Best of Hawaii

Aloha everyone! After living on the Big Island for seven months and having the chance to visit the other three main Hawaiian islands, I’ve decided to summarize my experiences with a Best of Hawaii page. Below you’ll find my entirely made up awards (listed in no particular order) for different experiences I’ve had on the islands. (Keep in mind these are only my opinions and I’m sure there are plenty of things I missed.)

Note: Most award titles are also links to the blog post about that experience. However some awards had two blog posts, which are instead linked within the descriptions.

Biggest Bang-For-Your-Buck Hike

Maui’s Pipiwai Trail is easily the biggest bang-for-your-buck hike I saw in Hawaii. In the 1.8 miles it takes you to reach Waimoku Falls, you pass the Falls at Makahiku, one of the biggest banyan trees I’ve ever seen, and traverse a forest of bamboo. At the end you’re rewarded with the 400-foot cliffs that create Waimoku Falls. The only way to get to this hike is to take the Road To Hana (an adventure in and of itself), unless you want to drive the partially unpaved road around south Maui. On the journey, take a break and visit the a red sand beach!

Less than two miles after starting the trail, you stone hop two rivers and arrive at the grand finale, a 400-foot waterfall. We were lucky enough to have it to ourselves for the first few minutes upon arrival, before the next wave of hikers arrived.
Pipiwai Falls

Most Relaxing Beach

Despite the fact that the Big Island is not very popular for its beaches, my favorite beach from the seven months was Makalawena, located on the western side of the Big Island. Visit the blog post to see a rundown of many Big Island beaches. My experiences here are obviously biased as we didn’t spend much time on beaches while visiting the other islands. However, Makalawena easily rivals any the beaches I saw on other islands.

Finally arrived and ready to cool off in the ocean!
Makalawena Beach

Best Big Island Hike

I’ve been raving about this hike since my first visit, and aside from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it is the only experience you’ll see repeated in my blog. The hike into Pololu Valley is, in my opinion, more beautiful than the hike into Waipio Valley. It’s also much shorter and much less steep. If you continue on the trail after reaching the valley floor, you can climb up and over into the next valley, Honokane Nui.

One of the beautiful views along the hike into Pololu Valley.
Pololu Valley

Thrill-seeking Hawaii

This award is a tie between two adventures, both on Kauai. In chronological order, they are taking a doors-off helicopter ride over the island, and hiking along the 22-mile roundtrip Kalalau Trail.

If you want an adventure without having to leave your seat, take a doors-off helicopter ride over Kauai. The views are outstanding and the trip is terrifying. If you’re prone to any kind of motion sickness, take some Dramamine beforehand.

One of the many dramatic landscapes seen along the Na Pali coast.
One of the many dramatic landscapes seen along the Na Pali coast.

If on the other hand, you want to get up and moving for some action, hike the beginning of the Kalalau Trail, ranked one of the most dangerous trails in the United States by Backpacker Magazine. We only did the first two miles (4-miles roundtrip), and I can’t imagine doing all eleven with a backpack on. The hike is stunning; although there are warnings of danger everywhere, we saw plenty of older people doing it with no problems.

First two miles of the Kalalau Trail.
Kalalau Trail

Biggest, Baddest Blowhole

I got to see several blowholes around Hawaii, but the best one by far was on the northwestern tip of Maui. The Nakalele Blowhole is a short hike off of the main road, although the path isn’t very clearly marked. There are two possible ways to hike there, and we took the longer route.

Upon arrival at the Nakalele Blowhole, we were standing about fifteen feet above the base. It put on this little show for us and combined with the ocean breezes, gave us a pretty good splash.
Nakalele Blowhole.

Geologic Oddities Found (Almost) Nowhere Else

Like Thrill-seeking Hawaii, this award is also two-fold. I don’t think many people would argue with the sentiment that the Big Island is the place to be when looking for geologic oddities.

The Big Island is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has to be one of the easiest places in the world to see a volcano in action. New land is almost constantly being formed off the southeastern tip of the island, and the park allows you to see the remnants of old eruptions and new. First on the agenda is the Kilauea Iki Trail, which is four miles roundtrip through dense rainforest and onto the floor of a lava crater formed in recent history.

Steam rises from cracks in the lava floor of Kilauea Iki Crater.
Steam rises from cracks in the lava floor of Kilauea Iki Crater.

The second award goes to Papakōlea Beach, located outside of the national park but still a result of volcanic activity. Papakōlea Beach is one of the few green sands beaches in the world. Although it didn’t look that green when we visited, the real specialty is not the color of the sand, but the content: the sand on Papakōlea Beach is made of olivine from Hawaiian lava.

Papakōlea Beach (Green Sands Beach)
Papakōlea Beach (Green Sands Beach)

Coolest Way to Beat the Heat

The coolest way to beat the heat on the Big Island or Maui would be to visit one of the 10,000+ foot volcanoes! Haha, get it? Sorry.

I was originally just going to dedicate this award to Mauna Kea, but then I realized that I should share the wealth with Mt. Haleakalā on Maui. And let’s not forget Mauna Loa, also located on the Big Island and just slightly smaller in height than Mauna Kea (although larger in volume). All three of these volcanoes are your reason to bring jeans, sweatpants, boots sweaters and winter coats on your Hawaii vacation.

Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world (from sea floor to summit), and also houses many world-class astronomical observatories. My entire purpose for being on the Big Island was to work for Gemini Observatory, although I spent most of my time in Hilo.

Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea

Mt. Haleakalā on Maui is just over 10,000 feet and houses several more astronomical observatories. Even visiting in the middle of the day, it was freezing!

We warmed up in the Visitor Center and gift shop for about a half hour, while thick clouds filled the crater. Just as we were leaving, the clouds thinned enough to get a partial view of what normally makes for beautiful photographs.
Mt. Haleakala

Finding Nemo

There are several fantastic snorkeling sites located on the Big Island, and throughout Hawaii in general. The linked blogpost describes three locations we visited for superb snorkeling.

One of the views from Kealakekua Bay.
Kealakekua Bay

Greatest Regret

Finally, my greatest regret and my biggest reason to return: Lanai (known as the Pineapple Island) and Molokai (home to some of the largest ocean cliffs in the world, or so I’ve read). These smaller islands, off the coast of Maui, are the least visited islands by tourists (of those that have any tourism industry).

Lanai -
Lanai –photo courtesy of
Molokai - photo courtesy of
Molokai – photo courtesy of

Alright everyone, that is IT for Hawaii! I hope to return again some day, but until then I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. Although I originally started this blog with the intention of keeping my family up-to-date on my Hawaiian experiences, I’ve decided to continue sharing some of the beautiful places I’ve gotten a chance to visit in the past, and some that I will visit in the future. Thanks for joining me!


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