One of the hardest decisions to make when planning your holiday is deciding which island to visit in Hawaii. There are 8 islands in Hawaii and they are all unique and beautiful in their own way, however the most popular islands to visit are Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii (The Big Island). Having been to all the major islands, here are some of my experiences and recommendations to help you plan your trip.
Oahu (The Gathering Place)
Oahu is the busiest island in Hawaii and home to Honolulu, the largest city in Hawaii. Oahu is famous for many sights including Pearl Harbour, North Shore, and the busy Waikiki Beach. The Waikiki beachfront walk is very busy with tourists and is surrounded by hotels, shops, cafes, and restaurants. If your’e looking for a busy city on an island then Oahu is the place for you.
Things to do in Oahu:
Lanikai Beach: This beach is by far the most beautiful beach in Oahu if not Hawaii. Located in Kailua on the east side of the island, Lanikai beach is a quiet beach with soft white sands and clear blue water. It truly feels like paradise here! A must visit for all travellers!
North Shore: If you’re looking for peace and quiet away from the craziness of Waikiki then a day trip to North Shore is the perfect escape. North shore is home to the beautiful Waimea Bay, known for it’s big surfs. If waves are not your cup of tea then you can head to Turtle Bay where you will find turtles sun baking. For souvenir shopping go to Haleiwa town where you will find many boutique shops selling homemade crafts & gifts. For local eats you must try the shrimp trucks and shave ice in the area. Some popular shrimp trucks are Mackey’s Shrimp Truck or Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. For shave ice check out Aoki’s Shave Ice or Matsumoto Shave Ice.
Shark Cove: Voted as one of best spots for snorkeling in the world, Sharks Cove is a must visit for those who love snorkeling. Located on the North Shore of Oahu, this area is surrounded by loads of rocks and beautiful marine life. As with all snorkeling spots, make sure you get there nice and early (between 8am-10am) to enjoy the calm clear waters and be able to find parking.
Diamond Head: If you’re looking for a good hiking trail then you must check out Diamond Head. The summit trail is around 2.6km and takes around 2-3 hours round trip. Once you reach the top you are presented with beautiful panoramic views of Waikiki and south Oahu. This place can get very busy so get there early to avoid the crowd.
Pearl Harbour: If you’re into your movies then you’ll probably know the famous Hollywood film “Pearl Harbour” and the incidents that took place in 1941 when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the US. Today Pearl Harbour is a memorial site where you can visit and read up on the history of the war between the two countries. Be sure to get there early (before 7am) as tickets for the popular Arizona Memorial tour gets sold out very quickly.
Waikiki Beach: You can’t come to Oahu and not go to Waikiki, it just wouldn’t be complete but chances are you’ll book a hotel in this busy area. Waikiki has many shops and restaurants that will keep you busy with shopping and eating. Some popular local eats to check out are Eggs and Things for breakfast and if you love ramen, check out Nakamura. The oxtail ramen is a must try!
Waikele Premium Outlet: Spoil yourself by finding bargains at Waikele Premium Outlets. There are over 200 shops to choose from and you will need to spend at least a day here.
Maui (The Valley Isle)
The second largest island on Hawaii and my favourite of all the islands. Maui is considered the most romantic island by many people because of its calm and relax atmosphere. There are plenty of beautiful beaches and waterfalls to check out as well as the world’s largest dormant volcano.
Things to do in Maui:
Haleakala National Park: The main attraction of Haleakala National Park is the 10,000 feet tall Haleakala dormant volcano. The drive up the volcano takes about 2 hours but once you reach the top, the view is spectacular! The best time to be at the summit is sunrise so make sure you start driving there between 2am – 3am.
Road to Hana: The road to Hana is not for the faint hearted. The narrow and winding road is a real challenge, but it’s all worth it as there are beautiful beaches, waterfalls, interesting food stores and amazing views awaiting you. I would recommend you take a tour bus to save you from the stress of driving, but if you love a challenge then brace yourself for a bumpy and stressful drive! Some tips if you intend to drive, ensure to leave early at around 7am-8am to avoid the traffic and make sure you drive back before sunset to avoid driving in the dark! The trip to Hana will take you all day so you will want to stop at some of these popular sites: 7 Sacred Pools, Black Sand Beach, Hamoa Beach, Garden of Eden and Halfway to Hana stand for some awesome banana breads!
Molokini Crater: Located just a few miles from Maui, this beautiful spot is a great place for snorkeling or diving. Inside the Molokini area is a whole underwater world of marine animals, coral reefs and colourful fishes.
Kapalua Beach: A beautiful quiet beach great for snorkeling and swimming. This beach is kids friendly and ideal for families to chill and relax.
Lahaina Town: If you’re looking for a busy spot for shopping, cafes, and restaurants then Lahaina town is a great place to visit. This historic town was once a whaling village back in the1800’s. There are still glimpses of the old Lahaina today when you walk down the busy Front St.
Kauai (The Garden Isle)
Known as the garden island for its beautiful mountainous terrain and canyons, Kauai has been featured in many big Hollywood movies including Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. Kauai is the smallest island of the major islands and although it’s not as developed as Oahu and Maui, it’s still one of the most beautiful islands I’ve been to. Kauai is ideal for those who want a relaxing holiday away from the hustle and bustle of Oahu and Maui.
Things to do in Kauai:
Na Pali Coast: There are no roads to Na Pali Coast. The only way to see Na Pali Coast is either by boat or helicopter. However if you’re seeking an adventure, you can hike the 17 km Kalalau trail. Whichever way you wish to see Na Pali Coast, the beautiful scenery will blow you away. From hanging cliffs, to green valleys, to caves and beautiful beaches, the list of things to see here is endless!
Waimea Canyon: Known as the Grand Canyon of the pacific, to me this is the second most beautiful site in Kauai and a must do for all visitors! The Waimea Canyon stretches 22km long and up to 1km deep with beautiful red and green colours, the lookout area will present you with amazing views!
Wailua Falls: A short drive from Kapaa, Wailua Falls is located at the end of a winding road and stands 34 metres tall. The waterfall is quite beautiful but you can only view it from the top. There are signs everywhere warning you of the dangers of climbing down so don’t do it! If you want to see a waterfall without having to trek for a long period of time than this waterfall is for you.
Tunnels Beach: I love snorkeling and I could not have found a better beach in Kauai for it. Tunnels beach is a beautiful big beach located on the north side of Kauai. The drive can be long and finding parking can be tricky so try and get there early. Once you get into the water you will see beautiful fishes, turtles and large reefs!
Hawaii (The Big Island)
Hawaii is the biggest island and the youngest of all the major islands. The Big Island is made for explorers and adventurers who want to see Hawaii’s natural wonders. From the world’s most active volcano, to visiting the Mauna Kea summit, to many of the beautiful beaches, to snorkeling with Manta rays. If you’re looking for outdoor adventures then The Big Island is the perfect choice!
Things to do on The Big Island:
Snorkel/Dive with Manta Rays: Night snorkeling with Manta Rays is a must do for all visitors to The Big Island. Being up close and personal with these amazing creatures is a once in a lifetime experience. You will be swimming in the dark with lights beaming from beneath the water while Manta Rays swim around you. The atmosphere feels like you’re in outer space! (SEE BELOW FOR VIDEO)
Volcano National Park: There are many things to do and see in the Volcano National Park. If you have plenty of time and looking for an adventure then you can hike the Kilauea Iki Trail. If hiking is not your thing, you can still check out the beautiful scenery of the volcano by driving the Crater Rim road. If you don’t have time and have money to spend, then a helicopter ride over the volcano will set you back around $500 and will take between 3-5 hours round trip
For more details of what to do in the Volcano National Park click here.
Mauna Kea Summit: The Mauna Kea summit is a dormant volcano that sits 14,000 feet above sea level. This place is great for people who want to do stargazing and enjoy the beautiful sunset views. You can drive up the summit yourself however I would recommend doing a tour as the local guides have proper telescope equipment and a wealth of knowledge on stargazing and the local area.
Mauna Kea Beach: Located on the sunny side of the island in the Kohala Coast, this quiet beautiful beach has soft white sand and is great for snorkeling. I love this beach because it’s one of the few beaches on the island that is not man made. If your into golf, you can check out the beautiful Mauna Kea Golf Course located right next door to the beach!
That’s all folks! I hope you have found this article helpful in making your decision on which island to visit in Hawaii. Feel free to leave a comment on some of your own experiences in Hawaii. Finally here is a short video of me snorkeling with Manta Rays! Enjoy