Tan, sandy shores, Neptune-blue waters teeming with ocean life, massive chain-smoking volcanoes…it’s no secret Hawaii is a nature lover’s paradise. But with so many islands and so few vacation days, knowing what verdant Edens and otherworldly waters to prioritize on your next trip could be its own Hawaii 101 course.
Fortunately, Norwegian Cruise Line offers seven-day island-hopping cruises to all the state’s must-see destinations aboard Pride of America, the only major ocean liner to sail Hawaii year-round.
While onboard, coasting across Hawaii’s natural aquarium offers its own type of leisurely sightseeing—gazing out at breaching whales, the Kilauea Volcano and the dramatic Napali Coast—but how to spend your precious time in port is entirely up to you.
No longer wonder where that tropical fruit salad on your plate came from. Maui is rife with crops that feed locals and visitors: slender sugarcane stalks, chubby pineapple plants, bouquets of yellow bananas and, of course, the ubiquitous Hawaiian coconuts. You can catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Maui’s bustling agricultural industry by touring a working 60-acre plantation. While there, you’ll also hear tall tales of the paniolo, Hawaii’s cowboys, and how longhorn cattle help farm.
You can’t fully know Hawaii until you see where it came from: volcanoes. Maui’s sleeping Haleakala Crater is a good introduction to the geologic forces that created this tropical paradise. But be strategic about your approach and visit after the crowds have thinned, just as the blue Hawaiian sky takes on pink and purple hues at sunset. Once the sun has settled below the horizon, you’re all but promised a shooting star show of a lifetime.
Behold the scope of the biological diversity that makes the Big Island unique when you dock in Kona. Veer from the lava-strewn hills and instead slip into a cooler, underwater world at Kealakekua Bay, where protected waters and sea caves are teeming with colorful marine life. Strap on snorkel gear for a close-up look at the angelfish, eels, anemones and fragile coral reefs. Occasionally, spinner dolphins even saunter into these waters. The bay is also of historical importance—it’s where Captain James Cook, the first Westerner to set foot on present-day Hawaii, first landed and also where he died one year later.
After you’ve hiked, swam and seen Hawaii’s ranging environment, refuel with a taste of it at one of the Big Island’s famous coffee farms. Kona Mocha pours steaming samples of its award-winning trellised coffee paired with earthy Hawaiian chocolate.
There’s a reason Kauai is called the “Garden Isle,” and it’s not because of contrived manicured plots. Instead, the entire island, the greenest of the cluster, serves as one giant botanical garden.
You’ll want to see as much as possible on this tiny floating oasis, so set out from port for one of the island’s most dramatic vistas: Waimea Canyon. Sometimes referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this 14-mile-long crevasse in the island’s crust is 3,600 feet deep and about 1 mile wide. You’ll catch the most eye-popping views at the Waimea Canyon Lookout, where scenes of crested buttes and deep valleys seemingly go on for eternity. Venture close to the bottom and you’ll be greeted by trails ranging from novice to expert at Kokee State Park.
While on Kauai, don’t miss the Wailua River, one of the only navigable rivers in all of Hawaii, best viewed by kayak or canoe. This peaceful 20-mile-long body of water winds through verdant jungles, passing by thunderous Opaekaa and Wailua falls.
Your cruise might end when it reaches Oahu’s sandy shores, but as one of the best islands for unparalleled nature, your trip doesn’t have to. Carve out some time to explore Oahu’s charismatic North Shore, where chiseled surfers cruise perfect barrels at the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach and at Waimea Bay. If you only have time for one, make sure it’s Waimea Bay, where Hawaii’s surfers first tackled skyscraper-size waves in the 1950s. Today, its powder-white sands are sprinkled with sunbathers, cliff jumpers and, of course, surfers looking for that next epic ride.
Conclude your adventure on a high note with a brisk helicopter ride soaring high above Oahu. Watch the islands fade into tiny dots as you drift into the sky for an entirely different perspective. Float above hidden and remote rainforests, valleys and beaches before dipping down for a closer look at Diamond Head—an iconic volcanic tuff that serves as the perfect send-off to your week of transcendental adventures.