Stuff To Do In Hawaii -- Best Things To Do In Hawaii
Things To Do In Hawaii
Though I grew up traveling the world, I'd always dreamed of visiting Hawaii. Something about the long stretches of beach, rocky cliffs and blue waters spoke to me, and I imagined it being Paradise.
Turns out I was right! After spending two weeks on three of the islands (O'ahu, The Big Island and Kauai), I fell in love with the culture and scenery and saw that there are plenty of things to do in Hawaii. Hawaii may technically be one of the 50 states, but it felt like more of a foreign country than some places in Europe! It also sometimes seemed like we were on another planet as we drove through lush rain forests into barren fields of lava rocks.
Hawaii is often thought of a resort, especially for honeymooners. But while it does have plenty of hotels, it has so much more to offer in the atmosphere and people and there is plenty of fun stuff to do in Hawaii for everyone else. There just isn't any other place like it in the world ... and it was well worth the years it took for me to get there.
Waikiki Beach Hawaii
Our first stop was the island of O'ahu, otherwise known as "The Gathering Place." Flying in to the islands was pretty amazing. As we approached, we could see Maui and the Big Island off in the distance; we then made our way over to O'ahu, and flew right over the island, which is also beautiful. The mountains are steep, jagged and green, and the ocean is the brightest blue
you've ever seen. Even Waikiki beach is beautiful in its own, weird way, with all the different hotels glimmering in the sunlight.
We stayed at the gorgeous Waikiki Prince Hotel, which is a tall, modern structure with two towers made almost completely of glass. It's right at the edge of the famed Waikiki strip, so it's close enough to the action, but far enough away that you don't get all the noise. We were
upgraded to a room on the 31st floor, so we had a window overlooking the Pacific. It was cool being able to stand in our room and watch the boats and surfers out on the water. We got to see some good sunrises and sunsets too; our first morning, I got up at about 6:30 to watch the sun come up. It's easy to get out of bed that early when there's a view worth looking at!
Despite the commercialization of Waikiki, it's actually an interesting place that's full of history. Many of the hotels from the turn of the century are still around (though seriously remodeled), and even with the crowds (which weren't too bad this time of year, the off-season), the beach
was peaceful. There, we took a submarine out to the middle of the ocean (it went 120 feet down). We also enjoyed hot dogs and shave ice (Hawaii's version of a snow cone) on the beach.
If you're into watersports, there are plenty of things to do, though Hawaii tends to close down early. We'd intended to rent a water bike one evening, then discovered that the rental
places close up around 4 p.m.
Hawaii boasts many gorgeous, fully-equipped resort/spa hotels (like the Waikiki Hilton, which has over 3000 rooms and is like a theme park), so it's very easy to spend your entire trip at the hotel, if you so desire. However, we didn't see the point in traveling all the way there, only to stay holed up in our room--especially when Hawaii has so many things to do. So though we did some relaxing things, much of our trip was spent seeing as much of the islands as we could.
In Honolulu (on O'ahu), we went to see Diamond Head, the huge crater that looms over Waikiki. Walking into the park is amazing -- you literally enter the caldera of the crater and can see the walls surrounding you. You can then hike up to the top, through several dark tunnels and 200 steps -- but the view is worth the effort.
We also went to visit the 'Iolani Palace, which is the only royal estate in the U.S., and to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Seeing the memorial was moving and also quite eerie. You take a boat out to the memorial, which looks like a white covered bridge; inside is a
list of the names of the soldiers who died in the attack. What's devastating though, is that the boat is still under the memorial--and the bodies are still inside. You can see the outline of the ship, which still leaks oil (many believe that the ship is crying). It's unnerving that such a grisly event happened in this beautiful spot on the ocean.
One thing that surprised us about Hawaii was the level of patriotism displayed. There is a group that wishes for the state to once again be independent from the U.S., but they're obviously a minority. Everywhere you look you see "Support the troops" items, and we were at
several events where Military personnel were given applause--like on our plane coming in, where a solider was one of the passengers.
For dinner, we treated ourselves to dinner at Alan Wong's Restaurant. Though this is known as being a very upscale establishment, it's on the third floor of a non-descript office building. That said, when you arrive, you're like, "Is this really where I'll find this place where I'll be spending $75 on a meal?" But the food is fantastic, and very artfully prepared. We ordered Wong's famous red and yellow tomato soup, which is arranged in a ying-yang sign. We also got the goat cheese endive salad, where the cheese was set out in strips on a plate; each leaf was then placed over a cheese strip, and in the middle of the leaves were designs made out of the dressing. The way to eat the salad was to scoop the cheese up with the leaves. Wong changes his menu daily, but always has different fish dishes that I'm sure are wonderful if you like fish (I don't). He does have some regular specials, like his macadamia lamb chops, which is what I ordered. Then for dessert, we shared the famed "coconut," which is vanilla ice cream in a chocolate shell, molded to look like half a coconut. This was a fabulous way to celebrate the start of our Hawaiian holiday!
Sampling Hawaii Regional Cuisine With Chef Alan Wong
Erupting Volcanoes On Hawaii
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The Big Island
The next island we visited was the Big Island, which is actually called Hawaii. Flying over the islands is nice because you fly relatively low (the flights are all only about a half hour), and you can get a nice aerial view of the other islands.
Once on the Big Island, we rented a car and went to Hilo, which is the second-largest city in the state, though it's much smaller than Honolulu. Hilo doesn't have the lush resorts that the other places do, but it's an older town that does have a lot of personality. We stayed at the Naniloa Hotel, which looked like it was a great place at one time--like in the '70s--but is now kind of falling apart. Still, the grounds were lovely, our room was very clean, and again, we had a fabulous view, this time looking over Hilo Harbor and the two largest volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. All of the hotels are on Banyan Tree Road, which is, well, surrounded by
Banyan trees--these wild-looking trees with multiple, winding trunks, and long, thick branches with a low-hanging canopy of leaves. They look a lot like haunted house trees. You see them all over the Big Island.
Hilo is about an hour away from Volcanoes Nat'l Park. There, it's much cooler because you're up several thousand feet, and is like being on the Moon. We drove around the crater of Kilauea, which is still active. We also hiked through lava fields and lava tubes, saw some petrogliphs and waterfalls, and took a drive down to the ocean. Seeing the black lava fields against the ocean and the sunset was amazing.
At night, we braved driving in the dark through the winding roads so we could see some lava
erupting. Kilauea has been continuously erupting for 20 years, though the amount of flow and the path changes daily. When we went, it wasn't erupting too much (which was a good thing!), but in the dark, we could see the orange lava glowing in the distance as it trickled down the sides of the cone. To add to the sight, it was quite dark out, so we could see the stars pretty
well. As we watched the lava, a shooting star zoomed right over the volcano.
We finished off the trip by driving up the big volcano, Mauna Kea. It's actually the biggest mountain in the world--even bigger than Everest. From the sea to the top, it's about 30 thousand feet. From sea level to the top, it's about 13, 000 feet, still a big climb. We went almost to the top, but our little rental car was starting to die, and my ears were killing me. You
change altitude very rapidly--you go up about 9000 feet in less than an hour--so you really feel the change. Still, we got a great view toward the top. The landscape is interesting, because it's not just one solo volcano. It's covered with hundreds of cratered mounds that were once volcanic vents and are all now inactive. It's beautiful.
After Hilo, we drove to the resort town of Kona, which is on the other side of the Big Island. Along the way, we stopped at several historical sites, including the ruins of the largest temple and a resurrected town from a few hundred years ago. We also made a few stops to look at the spectacular coast, which had these jade cliffs and black sand beaches made from volcanic ash. What was interesting about the 5-hour drive is that you go through different climates. In one day, we drove through rain forests, grasslands, deserts and alpine areas.
Kona itself reminded us of Atlantic City, but without the gambling. This area is much more like a desert than Hilo was, and is much warmer. As we drove in, we passed by black lava fields; the big thing is for people to get white rocks and "sign" their names on the lava. So as you drive by the fields, you see thousands of signatures.
Kona's big draw is that green turtles (called Honu) live there and come up onto the beaches. We stayed at the Outrigger Resort, which has a snorkel cove next door, but didn't actually see any turtles on the property. However, we did see them in plenty of other places. During the day, we went to visit the "Place Of Refuge," which is an area where no violence was allowed (this was useful since human sacrifices were made back in the day). There were some more ruins there, as well as restored thatched huts and my favorite--huge tiki idols!
Those of you who've seen pictures of Easter Island, which was also inhabited by Polynesians, know that it's famous for the big heads guarding the island. Well, the Hawaiians also erected many of those idols, though theirs aren't as massive. The "Place Of Refuge" has most of them, some which are practically in the middle of the ocean. We also saw a few honu there, as well as flying fish.
At night, we attended a luau at our hotel. Before the dinner, I took a hula lesson, and
let me tell you--that dance is HARD! You don't just shake your hips and wave your arms around; each hand movement means something. And trying to keep your hips going in time with your feet and hands takes a lot of thought. I have a new respect for hula dancers and wonder if I would've fared better with a ukelele lesson.
As for the dinner, we got to try some typical traditional Hawaiian dishes, including emu (the pig roasted in the pit), poi, lau lau (pork rolled in seaweed) and lomi salmon (it's in a salsa-type sauce). The emu was our favorite, along with the terriyaki beef (Hawaiians put "teri sauce," as they call it, on everything). There were also yummy spiced bananas and pineapples
During dinner, we were treated to Polynesian dances. Almost all of the luaus feature dances from a bunch of the Polynesian Islands (Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji-though Fiji is technically Micronesian and not Polynesian, but anyway...). This way, they can include the Samoan fire dances and stay authentic. And the fire knife dancers are incredible. I was afraid that the guy was going to set the thatched roof where the musicians were playing on fire, but he didn't.
Hula Dancers In Hawaii
Our final stop was Kauai, known as the "Garden Isle." It's easy to see why--Hawaii's oldest island is lush, green, and one of the mountains is actually the rainiest spot on earth (475 inches per year!). There, we stayed at the Radisson, and had a great view looking out at the mountains, which reminded me a bit of some of the mountains I saw in China. They're very steep and jagged and covered with plant life, so they appear green.
Kauai is also known for another odd attraction: wild chickens. They're EVERYWHERE. And they're LOUD! The locals think they're pests, but we thought they were kind of cool. They appear much different than the barnyard roosters we're used to seeing, as they're brightly colored and look almost like parrots. The funniest thing was when we went on one of the trails, there was this tree full of three roosters and two hens, and the roosters were all fighting. It was like a poultry soap opera, All My Chickens.
In the middle of the island is Waimea Canyon, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." The canyon, which was actually caused by an earthquake, does look a bit like the GC, with red bluffs, but is much smaller.
The best natural attraction to see is the Na Pali coast, which you can either get to by flying over in a helicopter, hiking an 11-mile trail or going on a boat cruise. We opted for the boat cruise. We took one of Blue Dolphin charter's 8-hour cruises (beginning at 6 a.m.-yikes!), which drove us alongside the 400-ft green cliffs of Na Pali. I wish I could put the beauty of Na Pali into words, but I don't think I could do it justice. I've seen a lot of natural wonders, including most of the ones in the mainland United State's Southwest, and Na Pali still came out on top.
The advantage of taking a boat is that you get to see all the waterfalls, caves, lava tubes and beaches that are between the cliffs. You also get to look all the way up at the cliffs, which are impressive when you're at sea level. And then there's the wildlife. During the boat ride, we saw
dolphins, flying fish, some more turtles, seals ... and a mother and baby whale. That was a nice surprise, because the whales usually migrate up to Alaska in May. But this whale mother still had to make sure her baby was strong enough to make the journey, which is why she was still there.
Blue Dolphin also took us out to see the "forbidden" islands of Nihau and Lihua, which is an eroded volcano right across from Nihau. Nihau is owned by some millionaires and is inhabited by about 200 native Hawaiians, who live an old-fashioned life with no running water or electricity. They're famous for making shell leis, but visitors are not allowed. We weren't technically on the island, but stopped in between Nihau and Lihua to do some snorkeling and diving.
This was my first attempt at snorkeling. Now I enjoy swimming and like deep water (I can hold my breath underwater for a long time, and actually won a swimming bet against my dad in Egypt when I was a child). However, we stopped in this place where the ocean was about 30 feet deep and the current was really strong. If you've never snorkeled before, it takes a
while to get used to breathing through the tube. Needless to say, it was frightening trying to learn to breathe while swimming in the really deep, choppy water. I was seriously concerned that I'd get sucked under the boat or into a cave. But I was determined to do this, so I solved the problem by hanging onto the rail of the boat. Even then, I was getting bounced around
and smashed by waves. Still, the view was amazing. The water was so clear, you could see all the way down to the bottom, which was laced with coral reefs. I saw hundreds of fish--it was
like being in an aquarium.
On our last day, we went to Lydgate State Park. There,.a rock wall has been built in the ocean so swimmers have a safe. place to go. I enjoyed snorkeling there a lot more because it was a little like being in a pool, though the heavy waves still pound over the walls. Because it was a lot more shallow, you're able to get much closer to the fish. I swam through a few schools of fish -- and there were hundreds of them!
Na Pali Coast Kauai
After that, it was time to go home. I really didn't want to leave, and literally cried as we made our way to the airport to return to NY. I'd been dreaming of going to Hawaii for a long time, so I'm glad that our visit exceeded our expectations. I know that one day, I'll be back.
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