Hawaii is a haven packed with natural wonders. When you see for yourself its plunging cliffs, coloured sands, volcanic craters, jungle valleys and world-famous beaches, you’ll realise the photos just don’t do it justice. With each of the region’s islands offering something unique, here are our top choices for immersing your gaggle of explorers in nature’s best.
Oahu’s south-eastern tip shelters the iconic Hanauma Bay, a marine conservation area packed with fish and, unfortunately, large tourist numbers. The extinct volcano cone of Diamond Head, once used as a military lookout, now showcases views of Waikiki and Honolulu. Its Hawaiian name is ‘leahi,’ which references its resemblance to the fin of a tuna fish.
Fondly nicknamed the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific,’ Waimea Canyon will not disappoint. Formed by the collapse of the Kauai shield volcano, the plunging green cliffs and summit lookouts will take your breath away, as will a kayak trip down Wailua River, Hawaii’s only navigable waterway. The Na’pali Coast is also an untouched, well-preserved sight to behold. Inaccessible by car or bus, you will have to boat or hike to the green cliffs and ocean expanse (the Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach is a hefty 18 kilometres so better left to older families).
Haleakala, which translates to ‘house of the sun,’ is the highest peak on Maui, with a view of the neighbouring islands. To cool off, at the end of a 3 kilometre wander from the Kipahulu Visitor Centre you’ll find Oheo Gulch, a series of freshwater pools fed by grand waterfalls on the low slopes of Haleakala. More water-bound wonder can be found in the coral reefs sheltered from waves inside the Molokini crater.
The Big Island holds all of Hawaii’s star performers, including the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. It is part of the aptly named Volcanoes National Park which can be enjoyed on over 200 kilometres of trails through lava tubes and around craters. Big Island also boasts the world’s tallest volcano, the dormant Mauna Kea, whose summit stands over 33,000 feet above the ocean floor. Perfect for star-gazing (there is even an observatory!) you will need to acclimatise and travel with a guide if you want to go all the way to the top. We recommend families stop at the Visitor Station halfway up. The highest point in Hawaii, Akaka Falls State Park is also home to Hawaii’s most famous waterfalls, Akaka and Kahuna. With sparkling emerald valleys, waterfall pools, rainforests and lava flows galore, Big Island’s raw nature is ideal for active teens. In the Hawaiian winter, it also makes for a great vantage point to witness the passage of humpback whales.
The lesser-known islands
Lana’I island is a much more remote option. Hulupo’e Beach is great for snorkelling, as is an excursion through the old-school plantation town. The entire island was once planted with pineapples, which is a point of interest few holiday destinations can claim, so enjoy the unique history and highland forests of this smaller gem. Moloka’I island, which has avoided tourism and prefers to focus on conservation, offers a lovely national park on the Saint Damien peninsula and Halawa Valley, which can be explored with a guide who will take you to ancient temples, waterfalls and swimming holes.
If you are travelling from elsewhere, book a connecting flight to Sydney or Brisbane with Virgin Australia.
Staying there: Check out our story on the best accommodation for families.
For more fabulous Hawaiian inspiration, read up on Scenic Drives across the islands.
Or check out this video about adventure on Kauai: