From the white sandy beaches that slip into the cobalt blue ocean, to the tropical slopes that line the volcanic backdrop: the Polynesian islands are home to Hawaii, that spectrum of color. Not just because of its location - standing alone in the middle of the Pacific - does Hawaii, the last state to join the United States in 1959, boast a resolutely independent air. The birthplace of surfing is a place rich in multicultural heritage. Descendants of ancient Polynesia, European colonialists, American missionaries, and Asian plantation immigrants all mix, mingle, and contribute to the Big Island's famed vibrancy.
Hawaii is a life lived outdoors. You can either head towards the makai (sea) or the mauka (mountains) From exploring the pristine coral reef, surfing, kayaking, fishing, and picnicking with friends, to hiking up the fluted pali (sea cliffs) and scrabbling along the craggy, ancient lava flows, the Hawaiian value of aloha 'aina (love and respect for the land) is omnipresent.
Where to Stay in Hawaii
Hawaii is a series of eight main islands: Ni'ihau, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Kaho'olawe, Maui and Hawai'i. Each of the islands are connected by ferry. The famous Honolulu beach is in the neighborhood of Waikini. This is a popular destination for travelers - with high-rise apartments and seafront villas perched high above the promenade. The array of properties in this welcoming neighborhood enables you to make the most of your trip. Another insider tip is the old sugar plantation town of Paia, bordered by the surfing mecca of the north shore. Wimdu has family-friendly accommodation and plenty of beachfront condos or Hawaii vacation rentals that place the makai on your doorstep. The Ke'anae Peninsula is another part of Hawaii's varied coastline pounded by the Pacific. The small village of Ke'anae is an oasis of calm, the perfect place to base your family and enjoy Hawaii's laid-back charm.
What to See and Do in Hawaii
Hawaii is home to the tallest fluted pali (sea cliffs) in the world. They line the glorious Moloka'i coast, running east from the Kalaupapa Peninsula to Halawa Beach, forming a jaw-dropping, 22-kilometer stretch where some of the cliffs reach over 3,300 feet. To fully appreciate the sheer scale of the cliffs, you can organize a boat trip out into the pacific or sweep over the cliffs in one of Maui's famous helicopter tours.
Hulopo'e Bay is Lana'i's finest beach. The golden crescent of sand and marine-life conservation status protects the removal of coral and restricts the majority of fishing activities, in-turn welcoming Spinner dolphins into the Bay. Stunning snorkeling opportunities, a highly-praised archaeological site, and the cool shade of palms all lend the place the distinct feel of paradise.
Ho'okpia beach is synonymous with Hawaii's most famous export – surfing. Given the laid-back nature of the island, all levels are welcome. You can rent equipment from the local shops, book lessons, or just watch the mesmerizing locals take on all the Pacific can throw at them.
Thurston Lava Tube is a popular wildlife attraction on the eastern front of the crater. The half-mile walk starts in the ohia-filled rainforest, then passes through the stunning lava tube. Lava tubes are formed when the outer crust of a lava river starts to cool and harden, while the liquid lava continues flowing beneath the surface. Once the lava dries out, the hard shell remains. Thurston Lava Tube is roughly half a century old and a semi-truck could pass though its cavernous center. Arrive early or late if you wish to avoid the swarms fresh off the tour buses.
Haleakala National Park is one of two national parks on Hawaii's shores. Stretched out across Maul's southeastern coastline, Haleakala (House of the Sun) is the highest peak in Hawaii at 10,023 feet above sea level. According to legend, the demigod Maul lassoed the sun from the volcano's summit - slowing its journey to stretch out the last day. The Haleakala Visitor Center is an excellent spot from which to watch the sunrise.
Where to Eat in Hawaii
Given its rich multicultural heritage, it is of little surprise that each group of settlers have left their distinctive impression on the local cuisine.
Located in a former pharmacy, the Hanapepe Cafe and Bakery is the go-to restaurant on Hawaii's western front. The breakfast croissant and quiche both work well with the spicy espresso, while the 'ahi (Hawaiian tuna) should satisfy those wishing to experience authentic local cuisine. The Hungarian goulash soup, Creole-influenced mahimahi bouillabaisse and spinach salad and, not to mention the baked focaccia - all hint at the cookbooks that have been brought to Hawaii down the ages.
Kualapu'u Cookhouse (formerly Kamuela Cookhouse) is an old roadhouse joint selling stirringly authentic dishes. The teriyaki beef will continue to infiltrate your dreams long after your departure. The huge breakfasts and Panko-crusted Monte Cristo sandwiches are terrific. When the sun goes down, the restaurant fills with ravenous locals keen to gorge on Hawaiian tuna in a cilantro sauce or the prime rib steaks. Hawaiian music and beer purchased from the grocery store opposite add to the laid-back atmosphere.
Bev Gannon is a famous chef from Hawaii. His restaurant, the Lana'i City Grille, is located within the plush Hotel Lana'i and is decked out in sturdy art-deco furniture. The menu consists largely of fresh seafood and locally-sourced meat. The perfect rib-eye steaks and tuna tacos are both highly-recommended and the cracking wine list is worth exploring.
The Lahaina Grill is a warm, inviting eatery. The menu relies on fresh local ingredients and the service is personal and intimate. The Maui onion seared tuna with vanilla-rice and 'Big Island' prawns with a roasted kula corn salsa are both excellent. Finish with the triple berry pie.
Getting around Hawaii
Honolulu is the major Pacific air hub and stop-off point for flights destined for Asia, Australia and the South Pacific from the United States mainland. An add-on fare from the US West Coast is possible for European travelers.
Although Maui and Kaua'i both do have limited, local services; O'ahu is the only one of Hawaii's islands that can be explored completely by bus.
Rental cars are available on all of the main islands and rates start at around $35 per day and $175 per week.