It might sound like an impossible feat: Experiencing Hawaii away from the crowds. After all, tourism is the state’s largest industry. Our Hawaii Nature Adventure, however, takes you to places many tourists have never heard of, much less visited. We go off the beaten path to reveal the hidden corners and best-kept secrets of the archipelago. And in 2015, we’ve taken our quest to new heights—based on past traveler feedback.
1. Volcanoes National Park
On the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park, you’ll find two of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Mauna Loa most recently erupted in 1984 while Kilauea has continuously erupted since 1983 (lucky visitors will see lava flowing). The 11-mile Crater Rim Drive offers stellar views of the caldera and goes through a variety of ecosystems, including rain forest and tundra. The unique conditions of the park have resulted in unusual and endemic flora and fauna.
2. Pu’ukohola Heaiu National Historic Site
In the late 1700s, thousands of people built this sacrificial temple, commissioned by King Kamehameha, without the use of mortar. As you peruse the ruins, learn about the archipelago’s fascinating and tumultuous history.
3. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Keep your eyes peeled for large populations of nesting seabirds, spinner dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals, and the rare Hawaiian goose. Stop at the picturesque lighthouse, dwarfed by the steep cliffs that drop into the Pacific, which was active for 63 years. What must it have been like to be one of the lighthouse’s keepers long ago?
4. Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Located in the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Limahuli preserves native plants, many of which are now endangered. Walk a leisurely trail through the garden amidst a stunning backdrop, learn about the archipelago’s botanical history and hear the local legends of the plants’ origins.
5. Helicopter flight
Have your camera at the ready as you fly over Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and the dramatic Na Pali coastline.
6. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Gain a better understanding of the local culture as you explore the park grounds. In the Hawaii of old, citizens who broke the law were sentenced to death. Their only hope was to reach a puuhonua, a sacred refuge, before being caught. Here they could be absolved of their crimes.
7. Poipu Beach
Snorkeling in the protected waters of Poipu Beach may reveal green marine turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, reef triggerfish and coral.
8. Koke’e State Park
Set on 4,345 acres, the park’s lush forest is home to native plants and endemic Hawaiian birds including several brightly colored honeycreeper species.
9. Whale Watching
Take a private boat trip along the Na Pali Coast in search of the endangered humpback whale. Between December and May the whales make their way here from Alaska to mate, give birth and rear their young. You might spot them slapping their tails, spy-hopping and—most thrilling of all—breaching.
10. Mauna Kea
The highest point in all of Hawaii, Mauna Kea offers superb star-gazing. Watch the sun go down and the moon rise up, then peer through a powerful telescope as our local guide describes what you’re seeing.
By Marsea Nelson, WWF guest blogger