26 of the best outdoor activities on the Hawaiian Islands

There’s more to Hawaii than Waikiki. Across the four main Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai, there’s no shortage of activities for outdoor lovers. You can go snorkelling and see wild turtles, hike up volcanoes, or relax on a black sand beach.

Check out 26 of the best outdoor things to do on the Hawaiian islands.

Oahu

Oahu is best known for Waikiki Beach but there’s a lot more than beaches to see on Hawaii’s most popular island – especially if you love hiking.

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Descent from Diamond Head crater.

1. Walk to the popular Diamond Head crater

Have you really gone to Hawaii if you haven’t visited the Diamond Head Crater? This hike is among the most popular activities on Oahu.

The Diamond Head crater is perched not far from Waikiki Beach – and it’s about a 15-20 minute drive from Honolulu centre.

Start early to avoid most of the crowds and it should take you no more than 30 minutes to reach the summit along a concrete path. Towards the end of the path there’s a steep set of stairs and a tunnel before you come out to 360 degree views of the Honolulu area and the crater formed by an eruption thousands of years ago. The trail up was built in the early 1900s as part of the island’s defence facilities and there’s several concrete bunkers at the summit.

 

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2. Get a bird’s eye view

Feel on top of the world in Hawaii in just 20 minutes with a hike up the quick and dirty Crouching Lion trail.

The Crouching Lion trail, near Kaaawa, is so called because the mountain looks like a lion from the road. The trail starts a few hundred metres down from the currently closed Crouching Lion Inn.

The trail is short, but very steep and muddy. You’ll get up to the first viewing area in about 20 minutes depending on your fitness level,  but add another 10 minutes or so to go up to higher viewpoints. The higher you go, the more challenging the hike is, but the better the view of the spectacular coastline. But be warned this is not a hike for those scared of heights!

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3. Complete Hawaii’s stairmaster

More than 1000 steps. The hike up to the Koko Head Crater will give your legs a work out as you ascend 1048 wooden steps.

The trail consists of a disused cable car track once used to transport military supplies.

Once you reach the top, you’ll get views across Hanauma Bay and Waikiki, and then on the other side you’ll find the Koko Head Crater.

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4. Go snorkelling in Hanauma Bay

If you’re looking for a snorkelling spot in Honolulu, you have to check out the popular Hanauma Bay.

There’s a number of shuttle services available to the popular bay from Honolulu.

The nature reserve is open from 6am to 6pm every day except Tuesdays. Entry is $7.50 USD per person, and snorkel gear can be rented or bring your own. Lockers can also be rented on site.

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5. Watch the surfers on the North Shore

If you’re after some beach vibes, head up to Oahu’s famous North Shore – a popular spot for surfers – even some of the world’s most famous surfers. If you want to jump in the water yourself, there’s plenty of beach parks you can stop at for a swim along the North Shore.

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6. Hike to local waterfalls

There’s plenty of waterfalls to see on Oahu, but my top picks are Maunawili and Manoa falls.

The hike to Maunawili Falls takes you along a muddy and rocky trail adjacent to a creek. You’ll have to cross the creek a couple of times to reach the falls.

After about an hour, you’ll reach the seven metre waterfall and you can go for a swim in the waterhole.

The trailhead is located off Maunawili Road in Kailua. There’s no carpark but you should be able to find a spot in nearby streets.

Manoa Falls is also a must see waterfall – and you may recognise the area as this is where some of Jurassic Park was filmed.

The path to the 46 metre Manoa Falls is an easy one, although it can get muddy in places. The hike is 2.6km return and takes about 45 minutes each way.

7. Wander up to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse

If you’re sick of mud and keen for an easy hike, head along to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse – located on Oahu’s eastern most point. The lighthouse was built in 1909.

The trail up to the lighthouse is paved and leads to a viewpoint out to the cliffs beyond and down to the Makapu’u Beach and tide pools.

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8. Explore the Lanakai pillboxes

For a slice of the island’s history, head over to Lanakai and hike up to the pillboxes. These pillboxes were maritime observation stations during the 1940s.

You’ll get 360 degree views from the top with views of the Mokulua Islands, Kailua Beach, Lanikai Beach, Chinaman’s Hat and even the Makapu’u Lighthouse on a clear day.

Maui

The Hawaiian island of Maui is filled with volcanoes, beaches and waterfalls.

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9. Watch the sunrise from a volcano

Witnessing the sunrise from the summit of the Haleakala Volcano is well worth the early morning start. You get to see the sunrise from a whopping 3,055 metres above sea level – and looking down onto a volcanic crater!

But because of the popularity of the sunrise viewing, reservations are required for a small fee and are available on www.recreation.gov up to 60 days in advance. Get in quick though as numbers are limited per day.

You will also need to pay an entrance fee of $25 USD to enter the Haleakala National Park. Payment is by credit card only. The entry pass is valid for three days from the first entry into the national park. You can also opt to buy a Hawaii national parks annual pass ($50 USD) to allow entry into all three of Hawaii’s national parks, or an annual pass for all USA national parks ($80 USD).

Dress warm for the sunrise as it can get very cold on the summit. And make sure you hang around after the sun has risen over the horizon. In the early morning light, the view down into the crater is magical. Put the camera down, grab a rock to sit on and take the time to savour the view.

10. Check out the Waimoku Falls

Another must see sight in Haleakala Volcano National Park is Waimoku Falls –a 120 metre waterfall located near Maui’s southern coastline.

The 6km return hike takes you past Makahiku Falls, various swimming holes and through a bamboo forest before you reach Maui’s tallest waterfall.

The trail can be muddy and rocky in places, but people with a moderate level of fitness will easily tackle this hike. The trail takes about two hours return, including photo stops.

11. Drive the Road to Hana

The most popular road trip in Maui is along the Road to Hana.

This road starts from the north east side of Maui and extends to the small village of Hana.

Along the way you’ll enjoy the island’s scenic coastline, go waterfall spotting, and check out the picturesque forested terrain.

The Road to Hana is very windy and narrow with a number of one lane bridges so care is needed.

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12. Go cliff jumping

For an adrenaline kick, head out to Black Rock for some cliff jumping. Black Rock was formed by a lava flow and is located at the far northern end of Kaanapali Beach.

The cliff jump is about four metres high. Watch out for any snorkelers passing below before you jump.

13. Take a surfing lesson

When in Hawaii, learn to surf. There’s many surf schools operating in the Kaanapali Beach region to teach you how to catch some waves.

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14. Walk the Kapalua Coastal Trail

The Kapalua Coastal Trail starts near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Kapulua and winds past beaches and panoramic views of the coastline. The trail is an easy 1.5km return but you’ll stop a lot on the way for photos. The trail is a combination of wooden boardwalks and a well-marked dirt track with some rocky areas.

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15. Witness a blowhole

If you’re heading past Kapalua – you might also want to see the Nakalele Blowhole – located on the north west headland of Maui.

You can walk right near the blowhole – but don’t get too close or you might get sucked in.

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16. Go scuba diving

The Mala pier north of Lahaina is a great place for scuba diving with regular tours on offer.

The pier was destroyed by large waves brought in by a cyclone in 1993, and never repaired. But now you can weave through the ruins and see whale sharks, turtles and other marine life.

The Big Island (Hawai’i)

The Big Island – known also as Hawai’i – is the most southern of the Hawaiian Islands and as its name indicates – also the biggest in terms of land size.

The Big Island is highly volcanic and checking out the active volcanoes and black sand beaches will be the highlight of your visit.

17. Get a view of an active volcano

Did you know you can get up close to active volcanoes on the Big Island?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must see on any Hawaiian Island itinerary and your first and last stop should be the Kiluaea Volcano’s Halema’uma’u Crater.

Kilueau Volcano has been erupting since 1983 and is one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

During the day, you can see a plume of volcanic gas from the crater, but at night you can see the bright orange glow of lava at the bottom of the crater. For the best view, go to the viewpoint at the Jaggar Museum. The viewpoint can be visited any time of the day or night.

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18. Walk on a hardened lava lake

The 6.4km Kiluaea Iki Trail descends 120 metres through forest before opening out to a hardened lava lake dating back to a volcanic eruption in 1959.

The trail will take about 90 minutes, with some short steep sections.

19. Go inside a lava tube

The Thurston Lava Tube is also a must see in the Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park. The cave like lava tube is estimated to be about 500 years old but was only discovered in 1913.

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20. Walk along a Black Sand Beach

For a picturesque black sand beach experience and the chance to see green sea turtles, head along to the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. The beach is located about a 45 minute drive south of the Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park.

The beach is fringed with palm trees – the green palm fronds in stark contrast to the black sand. The sand is quite coarse and gets hot in the sun so you’ll probably want to wear your flip flops or sandals on the beach.

See if you can spot the local turtles, or Panalu’u is a great spot to spend a couple of hours relaxing under the palm trees or in the water. Bring your towel and swimmers.

21. Swim with turtles

The Big Island is ringed by beach parks that are frequented by Green Sea Turtles.

Richardson Ocean Park and Carlsmith Beach Park both feature sheltered and clear blue waters and you’ll likely get the chance to swim with resident turtles.

22. Go swimming with manta rays

Several tour operators in Kona offer night snorkelling and diving trips to see manta-rays. The manta-rays glow blue at night when light is shined towards them. Tours run year round.

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23. Check out local waterfalls

Like every other Hawaiian island, a must do on the Big Island is checking out the local waterfalls.

The most popular waterfall is Rainbow Falls – located only a couple of kilometres from Hilo town centre.

The waterfall is named Rainbow Falls as a rainbow can be seen at the falls on sunny days between around 9am and 11am. Entry is free.

About 30 minutes north of Hilo is Akaka Falls. It’s a scenic drive out to the falls via the coast.

If you park in the falls carpark, cost is $5 USD per vehicle. Cost of entry to the falls is $1 USD per person.

It’s an easy paved walk to Akaka Falls, which plunge 130 metres down a rockface. In the same area is the smaller Kahuna Falls. You can do the loop walk is less than half an hour.

Kauai

Kauai is known as Hawaii’s Garden Island – because of its rich landscapes – and also because much of the island is only accessible by air or sea owing to its dense interior.

Kauai is the oldest and northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands and its volcanic past is evident in its terrain.

But the section of Kauai that can be seen by car or foot is a must see on any trip to the Hawaiian Islands.

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24. Check out the Napali Coast

The first stop on your Kauai itinerary should be the north shore. The 18 kilometre trail Kalalau trail is the best way to see the turquoise waters of the famous Napali Coast on the north shore but at the time of writing (October 2018), the trail and the road in is closed due to flood damage.  You can however see the region by boat or helicopter on a tour. Permits are needed if you plan to hike the whole Kalalau Trail once it reopens.

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25. Chase the Hanakapiai Falls

One of the best waterfalls on the Hawaiian islands that are accessible on foot is Hanakapiai Falls. The falls are accessible from the Kalalau trail (no permit needed if you don’t pass Hanakapiai Beach and continue onto the falls).

Access to the Kalalau Trail is currently closed due to flood damage, but when it reopens, you can get to the falls by taking the left path from Hanakapiai Beach, and continuing another 3.5km to the falls. Trust me – they will not disappoint but you have to work to get there via muddy and slippery terrain, and across creeks.

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26. See the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

On Kauai’s south coast, the go to spot is the Waimea Canyon in Koke’e State Park. The canyon is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It’s over 1.6km wide and 1.5km deep in some parts.

You can view the canyon from several drive up lookout points, or if you’re keen to get the legs moving, take the Canyon Cliff Trail. You can access the trail either from the carpark at the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, or off Halemanu Road. By starting from the Halemanu Road trailhead, you’ll avoid the steepest part of the hike but parking can be hard to find.

The Canyon Cliff Trail takes you into the canyon and to the top of the Waipo’o Waterfall. From the end of the hike you’ll get spectacular views across the canyon and you’ll feel on top of the world!

Also don’t miss the Kalalau Lookout at the end of the canyon road, The lookout offers views out to the ocean and a different perspective of the coast to what you see on the Kalalau Trail.

 

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