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Hawaii's Natural Wonders

Our Picks for the Top Natural Wonders of Hawaii

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Born of the fire from Madame Pele, the Hawaiian Islands continue to change every day. Volcanic in origin they are shaped by the forces of wind, rain and the ocean.

Thousands of years from now, the island of Kauai will once again slip into the ocean as the islands to its northwest have done before. New islands will rise from the ocean as the Big Island slips away from the hot spot that may reach to the earth's core.

Here are our picks for twelve Hawaiian Natural Wonders.

Kilauea Volcano - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Big Island

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

A trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a visit to Hawaii's ancient volcanic past as well as a look at the present and future of the Big Island of Hawaii as it is given birth by Madame Pele.

Within the park is Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, which has been in a constant state of eruption or over 25 years. Depending on changing volcanic activity, you may have an opportunity to view an active lava flow.

A great way to see the active flows is to take a helicopter tour from Hilo International Airport.

Mauna Kea - Big Island

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

Mauna Kea, which means White Mountain in Hawaiian, is the world's tallest mountain if measured from the bottom of the ocean to its summit.

At 13,796 feet above sea level it is the tallest mountain in Hawaii, by just a few feet over its neighbor to the south, Mauna Loa.

If you have even a passing interest in astronomy or geology a trip to the summit of Mauna Kea is not to be missed. On the way you'll learn about the remarkable evolution and changes that the Big Island's natural world has experienced. Even if all you want to do is see one of the most amazing sunsets ever, you'll definitely want to make the trip.

Waipi'o Valley - Big Island

Photo by Eileen Fischer, licensed to About.com

Located along the Hamakua Coast on the northeast shore of the Big Island of Hawaii, the Waipi'o Valley is the largest and most southern of the seven valleys on the windward side of the Kohala Mountains.

The Waipi'o Valley is a mile wide at the coastline and almost six miles deep. Along the coast is a beautiful black sand beach often used by motion picture production companies. On both sides of the valley there are cliffs reaching almost 2000 feet with hundreds of cascading waterfalls, including one of Hawaii's most celebrated waterfalls - Hi'ilawe.

Na Pali Coast - Kauai

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

The Na Pali Coast of Kauai was formed when a large portion of the island fell into the ocean hundreds of thousands of years ago, leaving the high sea cliffs (na pali) which rise 4,000 feet from the ocean.

The Na Pali Coast State Park was formed to protect the Kalalau Valley. The coast itself is not accessible by car, although you can view the Kalalau Valley from lookouts in Koke'e State Park.

The coast can be enjoyed by hiking, boating or from a helicopter. The Kalalau Trail provides the only land access, traversing eleven miles and crossing five major valleys before reaching Kalalau Beach at the base of Kalalau Valley.

Wailua River Valley - Kauai

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

The Wailua River Valley is home to Wailua River State Park, Kauai's most popular state park, with over 850,000 visitors annually.

The park has three areas. From the marina area along Highway 56 riverboat cruises sail along the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto.

The Wailua Falls overlook is located at the end of Ma'alo Road (Highway 583) about five miles inland from Highway 56. Wailua Falls is a double waterfall that tumbles 80 feet into a large round pool. This waterfall was featured in the opening scenes of TV's Fantasy Island.

The scenic overlooks on Kuamo'o Road offer wonderful views of the Wailua River Valley.

Waimea Canyon - Kauai

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

The author Mark Twain was the first to call Waimea Canyon the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." and while it does remind one of the Grand Canyon, Waimea is actually more colorful and features many waterfalls, many of which are visible from one of the lookouts.

Ten miles long, a mile wide and up to 3,600 feet deep, Waimea Canyon is best viewed from a helicopter from which you can see areas not visible from the highway or lookouts.

The canyon itself was formed by the Waimea River as it cut it's way from Alaka'i Wilderness Area to the ocean.

Keahiakawelo "Garden of the Gods" - Lanai

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

Keahiakawelo, also known as Garden of the Gods, is an otherworldly rock garden on the island of Lanai. Its eerie Mars-like topography is populated with stacks of mysterious rock towers of all sizes.

It appears as if the the rocks suddenly fell from the sky, but in reality the rock towers, spires, and formations were formed by centuries of erosion. They stand as a stark contrast to the otherwise barren landscape.

In the early morning or evening, the rising or setting sun strikes the minerals in the rocks casting a warm orange glow on the rock sculptures illuminating them in brilliant reds and purples.

Haleakala - Maui

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

Haleakala, "The House of the Sun", is a dormant volcano and the tallest peak on Maui, reaching 10,023 feet above sea level.

The crater, or more correctly called the depression, is large enough to hold the entire island of Manhattan. It is 7.5 miles long, 2.5 miles wide and 3000 feet deep. The crater includes its own mini-mountain range of nine cinder cones - the largest of which is over 1000 feet high.

Many believe that Haleakala Crater resembles the surface of the moon or, more likely, Mars with its red hue.

'Iao Valley - Maui

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

A thousand years ago, Hawaiians gathered at 'Iao Valley to celebrate and honor the bounty of Lono, god of agriculture, during the annual makahiki festival.

Over a hundred years ago visitors began coming to witness the natural beauty of this valley. Today 'Iao Valley is recognized as a very special place for both its spiritual value and spectacular scenery. The trails in the park are paved, but may be slippery when wet. The trail is also steep in places.

The presence of Pihanakalani, a large heiau (temple) near the shore and along the 'Iao Stream, denotes the religious significance of 'Iao. Commonly called 'Iao Needle, the traditional Hawaiian name for the 2,250 foot peak that dominates the valley is Kuka'emoku.

Sea Cliffs - Molokai

Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

As excellently explained in the History Channel's How the Earth Was Made, eons ago a cataclysmic event caused the entire northern half of Molokai's eastern volcano to break off and fall into the ocean with such force that parts of the island now lie on the ocean floor over 100 miles to the north.

What remained were the highest sea cliffs in the world. Visible from the ocean, in the air, or from the Kalaupapa Peninsula, these sea cliffs rise over 2,000 feet and are marked by numerous waterfalls, including including the 2,100-foot Kahiwa Falls.

Leahi "Diamond Head" - Oahu

Photo Credit - Coastal Geology Group, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Hawaii's most famous landmark, seen on postcards throughout the world, is the profile of Diamond Head. The Hawaiians called this crater Le'ahi which means "brow of the tuna." Knowing that it's easy to see why.

Over a half million people visit the state monument each year and most make the 0.8 mile hike from the trail-head to the summit to see magnificent views of Waikiki, Kapi'olani Park and Oahu's southeast coast.

Diamond Head State Monument encompasses over 475 acres, including the interior and outer slopes of the crater. The trail to the summit of Le'ahi was built in 1908 as part of O'ahu's coastal defense system. You can still see the remains of bunkers and observation stations.

Hanauma Bay - Oahu

Photo Credit - Coastal Geology Group, University of Hawaii at Manoa

What was thousands of years ago a large volcanic caldera has been flooded and subjected to centuries of wave erosion to produce one of the most popular snorkeling destinations in Hawaii.

Hanauma means "curved bay" in Hawaiian. Today its clear blue waters and beautiful reefs are home to thousands of tropical fish, green sea turtles and a controled number of snorkelers.

Hanauma Bay is both a Nature Preserve and a Marine Life Conservation District where visitors are required by law to refrain from mistreating marine animals or from touching, walking, or otherwise having contact with the coral.

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