Born and raised in Hawai'i, I've been to all 6 islands that you can visit atleast 3 times.
O'ahu: I've lived here my whole life and it bothers me that most tourists think of it just as a big city. O'ahu has all the natural beauty of the other islands, but alot of it is utilized less because it is overlooked...most notably HIKING trails. The botanical gardens, the Ko'olau Mountains and less used beaches (Lanikai, Waimanalo, & Kailua ) are great. If you stay at Turtle Bay on the North Shore (hotel was just renovated and is fabulous) you won't feel at all like you are on an island with 1,000,000 people. Also, Ko Olina on the West Side is great--it is near the approach for HNL
so you see alot of planes flying overhead. Waikiki has changed ALOT in the last 10 years in a VERY GOOD way. I think O'ahu gets a bad rap from people who dont venture out much from the 'urban core.' Outside of Waikiki O'ahu is not very touristy at all.
Maui: My mom was born and raised here, so I have alot fo family there. It is a great island. One of my favorite places in the world is the Kula/Makawao area on the way up to Haleakala. Also, hiking in Haleakala is a life-altering experience. The Maui has ALOT of excellent local food items on available there: the Portuguese sweet bread buns from the Ladies of the Holy Ghost Church, the cream puffs in Makawao, and Azeka's ribs (Korean Style) in Kihei. The road to Hana is BEAUTIFUL....remember as my aunt says, "It's not Hana its the road TO
Hana that's cool." If you spend time exploring upcountry Maui (Pukalani, Makawao, Kula) there are alot of amazing inns, art gallerys, gardens, farms etc. I strongly reccomend Maui, but I am biased.
Hawai'i (Big Island): My dad's home island--He was born in Hilo. I agree Hilo is way better than Kona. The area around Hilo is beautiful. The Hamakua Coast, Waipi'o Valley, Akaka Falls etc. are very nice. Obviously, the volcano is AMAZING--more hiking. The rainforests aroudn teh park are incredible. If you keep headed over the volcano to South Point stop in Na'alehu for some great food and at the Punalu'u Black Sand Beach near Pahala. South Point (Ka Lae) itself is amazing. I went there for the first time last July and was blown away. You stand on these cliffs about 40 feet above the water and you can see fish swimming since the water is so clear. The cliff is an over hang, and there are ladders to climb back up if you choose to jump in as I wanted to. Driving around the Big Island is possible in a day w/ minimal stops and is quite intersting to see the changes in geography and climate. Kona is touristy and HOT
, but the airport is worth the flight in (no jetways). Waimea/Kamuela int he center of the island is beautiful. Also, the "Saddle Road" the previously mentioned shortcut from Hilo to Kona is BEAUTIFUL, and very lightly traveled.
Kaua'i: My aunt lived here for many years. Along with O'ahu it has the best beaches due to its age. The Waimea Canyon and Na Pali coast are World Wonders and both home to MANY amazing hiking trails (Hanakapiai Falls, Koke'e State Park, Alaka'i Swamp). The touristy areas are just as touristy as O'ahu, Maui or Kona. Like all the islands, each area has a different feel because of geography and weather and it worth it to see them all. Again I like to point out that Kaua'i has the best beaches....Maui's suck compared to O'ahu and Kaua'i (it's all about age). But the Na Pali Coast and the Canyon are VERY worthwhile.
Moloka'i: The "Most Hawaiian Isle" This island is the least touristy. The Kalaupapa peninsula is very cool (former leper colony) and the North Coast of Moloka'i is hoem to the highest sea cliffs in the world. The south coast has the town which is very cute and alot fo ancient fish ponds. The West Side is home to Moloka'i Ranch for those who like luxury camping. There are also quite a few nice beaches on the West side.
Lana'i: Another Aunt lives here. It has 2 amazingly luxurious hotels and amazing beaches. Shipwreck beack on the northeast side is my personal favorite. The cave diving here is very well known. The town is very cute and has a different feel from most places in Hawa'i since it is at higher elevation and not near the water. The beaches are very un-crowded and very beautiful since you can see Maui and Moloka'i.
You can reach both Moloka'i and Lana'i from Maui by ferry.
Here are population figures for each island for comparative purposes:
O'ahu: 900,000 (600 sq. miles)
Hawai'i: 158,000 (4,028 sq. miles)
Maui: 125,000 (727 sq. miles)
Kaua'i: 60,000 (552 sq. miles)
Moloka'i: 8,000 (260 sq. miles)
Lana'i: 3,200 (141 sq. miles)
So basically I say every island is great and I advocate visiting them all for atleast a week. I hope the info I wrote will help you choose which island you want to go to first.
Email me if you have any questions!
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