Hawaii is the most isolated chain of islands in the world, so you need to allocate a good chunk of time to visit. A flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles, America’s closest mainland city, is six hours; the same flight time from Boston to LAX. If you are travelling from Europe or further then the flight time (including layover) could be in excess of 24 hours. However, the tropical paradise of Hawaii is totally worth it.
You’re committed to getting there, so now you have to choose which island to visit. Hawaii is continuously changing as the Big Island grows and Kauai erodes, proving each of the volcanic islands is unique. Some are better for adventure while others are more suited for relaxation. Pick the right destination to match your dream holiday.
Kauai boasts the only navigable rivers in the state. Mount Waialeale, the dormant volcano that gave rise to Kauai, sits in the centre of the island and is the rainiest place on earth. Constant downpours in the volcanic crater wash out to sea in rivers that you can explore on kayaks. Tours down the Waimea River to Secret Falls are popular year-round.
Kauai has earned the nickname “The Garden Isle” for its abundance of lush vegetation and wild-grown tropical fruits. You can pick guava, avocado, and noni on your adventurous hikes as Kauai is most suited for the nature lover. The cathedral cliffs of the indomitable Napali Coast reach out to the ocean like the talons of a dragon while Waimea Canyon is as colourful as the Grand Canyon. The island’s government won’t allow buildings to be taller than the palm trees, so you won’t find any city on Hawaii’s quiet westernmost tropical paradise.
The Big Island
The Big Island is one of Hawaii’s most popular islands, even though it is home to a number of active volcanoes. This massive island boasts 10 of the world’s 14 different climate zones from tropical to desert. Mauna Kea, the 13,796-foot mountain in the centre of the island, is often covered in snow in winter which draws sledge-toting locals. The mountain also cuts the island into two very different zones.
Kona is the capital of the dry west while Hilo is the biggest city on the wet eastside. You’ll find fields of fresh volcanic rock on the Kona side, but, by driving around the central mountain, you’ll find wet jungle and waterfalls on the Hilo side. With world-class coffee, active lava flows and a diversity of landscapes, The Big Island is the perfect place for the first-timer looking to experience it all.
Most flights to the island state first land on Oahu at Honolulu Airport. This is where you’ll find Hawaii’s big city. It’s excellent for nightlife, and Waikiki Beach is right at the doorsteps of many of the city’s best resorts. Honolulu is perfect if you’re looking for the amenities of a big city to go along with relaxation, but, for the more adventurous types, there are more exciting things to do on Oahu.
One hour’s drive from the city puts you on the north shore where you can swim with sharks, jump into the ocean off the Waimea Bay rocks and surf the big waves. It’s a laid-back country feel full of fresh coconut water, shave ice and locally grown foods. And you can always start in the city before wandering out to the north shore for an entirely different flavour.
Maui is named after the Hawaiian god capable of pulling up islands from the bottom of the ocean with his fish hook. You’ll be struck by the enormous Mount Haleakala when you land where it’s fashionable to rent a bike to cruise back down its gentle slopes. But no trip to Maui is complete without a drive down the Road to Hana. This windy road is pure Hawaiian bliss as it’s dotted with scenic views and waterfalls.
Lahaina is where you’ll find most of the tourists and the nightlife, but adventure abounds on Maui. Take an unforgettable tour boat to Molokini for the best snorkelling in the state. The very top of a long-dead volcanic peeks out of the ocean to create the perfect lagoon.
Hawaii allows you to match your personality to one of its many islands. Kauai is the laidback Garden Isle with incredible hiking, kayaking, and snorkelling while the Big Island’s perfectly diverse for beginners. Oahu is the state’s urban centre with a laidback north shore, and Maui hides exhilarating adventure behind its many luxury resorts. You’ll be itching for more no matter which island you choose. Just pick the right one to whet your appetite for another visit to the most isolated population centre on earth.
References & Further Reading:
- The Huffington Post | The ONE Thing You Should Do On Each Hawaiian Island
- Today Oahu | 100 Things to Do in Oahu
- ABC News | A Guide to Hawaii’s Islands for Every Type of Traveler
- Mauna Kea | Hawaii Center for Volcanology