Planning a dream trip to Hawai’i? What’s new on the islands

CNN  — 

With Covid-19 regulations a thing of the past, Hawaiʻi is primed to be a top destination in 2022 thanks to a load of fresh offerings.

New restaurants and tours are springing up, along with a nice discount at a newly renovated luxury hotel and the continued marriage of tourism and culture.

If you’re headed to the islands, here’s the rundown of what’s happening in Hawaiʻi right now:

Hawai’i: New volcano and stargazing tours

Hawaiʻi Forest & Trail, an adventure tour operator on the Big Island, is offering a new experience on Maunakea summit in Kona.

The Maunakea Summit and Stars Giveback Experience centers around stargazing atop Maunakea volcano – one of the island’s premier natural offerings and a top stargazing spot worldwide – while helping to preserve and improve a forest upon its slopes.

The tour takes guests into the Waikoloa Dry Forest habitat for an interpretive hike, where they help naturalists collect native seeds that will be used to restore the forests. After, guests are transported by van to the slopes of Maunakea for a sunset dinner and private stargazing session with a professional guide.

The new offering is the latest example of a statewide trend that incorporates “voluntourism” and give-back components into the visitor experience. It typically involves a partnership between a tour company and a local nonprofit in which guests get to have fun but also be a part of ecological and cultural initiatives.

Over in Hilo, Paradise Helicopters has resumed its most popular tour: a 60-minute, Doors-Off Lava and Rainforest Adventure that explores Kīlauea volcano and its recent eruptions, including deep volcanic craters and some of the newest black-sand beaches on Earth (created by the 2018 eruption).

The lack of doors means you’ll get unabated, otherworldly views and photos, not to mention a heavy dose of adrenaline.

Kauaʻi: New reservation systems and nature tours

Those who haven’t been to Hawaiʻi in a while (or ever) should be aware that policies across the islands have changed. Reservations are now needed at many state-run recreation areas, including Haleakalā sunrise on Maui, Hanauma Bay snorkeling and Diamond Head hiking on Oʻahu and beach parks along Kauaʻi’s north shore.

Parking reservations and entry passes are required at Kauaʻi’s Hāʻena State Park (which includes Keʻe Beach and Kalalau Trail access), and visitors are encouraged to ditch their cars and use the new north shore shuttle system instead, which runs between Hanalei and Hāʻena.

Kauai's spectacular Ke'e Beach is part of Hāʻena State Park, which requires parking reservations and entry passes. Or visitors can use the new north shore shuttle.

Reservations are also necessary to visit the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a scenic, cliffside seabird sanctuary on Kauaʻi’s north shore.

While this could be inconvenient for those who make last-minute plans, the idea behind the initiatives is to provide a better experience for guests in the wake of overtourism in recent years.

“The reef life has come back, the trails are less crowded, and the people living in the area have better balance in their lives,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauaʻi Visitors Bureau.

If you’re looking to stay away from the crowds altogether, check out Kauaʻi Hiking Tours’ new South Shore Coastal Hike. It’s a mellow, relatively flat three-mile oceanside hike along the southern sea cliffs, shaped by wind and waves and home to a variety of wildlife, cultural sites and scenic vantage points. It’s all brought to life by owner and lead guide Jeremiah Felsen.

“One of the great things about this tour is that it gets people away from more crowded parts of the island, to an area rich in natural and cultural history,” said Felsen.

“Walking this long stretch of undeveloped coastline, just a stone’s throw away from the bustling resorts of Poʻipū, gives visitors an opportunity to connect more deeply with the land, to imagine what it must have felt like to walk the same cliffs as the island’s first inhabitants more than a thousand years ago.”

The experience includes a tour of the Makauwahi Cave, Hawaiʻi’s largest limestone cave and one of the most significant archaeological sites in the state.

The South Shore Coastal Hike also has a feel-good component: Felsen donates 15% of every outing to nonprofits working to preserve the Makauwahi Cave.

Maui: Renovated hotel offerings and cultural center

Maui is beloved for its combination of luxury and farm-inspired local culture. This summer, we get to see two evolving examples at work.

On the high end, The Ritz-Carlton Maui in Kapalua has finished its most extensive renovations since opening 30 years ago, further integrating the hotel with its natural surroundings.

The lobby lanai now offers fire pits and seating areas to take in the views of Honokahua Bay, while the refreshed outdoor area has three connecting pools with cascading waterfalls, surrounding tropical gardens and new luxury cabanas.

An extensive renovation at The Ritz-Carlton Maui in Kapalua features a refreshed outdoor area with three connecting pools.

Curious to check it out? If you give back to the island, you can do so at a significant discount. Stay five nights and get 20% off your stay (one night free) by participating in a volunteer project as part of the hotel’s Malama Hawaiʻi package.

Over in the budding town of Wailuku, just minutes from ʻIao Valley, a family farm is being reimagined into an events center. This summer, Mahina Farms Maui is launching programming that will tie together community and culture.

“It’s been our family vision for a long time to activate our property into a cultural learning center,” said Kainoa Horcajo, the farm’s cultural practitioner. “We wanted a place where we could teach and share traditional arts but also a place to ask ourselves and our community: how can our culture evolve… what’s next?”

Workshops involving laʻau lapaʻau (Hawaiian plant medicine), Kaulana Mahina (Hawaiian moon calendar), and lei making will be held, as well as evenings of mele (song), moʻolelo (stories), and meaʻai (food).

“We’ll bring in a local chef and musician, and together with myself, we’ll craft a night that explores a Hawaiian cultural concept where the dish, song and story build upon each other to both entertain and educate,” said Horcajo.

Follow the farm on Instagram (@mahinafarmsmaui) for the latest on upcoming experiences.

Oʻahu: New and fun food abound

Oʻahu isn’t known as the “Gathering Place” for nothing. Its diverse population and mix of cultures result in a culinary scene that is exploding back to life as the pandemic’s grip eases.

In Kailua, Lanikai Brewing Co. recently launched a new alcoholic seltzer collaboration with the North Shore shave-ice institution, Matsumoto’s. The first flavor is lihing mango – an island favorite – and it’s available statewide, so you can still try it even if not visiting Oʻahu.

“We are using the Matsumoto family syrups in our seltzers for an adult take on a classic from those hanabata (childhood) days as keiki (kids) running around Hawaiʻi,” Lanikai Brewing owner Steve Haumschild said.

In Honolulu, locals have long awaited the reopening of Pint + Jigger, a gastropub once beloved for its craft beers and burgers. Its King Street location was forced to close in April 2020, only to see its relocation and reopening set back multiple times by the pandemic.

Now, it has finally reopened with a convenient location for visitors, inside the Ala Moana Hotel on the edge of Waikīkī, along with its sister property and speakeasy, Harry’s Hardware Emporium.

For more new restaurant openings and events, including what’s opening on O’ahu, pay a visit to Frolic Hawaiʻi, the foodie segment of Honolulu Magazine. It regularly features the latest and greatest in Hawaiʻi’s food scene and will help you plan meals on your next trip.

If you go

Pre-tests and vaccine cards are no longer needed upon arrival for domestic travelers arriving from the United States. Most international arrivals must still be vaccinated, but pre-tests are no longer required for international travelers.

All local restrictions on dining out have been lifted, and the statewide mask mandate is no longer active.

Private businesses in Hawaiʻi do have the right to require masks, and many locals still choose to wear them. As a visitor, you’ll want to respect all local requests to mask up in crowded places.