Backpacking in Hawaii

by Kshaunish Jaini

Hawaii is the only island state in the United States of America, located in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of mainland USA. The state consists of the entire Hawaii archipelago, which is made up of hundreds of islands stretched across 2400 km in the ocean.The eight main islands in Hawaii are Niʻihau , Kauaʻi , Oʻahu , Molokaʻi , Lānaʻi , Kahoʻolawe , Maui , and the Island of Hawaiʻi . The islands were formed millions of years ago due to intense volcanic activity, and it is interesting to observe that there still exist many active volcanoes on the islands. Hawaii is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, owing to its natural diversity that includes white sandy beaches, mangroves, forests, volcanoes surrounded by the deep blue sea. It is also a premier surfing spot and a paradise for beach bums, divers and snorkelers.

Hawaii is the newest state of America, having received statehood in 1959. The indigenous Hawaiian culture has a strong presence on the island, along with American and Asian cultures. The earliest evidence of human settlement on the island dates all the way back to 300 BCE, as a result of the Polynesian settlers that migrated to the islands from the Marquesas islands. A second wave of migration occurred from the Polynesian island of Bora Bora in the 11th Century CE. Spanish explorers arrived on the islands in the 16th Century, 200 years before Captain James Cook’s famed visit in 1778. It is here in 1779 that Cook was killed in a skirmish with one of the local chieftains. After a series of battles, Hawaii came under the reign of the kingdom of Kamehameha, with King Kamehameha the Great becoming the first ruler of the entire group of islands. Hawaii was forcefully annexed by the USA in 1898 and granted statehood in 1954. The capital of Hawaii is Honolulu, located on the island of O’ahu.

Backpacking in Hawaii

Hanakapiai is the destination for most day hikers, two miles in from the trailhead. This view is from the trail beyond the beach, looking back. Photo by Wayne

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Hawaii is located on top of the Hawaii hotspot, which is still active as a result of tectonic shifts causing the formation of small islands and islets. It is dotted with large volcanic mountains, like the Mauna Kea, which is technically taller than Mount Everest at 10,200 meters. More than half of this mountain is submerged beneath the ocean resulting in an altitude above sea level of 4205 meters. The youngest volcano on the island is Lo’ihi Seamount. Hawaii enjoys tropical climate all year round, with the summer temperature ranging between 31 and 24 degrees Celsius and winter temperatures between 28 and 18 degrees Celsius. The tourist season in Hawaii starts from mid-December and stretches all the way to March. During off-season, the lodging rates are much lower which is ideal for an affordable backpacking trip. The downside is the slightly unpredictable weather and rain showers.

Getting to Hawaii is easiest by air, with regular flights connecting Honolulu with the mainland USA. A flight rate monitoring app like Skyscanner is your best friend while hunting for cheaper tickets to the islands. The other way to get to Hawaii is by ship - either a cruise or a cargo ship. Ships to Hawaii embark from the port of Los Angeles among others.

Backpacking Trips in Hawaii

Although Hawaii is most famous for its beach holidays and luxurious resorts, it also boasts of a thriving backpacking scene. Affordable hostels and homestays are available on many islands in Hawaii, and the state is replete with hiking trails that wind through volcanic mountains and seascapes. Here are some of the best backpacking spots in Hawaii.

  1. Waimanu Valley

    Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Waimanu Valley is a panoramic site full of exotic trails and dramatic cliffs that end into the ocean. Located on the Muliwai trail, the Waimanu valley has 9 campsites to choose from, where you can pop your tent and explore the neighbouring land. A great place to begin your trek is the Waipi’o beach - you follow a winding trail that takes you up and down the seaside cliffs punctuated by waterfalls for 9 miles. On reaching the Waimanu valley, you will be rewarded with a stunning view of the sea overlooking the cliffs that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

  2. Backpacking in Hawaii

    The main feature of this part of the park is undoubtedly the famous Haleakalā Crater. It is huge: 6.99 miles (11.25 km) across, 2.0 mi (3.2 km) wide, and some 2,600 ft (790 m) deep. The interior of the crater is dotted by numerous volcanic features, including large cinder cones. Two main trails lead into the crater from the summit area: the Halemau'u and Sliding Sands trails. Hikers in the crater can stay in one of three cabins (which need to be reserved through the park first). Photo by Mark

  3. Haleakala

    Haleakala or the East Maui Volcano is a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the landmass of the island of Maui. Literally meaning The House of the Sun, Haleakala is a designated National Park that rewards the traveller with otherworldly landscapes full of volcanic craters bordered by the blue ocean. It is also a site for astronomical and astrophysical research, due to its stable weather conditions and an incredibly clear night sky that allows for accurate observation. The summit area of the Haleakala National Park has over 30 miles of hiking trails, nestled among shrublands and a home to many endemic species of plants, birds and animals.

  4. Kalalau

    The Kalalau trail is located along the Na Pali coast of the Kauai island of Hawaii. The trail runs approximately 11 miles from north to south, starting from the Ke’e beach and ending at the spectacular Kalalau valley. The trail is often called one of the most beautiful and dangerous treks in the world. The trail is not for the fainthearted, due to multiple incidents of rockslides during the rainy season and deaths due to unpredictable sea currents. But those who do attempt it are rewarded with an unparalleled experience of the ocean that is often described as epic.

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