5:45PM EST December 12. 2012 – The Aloha State conjures countless majestic images, from volcanoes and verdant cliffs to surfing beaches and eye-poppingly beautiful hibiscuses. There’s a lot to see in Hawaii, which is why we asked kama’aina (someone who has lived in Hawaii a long time) Christine Thomas to pick nine natural wonders sure to take your breath away.
From November through February, one of the most storied big-wave surfing spots on Oahu’s legendary North Shore welcomes gigantic swells. Watch the pros ride 20-foot-plus waves, then drive or hike back to Waimea Valley to a 45-foot waterfall and entrancing botanical gardens.
At Pali Lookout in Nu’uanu Valley, step into a literally breathtaking wall of wind and absorb panoramas of the sculpted Ko’olau Mountains and ribbon of small towns, including Kailua, President Obama’s vacation spot.
Lanai/Pu’u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock)
Sweetheart Rock commands you to think of love. Legend tells of a warrior in love with a Maui woman who hid her at a sea cave at the cliff’s base. When she drowned in a storm, he climbed this 80-foot outcrop then jumped into the surf, where many visitors now snorkel and dive.
Twenty-six switchbacks punctuate the steep forest trail down a 1,700-foot cliff to the flat, windy peninsula of Kalaupapa, an awe-inspiring national historic park.
Hawaii Island/Kilauea Volcano
Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve nearly the size of Oahu, is home to steaming, flowing Kilauea Volcano. Surface-flowing lava can be accessed via an arduous hike over uneven, sharp ground.
Hawaii Island/Pu’uhonua Honaunau
In South Kona’s Pu’uhonua Honaunau National Historical Park, you can walk amid thousands of ancient cultural sites, including a temple which once house bones of chiefs.
Secluded Wai’anapanapa State Park is a 122-acre wilderness boasting a rare black-sand beach, natural stone arch, hala tree forest, legendary cave and stone temple.
A forest wonderland lies in the cool uplands of Koke’e State Park, where mist collects like cotton among native koa and ohia trees and lends a mysterious glow to this unspoiled plateau that rises up 4,000 feet.
At Haleakala National Park, experience an other-worldly sunrise, inspect native silversword plants or reach for the Milky Way at night.
GoEscape features the best North American destinations, spanning the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The winter 2013 issue is on sale now atgoescape.usatoday.com.