According to American travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux, “Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace”. With long stretches of sandy beaches, lush tropical scenery, and spectacular landscapes, Hawaii is arguably one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in the world.
The 50th and most recent state of the USA, the Hawaiian archipelago is an unbelievable paradise pinned like a bouquet to the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. Formerly known as the Sandwich Islands, so-named by Captain James Cook in honour of the then First Lord of the Admiralty John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, the contemporary name of the archipelago is derived from the name of the main island, Hawaii Island.
Although an archipelago, Hawaii is, however, not one place but many. Each Hawaiian island has its own distinctly unique personality and features. Irrespective of whether it’s exotic sightseeing, adventure or a romantic getaway that you seek, one thing is certain – a Hawaii vacation will uplift your spirit and rejuvenate your soul like nothing on earth.
With so much on offer, however, the question is how do you choose the island(s) that best suits your interests? Our brief overview below of the 6 largest islands will give you some inspiration for your Hawaii vacation.
Most visitors to Hawaii will arrive in this Pacific paradise via Honolulu on the island of Oahu. The ‘capital island’ is the third largest island and home to nearly three-quarters of Hawaii’s residents – and some of Hawaii’s best shopping. The Royal Hawaiian Center in Honolulu offers three blocks of unique shopping just off the shores of beautiful Waikiki Beach.
Although landing at Honolulu’s airport drops you into an urban jungle, this is still Polynesia and even among the downtown high-rises you’ll see palm trees and businessmen in bright and breezy aloha shirts. Just a short drive from the modern city, Oahu quickly turns rural and beautiful, with narrow two-lane roads and beaches where sea turtles bask.
Oahu is also much more than just a transit point to the neighbouring Hawaiian Islands. It has just as much beauty and thrilling experiences to offer as the other islands. You can surf the North Shore’s giant waves, hike along knife-edge cliffs, dive into Hanauma Bay’s natural ‘fishbowl’ and still be back in Waikiki for sundowners.
Speaking of which, once a Hawaiian royal retreat, the famous stretch of golden sand that is Waikiki will not disappoint you. Stroll along the beachfront while enjoying the renaissance of Hawaiian music emanating from beachfront hotels and resorts; take a surfing lesson from a tanned beach boy or simply laze around on the beach.
Finally, no visit to Oahu would be complete without a trip to Pearl Harbour and the offshore shrine commemorating the servicemen who died during the Japanese attack on one of the USA’s most significant WWII sites.
This Island is not only the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s also the youngest. Owing to its active volcanoes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the island continues to grow larger every day.
It’s the perfect destination for hikers and adventurers, with two active volcanoes – the 4,169m Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on earth in terms of volume and area covered, and the 1,247m Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano. It has been erupting almost continually since 1983. You can take a helicopter tour to see the lava vents of Kilauea and perhaps even see its molten lava tumbling into the sea. Other highlights on your Hawaii vacation will be visits to the island’s ancient rainforests, sunning yourself on exotic black sand beaches, or heading up the heights of 4,207m Mauna Kea for a bit of star-gazing.
The second largest island in Hawaii, Maui has a diverse and breathtaking landscape that draws large numbers of visitors each year. To fully experience Maui, two things are a must on your Hawaii vacation – driving the legendary and ravishingly gorgeous Hana Highway and heading up to the summit of Haleakalā to watch the sun rise.
The Hana Highway ribbons between jungle valleys and towering cliffs, crossing 54 one-lane bridges that mark nearly as many spectacular waterfalls. Along the way, side roads wind down to sleepy seaside villages and, when you’re ready to get out and stretch your legs, there are hiking trails into cool forests and Eden-like swimming holes.
The 3,055m Haleakalā is a massive mountain of lava that forms more than 75% of the island of Maui. Lookouts on the crater’s rim provide breathtaking views of the moonscape below. You’ll also get to see rare life-forms that live upon the mountain, some of them found only here.
The fourth largest island, Kauai is also the oldest and most tropical of the islands, boasting unequalled natural beauty. Owing to its tropical environment, Kauai has featured in dozens of movies, which you can be reminded of on your Hawaii vacation by taking an off-road tour of various Hollywood film locations. It’s also on Kauai that you’re most likely to hear fluent Hawaiian being spoken and spot real-life paniolo or Hawaiian cowboys.
What’s to do on Kauai? Heaps! You could discover remote beaches beneath the Na Pali Coast, stroll through fascinating botanical gardens and go zip-lining across jungle canopies. You can also enjoy views of spectacular waterfalls or go hiking in Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
Also in the National Tropical Botanical Garden at the beginning of the Na Pali Coast on the north shore of Kauai, you’ll find the marvellous pyramid-shaped Bali Hai Mountain. The 1960 movie South Pacific immortalised Bali Hai, causing most people to forget its original Hawaiian name of Makana Mountain, meaning “gift from heaven”.
The fifth largest island, Molokai is among the least commercialised of the main Hawaiian Islands. Life here is delightfully slow. However, irrespective of whether you decide to stay a few nights or hop over from one of the other islands for a day trip, Molokai will be an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime.
A high percentage of Molokai’s residents are native Hawaiians who maintain a strong connection to Hawaiian culture. Legend has it that Molokai is the birthplace of the Hawaiian art of hula. Dancing hula was (and still is) a way for Hawaiians to pass down stories and convey emotion.
Helicopter tours are one of the best ways to see Molokai, as much of the island is inaccessible to the usual forms of transport. Molokai’s incredible sea cliffs are among the highest in the world – as much as 1000m high – over which awe-inspiring waterfalls drop into the ocean below. Only the view from a helicopter can do these scenes justice.
Together with Molokai, the sixth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands is also one of the least commercialised. This makes Lanai a perfect place for escaping modern life and experiencing untouched tranquillity during your Hawaii vacation.
If you’re into visiting ancient ruins, playing golf in stunning settings, sampling traditional Hawaiian food, snorkelling in crystal clear waters where spinner dolphins frolic or hiking the lunar-like landscapes of Keahiakawelo, also known as the “Garden of the Gods”, then your Hawaii vacation should include a trip to Lanai. The terrain on Lanai is also great for off-road adventures by jeep, UTV or even horseback.
Your new happy place
No matter where you choose to go or what you do on your vacation to Hawaii, one thing is sure – you’ll get to indulge your senses and inspire your imagination, and return home with memories to last a lifetime. Not that you’ll be waiting that long before you decide to head back to the Hawaiian Islands for another visit. We’re convinced that after just one visit, Hawaii will become your happy place in the world!
Talk to your luxury world travel specialist at the Luxury Company for more about the possibilities that a Hawaii vacation offers you.
Contact Carolyn now to start your holiday conversation. Visit Hawaii – it’s waiting for you.
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