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Which Hawaiian island is right for you?

Which Hawaiian island is right for you?

The islands of Hawai’i together make up one of the world’s most magical holiday destinations.  America’s fiftieth state is made up of six unique islands that tourist can visit.  Each island has its own unique charms, and each offers a different experience. 

O’ahu - The Gathering Place 

It makes sense that most first-time visitors to Hawai’i start with its capital city and gateway, Honolulu.  This vibrant city, with a population slightly smaller than that of Canberra, offers a fabulous blend of beautiful beaches, great shopping and a multi-cultural background that has resulted in a mouth-watering array of culinary delights.  You could easily spend a week here, happily dividing your time between lazing on Waikiki Beach, shopping for bargains at Waikele Premium Outlets, dining on a different cuisine every night and soaking up tales of the past at Pearl Harbour and ‘Iolani Palace, but to do so would be to miss out on so much more.   

The island’s laid-back North Shore is world-famous for its stretch of sublime beaches: during the Hawaiian summer months you’d be hard-pressed to find a more family-friendly spot anywhere, but in the winter months, massive swells roll down from the Arctic to provide surf that’s strictly for the experts but makes for incredible watching.  The windward east coast is a haven for wind-driven water sports and it’s also where you’ll find the mystical Valley of the Temples: a beautiful Japanese-style temple and garden, complete with a koi pond and a sacred bell.

Maui - The Valley Isle 

Located to the west of O’ahu, Maui is the second-largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago chain, and renowned for its heavenly beaches and pristine natural landscapes which produce some of the finest raw ingredients around.  It’s a haven for every water sport imaginable, and if your timing is right, you might spot the largest inhabitants of all: humpback whales on their annual migration route between December and May. If you prefer to keep your toes dry, Ka’anapali Beach in west Maui is one of the island’s most iconic beaches – ideal for lazing in the sunshine and planning your next outing.   The nearby historic town of Lahaina was once notorious in the Pacific as a whaling centre, but today, it’s a quaint mix of galleries, shops and waterfront bars and restaurants.

If you want to venture beyond the main tourist areas of Ka’anapali and Wailea and experience the other side of Maui, hire a car and take the famed, winding journey along Hana Highway.  It follows the island’s northern coastline for 103 kilometres, incorporates 46 one-lane bridges and 620 corners and offers and abundance of waterfalls, beaches and generally stunning views along the way before reaching the tiny town of Hana.  The other dominant feature of Maui’s landscape is Haleakala, a massive shield volcano that actually forms more than 75 percent of the island.  With a crater that measures more than eleven kilometres across and a summit that’s just over 3,000 metres above sea level, it’s a breath-taking spot at any time of day, and the ideal vantage point from which to enjoy Maui’s magnificent sunrises. 

The Island of Hawai'i - The Big Island 

Hawai'i's largest island, which lends its name to the entire state, is also its youngest at just 800,000 years old. It dwarfs the other islands, which together could fit within its confines almost twice over.  It’s best known for Kilauea, which is one of the world’s most active volcanoes.  Despite the recent burst of volcanic activity, you can still experience this natural wonder in safety by driving to the visitor centre, just 45 minutes’ drive from the island’s main city of Hilo.  It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, you can learn more about the island's incredible geographic features as well as exploring the volcanic national park.

But the Big Island is not just about volcanoes – it’s also home to 11 different climate zones ranging from lush green forests to snow-dusted mountains.  Take a walk amongst the fascinating formations of Lava Tree Park, walk along the unique, green sands of Papakolea Beach or go ziplining at spectacular ‘Akaka Falls – this is the ideal destination if you don’t like to sit still on your holidays, plus there’s no better way to fuel your activities than with fresh, locally-grown fruit and Kona coffee.

Kaua’i - The Garden Isle 

Kaua’i is the oldest island of the Hawaiian chain, just a thirty-minute flight to the west of O’ahu.  It’s probably best known for the breathtaking cliffs that stretch along the Na Pali coast and have provided the backdrop to many Hollywood movies.  The cliffs are inaccessible by road, but you can experience their grandeur on foot, from the water or from the air – each option offers a different perspective.

The island’s other main drawcard is the stunning Waimea Canyon, sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”  It stretches for 22 kilometres and plunges to a depth of 1,000 metres, and it’s an easy half-hour drive from the nearby town of Waimea. However you choose to spend your time, Kauai is a great spot to unwind – whether it’s paddling down the Wailua River, lazing on Po’ipu Beach or exploring the small, heritage towns of Hanalei, Hanapepe and Old Koloa.

Lana’i - The Pineapple Isle 

Nestled just off the coast of Maui, Lana’i is a quiet retreat from the outside world, which combines world-class resorts and rugged nature.  You'll need a four-wheel drive to take to Lana’i's roads, of which only 48 kilometres are paved, but it’s well worth the effort to explore secluded treasures such as the island’s south coast.  Hulopo’e Bay is a great spot for a leisurely dip – just be sure to bring your snorkelling gear for exploring the dazzling, clear waters.   You may even be lucky enough to spot one of the dolphins which like to frequent this area.

Venture into the north of the island and you’ll find yourself in a lunar landscape - Keahiakawelo, or the Garden of the Gods.  The surreal topography, with its windswept rock towers and spires, will make you feel you’ve landed on another planet, rather than just a 45-minute drive from the shops and restaurants of the main town, Lanai City (population just a smidge over three thousand). With no traffic lights, no need to rush around, and plenty of peace and tranquillity, this is the place to come for a little island-style romantic break. 

Moloka’i – The Friendly Isle

Set around thirteen kilometres to the north-west of Maui, Moloka’i measures just over sixty kilometres long and sixteen kilometres wide, but it manages to pack plenty of incredible scenery into a relatively small area.  Take a guided mule ride along the world’s highest sea cliffs to the once-forbidden settlement of Kalaupapa, snorkel along the world’s longest continuous fringing reef or laze on the dazzling white sands of Papohaku Beach Park – your holiday can be as active or as sedate as you choose.

The island itself can be divided into three main geographical zones – the Central, West and East.  A rental car is a good option for exploring these regions – it takes around two hours to drive from Moloka’i Airport to Halawa Valley, where you can listen to stories of the history of the valley as you hike through private, family-owned land to swim beneath the stunning Mo’oula Falls.  A visit to Moloka’i is like taking a step back in time – you won’t find any shopping malls and there’s not a lot of commercial attractions, but that’s all part of its charm.

Talk to your Hoot Holidays consultant about which Hawai'i island is right for your next holiday.