This year we decided to celebrate the holidays and my wife’s birthday where it’s warm and tropical – Hawaii. We visited Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Hawaiian Island. Along the way we learned a lot about Hawaiian history and culture and had an opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful spots in this country.
Located on the south shores of Honolulu, the world-famous Waikiki Beach was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty. Today, Waikiki is Oahu’s main hotel and resort area and a vibrant gathering place for millions of visitors from all over the world who come to bask in the tropical sunshine.
Known in Hawaiian as “spouting waters,” Waikiki was introduced to the world when its first hotel, the Moana Surfrider, was built on its shores in 1901. Today numerous super hotels line the shores.
Waikiki is famous for its beaches and just about every hotel room is just two or three blocks away from them. With Diamond Head as the backdrop, the calm waters of Waikiki are perfect for sunbathing, or an afternoon surfing lesson.
On Kuhio Beach, a bronze statue of Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku welcomes you to Waikiki with open arms. Duke was known as the father of modern surfing and one of the world’s greatest watermen, a master of swimming, surfing and outrigger canoe paddling.
Duke was also one of the pioneers of the Waikiki Beach Boys, watermen who earned their livings teaching visitors how to surf and canoe at Waikiki Beach. If you look, you can still find his predecessors showing visitors a great time in the Waikiki surf today.
Fantastic shopping and dining can be found all along Kalakaua Avenue, which borders the beaches. Lots of major retailers and speciality shops are all competing door-to-door for your tourist dollars.
Video from our visit:
December 7, 2013 marked the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II. Today we visit the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin submarine, the USS Missouri, and finally the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Video from our visit:
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is the starting point for our trip into history. It operates as a partnership between the National Park Service and the non-profit Pacific Historic Parks organization. It welcomes over 1,600,000 visitors annually.
The visitor center has interpretive programs, including a 23-minute documentary film about the attack and the boat trip to the USS Arizona Memorial, which we’ll take later.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center includes two galleries that tell the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II.
Within these galleries you’ll find displays of war-time personal memorabilia, historic photographs, various artifacts of the battle, and some interactive exhibits.
The Remembrance Circle pays tribute to the men, women, and children, both military and civilian, who were killed as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
After watching a 23 minute documentary about the politics, the people, and the history leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, we board a 150 passenger US Navy boat to the USS Arizona Memorial.
The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941 when the ship was bombed. The loss of life represents over half of the Americans killed during the worst naval disaster in American History.
Pearl Harbor is so named because of the abundance of pearls once found within its waters. It’s the largest natural harbor in Hawaii and the number one visitor destination on Oahu.
Dedicated in May 1962, this white open-air shrine contains the names of all the men lost with Arizona and has space for 250 people to remember them. It is one of Hawaii’s most-visited historic sites.
The main focus of the memorial is the wall in the “shrine room” inscribed with the names of all 1177 who died on the Arizona. Over half the people who died at Pearl Harbor died on the Arizona, and more died on the Arizona than on any other American ship before or since. About 900 of them are still entombed within the wreck below us.
Next we visit the USS Bowfin submarine museum and park. It’s owned and operated by the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association. This magnificent Balao-class submarine, was a ship of the United States Navy named for the bowfin. Since 1981, she has been open to the public here at Pearl Harbor.
Commissioned in 1943, this 311 ft sub gives visitors the chance to experience what’s it like to work and live in a fleet attack sub.
The Bowfin was decommissioned in 1971. During her career in the Pacific, she carried out 9 patrols and helped to make famous the term “silent service”.
The Bowfin was launched on December 7th 1942, exactly one year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger, so it’s fitting that she is permanently homeported at Pearl Harbor.
Next up, it’s the Mighty Mo. Weighing over 58,000 tons and measuring just under 900 feet, the USS Missouri was the last American battleship ever built and it was the last to be decommissioned.
We follow in the footsteps of General MacArthur as we cross the deck of the Mighty Mo and get an up-close view of the massive 16-inch 50 calibre guns.
Down below is the crew’s quarters and mess. We imagine what it was like to live and work on board this historic vessel.
From the bridge we see the deck where the surrender was signed to bring an end to World War II – one of the most impressive highlights in the Mighty Mo’s 50 year career, spanning three wars and three generations of American service people.
Pacific Aviation Museum
First opened in 2006, the Pacific Aviation Museum occupies two large World War II hangars and features famous historic aircraft and exhibits on tiny Ford island.
Ford island is a former Naval air station in the middle of Pearl Harbor. The 158 foot tall control tower and the two World War II hangars remind us of this important role this place played in American history.
After watching a short orientation documentary detailing the events of December 7th, we visit hangar 37 home of authentic World War II era planes, including a Japanese Zero and a Stearman N2S-3 once piloted by former President George H. W. Bush.
Visitors can hop inside the cockpit of the Museum’s popular interactive flight simulator and take part in a virtual dogfight in the skies.
This hangar houses the most recent additions to the Museum’s growing collection of vintage aircraft, including a Cobra attack helicopter, a Soviet-designed MiG-15, an F-14 Tomcat, an F-15 Eagle, and a P-40 Warhawk. In addition, there’s MiG Alley and a Flying Tigers Exhibit.
The Honolulu Zoo is a 42-acre zoo located between the majestic slopes of Diamond Head and beautiful Waikiki Beach. It’s home to 905 different animals from the tropics. Over 600,000 people visit the zoo annually.
Komodo Dragons, orang-utans, elephants, primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a variety of African animals can be seen. Apart from the beach action in Waikiki, it’s the wildest place in Honolulu.
It’s the only zoo in the US to be established by grants made by a sovereign monarch, and is built on part of the 300 acres of the royal Queen Kapiʻolani Park.
Video from our visit:
Iolani Palace is the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy, restored to its former grandeur and opened to the public in 1978. This National Historic Landmark is located in downtown Honolulu and tells of a time when Hawaii was ruled by kings and queens.
This former residence of his Majesty King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani, is an Italianate gem that was completed in 1882. The first and second floors of the Palace are open to the public for guided tours.
The original palace was known as Hale Alii (House of the Chief). Later, King Kamehameha V changed its name to Iolani Palace in honor of his late brother. His brother’s name had two parts: Io is a Hawaiian hawk that flies higher than all the rest, and lani means heavenly, royal, or exalted. Although the original palace was demolished in 1874, the Iolani name was retained for the current Palace building.
There are four principle gates surrounding the Palace and each display the Coat of Arms of the Hawaiian Kingdom which bears the motto: “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”
The Coronation Pavilion was built for the 1883 coronation of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani. It was moved from its original site near the King Street steps. Today, it’s a venue for the Royal Hawaiian Band which regularly gives concerts there and for the inauguration of Hawaii’s governors.
The barracks, originally completed in 1871, housed the Royal Guard. This coral block structure contains an open courtyard surrounded by rooms once used by the guards.
Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the disbanding of the Royal Guard, The barracks was used at different times as headquarters for the National Guard of Hawaii, temporary shelter for refugees of the 1899 Chinatown fire, a service club, a government office building, and a storage facility.
The barracks was originally located on what are now the grounds of the Hawaii State Capitol. After being dismantled, it was moved and reconstructed at its present location in 1965. It now houses The Palace shop, ticket office, video theatre, and membership office.
Since 1825, this sacred area served as a burial place for the kings and queens of Hawaii. In 1865, 18 of the coffins were removed and transported in a torchlight procession at night to a new Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu Valley.
Today, what’s left of the royal tomb area is located in the southeast part of the Palace grounds. It is marked by a fenced-in mound area out of respect for Hawaiian chiefs who may still be buried there.
Around particularly sensitive areas in the Palace grounds are signs labeled KAPU. Kapu means “forbidden,” or “off-limits,” but more importantly it also means “sacred” or “consecrated.”
First floor inside
On the first floor are the public reception areas – the Grand Hall, State Dining Room, Blue Room, and the Throne Room. The second floor consists of private suites – the King’s and Queen’s Room, Music Room, and the Imprisonment Room, where Queen Liliuokalani was held under house arrest for five months following the overthrow of her government in 1895.
The Grand Hall runs the entire length of the Palace on the first floor, and is dominated by a staircase of made of native Hawaiian woods, which leads to the private suites above. Portraits of ten Hawaiian kings and queens line the walls above niches where valuable vases and statuary collected from all over the world are displayed.
In the crimson and gold Throne Room, King Kalakaua held formal audiences, diplomatic receptions, and state balls, receiving and entertaining guests. The trial and sentencing of Queen Liliuokalani also occurred in this room.
Across the hall from the Throne Room is the Blue Room, which was used for smaller receptions. A portrait of King Louis Philippe of France that was presented to King Kamehameha III by the French government in 1848 hangs here, along with matching portraits of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani painted by noted American portraitist William Cogswell in the 1890s.
Past the beautifully carved doors in the Blue Room is the State Dining Room. Here portraits of important European leaders of the time hang above three massive sideboards specially made in Boston, Massachusetts.
Second Floor inside
The King’s suite on the second floor includes a bedroom with a mixture of gothic-revival, Asian, and European furnishings, and an attached library including one of Honolulu’s earliest telephones. Sadly, after more than 40 years of searching, some of the largest pieces of furniture are still missing. Many original palace objects were sold and dispersed at public auctions as far away as Austrailia. The Friends of Iolani Palace have managed to recover some from 36 states and 4 foreign countries. Many of the original pieces are still in storage because insufficient funding is available to restore these pieces to their original condition.
King Kalakaua was very progressive in his desire to make the Palace as modern as possible. He replaced the original gas chandeliers with electric lighting just seven years after Edison invented the first incandescent light bulb.
The King also installed a modern communications system in the palace that included the recently invented telephone.
Queen Kapiolani’s suite included her bedroom and two guest rooms occupied by her sisters, Princess Kekaulike and Princess Poomaikelani. The bedrooms at the front and rear of the Palace had additional sitting rooms in the corner towers.
At the front of the Palace is the Music Room which served as a gathering place for the royal family, who enjoyed composing, playing, and listening to music and song. Queen Liliuokalani was a talented musician and accomplished composer. She wrote approximately 165 songs during her life, including The Queen’s Prayer during her imprisonment in the Palace.
In the basement is a photographic display of the Palace throughout it’s history, the Hawaiian crown jewels, orders and decorations given by the monarchs, and some of the regalia worn by the high chiefs of the islands.
Hawaii State Legislature Building
Nearby Iolani Palace is the official capital building of Hawaii. It opened on March 16, 1969, replacing the former statehouse Iolani Palace.
Inside, the twenty-five member state senate is led by the President of the Senate and the fifty-one member house of representatives is led by the Speaker of the House. In addition, the governor and lieutenant governor conduct daily business here.
Video from our visit:
Originally run as a fruit stand in 1950, the Dole Plantation opened to the public as Hawaii’s own Pineapple theme park in 1989. Today, it’s one of Oahu’s most popular attractions and welcomes more than a million visitors a year.
Like any theme park, this one has some major attractions: the Pineapple Express, a fully narrated two hour miniature train ride through two miles of the plantation gardens; the garden tour where you can stroll through 8 of the plantation gardens and get up close to the tropical plants grown there; and the pineapple maze – stretching over three acres, it’s considered one of the largest garden mazes in the world.
There are two trains that visitors can travel on around the garden.
The Pineapple Express train was originally built in England by Severn Lamb. It’s driven by a diesel motor and hydraulic pump. The engine and train is modeled after an 1870 design 4-4-0 with tender and has 4 passenger cars.
Another train that is operated on the route is the Lady Liberty, which was introduced in 2003. This one is a replica of a Mason Bogey 0-4-4T, originally manufactured by Mason Machine Works in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1883.
As we travel around the plantation, we hear the story of the pineapple in Hawai‘i, and how James Drummond Dole founded his agricultural empire right where the Dole Plantation stands today.
Once the lifeline of Hawaii’s agricultural industries, the railroads today carry more people than pineapples.
Our little engine whisks us across more than a century of Oahu’s agricultural history, from the days when the pineapple was king to today’s rich diversity of farming enterprises, from mangoes to coffee to cacao beans.
We travel through a working plantation of pineapple and other crops, with fields in all stages of growth, from planting to harvest – just some of the scenic panoramas of Oahu’s renowned North Shore.
Pineapple is still the king of Dole Plantation, but you can see a lot more when you stroll through the 8 different gardens here.
Hawaii’s other crops offer a rich cornucopia of the island’s agricultural heritage and a window into its diversified future.
This self-guided garden tour appeals to all the senses with dazzling colors of ripening tropical fruit and the sweet smell of pineapples ready to be picked.
The narrated audio that accompanies the tour tells you which plants were considered sacred, how plants were cooked and how native Hawaiians used these plants for everything from medicine to canoes to chewing gum.
In 2008, Dole Plantation’s giant Pineapple Garden Maze was declared the world’s largest maze, one of only a handful of permanent botanical mazes in America.
The maze stretches over three acres and includes nearly two and a half miles of paths crafted from 14,000 different Hawaiian plants.
We try to find all eight secret stations in the maze that lead us closer to the mystery at the heart of this giant labyrinth.
Video from our visit:
Hanauma Bay is a beautiful nature preserve and beach in the southeast corner of Oahu. Formed from a blown out volcano vent around 32,000 years ago, Hanauma is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Island and has suffered somewhat from overuse (at one time accommodating over three million visitors per year).
With changes in attitude about preserving Nature, so too has Hanauma’s name and use changed. What was once Hanauma Bay Beach Park is now Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.
Visitors are now required by law to refrain from mistreating marine animals or from touching, walking, or otherwise disturbing the coral formations in the bay.
About 400 species of fish inhabit the bay. Hanauma Bay is known for its abundance of Green sea turtles and is a nursery for immature turtles.
Nearby Hanauma Bay, is the Halona Blowhole. On windy days when the tide is high, the ocean breeze sends the waves rolling on to the shore where the rock formation then shoots sea spray high into the air through the cave acting like a geyser.
It is not always at its best every day though. The blowhole is most active when the tide is high and the winds are strong.
Halona Cove, just to the right of the blowhole, is where tourists and locals can enjoy a small beach and good swimming when the surf is calm.
People come from all over to enjoy the beautiful scenery. In winter, it is the best spot to see humpback whales as they take their journey leaving the North Pacific and the Honu (Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles) swimming about.
Video from our visit:
Kaiaka Bay Beach Park
Located on Oahu’s North Shore on the Kaiaka Point peninsula, the 53 acre Kaiaka Bay Beach Park is a great spot to relax, have a picnic, and just admire the ocean views.
From the park one can enjoy nice views of the Waianae Mountains and the neighboring Haleiwa beaches and coastline.
Kaiaka means “shadowy sea” in the Hawaiian language. The ocean in this area looks brown and murky and indeed looks as if a shadow has fallen upon it.
This giant stone mushroom is a so-called balancing rock, and legend has it that this enormous piece of limestone floated ashore from the distant land of Kahiki.
Kailua Beach Park
With a half mile of soft white sandy beach, turquoise water and gentle breezes, Kailua Beach Park located on the Windward Coast is a local favorite spot in Oahu.
Kailua Beach welcomes visitors and locals for windsurfing, body boarding, kayaking and parasailing. It’s proximity to several small islands makes it an ideal place for adventuring and kayaking.
Kailua has a laid-back environment different from Waikiki – couples lounge on the beach with their pets, teenagers play in the water and families have picnics on Kailua Beach’s large grassy areas.
Video from our visit:
Nuuanu Pali Lookout
Just a 5-mile drive northeast of Downtown Honolulu, Pali Lookout offers panoramic views of the sheer Koolau cliffs and lush Windward Coast of Oahu.
Perched over a thousand feet above the Oahu coastline amid mountain peaks shrouded by clouds, the stone terrace overlooks the areas of Kaneohe and Kailua, Chinaman’s Hat island and the University of Hawaii’s marine biology research center on Coconut Island.
The Pali Lookout is a site of deep historical significance. Named “Pali” meaning ‘cliff’ in Hawaiian, the Pali Lookout is the site of the Battle of Nuuanu, where in 1795 King Kamehameha the first won the struggle that finally united Oahu. This fierce battle claimed hundreds of soldiers’ lives, many of which lept off of Pali’s sheer cliffs.
Video from our visit:
Waimea Canyon State Park
Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai is a 10 mile long canyon carved by the Waimea river.
Some places in the canyon are as deep as 3000 feet.
Waimea is Hawaiian for “reddish water”, a reference to the erosion of the canyon’s red soil. The canyon has a unique geologic history—it was formed not only by the steady process of erosion, but also by a catastrophic collapse of the volcano that created the island of Kauai.
Waimea Canyon State Park, surrounding the canyon, encompasses about 1,800 acres and is a popular tourist attraction. It provides a wilderness area with numerous hiking trails.
The island of Niihau, only a short distance west of Kauai, can be clearly seen from the highway leading up to the park.
Video from our visit:
Today we explore the Kalalau Trail, an 11 mile trail that leads from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali coast of the island of Kauai.
The Kalalau Trail provides the only land access to this part of the rugged coast. The trail traverses 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach. There are three major sections of the trail.
Section 1: Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai
The first is a 2 mile long section from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai which is a very popular day hike. The first half mile will reward you with excellent views of the coast.
The sandy beach at Hanakapi’ai is a popular destination for this section.
Section 2: Hanakapi’ai to Hanakoa
This second section of the trail is 4 miles long and is more strenuous than the first, with steep switchbacks that climb 800 feet out of Hanakapi’ai valley.
The trail traverses the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve in the small hanging valleys of Ho’olulu and Waiahuakua before entering Hanakoa Valley.
The reserve contains a variety of native lowland forest plants.
Near the Hanakoa Stream crossing is a rest area for weary hikers like us. The rest area is built within a complex of old agricultural terraces where Hawaiians once planted taro. These terraces were replanted with coffee plants in the late 1800s, which are still growing throughout the valley today.
Section 3: Hanakoa to Kalalau Beach
The last section of the trail runs from Hanakoa to the beautiful Kalalau Beach 5 miles away.
After leaving Hanakoa valley, the trail enters drier, more open land which offers little shade from the midday sun. Hikers are motivated to continue on by the panoramic view of Kalalau Valley’s fluted cliffs and the coastline. Portions of the trail in this section are very narrow and the dropoff on the ocean side is severe.
The trail crosses Kalalau Stream near the valley mouth before ending at Kalalau Beach and a small waterfall.
Unfortunately, we were only able to complete the first section due to extremely slippery conditions on the trail – I fell down several times! Ouch!
Video from our visit:
Queen’s Bath is one of the most unique and refreshing swimming areas on the island. The “pool” is carved into a lava shelf and is the size of several large swimming pools. It is actually a sinkhole surrounded by lava rock.
This tide pool was used by Hawaiian royalty to bathe and relax.
Small fish and tiny sea life also live in the tide pool, such as Hawaiian sea urchins, Angelfish and other small fish that locals call “Ghost fish”.
Video from our visit:
Wailua Falls is a 113-foot waterfall located at the end of Highway 583 that feeds into the Wailua River.
The waterfall was prominently featured in the opening credits of the television show Fantasy Island from the late 70’s.
In ancient times, Hawaiian men would jump from the top of the falls to prove their manhood. Some people still leap off the top of the falls, though it is dangerous and illegal.
Video from our visit:
Kilohana, in the heart of Lihue, is a 104 acre plantation with a working farm, animals, a park, a railway, restaurant and lounge, and rum distillery all rolled into one experience. It has been here since 1935 when sugar baron Gaylord Wilcox built it.
We take the train that travels around the plantation to see more of this large estate.
The train cars we are riding in are reproductions of the railway cars of the period of King Kalakaua. They are elegant with hand finished wood interiors. The one we are riding in is the open air car which was previously used on the Oahu coast railway before World War II.
The narrated tour takes us through the plantation with over 50 varieties of fruit tree orchards, fruit fields, vegetable gardens, rare and exotic tropical flowers, forests, hardwood trees, and animal pastures with donkeys, goats, sheep, horses, cattle, ducks, and geese.
The train pulls up to a special animal pen with some very friendly wild pigs, goats and sheep that are used to the routine – people with lots of goodies.
Our journey takes us back through history to the plantation days of Kauai when Kilohana produced a lot of important crops. Today, Kilohana is still a real working farm. Much of the produce grown in these fields goes to Kilohana’s renowned restaurant, Gaylord’s, named after the sugar baron himself.
Our train ride has come to an end and we approach the authentic Hawaiian train station which contains a shop featuring items handcrafted right here on the island.
After our tour of the plantation grounds, we visit the main house and step back into the 1930’s and the golden age of sugar on Kauai.
In 1935, Gaylord Wilcox decided to build his dream home with his wife, Ethel. He hired Mark Potter, an architect famous for homes he designed for Diamond Head, to design the 16,000 square foot Tudor-style home that would become centerpiece of Kilohana and the family homestead for many generations.
Upon completion it was the most expensive home ever built on Kauai and it served as both a homestead and host to many exuberant social gatherings and important diplomatic meetings.
Severely damaged by Hurricane Iwa in 1983, the home has been completely restored and today the original public spaces are filled with notable Hawaiian antiques and paintings reflecting the lifestyle of the Wilcox family.
Kilohana Plantation was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was named a State of Hawaii Historic Landmark in 1993. It remains one of the finest examples of plantation era architecture in Hawaii.
Video from our visit:
Kapalua Bay was named “Best Beach in the World” by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Further inland from the bay is the Kapulua Resort town which offers accommodations, a variety of restaurants, a shop, and several golf courses.
Kapalua Bay is a peaceful sheltered white sand beach on the north west side of Maui. The bay is protected by two reefs that extend out on both ends forming a C-shaped cove making it ideal for snorkeling.
With three miles of white sand and crystal clear water, it’s no wonder why Kaanapali Beach was once named America’s Best Beach.
Kaanapali was Hawaii’s first planned resort and has become a model for resorts around the world. Five hotels and six condominium villages face this renowned beach.
Wailea Beach Park
Known for its five crescent-shaped beaches and top-rated golf courses, Wailea is a resort community in South Maui that spans 1,500 acres of land, offering visitors fantastic ocean views.
There are five hotels tucked into the town, many of which line the beaches. Wailea is also home to world class shopping and big events such as the Maui Film Festival.
Video from our visit:
Iao Valley State Park
Today we’re exploring Iao Valley, a lush, stream-cut valley in central Maui, just west of Wailuku. Because of its natural beauty and historical significance, this peaceful 4000 acre, 10 mile long park has become a popular tourist location. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1972.
The valley is home to one of Maui’s most recognizable landmarks, the 1,200-foot tall Iao Needle. This iconic green-mantled rock outcropping overlooks Iao stream. It’s taller than the Eiffel Tower.
The “needle” is an illusion, and is in reality a sharp ridge that gives the appearance of being a spire when viewed end-on. It’s an extension of and surrounded by the cliffs of the West Maui Mountains, an extinct volcano.
We take the Īao Needle Lookout Trail, a paved 0.6 mile walk to a windy outlook where we can get a better view of the needle and the valley.
Aside from its natural tropical beauty, Iao Valley has great historical significance. It was here in 1790 at the Battle of Kepaniwai that King Kamehameha I clashed with Maui’s army in his quest to unite the islands. Even with the Needle serving as a lookout point for the army, Kamehameha defeated Maui’s forces in a fierce battle that changed the course of Hawaiian history.
Kepaniwai Park’s Heritage Gardens
To learn more about the plants brought by the Hawaiians who settled in ‘Iao Valley, we take a short rainforest walk through the Kepaniwai Heritage garden, opened in 1952 to memorialize Maui’s multicultural history.
Īao Valley is covered in dense rainforest, most of which consists of vegetation that was introduced here by early Hawaiians.
The summit area at the valley’s head receives an average 386 inches of rainfall annually, making it Maui’s second wettest location after Mount Waiʻaleʻale.
Scale models of Japanese style pavilions and gardens representing the immigration of Hawaiian, American missionary, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, and Filipino cultures are this park’s highlight.
Video from our visit:
Lahaina is often called the crown jewel of Maui and is by around 2 million people each year. The town is the second most visited spot on Maui next to it’s beaches.
Nestled between the calm waters of the Au’au Channel facing Lana’i island and the fertile peaks and valleys of Mauna Kahalawai. Lahaina has provided a home for many cultures over the centuries, always welcoming visitors to its inviting shores.
A walk along Front street is a great way to experience Lahaina’s bustling tourist trade and the beautiful ocean views from it’s shoreline.
“The buzz” is the number one attraction in Lahaina. Restaurants, bars, made-in-China shops, and over 40 art galleries featuring lots of local artists, all come together to create “the buzz” in Lahaina.
Lahaina is also home to the major harbor in West Maui, and is where the majority of West Maui fishing, snorkeling and whale watching tours depart.
Cruise ships carry passengers for day-trips out to deeper water for fishing and snorkeling. This is also where the Moloka’i and Lana’i ferries depart.
Probably the most famous landmark in Lahaina is Banyan Tree Park where a Banyan tree was planted in 1873 by the Sheriff to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Mission.
The tree was brought from India, and was only 8′ high at the time it was planting. Today it has a dozen main trunks, and spreads over the better part of an acre in the park.
Behind the Banyan tree with Lahaina Harbor as its backdrop, the Old Lahaina Courthouse was originally built in 1859 from salvaged materials taken from the palace of King Kamehameha II. Today it houses the Lahana Heritige Museum, the Lahaina Arts Society, and a visitor’s center.
Video from our visit:
Haleakalā National Park
The summit of Haleakalā National Park is dominated by the Haleakalā Crater which is nearly 7 miles long and 2 miles wide. In some places, the crater is 2600 feet deep.
Haleakalā last erupted between 1480 and 1600 AD. The name means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian. According to local legend, the demigod Maui imprisoned the sun here in order to lengthen the day.
The park entertains nearly 1.5 million visitors each year with a breath-taking vista of the crater.
With unusually clear views of the night sky from the rim of the crater, Haleakalā is one of the best places in the US for amateur astronomy.
Haleakala Observatory, located on the rim of the crater, is an important observation site located near the visitor center. It’s above the tropical inversion layer thus affording excellent viewing conditions and very clear skies.
For over 40 years, the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy has managed the facility, conducting astrophysical experiments, which due to the location and excellent conditions, couldn’t be accomplished anywhere else in the world.
Video from our visit:
Nearby downtown Hilo, is Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot tall waterfall that’s known for the rainbows that are formed in the surrounding mist.
At Rainbow Falls, the Wailuku River rushes into a large pool below. The gorge is blanketed by lush, dense tropical foliage and the turquoise colored pool is bordered by beautiful wild ginger.
Known in the Hawaiian language as meaning literally “rainbow water”, the falls flows over a natural lava cave, which is believed to be the mythological home to Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess.
Rainbow Falls derives its name from the fact that, on sunny mornings around 10AM, rainbows can be seen in the mist thrown up by the waterfall.
Video from our visit:
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Kilaeau Visitor Center
Founded in 1916, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses 333,000 acres from the summit of Maunaloa, the active craters of Kilauea, the petroglyphs near the sea, and the lava fountains along the coast.
The park offers 150 miles of hiking trails, scalded deserts and rainforests as well as a museum, a walk-in lava tube and two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984 and Kilauea which has been erupting since 1983.
We begin our visit at the Kilauea Visitor Center where you can learn about the volcanoes, get eruption updates, and watch a short documentary movie to introduce you to the park.
Kilauea is sometimes called “the world’s only drive-in volcano” because there’s Crater Rim drive that encircles it giving visitors the chance to drive around an active volcano.
This large active volcano currently produces 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of lava per day, enough to resurface a 20-mile-long, two-lane road every day. As of January 1994, over 490 acres of new land have been created on the big island as a result. The current eruption may last another 100 years or stop tomorrow. Pele, the volcano goddess who is believed to live here, is very unpredictable.
Less than a mile after leaving the Kīlauea Visitor Center, is Steam Vents.
The vents are caused when water seeps down through cracks in the ground to the hot volcanic rocks in this area and returns to the surface as steam.
The area between the caldera’s edge and outer cliffs of Kīlauea is treeless. The ground just a few feet down is so hot that tree roots can’t survive. But shallow-rooted grasses and plants can survive here.
A short walk on a trail starting near the Steam Vents parking area leads us to Steaming Bluff, on the caldera’s edge.
This area is a grassy meadow with cracks in the ground that let hot steam out. The steam is concentrated in fractures along the caldera’s edge.
The view of Kīlauea caldera from the Kilauea Overlook, another stop along Crater Rim drive, is spectacular.
The caldera is about 2 miles wide and more than 3 miles long. The highest point on the caldera’s edge is near this overlook. The main pit crater within the caldera, is very visible from this point.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory & Jagger Museum
Another stop along Crater Rim drive is the Jagger Museum, a museum and gift shop on volcanology featuring displays of equipment used by scientists in the past to study the volcano, working seismographs, and an exhibit of burnt clothing and gear from scientists who got a bit too close to the volcano.
Next door to the museum is the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, which is run by the US Geological Survey. It is not open to the public.
Kilauea Iki Overlook
It’s hard to believe that this fairly tranquil looking crater was a seething lake of molten lava in 1959, with fountains of lava spewing up to 1,900 feet tall.
From up here on Kilauea Iki Overlook, it is difficult to comprehend the scale of Kīlauea Iki. The crater is a mile long, 3,000 feet across, and the floor is 400 feet down from the overlook.
Thurston Lava Tube
After the Kīlauea Iki Overlook, we drive about a half mile along Crater Rim drive to find the Thurston Lava Tube. We walk through a fern-filled forest to get to the entrance to the tube.
The 20 minute walk through the forest affords the chance to listen to the many birds that inhabit this lush area.
The lighted prehistoric cavelike lava tube awaits us. The lava tube was discovered in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston, a local newspaper publisher. At that time the roof of the tube was covered with lava stalactites, but those soon disappeared to souvenir collectors.
Several hundred years ago a river of red lava rushed through this tube. Today lava travels from Pu’u O’o to the ocean in a labyrinth of lava tubes much like this one.
Pu`u Loa Petroglyphs
At the coastal end of the Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the sacred Puuloa Petroglyphs can be found. This is the largest petroglyph field in Hawaii.
More than 23,000 different images are carved into the lava rock here. Most were carved before any westerners had contact with native Hawaiians.
Less than a mile hike ends on a boardwalk from which the petroglyphs can be easily viewed up close.
The petroglyphs were etched into stone centuries ago by Native Hawaiians. Although the true meanings of them are unknown, it’s generally thought that these carvings record births and other significant events in the lives of the people. There are carvings of humans, canoes, turtles and other creatures.
Hōlei Sea Arch
Just before the end of the Chain of Craters road, we reach the southern coastline of the big island with spectacular ocean views and this 90 feet tall sea arch.
The formation of the Hōlei arch can be attributed to years of sea weathering that eroded a weak layer of underlying bedrock.
Chain of Craters – End of Road
This is the end of the road for us. In April 2003, lava flows covered the Chain of Craters road making it impassible. Lava continues to flow over it today further up where the road once ran.
Video from our visit:
Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Located on the southeastern coast between Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the small town of Naalehu, Punaluu Black Sand Beach’s jet black shores are an unforgettable sight.
The sand is black due to all the volcanic activity on the island. Coconut palms line the upper edges of the sand and Hawaiian Green Sea turtles can sometimes be found basking on the beach.
Video from our visit:
We’re standing on the southern most point of the fifty US states at South Point, Hawaii. The first Polynesians to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands probably disembarked here between 400 and 800 A.D. There’s only deep blue ocean between the land we are standing on and Antarctica.
Rock Loops in Lava
The offshore currents and winds are notoriously powerful here and mariners from the first Polynesians to today’s locals have devised clever ways of plying the rich fishing grounds without being swept away in the process.
Rock loops carved through the lava can be found here that were used to tied off fishing canoes hundreds of years ago.
The name for this place comes from Ka Lae in the Hawaiian language which means “the point”. A confluence of ocean currents just offshore makes this spot one of Hawaii’s most popular fishing spots. Locals fish from the cliffs, some dangling perilously over the steep lava ledges.
In March of 1906 a small lighthouse opened at the point. In 1908 about 10 acres were set aside for the United States Coast Guard to build a house for the lighthouse keeper. Sadly, the original lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters are gone today, replaced by an automated steel tower light.
There’s been a wind farm here since 1987 with the original farm of turbines being replaced in 2007 with a new set of turbines capable of generating 20 mega watts.
About one-half mile east of the point is an open circular pit half-filled with brackish water called Lua-o-Palahemo (loo-uh-oh-pah-lah-hay-moh). It is a broken lava tube that forms a pond mixing fresh and salt water.
If you climb down the path to the waters edge and look closely you will see one half inch, bright red shrimp. This kind of shrimp is only found here. Many locals like swimming in the pool because it feels so cool and refreshing. It is known as the bottomless pond. About five feet straight down it turns a forty degree angle and goes right under the ocean floor.
During World War II, the US Air Force built a landing strip called Morse Field on the point, which was closed after the war in 1953. In 1961 it was on the list of sites to be considered by NASA to launch manned rockets to space. However, later it was considered too remote. From 1964 to 1965 a space tracking station was operated here, and in 1979 it became a missile launching site.
Green Sand Beach
After hiking 2-1/2 miles from Morse Field, we are rewarded with the famous Green Sand of Hawaii, one of only two in the world. The sand is a green olive color and it’s coloration is caused by eruptions from what was once a volcano.
The beach itself is within what was once a cinder cone. Three sides of the cone are still present, with the ocean coming in from what would have been the eastern edge of the cone.
Video from our visit:
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
The historical 420 acre Pu’uhonua o Honaunau park, originally established in 1955, preserves the site where, up until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke one of the ancient laws could avoid certain death by fleeing to this place of refuge.
The park contains a reconstruction of the Hale O Keawe thatched temple, which was originally built by a Kona chief named Kanuha in honor of his father the King, whose bones were entombed here. The last person buried here was a son of King Kamehameha I in 1818.
The park also contains several important archeological sites including: temple platforms, royal fishponds, sledding tracks, and some coastal village sites, along with other thatched structures that were carefully reconstructed.