Landscapes in North America
Iao Valley is dramatically beautiful. Towering peaks with waterfalls tumbling down the sheer cliffs towards the gushing river at the lush bottom. The crown jewel of the park is the Iao Needle, a pinnacle which shoots more than 360 meters into the air. Like elsewhere in Hawaii, the valley has a long history and mythological significance. The actually state park is fairly compact with a parking lot and paved short walkways leading to various lookouts.
Ka'anapali Beach is lined with big luxury resorts (Hyatt, Marriott, and Sheraton, just to name a few), but since all beaches in Hawaii are public, there are paths between the private grounds. The wide beach is a mile long with fine sand and crystal clear water. It is surprisingly empty, since most holidaymakers are using the sunbeds around the pool at their resort. There are parking spaces allocated to public beach use, but they can be hard to find.
One of the best beaches on O'ahu is the long Kailua Beach. It has soft white powder sand, turquoise blue waters, and views several small islands off-shore. It's protected by Kailua Bay which makes for gentle waves, perfect for swimming, kite surfing and other water fun. The beach is located in the posh, but hippieish, community of Kailua and has a nice shady beach park with all facilities.
A tall cave, which lies right next to the road. The main cavern isn't particularly deep, but at the far back several narrow tunnels branch off to the unknown. The cave features in the Hawaiian folklore (it's named after the god of creation Kane), which explains the small offerings that might be laying around. There is a parking lot across the road.
There are plenty of pretty beaches to choose from at Kihei. If you don't like the first one, go to the next. They all have some kind of beach park with parking and toilets. It's a popular area to stay in Maui, but lacks the restaurants and tourist shopping of Lahaina.
Probably the most scenic road trip on Big Island is Kohala Drive. It's a loop, which passes through many of the different landscapes of Big Island. The route follows Hwy 270 from Kawaihae along the beautiful northwestern coast through dry grassland. During winter you might spot humpback whales off the coast. Continue now through lush forest and the small towns of Hawi and Kapa'au (statue of Kamehameha) before reaching the lookout at Pololu Valley. Backtrack to Hawi and take Hwy 250, which takes close to the summit of the sleeping volcano of Kohala. Here the landscape changes again to a green world of grassy hills with pasture for cows. After a lot of zigzag Mauna Kea (4,205 m) will appear. On clear days you can see the white observatories on the summit. From this point, it's just downhill back to the coast.
If you feel the gentle waves at Kailua are "too rough", then head to the even more esteemed beach next door at Lanikai. The picture perfect beach has been mentioned as the prettiest beach on O'ahu - and for good reason. Not only is the sand white and soft, but the aqua blue water is calm, which is unusual for Hawai'i. However, there isn't much shade and hardly any parking (besides a few spots on the residential streets), so you will have to park at Kailua and walk about 20 minutes.
Magic Sands Beach is a gorgeous beach with tall palms. The powerful shore break is very popular with both body surfers and boogie boarders. As the beach is small, it can get packed, particularly at sunset. The real name is La'aloa Beach, but the nickname "magic" refers to the fact that the beach can vanish during high surf in winter. The picture is taken on a day, when it was closed due to dangerous surf.
The Makapu'u Lookout offers some of the most iconic views of O'ahu. Black steep mountains covered in green meeting the ocean's many shades of blue. A strip of golden sand makes out Makapu'u Beach, which is popular with experienced surfers. You can hike to the lighthouse at the top from either the lookout (no marked trail) or along the paved trail from the parking lot at Makapu'u Point.
Away from the tourist zones of Kihei and Wailea with not a resort insight, lies this wild and scenic beach. It's a wide stretch of golden soft sand on a backdrop of thorny Kiawe trees. Though Makena Big Beach is popular, it's never crowded. Be careful if going into the turquoise ocean, as the shore break has a reputation of being extremely strong. There is another "Little Beach" further north.