Amanda Williams a RoamRight Blog Author

Best Of Hawaii For The Independent Traveler

Hanauma is a marine embayment formed within a tuff ring and located along the southeast coast of the Island of Oʻahu in the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii is a dream destination for many. It is exotic and warm and full of daydream-worthy landscapes that are constantly featured in calendar images on computer desktops around the world. Since it's a part of the United States, Americans don't need a passport to visit Hawaii, and yet the state feels worlds away from the rest of the country.

Chances are that Hawaii is probably on your bucket list too. But, contrary to popular belief, you don't have to go on an expensive cruise or book a guided tour to properly enjoy these islands.

Here are some things you can do in Hawaii on your own, without a tour guide:

Road trip

Exploring Hawaii on your own terms is quite easy. You can rent a car on nearly every island and then seek out the places that interest you most. Find those secluded beaches and jungle overlooks on your own schedule, and stop at whatever towns or attractions sound appealing to you. Some rental car agencies have pre-programmed driving guides with their GPS systems, like on Maui. There the little voice in the box will guide you around this beautiful island, from the Road to Hana to Haleakala.

Popular road trips:

  • Drive from Honolulu to the North Shore of Oahu via the island's windward side and the town of Kaneohe, enjoying the Ko'olau mountain range and perhaps stopping at the Byodo-in Temple.
  • Drive the Road to Hana on Maui, enjoying 52 miles of bamboo groves, waterfalls, ocean views, and more.
  • On the Big Island, drive yourself along the Hamakua Coast from Hilo to Waipio Valley for some great coastal views, or take yourself to Volcanoes National Park.

Surfing

With seemingly endless stretches of coastline and some monster waves, Hawaii is known as one of the premier surfing destinations in the world – in fact, it's said that the sport was “born” in these waters. Whether you want to take a lesson yourself or just watch the pros at work, there are ample spots to suit would-be surfers on nearly every island.

Popular surf spots:

  • The North Shore of Oahu is where you'll find the 30-foot waves and roiling pipelines, though beaches like Sunset and Laniakea are best left to the pros.
  • You can book regular surfing and paddleboarding lessons at iconic Waikiki Beach.
  • Hanalei Bay on Kauai is known for both its beautiful beach and its decent waves.

Snorkeling

Rent a set of mask and flippers (or, better yet, bring your own), and you can snorkel to you heart's content all over the Hawaiian Islands. Keep an eye out for everything from green sea turtles (honu) to Hawaii's state fish, the colorful reef triggerfish (the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa in Hawaiian).

Popular snorkeling spots:

  • Horseshoe-shaped Hanauma Bay on Oahu is a protected nature reserve that is a popular snorkeling spot suitable for the whole family (there is a fee to visit here, though).
  • Kahaluu Beach (AKA Snorkel Beach) on the Big Island is one of the top snorkeling destinations in Hawaii thanks to a seawall that protects the beach and makes the water quite calm.
  • On Kauai, Anini Beach Park is the place to go since it is protected by the largest coral reef in Hawaii (meaning calm water and lots of sea life).

Hiking

You may not immediately associate Hawaii with great hiking, but there are actually quite a few diverse hikes here. Whether it's jungle, mountains, coastline, or volcanoes that interest you, Hawaii has a trek for you. In fact, the different ecosystems found around the islands surprises many first-time visitors. Hawaii is not just about palms swaying in the afternoon breeze, there are also dense forests, epic mountains and areas that look more like the Pacific Northwest than an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Popular hikes:

  • Hike to the summit of Diamond Head on Oahu for great views and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Hike a portion of the Kalalau Trail along the coastline of Kauai; this 11-mile trek is known as “the” hike to do on Kauai.
  • Hike across an active volcano on the Big Island, tackling the 4-mile Kilauea Iki Trail within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
  • On Lanai venture out along the Koloiki Ridge Trail where you will experience some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island and where you might be able to spot a reclusive mouflon or two.

Explore Hawaiian food

Lastly, no trip to Hawaii would be complete without trying some of the state's unique food. Cultures around the world have helped shape Hawaii’s unusual culinary traditions, including Polynesian, Chinese and distinct Japanese influences.

Popular foods to try:

  • Loco moco – basically a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and gravy, served over rice.
  • Kalua pig – pork traditionally cooked in the ground on a bed of hot stones.
  • Poke (pronounced poh-kay) – a raw fish dish usually made with ahi (tuna); similar to ceviche.
  • Poi – mashed taro root.
  • Malasada – deep-fried sweet yeast dough that actually has Portuguese roots.
  • Shaved ice – like a snowcone, but way better.
  • Spam – After World War II a glut of canned meat supplies meant that Hawaiians had to learn to enjoy this unusual ingredient. Today it’s an integral part of Hawaiian soul food and you’ll find dishes incorporating the mystery meat everywhere from McDonald’s to high-end restaurants.

You can even do tour-like activities on your own in Hawaii, especially if you have a car. Visit Pearl Harbor on your own, check out the Polynesian Cultural Center, take a helicopter ride on Maui, or go horseback riding on Lanai. In Hawaii, the non-tour options really are endless.

What's at the top of YOUR Hawaii wish list?

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About the Author

Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams, a RoamRight Blog Author Graduate student by day and avid traveler and blogger by night (and on weekends and during holidays), Amanda is just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world beyond her Midwest bubble. Amanda's adventurous nature and inability to say "no" have led her to some pretty amazing adventures all around the world. But she has no desire to stop exploring anytime soon. Read Amanda's blog, A Dangerous Business, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.

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