Escape The Chill And Catch The End Of Whale Season At This Tropical Oasis

By Hugo Mathers

World-famous for it’s pristine beaches, luxe resorts, big-wave surfing and aquatic wildlife, Hawaii truly offers something for every kind of traveller.

Whether you want to kick back with a poolside Mai Tai, trek the vast volcanic landscapes, or snorkel with native green sea turtles, you can’t go far wrong on this heavenly archipelago.

Most visitors only make it to one or two of Hawaii’s many isles—so for those who’ve opted for the downtown hustle and bustle of Honolulu on Oahu, the stunning natural beauty of “The Garden Isle” Kaui, or the isolated tranquillity of remote Lanai—we’ve got you covered.

Read on for the best things to do in Hawaii.

The Best Things To Do On Oahu

people swimming in the ocean

Swim And Surf At Waikiki Beach

Part of the state capital of Honolulu, Waikiki stretches for over 3km and is split into several distinct sections. While Oahu’s North Shore is famous for big-wave surfing, the rolling waves of Waikiki Beach are the perfect place for beginners, and its tropical waters make it a dreamy spot for a dip.

Explore Diamond Head

The massive crater is thought to have been formed about 300,000 years ago during an enormous volcanic eruption, and a hike to the rim’s summit offers visitors immense panoramic views of Honolulu and the vast surrounding ocean.

Snorkel At Hanauma Bay

On the south-eastern tip of Oahu, the former volcanic crater of Hanauma Bay offers up one of the most spectacular snorkelling spots in the world. It’s home to hundreds of species of tropical fish, vibrant coral, and friendly sea turtles. The natural bay means the water is calm and shallow, making it the perfect spot for those on their first snorkelling adventure.

Visit North Shore/Pipeline

If you drive 40 minutes north from Honolulu, you’ll hit Oahu’s North Shore, famed for its big waves and surfing contests. The Banzai Pipeline (or just “Pipeline”) is a renowned surf reef break off Ehukai Beach Park, notorious for massive waves and tube riding. Not for the faint-hearted, several surfers and photographers have sadly been killed at Pipeline, earning its title as one of the world’s deadliest waves.

Hit Up Manoa Falls

Another short daytrip from Honolulu, Manoa Falls is a spectacular 150-foot waterfall, and one of the most picturesque on the island. Used as a filming location for the likes of Lost and Jurassic Park, take a short hike through the mystic Manoa Valley and be rewarded with stunning views of this iconic Hawaiian landmark.

Watch The Sunset At Sunset Beach

A surfing mecca on the North Shore of Oahu, Sunset Beach has truly earned its title, with white sands stretching more than 3km and radiant red sunsets dropping down over the ocean. Be warned, though: 'Sunset Rip' is a thing, and Sunset Beach is notorious for rip currents, particularly in winter months.

Work Your Way Through North Shore's Food Trucks 

Another thing Oahu’s North Shore is famous for is its food trucks. With luxury resorts and fancy restaurants-a-plenty, these are a great alternative for those travelling on a budget. Shrimp trucks are the main truck delicacy around these parts, but you’ll also find pizza, Thai, acai bowls and loads more to halt your hunger.

The Best Things To Do On Maui

a person wearing snorkels and goggles on a boat

Drive the Road To Hana

The Road to Hana is an epic 100km drive across the north-east coast of Maui. Often listed as one of the most scenic drives in the U.S., the road hugs the island’s rugged coastline and winds round endless waterfalls, emerald valleys and beaches of black, red and white sands. With over 600 turns, more than 50 one-lane bridges, and heaps of unpredictable rockfalls, this drive requires some skilled steering and nerves of steel.

Visit Haleakala National Park

Named after Haleakala, the huge volcano that forms more than three-quarters of Maui, Haleakala National Park offers two related but incredibly diverse landscapes. With peaks of over 3,000 metres, The Summit District is the best place to go for stargazing, moonscape terrains, and panoramic views of the island. The Kipahulu District, meanwhile, is made up of lush emerald forests, full of waterfalls, rockpools, and bamboo-lined walkways.

Snorkelling At Molokini Crater

Another Hawaiian snorkelling haven, Molokini Crater is a tiny uninhabited island, formed by an eruption from around 230,000 years ago. Snorkellers are likely to encounter native green sea turtles, whales and schools of tropical fish, in some of the most serene and clear-blue waters in the state.

Trails At Lao Valley State Park

Located in the middle of Maui, one of Hawaii’s most popular state parks is also home to one of its most recognisable landmarks: the 1,200-foot-tall Iao Needle, a towering rocky peak formed over thousands of years of erosion. Easily accessible with trails for both gentle ambles and heavy hikes, the summit of the valley is one of the wettest places in Hawaii (and the world), contributing to the masses of shimmering greenery and streaming waterways.

Art Galleries

Upcountry in Maui refers to the towns and villages located on the upper slopes of the island’s massive active shield volcano, Haleakala. The main four towns are Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, and Ulupalakua, and visitors can stock up on heaps of local produce courtesy of the island’s only winery, MauiWine, a farm-to-table experience at O’o Farm, and Upcountry Farmer’s Market every Saturday. You can also check out the trail of local art galleries in Makawao, complete with working artists and giftshops. 

Kaanapali Beach

Once named the best beach in the U.S., Kaanapali Beach on Maui’s west coast is one of the island’s most popular spots. The beach’s pristine white sands and clear-blue waters stretch for 6km, while it’s also famous for a daily torchlit cliff diving ceremony, which re-enacts the feat accomplished by the island’s King Kahekili centuries ago. 

The Best Things To Do Kauai

a person standing on top of a canyon

Boat Tour Na Pali Coast

The best way to explore the breathtaking Na Pali coast is to see it from the water. Kauai’s iconic towering green cliffs, alive with shimmering waterfalls and pitch-black sea caves, can be navigated by high-speed rafts, catamarans, or – budget pending – luxury yacht, and don’t be surprised if a few dolphins decide to join you for the ride.   

Waimea Canyon

Located on the south-west side of the island, Waimea Canyon is one of the island’s most popular landmarks, and earns its name as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Free to visit, the canyon was originally formed after a volcano collapsed over 10 million years ago. Choose from a bunch of wilderness trails and panoramic lookouts, or explore the state park by car, bike, or with an organised tour.

Helicopter Tour

Known as Hawaii’s “Garden Isle” due to its unrivalled scenery, there’s no better place to splash out on a helicopter tour. Available via a number of local operators, you’ll get to see vast and diverse landscapes of the Na Pali coast and Waimea Canyon from the sky. Make sure you book a door seat, and don’t forget your camera!

Poipu Beach

On the south shore of Kauai you’ll find Poipu Beach, another spot regularly listed among the best beaches in the U.S. With stunning golden sands and crystal-clear waters, Poipu Beach is popular among both tourists and locals, with snorkelling, surfing and – if you’re lucky – monk seal spotting all high on the agenda.

Hanalei Bay And Hanalei town

The tiny surfer town of Hanalei is a secluded spot in a picturesque location surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and hidden beaches. Here you’ll find a thriving food truck scene, boutique stores and farm-to-table dining, without any of the high-rise resorts or mass tourism that have made it to many of Hawaii’s other towns. The nearby Hanalei Bay has loads of activities going on too, with a surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding available for visitors.

The Best Things To Do On The Big Island

a waterfall

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

For lovers of the great outdoors, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-do on the Big Island. The vast landscapes encompass two volcanoes: Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Maunaloa, the world’s largest active subaerial volcano. An exploration of the park’s lava fields, sulphur banks and craters may find you walking through six of the Earth’s climate zones too!

Mauna Kea Observatory

At the summit of Mauna Kea, an active volcano and the highest point in the whole of Hawaii, you’ll find the world’s largest observatory with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven different countries. As of this year, visitors can book onto one of the free monthly events hosted at the observatory and get a front-row view of the stars.

Swim With Manta Rays

One of the most popular bucket list items for visitors to Hawaii is to swim with manta rays off the Big Island’s Kona coast. The largest of their species, the best way to see them is on a night-time snorkel experience, where you can get up close and personal with these gentle giants of the ocean.

Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach is the largest white sand beach on the Big Island and one of the most expansive in the state. Stretching over the volcanic Kohala Coast, this is the perfect place to swim, sunbathe and snorkel, and even spot migrating whales on the horizon.

The Best Things To Do On Lanai

a shipwreck in the ocean

Hulopoe Bay

Located on Lanai’s southern coast, Hulopoe Bay is one of the island’s most popular spots. It’s one of the few beaches that’s safe to swim on Lanai, owing to the rough waves that surround the coastline. Here, snorkellers will discover immaculate reefs and tropical fish – and the beach is known to be an optimum location for spotting dolphins and humpback whales.

Garden Of The Gods

Keahiakawelo, also know as “Garden of the Gods”, is a Mars-like rock garden, featuring giant boulders and bright red and orange soil. Geologists today are still puzzled by how this natural formation came about, with most scientists pointing to natural erosion over thousands of years. Whether you hike to the site, or reach it via four-wheel drive, you’ll be rewarded with otherworldly landscapes and views out over the Pacific and surrounding islands.

Jeep Safari

Dense with rugged wildlife and precious few paved roads, the best way to explore Lanai is via an off-road jeep tour. You can pick from a few different operators, with some offering self-guided options, and all of which will give you access to the most isolated and untouched natural wonders the island has to offer.

Lanai City

Lanai City is the island’s only town and certainly worth a visit. Founded at the start of the 20th century, the former plantation town was at one point responsible for 75% of the world’s pineapple production. It now has plenty of shops, restaurants and cultural sites, and every year celebrates its historical roots by throwing a much-loved pineapple festival.

Shipwreck Beach

Stretching out for nearly 10km, Lanai’s famous Kaiolohia, or Shipwreck Beach, offers stunning scenery and historical significance in equal measure. A notorious area of wrecking ships due to its shallow and rocky waters, the giant rusted hull of a 1940s oil tanker stands frozen in time a few metres out in the ocean.

When it comes to your next adventure, Flight Centre is your perfect partner for letting you book your way with ease. With deals for everyone on flights, accommodation and packages, book now instore, online or via the app.

Naturally, you'll need somewhere to put your luggage and lounge about so keep reading for Hawaii's best resorts.

Editor's note: Urban List editors independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. Urban List has affiliate partnerships, and if you purchase something through the links in this article, we will earn a commission from those partners. Additionally, this article is sponsored by Flight Centre and proudly endorsed by Urban List. To find out more about who we work with and why read our editorial policy here.

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