Things To Do In Hawaii (Complete with Maps)

Things To Do In Hawaii – The Chain of Paradise. The state of Hawaii is a collection of islands. There are 7 or 8 ‘main’ ones (depending on the criteria used), and over 150 smaller ones. Hawaii is not only the name of the state but also the name of the largest island in the chain.

Hawaii hula dancer - by Aloha Hula DanceHawaii islands is not just a land of volcanic outcroppings. It is a rich, tropical paradise full of natural and human-made wonders.

Certainly, there are natural sights galore.

Hawaii is justly well-known for having some of the loveliest waterfalls in the world. The Akaka Falls majestically pouring down 442 feet into crystal clear waters below is just one example.

And, there is no doubt that extinct volcanoes like Diamond Head crater – and live ones like those at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – offer some of the most interesting hikes around.

But, some of its most fascinating natural features lie under the surface.

Table of Contents

  1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  2. Cycling Tours Around The Hawaii Islands
  3. Explore Hawaii’s Caves and Falls
  4. Hawaii Diamond Head, Peak of Excitement
  5. Kokee Natural History Museum
  6. Hawaii’s Aquariums: Maui and Waikiki
  7. Scuba Diving
  8. Boat Tours and Shark Encounters
  9. Whale Watching and Whaler’s Museum in Hawaii
  10. Honolulu Zoo and Panaewa Rainforest
  11. Hawaii’s Botanical Gardens
  12. The Dole Plantation
  13. The Bishop Museum
  14. USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri Tour

Got your favorite place to do things in Hawaii? Add your comment, we may update the list.

The Kula Kai Caverns offer deep caves, lava tubes and many other natural features below the surface. Scuba diving in these waters is bound to bring sights you could find nowhere else from underwater lava tubes to thousands of tropical fish species and monk seals.

The humpback whales that migrate to waters around the islands every winter are another fascinating natural sight available to visitors. Shark encounters are easy to have on any of the dozens of boat tours offered by experienced guides.

Lava enter Pacific in Hawaii volcanoOther animal attractions include the first rate Honolulu Zoo and the one-of-a-kind Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. The first offers an African Savannah exhibit where the lions roam free like San Diego’s Wild Animal Park, but in a much more lush setting. The second is set in an actual rainforest and is unlike any other zoo in the world.

Not surprisingly, a Hawaiian vacation offers several truly fine aquariums. The Maui Ocean Center has a 54-foot tunnel that fronts a 750,000 gallon tank full of creatures you’re likely to find while scuba diving. The Waikiki Aquarium provides an equally thrilling look at many of the native marine life species.

You can see a lot of these natural wonders by cycling around the Hawaii islands, then taking a hike. You can stop at one of the thousands of world-class beaches or snorkel around and see live tidepool inhabitants with ease. You can take in numerous botanical gardens that house thousands of native plant species that are unique to this region.

But Hawaii, Oahu, Maui and the rest also have numerous man-made attractions to offer visitors.

The Bishop Museum has millions of objects on display that record the state’s past and present. The unique blend of Asian, European and Polynesian culture that is Hawaii finds representatives from every thread here. The Kokee Natural History museum in lush Waimea Canyon provides yet another take on a interesting phase of Hawaii’s evolution.

The Dole Plantation provides a look into Hawaii’s fascinating past and ever-changing present. The Pineapple Express train ride will give you a history lesson on the great entrepreneur who put the state on the map, while you see some of the grounds and the lovely mountains nearby. The world’s largest maze will amuse the kids as the adults stroll through the outstanding gardens.

USS Bowfin at Pearl Harbour

Make sure to make time to see the USS Arizona Memorial, commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Battleship Missouri standing guard on the fallen offers a chance to get on board to see what life on such a ship was like. The USS Bowfin and Submarine Museum are not far away.

Those looking into a honeymoon or a vacation in Hawaii often think of the outstanding hotels, the first-rate beaches and the stellar restaurants and shows offered. Those all exist, to be sure. But Hawaii islands is so much more than a Hula dance near the swimming pool or a stroll in the sand during a luau.

Hawaii is an adventure along a chain of paradise with many links.

Next things to do in Hawaii: Volcanoes National Park >>

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Visitors to Hawaii often have something other than visiting a park on their minds. Yet, this island state offers one of the most unusual national parks in the system: the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park covers nearly 505 mi²/1350 km² and has several distinct ecosystems.

Pahoeoe fountain

Pahoeoe fountain. By J.D. Griggs edit by User:Mbz1 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here, explorers can find the results of over 70 million years of the planet’s volcanism, including two live samples. They are part of the famed Ring of Fire – a series of volcanoes, many of them underwater, that lie along the edge of several continents. The world’s largest, Mauna Loa, stands 13,677 feet high. The other, Kilauea, is considered one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Hiking is a favorite things to do of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitors

There are thousands of trails here that wind through trees and along ridges of lava deposits. It’s easy to take a leisurely walk across the black sand beaches of Kalapana. Along one, hikers can enjoy the 350-year old Thurston Lava Tube. The 4-mile hike along Kilauea Iki trail descends 400 feet through rainforest into a steaming crater.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. By U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are several scenic drives, as well. The 11-mile Crater Rim Drive circles the Kilauea caldera. A ‘caldera’ is the large, circular depression formed when the volcano’s interior collapses after an eruption.

As recently as March, 2008 the Halema’uma’u crater erupted, spewing ash and gas over 70 acres. The Chain of Craters Road offers a 40-mile round-trip drive that descends 3,700 ft/1130 m from the coast and reaches a dead end at an active lava flow.

Caldera of Kilauea with Halemaumau

Caldera of Kilauea with Halemaumau. By J. Kauahikaua (USGS HVO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A mile from Halema’uma’u is Keanakako’i Crater. This active volcano last erupted in late 1982 and the evidence is still easily visible. Across the road it’s easy to look over the edge and see the smoking fumaroles. It’s also an excellent place to get a view of the nearly 14,000-foot Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea mountains. At the top you can make out astronomical observatories that are among the world’s largest.

Only a mile further along the road is Devastation Trail

Park and take a half-hour stroll through a cinder outfall, produced by the 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki. As with some other areas in the park, breathing can be uncomfortable. Sulfur dioxide and ash are a common product of volcanic activity. Sensitive individuals should avoid downwind areas.

Not quite a mile from Steaming Bluffs visitors can find the Kilauea Overlook for a great view of the caldera below. In 1959 this area was a lava lake with fountains spewing almost 2,000 feet up. The opening is 3,000 feet across and a mile long.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

The park also houses the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the Jagger Museum and many other facilities offering unique displays describing the park’s features. Inside the Jagger, there are several seismographs that monitor volcano-related earthquake activity.

Visit the park and enjoy some of nature’s most astounding dynamism on display. But because it’s an active volcano area, check http://www.nps.gov/havo/closed_areas.htm first to see which areas are closed before your trip.

Next things to do in Hawaii: Cycling Tours Around The Islands >>
List of Things to do in Hawaii

Cycling Tours Around The Hawaii Islands

Many who vacation in Hawaii just want to lie in the sun and relax. Nothing wrong with that. But there are many others who come to this island state to engage in vigorous things to do in an environment they simply can’t find elsewhere.

Kona Hawaii beach sunrise

Kona Hawaii beach sunrise

Scuba diving, hang gliding, rock climbing, hiking and more are all popular here. But few sports-oriented vacationers are quite as fanatical about their chosen love as cyclists. And, given the natural beauty they ride through, one can hardly be surprised.

Cycling is so popular here that if a visitor didn’t want to rent a bike, he or she could buy one and sell it back with ease before they left. So, there’s no reason to complain that rentals just don’t offer the perfect option.

Enjoy one of the 350 sunny days per year offered by Hawaii. Then take off along any of the over 500 miles of smooth paved roads. Travel through rainforests, over mountain passes or even along the rim of a live volcano.

Routes are vetted – and frequently traveled – by cycling experts that lead the tours. These aren’t just reservation takers. They’re frequent and enthusiastic cyclists themselves. They give you a lot of interesting tidbits about the landscape and local history along the way.

Imagine meeting just north of Kona on a Sunday morning at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott on the Kohala Coast. Then it’s off to Waimea for a ride down the old scenic byway with the sun at your shoulder. Along the way you’ll travel over rolling hills and get a great view of the Waipio Valley.

Pause and look down the thousand-foot cliffs. Look out and take in the clear blue sky and white-capped waters. Then take off to a lush, tropical paradise and enjoy the view of one of the island’s spectacular waterfalls. Continue on across the roads of Hawaii’s large farms as you see a sea of sugar cane. Travel on and ride through large papaya plantations.

Travel up the coast to Hilo and finish your ride at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. Book a room and enjoy the oceanfront view overlooking Hilo Bay for the evening before you head back in the morning.

Waipio valley

Waipio valley. Image by Robert Linsdell

There are routes on several of the major islands that offer equally dramatic views, equally thrilling rides. You may want a smooth, easy journey along the roads of Oahu. Done. Or, you may want to really get that heart pumping not just from the view but the exercise. Ride up near Haleakala Crater then hike up and stay in one of the cabins in the park.

See Akaka Falls on Highway 19. Or, enjoy the Lava Coast of Puna near Pahoa not far from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Take the Old Mamalahoa Highway to Honokaa. Have a bite to eat at the Tex Drive-In then plunge ahead.

Whether you want a short, two-hour ride or an all day marathon there are cycle tours in Hawaii to suit your style. Just hop on and pedal away!

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Explore Hawaii’s Caves and Falls

There’s something intriguing about the idea of exploring Hawaii’s highs and lows, its fascinating caves and spectacular falls. Luckily, just as with the state’s outstanding beaches, there are no end of options.

Hawaii Caves

The Kula Kai Caverns and Lava Tubes off Hwy 11 in Ocean View are a prime example. A two-hour spelunking tour is led by an expert guide. Crawling along and up these long lava tubes with helmet and gloves is far more exciting than coal mining and a lot less messy.

Temperatures are a cool 65F/18C and you’ll need a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to avoid scraping knees and elbows on the harsh lava rock. But the rewards are many. While not for the claustrophobic, the caves are distinctly different from those in France or the continental U.S.

You’ll see everything from narrow tunnels to huge open grottoes with pools of water. There are trips for beginner, intermediate and advanced ‘spelunkers’. Good lighting is a must in these areas, where the caves go far beyond the light spilling in from openings. So you’ll be outfitted with a flashlight and helmet.

Stalagmites and stalactites in ordinary rock caves tend to be made of salt/sediment deposits built up (or down) over millennia. In Hawaii’s caves, changes occur much more quickly as lava flows are ejected and cool. Every visit is unique.

Once you’ve had your fill of fascinating dark caverns, reach out into the light and see some of Hawaii’s amazing falls.

Falls in Hawaii

In a state with so much competition for most beautiful scenery it would be hard to pick a winner.

Hanakapiai Hawaii Falls

Hanakapiai Falls. Image by Paul Bica

The Manoa Falls only 20 minutes from Honolulu would definitely be in the running. You’ll stroll through bamboo groves along a 3/4-mi/1.25 km long trail when suddenly before you appears a 150-foot/45m waterfall splashing down into a crystal clear pool below.

Another serious competitor is the Hanakapiai Falls on Kauai. Part of an excellent 4-mile hike from the Kalalau Trailhead in Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Valley on the Na Pali Coast, they are an appropriate reward for the effort.

Splashing down three main terraces a full 300 feet (90m), you can take a dip in the pool at the bottom to cool off. But take care not to get too distracted. The dazzling beauty of the surrounding flora has been known to cause more than one traveler to want never to go home again.

If there were any clear champion it would have to the pair at Akaka Falls State Park. Only a half-mile (two-thirds of kilometer) hike in along a trail covered with flowered vines lies the Kahuna Falls, plunging down 400 feet (122 m) from the top. But that already spectacular view is exceeded by the Akaka Falls covering 442 feet (134m) from top to bottom.

It’s a small wonder that Hawaii is world-famous for natural beauty. With unique underground caverns to explore and some of the finest waterfalls anywhere, both high and low sights here are tops for any adventurous tourist.

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Hawaii Diamond Head, Peak of Excitement

Diamond Head Hawaii State Monument

Diamond Head State Monument. From Wikimedia

Diamond Head State Monument, located in Oahu, is one of Hawaii’s biggest tourist attractions. It isn’t hard to see why. To the geologists it might just be a ‘pyroclastic cinder cone generally comprised of a friable tuff-type soil structure’, whatever that means. To tourists, Diamond Head is the summit of volcanic excitement.

Named by English sailors in the 19th century who found calcite crystals they mistook for diamonds, it is Hawaii’s most recognizable landmark. Its diameter covers over 3,500 ft/1067 m. At its pinnacle, it is 760 feet/232 m high at Le’ahi Peak.

But those numbers, large as they are, hardly convey the sheer breathtaking sight that greets visitors whether at the base or the top. The volcano saw its last explosive eruption over 500,000 years ago. But the amazement on the faces of those who hike to the top is ever new.

Travel Guide for Diamond Head State Monument

Drive into the crater itself, then prepare yourself for a pleasant hike.

The hike is just under three-quarters of a mile (about a kilometer). No more than a moderate climb, it takes about an hour to reach the top. But during and afterward one has the feeling that this is the experience of a lifetime. For along the switchback trail, which offers a handrail for assistance, the sights are unparalleled.

Climbing up the final 99-step stairs near the top, the feeling grows that you are about to see things you never have before, and never will again. Make your way through the dark tunnel then enter into the light. At the top your effort is rewarded by a panoramic view of Oahu that is unavailable from any other vantage point.

Take a few moments to enjoy the small things, too. A military bunker that once housed WWII lookouts is still a major attraction. It is at the end of the 225 ft/68 m tunnel. Explore pieces of the old fort built at the turn of the 20th century.

The gentle trade winds brush your hair while you listen to the crashing of the waves down at the shoreline. Look down and see the beautiful Kapiolani Park at the south end of Waikiki. Look across the landscape and gaze on some of Hawaii’s most luxurious private estates. In the center of the island are the Koolau Mountains.

Bring a flashlight to assist you through the tunnel and a bottle of water to assist on the hike. And, oh, don’t forget the camera.

Temperatures at the summit can be cool, but the sun is very hot at times, especially given the dark stone all around. Dress accordingly. Diamond Head attracts over 600,000 visitors per year, so come early and be prepared for the crowd.

And, by the way, ‘pyroclastic’ just means rock fragmented by fire produced by a volcanic eruption, while tuff turf is rock made of compressed volcanic ash. Come climb this big cinder cone, a hill made of volcanic ash, and see what the geologists – and the tourists – get so excited about.

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Things to Do in Hawaii: Kokee Natural History Museum

By the standards of London and New York, the Kokee Natural History Museum located on Kauai, Hawaii is tiny. But within this space visitors can find a surprisingly rich and detailed view of the area’s geology, botany, wildlife and climate.

Kokee Natural History Museum building

Kokee Museum building. Image from www.kokee.org

The weather exhibit alone is worth the visit. It details how Mount Waialeale not far away receives among the highest recorded rainfalls anywhere on Earth.

The over 600 inches per year downpour is an amazing figure considering competition from places like the Oregon Coast, the Amazon jungle and other spots on the planet that regularly get thoroughly drenched every year. Yet the mountain, at 5,150 ft/1,570 m is not enormous by planetary standards.

Inside of Kokee Natural History Museum

Inside of Kokee Natural History Museum. Image by Alex Pang @ Flickr

Other fascinating climate information around the area that houses the museum is also on display. Details about Hurricane Iniki in 1992 give one a good overview of how these deadly storms grow and decay seasonally.

There are numerous displays about the native birds of the island, along with exhibits about the upland forests of Kauai. Some show how the natives hunted and fished the local waters for centuries, and how those practices have evolved in the modern world.

Tourists can get a look at some of the interesting shells that are distinctive to this ecosystem. Nearby are many examples of Hawaiian stone artifacts fashioned by the inhabitants centuries before the first European settlers paid a visit.

Kokee Natural History Museum Location

Cliff and Black Pipe Trails / Waimea Canyon

Cliff and Black Pipe Trails / Waimea Canyon. From: doritweber.com

Located at one end of Waimea Canyon, the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ as Mark Twain described it, the museum is part of Kokee State Park. At over 2,700 feet/820 m deep it would be hard to disagree with the famed author.

The museum offers extensive information on many of the dozens of great trails in the park that can be hiked by novice or expert. This is also the meeting place for guided summer walks led by experienced staff as part of the park’s WonderWalks program.

dancing for queenIn addition, there are basket weaving and lei making workshops for those inclined to crafts and who want to learn the Hawaiian way. Come in October and enjoy the Emalani Festival, with live music and craft demonstrations galore.

Stick around til noon and watch ‘Queen Emma’ arrive on horseback, a symbolic parade of the mighty monarch’s great ride of 1871 with 100 of her friends and followers. Then enjoy the chant and hula rituals the rest of the afternoon.

Take a look around and drink in the view of the many waterfalls in the area enjoyed by over 100,000 visitors per year. Explore some of the native wildlife as you check out the cliffside views of this natural wonderland.

The Kokee Natural History Museum is located at 3600 Kokee Rd, Kekaha, HI.

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Hawaii’s Aquariums: Maui and Waikiki

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center is one of Hawaii’s premier aquatic displays. In this island state full of natural wonders that’s a high achievement indeed. Located in Maalaea Harbor Village on the southwest shore of Maui, it offers both indoor and outdoor exhibits, either one of which would be well worth the visit.

Walk through the 16-meter (54-foot) tunnel and gaze into the 2.5 million liter (750,000 gallon) tank full of native species. This being Maui, that naturally includes lots of sharks, including the known man-eater Tiger Shark. Sharks often seem unpredictable. Yet here they swim peacefully with the Mahi Mahi and Spotted Eagle Rays that share the enclosure.

If you’re feeling nervous, just take a trip topside to view any of the 40 marine tanks. Enjoy the many colorful creatures in the tidal pool. Or, visit the Turtle Lagoon. Spend some time with the Tropical Reef’s marine life, which includes live sponges, anemones, mollusks and the country’s largest collection of live coral. Under supervision, you can pet one of the sea stars or sea urchins.

Hawaii Aquariums: Maui Ocean Center

Underwater reef at Maui Ocean Center. Image: [email protected]

Take a stroll and visit the Whale Discovery Center to see the life-sized model of a humpback whale calf, the state’s official marine animal. Adults are 45 feet in length and weigh 40 tons. See the educational displays here before taking a whale watching tour not far off the coast. The whales enjoy a swim through the channels between the islands as they migrate from the polar feeding grounds to breed in winter.

Don’t miss one of the many interactive displays in the Marine Mammal Discover Center that features video of monk seals, dolphins and other native marine life of Hawaii. Certified divers can even get into the Open Ocean Exhibit for a live shark encounter with over 20 sharks and several stingrays. Staff will do everything to make sure the live encounter stays that way!

Waikiki Aquarium

Built in 1904, the Waikiki Aquarium is the country’s oldest public aquarium. Located in Honolulu just blocks from Waikiki Beach, it houses over 3,000 organisms from over 450 plant and animal species.

Pause at the entrance and spend time examining the Potter’s Angel, Yellow Tang and other tropical fish. Get a close-up view of the Longnose Hawkfish, found only in waters below 100 feet. Enjoy the colorful coral, native to the waters only a few hundred yards away.

One exhibit, The Edge of the Reef, offers displays of five separate reef environments, showing the immense diversity of marine life even just within this one type of ecosystem.

Hawaii Aquariums: Waikiki Aquarium

Giant clams and fish at Waikiki Aquarium. Image by Meowmeow10

The large shark tank here is populated also by rays and many other species that share space with some of Hawaii’s most famous natives. Come in the evening and get an in-depth tour during the Shark Nite or Stingray Tracking programs.

The jellyfish tank houses unusual species from the saltwater lakes near Palau. There are also Moon Jellies, Cassiopeia and many more of these delicate, semi-transparent marine animals.

Don’t miss seeing one of the few Chambered Nautilus born in captivity in a display not far away. A resident of the deep waters of Micronesia, it was recovered from the ocean at 1,500 feet. A distant relative of the octopus, they’re rarely seen in an aquarium.

Enjoy one of Hawaii’s aquariums and discover why the natural wonders of this island state can sometimes only be found in a tank.

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Things to Do in Hawaii: Scuba Diving

scuba diver meets manta ray Scuba Diving Sites in Hawaii

Scuba Diver Meets Manta Ray – Scuba Diving Sites in Hawaii. Image by Steve Dunleavy

Hawaii offers some of the finest scuba diving sites anywhere in the world. It has all the variety of a Polynesian paradise like Fiji combined with the most modern facilities and world-class guides.

Thanks to year round warm waters, it’s possible to schedule a dive in Hawaii in any season. That makes it more cost effective to travel here than some other locations, such as Tahiti or Australia. Though they have mild climates, too, airline and hotel costs vary more for them throughout the year.

But the benefits go well beyond saving a few dollars. There are unparalleled dive locales and types all within easy travel.

Oahu

Oahu has offshore lava formations that sport a variety of sea life. There are tiny grottoes that provide their homes. You can explore them endlessly along with the green sea turtles who will accompany you. There are also a number of sunken planes and shipwrecks that add interesting elements to a dive.

Maui

A short boat trip away, off the west coast of Maui, there are several good sites. Molokini, Five Caves and Black Rock, along with many others, offer diving suitable for all skill levels.

Kauai

Kauai, also known as the Garden Island, is better in the non-winter months. The large swells during winter make the venture a little too risky for all but the most expert. It also tends to stir up a lot of sediment, making the views poor even for the truly adventurous. But during the rest of the year the north shore offers some of the most pristine waters around.

Ni’ihau

An area 17 miles off of southwestern Kauai offers diving found nowhere else. The waters of Ni’ihau hold huge sea arches, giant pelagic fish and close-up views of monk seals. Because of the distance and the terrain, it’s not generally recommended for novices. But for the more experienced, this is well worth exploring.

Lanai

Lanai is a favorite of many divers, both new and pro. The lava formations create fascinating plays of light and shadow while they provide homes for the marine life. Winding your way through arches and tunnels or along the many ridges and over peaks gives a variety found in few other spots.

Molokai

Molokai offers the longest barrier reef in Hawaii. The south side of the island is one giant, teeming mass of interesting sea life. It’s also much less crowded than many of the more well known dive sites around the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaii

Then, of course, there is the Big Island itself, Hawaii. A large coastline provides countless spots to explore the underwater geography and endless arrays of tropical animal species. Some of the clearest waters in the world allow visibility as far down as 100 feet/30 meters. Cavern Point, Kailua Pier, Red Hill and many more spots along the Kona and Kohala coasts offer diving for all skill levels.

Sheltered from the trade winds by the high mountains, dives are so peaceful you’ll forget you’re anywhere near civilization. Yet, you can enjoy all the convenience of diving near a major population center since there are hundreds of dive shops, guides and other supporting businesses.

Dive Hawaii and you’ll wonder why others fly so far away when paradise is in your own neighborhood.

Next things to do in Hawaii: Boat Tours and Shark Encounters >>
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Boat Tours and Shark Encounters

As an island state, Hawaii offers visitors some of the best boat tours around. That can mean cruising around to see the excellent sights along the coast or out at sea, such as whale watching. Or, it can mean getting off the boat to experience a real shark encounter.

Great white shark spotted in #janbaai - Boat Tours Shark Encounters

Several of the major cruise lines, and hundreds of smaller boat operators offer tours around and between Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai and the other islands. Along the way cruisers (as the passengers are called) get to enjoy all the amenities these ships have to offer. And that’s quite a lot.

Gambling, entertainment and more are all available on board. But with these shorter cruises no one has any reason to get itchy to set foot again on land. A cruise can be as short as a couple of hours, or as long as a couple of days as you wind your way among the 8 major islands, and some of the other 150 or so minor ones that make up the state of Hawaii.

Sailing ships are another option. Everything from 14-foot dinghies to 60-foot yachts are available to individuals or groups large or small. Sail around in the tropical breezes along the shoreline. Head out to the open ocean and see some whales frolicking as the dolphins swim alongside. Have dinner and champagne before making your way lazily back to the island.

Shark Encounters

Great White Shark EncounterYou can board anything from the 1,500 passenger Star of Honolulu to a 38-foot fishing boat built for six. Other boat operators may offer similar tours, or activities that the larger lines can’t, such as water skiing or high speed boat racing. They provide fishing trips, snorkeling jaunts, scuba diving and – not least – shark encounters.

Step off the boat and into the waters occupied by Galapagos, Tiger, Sandbar and other shark species native to the area. The Galapagos reaches over 10 feet/3m long. Not something you want to come face to face with unless you have something more than a scuba mask and wetsuit around you.

Shark Encounter tour operators provide customers not just expertise – which is highly useful – but cages as well. Slide down into a sturdy metal enclosure some of which are lined with 1/4 inch Plexiglas. You get a very close up view but are completely protected from any decision the shark might suddenly decide to make. And make them they do.

Most sharks are peaceful, most of the time. Though not fearful of humans and so willing to approach, one can never predict when they might decide you are their next meal. But these cages make sure that can’t happen. Even so, expect to pump some adrenalin. Being an inch away from a shark’s nose – or teeth – is a scary experience for even the most adventurous.

But after all, that’s the whole point. You get the thrill without the risk. That’s not a combination you can expect anywhere else.

Enjoy any of the hundreds of options available from Hawaii’s boat tours or cruise ships. Even if you don’t see a Great White, you’ll get a lot of excitement.

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Whale Watching and Whaler’s Museum in Hawaii

A humpback whale breaches off the coast of Maui, Hawaii, Feb. 14

A humpback whale breaches off the coast of Maui, Hawaii, Feb. 14

Whale watching is one of Hawaii’s most popular attractions. And there are ample opportunities afforded by the state’s many tour operators. But before you go, learn a little bit about a time when these amazing creatures were followed not for a photo shot, but a harpoon one.

Whaler’s Museum

Located in a popular shopping mall, the Whaler’s Museum presents a cornucopia of information about the world’s largest sea mammal.

Offering fact-filled displays and short films on over 70 species, it is nevertheless more than just an outstanding educational experience on biology. The museum also gives a well-rounded view of the lives of whalers in the 19th century. These hardy men braved 3-5 year voyages filled with dangers from above and below. When they weren’t swamped by storms they were drowned by the great beasts they hunted.

An authentic whaling boat complete with gear shows clearly the living conditions under which they worked. A real 40-foot Sperm Whale skeleton shows graphically the size of their magnificent prey.

Next door is the House of Whales, which provides still more information on one of the planet’s most interesting animals.

The Whaler’s Museum is located on the mezzanine level of the Whalers Village Shopping Center. The mall is in Lahaina near Kaanapali Beach.

Whale Watching Tours Travel Guide

There are other opportunities to see whales in Hawaii that offer the chance to see them up close and in action. There are dozens of Whale Watching Tours operated by owners of boats large and small.

Humpback whales migrate from their Arctic feeding grounds every winter to breed and care for the calves. That gives tour operators and tourists many days during which to get a first-hand look at the parents and their 3,000 pound, 15 foot offspring.

Thanks to Hawaii’s moderate climate, from late November to mid-April dozens of boats roam the channels between islands where these gentle giants enjoy swimming. Experienced guides have a good idea where to find them and will often put microphones into the water to enable those onboard to hear the whale’s fascinating calls.

Finding the whales is one thing. Keeping up with them is another. Any animal that can cover the thousands of miles from the polar regions to Hawaii in a few weeks can easily outrun an inexperienced captain. Also, Federal law requires that the operators stay at least 100 yards from the whales. So maintaining the proper distance requires some skill. Ask some probing questions of any prospective guide.

Most whales are found off Maui, so the largest numbers of tour operators are concentrated there. Most tours will leave from south and west shores between Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kihei and Wailea. But there are also areas off Oahu where the whales frolic. There are also numerous tours that leave from the Kona Coast on the Big Island, Hawaii itself.

Come see the Na Kohola, as the locals call them. With a little luck, which is common in these waters, you’ll see these air-breathing mammals spout a gusher, fly into the air and splash down as they provide a show for nearby females.

Next things to do in Hawaii: Honolulu Zoo and Panaewa Rainforest >>
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Things to Do in Hawaii: Honolulu Zoo and Panaewa Rainforest

Honolulu Zoo

long lines at the honolulu zoo

Long lines at the honolulu zoo. image by Daniel Ramirez

Starting from a land grant in 1876, the Honolulu Zoo was gradually stocked with animals in the early 20th century by the Administrator of Kapiolani Park. Growing from a tiny collection of a monkey, a honey bear and a few lions, it now offers views of hundreds of animals both familiar and exotic.

There are over 43-acres in Waikiki of animals in one of the most unusual zoo settings anywhere in the world. Over 750,000 visitors per year come to this site near Diamond Head to enjoy the painstakingly gathered species in a lush and tropical environment.

Enter and pass by the Flamingo Pond. Travel farther down the path to see the state bird, a goose called the Nene. To the left is the children’s petting zoo where young ones will be fascinated by the llamas.

Wild Lions roam freely in a 10-acre area called the African Savannah in a setting similar to San Diego’s Wild Animal Park. But, in this case, the grounds are lush and filled with contrast that isn’t provided by San Diego’s dusty pits. Sharing the space with them are several other native species of the Dark Continent, including Capuchin monkeys.

There are species that are natives of other continents as well. Apart from the Nene the zoo houses a Hawaiian pig and mouflon sheep. There is an anteater and a sloth. The zoo offers views of the exotic Coatimundis from South America. And don’t miss seeing the outstanding Sumatran Tiger.

Honolulu Zoo location

Many of the species are better seen in the evening. For this, the zoo provides a special program called the Zoo by Twilight Tour. There is also a family sleepover option as part of the Snooze in the Zoo event held Friday’s and Saturday’s once per month.

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo Gardens

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo Gardens. Image by Kathleen Koban

If you find yourself in Hilo and want to have a truly unique zoo experience, visit the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. Situated in a genuine 12-acre rainforest, it offers a variety of species.

There are Spider Monkeys, a Pygmy Hippo, a Water Buffalo and more. Birds have a comfortable home in this lush tropical paradise. There are Vultures, Parrots and the official state bird, the rare Nene Goose.

Small by some standards, housing only about 150 animals total, the zoo is full of fascinating little enclaves. There is a section housing the Colobus Monkey, another with a giant Anteater. Just down the path is an Aldabra Tortoise. Be sure not to miss the extraordinary peacocks not far from the extensive butterfly enclosure.

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo Location

Of course, any visit is best capped by seeing the rare White Bengal Tiger named Namaste. This native of India was actually donated by an owner in Las Vegas and his name means ‘Aloha’.

That’s just what you’ll be saying when you visit one of Hawaii’s outstanding zoos.

Next things to do in Hawaii: Botanical Gardens >>
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Hawaii’s Botanical Gardens

Waimea Valley Entrance - Hawaii Botanical Gardens

Waimea Valley. Image by Travis Thurston

It might seem odd to visit a botanical garden in Hawaii. After all, the state is one huge, lush tropical garden, so why bother?

The fact is that Hawaii is lovely, but it is also very developed these days. As a result, much of the nature has moved to protected areas over the generations.

In short, the best flora are sometimes to be found in Hawaii’s botanical gardens.

Foster Botanical Gardens

A mere 13.5 acres, Foster Botanical Gardens may be small, but it is mighty. Mighty in possessing some of the oldest and finest of the state’s outstanding plant species. It is surrounded by urban landscape, which makes it very accessible. At the same time, as the oldest botanical garden in Hawaii, it holds some of the best samples.

The Lyon Orchid Garden offers an exceptionally good display of species of flower that one naturally associates with Hawaii. That’s ironic, given that so much of the state’s plant life was actually imported from elsewhere. The Prehistoric Glen offers primitive plant species that are rarely seen elsewhere. The Middle Terraces offer heliconias, aroids and more. Don’t miss the Main Terrace, dating back to the gardens beginning in 1853.

Located at 50 North Vineyard Blvd, Honolulu, the Foster Botanical Garden is a must see.

Nani Mau Gardens

Located in Hilo on the Big Island, visitors will enjoy 20 acres of waterfalls, quiet paths and thousands of lovely plant species.

The Annual Garden houses six acres of tapestry gardens. Red Salvia sit alongside Norfolk Island pines. Nearby are African Tulip trees and a Bombax, whose flowers pop open with color and an audible sound. The pua-kenikeni aroma will remind many of the island’s finest leis.

The European Garden is another unexpected treat in this tropical paradise. The roses on the gazebo invite you to sit and breath in the fragrant air. You’ll want to munch on the huge pummelo fruit as you breath in the aroma of delightful herbs nearby.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Part of the famed Onomea Falls, the Garden is 8.5 miles north of Hilo along the Scenic Route of Onomea Bay. Gingers and bromeliads are only two of the over 2,000 species that call this garden home. Surrounded by lush tropical jungle, the facility offers comfortable chairs and unparalleled sights and smells.

An elevated boardwalk provides an excellent view of the Kahalii Ravine, filled with giant bamboo, banana trees, orchids and ferns. Along the Palm Vista Trail visitors can see some of the more than 200 species of palm, including the fast growing Wanga from Malaysia and the Areca with its distinctive red seeds. Further on there’s a fine view of a huge Jackfruit Tree with colorful fruit over two feet long.

Finish your visit by seeing the Onomea Falls. Three high terraces provide an outstanding ladder for water that rushes through giant palms and ferns. At the base there are numerous native species of fish and prawns.

Waimea Arboretum and Botanical Garden

But the prize for largest botanical garden has to go to the Waimea Arboretum, otherwise known as the Waimea Valley Audubon Center. Sited on 100 acres, it houses 36 major botanical collections visited by over 150,000 guests every year.

Located on Oahu’s north shore, it is part of Waimea Falls Park. The falls themselves are spectacular and the gardens equally so. Several species of native hibiscus share space with rare dune plants. The erythrina offers a view of some of the collections’ many medicinal plants.

Don’t leave without seeing one of the amazing cliff-diving shows, either.

Hawaii has several dozen botanical gardens to choose from. Given that a visit to the island state is often motivated by a desire to enjoy its natural beauty, this is a can’t lose situation.

Next things to do in Hawaii: The Dole Plantation >>
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Things to Do in Hawaii: The Dole Plantation

Hawaii isn’t best known for amusement parks. But the Dole Plantation offers one that, like many things in Hawaii, is a little bit different. That, and a dozen other fascinating things to see and do here make this attraction one of the state’s continuing best.

Dole Plantation. Image by Ben Stiefel @FlickrDole is known worldwide for producing and selling pineapple. James Drummond Dole arrived in Hawaii in 1899 to do just that. But, ironically, the fruit is not a native species. It is believed to be an import from Brazil or Paraguay, carried here in the 16th century by Spanish traders who arrived on the islands during one of their many voyages.

But native or not, grow pineapple here Dole did. An entire island’s worth. At one point, the company owned the entire land mass of Lanai and employed thousands of workers to grow, harvest and process pineapple from 20,000 acres.

But there is much more to the Dole Plantation for visitors to see than a history of the great agricultural entrepreneur.

The Pineapple Garden Maze

Pineapple Garden Maze. Things to Do in HawaiiThe Dole Plantation offers the world’s largest maze to travel through. The Pineapple Garden Maze, officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, covers three acres. It provides a series of twists and turns formed from 11,400 Hawaiian plants stretching over 3 miles. That’s if you don’t get lost and retrace your steps!

There is also an outstanding train ride unlike any you’ll find elsewhere, The Pineapple Express. This 20-minute ride across the plantation is lovely, fun and educational – and it would be hard to decide where one aspect ends and the other begins.

Knowledgeable and entertaining guides fill riders in on the history of the Dole Plantation and company as they provide information about the whole agricultural industry in Hawaii. Those businesses continue to employ over 40,000 people and generate $3 billion in revenue yearly.

Among other fascinating tidbits, visitors will learn that each pineapple plant continues to be planted by hand, using the leafy crown from a previous pineapple. Harvesting is also still done by hand, an unusual practice in this era of machine agriculture. Along the 2-mile ride, visitors can see some of Oahu’s finest sights including the Waianae Mountains and the ocean beyond.

The Dole Plantation also houses several gardens that will make any lover of botanical exhibits swoon.

There are thousands of Ti Leaf plants, a member of the lily family that can grow 10 feet high. There are over 3,000 species related to pineapples called the bromeliad family and the Dole Plantation offers a wide variety of them to view. Many sport delicate pink and white flowers that resemble orchids.

The state’s official flower, the yellow hibiscus, is here in abundance along with other varieties in pink, red and white. There are other beautiful native species, as well, such as the Koa and the Ohia Lehua, a flower made of fine tendrils.

Of course, the lei flower or garland makes up a significant part of the gardens. Leis were once made of shells, bones and other objects. The lovely pink and white flowers that comprise the contemporary offering make it clear why the practice evolved to use these instead.

Come visit the Dole Plantation and enjoy one of Hawaii’s finest attractions. It is located in Central Oahu near Wahiawa about 40 minutes from Waikiki.

Next things to do in Hawaii: The Bishop Museum >>
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The Bishop Museum

Hawaii is best known for its many outstanding outdoor activities. In a natural paradise filled with extraordinary beaches, outstanding falls and amazing volcanoes it could hardly be otherwise. Yet, it does offer some truly fine museums as well. One of the foremost, which would merit a visit in any city, is the Bishop Museum.

Located in Honolulu, the outdoor grounds and building facade alone make the trip worthwhile. A large open grassy area highlights a 19th century structure that resembles the Natural History Museum in New York. But the 50-foot palm trees make it clear you are nowhere near Manhattan.

Built in 1889, it is the legacy of one of the leading citizens of the day, Charles Reed Bishop. He wished to honor his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a member of the royal Kamehameha family, by providing a facility to make all Hawaiians proud. It began with a few items, mostly from their private collection. Since then, the collection has grown to over 25 million objects covering a wide range of subjects displaying Hawaii’s heritage and natural blessings.

Within the three-story Hawaiian Hall, for example, there are thousands of artifacts covering the island state’s unique Asian, European and American immigrant cultures. It provides an outstanding view into the not-too-distant past when Hawaii was developing out of its native roots and into a modern culture.

At the same time, it’s easy to find many thousands of objects devoted to this unique land’s roots in the Polynesia Hall. Two floors of exhibits contain objects that represent the Polynesian and Micronesian cultures that fed and interacted with the island chain.

Polynesian artifacts at Bishop Museum. Things To Do In Hawaii. Image by Ray_LAC @FlickrThe Natural History Hall covers many of the natural animal wonders of Hawaii. Certainly, similar museums in London or New York provide a wider range. But here the emphasis is on those species native to the area. That provides the museum with a distinctive difference that is well worth the time spent exploring it. Rare birds and insects found nowhere else are special highlights.

Anyone visiting will want to make time to take in the museum’s up-to-date astronomy wing, the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium. Much more than the sometimes-dull show offered elsewhere, the views provided offer a vista of the skies here that is unlike any elsewhere.

One of the latest additions is the Castle Building, erected to house an ever-changing array of fascinating exhibits. Hands-on displays of robotics will delight young and old alike. Interactive exhibitions about everything from dinosaurs to space exploration have been offered in the past. The innovation of the curators makes it a sure bet that no matter when you visit there will be something interesting on display.

A recent offering that looks to be made permanent describes in detail the life of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. There are dozens of items from her personal collection on display.

Next things to do in Hawaii: USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri Tour >>
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USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri Tour

On Dec 7, 1941 planes from Imperial Japan torpedo-bombed U.S. Navy ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During the attack over a thousand sailors lost their lives on the USS Arizona alone, which sank under the barrage.

After the end of WWII efforts began to build an appropriate memorial to the battleship Arizona and her lost crew. Those efforts finally bore fruit in 1962 with the USS Arizona Memorial.

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl HarborA 184 ft/56m long, covered bridge-like structure bowed in the middle, it houses a museum that can hold over 200 visitors as well as a shrine to the departed. The structure spans the length of the sunken ship, parts of which can be seen underneath the water, along with oil which continues to seep out of the wreckage over 65 years later.

At the entrance sits one of the nearly 20,000 lb (9,000 kg) anchors, one of two that were originally installed on the Arizona. The other is at the State Capitol in Phoenix, AZ.

Through the portal lies the assembly room. Here, visitors can view photos of the period near any of the 21 windows representing a 21-gun salute to the fallen. Seven are kept open to memorialize the date of the attack. There is also a short documentary film discussing the events.

USS Arizona Memorial from USS Missouri @Pearl Harbor - Oahu - HawaiiAt the back is a large marble wall engraved with the names of all those who died on or near the ship during the event. Some few of their remaining shipmates visit from time to time and remember solemnly that horrific day.

Not far away is the intact USS Missouri, a WWII-era Navy ship that subsequently saw action in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War. At the end of WWII, the Missouri was the site of the official surrender and signing ceremony that took place in Tokyo Bay. Here the Emperor and other Japanese representatives met with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Adm. Chester Nimitz and other officials to sign the terms of surrender documents.

When the time came to retire the ship there was intense competition among several cities to house it as a museum and memorial. Over the objections of some who thought it might diminish the Arizona memorial, it was finally brought to rest in Pearl Harbor in 1999.

Its bow points to the fallen ship as a symbolic gesture of watching over those whose remains still lie in the waters nearby. Unlike the USS Arizona Memorial, tours of the USS Missouri are not sponsored or maintained by the National Parks office. The tours are separate.

Touring the Missouri takes about an hour, perhaps longer as new areas become available as they’re brought up to current safety regulations. Numerous parts of the ship are accessible, even beyond those that are part of the guided tour. Cabins, gun-turrets, engine room and more are shown and explained as you wend your way through the large battleship. Then you’re free to explore as long as you like.

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