Volume 4 No.1 Spring2008 800.688.2254 

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Free Activities in Hawaii

You’ve spent a lot of money to vacation in the paradise that is Hawaii.  Airfare, accommodations, food… these things add up.  So while it’s all money well spent, it’s nice to be able to do something for free while you’re there, too.  This issue we take a look at the top free activities on each island.


The Road to Hana – If you’re going to be vacationing on Maui, the chances are you’ve heard about the Road to Hana, or Hana Highway.  This is, without a doubt, the most famous drive in Hawaii and certainly will not disappoint those who decide to embark on this day-long adventure.  On this drive you will come across a bamboo forest, vibrant red sand beach, plenty of jungle foliage and countless waterfalls.  Have you dreamed about swimming in a jungle pool with a cascading waterfall right next to you?  You’ll get a chance to make your fantasy a reality on this adventure.

The drive itself is pretty straightforward.  The actual Hana Highway starts when Highway 36 turns into Highway 360 just past Pa’ia.  From there it’s a straight shot to Hana, but don’t rush.  This is one of those examples of when the journey is much more rewarding than the actual destination.  Take time to pull off at scenic overlooks and drink in the magnificent views.  This is the Hawaii of your dreams.


Waimea Canyon – When Mark Twain saw Waimea Canyon, he called it “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, and boy, was he not kidding.  Hundreds of different volcanic eruptions and subsequent lava flows have carved this magnificent gorge deep into the surface of Kauai.  The result is nothing short of spectacular.

You can get up to the top of the canyon using either Koke’e Road or Waimea Canyon Drive, but I usually take the latter going up as it affords better views.  You should take Koke’e Road on the way back down, however, as that will give you a different view of the coast on your return. 

Make sure your gas is full before you head up, though, as it’s 40 miles round trip without a gas station in sight anywhere on the journey.  When you get to the top, you’ll see the Kalalau Lookout at mile marker 18.  A lot of people stop here, but the Pu’u o Kila Lookout just beyond actually provides a much better view.  Here you’ll find a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean and the beginning of the Na Pali Coast.


Pearl Harbor – You may be thinking, “Why is Pearl Harbor mentioned in an article about free activities?  Don’t I have to pay to see it”?  The short answer to that question is no.  Most people think you have to pay for a guided tour to get into the harbor and see the Arizona Memorial.  And while there are plenty of opportunities to do just that, the truth of the matter, however, is that if your main interest is going to the Arizona Memorial, visiting the Arizona Museum and seeing the other battleships from afar, the cost is $0.  The tickets for the memorial visit are free, though you may have to wait 1-3 hours to actually begin the experience. 

It all starts with a very good 23-minute documentary on the events leading up to, and including, the attack on Pearl Harbor.  You then embark on a short boat ride out to the memorial.  The entire experience takes approximately 75 minutes.

So what if you’re given a free ticket and told to come back in three hours for your time to start the tour?  There are other ships in the area, such as the USS Missouri (the same ship on which the Japanese officially surrendered, thus ending WWII) and the USS Bowfin (a WWII era submarine) which you can tour, as well.  These, however, do cost money though the amounts for the self-guided tours certainly aren’t bank breakers ($16 for adults & $8 kids ages 4-12 for the USS Missouri and $10 for adults and $3 for kids ages 4-12 for the USS Bowfin).


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park -  Okay, so this one isn’t technically “free” as you do have to pay $10 per car to get into the park.  But believe me, it will be the best $10 you’ve ever spent as you will, more than likely, get to watch the world being made as lava flows into the ocean.  There is plenty to see and do here, from the crater to the steam vents to the hike out to the actual flows, so plan on spending a day doing this activity.  It’s about a two hour drive from Kona (two and a half from Waikoloa) each way, so plan accordingly.

After you’ve paid your park entry fee you should stop off at the visitors center for maps, information and news on the latest lava flows. 

After spending time in this area you’ll want to start the journey down Chain of Craters Road.  This roughly 18 mile drive ends where the Mauna Ulu eruption from 1969-1974 engulfed the rest of the road.  From here you’ll need to hoof it the rest of the way to see the actual surface flows.  It’s usually best to start the hike an hour or so before sunset so that you can use the natural light to help you see your way out to the flow.  But you’ll definitely want to be at the flow when it’s completely dark out, as the contrast between the night sky and the glowing red lava is truly majestic and will be one of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen.  Bring a flashlight, though, and plenty of water.  There are flashing beacons at night to guide you back to your car, and there will be plenty of other people out doing the hike as well.  Though the actual location of the lava flows can change quite frequently, it’s a good idea to plan on a 3-hour round trip hike.

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