Must-Do First-Time Visitor Experiences
Are you about to embark on your first visit to the Hawaiian Islands?
Choosing which experiences to pick can get a bit overwhelming, especially if you aren’t going to pre-book them.
While adventures like exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, watching the sunrise at Haleakala National Park, visiting Pearl Harbor and sailing the Napali Coast are all truly must-do activities, don’t let the adventuring stop with just these.
Here are a number of even more thrilling, unexpected and remarkable experiences to incorporate into your first visit to the Hawaiian Islands.
Island of Hawaii (AKA the Big Island)
The ever-changing landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park should be on every visitor’s bucket list, with their 150 miles of park hiking trails exploring volcanic craters, lava deserts, rainforests, early Hawaiian petroglyph fields and two of the world’s most active volcanoes. Maunaloa last erupted in November 2022, and Kilauea, has been more active recently, erupting near continuously in 2018.
For those of you who are interested in learning about Native Hawaiian culture, customs, beliefs and practices visit Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, which for centuries served as a place of refuge for Hawaiians breaking sacred law, or fleeing death or harm.
Maui – Sunrise at Haleakala National Park from the summit of its massive namesake volcano is a breathtaking and absolute must-do experience for first-time Maui visitors. You can bike ride down from Haleakala if you are a bit adventurous or we can help you book an guided excursion for sunrise. That road up is pitch black and can be a bit scary at 4am. If you prefer to do it on your own, be sure to book reservations in advance since only a limited number of tickets are offered each day.
Sunrise over Haleakala
On their way down from the park, visit the charming upcountry town of Makawao nestled on the slopes of Haleakala and explore its eclectic shops, boutiques and art galleries. Nature enthusiasts won’t want to miss a visit to Iao Valley State Park, just outside of Wailuku town, for views of the towering emerald peaks of the West Maui mountains, verdant stream-cut Iao Valley and the nature-created lava tower Kukaemoku (aka Iao Needle). The valley holds great historical significance as the site of the Battle of Kepaniwai, where the army of Kamehameha the Great, in its quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands under their leader’s rule, clashed with the army of Maui chief Kalanikupule in 1790.
Oahu – Hard to miss overlooking Waikiki, Leahi (aka Diamond Head State Monument) is likely Oahu’s most iconic natural landmark, featuring an ever-popular summit hike finishing with stunning 360 views of the island’s southeastern tip. Another great trek is the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail on the island’s east side, with its spectacular views of offshore islets and the island of Molokai in the distance. The trail is also great for spotting offshore kohola (humpback whales) during the winter season, when thousands of them arrive in the Islands from the chilly North Pacific before returning in the spring. During the winter months, you can see the whales up-close, suggest a whale-watching cruise. Another Oahu must-do is a visit to the museums and memorials of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites collection. While many visit only the USS Arizona Memorial, the harbor’s World War II historical sites also include the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.
Kauai – There’s a reason many first-time visitors make sure their time on Kauai includes a Napali Coast sail or boat tour. Ocean tours of the 16-mile coast offer passengers unsurpassed sea-level views of Napali’s breathtaking natural beauty, towering ridges and emerald valleys. With spectacular views from the sky, a helicopter tour of the island will give you even more stunning views of the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
With Kauai home to the only navigable rivers in the Hawaiian Islands, you can take a boating or kayaking adventure on the Wailua River, which weaves alongside gorgeous waterfalls and lush rainforest landscapes on island’s east side. And every Kauai visitor should set aside time to relax and enjoy one (or more) of the island’s many lovely beaches – among them Poipu Beach Park, which offers crystal-clear waters and an appealing reef for snorkeling
The Na’Pali Coast- photo credit KL Kohn