HAWAII VACATION IDEAS
Insider Secrets of Hawaii
The historical sites of Oahu. The out-of-this-world volcanic landscape of the Big Island. And of course the beaches! Here are 20 tips for visiting the Hawaiian Islands that you won't hear anywhere else.
Honeymooners—Elvis fans—shouldn't miss a trip to the Fern Grotto
If thoughts of Kauai have you picturing scenes of The King in Blue Hawaii, the Fern Grotto is a spot you shouldn't miss. Entry to the grotto used to be forbidden to all except Hawaiian royalty, but nowaways anyone can catch a 40-minute cruise down the Wailua River to the site for about $20 per person ($10 for children ages 3-12) and take in views of one of Kauai's greatest natural wonders. Folks have been known to get married or renew their vows here, and if you're engaged, newlyweds, or celebrating a wedding anniversary, be prepared to come forward for a slow dance to Elvis Presley's Hawaiian Wedding Song—the Hawaiian lyrics in it were sung here long before the film.
Hike, kayak, camp, and explore Kauai's secluded Na Pali Coast
If you're an outdoorsy person, nature lover, or just want to see some of the best views on the island without dealing with the tourist crowds, make sure you visit Kauai's beautiful Na Pali Coast. There are no roads on the westernmost side of the island, making it one of the last isolated, untouched, natural places in the Hawaiian Islands. Determined travelers can view the rocky terrain from the air with any number of helicopter tours, or view the coastline from a boat tour or guided kayak trip, while more adventurous types can try hiking the 11-mile Kalalau Trail from Kee Beach to Kalalau Beach—the full hike is best broken up into a two-day trip, and camping permits are available for $20 per person per night (with a five night maximim stay) thorugh the Hawaii State Parks Department. Kokee State Park offers more challenging hiking trails, like Awaawapuhi Trail, that lead to scenic overlooks while other hikes like Cliff Canyon and Black Pipe Trail are better suited for family hiking trips.
Drive up to a beautiful waterfall
Kauai is home to a number of impressive waterfalls, two of which are accessible by car alone. Wailua Falls is located just a few miles from downtown Lihue and can be viewed from the road, so there's no need to hike for a great view. Just drive north from Lihue to Ma'alo Road in Halamaulu, and follow the road uphill for another three miles. Another beautiful waterfall, Opaeka'a Falls, is viewable from Kuamo'o Road, but those wanting a closer look can brave the tough half-hour hike from the two-mile marker past the lookout point on Highway 580.
Get a slice of Hawaiian history
Hanapepe Town on Kauai's southwest coast is home to a bustling Hawaiian art scene, with an art celebration every Friday night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when the town's painters, sculptors, and other artists open their gallery and studio doors to showcase their work. Those seeking an authentic trip into Hawaii's past should visit the museums and historic sites along the Koloa Heritage Trail—visit the Kihaha'ouna Heiau (an ancient Hawaiian temple), Poipu Beach Park (home to the island's endangered Hawaiian monk seals), and other sites dating back to Kauai's former days as a sugar plantation hotspot. The Kilohana Plantation in Lihue is a 16,000 square-foot restored plantation estate that offers a chance to see what life was like in Kauai during the 1930s—also on-site is the Koloa Rum Company, where you can sample the island's best rum every half hour on the half hour beginning at 10 a.m. daily. Located on Kauai's North Shore about a 45 minute drive north of Lihue is the historic Kilauea Lighthouse, great for stunning views of the Pacific and access to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a safehaven for a number of native bird species found on the island including the endangered state bird, the nene goose.
THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII
Get up close to an active volcano
Remember all those earth science classes you took about volcanoes and lava rocks? Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the real thing in action. Not only will you get the chance to drive right up to the caldera—don't miss the Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road that passes through the various volcano landscapes from tropical rainforest to the desert-like crater itself, with scenic overlooks all along the way—there's also the opportunity to walk inside the Thurston Lava Tube, no longer an active part of the volcano, that allows you to walk 1/3 mile inside Kilauea where lava once flowed a few hundred years ago. Expect to pay $10 per vehicle that enters the park, or $5 per individual if you enter by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Don't forget to get a park map from staff on your way into the park, and stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum to learn more about what you're viewing. Free camping and hiking opportunities are also available, as are park ranger-led walking tours, but be sure to check the website for updates on volcanic activity in the park before you head out. Always stick to the marked paths and never try to get closer to the lava, no matter how great you think your photo might turn out. You're still on an active volcano, after all.