Explore Hawaii: Surfing, Volcanoes, and Polynesian Culture in America's Island Paradise
When you think of Hawaii , what comes to mind? A traditional luau with a pig roasting over a roaring fire? Pristine beaches packed with surfers? Lush nature and towering volcanoes? Sarah Marshall, Lilo & Stitch, Blue Crush, and many more. If you set sail for a Hawaiian vacation , you can see all this diverse archipelago has to offer. With strong polynesian roots, astounding natural beauty, an interesting mix of local foods, and some of the best beaches in the world, Hawaii has a lot to offer. Read on to discover all you need to know about the destination of your dreams—right here in the USA.
General tips and information
Hawaii is located in the Pacific Ocean , 2.952 miles away from the West Coast of the United States. Geographically, Hawaii is part of greater Polynesia , but became the 50th US state in 1959. There are a total of 137 islands , many of which are very small, with a combined landmass of 16,625 square kilometers. However, much of this land area is uninhabited. The eight large islands , with a total population of about 1.4 million, are divided into five administrative districts:
- Hawaii (Big Island): Hawaii County
- Niihau and Kauai: Kauai County
- Oahu: Honolulu County
- Molokai (area), Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui: Maui County
- Molokai (area): Kalawao County
If you fly west to Hawaii, you'll be back in time: the island is 3 hours behind Los Angeles and 6 hours behind New York City. The island chain was created by volcanism, which shaped the landscape to what we know today: lush vegetation , spectacular natural rock formations and dream beaches .
The Most Beautiful Spots in Hawaii
There are only a few major cities on the islands. Honolulu , the capital of Oahu , has over 400,000 inhabitants and is by far the most important city. The second largest city, Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, is ten times smaller. Most tourist resort towns are located below the 20,000-inhabitant mark.
- Kailua-Kona: The place is known as the setting of the famous Iron Man competition. Vacationers want to travel to beautiful countryside and parks in the area.
- Waikiki Beach: Located in Honolulu, Waikiki is one of the most famous beaches in the world. The lively beach, with its international crowd, is a major draw for water sports enthusiasts, who take advantage of the crystal-clear waves.
- Lahaina, Maui : The former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii in the 18th century, Lahaina was an important port and shipment hub. Today, Lahaina is a tourist center with many museums and galleries. Many snorkelers and whale watchers start their tours here.
- Oahu-A Child's Paradise: The island of Oahu offers the best options for a family vacation. At the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, you can enjoy all the rides and splash pools, then head to buzzing Honolulu, visit the Dole Pineapple Plant to learn everything you could ever want to learn about this sweet treat.
Fast Facts: Hawaii
The topography of Hawaii and the changing elevation levels create different climate zones on the islands: rainforest, desert, tundra and temperate climate to name a few. This gives the adventurous traveler the opportunity to switch between laying on a sunny beach in the morning to hiking in the snow in the afternoon. In the summer season, lasting from May to October, temperatures hover in the mid-80s, whereas the mild winters result in temperatures only slightly lower than the summer average. Throughout the seasons, the trade winds provide a refreshing breeze.
Even though winter is the "rainy season" in Hawaii, persistent rain is quite rare. The water temperature on the coasts remains constant throughout the year—generally you can expect temperatures of around 77 degrees. All things considered, Hawaii is a destination you can travel to all year round without strong consideration of the season or weather. In your planning, however, take into account that peak season falls between July and August. Surf holidays in Hawaii are particularly popular in the winter months, when the wind blows a bit stronger.
Highlights: Well-known Hawaii Attractions
Hawaii delights with its multi-faceted beauty. It can be hard to choose which island you will focus on, and even where to go while you are there. Here are our recommendations for the top sites on each of the major islands.
Hawaii Big Island
On this island there are plenty of unique nature experiences to choose from:
- Rainbow Falls: These spectacular natural waterfalls in the midst of a verdant rainforest offers an unforgettable sight. Rays of sunlight create rainbows in the spray, lending this spot it’s name.
- Black Sand Beach: White sand beaches are old news! This beach, with otherworldly black volcanic sand, is a naturally-occurring phenomenon. However, the unusual color won’t make your trip to the beach any less enjoyable.
- Volcanoes National Park: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a nature reserve. Mauna Loa is the world's most active volcano—to witness the lava flowing down the slopes is a breathtaking experience. To climb the baking earth, you must not forget solid shoes, long pants and a jacket. The best way to explore this park is to book a guided trekking tour: a total of 241 kilometers of hiking trails await.
Pearl Harbor gained notoriety in 1941 due to the surprise military airstrikes that took place there, which led to the United States entering World War II. Today you can visit naval and aviation museums as well as monuments to the attacks. In downtown Honolulu you can see ‘Iolani Palace, the royal palace of the island's last monarchs, built in 1879.
Maui functions as a cultural hub, a volcano hotspot, and an ideal hiking destination.
- Lahaina Historic Trail: On this signposted walking route you can explore the city's historical sites. Worth seeing: the tallest Buddha statue outside of Asia (3.60 meters) is at the Lahaina Jodo Mission.
- Sugar Cane Train: While in Maui you should not miss the Sugar Cane Train. This steam-powered tourist train follows a set 10-km route.
- Haleakala National Park: The towering 3,055-foot tall Haleakala Volcano is at the center of this park. The hiking trail to the summit crosses several climatic zones, so by the time you reach the top it can be chilly: be sure to take a hiking boots and a warm jacket with you. On the southwest side of the park, the Pipiwai Trail leads through an impressive bamboo forest to the Makahiku Falls and Waimoku Falls.
- Leahi: The volcano that provides the backdrop for the Waikiki district is 231 meters high and is also called "Diamond Head". It earned this nickname through its glittering deposits of calcite crystals.
- Road to Hana: Take a drive down this coastal road with its many viewpoints to witness one magnificent panorama after another.
- Whale watching: If you travel between December and April, do not miss the majestic sight of thousands of humpback whales passing by the island.
Waimea Canyon State Park boasts an extraordinary gorge 22 kilometers long, more than 1.50 kilometers wide, and 1,100 meters deep at its lowest point. The peculiar green hills with alternating red and gray rocks and blue waters are a paradise for hikers. Plant aficionados should not miss the magnificent Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden full of exotic plants.
Experience Hawaiian culture up close
Hawaiian culture is an interesting blend of traditional Polynesian roots and the gradual influx of Americana as the state was brought into the union. It’s not unusual for islands to adopt a distinct culture from a mainland country, and Hawaii is no exception.
Hawaii is part of the Polynesian culture—in addition to English, Hawaiian is one of the state’s official languages. Due to the lack of a written language prior to the introduction of a more modern school system in the 19th century, Hawaiian is kept alive mainly through songs and stories. The respect for nature and the importance of family togetherness, including one’s ancestors, are important values for Hawaiians.
As a result of the invasion of Hawaii by Europeans in the late eighteenth century, the traditional Polynesian religion was permeated by the proselytizing of various Christian and Asian currents of faith. The majority of the population today is Christian. In the open-air Polynesian Culture Center on Oahu, you can learn about the history and culture of Polynesia. Connected to this is a cultural theme park, which is one of the most successful of its kind in the world and often hosts events.
Hawaii is nicknamed the "Aloha State". Aloha is a Hawaiian word that can be used to say both hello and goodbye. Translated literally, it means "in the presence of life", and in a looser interpretation it means "friendship."
Art, dance, and crafts
The famous ornate flower wreath used to decorate an arriving visitor is called a lei. It is usually made of flowers, with the occasional addition of nuts or shells, and is an important accessory in Hawaiian culture.
The hula, a traditional, narrative dance, is iconically Hawaiian. The steps follow the music, while the rest of the body mimics the story being told through the song or chant. Typically, instruments such as the guitar and ukulele are used as accompaniment.
- Do you want to bring back a local souvenir from Hawaii? Typical souvenirs may come in the form of carvings or braiding made by artisans. Jewelry made of volcanic rock or glass is another popular keepsake.
Culinary highlights in Hawaii
In Hawaii, you will not have to worry about expanding the waistline-much of the local cuisine is fresh and healthy.
The islands offer a colorful mix of different culinary influences brought by immigrants to the islands. Restaurants with American dishes and international cuisine can be found in all tourist resorts. However, Hawaii is the best source of quality fish and fresh fruit . Well-known Hawaiian dishes include Kalua Pig (pork cooked in an earth oven), Poi (a sweet porridge made from taro root), and Loco Moco , a dish made with rice, gravy and meat or seafood.
Fresh fruit juices , as well as quality wines and all sorts of cocktails are served in Hawaii. When it comes to beer , you can at least a dozen breweries that produce regional specialties.
Accommodations in Hawaii
In Hawaii, you'll find accommodations for all your needs along the waterfront. From a simple B&B to hotels of all star categories to holiday homes, apartments or campsites, there are options for all kinds of travelers. Particularly noteworthy are the log cabins for rent in various national parks, the ideal home base for hiking trips and nature tours around the islands.
But beware: Wild camping is strictly forbidden everywhere!
Our Pirate Tip: If you book a property on-site in Hawaii, a tax will be added to the room rate. Therefore it’s always best to clarify what the final price will be, so you aren’t surprised when you go to pay the bill.
Practical travel tips for a Hawaiian vacation
When packing your suitcase you shouldnot forget the following items:
Due to its proximity to the equator, the UV radiation in Hawaii is very strong. It can be easy for those unused to the intense sunlight to get badly sunburnt. Be sure to pack sunscreen with a high SPF.
Mosquitoes can be abundant on the islands. Play it safe by using an insect repellent, although you should take care to wash thoroughly after returning inside if you use an insect repellent with diethyltoluamide (DEET) as the active ingredient.
What NOT to pack? Fruits, vegetables and plants are strictly forbidden. The fragile ecosystem of Hawaii must not be endangered by unintentionally introduced pests.
Travel within the state
On the islands of Maui and Oahu there is a public bus system. To travel between the islands you can book flights through Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines or Pacific Wings. Of course, there are also regular ferry connections between the individual islands and ports. Bus tours can be booked for popular tourist destinations. In addition to walking and public transport, you should make use of taxis or book a rental car.
Hawaii is an excellent destination if you are looking for a beach trip, a hiking trip or an impressive natural experience, where comfort and convenience come together with a fascinating culture. Try it for yourself!