The Hawaiian Islands
In the central pacific 2000 miles from the nearest continent lies the Hawaiian archipelago, a place of incomparable majesty and beauty.
There are six islands to visit in Hawaii: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, Molokai and Lanai.
- Kauai's Waimea Canyon, "the Grand Caynon of the Pacific" is 10 miles long, and one mile wide.
- Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island is the world's most active volcano.
- Molokai's northern coast has the world's tallest sea cliffs.
- Haleakala Crater on Maui is roughly the size of the island of Manhattan.
- Nearly 10,000 humpback whales travel from the northern pacific during the winter months to breed in the warm Hawaiian waters.
- Iolani Palace on Oahu is the only royal palace in the U.S.
- Hawaii's beaches are considered among the best in the world. We've identified over 100 great tourist beaches.
Islands at Glance
Total Population: 1,290,000
Oahu - 900,00
Maui - 142,000
Big Island - 172,000
Kauai - 64,000
Molokai - 8,000
Lanai - 3,200
Visitors per year:
Oahu - 4,600,000
Maui - 2,400,000
Big Island - 1,600,000
Kauai - 1,300,000
Molokai - 80,000
Lanai - 94,000
Although each island has a very unique character, they are all magnificent and each one offers an abundance of Hawaii’s most precious qualities: warm weather, great beaches, and beautiful scenery. Rest assured you can’t make a mistake choosing the Best Hawaiian Island for your tastes. Below we give a brief outline of each island.
For many Oahu is defined by Waikiki and Honolulu. Waikiki (a district of Honolulu), is certainly Hawaii’s most charismatic city and the tourist epicenter of the state, absorbing thousands of new tourists daily. A great microclimate, inexpensive hotels and timeshares, lots of shopping, and a world renowned beach are enough to lure vacationers the world over.
The eastern coast, hemmed in by a dramatic mountain range, is home to beautiful Kailua town and 3 of Hawaii’s best beaches. There are no hotels on this side of the island. Waikiki tourists tend to spend most of their time around the city and beaches of Waikiki, and the eastern coast offers a more relaxed vacation while still being within 30 minutes from the shopping and excitement of Honolulu.
Oahu’s north shore, a surfing Mecca in the winter months, feels quite out of place - being less populated than the rest of the island and somewhat isolated. It's about an hour drive to Honolulu with few shopping and dining choices. While not as picturesque as the East/Southeast sections of the island, the north and northeastern shores are endowed with many miles of beaches.
The central, west and northwestern sections are where most residents live. The NW coast has several nice beaches that are not frequented as often by tourists.
Because of county zoning laws Oahu offers a modest selection of vacation homes. The majority of condo choices are in Waikiki, with the Turtle Bay Resort standing out as one of the few north shore locations to offer condos at Kuilima Estates.
Maui is the second most popular island receiving about 2.4 million visitors a year (Oahu received 4.6 million in 2007). However, Maui’s population is around 140,000 compared to Oahu’s 900,000+ and tourism greatly influences the character of the island with many resorts, hotels, and new condo developments. Maui is sometimes called the playground of the wealthy. Indeed, there are many expensive accommodations, but Maui caters to all. The island’s popularity and reputation as a playground for tourists is well deserved. Maui delivers more sand and sun than any other, thanks to an abundance of nice beaches lining its long west coast*. In Hawaii, the western shores have the best weather as mountains disarm rain clouds that come with the trade winds from the NE.
While Maui’s west coast is dry with little vegetation, the south eastern section is very different with lush tropical rainforests and waterfalls. This is the location of Hawaii's most famous scenic drive, the Hana highway, which snakes its way along the coast.
Maui's rental landscape is dominated by a large selection of condos and townhomes.
The south coast's Wailea resort is one of the finest, featuring luxury hotels, upscale homes and several condo and townhome complexes. Just north of Wailea
is the sprawling town of Kihei stretching for 6 miles along the coast. Here you'll find a great selection of affordable condos. In west Maui is Hawaii's first planned resort - Kaanapali. Several hotels and a few condos characterize the resort that lies along a 2+ mile stretch of beach.
In the northwest section of Maui is the upscale Kapalua resort featuring several town home and condo developments, and the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. Between Kaanapali and Kapalua are the communities of Honokowai, Kahana and Napili which have many oceanfront rentals.
Strict zoning regulations limit the number of vacation homes, but there are some fabulous choices on the island.
The Big Island
The Big Island is bigger than all the other islands combined. The size is disarming for those who are used to the size of the other islands, but still manageable.
The Big Island has a reputation for not catering to the beach set. That is incorrect (see our Big Island beaches page). Like all the islands, one must be careful to match location to preference.
Make sure you get a car rental in Hawaii as the island offers the most diverse experience at the cost of increased driving times. This makes it all the more important to insist on a longer vacation as a week on the Big Island is simply disrespectful.
Most Big Island visitors stay in Kona with its great weather, many shopping and
dining options and wide array of accomodations. The waters off the Kona coast tend
to be very clear and great for diving and snorkeling. The dry and barren Kohala
region to the north of Kona offers spectacular beaches, brilliant weather, and many
The Puna region in the south east is a good base to explore the area (including
Hilo) and launch expeditions into Volcanoes National Park. This area of the island
receives a lot of rain and is very green. There are many affordable vacation homes
and cottages to chose from. The pristine community/town of Volcano, at the entrance
of the national park also offers many homes, bed and breakfasts and cottages. At
an elevation of 4000 Volcano is much cooler than towns at sea level.
An important consideration when traveling to the Big Island is to forget anything you may have heard or seen about the Volcano – the problem being one of impossible expectations, set by the media and the Park itself to attract visitors. If you have any appreciation for geology and nature you will thoroughly enjoy the park. Just don’t expect to see any lava as the flows are often in areas that are inaccessible and under ground. Despite being the most active Volcano in the world, this is not the type of Volcano that will blow up like Mt. St. Helens. New eruptions are quite courteous in that they announce themselves ahead of time (in the form of earthquakes mind you). However, if you are unable to outrun lava flows that top speeds of 0.05
miles per hour you may want to stay away. Exploring the park takes at least 1 full
day, more if you want to do some hiking. Pollution can be a problem when the winds
blow the volcanic smog (VOG) across the island.
The Big Island has a large selection of town homes and condos, but there are very few beachfront accommodations. Expect to do some driving to explore the island's best beaches.
Kauai is defined by its spectacular scenery and laid back personality. The island offers many uncrowded and secluded beaches. Like the residents of other islands, Kauaians welcome tourism but are deathly afraid of anything that could spoil the island, which, incidentally, includes everything. A popular bumper sticker reads “If you love Kauai, send your friends to Maui.”
Kauai’s north shore features beautiful mountain scenery and a host of hidden beaches. Although sparsely populated (perhaps 6000 residents in all the towns?), the area boasts an excellent infrastructure thanks to tourism with many dining and shopping options. In the winter the area receives quite a lot of rain, and far away storms send big waves to the coast – great for surfing but rendering many snorkeling and swimming spots unusable.
Many turn to the south coast for more reliable sunny weather during the winter.
Poipu on the south coast offers many vacation homes, cottages, condos & town homes.
Kapaa on the east coast offers the most affordable selection of rentals and also
offers more shopping options that other areas. Mind you, although Kauai has some
big shops (like Costco, Walmart, Sears etc.), the island caters to souvenir shoppers,
not those looking for high fashion or exotic imports from the Orient.
Kauai has a terrific selection of vacation rentals throughout the island. The majority of accommodations are located on the north, south, and east coasts. Despite plenty of beach real estate and the spectacular Waimea canyon, the west coast of Kauai is sparsely developed. The true splendor of canyon area is experienced by hiking its many excellent trails.
You should learn about Kauai's condo resorts by reading our condo guide here.
iPhone users, be sure to check out the Kauai GPS Tour Guide, a great App to take with you on vacation.