The Aloha State conjures countless majestic images, from volcanoes and verdant cliffs to surfing beaches and eye-poppingly beautiful hibiscuses. There’s a lot to see in Hawaii, which is why we asked kama’aina (someone who has lived in Hawaii a long time) Christine Thomas to pick nine natural wonders sure to take your breath away.
From November through February, one of the most storied big-wave surfing spots on Oahu’s legendary North Shore welcomes gigantic swells. Watch the pros ride 20-foot-plus waves, then drive or hike back to Waimea Valley to a 45-foot waterfall and entrancing botanical gardens.
At Pali Lookout in Nu’uanu Valley, step into a literally breathtaking wall of wind and absorb panoramas of the sculpted Ko’olau Mountains and ribbon of small towns, including Kailua, President Obama’s vacation spot.
Lanai/Pu’u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock)
Sweetheart Rock commands you to think of love. Legend tells of a warrior in love with a Maui woman who hid her at a sea cave at the cliff’s base. When she drowned in a storm, he climbed this 80-foot outcrop then jumped into the surf, where many visitors now snorkel and dive.
Twenty-six switchbacks punctuate the steep forest trail down a 1,700-foot cliff to the flat, windy peninsula of Kalaupapa, an awe-inspiring national historic park.
Hawaii Island/Kilauea Volcano
Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve nearly the size of Oahu, is home to steaming, flowing Kilauea Volcano. Surface-flowing lava can be accessed via an arduous hike over uneven, sharp ground.
Hawaii Island/Pu’uhonua Honaunau
In South Kona’s Pu’uhonua Honaunau National Historical Park, you can walk amid thousands of ancient cultural sites, including a temple which once house bones of chiefs.
Secluded Wai’anapanapa State Park is a 122-acre wilderness boasting a rare black-sand beach, natural stone arch, hala tree forest, legendary cave and stone temple.
A forest wonderland lies in the cool uplands of Koke’e State Park, where mist collects like cotton among native koa and ohia trees and lends a mysterious glow to this unspoiled plateau that rises up 4,000 feet.
At Haleakala National Park, experience an other-worldly sunrise, inspect native silversword plants or reach for the Milky Way at night.