The tropical islands of the US state of Hawaii are mainly eight islands (out of several other smaller islands), seven of which are permanently inhabited.
But the volcanic islands have a world of their own. A world of luxurious mega-resorts, several golden and white sand beaches, waterfalls and rainforests, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Hawaiian islands offer an escape to solitude with some of the more remote parts among the archipelago while the other parts are booming with activities like underwater tours, surfing, golfing and hiking volcanoes. Here are the eight Hawaiian islands listed in order of preference to visit.
Islands to Visit in Hawaii
Below is the list of best Hawaiian Islands to visit. If you are planning your next trip to Hawaii, do explore these.
From the best beaches in the country to a highway from heaven to underwater tours, the Valley Isle is named the multiple times as the best island in the US for many more reasons. Maui offers activities like soaking up the sun or snorkeling with underwater life at its many beaches to the more exotic tourists and hiking in Haleakala National Park, home to world’s largest dormant volcano, for the adventurers.
Wailea Beach, Makena “Big” Beach, Napili Beach and Kaanapali Beach are some of the popular beaches that stretch along Maui’s coastline, offering strong currents for surfing, luxurious resorts to relax and beaches to sunbathe. Maui is also known for experiencing the migration of humpback whales from December-May and for its night-life.
Despite this expansive (and expensive) list of activities, driving along the Road to Hana is often on the top of the things to do when in Maui. This Highway 360 is a highway that winds through the rainforest and past the gushing waterfalls offering serene views of the island’s eastern shore. Many take a journey to Hana from Maui’s airport (Kahului) only to ride 55 miles on this road.
Kauai is the state’s oldest and northernmost island, which allowed it to be covered in tropical rainforest with emerald valleys and cliffs. Because of its dramatic beauty, Kauai is aptly named “Garden Island”. Some of the spots to witness this beauty include the Waimea Canyon, Wailua Falls, hiking trails like Kalalau Trail or Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail and the Kalalau Valley from the Kokee State Park (which also has many hiking trails).
Apart from nature and outdoors for which Kauai is known, people also visit the little historic towns like Hanapepe and Lihue to get a glimpse at the culture of the island. Compared to the exotic Maui, Kauai is cheaper in cost but only by Hawaiian standards.
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The largest island in Hawaii and home to the capital Honolulu, O’ahu is a popular and one of the most commercial destinations in the state. One can visit the surreal Diamond Head (a volcanic tuff), Pearl Harbor Memorial and stay in an exotic hotel or resort in the vibrant Waikiki Beach area. Hanauma Bay in Eastern Honolulu is a marine-life sanctuary and a popular destination for snorkeling, although the commerciality has harmed the marine life.
Another popular tourist, and filming, location is the 150-foot tall Manoa Falls, appearing in “Jurassic Park” and the series “Lost”. From all the islands at Hawaii, O’ahu is considered as the cheapest island in terms of gas and other commercial items despite the expensive hotels.
4. Big Island
The Big Island is so named because it is bigger than all of the other popular Hawaiian islands combined. The Hawaiian islands are famous for their active and dormant volcanoes, particularly the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island, home of Kīlauea, a volcano erupting for a longer time than any other in the world. One can explore the park by car or on foot, for those seeking adventure among the craters.
If active volcanoes are not your thing, try driving up to the world’s tallest volcano Maunakea, up to 14,000 feet in under two hours. Hiking and stargazing are two activities popular atop these summits. On the levels closer to the ground, there are a variety of landscapes to enjoy; black and white sand beaches, the green sand beach of Papakolea, rainforests, lava fields, golf courses and even some snow-capped peaks with exotic resorts around to access them all. Kohala Coast, the beaches, snorkeling, rainforest hikes, mega-resorts, wildlife and a collection of 14 types of climates, should be enough to attract someone to the Big Island.
World-class luxuries, celebrity favorite resorts, gold-courses, plus off-the-beaten-path natural treasures, crowd-free sceneries, and green turtles; Lanai is Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island. Lanai is more removed from the other Hawaiian islands, and this gives solitude seeking explorers a chance to an adventure in the rainforests, and to celebrities (Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Will Smith, Cindy Crawford to name a few) seeking privacy since there is just one luxurious hotel on Lanai, the Four Seasons Resort.
Lanai has an 18-mile coastline with plenty of remote beaches to find an escape, apart from the Hulopoe Beach and the Huapoloe Bay managed by the Four Seasons. When billionaire Larry Ellison bought almost the entire island in 2012, he revamped it and the resorts to a more Hawaiian style, and the inland landscapes of the surreal Garden of the Gods. A more romantic getaway would include a trip to the legendary Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock), a crescent shaped rock series with the namesake rock at the end.
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The island of Molokai is a more traditional Hawaiian island with an expansive culture of a mostly Native Hawaiian population and heritage preserved like in the Kalaupapa National Historical Park. It also has the tallest sea cliffs in the world at nearly 3600 feet, which can also be viewed from a helicopter ride from Maui.
Secluded beaches, the white-sanded Papohaku Beach, scuba diving, hiking to historical places, a population with 1000-year-old ancestries, make Molokai an out-of-the-way outdoor adventure and one of the best islands in Hawaii.+
Hawaii’s seventh largest island of Niihau is another privately owned island. It was purchased by a Scottish widower in 1864 from the Hawaiian monarchy for ranching purposes. Since then it was been a restricted area as a preservation project and saving Niihau from western settlers, which was successful when the Americans captured Hawaii in 1893.
Till today, the Sinclair family (the owners; now the Robinson family) have protected indigenous Niihau population from a number of threats but at a cost of strained relations with the outside world. All this earned Niihau the name “Forbidden Island”.
But unlike the name suggests, Niihau is open to tourists from a boat from Kauai who can snorkel and dive there all day long, while the Robinsons offer hunting tours and helicopter rides to the remote island away from the Niihauans. Although shrouded in mystery, one can book one of the two extremely exclusive tours of this island given out with the permission of the owners who have vowed to preserve the island at all costs.
Kahoolawe is the smallest of the eight major islands of Hawaii and remoter than any other, including Niihau. Only 44.6 square miles in area and because of the lack of fresh water, this island is deemed inhabitable and is legally off-limits to visitors. One can visit the island via volunteer work trips given out every week to preserve and restore the island for the future.
The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) conducts these 5-day trips where 200-25 volunteers work from Monday to Thursday and live in the quarters at the southern end of the island, where KIRC’s base is set. A non-profit called Protect Kahoolawe Ohana also offers similar work trips that are based in the northern end of the island. These trips are monthly and take 60 volunteers in a single trip. One can register for any of these volunteer trips online. The KIRC trips depart from Maui and return too.
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Hawaii has a typical tropical climate and being an island, people can expect moderate humidity almost throughout the year. Although temperatures are moderate all-round, it rains during the wet season (December to April). May to November is classified as part of the dry season and the prices are cheaper typically during the months of switch between these two seasons.