Posted by Alice Yoo on March 5, 2014 at 4:00pm
Hawaii consists of eight islands, of which I've been fortunate to enough to visit the largest four: Hawaii (Big Island), Kauai, Oahu and Maui. With stark differences in vegetation, climate and scenery, each island is a unique destination each and of itself. This variety allows both first time travelers and return visitors seemingly endless possibilities to discover their own perfect escape.
Through my own travels, I’ve realized that Hawaii offers different experiences for everyone, from adventure seekers to couples looking for the ultimate in relaxation, to families with kids both old and young. Here are six of my favorite Hawaiian memories. Each was uniquely Hawaiian and offered once-in-a-lifetime experiences. May they inspire you the next time you're planning your next Hawaiian vacation.
Big Island of Hawaii
Feel Red Hot Lava Pouring from an Active Volcano
Seeing, hearing and feeling lava flow beneath me was an experience that I'll never forget. It allowed me to witness the true destructive and creative power of an active volcano. Riding on a helicopter, from high above, you not only get an amazing birds-eye view of the Kilauea Volcano, you can also feel the heat and smell the sulfur of the 2,200 degree molten lava below.
Climb the Massive Mauna Loa
The Big island of Hawaii is also home to the largest volcano on Earth, the Mauna Loa. When measured from its base, Mauna Loa is almost twice as tall as Mount Everest, reaching an astounding 56,000 feet in height. It's thought to be between 700,000 and 1 million years old. You can reach the Mauana Loa summit by going on some intense hikes. There's a 38-mile long three to five-day hike, which requires camping, or you can take a 4-wheel drive vehicle to the Mauna Loa Weather Observatory and then hike 8-miles from there. There are some steep parts to this climb so hikers must be in good physical condition. No one said it would be easy!
Hike the Beautifully Dangerous Nā Pali Coast
Known as the"Garden Isle" due to its lush tropical forests, Kauai is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. The Nā Pali Coast is famous for its rugged beauty in part due to its inaccessibility by cars. Hiking the coastline gave me a sense of isolation amongst the most scenic tropical coastline I have ever experienced. For thrill seekers, the Kalalau Trail, along the Nā Pali Coast, was ranked in America's 10 Most Dangerous Hikes by Backpacker Magazine, demonstrating the excitement that the Nā Pali Coast holds to those who enjoy traveling off the beaten path.
Take in the Nightlife of Honolulu
Oahu offers a stark contrast between a major metropolis and some of the most stunning landscapes and beaches in all of Hawaii. Honolulu, the state capital with a population of approximately one million people, has roughly the same population as the city of San Francisco. We stayed at the landmark pink Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki Beach and spent the days surfing and lounging at the beach while at night we experienced the incredible restaurants and bars that the city has to offer. It was the perfect mix of active and laid back. Hit Oahu at the right time, like on the Fourth of July, and you can see some incredible firework displays right above the beach.
Swim Under the Gorgeous Upper Waikani Falls
On the windy road to Hana, make sure to stop off and enjoy some beautiful waterfalls. One of the most famous waterfalls on the Hana Highway, the Upper Waikani Falls has water that's exceptionally clear and you can even take a short hike down from the road for a refreshing swim. This is one of those spots where you feel totally immersed in the tropical environment as you're surrounded by rocks, water, and tons of greenery. These waterfalls are also called "Three Bears Fall" because they have three parallel drops all at different heights, the tallest one being 70 feet high!
Drive Up the Spectacular Haleakala
When you rent a car in Maui, most rental agreements state that the car should not be driven to Haleakala. Why? Because Haleakala is Maui’s highest mountain with an elevation of 10,023 feet. To put that into perspective, pilots in unpressurized planes are required to use oxygen above 10,000 feet due to the thin atmosphere. It’s the highest elevation I’ve ever been to and I was able to drive there. Basically, you're climbing from sea level to 10,000 feet in just 37 miles or a 2 hour drive. At the top, the clouds float gently below you and you feel as if you are on an island surrounded by an ocean of clouds with no end in sight. There’s a calm serenity that sets in, then you realize that it is indeed difficult to breathe at that elevation. Of course, it's all worth it. For spectacular shots, make sure you go at the crack of dawn or during sunset.
Photo: Kenny Louie
There are only a few places in this world that offers picturesque scenery, beautiful beaches and active volcanoes, but what really sets Hawaii apart from any other travel destination is its culture and its people. Embodied by the Aloha Spirit, the warmth of the people was something that I consistently experienced on each and every one of my trips.
Paraphrasing the Aloha Spirit, people must think and emote good feelings to others, extending warmth in caring with no obligation in return. Although the Aloha Spirit is actually state law, my experiences have shown me that the law only exists to highlight the virtues of the people of Hawaii. Given the number of tourists Hawaii receives, I am constantly amazed at how open, warm and welcoming the people of Hawaii are to their visitors. Hawaii is the perfect escape to do something completely extraordinary at a destination that welcomes you with a warmth and spirit that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
First photo: Shutterstock