The Best Natural Attractions

Volcanoes: The entire island chain is made of volcanoes; don't miss the opportunity to see one. On Oahu, the entire family can hike to the top of the ancient volcano, world-famous Diamond Head. At the other end of the spectrum is fire-breathing Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island, where you can get an up-close-and-personal experience with the red-hot lava ooze (see "Hawaii Volcanoes National Park" under "Seeing the Sights," in chapter 5). On Maui, Haleakala National Park provides a bird's-eye view into a long-dormant volcanic crater.

Waterfalls: Rushing waterfalls thundering downward into sparkling freshwater pools are some of Hawaii's most beautiful natural wonders. If you're on the Big Island, stop by Rainbow Falls, in Hilo, or the spectacular 442-foot Akaka Falls, just outside the city. On Maui, the Road to Hana offers numerous viewing opportunities; at the end of the drive, you'll find Oheo Gulch (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools), with some of the most dramatic and accessible waterfalls on the islands. Kauai is loaded with waterfalls, especially along the North Shore and in the Wailua area, where you'll find 40-foot Opaekaa Falls, probably the best-looking drive-up waterfall on Kauai. With scenic mountain peaks in the background and a restored Hawaiian village on the nearby river banks, the Opaekaa Falls are what the tourist-bureau folks call an eye-popping photo op.

Gardens: The islands are redolent with the sweet scent of flowers. For a glimpse of the full breadth and beauty of Hawaii's spectacular range of tropical flora, we suggest spending an afternoon at a lush garden. On Oahu, amid the high-rises of downtown Honolulu, the leafy oasis of Foster Botanical Garden showcases 24 native Hawaiian trees and the last stand of several rare trees, including an East African whose white flowers bloom only at night. On the Big Island, Liliuokalani Gardens, the largest formal Japanese garden this side of Tokyo, resembles a postcard from Asia, with bonsai, carp ponds, pagodas, and even a moon gate bridge. At Maui's Kula Botanical Garden, you can take a leisurely self-guided stroll through more than 700 native and exotic plants, including orchids, proteas, and bromeliads. On lush Kauai, Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens on some 240 acres, is sprinkled with some 70 life-size (some larger than life size) whimsical bronze statues, hidden off the beaten path of the North Shore.

Marine Life Conservation Areas: Nine underwater parks are spread across Hawaii, most notably Waikiki Beach and Hanauma Bay, on Oahu; the Big Island's Kealakekua Bay; Molokini, just off the coast of Maui; and Lanai's Manele and Hulopoe bays. Be sure to bring snorkel gear to at least one of these wonderful places during your vacation here.

Garden of the Gods (Lanai): Out on Lanai's North Shore lies the ultimate rock garden: a rugged, barren, beautiful place full of rocks strewn by volcanic forces and shaped by the elements into a variety of shapes and colors -- brilliant reds, oranges, ochers, and yellows. Scientists use phrases such as "ongoing posterosional event" or "plain and simple badlands" to describe the desolate, windswept place. The ancient Hawaiians, however, considered the Garden of the Gods to be an entirely supernatural phenomenon. Natural badlands or mystical garden? Take a four-wheel-drive trip out here and decide for yourself.

The Grand Canyon of the Pacific -- Waimea Canyon (Kauai): This valley, known for its reddish lava beds, reminds everyone who sees it of Arizona's Grand Canyon. Kauai's version is bursting with ever-changing color, just like its namesake, but it's smaller -- only a mile wide, 3,567 feet deep, and 12 miles long. All this grandeur was caused by a massive earthquake that sent all the streams flowing into a single river, which then carved this picturesque canyon. You can stop by the road and look at it, hike down into it, or swoop through it by helicopter.