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The Hawaiian Islands are a special place that can’t be matched by other island destinations, which is one reason why people make repeated visits to the Islands each year.
There are eight islands that make up the island-state. Of the eight, six are open to visitors; they include Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and Hawaii (often referred to as the Big Island). It's pretty easy to get from one place to another and you can get flights between Hawaiian islands on any of the three inter island carriers that serve the Aloha State.
OAHU: The most popular island is Oahu where you will find the capital of the state, Honolulu. This island is also home to one of the most famous beaches in the world, Waikiki.
It is the most populated of all the Hawaiian Islands, created over 4 million years ago.
Oahu is an island paradise that offers a wide range of activities, which blends old traditional Hawaii with the hustle and bustle of a contemporary city. Honolulu is the largest city on the Hawaiian Islands, the Waikiki area is very popular and often crowded; however, there are many areas on Oahu that will leave one wanting to return again and again.
Oahu is a foodie paradise. There are hundreds of restaurants in Waikiki and other areas of Honolulu. There are world class restaurants. There are inexpensive restaurants. Cuisine from the entire world can be found on the island.
Besides visiting the tourist locations of Pearl Harbor, one can travel to the far north side of the Island to visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation, to the North Shore for tranquility, gorgeous, big surf waves at Waimea, great shrimp at Kahuku, courtesy of Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, world-class golf at the Turtle Bay Resort, and all amongst a countryesqe backdrop. You think... country and ocean? Yes, country and ocean!
The North Shore has several world famous surf locations. Included are Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Bay, Haleiwa and Sunset Beach.
Oahu has over 100 beaches including some of the best beaches in Hawaii.
BIG ISLAND: The Island of Hawaii is endearingly referred to as the Big Island because it is so big, and it's always growing from the active lava flow of the Kilauea Volcano. Its massive size makes it larger than all the islands in the rest of state put together! But it’s because of its sheer size that the Big Island is so special. It boasts at least 11 climate zones, so one can enjoy the sun, snow, rain and even desert conditions. The west side of the island is the drier, sunny side, with the town of Kailua-Kona, once a historic fishing village and the sunny beach resort areas of the North Kona and Kohala Coasts. The Kohala Coast is the most consistently sunny and dry area in Hawaii, year-round, making it the perfect beach getaway. The lush east side, which gets significantly more rain, some of the highest annual totals in all Hawaii, has beautiful waterfalls, tropical rainforest walks, botanical gardens, and impressive gulches and valleys. Hilo is a quiet east-side town with lots of local culture and history.
The Big Island is known for its snorkeling and diving, widely considered to be the best in the state. The generally calm and clear waters of the Kona-Kohala Coast on the west side are also an excellent playground for those who enjoy kayaking, fishing, swimming, and SUP-ing. Unique in the world diving and snorkeling adventures, like the manta ray night snorkel/dive and "pelagic magic" night dive offer visitors encounters with amazing sea creatures.
The north side of the island has stunning green valleys with black sand beaches. You can take a short and moderate hike into Pololu Valley and a steeper and more challenging hike down to the black San beach in Waipio Valley with its wild horses and many waterfalls. In Waipio Valley you can also take horseback tours back into the valley. The Big Island is also known for its agricultural products and farms. World-renowned Kona coffee, and up-and-coming Ka'u coffee, are some of the most awarded (and expensive) coffees in the world. Visitors can tour coffee farms and sample brews at many farms on the island. Big Island beef, lamb, wild boar, cheese, honey, tomatoes, vanilla, macadamia nuts, and other products are featured in some of the state's best restaurants.
Golf is one of the favorite pastimes on the Big Island, with several world-class resort courses. Most are open even to non-resort or hotel guests and there are also less expensive public courses, in a variety of settings, from oceanside to mountainside.
Some of the State's most accessible and best preserved heiaus (Hawaiian temples) and historical parks can be found on the Big Island, the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great. Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park preserves the site where, up until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke a kapu (one of the ancient laws) could avoid certain death by fleeing to this place of refuge or puʻuhonua. The Park showcases the puʻuhonua and a complex of archeological sites including heiau, royal fishponds, sledding tracks, and some coastal village sites. Other worthwhile heiaus and historical sites to visit include the Pu'ukohola heiau, Lapakahi historical park, Mo'okini heiau, and even the birthplace of King Kamehameha known as Kapakai Kokoiki. Ancient preserved fishponds and well preserved petroglyph fields can also be found throughout the island. The Kalahui'pua'a fishponds at the Mauna Lani resort give visitors a look into old aquaculture systems used by Native Hawaiians, and historical buildings like the Eva Parker Woods cottage have been preserved and maintained on site with cultural events, demonstrations, and monthly "talk stories" honoring Hawaii's rich history and culture. The fishponds at Kaupulehu adjacent to the Four Seasons Hualalai resort have many species of endangered birds.
Hula artists and halau as well as many of Hawaii's well known local musicians can be found entertaining visitors and residents alike at area shopping centers as well as at many restaurants and resort areas.
Visitors can also experience Mauna Kea, at 14000 feet, the highest mountain in the state, a dormant volcano know for its state of the art summit observatories (not open to the public) and telescopes (open to the public at the visitor's center at 9000 feet). Those who wish to experience the summit sunset (the summit closes just after sunset to the public) can take a tour in vehicles designed for the sometimes icy or even snowy conditions, with parkas and hot beverages provided (you will probably need them!).
Of course no trip to the Big Island would be complete without a visit to Volcanoes National Park. Here you will find Kilauea, a live and active volcano that sometimes treats visitors to an incredible visual display of molten orange lava. Visitors to the park at night can often see a magnificent glow from the lava lake deep within the Halema'uma'u crater, just by driving up to the viewing platform at Jaggar Museum. Access to surface lava flows, if there are any present, has varied widely from year to year. Currently there are no accessible surface lava flows. After dark you can view the glow from the lava lake inside Halema'uma'u crater from within the Park. The Park has many interesting features other than active lava, however, including lava tubes you can walk through, hiking across a volcanic crater, and the largest petroglyph field in Polynesia, Pu'u Loa, which has over 23,000 petroglyph images.
Hiking on the Big Island is at its best in Volcanoes National Park where hikes range from short walks to day hikes and longer, multi-day treks. The visitor's center at VNP offers free brochures and maps detailing the many hiking options. In North Hawaii, there are mountain and valley hikes and horseback rides to experience the black sand beaches, waterfalls, misty upcountry, and the remains of ancient settlements.
Lodgings on the Big Island range from b&bs and simple motels to luxury condos, and 5-star resorts. In fact, the Big Island boasts one of the best hotels in the world, the acclaimed Four Seasons Hualalai.
MAUI: Maui, also called the Valley Isle, is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Central Maui where the majority of Maui’s population lives and it is the center of the business community. The swap meet in this area is a great place to buy souveniers. West Maui has some of the best beaches on the island. This is where you will find highest concentration of resorts and hotels. South Maui is the hottest and driest part of Maui. It is the location of Wailea, which is the home of multi-million dollar resort hotels. It boasts year-round sunshine and black lava shores. Upcountry Maui is the location of Haleakala, the 10,000 foot mountain located in the center of Maui. On the slopes of Haleakala, House of the Sun, you will find emerald fields, flower farms and even a grove of California redwood. A popular activity is to watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain and then cycle back down - not for the faint of heart! The Road to Hana can be found in East Maui. The Hana Highway is a 52 mile road that winds around 600 curves and 50 one-way bridges. This side of the island gets more rainfall, so the forests are lush and green. There are many scenic stops along the way, so it usually takes more than the stated 3 hours to reach Hana. Maui is a great place for active people because there are so many places to explore, things to do and sights to see. But it’s also great for doing a little snorkeling and kicking back in the sun!
KAUAI: Kauai is known as the Garden Island for its lush, tropical beauty. Although small, it's jam-packed with things to do. You can hike, bike, swim, snorkel, surf, zipline, ride horses, boogie-board or just relax... Kauai is very outdoors-oriented, and there's something for everyone. It's very rural and laid-back. No building is permitted to be higher than a coconut palm tree, so you will find no high-rise condos or other development here. The few towns range from small to tiny.
Kauai has many beautiful beaches, some so secluded you might be the only one(s) there. It has the only navigable river in the state; you can kayak, canoe, even water-ski. Kauai also boasts Waimea Canyon, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Just driving up the canyon is spectacular, and there are many good hiking trails. Another special place unique to Kauai is the Na Pali Coast: deep valleys and knife-edge ridges run from the mountain to the sea. You can hike 11 miles in on the Kalalau Trail or just do the first two miles to Hanakapiai Beach, a very popular hike. Either way, the scenery is incredible. And Kauai is THE island for a helicopter tour. Much of the island is inaccessible any other way.
Kauai's north shore fits many people's image of a tropical island. There are small towns to explore and a variety of beaches. "Bali Hai" is here, and when you look across Hanalei Bay to Mount Makana you'll see why.
East side, the Coconut Coast, has the somewhat larger town of Kapaa, with many cute shops, galleries and restaurants within an easy stroll. Along the shore there's a paved walking/biking path running from town to Kealia, a beautiful beach where you'll see many surfers. A little south of Kapaa you'll find Lydgate Park with its rock-rimmed ocean pools.
The south shore has many beautiful beaches, some good for snorkeling, some populated, and some hardly at all. There is Old Koloa Town to explore, a few other shopping venues and many great restaurants.
Kauai's west side is its hottest and driest area. Here you'll find the Kauai Coffee Plantation as well as small towns like Kalaheo and Kekaha. At the end of the road is Polihale, the longest beach in the islands - 17 miles of sand and surf - ending at the start of the Na Pali Coast.
Come visit. E kipa mai. (Welcome here.)
MOLOKAI: Molokai is often called the “Most Hawaiian Island” for several reasons. One is that more people there are of Hawaiian blood than anywhere else. Another reason is that Molokai is decidedly undeveloped. There are no buildings taller than a palm tree, no fancy resorts, not even a traffic light. It is also spacious and private, with only about 8,000 residents on the whole island. Many people still follow the old ways of life, including surviving on the fish they catch in the ocean and the wild pigs and deer they hunt on the range.
This is definitely the place to come to enjoy Hawaii's natural beauty, especially if you’re seeking outdoor adventures or peace and quiet. Be prepared to slow down and forgo the typical tourist attractions. Attractions on Molokai include Hawaii’s highest waterfall, the world’s tallest sea cliffs, rainforests, coral reefs, sand dunes, hidden coves, miles of pristine, empty beaches, and a fantastic collection of fishponds. The Kalokoeli Fishpond is one example of the sophisticated form of aquaculture practiced by the ancient Hawaiians.
LANAI: Lanai is not for everyone, but it has a lot to offer. It is generally quiet, with minimal nightlife (just live music at the resort lounges). On Lanai you won't find a single stoplight, and with a population of only 3,000 you also will not find many people. That doesn't mean you can't be pampered, because there are two Four Seasons resorts there, Manele Bay at the beach, and Lodge at Koele in the upcountry hills. There is also the small Hotel Lanai and a few b&b's in Lanai City.
It can be a place to relax and lounge at the pool or beach, but there are still many things to do, especially outdoor activities. These include hiking, exploring the island's remote spots with a 4x4 Jeep (imagine being the only people on a beach a mile long), snorkeling/diving at some pristine coral reefs (one right off Hulopo'e Beach in front of the Manele Bay resort), stand-up paddle boarding, sport clay shooting, horseback riding, tennis, ATV rentals, surf lessons, ocean kayaking and golfing at the two world-class courses designed by Jack Nicklaus (Challenge at Manele) and Greg Norman (Experience at Koele). Year-round one will often see spinner dolphins right off the beach at Manele Bay, and of course whales abound in the winter. If one is lucky they will see axis deer and mouflon sheep when exploring the island. More sedate activities of miniature golf, croquet and lawn bowling are available at the Lodge at Koele. There are beautiful gardens to enjoy at both resorts.
Lanai City is a quaint town with some shops, art galleries and a few restaurants, but not a chain store around. Also, one can learn much about the history of the island at the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center in town. People are very friendly and one can often find someone with whom to 'talk story".
The one thing you can usually expect on Lanai is nice weather. Manele Bay and Lanai City receives relatively little rainfall compared to most other places in Hawaii. This is thanks to the entire island being in the rain shadow of Haleakala on Maui plus the 3000+ foot hills on the island's north side. Upcountry areas at higher elevations get more rain making the, much more lush. However, you can almost always expect to find sunshine somewhere on Lanai.