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Ask the experts: Off-the-beaten track Hawaii

Need advice for your next trip? Looking for recommendations, tips and guidance? The Travel Geeks have the answers…

By Caroline Anderson
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:15 BST, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 12:22 BST
Ask the experts: Off-the-beaten track Hawaii
Photograph by Getty

QI plan to travel to Hawaii for the first time and would like to visit wild or less developed parts for hiking, nature tours and small affordable hotels. Where would you suggest?

My first suggestion would be Molokai — an island that remains true to its Hawaiian roots. Here, everything runs at a slower pace and the largest town, Kaunakakai, is largely unchanged since the early 1900s. Kalaupapa National Historical Park, located on the island's northern outcrop, offers peerless views across the Pacific, while Kamakou Preserve, towards the east, is a horticulturist's dream. The slopes of Kamakou (the island's highest mountain) are home to 250 rare Hawaiian plant species, 219 of which can't be found anywhere else in the world. To protect the rugged terrain of Molokai, the parks around the island require visitors to book a guided tour; this can be done at the park entrance, or via some local hotels.

Adding to the island's charm is the fact that there are no big hotels here. One of the best experiences on offer is a stay at a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) ranch, such as Puu Hoku Ranch, which is set on 14,000 acres of protected farmland ($185/£150 per day, per person).

Serious hikers should also consider a visit to Kauai, the most northwesterly of the Hawaiian islands. Known as the 'garden island', the centre of Kauai is completely undeveloped — and home to the Waimea Canyon State Parks (locally nicknamed 'the Grand Canyon of the Pacific'), which has over 45 miles of hiking trails. There are pristine beach walks in the nearby Napali Coast Wilderness Park, too.
You can either book a self-catering condo on the island, or check out Kokee Cabins, situated close to several attractive hiking trails. Camping at Napali is extremely popular, and permits often sell out months in advance.

You can fly into Kauai directly from several US mainland airports — Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle are some of the best connecting points to the Hawaiian Islands. To reach Molokai, however, fly to either Maui or Oahu first, and then transfer on from there with Hawaiian Airlines.

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Published in the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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