Most people concentrate on the beaches and forget that the rest of Hawaii’s landscape has just as must to offer. However, driving is a wonderful way to take in the abundant natural scenery of the islands.
Kauai, best for photographers
Kauai offers more than enough diverse scenery to fill up an album. The fourth largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago is, at 562 mi.² (1,450 km²), worth a whole day’s trip. The most accessible beach on Kauai’s north shore is Ke’e—a good starting point for a drive. Alternatively, begin at Kapaa on the other side of the island and finish at Ke’e.
A dense rainforest characterizes this drive along the coastline, which comprises of some famous beaches like Lumahai and Na Pali. The distinct mountain peak in Anahola is one of many picturesque sights as you head on the Kuhio Highway (Route 56).
There is also Kalihiwai Valley and the Hanalei Valley in Princeville. Hanalei town, with its beautiful bay, is small and charming, with a laid back country feel. Stop off at Princeville for the Queen’s Bath—a natural sink hole highlighted by a black lava shoreline.
Watch the Hanalei River flow down the green valleys and disappear behind mountains. Opaekaa Falls, Alekoko Fishpond, and Makauwahi cave are other special sights along the way.
O’ahu, best for families
A drive in O’ahu makes for a memorable trip to make with children. The Hanauma Bay Marine Preserve is a particularly great stop for family adventures. Learn about the different types of Hawaiian reef fish that call the unique natural aquarium home. The Koko Crater Botanical Garden is another stop with more chances to explore nature. It is filled with native plants and others from the world over.
The rural town of Waimanalo offers plenty of activities for adults and children, including hiking, dining, and shopping. Make your way from Hawaii Kai through Kalanianaole Highway (Route 72) and end at Kailua. The drive includes several beautiful Hawaiian beaches, perfect for surfing or swimming.
Lanai, best for offroaders
The 400 mi. (644km) of road that this island offers is best explored in a 4×4. The “Pineapple Island” has a rich history filled with myths and legends. It used to be the world’s biggest producer of the fruit, hence the nickname.
North Lanai is especially popular with off-roaders because it contains most of the exploration paths. Most drivers begin their trips in the quaint Lanai City. Lanai Ohana Poke Market is on the way out of town and is a good stop to pick up supplies for the road trip.
Drive northwards on Keomoku Highway then to Kanepuu Highway and finally Awalua Highway, which takes you on a dirt path. The dirt road leads to the Polihua Trail and then the Kanepuu Preserve, which is full of native trees. Down the road is Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods). Go north of the Polihua Trail and you’ll find the unspoilt Polihua Beach.
Another option is to travel northeast from Lanai City and end up at Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach).
Maui, best for nature lovers
Anyone looking to connect with nature will find Maui more than accommodating. The road linking Kahului to Hana leads to the East Maui rainforest, which is teeming with possibilities for eco adventures. Just before reaching the rainforest, you will come across Nakalele Point Light Station.
Along the winding Hana Highway, you’ll see waterfalls and valleys such as the Twin Falls, which are particularly appealing on a morning drive. Wai’anapanapa State Park, with its volcanic sand beach, freshwater caves, lava tubes, and seabird colonies, is another paradise. A break at Oheo Gulch would give an opportunity to visit the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo for a quick dip.
The Road to Hana also takes you to the Haleakala National Park, where you can hike the rainforest using the Pipiwai Trail. The Honomanu Bay, Ho’okipa Lookout, and the Hana Lava Tube are other features that characterize this drive.
Molokai, best for couples
Part of what makes this island special is that you won’t find resorts lining the coastline or restaurants every few miles. This undisturbed atmosphere makes it ideal for a couple’s getaway. Don’t expect traffic in Molokai, consequently there are very few stop signs and no traffic lights.
Kaunakakai is a good place to start a road trip. The Maunaloa Highway (Route 460) and then the Farrington Highway (Route 480) lead to the Coffees of Hawaii plantation. A mule tour of the coffee fields provides a chance to learn a few fundamentals of Hawaiian coffee making.
Further along the drive is Kalaupapa National Historical Park and its nature trails. Another great stop is Palaau State Park, where you can climb to the top of the highest sea cliffs in the world.
After all that, stop off at Kepuhi Beach on Molokai’s northwest shore, for some well deserved chill out time.