Iao, the beautiful daughter of demigod Maui. Its centrepiece is the Iao Needle, a rock pinnacle that rises 360m (1200ft) above the valley floor and is said to be Iao’s clandestine lover, captured by Maui and turned to stone. A stream meanders beneath the pinnacle and the steep West Maui Mountains form a scenic backdrop. Hana Highway, on the north-eastern coast of Maui between Kahului and Hana, ranks as the most spectacular coastal drive in Hawaii.
A cliff-hugger, it winds its way deep into lush valleys and back out above the rugged coastline, snaking around more than 600 twists and turns along the way. Haleakala National Park and Haleakala Crater, is in the middle of the world’s largest dormant volcano. It resembles the surface of the moon, with a seemingly lifeless floor dotted with high, majestic cinder cones. It’s so big that the island of Manhattan could fit inside. The national park centres on the crater, with impressive views from its rim and several hikes across the crater floor. Hookipa Beach, one of Maui’s prime surfing spots, has established itself as Hawaii’s premier windsurfing beach. Winter has the biggest waves for board surfers, and summer has the most consistent winds for windsurfers.
Oahu is home to Honolulu, the biggest city in Hawaii; Waikiki, the Pacific’s leisure-and-pleasure capital, some of the world’s biggest surf, evocative WWII memorials at Pearl Harbour, and a relaxed multicultural mix that gives a memorable flavor to its streetscapes and restaurants.
The Bishop Museum is considered to be the best Polynesian anthropological museum in the world. Its Hawaiian Hall has three floors of exhibits documenting the islands’ cultural history and includes among its treasures a feather cloak made for Kamehameha I, the king who first united the Hawaiian islands. Diamond Head is a tuff cone – a hill composed of compacted volcanic ash – formed by a violent steam explosion deep beneath the island’s surface long after most of Oahu’s volcanic activity had stopped. Its peak provides a majestic backdrop to the flair of Waikiki. Oahu Market, the busy and colourful Chinatown district was settled around 1860 by Chinese immigrants who had worked off their sugarcane plantation contracts. Its bustling heart is the 1904 Oahu Market, where you can get tattooed, consult with an herbalist, explore the temples and antique shops or eat at inexpensive restaurants.
Pearl Harbour is world famous as the site of the attack that launched the US into WWII. The harbour itself, is surrounded by US military bases and there are four WWII visitor sites that can be intriguing to anyone interested in the history of that era. The North Shore, is synonymous with surfing and awesome winter waves. Sunset Beach, the Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay are among the worlds most famous surf spots and attract enthusiasts from around the world.
Waimea was the site of an ancient Hawaiian settlement and the site in 1778 where Captain James Cook first came ashore on the Hawaiian Islands. Waimea is the biggest town on the south western side of the island with an engaging small town character. The Kalalau Trail is one of the main treks on Kauai and is Hawaiis premier trail. It is common to come across hikers who have trekked Nepal or climbed to Machu Pichu. The Kalalau Trail is basically the same ancient route used by Hawaiians who once lived in these remote north coastal valleys.
The trail runs along high sea cliffs and winds up and down across lush valleys before it finally ends below the steep fluted pali of Kalalau. Waimea Canyon, is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Although it’s smaller and 200 million years younger Waimea is certainly grand. The canyons colourful river-cut gorge is 2785ft deep. The Wailua River runs through it and is 20 miles long (Kauai’s longest). All in all it seems incredible that such an immense canyon is tucked inside such a small island. Poipu Beach is fronted by lovely golden-sand beaches and backed by Kauai’s largest collection of hotels and condos. Even if you are not staying here, it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a day at the beach!
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