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Hawaii less traveled:
Experience a different side of the islands

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Blake Bronstad

Scientists may feud over exactly how many climate zones are contained within Hawaii’s boundaries, but they’ve all concluded that it’s a lot. The state is one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet, where you can find volcanic peaks, lush rainforests, and white and black sand beaches all within a day’s drive.

Hike through jungle terrain, creep through dark lava tubes, dive and snorkel above coral reefs, or paddle along sheer cliff coastlines. When you’re tired, plop under the shade of a palm tree, learn about Hawaiian history and culture through dance and song, or sit down to a cup of locally grown organic coffee. Clearly, this is a place worth protecting.

Below, we’ve put together some ideas of lesser-known, eco-friendly things to do on the four main islands of Hawaii. If you’re ready to explore all the different sides of the Aloha State, with respect and with an open mind, this one’s for you.

This post is proudly produced in partnership with The Hawaiian Islands.

Island of Hawaii

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tommy Lundberg
At over 4,000 square miles, the island of Hawaii is more than four times larger than any other island in the chain. Here, the sand ranges from white to black (with a gamut of colors in between) and volcanoes dominate the landscape. With so much area, there’s plenty to explore — here’s a start.

Getting a geology lesson in volcano country

The island of Hawaii is still being formed...

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Getting a geology lesson in volcano country

The island of Hawaii is still being formed, with the most recent eruption creating about 875 new acres of land along the coastline in Puna. Head down Highway 130 toward MacKenzie State Recreation Area (where the woods abut the rocky shoreline for some great photo opps), and you'll see some of the hardened lava where it came to rest.

Venture on to the current end of the road to check out the newest black sand beach at Pohoiki Beach. Here you'll also see another part of the flow, which stopped inches from certain picnic tables while claiming others.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Taking in Hawaiian history and culture

The island of Hawaii’s intriguing past is on display...

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Taking in Hawaiian history and culture

The island of Hawaii’s intriguing past is on display at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, which according to local tradition was a place of refuge. Until the late 1800s, those who broke kapu, or sacred laws, would evade punishment so long as they could make it to the site of Puuhonua o Honaunau.

Wooden sculptures of deities, called kii, protect the grounds, and the site regularly hosts educational events to help visitors learn more about the history of forgiveness.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Diving (with or without a tank)

From tip to tip, a manta ray’s wingspan can top 12 feet...

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Diving (with or without a tank)

From tip to tip, a manta ray’s wingspan can top 12 feet. They're gentle giants who feed primarily on tiny plankton—and they're just one of the many incredible marine species you might spot off Kona’s shores. Kona Honu Divers, a Manta Ray GreenList activity provider, can lead the way.

If you want to explore the sea on just one breath, enroll in a course with Kona Freedivers. Many freedivers claim that animals tend to swim closer to you when you’re not sporting a snorkel or scuba apparatus, thanks to the lack of bubbles—whether that’s true may be something worth finding out for yourself.

Photo: Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau/Kawika Singson

Falling for waterfalls

Head to the island of Hawaii’s northeast, where the jungles are rife with waterfalls...

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Falling for waterfalls

Head to the island of Hawaii’s northeast, where the weather is wetter and the jungles are rife with waterfalls. Akaka Falls, Peepee Falls, Umauma Falls, and Waianuenue Falls (Rainbow Falls) are some of the best. Just make sure to ask around regarding how to access the falls safely and to ensure you don't trespass on private property.

Tip: Not far from bayfront in Downtown Hilo, Rainbow Falls gets its name from the occasional rainbow that its water creates.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Maui

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson
Humpback whales are part-time residents off the north coast of Maui. Though marine biologists say this is because of its shallow waters, the striking views of the island’s volcanic landscape can’t hurt. Come see what else the Valley Isle has to offer.

Seeing stars, galaxies, and the Milky Way

Yes, as a rule, national parks are best explored in daylight. BUT...

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Seeing stars, galaxies, and the Milky Way

Yes, as a rule, national parks are best explored in daylight. And yes, Haleakala National Park is a stunner during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset (note that you'll need a reservation for the former). But once night falls, the massive volcano at the center of the park looks as though it's sleeping under a blanket of stars. "Half the park is after dark," as they say.

Maui Stargazing offers guided night tours at Haleakala, including use of a Dobsonian telescope. Peer up at galaxies with a hot cup of cocoa in hand, an experience you likely never expected to have in Hawaii.

Photo: Shutterstock/Heartwood Films

Outrigger canoeing

This was once the primary form of water transport among the Pacific Islands...

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Outrigger canoeing

Outrigger canoeing was once the primary form of water transport among the Pacific Islands—stars, currents, and the ocean’s behavior guided Pacific Islanders across treacherous seas. Try your hand at paddling a six-person outrigger canoe on an eco-tour with Hawaiian Paddle Sports and learn more about the incredible Polynesian migration.

From December to March, you can whale watch from your outrigger canoe. No engine hum, no crowds, just you and the denizens of the Pacific.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Tasting Hawaiian beer, wine, and spirits

Leave the piña coladas back at the beach bar and sip on a glass of pineapple wine...

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Tasting Hawaiian beer, wine, and spirits

Leave the piña coladas back at the beach bar and sip on a glass of pineapple wine at the vineyards of MauiWine, Hawaii’s largest winery. It tastes better than you can imagine. (They have tours, too.)

If you’re more of a beer drinker, head to Maui Brewing Company. Love vodka or rum? You’ll find your people at Hawaii Sea Spirits’ organic distillery. Sampling tasty goodness, supporting local—two birds, one stone.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Heather Goodman

Partaking in a traditional luau

Many luau in Hawaii have taken an anything-goes approach to this cultural party...

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Partaking in a traditional luau

Many luau in Hawaii have taken an anything-goes approach to this cultural party and feast, resulting in a mishmash of influences and an inauthentic experience. The food, dance, and music you experience at the average event may not be reflective of what a luau looked like back before the days of mass tourism.

At the Old Lahaina Luau, on the other hand, you'll witness traditional dance and dine on local cuisine with the ocean grandstanding as a backdrop. Nothing mishmashed about it.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/John Hook

Oahu

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson
Hang out in Honolulu for a while to take in its arts and culture scene. Then, escape city life for one-of-a-kind views, postcard beaches, and maybe even a shot at catching a wave all to yourself. There are plenty of sides to Oahu that you won’t see in the standard travel guides.

Surfing the waves

Surfing has long been a part of Hawaiian culture...

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Surfing the waves

Surfing has long been a part of Hawaiian culture. The royalty of the islands, or alii, were often skilled surfers themselves and rewarded those who surfed beautifully with boards carved from koa trees.

Beginners can learn to surf in the calm waves of White Plains Beach—it’s mellow all year long—and then head to Oahu’s world-renowned North Shore to see the experts try their luck at Banzai Pipeline, an iconic wave that guillotines down the shoreline.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Scoping out culture in Honolulu

Amidst the souvenir shops of Honolulu, art and culture are hiding in plain sight...

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Scoping out culture in Honolulu

Amidst the souvenir shops and other local businesses of Honolulu, art and history are hiding in plain sight. For a full day of exploration, start at the Honolulu Museum of Art, which houses over 50,000 works with a focus on Asia and the Pan-Pacific. The Hawaiian Mission Houses, Hawaii State Art Museum, Hawaii Theatre Center, Kumu Kahua Theatre, and Contemporary Arts Museum are all within a mile’s walk of one another.

Outside of the city center, near Diamond Head, gaze at Doris Duke’s opulent souvenirs collected from India and the Middle East at the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Daeja Fallas

Beach hopping the North Shore

If you visit Oahu without spending a day at the beach...

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Beach hopping the North Shore

If you visit Oahu without spending a day at the beach, were you ever there at all? Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, Mokuleia Beach, Velzyland Beach, and Kaena Point are all worth a stop on Oahu's North Shore, a full stop, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Note: Take extra care during turtle nesting season (May to October, generally), when your presence can disturb the nesting sites. And if access is restricted at your chosen beach, don’t worry—there are plenty more just down the road.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Hiking to lighthouses and craters

Whether your taste is the steep and strenuous or the paved and mellow...

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Hiking to lighthouses and craters

Whether your taste is the steep and strenuous or the paved and mellow, theres no shortage of hiking trails in Oahu. The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is well-kept and overlooks Oahus southeastern coastline, a prime spot for spying migrating whales. In Kualoa Regional Park, you can paddle to Mokolii, a tiny basaltic island, and walk 20 minutes to its top.

Another easy hike can be found in Waimea Valley, complete with picturesque waterfall. Or, to learn more about the native plant and wildlife of Oahu, follow the lead of a local guide, who can show you the beauty of places like Mt. Leahi (Diamond Head).

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Kauai

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson
Kauai is known as the Garden Island for good reason. It’s a knockout with cinematic landscapes, some of the best hiking trails in the world, spacious beaches, and plenty of farms where you can get up close and personal with the freshest flavors of Hawaii.

Exploring the epic Napali Coast on Kauai’s north shore

Napali Coast State Wilderness Park is where sheer cliffs drop straight into the ocean...

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Exploring the epic Napali Coast on Kauai’s north shore

Napali Coast State Wilderness Park is located on the north shore of the Garden Island, where sheer cliffs (pali in Hawaiian) drop straight into the ocean in some of the most dramatic coastline terrain anywhere. The best views are found by sea or air. Boat tours leave from Port Allen, while guided kayaking trips bring you up close to soaring cathedral cliffs. Aerial tours, most lifting off from Lihue Airport, give you a front-row seat to scenic areas that are largely inaccessible by land or water. This includes the majestic Manawaiopuna Falls, which you might recognize from Jurassic Park.

Note: New rules and daily visitor limits have been set and entering the north shore of Kauai—which includes Haena State Park and the popular attractions of the Kalalau Trail, Hanakapiai Falls, and Kee Beach—requires reservations in advance. You can secure these online at gohaena.com.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Relaxing on Poipu Beach

Throw your camera into your beach bag...

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Relaxing on Poipu Beach

Throw your camera into your bag before heading to Poipu Beach Park, a perfectly crescent-shaped stretch of sand lined with palm trees and crystal clear waters. There are plenty of family-friendly swimming and snorkel spots, in addition to the spacious beach to stroll along and snap that postcard shot.

You might want to pack your binoculars too—from November to March, humpback whales flip and frolic in the distance.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson 

Going on a farm tour

The harvests of Hawaii’s Garden Island are easily found on a Kauai farm tour...

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Going on a farm tour

The harvests of Hawaii’s Garden Island are easily found on its farm tours. Learn how taro, also called kalo, is cultivated, and sip on fresh fruit smoothies at Hanalei Taro & Juice Company.

Lihue Farm Food Tour’s "Tasting Kauai," Kauai Coffee Company, and Lydgate Farms are three experiences that won’t let you leave with an empty stomach. For these, it’s recommended to come a bit hungry.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Heather Goodman

Exploring a backcountry playground

Kauai lost some of its natural habitat to...

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Exploring a backcountry playground

Kauai lost some of its natural habitat to large-scale sugar plantations starting in the mid-1850s. Today, eco-tourism companies are helping to rehabilitate these lands, turning the old sugar plantations into outdoor playgrounds in the process.

At Kauai Backcountry Adventures, you can float on an inner tube down the plantation’s former irrigation system or get a view of the area from high above, courtesy of a 7-line zipline course.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson


This post is proudly produced in partnership with The Hawaiian Islands.
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