How do you visualize the Hawaiian Islands?
Do you see:
- Swaying palm trees?
- Stunning beaches?
- A luau on a starry tropical night?
Or do you see:
- Fiery volcanoes creating lava paths to the sea?
- Snorkeling, diving, surfing in azure seas?
- World class golf courses?
- Luxurious resorts?
- Superb restaurants and shopping?
You can see all of these and more in the beautiful Hawaiian Islands. Composed of 132 separate islands, atolls and coral reefs, the Hawaiian islands are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean less than 6 hours by air from the West Coast. Formed by volcanic eruptions, the Hawaiian Islands are actually the tops of immense underwater mountains. Eight islands make up 99% of the land mass. Of those 8 islands, 6 are open to tourism with 4 being the most popular. The popular resort islands are Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii (also known as the Big Island).
Hawaii is on the edge of the tropics. The islands have 2 seasons:
- Winter (when it’s warm) – 68 – 80 degrees
- Summer (when it’s warmer) – 75-88 degrees.
Trade winds keep things comfortable giving Hawaii a perfect year round tropical climate.
Hawaii may be exotic but it is still American.
Money, driving, electricity and language is the same as we have on the mainland. Communication is never a problem since Hawaiians speak English as well as their native Hawaiian language. Clothing in Hawaii is comfortable and casual so no reason to bring dress clothes.
Even at the best restaurants, the dress code is Hawaiian Casual. That means a pair of khaki shorts or pants and a Hawaiian shirt or polo for men and a sundress or cotton slacks for women. Waikiki is a bit more formal and if you really want to dress up, this is the island to do it.
Bring bathing suits for the beach, comfortable shoes for sightseeing and plenty of reef safe sunscreen.
Hawaii has something to offer everyone.
No other vacation destination on earth can even come close.
Hawaii is not one single destination. Each island is a destination in itself. Each has unique personalities, attractions and appeals.
Most vacationers only know about Honolulu, Waikiki and Maui but the Hawaiian islands are so much more……..
The largest of the Hawaiian islands, encompassing 4038 square miles with 266 miles of coastline, Hawaii is also known as the Big Island. Hawaii offers a blend of tropical rainforests on one side and lava on the other.
This is one of the best places in world to go star gazing. If you are traveling to the Big Island and don’t go up to at least the visitor’s center of Mauna Kea, you are really missing an experience of a life time. The sunsets are spectacular. While you can’t see the best sunsets from the visitor’s center, there is a hill across the road (short hike) for some great views! Parking is difficult so take a picnic with you and get there early.
The BEST way to go stargazing at Mauna Kea is by pre-booking a small group excursion. We can help with that.
Otherwise, you need a 4 wheel drive vehicle and please note that many of the car rental companies will not cover you for damages if you drive up (so check your contract).
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is huge- over 500 square miles and climbs from sea level to 13,000 feet above sea level. It includes 2 of the islands volcanoes- Kilauea and Maunaloa.
Kilauea, in the southern half of the island, near Hilo, is the active volcano that is currently erupting. Lava has been flowing continuously toward the ocean since 1983. The landscape ranges from hot molten lava deserts to lush green jungles. Imagine driving into Kilauea and parking on a parking lot with steam coming out of it.
Most Popular stops within the park:
- Halema‘uma‘u Crater after it doubled in size following seismic activity at Kīlauea’s summit in 2018
- Hike the once rainforest-covered Devastation Trail
- Explore steamy Haʻakulamanu (Sulphur Banks) for a quick loop hike.
- Drive along the Chain of Craters Road
- Hike through the Thurston Lava Tube
Tip: If the park’s department is still allowing it, walk along lava beds for a once in a lifetime stroll but bring good shoes with heavy soles. You will have to walk a while before getting to the lava beds. Since the flow changes daily, check with the ranger service to see where the best spots are to see the flow.
Tip: One of the best ways to see the lava flow without walking on it is by boat. There are many companies that offer night time viewing of the coast line to see the lava flow. You can also consider taking a cruise. Many cruise ships will time their departure from Hilo so that you get the best viewing of the lava flow.
Hilo, on the eastern coast of the island, is the gateway to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and is Hawaii’s oldest seaport. It still retains its small town, turn of the century ambience. Drive along the Hilo-Hamakua Heritage Corridor and take in the sheer lush cliffs formed from the slopes of Mauna Kea. The volcano provides a stunning backdrop to hidden waterfalls, lush verdant valleys and the sugar cane production history.
Staying in Hilo, means a 45 minute drive to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park BUT, you can also visit Rainbow Falls (a 10 minute drive), Akaka Falls State Park (a 25 minute drive) or take an ATV tour , go ziplining, horseback riding or even rappel under a waterfall the Umauma Falls area. Check out the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on a rainy day.
Kona and the Kohala Coast- West Side of the Big Island -the resort area of the Big Island
On the west side of Hawaii, Kailua-Kona, once a fishing village and seaside retreat for Hawaiian royalty now offers a lots of shopping, restaurants, condo style hotels with a few resorts and lots of ocean views from volcanic shorelines. You’ll be able to swim with Manta Rays from the Kona area (and sometimes just see them from the shoreline).
Along the Kohala coast, just a few miles North of the airport, on the northwest side of the island, you will find white, sandy beaches, luxury resorts, spectacular golf courses and near perfect weather. Some of the world’s best snorkeling and deep sea fishing is found along this coast. There are also a couple of Petroglyph Parks ( with lava rock carvings) for some interesting and free hikes.
This resort area is also home to the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, voted one of the world’s best resorts, as well as the Fairmont Orchid, the resort where we stayed a number of times, Mauni Lani, Westin Hapuna Beach and the Mauna Kea and a number of other great resorts.
Mixed among the luxury and deluxe resorts are condos, for those who want to visit the Big Island but also save a bit of money or take the family.
South of Kona, check out some of the coffee plantations– some of which will give free tours.
Further south, you can visit Pu’Uhonua O Honaunau National Park, also known as the City of Refuge. You can see Two Step Beach at Honaunau Bay just steps from the City of Refuge entrance.
Keep driving south along Hwy 11 (the only really main road in that area) and take the road to South Point (between mile markers 69 and 70) and drive to the end, parking in the harbor’s parking lot. Now it’s a hike to Papakolea Beach, otherwise known as Green Sand Beach. The hike down to the beach is a bit less than 3 miles but it’s harder going up. Wear sneakers or hiking boots and bring plenty of water. There are usually local available to take tourists down to the beach in open pick up trucks. Ride at your own risk.
There is so much to see and do!
- Go snorkeling
- Go deep sea fishing
- Take a historical sunset dinner cruise
- Visit a coffee plantation
- Take a water fall tour
- Play golf
- Take an outrigger canoe trip
Tip: If you are short on time, consider taking a Grand Circle Island Tour. It is a long day but you will get to see lava fields, visit a black sand beach, Volcano National Park, drive through Hilo, see Rainbow Falls and get an overall great idea of the island. You can always go back to some of the places you really enjoyed later in your visit or on your next visit.
If your idea of a tropical vacation includes waterfalls, secluded beaches, tropical forests and majestic mountains, Kauai might be your paradise. It certainly is mine!
The sheer beauty of Kauai is its playground. Evenings are quiet with a variety of entertainment, including great dining, luaus, music, sports bars and more but don’t expect the glitz and glamour of the big city here. You’ll spend your days filled with outdoor adventure, sun and fun and you’ll be ready for a nice relaxing evening. This is beauty at its best!
Waimea Canyon, on the southwestern side of the island is just 36 miles from the airport. It is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” It is 10 miles long, 2 miles wide and full of reddish colored lava beds, expansive green valleys and spectacular scenic views. One of the best way to see all of the Waimea Canyon is by helicopter. The Waimea River winds through the canyon to the ocean with historical sites and waterfalls along its banks.
Tip: If you want to see the Napali Coast from Waimea, plan to get there early in the morning and go right up to the Kalalau Lookout. If you get there after 10am you may only see clouds.
You don’t need to book a tour to see Waimea Canyon and Keke’e State Park. You can easily drive from Lihue or Poipu and spend some time hiking and exploring.
You may not realize that you are entering Koke’e State Park since the 2 are adjacent and really are 1 big park. Check out the little museum in Koke’e State Park (just past mile marker 15 on Hwy 550 or Koke’e Road), especially if you want to do some hiking. They have a trail map on the porch.
After your day at Waimea Canyon, stop off for a jolt of caffeine with some free tastings and tours at the Kauai Coffee Plantation.
The Sunny Side of Kauai- Poipu
Po’ipu, the main resort area to the south, offers palm tree lined beaches and generally sunnier weather. Po’ipu is the most visited resort area in Kauai with great beaches, water sports and a variety of accommodations and dining options. We always stay in Poipu. We have some of our favorite hotels there and we love driving through the Tunnel of Trees (Rt 520) to remind us that we are almost home! Keep in mind, if you are real beach people, the only place to snorkel during the winter months is the South Side of the island.
Some of our favorite things to do in Poipu and the south side of Kauai:
- Of course, the BEACH
- Spouting Horn –where water can shoot up to 50 feet into the air.
- Strolling along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail with great views of the Poipu Golf Course on one side and great views of the southern part of Kauai to the other.
- Seeing the sea turtles come in to feed in the early morning or late afternoons
- Checking out some of the cute shops and restaurants in Koloa Town
- Snorkeling off Poipu Beach Park, Prince Kuhio Beach Park or even Salt Pond Beach Park.
- Watching the surfers riding the waves at Shipwreck Beach
- Exploring the Botanical Gardens at Allerton or McBryde Gardens
- Have some fun in Hanapepe- walk along the swinging bridge, explore some of the galleries or check out Art Night on Fridays from 5-8pm
East Side of Kauai- The Coconut Coast
This is the area north of Lihue and around the towns of Wailua and Kapa’a. Now, this is the area that you get to see some gorgeous waterfalls up close and personal.
Some of our favorite things to do on the East side are:
- Kayaking along the Wailua River (the only navigable river in the islands)
- Taking a cruise along the Fern Grotto
- Driving up to the Wailua and Opaekaa Falls (well, at least seeing them from the road)
- Hiking Sleeping Giant
- Biking on the bike path along the ocean
- Swimming at Lydgate Beach and if you have kids, there is a playground that will keep the kids busy for hours!
North Shore- Hanalei/Princeville area
Even if you’re not staying on the North Shore, you need a day to explore it.
Hanalei Bay epitomizes everyone’s idea of a tropical paradise. This picturesque arc of sand backed by cliffs was made famous as the setting for the movie “Bali Hai”. Palm lined, golden sand beaches with the towering cliffs and waterfalls of Bali Hai behind it, makes nearby Lumaha’i Beach one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches- the backdrop for some movies.
It’s no wonder that so many movies and TV shows were filmed along the north shore. Just a few filmed in the North Shore were Lilo & Stitch, South Pacific, King Kong and Mighty Joe Young
Some of our top recommendations on the North Shore are:
- Drive past Hanalei and you can see the Wet and Dry Cave and along 1 lane bridges
- Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge
- If you are into hiking, take a short 2 mile portion of the Kalalua Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach and Waterfall and you’re in for a treat- some fabulous views of the Napali Coast. For those less ambitious, walk a few minutes down Ke’e beach, and look to the left for a glimpse of the sheer beauty of the Napali Coast. (A note about getting to Ke’e Beach and the hike to Hanakāpīʻai Beach – you will need to get a permit to enter Haena State Park for day use- available 30 days in advance)
- Go horseback riding
- Relax, snorkel and swim at some of the beaches all along the north shore.
- We saw a monk seal just sunning himself on the beach at Ke’e State Park.
Tip: If you are not staying on the North Shore, plan to make a day of it and pack a picnic lunch. You can stay at one beach or visit many- it’s just so hard to pick just one.
This is a MUST DO/MUST SEE
Short of hiking the Kalalua Trail, the best ways to see the Napali Coast is by air or by boat.
This is one excursion you will want to pre-book before you leave for your vacation since the good tours book up quickly. You can take a snorkeling excursion which will take you up the coast and you can snorkel near caves. Sometimes the waters can be a bit rough, so if you are prone to motion discomfort, take some Bonine before you leave for the excursion.
We recommend both daytime snorkeling tours and evening sunset dinner cruises. Both are fabulous.
Last time we were in Kauai, we took a helicopter tour over the Napali Coast and it was by far, one of the most phenomenal things I ever experienced.
TIP: Let us book first class (front row seating with the pilot) for you and wear dark clothing for less glare!
Maui has been named the “best island destination in the world” by readers of Conde Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure magazines. It’s the 2nd largest island in the Hawaiian chain and has everything from 80 sun drenched beaches, championship golf courses, snorkeling, whale watching and world class shopping and everything from luxury resorts to condo style hotels. Every time we visit Maui, we find something new to see do and explore.
The areas of Maui where most of our clients will visit or stay
- The major resort areas are on the West Coast (Kapalua down to Lahaina) and then South Maui (Wailea area). These areas are where the majority of the beachside or oceanfront resorts are.
- East Maui is a fabulous area to explore. This is where you’ll start the Road to Hana, visit the town of Hana, see the black sand beach of Wai’anapanapa State Park and after the town of Hana, you’ll enter Haleakala National Park at the East Entrance. There is only 1 major resort there and many of our clients who really want to explore Haleakala National Park in more depth may stay at this resort for a few days. It’s quiet and relaxing and a great spa resort.
- Upcountry is where a lot of the activities are. This is the area along the northern and western slopes surrounding Haleakala. You’ll see farms, cowboys and looking east, you’ll see the peak of 10,023-foot Haleakalā.
This side of the island is actually the Northwest bump of the island of Maui starting with the once sleeping fishing port of Lahaina up to the resorts and golf courses of Kapalua.
So other than beaches and golf, what is there to do in West Maui?
- Kapalua Coastal Trail– at the ocean’s edge it runs north from Kapalua Bay Beach through the ground of the Ritz Carlton to the popular D.T. Fleming Beach park. It’s a one way trail and then you repeat is going the reverse direction for about a 2.5 mile trail and is considered pretty easy.
- Horseback riding
- Sea Kayaking
- Snorkeling on your own at Black Rock (in front of the Sheraton Maui)
- Snorkeling excursion from Ka’anapali or Lahaina – get an opportunity to swim with sea turtles, see dolphins and snorkel Molokini
- Whale watching tours (or even from your oceanfront resort in the winter months!)
- ATV tours
- Segway tours
- Surf lessons
- Walk along the Ka’anapali Beach walk
- Stroll around Lahaina, check out the Banyon Tree, shop, visit some galleries and try some great restaurants
South Maui- Kihei to Makena
Luxury resorts, golf and stunning beaches are the real draw of South Maui.
- The beaches are a bit wider than in Ka’anapali.
- Some of the resorts will offer outrigger canoe experiences (which I would highly recommend).
- Stroll the Wailea Beach Path Snorkeling from the Andaz to the Four Seasons. It’s a bit less than 2 miles in each direction.
- Check out the Makena Beach with views of Molokini. Makena Beach Park has 2 sections- Big Beach and Little Beach. Little Beach is know as a clothing optional beach.
- Shop, dine, explore the town of Kihei
Upcountry and Haleakala
While Upcountry doesn’t technically include Haleakala National Park, many people just lump them together.
Upcountry towns, include
- Paia (a great stop off for breakfast before heading along the Road to Hana)
- Kula– which include the Kula Botanical Gardens, Ali’i Kula Lavendar Farm and Ocean Vodka also has a great restaurant to stop for brunch, lunch or dinner- the Kula Lodge
- Makawao– a cute artsy town with lots of galleries was once the come of the Paniolo- Hawaiian Cowboys.
Haleakala National Park. Haleakala is the world’s largest dormant volcano is a must see/must do in Maui.
The park offers a lunar like landscape that is best seen from the air. Driving up to the summit and watching the sunrise over the crater is the park’s most popular activity. The summit offers unobstructed views of Maui’s neighboring islands and a visit is a tradition for most visitors.
Keep in mind that these roads pre dawn and post sunset are dark- actually pitch black so many of my clients choose to take an excursion where someone else is doing the driving.
A very popular excursion that can be pre-booked is a sunrise bike ride down from the summit. It’s downhill and not recommended for the faint of heart or those who don’t know how or haven’t ridden a bike in ages. You’ll be picked up at your hotel and taken to the visitors center to see the sunrise before starting your bike excursion downhill
IF you don’t want to ride a bike down Haleakala, we can recommend other excursions that will include the sunrise.
TIP: If you want to see the sunrise on your own, you will need to make reservations in advance to enter the park between 3 and 7am. They can be make up to 60 days prior at the recreation.gov website.
Tip: If you are not morning people (like me), try the sunset viewing. Since Haleakala is shrouded in clouds for most of the day, check with the concierge of your hotel before heading out to view a sunset. The general rule of thumb is — if the mountain range has a lei around it (meaning you can see the top of the mountains with the clouds a bit lower), it should clear for sunset. We drove up Haleakala in the late afternoon and were lucky to see a magnificent sunset over the observation center.
Road to Hana
Another not to miss excursion is the Road to Hana. It is 53 miles long, narrow roads with 617 curves and 54 one lane bridges and has been voted one of the most beautiful drives in the world filled with lush tropical foliage, waterfalls, freshwater pools and gorgeous scenery. Panoramic views change from breathtaking coastal vistas to the rugged wilderness of Maui’s mountainous interior.
Tip: After you book your vacation with My Vacation Lady, I’ll send you a map with directions but also recommend an app to download that will help you with this drive. I’ll suggest where to buy a picnic lunch to eat along the way since there is no place to stop to buy lunch once you pass Paia until you get to Hana.
Bring plenty of water and sunscreen and, if you plan on hiking, bring some mosquito repellent.
Some of our favorite stops along the Road to Hana are:
- Ho’okipa Beach park to check out the waves and the surfers
- Twin Falls the 1st accessible waterfalls along the road. Stop off at the farm stand for some fruit or snacks. The Lower Falls is an easy walk from the parking lot. The Upper Falls can be slippery and muddy so wear a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or hiking sandals.
- Waikamoi Ridge Trail – a modest hike just past mile marker 9 between Twin Falls and the Garden of Eden Arboretum. This is a bit of a hidden gem.
- Keanae Peninsula for the most amazing views of the lava rock beaches. We actually followed a tour bus down here the first time we drove the Road to Hana and it was a great call.
- Wai’anapanapa State Park with the unique black sand beaches, blow holes, and caves. Please note, you need reservations before hand to access the state park.
- Pua’a Ka’a Falls- is at mile marker 22. In addition to the restrooms, there’s a walking trail to a water fall and a freshwater pool.
- Hana Town- one of the smallest towns in the US. Check out the General Store and food trucks.
- Wailua Falls- one of the most instagramable waterfalls in Maui, it’s directly off the road before you reach Ohe’o Gulch. It’s worth the short (but slippery) short hike.
- Seven Sacred Pools and Pipiwai Trail – 10 miles past Hana town, this is a must see/must do stop. The Seven Sacred Pools, are actually called Ohe’o Gulch and just the sight of the cascading waterfalls might be enough for you but don’t stop. Continue along the Pipiwai Trail to get to the 400′ tall Waimoku Falls. We weren’t able to get all the way up (started pouring on us) but we did make it to he 185-foot Makahiku Falls (which is also beautiful) at about half a mile into the trail.
NOTES: Please don’t attempt to drive around the back side of Haleakala from Ohe’o Gulch. Most car rental companies will NOT cover you if your damage the car there. It is a winding road with few guard rails and many times, the sun will be directly in your eyes.
There are so many other fabulous things to see and do in Maui, that you may want at least a week to explore them all
Most people think of Waikiki and Oahu as one and the same. Some of our clients will only go to Oahu if they want to visit Pearl Harbor, since they think that is the only thing to see and do there.
Waikiki is Oahu’s main tourist area filled with hotels, great beaches, shops and dining options, but it is only one part of Oahu. As the 3rd largest island, Oahu offers rainforests, valleys and canyons, waterfalls, coral reefs, golden sand beaches and mountains nearly 1 mile high.
Oahu is also chock full of history and fabulous attractions, both natural and man-made.
We spent 10 days in Oahu in November 2022 (4th or 5th time there but the longest amount of time we spent in just Oahu) and experienced so many things that we haven’t done before. It gave us an entire now outlook to Oahu for an entire vacation or honeymoon stay!
One thing to consider in visiting the Island of Oahu is that while staying in Waikiki, you may not want to have a car for the entire time. It’s like driving in a city- lots of one way streets with limited on street parking and expensive hotel parking lots. There may be some places that you might want to explore by cab, uber or even bus BUT we do recommend that you get out of Waikiki and explore the island and the best way is by car!
The area of Waikiki is a neighborhood within Honolulu and is about 2.5 miles long and 1/2 mile wide so it’s pretty much a walkable town.
Some of the things that you can see, do and experience from Waikiki without a car are:
- Enjoying Waikiki Beach
- Surfing lessons or stand up paddleboard lessons
- Outrigger canoe ride
- Diamond Head Crater Hike
- Visit Pearl Harbor (you can go by bus but we do recommend a guided tour so you can get the most out of your visit)
- Honolulu Zoo
- Shopping at the Royal Hawaiian Center, the Waikiki Beach Walk, the new International Market Place, the Ala Moana Center and the Dukes Marketplace (flea market)
- Watch the fireworks (8pm on Fridays) from the pier in front of the Outrigger Reef
- Watch the sunset along Waikiki Beach
- Enjoy happy hour beachside or bar hop along Lewers Street
- Enjoy malsadas, aloha plates, shave ice, beach side food stands and upscale restaurants
To give you an idea of drive times to Waikiki- and these times are approximate, unless you get stuck in rush hour- and YES, there is rush hour in Honolulu/Waikiki
- Honolulu International Airport (HNL): 30 minutes
- Downtown Honolulu: 15 minutes
- Pearl Harbor: 30 minutes
- Haleʻiwa Town: 1 hour
- Waimea Bay: 1 hour, 15 minutes
- Kō Olina Resort: 45 minutes
Historical and Heritage Sites around Honolulu
A visit to Oahu would not be complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor. Tour 3 museums dedicated to helping us remember “a day that will live on in infamy.” Tour the U.S.S. Missouri battleship, the Arizona Memorial and the U.S.S. Bowfin Museum. A solemn but moving experience, it’s one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl Crater) serves as a military cemetery for over 53,000 soldiers who lost their lives in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The memorial also offers a panoramic view of Honolulu from the top of Pūowaina’s crater rim.
Bishop’s Museum houses the largest collection of Polynesian and Pacific Island artifacts (over 24 million cultural and natural treasures).
There is also the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, the US Army Museum of Hawaii for the history or military buffs.
The Iolani Palace is the former residence of Hawaiian monarchs. There are self guided tours available Tuesday-Saturdays. This is actually features in many TV shows filmed in Oahu.
Day drives from Waikiki
East Shore and Windward Coast- Take Rt 72 East to Maunalua Bay Beach Park and sneak some peaks of Koko Head. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a great snorkeling spot but now needs advance reservations. Continue along Rt 72 and stop for pretty views along the way. You can get a glimpse of the Halona Blow Hole and Sandy Beach Park from the road.
For a short hike (and the chance to see whales in the winter) stop off at Makapu’u Point State Park and take path up to the lighthouse.
At this point, you can go in a couple of different directions-
- head east to Lanikai Beach or Kailua Beach. If you are in for a moderately challenging hike, you can try the Lanikai Pillbox Hike- (Kaiwa Ridge Trail). The trail is less than 2 miles (in and out) with the remains to 2 military bunkers and fantastic views of Lanikai Beach. Parking is difficult and please respect that you will be parking in residential areas unless you park in the Kailua Beach parking lot and head back down to the trail head.
- head west to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens and then up to Byodo In Temple. These are 2 of the places we visited in Nov 2022. The botanical gardens are FREE and the backdrop of many instagram posts. We walked around the Loko Waimaluhia reservoir and hiked up one of the paths (looked like going up to a maintenance hut) with fantastic views of the Ko’olau mountain range. Byodo in Temple is a Buddist temple and part of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. It’s in a beautiful setting- a smaller replica of a temple in Japan. . Fish ponds, pagodas and gardens- it’s peaceful and relaxing. Definitely worth the $5 entrance fee.
The Windward Coast is from Maunalua Bay to Hau‘ula. It’s home to Kualoa and Valley of the Temples with lush valleys and scenic landscapes. It is definitely worth a day trip!
Heading to the North Shore Along the Windward Coast
As you continue north along the Windward Coast along Hwy 83, the Ko’olau Mountain Range becomes your view to the left. Spend some time at Kualoa Ranch, which is actually a working ranch but also offers tours and adventurous activities in the ranch. It was the location of many movies and TV shows. We did the Hollywood Movie Sites tour (Ka’a’awa Valley, known as Hollywood’s “Hawaii Backlot,” to see where over 300 of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster movies and TV shows were filmed, including Jurassic Park, Jumanji and 50 First Dates) but you can do ATV tours, Jurassic adventure tours, Ziplining, E biking, horseback riding and so much more. Read our review of the Rualoa Hollywood Movie Tour.
The North Shore
The Polynesian Cultural Center features villages that re-create the lifestyles and cultures of 6 Pacific Rim nations. When we went for the first time back in 1990, we went as part of a tour that took us there for a couple of hours. We didn’t think it was much of anything because we didn’t get to experience the full day there.
This time (November 2022) we got there at opening, took the outrigger canoe ride and stopped off at the villages along the way. We did not have a guide (or ambassador), which I probably would recommend to my clients so we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to but these are some of the things we did:
- Visited the Samoa Village– our favorite and tried to learn how to weave our own fish with coconut leaves. We missed the food tastings.
- Visited the Tahiti Village– tasted coconut bread, fished with bamboo poles (didn’t catch anything) and saw the carvings they make
- We played games in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and watched as visitors tried to master Maori stick games.
- In Tonga, we tried lap top shuffleboard (I was pretty good at it) and paddled an outrigger canoe (I was NOT good at that).
- We zipped through the Hawaii and Fiji villages because we just didn’t have time to really experience everything.
- We had a buffet dinner (or you can eat at the food trucks just outside the gates) or you can watch the Luau.
- The highlight was the show Ha- Breath of Life. It’s described as Ha: Breath of Life is a symbolic story of birth and death, love and family, triumph and tragedy, punctuated by Polynesian dance, music, and blazing fireknives,” Definite must see, on my list.
The tickets that we purchased included another day to return. We didn’t have enough time in our schedule but we can recommend an hotel if you wanted to do the 2 day visit.
If you get a chance to stay on the North Shore for a couple of days (or more), check out some of the famous beaches. Keep in mind that the surf can be very high in the winter months so some of the beaches that may be great for snorkeling in the summer are dangerous in the winter months.
Since it was peak surf season when we were there in November, we didn’t get a chance to watch the surfers but I did jump out of the car to take pictures of some of the beaches along the way from our resort to Hale’iwa. The waves are no joke— we saw a couple of emergency vehicles along the road during our stay.
We wanted to explore Waimea Valley, an 1800 acre botanical garden and center of culture and tradition with a waterfall that you can swim under, with a life jacket, but just didn’t have the time. This is also a nice spot for an easy hike. The trail is paved and ends at Waimea Falls. We visited one other time but just ran out of time.
We will be back because even though we visited Oahu 5 or so times, there are still more things for us to see, do and experience.
Come Visit Hawaii
Whether you fly to Hawaii and island hop, spend a week in each island or whether you cruise between islands, Hawaii is worth the trip. Whether you are spending your honeymoon in Hawaii or taking the family, Hawaii is the perfect destination.
As a Hawaiian Destination Specialist, let My Vacation Lady help you plan your dream vacation in the Hawaiian Islands.
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