When it comes to spectacular views in Hawaii, there is not a bad seat in the house. The islands are stunning, spacious theatres for awe-inspiring panoramic performances, and sometimes you do not even have to get out of your car – but at least roll down the window. Here are our 10 favourite easy-access vistas in Hawaii.
1. Road to Hana, Maui
Of all the scenic drives in Hawaii, this is the big kahuna. The Hana Highway snakes down into jungle valleys, up towering razor-edge cliffs, over 54 one-lane bridges, past nearly as many waterfalls, and around 600 twists and turns along the way. Get out and stretch your legs at the several aptly-placed lookouts, or hike into fragrant forests where short paths lead to Eden-like swimming holes and side roads wind down to sleepy seaside villages. If you have never tried smoked breadfruit, taken a dip in a spring-fed cave or gazed upon an ancient Hawaiian temple, set the alarm early - you have got a big day coming up.
2. Papawai Point, Maui
Do not forget the binoculars. Not that you will need them to see the 40-tonne humpbacks that breach right off this cliffside perch jutting into the western edge of Ma'alaea Bay. And the sunsets here are spectacular, too. Papawai Point is midway between the eight- and nine-mile markers. Note that the road sign reads simply "scenic point", not the full name, but there is a turning lane into it, so slow down and you will not miss it.
3. Haleakalā National Park, Maui
Sunrise here is worth getting up at 4 am for. Dawn's ever-changing interplay of sun, shadow and clouds creates a mesmerizing dance of light and colour on the crater floor. The most popular viewing spot is the Visitor Centre, on the rim of the crater (9,745ft), a half-mile below the actual summit. Alternatively, leave the early-morning crowds behind by taking the 10-minute hike up Pa Ka'oao (White Hill), which begins at the east side of the visitor centre and provides stunning crater views. Finally, perched atop Pu'u'ula'ula, Maui's highest point, the summit building provides a killer panorama from its wraparound windows. On a clear day you can see the Big Island, Lana'i, Moloka'i and even O'ahu.
4. Diamond Head State Monument, O'ahu
The windy summit of Waikiki's signature backdrop affords fantastic 360-degree views of the southeast coast to Koko Head and west to the Wai'anae Range. A lighthouse, coral reefs and surfers waiting to catch a wave are visible below. Although it is a fairly steep 0.8-mile hike to the top, the all-ages trail is fully paved.
5. Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, O'ahu
Follow the tour buses to this ridge-top lookout for a sweeping vista of windward O'ahu from 1,200 feet. Straight ahead is Kane'ohe, Kailua is to the right, and hat-shaped Mokoli'i Island and the coastal fishpond at Kualoa Regional Park lie to the far left. A section of abandoned highway winds down from the right side of the lookout, ending at a barrier near the current highway about one mile away. It is worth walking even just five minutes down the trail for a photo of the magnificent views looking back up at the snaggle-toothed Ko'olau Range and out across the valley.
6. Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Wayside, O'ahu
For a remarkable panoramic view across Honolulu, detour to this tiny park, 2.5 miles up Round Top Dr from Makiki St. It is half a mile in to the lookout; bear to the left when the road forks. The sweeping views extend from Diamond Head on the far left, across Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, to the Wai'anae Range on the right. To the southeast is the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, easily recognized by its sports stadium; to the southwest you can see clearly into the green mound of Punchbowl crater.
7. Pololu Valley Lookout, Big Island
The Akoni Pule Highway ends at this vantage point into a stunning row of steep, mystical cliffs. This ancient valley is utterly memorable and enshrouds the diversity of the Big Island landscape in twilight shades and thick mists.
8. Mauna Kea summit, Big Island
It is breathless and breathtaking up in the rarefied air of Hawaii's most sacred and lofty spot, with the setting sun bouncing halos off the surrounding cinder cones. Look for the mountain shadow framing Hilo in a purple triangle when it is clear. When it is cloudy, the view is just as spectacular, only different; it is like looking down on heaven, so thick is the layer of marshmallow fluff blanketing the island. Southward, massive Mauna Loa looms. Once the sun goes down and the stars come out, the best big Island view transitions to the best view in the universe.
9. Saddle Road, Big Island
True to its name, the 53-mile Saddle Rd (Hwy 200) runs along a saddle-shaped valley between the island's two highest points, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. It is an extremely scenic drive: sunrise and sunset bathe these majestic, cinder cone-studded mountains in a gentle glow, and on clear days the vistas extend forever (at least to Maui).
10. Crater Rim Drive, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island
Motor around the entire gaping maw of the Kilauea caldera on this 11-mile route, popping out for ganders at steam vents and lookout over the smoking crater. Hikes into and around the caldera and through lava tubes are also possible. For the best views, start at the park's visitor centre and drive counter clockwise.
The article 'Top 20 Hawaiian vistas' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.