No doubt about it, there is something enticing about each one of the Hawaiian Islands. The big question is… which islands should you visit?
There are eight Hawaiian Islands and each one has its own distinct personality and charm. Some people enjoy the hustle and bustle of Oahu, which offers just about every activity under the sun. Others prefer the quiet solitude and raw beauty of Kauai. For a true Hawaiian experience, you really ought to visit more than one island to get a sense of Hawaii's unique variety. Yet with six spectacular islands to visit (excluding Niihau and Kahoolawe), you may have to narrow it down a bit.
To help you decide, consider these questions: What are your obligations; how many days can you be away? Would you describe yourself as an “outdoors” or “indoors” person? Do you like being physically active or do you prefer strolling through museums and art galleries? Are upscale resorts, gourmet dining and late-night entertainment musts or would you rather be low-key? Planning to be on the go all day, every day? Or do you want to escape your normally hectic pace of life?
The good news is that all of the islands are in close proximity of each other (approx. 30-60 minute flight time depending on your destination), so this allows for easy island-hopping. Take advantage of this travel-friendly archipelago and try to see as much as time permits. If you don't get to experience everything on your wish list, then save it for your next trip to Hawaii. With such great variety, there's always a reason to come back again.
Oahu Brings the Best of City Life and Country Living
Oahu is the most popular first stop for most visitors, due in part to the higher number of nonstop flights into Honolulu from international and Mainland U.S. cities. It’s home to the majority of Hawaii’s population; thus, expect crowds and rush-hour traffic in urban areas. That said, it truly offers something for everyone.
Honolulu, the state’s capital, is Oahu’s bustling hub with parks, museums, theaters, restaurants, shopping malls, cultural events and indoor and outdoor concerts. Waikiki is a small city in itself; most of the island’s hotels are there, along with bars, boutiques, shows and eateries that’ll satisfy whatever cravings you might have. Ocean activities abound on Waikiki Beach, from canoe paddling with beachboys to sailing on catamarans at sunset.
Oahu has a quiet, relaxed side, too. Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate its scenic hiking trails and the verdant valleys, farms and pastures that define its windward coast. During winter, international surfing competitions wake up the usually sleepy North Shore. Both sophisticated and unpretentious, Oahu can likely fulfill whatever you’ve jotted down as your dream itinerary.
Maui is Considered Heaven on Earth
Those who want a more laid-back vacation but still want to kick-start their day with a latte should consider Maui. The major resort areas of Wailea, Kapalua and Kaanapali provide all the pleasures discriminating travelers demand such as championship golf, fine dining, great shopping, trendy spas and first-class accommodations. From there, you can venture out for strolls through the former whaling port of Lahaina, glorious sunrises or sunsets at the summit of 10,000-foot Haleakala Volcano, concerts and exhibits at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center and sightseeing on the spectacular coastal road to Hana, which, with some 600 hairpin turns and 50-plus one-lane bridges, will surely test your driving skills.
If you’re a water baby, snorkeling at Molokini islet, sailing off Lahaina and windsurfing at Hookipa Beach are musts. And from November through May, you can embark on a whale-watching cruise. Magnificent humpbacks migrate from Alaska to Hawaii each winter to mate and bear their young, and the waters surrounding Maui are the best places to spot them.
Hawaii Island is for Volcano Lovers
Nicknamed the Big Island, Hawaii island is just that: big. Sprawling over 4,028 square miles, it’s larger than the seven other major Hawaiian Islands combined. You’ll find 10 of the 14 climate zones here, along with the largest (Mauna Loa) and tallest (Mauna Kea, when measured from its submarine base) mountains in the world.
Hawaii is also the only island with an active shield volcano. The current eruption of Kilauea started in 1983, and even though scientists can’t predict when it will end, there’s no cause for alarm. Volcanic activity is confined to a relatively small southeastern sector, far from the west-side Kohala Coast where most visitors stay. Even if Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed, there are plenty of other outdoor diversions to keep you occupied, including camping, birding, ziplining, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, and exploring cultural sites such as Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, an ancient Hawaiian place of refuge dating back to the 15th century.
Kauai is Nature at Its Finest
Kauai is known as the “Garden Island,” and rightly so. Green is everywhere—framing rivers and waterfalls; casting broad strokes across valleys, cliffs, mountains, meadows, farmland and taro patches; and coloring its many gardens, Na Aina Kai, Smith’s Tropical Paradise, Princeville Botanical Gardens and the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Allerton, McBryde and Limahuli being the most notable.
Most of the hotels and vacation rentals are in Poipu in the south and Princeville in the north, but wherever you are, Nature is a constant companion. Kayak the Wailua River, sail along the Na Pali Coast’s 3,000-foot-high cliffs, hike the 45 miles of trails in Kokee State Park and bike down Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Molokai and Lanai Offer a Laidback Getaway
Looking to unwind and get away from it all? Then easygoing Molokai or Lanai might be just the ticket. You won’t find crowds there (Molokai’s resident population is around 7,400; Lanai’s is 3,100). Nor are there malls, traffic lights, fast-food chains, big-box stores or nightlife.
Instead, great outdoor adventures beckon. Among Molokai’s highlights are Halawa Valley, Kamakou Preserve, Moomomi Preserve, Molokai Forest Reserve and Kalaupapa (now a National Historical Park), where people stricken with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were once banished beginning in 1866. The only hotel on the island is modest Hotel Molokai.
In contrast, home base for most Lanai visitors is the luxe Four Seasons Resort Lanai. Scenic stops include the Munro Trail, Kanepuu Preserve, Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach), Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods) and Manele and Hulope bays, which have been designated a Marine Life Conservation District. Shops and restaurants are clustered in little Lanai City; if you’re lucky, there might be a concert, festival or farmers’ market happening there in the shade of lofty Cook pines at Dole Park.
Island Hopping Gives You the Best Taste of Hawaii
As you can see, each of the Hawaiian Islands offers something uniquely different. With so many delightful choices, you’ll want to do your research to properly plan your vacation. Be sure to consider what fits your personality best and identify the type of travel you most enjoy. Ultimately, which islands you decide to visit will depend on how much time you have and what you’d like to do. If you still can’t make up your mind, plan to stay longer... or return again soon.