The 5 most unexpected landscapes of Hawaii

Thoughts of Hawaii conjure up scenes of white sandy beaches flanked by gently swaying palm trees, but the landscapes of the Aloha State are far more diverse. You know the expression not just a pretty face? Well, Hawaii’s not just a pretty beach.

1. Waimea Canyon on Kauai

waimea canyon kauai hawaii

You may think you’ve suddenly been transported to the Grand Canyon when you see Waimea Canyon. Actually, this unexpected canyon has been dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. See our tips for getting there and exploring the area.

2. Kohala lava fields on Hawaii, the Big Island

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 2.05.21 PM

With Hawaii, the Big Island, being the youngest Hawaiian Island, its volcanic origins are quite evident, with acres upon acres of lava fields. I always try to warn my friends who visit the Kohala Coast for the first time, that they may think they’ve landed on the moon at first with miles and miles of lava fields — everywhere! The above photo taken from Google Maps is of Highway 19, just north of the Kona airport. This road cuts through miles of old lava flows.

3. Haleakala summit on Maui 

summit crater at haleakala

When you visit Maui’s tallest peak, you might wonder if you’ve been abducted by aliens and taken to another planet. The barren scene around the crater summit is quite a contrast to the mountain’s other, more lush side near the Hana coast. We like visiting Haleakala at sunrise, but we hear sunsets are quite nice, too.

4. Snow on Hawaii, the Big Island


I’m not kidding. Hawaii gets snow, too. Almost every year, snow falls on the summit of Mauna Kea — Hawaii’s tallest summit. With the cooler air at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, patches of snow can linger for months. To visit the summit, we recommend a guided tour at sunset followed by stargazing like this one we enjoyed. (Note that Mauna Loa and Haleakala may also receive snow, but not as often as Mauna Kea.)

5. Keahiakawelo – the garden of the gods on Lanai

garden of the gods lanai

One of Lanai’s many dirt road drives leads to a most unexpected collection of rounded stones at Keahiakawelo, also known as the garden of the gods. These rocks seem to appear out of nowhere. The above photo only shows a few of these rounded stones, but in total, there’s probably hundreds of them.  To visit Keahiakawelo, we recommend renting a hummer.

Which Hawaii landscapes surprise you?

  1. We went to Waimea Canyon when we were in Kauai and it is absolutely beautiful! There was even someone (a local) dancing at the foot of one of the cliffs and it was crazy!

  2. I personally love the lava fields on Maui down near La Perouse. You first drive through the very green and manicured resort areas of Wailea and Makena, then the road narrows out and you are all of the sudden in a vast and desolate lava field. Definitely surprising for those that aren’t expecting it!

    I enjoyed this post and look forward to reading more.


    1. Yes that was really cool. One of my favorite places in HI to visit. Especially the hiking trail with the goats ! Have you been to that little bay on the way that’s really good for snorkelling. It’s really amazing.

  3. HI Sheila. Thank yoh for such a helpful site! I am plaing my firts trip to Kauai this summer, and im looking forward to experiencing Kauai’s natural beauty. However, I understand that some of the more remote places like Polihale state beach and part of the roads around Waimea canyon state park are unpaved. Obviously four wheel drive would be necesary. From what I can see, most rental car agencies dont premit you to drive on unpaved roads on the island. Any suggestions for a company to go through that might not have a clause agaisnt driving on unpaved roads? I don’t want my exploration of the island to stop just because the road is unpaved! Thanks so much!

    1. Nicole – there could be a local car company that allows their vehicles on unpaved Kauai roads, but I am not aware of one.

      I wouldn’t worry about the Waimea Canyon roads as most of them are paved allowing you to see the most scenic sites. There’s one hike we recommend that you have to walk a short portion of a dirt road, that would otherwise be nice to have driven to, but it wasn’t a big deal. That Waimea Canyon hike is described here:

      Though not approved, I’ve seen regular, front-wheel-drive, rental cars drive out to Polihale Beach. It is risky, especially when driving near the sand. Getting stuck out there wouldn’t be fun getting out of the deep sand.

  4. We usually focus on the main tourist attraction but places like this are like hidden gems and often more interesting and appealing.
    Snow on Hawaii – that was a surprise 🙂

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