Hawaii offers so much in terms of a family holiday with family (ohana) being at the heart of Hawaiian culture. If your children are young and you are not at the thrill-seeking stage just yet, there are still so many wonderful activities you can do that will satiate your hunger for adventure and exploration. If they are a little bit older and can manage a more adrenaline adventure, Hawaii will deliver. If you enjoy a more active holiday, Hawaii has an exhaustive list of activities to keep you busy, whatever stage your family is at.
Here’s an overview of some of the best family experiences that Hawaii offers.
Island of Hawaii
The largest of the Hawaiian archipelago, the Island of Hawaii, (also known as the Big Island) hosts one of the world’s most amazing ecosystems. Covering more than 10,000 km and featuring 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones, incorporating active volcanoes, rainforest, desert, tropical beaches and even snow, this island offers everything from eco-tourism experiences and breath-taking natural wonders, to an insight into Hawaii’s rich history and culture.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-see natural attraction offering once in a life-time experiences such as hiking through volcanic craters with steam vents that line your path and warm your hands and ancient rain forests and lava tubes. You can stay within the park at the historic Volcano House, which dates back to 1856 and has recently been restored. If you’re after something more rustic, camping is allowed within the park with two camp grounds available.
Staying overnight offers the chance of spectacular views of lava at night but if you really want to get up close and experience the heat of lava flowing into the sea, you can take a lava boat tour. Tours run all day, from sunrise through to twilight.
Exploring the Puna Coast- one of the Island of Hawaii’s most dynamic and spiritually uplifting areas, with a native guide will give everyone in your family a fun and fascinating insight to the history of Hawaiian culture and the famous Aloha Spirit. Visit Ohia forests and thermally heated ponds, tide pools that showcase luminous corals and stunning native fish. A stop at the newly formed Kaimu Black Sand Beach is a highlight, as is learning about the lava from the Kilauea volcano, which covered Kalapana Village in 1990. View the incredible scenery of the famed shoreline, Red Road, and top the day off with snorkel and swim in the thermally heated ponds and tide pools.
Oahu offers huge variety for the family adventure holiday. The calm waters of the famous Waikiki Beach is the perfect combination of incredible scenery, people-watch value and fulfilling that life-long ambition of learning to surf, stand-up paddle board or ride in an outrigger canoe. In fact, some surf instructors on Waikiki Beach promise to have you standing up on your board within 30 minutes.
Younger children will benefit from a visit to the eastern end of the beach where there is easy access to Queen Kapiolani Park (the oldest and largest public park in Hawaii). Not far from the park is the Waikiki Aquarium, which hosts over 3,500 species of Hawaiian marine life and fish, including rare tropical fish.
Also worth a visit while you’re in the area is the Honolulu Zoo. The zoo showcases wildlife that is native to Hawaii, has a Galapagos tortoise breeding program, rare birds and is the only American zoo that hosts a children’s petting area.
A trip on the Atlantis submarine offers a view of the sea-life from under the sea. Travel to depths well over 30 metres and visit a dive site frequented by sharks, sting rays, green turtles, yellow tangs eels and other fascinating marine life.
Oahu also has a deep cultural history that is worth exploring. The Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor memorialises the 1177 men who died in the 1941 attack by the Japanese, when the ship USS Arizona sank in the battle. A shuttle boat will take you to the memorial, which lies above the sunken battleship. You can also tour the USS Missouri, a World War Two-era battleship, on whose decks the Japanese surrender was signed, and see a copy of the actual surrender document.
Other Oahu experiences include a hike up the inside slope of the extinct volcanic crater Diamond Head, or a visit to Waimea Valley for self-guided walking tours and nature centre. The Polynesian Cultural Centre is definitely worth a visit. Learn more about the Polynesian culture and watch islanders re-enact ancient war dances, create cloth from bark, carve tiki figures and rub sticks to make fire.
Other worthwhile outings include a day trip to the North Shore for swimming, surfing and shrimp trucks. A visit to Kualoa Ranch provides a huge variety of organised activities that will appeal to the whole family. Kualoa Ranch is known as the most famous private nature reserve where you can go on a movie location tour, zip-lining, horseback riding, a scenic tour on an ATV, or secret island tour.
There is accommodation for all budget options. If you’re looking for a resort Sheraton Waikiki, Hilton Hawaiian Village or Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore are great options. Aston Waikiki Beach Town and Embassy Suites are excellent for condo-style accommodation. Disney Aulani Resort offers exceptional family accommodation with free kids club, Disney movie night and luau as well as organised activities for the whole family.
For outdoor enthusiasts- you can’t go past Kauai, with its abundance of activities from hiking to snorkelling and exploring amazing natural attractions such as the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon. If you’re looking for some adrenaline-infused outdoor adventures, Princeville Ranch (which is a working cattle ranch) has everything from zip-lining over breath-taking picturesque valleys, to four-wheel driving adventures, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking and swimming in waterholes.
If your children are still a bit young for the more active adventure activities, the 40 minute open-sided Kaua’i Plantation Railway may appeal. The kids will love seeing farm animals along the way and having the opportunity to feed them as well.
A trip to Kauai Backcountry for a Mountain Tubing adventure is a great activity for families with children aged five and over. Wearing a headlamp and floating on a tube through old irrigation channels, built over 100 years ago, you’ll enjoy a trip through the historical irrigation system and breathtaking views of the mountains and Waialeale Crater.
A family tour of the Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park is also worthwhile. The park hosts a full-size hedge maze, Children’s Garden, a gecko maze, a tropical jungle with bridges, slides and tunnels, and a tree-house.
If you’re a movie-buff or just want a break from the surf, consider a movie tour. There have been more than 60 movies made on Kauai. The likes of Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Descendants among others were all made on Kauai in natures best movies set. You can book a tour to visit the very sites that are featured in these famous films.
Maui is another great destination if you’re seeking a family adventure. From pristine beaches perfect for snorkelling, surfing or body surfing, zip-lining, whale watching, the list is endless.
Some of the highlights include a sunrise bike tour on Haleakela volcano. Watch the sunrise at the summit of Haleakela, at just over 3000 metres, and you can then mountain bike back down the crater at your own pace, meandering through upcountry Maui, stopping at shops, restaurants and little towns. It’s an early start (meeting at 3am!) but well worth it when you take in those glorious views from the top.
Whale watching season runs from November through to May, with the best time for viewing in January through to March. Chances of seeing a baby humpback are high with the majority of Humpback calves born in Hawaii.
Molokini crater is an incredible natural phenomena and a snorkelling highlight. The crater is what’s left from an eruption that is estimated to have taken place 230,000 years ago. The crater helps protect the waters from swell and currents, so is a relatively safe place to snorkel.
Maui is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the northern hemisphere. Some of the highlights include Keawakapu Beach, renowned for its soft white sands and consistently good swimming conditions – perfect for all ages. Kapalua Beach offers calm waters and tidal pools, great for small children to see sea life up close.
Maui has an excellent range of accommodation and if you’re looking for a bit of luxury, try the resorts in the Wailea area like the Farimont Kea Lani. For excellent family resorts and condo style accommodation look to Kaanapali Beach near Lahaina including the Westin Kaanapali Beach Villas, Royal Lahaina Resort, and Kaanapali Beach Hotel.
Whatever your family are seeking, from an adventure mixed with culture and history or a nature-based getaway, Hawaii will inspire and excite you. It is a place brimming with incredible natural wonders, a rich cultural history and plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation.
Your first trip to Hawaii will leave you wanting more which is no doubt why in Hawaii they don’t say goodbye but ‘A hui hou’… until we meet again.