Ten Natural Wonders of HawaiiTen Natural Wonders of Hawaiʻi
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1. Waimea Canyon, Kauaʻi
One of Hawaiʻi’s most striking natural landscapes is Waimea Canyon, a gorge 16 kilometres wide by almost 1 kilometre deep on Kauaʻi’s west side. Centuries of volcanic activity, rainfall and erosion created this rocky masterpiece of red-earth craters, cliffs and crevasses peppered with native plants, waterfalls and the odd rainbow. Its beauty is visible from scenic lookouts along Waimea Canyon Road, accessible by self-driving or tours, like those with Roberts Hawaiʻi. For more in-depth exploration, pick up trail maps from Kōkeʻe Museum and go ridge, forest or valley hiking. Other ways to experience the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” include downhill bike riding with Outfitters Kauaʻi or helicopter flights with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.
2. Haleakalā, Maui
Haleakalā is a dormant volcano crater on Maui, a natural attraction famous for incredible sunrise and sunset viewing atop its summit (sunrise viewing reservations required). The high altitude lends itself to cold weather, including the possibility of snow in Hawaiʻi’s winter! Over one million people visit this unique region of Hawaiʻi every year. The mountain scenery is like something out of a sci-fi movie, dark and deserted valleys blend with unusual lava formations and curious-looking silversword plants. There are many ways to soak up the surrounding environment, try downhill bike riding with Bike Maui or hiking and camping in Haleakalā National Park.
3. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes
Hawaiʻi’s only active volcanoes Maunaloa and Kīlauea are located in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, a unique natural setting on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Mother Nature is constantly changing the park dynamics so head straight to Kīlauea Visitor Center where Ranger’s provide up-to-date information on volcanic activity and park maps (or check nps.gov/havo). Adventure abounds at every turn, view steam vents, discover underground lava tubes, hike trails and bicycle through the rainforest. Stop at Volcano Art Center to shop local artist wares and Volcano House for a meal overlooking Kīlauea caldera and Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.
4. Koʻolau Range
Born out of volcanic eruption and moulded over time by wind and erosion, the Koʻolau Range is one of two major mountain ranges on Oʻahu. The landscape features a majestic cliff face that runs parallel to Oʻahu’s Windward Coast for almost 60 kilometres. One of the easiest ways to see this natural beauty is by self-driving the Interstate H-3 Freeway or taking a Circle Island Tour that incorporates it. It is impossible to miss the lush green “giant hills”, especially after the rain when multiple waterfalls form and run down the ridge. Detour to the nearby Byodo-In Temple at the foot of the Koʻolau Range. It’s a smaller-scale replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Japan, a World Heritage Site over 950 years old. This spectacular Buddhist temple was built on Oʻahu to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaiʻi.
5. Nāpali Coast, Kauaʻi
Some of Hawaiʻi’s most dramatic scenery can be witnessed up and down Kauaʻi’s Nāpali Coast, a 24 kilometre stretch of ocean where enormous sea cliffs rise above the surface almost a kilometre high. Take a trip out to sea for breathtaking views of this natural spectacle, book a boat tour, sunset sail or sea cave rafting expedition with Blue Dolphin Kauaʻi. Don’t forget your camera! There is so much to capture from cascading waterfalls and secluded beaches to splashing Hawaiian spinner dolphins and bopping green sea turtles. For next-level photography consider soaring high above it all on a helicopter flight with Safari Helicopters or on a small plane trip with Wings Over Kauaʻi.
6. ʻĪao Valley, Maui
ʻĪao Valley is a tropical paradise in the heart of Maui home to ʻĪao Needle, a rocky outcropping that stands 365 metres tall. This natural landmark is a sacred place to the Native Hawaiian people and has historical significance as the battle site where Kamehameha I defeated the Maui army in 1790. Tick this must-see off the list on a guided tour with Valley Isle Excursions or by self-driving to the attraction. Once at the carpark follow the pathway to the observation deck for incredible views over the gully before meandering the nearby rainforest walk. Gain great insight into the local area by reading the informative signage.
7. Mauna Kea, Island of Hawaiʻi
The Island of Hawaiʻi features Hawaiʻi’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea. This natural attraction houses the largest telescopes on earth and offers the best platform for astronomic observation thanks to low humidity, clear skies and almost no light pollution. Stargazing tours come highly recommended, book with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures or Hawaiʻi Forest & Trail. Guests get the opportunity to ascend above the clouds just in time to watch an unforgettable sunset followed by a stargazing session with unobstructed views of the night sky. Delight in seeing all of the northern-hemisphere stars and a large portion of the southern-hemisphere stars too! At 4,200 metres it can get cold up there, dress accordingly.
8. Diamond Head, Oʻahu
The postcard-perfect backdrop to Waikīkī Beach, Lēʻahi Head, has become Hawaiʻi’s most well-known natural monument. This extinct volcano was formerly a military base, but now it’s open for the public to enjoy. A marked trail on the inside slope of the crater leads visitors to the summit via stairwells, tunnels and a bunker. The lookout at the top provides a sweeping panoramic view of Oʻahu, and it’s an excellent way for traveler to get acquainted with the island. Guided experiences are available, check out Hawaiʻi Forest & Trail. If you’re doing-it-yourself plan your hike for a Saturday morning and catch the nearby KCC Farmer’s Market (7:30-11:00am).
9. Puʻu Pehe, Lānaʻi
Off Lānaʻi’s southern coast between Mānele Bay and Hulopoʻe Bay is Puʻu Pehe, the island's most recognisable natural landmark. Steeped in Hawaiian folklore, this sea stack is also known as Sweetheart Rock. Locals and visitors alike can easily access the attraction on a short walk from the Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi. Make your way past Hulopoʻe Beach to a series of tide pools then walk safely along the cliff's edge, soon after the tomb-link landmark will come into view. This is a peaceful setting to watch the sunset.
10. Kalaupapa Cliffs, Molokaʻi
Molokaʻi is Hawaiʻi’s least-developed island and the Kalaupapa Cliffs on the northern peninsula are said to be the highest sea cliffs on the planet. Kalaupapa is a remote area that’s hard to travel to, it was the place where people with Hansen's Disease (leprosy) were once banished. The stunning escarpment is a natural wonder worth sightseeing and the only way to currently view these magnificent cliffs is from the air, contact Makani Kai Air for details.
Ashlee Galea is an Aussie living in Hawaiʻi who enjoys sharing Hawaiʻi insider knowledge and travel advice on her blog The Hawaiʻi Admirer.