Hawaii’s soothing lifestyle, incredible beaches, luxury properties and superb culinary scene have made it a perennial favorite among visitors. The islands also boast intriguing parks, monuments and landmarks, all of which are under the radar among meeting groups, yet immensely popular among visitors in general. In fact, several of them are regularly listed among Hawaii’s top 10 attractions.
All of the main Hawaiian Islands feature these attractions; they offer groups a chance to gain a feel for the land, which has always been sacred to the people. Many sites also contain artifacts, structures and/or natural features that reveal the history and rich symbolism of Native Hawaiian culture.
“By being able to witness and appreciate the sheer beauty of these locations, we hope that meeting attendees will be able to connect to the culture and history in a more personal and meaningful way,” says Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Many parks, monuments and landmarks can be found on Maui and Hawaii, the Big Island (aka Hawaii Island). Besides their cultural appeal, they also offer myriad options for meeting groups, including plenty of team-building activities such as hiking, snorkeling, boating and picnicking. Here are a few sites that are well-suited for a meeting-group excursion.
Hawaii, the Big Island
This island has many of the same attractions as the other islands—including world-class resorts and restaurants—but it’s most famous for its even-slower pace of life, wide-open spaces and active volcanoes. Kilauea has continuously erupted since 1983 and Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. The island also boasts five of the eight national parks in the state, along with 14 state parks.
“A lot of visitors are drawn to our island because of the desire to see the volcano [Kilauea] but realize once they get here that there are so many more remarkable parks and monuments to explore,” says Ross Birch, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau. “They provide groups with a great opportunity to discover the diversity of the island’s landscapes with exciting adventures such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and ziplining.”
What it offers: Located 30 miles southwest of Hilo, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the home of Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. Kilauea enables groups to witness the primal process of creation and destruction, making this sacred place for Native Hawaiians one of the most popular visitor attractions in Hawaii.
In fact, Kilauea erupted on June 27, 2014, causing a downhill flow that as of December still was encroaching on residential areas and burning forests, pastures, roads and other man-made structures and debris. This, in turn, restricted access to some areas. Groups should check the park website (nps.gov/havo/index.htm) before visiting.
Founded in 1916, the park encompasses 323,000 acres, from the summit of Mauna Loa to the sea. Groups will find not only the Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, but also 150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, scalded deserts and rainforests as well as petroglyphs, a walk-in lava tube and a museum.
Planning a visit: The park is open 24 hours a day year-round, including all holidays. The entrance fee is $10 per vehicle and $5 per individual when entering by foot, bicycle or motorcycle.
Groups enjoy ranger-led hikes, volunteer stewardship programs and custom excursions through companies such as Hawaii Forest and Trail, Discover Hawaii Tours, KapohoKine Adventures and Volcano Bike Tours.
What it offers: This 180-acre park on the coast of south Kona once was royal grounds and a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. “Meeting attendees are able to envision what life was like in ancient Hawaii by exploring the grounds on a self-guided walking tour, challenging another group member to a game of konane (Hawaiian checkers) or observing a cultural demonstrator as he weaves a cape out of ti leaves or carves an image out of wood,” Birch says.
Planning a visit: The oceanfront park, located 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona, is open throughout the year from 7 a.m. until 15 minutes after sunset, and the admission charge is $3 per individual and $5 per vehicle.
What it offers: This coastal park, just south of Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA), enables groups to discover how an early Hawaiian settlement survived on the rugged Kona coast.
Visitors can hike to see four ahupuaa (traditional sea-to-mountain land divisions), heiau (sacred temples) and kii pohaku (petroglyphs). Other attractions are two amazing Hawaiian fishponds that show the engineering acuity of Native Hawaiians; the white sands of Honokohau Beach, which contrast with the black lava rock coastline; and local wildlife including honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles), native birds and Hawaiian monk seals.
Planning a visit: Hale Hookipa Visitor Center, the Hawaii Pacific Parks Association store and the adjoining parking area are open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Kaloko Road gate is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. No admission fee is charged, but a special permit is required for an event with more than 35 people.
What it offers: Situated along the northeastern Hamakua Coast, this park features two gorgeous waterfalls. A challenging 0.4-mile uphill hike (lasting less than one hour) takes groups through a lush rainforest filled with wild orchids, bamboo groves and draping ferns and they soon come across 100-foot Kahuna Falls. By proceeding along the loop around the bend, attendees will discover towering Akaka Falls, arguably Hawaii’s most famous waterfall.
“Groups can get a different perspective of the 442-foot Akaka Falls on a thrilling zipline activity with Skyline Eco Adventures [located on a private property below the park],” Birch adds.
Planning a visit: The park is located at the end of Akaka Falls Road (Highway 220), 3.6 miles southwest of Honomu. It’s open during daylight hours each day, and the admission fee is $5 per car and $1 for pedestrians.
Maui offers planners an abundance of attractive options, including luaus, farmers markets, multi-ethnic cuisine, luxurious spas, water sports and golf. The island also has one national park, Haleakala, as well as eight state parks, including several along the legendary Hana Highway.
“Exploring Maui’s parks and monuments is a great value-added activity that can be easily woven into a group’s planned itinerary or offered as an extracurricular option for pre- or post-meeting trips,” says Vencl of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Hikes and picnics are great low-cost, team-bonding activities that can be done at almost any park, and provide attendees an opportunity to get out, stretch their legs and experience the island’s natural beauty and diversity.
What it offers: Haleakala National Park, stretching across Maui’s southern and eastern coastline, is home to the island’s highest peak, 10,023-foot Mount Haleakala. The park is comprised of more than 30,000 acres of public land and has three visitor centers.
Many groups rise early to drive up to Haleakala Visitor Center (9,740 feet). “It’s a popular location for visitors and locals alike to watch the sunrise,” Vencl says. “Haleakala in Hawaiian means ‘House of the Sun,’ but there’s so much more to the park than just spectacular sunrises and sunsets.”
Haleakala is a place of discovery and symbolizes all of the strength embodied by the historical and geological culture of Hawaii. It features ecologically diverse terrains such as striking volcanic landscapes, backcountry trails and subtropical rainforest zones. Groups can hike along the highest peaks of the park, across otherworldly deserts and visit several lush tropical areas full of waterfalls and streams.
Planning a visit: The park is always open; the Headquarters Visitor Center, near the park entrance, is open 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and Haleakala Visitor Center, located near the summit, is open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Groups might want to attend the regularly scheduled ranger-led presentations about the park. During the summer, Hawaiian cultural demonstrations are held at Kipahulu Visitor Center on the second and fourth Saturday of each month.
What it offers: Located on a 10.2-acre property, this monument contains remains of two important heiau that were rededicated as war temples by Kahekili, Maui’s last ruling chief.
One heiau, Halekii (House of Images), has stepped stone walls that tower above Iao Stream. The pyramid-like mound of Pihana Heiau (Gathering Place of Supernatural Beings) is just a five-minute walk from there, but a thick overgrowth of kiawe (a species of mesquite tree) makes it hard to discern. Pihana, much larger than Halekii, was used for human sacrifices.
Planning a visit: The monument is two miles northeast of central Wailuku, and can be reached by taking Waiehu Beach Road (Highway 340) and turning inland onto Kuhio Place, three-quarters of a mile south of the intersection of highways 340 and 330. Then take the first left onto Hea Place and drive up through the gates. The site is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
What it offers: This monument, located in a lush valley in central Maui just west of Wailuku, actually is a 1,200-foot green-mantled rock, Iao Needle, that rises abruptly and overlooks Iao Stream, just west of Wailuku. The valley is rich in cultural and spiritual history, and is the site of the battle of Kepaniwai, in which forces of Kamehameha I conquered the Maui army in 1795. Attendees also can learn about the plants brought by the Hawaiians who settled Iao Valley by taking a short walk through a botanical garden.
Planning a visit: The monument is at the end of Iao Valley Road (Highway 32) in Iao Valley. Visiting hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; admission is $5 for cars and $1 for walk-ins.
“The Hawaii Nature Center, which operates in the valley, can work with groups to customize a day or an overnight program featuring interactive activities to educate attendees about the cultural and environmental significance of the area,” Vencl says.
What it offers: This park houses Makena Beach, also known as “Big Beach,” one of the best and largest beaches on the island’s southwestern shores. Boasting golden sands extending nearly two-thirds of a mile long and 100 yards wide, the beach offers pristine conditions for swimming, snorkeling, bodysurfing, shore fishing, picnicking in the shade and sunbathing.
Big Beach provides a secluded alternative to more crowded beaches in Kaanapali and Lahaina. Nestled between two black-lava outcroppings, Makena provides great views of the islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe.
Planning a visit: Makena is situated south of Wailea, at the end of Wailea Alanui Road. It’s open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and no fee is charged.
Groups staying in the Wailea-Makena area can book daytime ocean tours and sunset cruises that launch from nearby Maluaka Beach, which fronts Makena Beach and Golf Resort.
Visits to parks, monuments and landmarks on Maui and the Big Island, Hawaii blend in with a growing trend in the meetings industry.
“We’re finding that groups are becoming more interested in cultural education and activities, as these add a unique touch to their program that can’t be replicated at any other destination,” Vencl says.
Mix in the team-building and recreational components, and you have the recipe for a fun, highly productive trip.
Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail
Though part of the National Park System, this 175-mile corridor on Hawaii, the Big Island was established in 2000 for the preservation, protection and interpretation of traditional Native Hawaiian culture and natural resources. It passes through hundreds of ancient Hawaiian settlement sites and more than 200 ahupuaa (traditional sea-to-mountain land divisions).
The section of the Ala Kahakai trail (pictured) under Hawaii State Na Ala Hele jurisdiction is open for public use, at no charge. This section is located between Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Anaehoomalu Bay, south of Waikoloa resorts.
Groups are required to pay park entrance fees to access some portions of the trail.
Groups interested in seeing a prominent landmark in a lush setting head to Maui’s 123-acre Kahanu Garden, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Located on the rugged Hana coast, along Maui’s far-eastern shores, it’s nestled within one of the largest, untamed native hala (Pandanus) forests in the Hawaiian Islands.
Kahanu Garden features the world’s largest collection of breadfruit trees; one of Hawaii’s last remaining Pandanus forests; and 27 species of plants that were brought to the Hawaiian Islands in ancient canoes.
Self-guided tours are available Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and guided tours can be arranged from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Fees are $10 for self-guided tours and $25 for guided tours. Groups can book a guided tour through the National Tropical Botanical Garden by accessing ntbg.org.
Major Meeting Venues
Hawaii, the Big Island
Located on 13 acres on Kailua Bay; near Honokohau Marina and Kaloko-Honokohau National Park; 452 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Luxury resort set on the island’s North Coast; 243 guest rooms and suites housed in intimate two-story bungalows; 23,384 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Luxury property set on the Kohala Coast on 32 acres;.
Situated on the sunny Kohala Coast; 1,241 guest rooms; has a protected lagoon with sea turtles; three freshwater pools; beach; spa; 235,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1965; 252 luxury guest rooms; 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Nestled oceanfront on a beach on the Kohala Coast; 341 guest rooms; 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
12-acre waterfront property; 436 guest rooms; massage and spa center; fitness center; private swimming lagoon; four lighted tennis courts; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Located on the iconic lava rocks of the Kona Coast overlooking Keauhou Bay; 509 guest rooms; weekly luau; pool area with 200-foot lava tube water slide; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
32-acre luxury oceanfront hotel along the Kohala Coast; 540 guest rooms; six restaurants; golf and tennis; more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Situated on 15 oceanfront acres overlooking Anaehoomalu Bay; 555 guest rooms; 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 24 meeting rooms and Naupaka Ballroom, which accommodates 1,300.
Located15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Nestled within 11 tropical acres on a tranquil stretch of Kaanapali Beach; restaurant; two pools; 260 guest rooms; 5,773 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Overlooks Wailea Beach; 380 guest rooms; art-laden public areas; 28,900 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Nestled on 40 acres of lush tropical gardens; AAA Four Diamond resort with 780 guest rooms; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Surrounded by 40 lush acres on Kaanapali Beach, within walking distance to Whaler’s Village; 806 guest rooms; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Nestled on 11 acres along Maui’s renowned Kaanapali Beach; Hawaiian quilt design, tropical furnishings and other local touches; 432 guest rooms; more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Multipurpose facility with 24,900 sq. ft. of indoor event space, consisting of gymnasium (20,800 sq. ft.) and social hall (4,140 sq. ft.); amphitheater seats 2,000 and has 48,360-square-foot lawn.
Situated at the southern end of the island; 310 guest rooms; near rolling golf greens, lush gardens and a natural kiawe forest; more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Beachfront resort located atop Kapalua Bay on the former site of the legendary Kapalua Bay Hotel; 50 guest rooms; fitness center; meeting spaces include 2,000-square-foot Sunset Room and five event lawns with ocean views.
27-acre resort on Kaanapali Beach, frequently selected as one of America’s best beaches; 333 guest rooms; oceanfront restaurant; 14,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Situated on a stretch of Kaanapali Beach, three miles from Lahaina; four restaurants; The Spa at Black Rock features relaxation areas and treatment rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Located on 22 acres of tropical landscape; 413 guest rooms; four restaurants; luxurious 9,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa features the latest in state-of-the-art spa technology; 36,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Situated on 54 stunning acres; provides 463 guest rooms and 208,408 sq. ft. of meeting space; two championship golf courses; tri-level pool.
Set amid 26 acres along North Kaanapali Beach; 1,021 guest rooms; Spa Helani; four restaurants; two markets; two full-service water sports centers; more than 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Adjacent to Ulua and Wailea beaches; 544 guest rooms; three restaurants; spa; five pools; three golf courses; 27,500 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 21 rooms and oceanfront space.