Are you thinking about what islands to visit in Hawaii? This is a guide that will help you decide which ones are the right islands to explore for you!
Hawaii consists of a total of eight islands: Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island (also called The Big Island), Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Niihau. The last three islands I named are extremely small and two of them are nearly impossible to visit. Access to Niihau will only be granted if a family member of the Hawaiian owners of the island invites you and visiting Kahoolawe is permitted only if you are going to do volunteer work. But don’t worry even the more accessible islands hold plenty of treasures and untouched nature for you to discover!
Oahu – The City Island
As for many visitors, my trip to Hawaii began on Oahu where I spent only one night in Honolulu. Once host to surf shops and beach shacks the famous Waikiki beach is an unexpected concrete jungle with expensive shops, luxury (and not so luxury!) hotels and tourists everywhere – not what you imagine when you think about Hawaii! Non the less my local friend and her mom took me to have a delicious lunch in town at Moku Kitchen
and we went to check out some wonderful boutiques close to the restaurant as well as in the downtown area of Honolulu. Some of the establishments I particularly enjoyed are the plant-filled coffee shop Arvo and the stylish boutique next to it named Paiko
. Another must visit boutique is Echo & Atlas
located in the downtown area of Honolulu.
The south of Oahu and the city of Honolulu are very developed, touristy and quite American. That’s why locals see Oahu as ‘the city Island’. It is also the island where all the flights to LA depart from, which makes it the easiest to get to. The other islands have airports but apart from a few direct flights from LA to Maui all visitors of Hawaii must go to Oahu first and then take connecting flights to the other islands.
Contrary to the south, the famous north shore of Hawaii is much less developed. Host to about 11 kilometres of beaches, it is where a piece of surfing history was written when surfers first conquered the big waves at Mahaka beach in the late 1930ies. Still famous for surfing today, the north shore of Oahu hosts numerous surfing competitions each year from November to December.
During the winter months the waves on the north shore can get as tall as ten meters! This is why during that time it’s probably best to stick to sunbathing. During the summer months however, the waves are much smaller and surfers still come from all around the world to experience the famous north shore.
Some of the best known beaches in this area are Wimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline).
Maui – The Best of Both Worlds
Being the second biggest island of Hawaii, Maui is often described as the island that offers ‘the best of both worlds’. Host to insane nature such as the Road to Hana and Haleakala National Park, Maui has to offer everything a wildlife lover might hope for. At the same time however it also has a lot of infrastructure between Kahului (where the island’s airport is located) and Kihei. Hence, on Maui you will find the best of both worlds!
Maui is quite big. I actually spent almost two weeks just on Maui and I still don’t really feel like it was enough! The island is very versatile and there is lots to discover. My absolute favourite experiences here were The Road to Hana, Hana, the Upcountry Farmer’s Market and the famous surf spot Ho’Okipa.
for a detailed article outlining all my favourite things to do on Maui.
The Big Island (Hawaii Island) – The End of The World
Visiting the Big Island made me realize how different the Hawaiian islands really are from one another. Just seeing the island from the airplane window truly felt like I was about to arrive at the end of the world. It was a cloudy day and the enormous island presented itself to me from it’s most moody side.
The main reason why the island feels so secluded is the active lava lake, which is actually the cause of the Big Island still getting bigger. Erupted lava from the volcano finds it’s way downhill and ends up hitting the ocean on the edges of the island adding to the surface of the isle. Close to the lava fields the island feels a bit deserted. Nothing but lava and a few green plants that have found their way to the surface as far as the eye reaches.
The active volcano also brings you the ‘hot ponds’ of the island, which are a fun thing to experience especially if you think about why they are hot!
Another factor that added to the ‘end of the world’ sensation I got from the Big Island, was my visit to the town of Pahoa. Not far from the lava fields there is a street with a few houses on each side – that’s Pahoa! The wooden shacks reminded me of an American horror movie set! It might be because it was dark when I first saw Pahoa but it just didn’t look very inviting to me including the Kava bar in the centre of town! There are just a lot of people enjoying the solitude of this area around here. Real hippies ‘living off the land’ profiting of the richness of the earth. I once heard that in Hawaii, nobody ever has to be hungry because there are so many fresh fruits and vegetables growing all over the islands.
If the considerable size of the island, lava and hippies are not enough to convince you that Hawaii Island really is the end of the world, maybe the coqui frogs will do the trick. They come out every night and their ‘singing’ creates a very loud humming sound all over the island. Kind of like crickets, but different.
For me the Big Island and it’s lava fields are an absolute must on the Hawaii travel itinerary! I’m not sure how many chances you have had to see an active volcano in your lifetime but coming to the islands without at least trying to see the active lava flow seems absurd to me. Go enjoy the solitude of the Big Island – just don’t spend more than 3 days here.
For more information about the volcano, check out this video
Kauai – The Garden Isle
There is a good reason why locals often describe Kauai as ‘the jewel island’. Of all the four islands I have visited, this was the most beautiful one. Don’t get me wrong. I think all of the Hawaiian islands are stunning in their own way and one should definitely not limit themselves to visiting just Kauai. But nature-wise Kauai is simply jaw droppingly beautiful!
The absolute must see on Kauai is the famous Na Pali coast. If you have time and are the sporty type you can attempt the Kalalau trail, which is a challenging but beautiful hike along the Na Pali coast. Depending on how adventurous you are you can do a day hike ore even a four day hike with camping. I haven’t done this trail but I heard that the four day hike is not a piece of cake at all including the famous ‘Crawlers Ledge’. This extremely narrow passage of the trail leading along a cliff is definitely not for the faint of heart.
If you want to enjoy the Napali coast in a slightly safer way, you can also book boat tours from Hanaley or see it from a helicopter! Personally we chose the helicopter ride, from which you can see the entire island and also fly over Wimea canyon. It was absolutely breathtaking!
Wimea Canyon is what I would describe as the second activity on Kauai you can’t miss out on. Drive up the canyon and you will be rewarded with stunning views! There are different lookouts you can stop at or (if you are more organised than we were) you can also do hikes here.
In addition to these two main attractions, on Kauai there are countless beautiful beaches and waterfalls waiting for you! My favourite beach on the island is Hanaley. This gorgeous bay cradled by tall green cliffs is a popular beach for surfers and families alike. I came here to surf of course and enjoyed the best surf session of my entire vacation. Late afternoon one day, with the sun sinking low, small waves and almost nobody in the water next to me, I managed to catch the ‘perfect wave’. Just after it started to drizzle a little bit and a rainbow formed in front of my eyes. It doesn’t get much closer to paradise than this!
Hawaii, closely followed by Australia is hands down the most beautiful place I have ever been to. The islands are simply stunning and I have never felt so close to nature before. I would go back any day!
And while these islands don’t change very quickly, you might find that visiting this magical place will change you.
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