A visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must for every visitor to Hawaii’s Big Island. This is where you can see one of the most active volcanoes in the world – Kilauea Volcano. About 2.6 million people visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park every year.
There is so much to do and see here that it can easily take a full day. As you drive along Crater Rim Drive (the main road in the national park) you will see sulfur springs, steam vents, unique flora and fauna, and a variety of dried lava formations. Another interesting attraction is the Thurston Lava Tube, a natural lava tube that you can walk through, which is surrounded by a lush tropical forest.
The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum is also worth a stop. Here you can see multi-media displays and learn about the volcano’s behavior, eruption history, the different types of lava and more. There is an overlook outside the museum building featuring incredible views of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, rising 13,679 feet (4,169 m)
There are many local tour companies offering excursions to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The advantage of coming here with a tour group is that you will have your own guide who will provide detailed narration along the way and take you to all the must-see attractions within the park. Tours depart from the Hilo and Kona area and usually last 9-12 hours. Helicopter tours are also offered and they usually take 1-2 hours.
Honolulu’s Chinatown has an interesting history and some of the island’s oldest buildings are located in this neighborhood. Do a self-guided walking tour through Chinatown to explore some of Honolulu’s oldest buildings and historic landmarks.
The McCandless Building
Built in 1906, the McCandless Building was constructed with blue stone from the Mo’ili’ili and Kapalama quarries. It was one of Honolulu’s first modern office buildings, featuring a tile and marble entryway and a functioning basement (only a few buildings in Honolulu have this). The building was originally supposed to be a two-story building, but during its construction the plans were changed and instead it was built with four stories. A fifth story with a different architectural style was added in 1914. It was occupied by the Commercial Club, which later became the Chamber of Commerce. Harry Livingston Kerr designed the building for the McCandless brothers. In the late 1800s, James McCandless (and his brothers Lincoln and John) drilled artesian wells around the island to make water available for the arid sugar plantations on leeward Oahu. The brothers were part of the Committee of Safety, which was instrumental in the abrogation of Queen Lili’uokalani and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.
Location: 925 Bethel Street
Built of coral blocks in 1854 but since then covered with layers of stucco and plaster, the two-story Melchers Building is the oldest commercial structure in Honolulu. In its prime, it was finished with glass cabinets and koa wood shelves, which were stately furnishings for an office during this time. In 1973, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Melchers Building used to house the retail firm of Melchers and Reiner. The building’s style is 19th Century Commercial.
Location: 51 Merchant Street
Reverend John Diell established the Oahu Bethel Church in 1837 for the seamen who came to Honolulu between 1840 and 1870. The building was destroyed in a fire in 1886, but the following year George Lucas built a new two-story house which served as the office for The Friend, a church publication and the self-described “Oldest Newspaper West of the Rockies.” Bethel Street was named after the church.
Location: 926 Bethel Street
Joseph Mendonca was a businessman who invested in several properties around Chinatown. Mendonca was part of the Annexation Party’s Committee on Public Safety in the 1890s. Together with William Wilder, Samuel Dole and others, Mendonca seized the government offices at Ali’iolani Hale and moved to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy, which also led to the imprisonment of Queen Lili’uokalani. After the devastating 17-day-long Chinatown fire in 1900, the Mendonca Block was one of the first major structures that began the rebuilding process. The Italianate-style brick building was completed in 1901.
Location: 1109 Maunakea Street
The Perry Block
This building was one of the few that survived the big Chinatown fire in 1900 since it was one of the few made out of brick at the time. The Perry Block was built in 1889 by Anna Perry, the widow of the Portuguese consul Jason Perry. It housed the Lederer’s Bar until 1985 and then a police station for 10 years.
Location: Corner of Nu’uanu Avenue and Hotel Street
Kamehameha V Post Office
In 1851, the Kingdom of Hawaii organized its own postal system. King Kamehameha V authorized the building of a post office, which was completed in 1871. It was built out of concrete blocks and iron bars, which back then was an experimental construction method in Europe and unheard of in Hawaii. It was the main Honolulu post office until 1922 and has once also housed the publishing and printing facilities of the Hawaiian Gazette, a driver’s education office and the Honolulu District Courts. The Renaissance Revival style building is the oldest reinforced concrete structure in America. Since 1993 it is occupied by the Kumu Kahua Theatre.
Here is an affordable way to explore some of the most scenic locations on Oahu – rent a car and drive along the island’s southeastern shore. This part of the island is truly amazing because of the unique scenery, beaches and lookout points, many of which are located at sea cliffs.
A short drive from Waikiki and your breath will already be taken away as you stop at Kuilei Cliffs where you will see a pristine cliffy vista of blue ocean, tropical vegetation, colorful flowers, green palm trees and pine trees.
Your tour will continue with a scenic drive through Kahala (an upscale Oahu neighborhood), where you can drive by luxurious homes, surrounded by nicely landscaped gardens. At the end of the road you can stop at a fine sandy beach – Waialae Beach. This Kahala beach is great for sightseeing, swimming and water sports.
As you drive onto Kalanianaole Highway, you are heading towards several scenic beaches that are worth stopping at. The first beach park you will see is Wailupe Beach Park. It is a small park with beautiful scenery. Drive a little further and you will see another nice beach park called Kawaikui Beach Park. The beach park is large and lush and there are benches along the shore where you can sit to relax and enjoy the calm caress of the waves. From here you can see another upscale Oahu neighborhood – Portlock, which is located on a rocky peninsula.
Continue diving along the scenic highway and you will get to Maunalua Bay Beach Park, as you enter Hawaii Kai (also an upscale neighborhood). This is a large park (with a large parking lot). It is a good place for a variety of water sports. You can see kayakers, jet skiers and divers almost all the time. The water is very calm, but the beach park does not have a good swimming beach. The nearshore waters are too shallow and there is a reef.
After you depart from Maunalua Bay, you will approach one of the most popular beach parks in the entire state of Hawaii – Hanauma Bay. The beach is excellent for snorkeling and picnicking. Usually it is very busy, so if you come during the weekend, the parking lot is often times full later in the day. There is also an entrance fee to enter the beach area.
After you pass Hanauma Bay, you enter one of the most scenic drives on Oahu – barren mountains and sea cliffs on your left side and breathtaking ocean views on your right. The road rises up on a cliff and has two good lookouts on the way – Lanai Lookout and Molokai Lookout, from where you can see the islands of Lanai, Molokai and Maui on a clear day. After these two lookout points is the Halona Blowhole lookout, where you can see three attractions at once – Sandy Beach Park (also known as the beach of broken necks, and there is a reason for that name!), a blowhole that shoots ocean water into the air, and the narrow romantic beach, located among cliffs Halona Cove, also known as Eternity Beach, from the movie From Here to the Eternity.
Continue driving to Sandy Beach Park where you can see the waves crashing on the shoreline. You will see many local residents at this beach who have experience riding tough waves. It is not advised to swim at this beach because of the strong shorebreak and underwater currents. Many accidents have happened here (among visitors and experienced surfers alike).
After departing from Sandy Beach Park your next stop will be Makapuu Point – a scenic lookout from where you can see the east shore of Oahu, Makapuu Beach, Sea Life Park, Rabbit Island and the azure blue water. The water is so transparent that you can see the coral reef.
Next you will have the chance to explore Kaiona Beach Park, a truly tropical beach with calm waters for a leisurely swim. The beach is easy to miss because it is located behind beachfront homes. It is right before Waimanalo Beach – another spectacular beach with plenty of shade and fine sands. The water there may look calm, but the waves break close to shore and sometimes small rocks are in the waves, which can hit and scratch your legs. The shorebreak is quite powerful here on some days.
Two other popular beaches that follow are Kailua Beach Park and Lanikai Beach. Kailua Beach Park has a large grassy area and many trees on the beach. A good spot to view the entire beach is from a scenic lookout point located on the road to neighboring Lanikai. Keep walking on that road and you will see the upscale Lanikai town with many luxury homes. To get to Lanikai Beach, you will need to find one of the few public access walkways to the beach, which are located along the street. Once you get to the beach, you will see another postcard-perfect scene – the Mokolua Islands surrounded by azure blue tropical waters.
Now, after a day of unforgettable sightseeing memories, it is time to head back to Honolulu or Waikiki. Take the Pali Higway and be amazed once again by the lush tropical vegetation you will see along the way. There are a few good lookout points here as well, including the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, from where you can see the town of Kaneohe and a large stretch of Oahu’s windward coast, all the way to Chinaman’s Hat, another small island located at the northern end of Kaneohe Bay.
If you stay on the island of Lanai you can enjoy world-class golf, horseback riding, swimming and snorkeling and much more. You can also take a half-day or a one-day private Lanai tour that will take you to some scenic and unique places on the island.
We booked a half-day tour with Neal Rabaca Tours. Our day began at 9 am when our tour guide Bruce met us in front of the Koele Lodge (where we stayed at). After we introduced each other our tour began. On the way to our first stop The Garden of the Gods we were already impressed by the comprehensive knowledge Bruce had about the island of Lanai. We learned about Lanai’s pine trees, about Lanai’s pineapple history and the island’s people. When we arrived at the Garden of the Gods, Bruce took us to a scenic lookout point from where we could see the canyons of the garden all around and the islands of Maui and Molokai in the distance. Our guide showed us some interesting rock formations resembling figures and he gave us in-depth information about the stones and the area.
After our Garden of the Gods visit we left for the northern part of the island to visit Shipwreck Beach. On the way, while driving on Keomoku Road, we learned about dramatic historic events that occurred in this area in 1778 when warriors of the king of the Big Island of Hawaii, Kalaniopu‘u, invaded Lanai and killed almost all of Lanai’s around 4,000 inhabitants.
As we approached Shipwreck Beach we could see the Au‘au Channel that lies between the islands of Maui and Lanai. Once we got to Shipwreck Beach we walked on the beach and even saw a green sea turtle (honu). She did not seem shy and she let us take some pictures of her while sunbathing on the beach. We saw interesting lava rocks and stones on the beach as well.
After we enjoyed some time on Shipwreck Beach we headed to our third stop – Munro Trail. Our guide drove very slowly because the dirt road has some rough areas. He also told us more about the plants and trees in the area.
Finally we ended our tour with a drive through Lanai City. We saw some places of interest and after that we were dropped off at our hotel around lunch time.
Even though the tour was only three and a half hours long, it felt much longer because we saw and learned so much! I myself have been working in the Hawaii tours industry for the past five years and have been to many tours and activities. The tour with Bruce on Lanai was one of the best tours I have ever taken! The service was very professional and we saw a lot! Just like Bruce said, many people may think there is nothing to see on Lanai, besides the elaborately-manicured hotel gardens and golf courses. But it depends on how you define the word “nothing.”