A quick glance at a map reveals a little-known fact about Hawaii. This far-flung state actually comprises eight islands, but only six are open to tourists. From east to west, they include the Big Island of Hawaii, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu.
The history of Hawaii stretches back to about 1500 years ago, when seafaring Polynesians first set foot on the Big Island. Remnants of their long-lasting monarchy can be seen throughout the islands. For example, visitors are often greeted with a lei of Hawaiian hibiscus, the Hawaii state flower. The floral lei dates back to the ancient Hawaiians, who wore braided leaves, native flowers and shells. Other ancient traditions that continue today include hula dancing and luaus.
Gorgeous scenery and idyllic weather, along with a choice of six distinct islands, makes a Hawaii vacation a good bet for even the most discerning traveler.
Visitors to the Big Island are drawn to its incredible array of natural attractions. Along with green, black and white-sand beaches, this island is home to an active volcano, snow-capped mountains, arid deserts and lush rainforests. Its prestigious Kohala Coast area is home to some of the world’s most luxurious resorts and celebrity-owned homes. More budget-conscious tourists can find reasonably priced accommodations in the Kona area.
Maui offers stunning beaches and many fine resorts, as well as top-rated golf and incredible snorkeling. A favorite among families, Maui also offers a relatively busy nightlife scene compared to the other islands. Whale-watching and snorkeling cruises are a popular pastime for winter visitors.
Quiet Kauai is often likened to old Hawaii. This tranquil destination is a good choice for those seeking a vacation at an unhurried pace. Its Poipu Beach area is a particularly good choice for families for its pristine and child-friendly beaches. The northern area of Kauai is home to the exclusive Princeville resort area, as well as the Napili Coast and Hanalei Bay.
Without even a single traffic light, Molokai offers an even quieter pace than its sister islands. Largely undeveloped, this is Hawaii off-the-beaten-track. While it may lack the many luxurious resorts of its sister islands, those in search of pristine snorkeling and unpopulated beaches won’t be disappointed.
Sleepy Lanai has just 30 miles of paved road, but it is home to two luxurious resorts and two championship golf-courses. Hikers recommend Munro Trail for views of neighboring islands Maui, Molokai, Kahoolawe, Oahu, and Hawaii’s Big Island. Its uncrowded beaches offer swimming, snorkeling, or spotting a spinner dolphin or whale offshore.
Oahu, home to Honolulu and the University of Hawaii, offers big-city amenities comparable to those on the mainland, but with incredible scenery like Diamond Head as a backdrop. Waikiki Beach is just one of many stunning beaches on the island. Travelers can check out world-famous beaches beloved by surfers, like Pipeline and Waimea Bay, in the North Shore. Nightlife and fine restaurants abound in Honolulu, which is also home to a zoo and the recently revitalized Waikiki Beach Walk.
When to Go
Hawaii’s weather is pleasant year-round, but tourism peaks during summertime, as the islands are an especially popular once the kids are out of school. This is also when airfare and hotel prices tend to be at their highest. Holiday periods and three-day weekends are also busy. Beginning around January, so-called “snowbirds” seeking refuge from wintery temperatures at home, flock to the islands. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, many consider October and November ideal.
How to Get There
More than 20 major airlines serve Honolulu, Hawaii’s busiest airport. There are also direct flights from the mainland to Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii's Big Island, but for the most part, you may need to connect through Oahu to get to the neighbor islands.
On Kauai, Waimea Canyon is the largest canyon in the Pacific and truly a dramatic sight to behold. Watch your ears on the drive up, as the pressure mounts while climb higher and higher to the scenic vista at the top.
On the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a living testament to the power of Mother Nature. It is home to Kilauea Volcano, the most continuously active volcano in the world. Visitors can have the unique experience of walking on land that is younger than they are.
On Maui, the Road to Hana is a journey in itself. There are few words that can describe the beauty of this drive with its green cliffs and lush valleys bursting with waterfalls.
Oahu’s Diamond Head is one of Hawaii’s most recognized icons. This now-extinct volcano is highlighted on the skyline just beyond Waikiki. Visitors can hike to the top to behold breathtaking scenery, or admire it from afar.
A helicopter trip above the islands is highly recommended. This is a great way to appreciate the lush landscape, incredible waterfalls and otherwise inaccessible portions of coastline. Check for information upon arrival at the airport at the brochure kiosk.