8 Stunning Hawaiian Island Escapes
Escaped to Hawaii yet? If not, take a five-minute mini-vaction to check out Hawaii’s greatest beaches, hikes and outdoor adventures.
1. Ke’e Beach and Kalalau Trail
Ke’e Beach is protected by an offshore reef and, unlike other beaches in the vicinity, provides safe wading, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving even in winter.
Ke’e is part of Haèna State Park, a scenic wildland that includes the Waikapalae and Waikanaloa wet caves, which contain pools of glowing green water. Hawaiian legend says that chiefs of old used to gather here.
There’s much to see, and you can camp nearby, at Hanakoa, and Kalalau, but the real attraction is Kalalau Trail, used since prehistoric times to reach Kalalau Valley, 11 miles away. Beginning at Ke’e Beach, the trail follows the spectacular Na Pali Coast. You can backpack and make an overnight stop at Kalalau or make a day trip to Hanakapi’ai Beach.
Side trails lead to waterfalls and lush valleys, and hikers won’t go hungry. The way is lined with delicious wild yellow guavas. Swimming is not recommended, and in wet weather hiking the entire trail calls for caution. (Photo courtesy of wallyg/Creative Commons Flickr)
2. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse
Blanketing one of the most spectacular sections of coastline on the main islands, this 203-acre stretch is on the forefront of Hawaii’s efforts to protect its wildlife. Working with volunteers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has restored coastal habitats to provide the state’s indigenous seabirds with a safe and beautiful home. Not only does this refuge welcome the official state bird, the nene (Hawaiian goose), but it offers a haven to two of the most distinctive endangered endemic mammals: the Hawaiian monk seal and the Hawaiian hoary bat.
Kilauea Lighthouse, built in 1913 and named to the National Register of Historic Places, stands as a monument to Hawaii’s colorful past and natural splendor.
From the shore, visitors might catch spinner dolphins at play or experience the majestic grace of the humpback whale. Each December through April these magnificent animals migrate from Alaska to Hawaii to mate, give birth, and rear their huge babies. (Photo courtesy of Greg.b./Creative Commons Flickr)
3. Wailua Falls
Even if you knew there was a natural wonder on the scale of Wailua Falls in the vicinity, you’d never dream this prosaic little road past a Buddhist cemetery and through four miles of waving sugarcane would be the way to reach it. The double torrent that feeds the falls (wai means “fresh water,” lua, “two”) drops 80 feet to a flower-ringed pool. The plunge is especially dramatic after heavy mountain rains – a comparatively frequent occurrence, since 5,000-foot Mount Waialeale, which dominates the center of Kauai, is considered one of the wettest spots in the world, with a yearly rainfall of almost 400 inches.
Unfortunately, there’s no safe way to climb down to the base of the falls, so your view is limited to what can be seen from just one spot. (Photo courtesy of jayul/Creative Commons Flickr)
4. McBryde Garden, National Tropical Botanical Garden
Your tour begins when you board a tram at the visitors center to begin your descent into the Lawa’i Valley. Entering the gardens on what was once a sugarcane train railbed, visitors are treated to panoramic views of the valley and adjacent bay.
The 252-acre McBryde Garden is home to the world’s largest collection of native Hawaiian plants, the most endangered group of plants in the 50 states. The spectacular specimens include Brighamia species, which were nearing extinction on the extremely steep and inaccessible cliffs of the islands until botanists suspended themselves by ropes nearly 3,000 feet above the ocean and became human pollinators in order to save these plants.
Also in the Lawa’i Valley and adjacent to McBryde Garden is Allerton Garden. Guided walking tours of this enchanting estate are offered by reservation.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden is a nonprofit institution, with active programs in tropical plant research, conservation, and education. Now maintaining four gardens and three preserves in the Hawaiian islands, the organization is supported by donations and grants. (Photo courtesy of steve-stevens/Creative Commons Flickr)
5. Waipi’o Valley Lookout
In a state whose islands seem to provide panoramic vistas at every turn, here on the Big Island it is easy to miss the spectacular view across Waipi’o Valley. It is, however, worthwhile to take the nine-mile Rte. 240 to Waipi’o Valley Lookout.
From this vantage point you can see the island’s largest valley, some 2,000 feet below. This was once home to the ancient Hawaiian kings – and to as many as 50,000 Hawaiians, who gradually abandoned the valley settlements for fear of tidal waves. Many kings were buried here. Because of their “divine power,” it was believed that no harm would come to those who lived in the valley.
The narrow road down to the valley, which is private land, is accessible by guided tour, guided horseback ride, or an hourly shuttle from Kukuihaele. Farther down you can walk along the black sand beach. (Photo courtesy of Simmonds/Creative Commons Flickr)
6. Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District
Nobody is quite sure why this lava field on the northwest coast was significant to the original Hawaiians, but there can be no doubt that it was. Over the course of centuries, they carved thousands of petroglyphs into the stone, representing individuals, families, and animals. The meaning of these petroglyphs – the reason for their existence – is one of Hawaii’s most enduring archaeological mysteries.
A short trail to the carvings begins at an informational kiosk north of the Mauna Lani Resort. Morning and evening are the best times to visit, when the shadows help define the shallow grooves. Wind and rain have taken a toll; visitors are asked not to add to the erosive forces already at work. (Photo courtesy of terencewei/Creative Commons Flickr)
7. Thurston Lava Tube
When lava flows like a stream or river, the sides begin to harden and build up until they meet in the center, crusting over the flow and creating a tube for lava to travel through. As volcanic activity changes, the underground river of molten lava can drain away, leaving a long cylindrical tunnel called a lava tube. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park you can walk through one of these geological curiosities.
The Thurston Lava Tube (Hawaiian name, Nähuku) is on the easternmost point of Crater Rim Dr., which loops around Kïlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. A walk through the dimly lit 450-foot-long tube, set in a bird-filled tropical rain forest, requires ducking when the ceiling gets low. The formation was named for its discoverer, local newspaper publisher Lorrin Thurston, who came upon it in 1913. (Photo courtesy of Mozul/Creative Commons Flickr)
8. ‘Akaka Falls State Park
You reach this park after a six-mile drive west, passing through the former sugarcane plantation town of Honomu. Here in a setting of tropical foliage and flowers is ‘Akaka Falls, which plunges a sheer 442 feet down black volcanic rock, and its neighbor, Kahuna Falls, which cascades 300 feet to the stream below. The falls are visible from a sometimes steep but paved pathway that loops nearly a half mile through deep forest greenery. Flora such as ginger, orchids, heliconias, azaleas, and birds-of-paradise grow along the path. Where the path begins, there are giant monkeypods sheltering a picnic table, but the spectacular drop of ‘Akaka Falls is the big attraction here. No swimming is allowed, and it would be difficult indeed to make your way to the base of either falls. (Photo courtesy of S Carpenter/Creative Commons Flickr)