By Roxanne Bichard
If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you know how tempting it can be to spend the majority of your time on the beach. Though Hawaii’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world, these amazing islands have so much more to offer! If you don’t want to miss out on unforgettable sights and attractions, Hawaii’s national parks are a great place to start.
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, Big Island
This tranquil park is a great place to discover the way of life of the early inhabitants of the island. A sacred site, it once was a place of refuge for lawbreakers and defeated warriors. Here you will learn all about Hawaii’s strict ancient laws (kapu), priests (kahunas), gods and ceremonies. Spend the day among ancient ruins, sacred temples and royal grounds and come home with a greater understanding of Hawaii’s fascinating culture.
Must-Do: Watch demonstrations of ancient canoe-building and traditional Hawaiian games such as spear-throwing. The Annual Cultural Festival is held on the last weekend of June and offers lei-making, lahaula weaving, and hula demonstrations.
Tactful Tip: If you want to take a break from the monuments, you can always turtle watch, as the park’s tidal pools are crawling with these gentle sea creatures.
Haleakala National Park, Maui
Home to the dormant Haleakala volcano, this otherworldly park’s greatest feature is its 10,023 foot summit, the highest peak in Hawaii. Drive up past the clouds and into an otherworldly atmosphere and visit the famous crater that last spewed lava in 1790. The barren landscape is made up for by the clear stargazing and breathtaking views over a sea of fluffy clouds. Many describe the early morning sunrise here as “a spiritual experience” that transcends words.
Must-Do: The hike to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls, one of Hawaii’s most spectacular waterfalls.
Tactful Tip: Go early — SUPER early, in order to avoid crowds and get there before the sun. Make sure to dress warmly; it gets quite chilly up there in the mornings.
Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai
Nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” the Waimea Canyon may not be as big as the Grand Canyon, but it rivals it in beauty. Created by volcanic collapse and 4 million years of rainwater erosion, this geological wonder is 3,600 feet deep and 10 miles long. Numerous lookout points reveal amazing vistas of Kauai’s mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean.
Must-Do: Pack some Hawaiian pulled-pork sandwiches and have yourself a picnic! At the main lookout point vendors sell fresh pineapple, coconut and guava to munch on.
Tips: The road is long and windy, and it’s a steep climb. If you get motion sickness, you may want to bring some Gravol, just in case.
Kalaupapa National Historic Park, Molokai
This national park may be one of Hawaii’s most intriguing, as on top of boasting the highest sea cliffs in the world, it has a bizarre, interesting history. In the nineteenth century until 1969, Hawaiians with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were exiled to this isolated peninsula. Father Damien, a Belgian missionary, dedicated his life to assisting patients and was later canonized as a Catholic Saint. Now cured by modern medicine, the few former sufferers of this terrible disease that still reside here have shared their incredible story.
Must-Do: Take a hike through lush tropical rainforest with a knowledgeable guide who will entrance you with stories of the island.
Tactful Tip: Though you can fly into the park, you may want to hike in in order not to miss out on the unforgettable scenery. If hiking is too strenuous, there is a third transportation option — mule ride!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island
While Haleakala has lied dormant for over 200 years, volcanoes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are still unleashing their fury. Constantly monitored for its every-changing lava flow, this volcanic park is home to one of the most active volcanoes on earth, Kilauea. As the state’s largest park, it is the place to go if you want to encounter the processes at the origin of the creation of the Hawaiian Islands.
Must-Do: Follow along a portion of the caldera on Crater Rim Drive, or hike across lava fields from the end of Chain of Craters Road.
Depending on the length of your visit and how much time you want to spend at each park, you may not have time for all of these. But don’t worry! Hawaii is known to pull people back to its shores time and time again. Don’t feel rushed through these amazing landmarks, but take the time to appreciate as many details as you can. After all, if you don’t get them all into one visit, you can always come back for your next fix!
About Roxanne Bichard: A Montreal-based travel blogger, Roxanne regularly writes about the villas in Hawaii from Luxury Retreats. A world traveler, she has glimpsed everything from camels to belugas in the warmest and coldest of climates.