Volcanoes, pristine beaches, stunning landscapes & more. These are just some of the main reasons people are drawn to the islands of Hawaii. Like many, Hawaii had been high on our travel bucket list for a while. While living on the East Coast of Canada for many years, Hawaii was nothing but a distant dream. A trip to Hawaii from the East Coast would mean a very expensive and long flight. One of the things Kate and I looked forward to while living on the West Coast was visiting places that were a little more difficult to visit when we were on the East Coast. This time that place was Hawaii.
For almost two weeks we enjoyed the beautiful sites of Hawaii. We traded our RV in for a room onboard the Norwegian Pride of America cruise ship that took us around to four islands. Along with a handful of days in Honolulu before and after our cruise, we had an amazing Hawaiian experience with my family. Everything you dream of Hawaii being it absolutely is – if not more.
If you’re planning or dreaming of a vacation to Hawaii, here are some of the highlights from our trip that you would surely enjoy as well.
Kualoa Ranch, O’ahu
If you’re a movie buff and/or adventure seeker, the Kualoa Ranch is a must when visiting the island of O’ahu. The 4000-acre private nature reserve is a stunning piece of property that was first established in 1850. For 6 generations, descendants of the Judd family, who first bought acreage from King Kamehameha III in 1850, have managed the ranch. Since then, Kualoa has become one of O’ahu’s most popular destinations.
From the time it was first purchased in 1850, the ranch had been used as a sugar mill, defending grounds for U.S. military & as the stunning location featured in many TV shows and movies. Some of the movies & TV shows shot at Kualoa Ranch include Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Pearl Harbor, Windtalkers, 50 First Dates, Hawaii Five-O, Magnum P.I., & LOST just to name a few.
Kualoa Ranch offers a wide variety of activities for visitors to experience the beautiful parcel of land. The ranch has ATV tours, horseback riding, zip lining, catamaran rides, and more. When we booked our tour, we chose a package of three separate tours including a movie tour, horseback riding, and catamaran ride.
While the day was hot, it was an incredible place to visit, especially to see all the different areas of the ranch where movies and TV shows were filmed.
Polynesian Culture Center, O’ahu
It’s estimated that sometime around the 4th century, Polynesians first discovered the islands of Hawaii. Over the span of many centuries later, the islands began to be inhabited by Polynesians from the islands of Tonga, Tahiti, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, & Fiji. The rich cultural history of these islands is still alive and well all throughout the islands of Hawaii, but to get a good introduction to the various cultures a visit to the Polynesian Culture Centre is a great stop.
The center is separated by each individual island where you can watch and partake in entertaining and informing demonstrations. We got to throw spears, learn how to basket weave, watch fire dancers, and a lot more. For dinner, we ate some traditional Polynesian food while watching an entertaining luau. To finish the night off, in their large outdoor auditorium, the center puts on an incredible show called Ha: Breath of Life. The show was an unbelievable mix of fire dancing, music, and dance – the perfect way to end the day.
Dole Plantation, O’ahu
When in Hawaii it is imperative to eat lots of juicy pineapple from the islands. When we first arrived into our rooms at the Equus Hotel in Waikiki we were greeted with a tasty sliced up pineapple in our room. From that moment on, we were constantly consuming pineapple throughout the duration of our time in Hawaii.
Before we made our way to the Polynesian Culture Centre, we made a quick stop at the famous Dole Plantation. While the plantation has a variety of activities including a maze, train ride, and other tours, we only had about an hour to enjoy the plantation. Before we travelled to Hawaii, we were told by many people that we had to try the famous Dole Whip ice cream – pineapple ice cream topped with freshly chopped pineapple. It was so tasty!
While enjoying our ice cream, we wandered the grounds exploring the gardens where there were various types of pineapples growing on display.
USS Arizona Memorial
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor where 2403 people died including 1177 specifically on the USS Arizona. It was this famous attack that led to the U.S. officially entering into World War II in the Pacific.
For our family, we have some ties to the USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor. Almost five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led a team of 16 airplanes in the first attack on Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The attack was a significant morale booster for the U.S. which eventually led to their victory in the Pacific.
After watching a 20-minute documentary about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent war, we took a quick boat ride to arrive at the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial is a beautiful tribute to 1102 crewmen who remain below the memorial. From the memorial, you can look into the water to see the rusted remains of the Arizona.
Interestingly, while aboard the memorial you can distinctively smell oil. The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Arizona was fully fueled with nearly 1.5 million gallons stored onboard. To this day, there are roughly 350,000 gallons of oil on board the Arizona. Each day, an estimated 9-quarts of oil leak from the remains of the Arizona into the harbor. Many describe the slow leaking oil as the tears of the Arizona which will continue to leak until the final survivor of the Arizona attack passes away. To this day, there are five remaining survivors from the Arizona.
Road to Hana, Maui
Aside from having to try the Dole Whip, we had heard from people that one of the must do activities when visiting Maui was to do the Road to Hana. The beautiful road winds along the stunning Maui coastline. Throughout the drive, our guide informed us that there are roughly 600 hairpin turns. Along the road are some of the most beautiful landscapes you would ever see.
For an hour we stopped at Wai’anapanapa State Park which featured jet black beaches. The park looked like paradise. We also got to see the ‘Ohe’o Gulch aka Seven Sacred Pools. Our guide informed us that many people who rent cars only drive to Hana, turn around and head back the other way. We had the pleasure (depending on how you look at it) of continuing along the bumpy road of the coast. For a couple of hours, the bus was rocking pretty hard as it hit each and every spot of the rough road.
Out of all of our excursions throughout the various Hawaiian islands, our trip along the Road to Hana had us wanting to return. Someday we would love to return to Maui, rent a car and slowly travel along the Road to Hana and enjoy the sites at a more leisurely pace but this was a great introduction.
During our second day in Maui, we were excited to finally get into the ocean. We booked a snorkeling excursion for Malolo Snorkelling Tours in Maalaea who were to take us to snorkel on the Molokini Crater. Unfortunately, as we set out on the water, the captain informed us that the water was a bit rough at the moment and that we wouldn’t be able to head towards the Molokini Crater. Instead, we made our way to a couple of other spots where we happily hopped into the water.
While I love snorkeling, Kate’s obsessed with it and could stay in the water all day and we had a great time swimming with the marine life of Maui. For the first time, my parents and brother also gave snorkeling a try. They specifically bought full-faced snorkel masks prior to the trip just for this occasion. While they looked a little bit like Bane from Batman, it helped them all get in the water to snorkel for the first time which was great.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hawaii
Seeing as the islands of Hawaii were all created from volcanic activities, it seems almost necessary that you take a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. We booked a tour with Lavaland and were guided from Hilo throughout the park by our amazing guide Vince. Vince showed us all of the lush flora of the park while also taking us to some great spots to see craters, steam vents and more. It was a rainy day, but Vince made the best of the day for us.
We also made stops at Rainbow Falls as well as the Big Island Candy Company where we sampled delicious various chocolate treats.
At night, as our cruise ship departed Hilo, we were able to witness lava spilling into the ocean as we cruised along the coast. It was great to see the bright orange of the lava against the darkness of the Hawaiian night.
While in Kona, we were able to do a unique type of activity – the Fantastic Race. Based on the hit reality TV show the Amazing Race, the Fantastic Race took us around Kona. While searching for clues, we were able to enjoy some of the sites of the town and chat with some locals who would help us out on our mission.
Along the way, Kate and my brother had to sample Kava – a medicinal-like drink that originated from Tonga. To finish off our hunt for clues, I had to switch into my bathing suit and snorkel out to a clue positioned in a small bay in Kona. With all clues completed, we raced to the finish line where we learned we finished in first place. There were only two teams, however, and the other team didn’t even try to finish.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures, Kauai
Our final island that we visited during our cruise was Kuaui. During our first day, four of us went for a fun and exciting river tubing excursion with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. On a parcel of land that was previously used as a sugar plantation, there is a previous irrigation system that now is used for tubing. For about an hour we travelled down through various man-made tunnels, splashing around, having a great time all while surrounded by over 17,000 acres of plantation lands.
Waimea Canyon, Kauai
Day 2 in Kauai saw us head to the beautiful Waimea Canyon. Nicknamed by Mark Twain as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon was one of the spots I was most looking forward to visiting. Along the way to Waimea, we learned about Captain James Cook and his ties to Hawaii. It was on January 20, 1778, when Cook arrived landed at Kuaui. There is now a monument dedicated to Cook in the area.
Once arriving at Waimea Canyon State Park, a small walk up some stairs takes you to a lookout where you will instantly be struck with awe. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Waimea is a little more colourful. The reddish cliffs created by the oxidation of the soil combined with the striking greens of the rainforest to give a stunning contrast of colour. Luckily, we were able to witness the canyon as the area is known as one of the rainiest spots on Earth, but the rain held off for us during our visit to the canyon.
We Must Return
Everywhere we went, everything we did while we were in Hawaii almost acted like a magnet, trying to pull us back to the chain of islands after our departure. It was nice to trade the RV and the rain of Tofino for some fun in the sun for 13 days. We had a great time island jumping on board the Pride of America cruise ship while also enjoying some great company with my parents and brother.