I had wanted to go to Hawaii for as long as I can remember and a year ago I was lucky enough to tag it onto a USA trip I had been planning for over 2 years with my closets girlfriends. I rounded up my brother, boyfriend and parents to come explore Hawaii with me.
I spent a lot of time researching the different islands and found it hard to pick which ones to go to as I didn't have enough time to go to them all. I decided on going the Big Island, Kauai and Oahu.
I chose the Big Island mainly because I wanted to see the volcano, little did I know how diverse the Big Island is. From the moment you fly into Kona you are landing on lava flow, everything is barren with black lava rock.
Driving up the coast from Kona the land transforms into big rolling hills covered in dry brown grass, if the water wasn't such a bright aqua blue it could be mistaken for the Australian landscape. This is an area on the island that can get as little as 15 inches of rain a year.
As we continued to drive up north, climbing in altitude the scenery and climate dramatically began to change. The air was cooler, everything was luscious green, and by the time we reached the highest point we were in thick fog and light rain. I was amazed by how different it was only minutes away, but it wasn't until later that I learnt this is normal. The rain fall up in the mountain gets as much as 80 inches a year and is only minutes away from the driest part of the island!
We travelled right to the top of the big island to a place called Pololu Valley. There is a lookout at the top, but you can also walk down a trail to the water's edge which is absolutely amazing and a must if you don't mind a 20min hike. Again the scenery is different, huge cliffs meeting water, a black sand beach and rain forests rolling down into deep valleys. Here are some photos I took of the beautiful Pololu Valley.
Towards the centre and lower end of the island is where the active volcano is. You can drive all the way up the opening of the volcano where there is an information centre and heaps of lookout points, you can also go on helicopters tours over the volcano and its surroundings in hopes to find some fresh red lava flow. No picture does justice for the amazing experience of being at ground zero of where the earth grows, I soon developed a great appreciation for just how slow of process it is from lava flow to the life of trees and plantation. Most of the lava flow on the island is over 100 years old and still looks like this - fresh lava!
I really recommend going into the national parks, getting out of your car and exploring the volcanic areas for yourself. We found some small communities who live on the lava, with their houses are on stilts over the rocky ground which was so fascinating to see. We followed the highway as it loops around the bottom of the island to make our way back to Kona on the way we discovered the youngest beach in the world, where the lava has broken down to sand on the south coast. I am so glad that we decided to just drive around ourselves as we discovered these remote communities and amazing areas.
The island up next was Kauai. I choose this island as it has been nicknamed the 'garden island' which instantly appealed to me, I had also seen photos of the Napali Coast which looked so stunning that I just had to see it for myself! This island really didn't disappoint on the expectations I had of it. We flew into Lihue and stayed at the Marriott in an apartment that overlooked the coast and mountains, it ended up being a perfect location for everything we decided to do. This was the view from a small hidden beach down the path!
Since seeing the Napali coast was one of the reasons for making my way to Kauai it was really important that I picked the best way to see it. It is on the west coast of the island and due to the high mountain range the only way by land to the coast is a 3 day hike. Since I didn't have that much time on the island my options were between going on a boat that would travel all the way up the around the coast or to go by helicopter where you can fly over the famous coast. I ended up finding a sea and air tour where you would do both and so I decided to go with that and have no regrets!
The boat tour was truly amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to go to the Napali coast. I was originally worried that the boat trip is a fair distance but there was plenty to see along the way and the crew were loads of fun making it a relaxing day on the water. We learnt a lot about the surroundings, saw a number of spinner dolphin pods, and got up close to the mountains and coast. We anchored in a beautiful spot for lunch where I was also able to go scuba diving. Hawaii it not known for having great bright coral like other islands in the pacific but I saw a number of turtles and fish and there were lots of caves and bridges to swim through.
After our day on the water I began the second guess if we needed to fly over it as we had such an amazing day with plenty of time to take it in. However we went on our flight two days later, and to my surprise it was in a small private plane just for us. The other big surprise was that we didn't just fly over the Napali coast, but we flew over the entire island dipping in low and close to the land and seeing all the landmarks. Our pilot had so much knowledge on the island and giving us tips on where we should go. I am so glad we did the flight, it was one of the highlights of my trip and the best way to take in the island as a whole. One noteworthy attraction is the Waimea canyon which has been nick named the grand canyon of the pacific.
On our last day on Kauai we drove up the east coast to Princeville. Hanalei Bay has the best sunset view on the island as the sun drops beside the huge back side of the Napali coast mountain range causing all the ridges to be lit up with the golden sunset light. We went into the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort where you can go up onto an outdoor desk, have your favourite cocktail and watch the sunset. It is magical. You can also go through the resort to get down to the secluded beach and bay below.
Our last island was Oahu, from what people had told me they all said to go straight to the other islands and to get off Oahu to see the real Hawaii. So to be honest the main reason I choose Oahu was because this is where I needed to end up in order to fly to the main land of the states. I allowed 2 days in Oahu so I could at least see the main areas of the famous island.
Waikiki was better than I anticipated it is a fusion of cultures buzzing with tourists and locals alike on the main strip and as you explored a little out you find yourself in suburbia with big houses and people getting on with their daily routines on quiet streets. Granted it was nothing like the smaller towns on the other islands but it was still oozing with Hawaiian culture just with the type tourism and business that you expect from the capital city of any place. What I did not anticipate was how beautifully stunning the island was, everything I read never highlighted this. We hired a car and travelled through to the east coast of the island where we were met with an unbelievably bright blue ocean. We stopped at Kailua Beach and decided to hire a kayak for the morning where we paddled out to a close little island pictured below.
In the afternoon we went to Kualoa Ranch where we went deep into the Kualoa valley on horseback. I love horses, so I jumped at a chance to see the valley by horse! This valley is very famous from starring in many Hollywood films such as Jurassic Park, Godzilla, LOST, 50 first dates and loads more. I strongly recommend going to Kualoa valley the sheer size of the mountains while you are on the ground level is breath taking and you really do feel like you are in a lost ancient world! On horseback it was a peaceful and relaxed tour, but if it’s not your thing there is also quad biking tours, bus tours, zip lining and many other ways to see the area.
So after my first trip to Hawaii, all I want to do is go back! I would love to see the other islands and spend some more time in Oahu to see the rest of the island that I missed out on. The diversity amongst the islands is amazing let alone the diversity within each small island is what makes this chain of islands a place worth putting on your bucket list.