Congratulations! You’re dreamed about it and now you are going to make your vacation in Hawaii a reality. You can feel the warmth of the sun, the sand between your toes and hear the wind rustling the palm fronds. Whether you fantasize about lying on a white sand beach, lounging by a pool, playing a round of golf, or enjoying the ocean, Hawaii has a myriad of activities to enchant virtually anyone. But which island to choose? Most tourists travel to one of the four main Hawaiian islands – Oahu, Kauai, Hawaii (the Big Island) and Maui.
Oahu is the busiest of the islands with the majority of the Hawaii’s population calling this island home. The state capitol, Honolulu, is on this island as are several iconic landmarks such as Pearl Harbor and Waikiki Beach.
This island boasts big city life complete with high end shopping and a vibrant night life. With big city life however, comes typical big city traffic. Gorgeous island beauty awaits the traveler to the North Shore where the mountains meet the coast and pro and amateur surfers alike frolic in the summer waves. Wild winter surf conditions are best left to the pros.
We recommend Oahu for vacationers who are looking for an active vacation filled with shopping and nightlife; if serenity is your goal we would suggest looking to another island. On the plus side, Oahu is generally the easiest island to access when booking airline tickets.
Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, is perhaps the epitome of serenity. Kauai is a laid-back isle with a more rustic feel to it. Certain areas boast of no cell or wi-fi coverage. Home to dramatic natural beauty such as the Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the West, and the majestic cliffs of the Napali Coast, Kauai appeals to rugged outdoor enthusiasts.
Much of this natural beauty is inaccessible by car and thus the more adventuresome will explore by foot, by boat or by helicopter. An open door helicopter ride over this island remains one of our family’s most awe inspiring events in a lifetime of travel. We recommend this island to those travelers seeking a more “off the beaten path” Hawaiian vacation. A caveat is that Kauai has a well deserved reputation for being rainier than the other islands.
Hawaii, also known as the Big Island for good reason as it is larger than all of the other Hawaiian islands combined, is famous for being home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983 and is a very accessible tourist destination. The visitor center is open daily and the 10 plus mile Crater Rim Drive lets virtually anyone experience the drama and sheer primal force of an active volcano.
The Big Island also boasts black sand beaches, rainforests , and snowboarding – yes you read that right! While there are no ski resorts or ski lifts, Mauna Kea is a 13,796′ volcanic mountain that sometimes receives enough snow to enable skiers and snowboarders alike to experience their winter activities while on a “summer” vacation.
The Big Island has fewer beaches than the other islands, and most of these beaches are black or gray so if you are envisioning a white sand beach this is not the island for you. Additionally, there is often “VOG”, which is like smog but derives from the volcanic emissions and can leave a gritty taste in your mouth if the winds are blowing towards the area you are in. The area around Kona is a frequent recipient of this VOG. We recommend tourists choose this island if Kilauea is on your bucket list or if you want to experience an island vast enough to reportedly hold 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones.
Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands and is often rated as having the best beaches in the world. Additionally, every winter humpback whales migrate to mate or give birth in the warm waters and whale watch opportunities abound. Seeing a sunrise or sunset on Haleakala should be on every tourist’s agenda but be sure to dress warmly – it’s often below freezing at the summit once the sun goes down.
The “Road to Hana” is an approximately 52 mile drive through a lush rainforest but is not for the faint of stomach. Despite numerous trips to Maui, I have yet to survive this trek. The road is narrow, windy, with numerous curves, one lane bridges and eye popping scenery, but it can make travelers very queasy, hence the local, popular “I survived the road to Hana” t-shirts that abound in tourist shopping venues.
Another popular tourist destination is Lahaina, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the early 19th century, now on the National Register of Historic Places, this quaint town is full of fun shops and restaurants as well as one of the largest banyan trees in the world. This isle has been rated very tourist friendly with easy flights, second only to Oahu, great resort areas, and a great mix of activities. Maui is our recommended isle for families, first time Hawaii visitors and those looking to satisfy those white sand beach urges.
Whichever island you choose, we wish you safe and happy travels.