So far, I’ve been to four Hawaiian islands on three separate occasions: Maui once, Hawaii (a.k.a. the Big Island) twice, Kauai twice, and Oahu once. I’m by far no expert on Hawaiian islands but I would like to share my experiences for people who have never been to Hawaii because I have gotten some questions. Hawaii is a popular bucket-list place for many people, so when they go, they want to make sure they’re going to be happy with their decision.
First and foremost, the most important question is which island should you go to? There are six islands that tourists can visit. In addition to the ones I listed above, there’s also Lanai and Molokai. Lanai is mostly (97% as of 2012) owned by former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who wants to keep the island remote and luxurious. There are a couple of hotels, a few golf courses, and no traffic lights. People come here for rest and relaxation. Molokai, is almost the antithesis of Lanai, with no five-star luxury hotels. Half the population is of native Hawaiian heritage. This destination is ideal for adventure seekers, history buffs and those who want to experience old Hawaii, pre-1959.
Maui is the second-most visited island, and is best known for its beaches. You can drive the super-curvy Road to Hana, to see the rain-soaked side of the island. Another popular activity is to watch the sunrise from the Haleakala National Park. You can go with a group and cycle down the volcano or just drive there on your own and skip the bicycle tour if you have a rental car. Many people honeymoon in Maui and there’s even a phrase that you were “Mauied” if you got married in Maui. There’s no shortage of things to do, but Maui tends to get a bit touristy especially in Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach.
Oahu is the most-visited island and home to the state capital Honolulu. This island is best for couples, families and groups of friends seeking culture, entertainment and great food. There is a huge range of things to do from active pursuits like hiking, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, or taking tours of historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Iolani Palace. Don’t think your only option is to stay at crowded Waikiki Beach, as there are many options on other parts of the island that aren’t so over-run with tourists.
Kauai is known as the Garden Isle, and is perfect for those that enjoy getting out in nature. Hawaii’s best hiking trails can be found on Kauai, such as the famous 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast. There are many other parks around Waimea Canyon, called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, where you can find trails of varying lengths and difficulty. Poipu in the south shore is fantastic for snorkeling and swimming year-round.
Hawaii Island is also called the Big Island and is larger than all of the other islands combined. The world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, is here, as well as 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. The Big Island is ideal for people who love hiking, families of all sizes and ages, and those that want to explore all that this beautiful island has to offer (in other words, everyone!). Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a place you definitely want to visit as well as Waipio Valley. You’ll find black sand beaches and probably spot some turtles here.
I suggest combining a couple of islands for a vacation that’s longer than a week. If you can only stay up to seven days, just choose one island and see and do all that you can in that time. If you have ten days or more, you can comfortably see two islands. I personally like to spend a week on one island and five days on another island. With flight times, you’re looking at basically two weeks. For ten days, I would divide up the time equally as five days on one island and five days on the other, assuming it’s your first time to Hawaii.
Flights between islands are cheap and often but do still take up a chunk of your time, between getting to the airport early, going through security, flight time, and getting back out of the airport and to wherever your destination is for your second island. Most inter-island flights go through Oahu, too, so you may have a short layover en-route to your destination island. There are only two inter-island passenger ferries in Hawaii. The Molokai Ferry departs twice daily from Lahaina, Maui, to the nearby island of Molokai, and takes about 90 minutes. The Maui-Lanai Expeditions Ferry departs five times a day from Lahaina, reaching Manele Bay on Lanai in 45 minutes.
That about covers the basics for Hawaiian islands. If you have any other questions or comments, I’d love to hear them! Share your Hawaiian experiences with me and others here as well!
For posts on my recent vacation to Hawaii, you can read about Kauai here: Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things and about Oahu here: My First Time in Oahu, Hawaii- Even Better than Expected.