If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, here’s what I thought about the four major islands.
Kauai is the smallest, least populous, and has the fewest tourists of the four major islands. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you would know that Kauai is by far my favourite island. Most visitors to Kauai stay on either the north or south shore. The north shore has much more rain, especially in the winter – however, it is home to the nicest scenery in the state. It would be a shame to come to Hawaii and not spend a day on the north shore of Kauai.
What to do:
- See the Na Pali Coast, either by boat, air (I recommend Wings over Kauai – relatively inexpensive compared to helicopter tours), or by hiking the Kalalau trail.
- Stay on the North Shore, and just look around.
- Snorkel and enjoy the amazing beaches of the North Shore
- Go for a kayak and hike to Secret Falls
- Go for a road trip around the island (about 2 hours drive each way from the North Shore to the Kalalau Lookout in the northwest – there is no road through the Na Pali Coast). Make sure to drive through the Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Pros: Best Scenery, great hikes, beautiful beaches, compact.
Cons: Relatively small selection of hotels/rentals and restaurants. It rains, and the north shore beaches do not have perfect white sand. Snorkelling is not as good as it is in the Big Island and Maui.
Maui is well known for its beaches. Of all the islands, it has the biggest selection of large beachfront resorts, all of them with big, white, sandy beaches. Most visitors stay on the “west” or “south” side of the island (really northwest and southwest). The coastline is full of resorts and restaurants, there are endless beaches, great snorkelling, and water sports. The downside is that the scenery is somewhat dull and brown, at least in the summer. However, I’ve heard that it gets much greener in the winter.
For me, the highlight of Maui is the opportunity for great daytrips. Specifically, Haleakala National Park, the Road to Hana, and to a lesser extent Iao Valley.
Pros: Day trips to Haleakala/Hana, long sandy beaches, good snorkelling, little rain, large selection of hotels and restaurants.
Cons: Relatively ugly (near where you’re staying, unless you’re staying in Hana).
The Island of Hawaii, AKA the “Big Island” is known for its size (bigger than all the other islands combined), active volcano (the only one in the state), dry beaches, historical parks, amazing snorkelling, and beautiful rainforest and waterfalls. The downside is that all these places are far from each other – really, you should consider the BI to be two separate islands, very different from each other. Unfortunately, I was only on the BI for 3 days, not nearly enough to see it properly. So I would read this section with a grain of salt.
The northwest “Kohala Coast” is where most resorts are located. It virtually never rains, and there are miles of amazing west-facing beaches with incredible sunsets. However, if you look inland all you see is black lava rock. I found that there’s not much to do in this area, and every day we drove to the Kona Coast or to the north of the island.
The southwest Kona area is known for having the best snorkelling. There are also many historical parks here, though I didn’t get the chance to see any. A downside is that the beaches are generally rocky instead of sandy.
The northern part of the island is very rural. There are many large ranches, big valleys, and some historical sights.
The east side was my favourite part of the island. It rains often, but this gives us beautiful rainforests and waterfalls, such as the 422 foot-tall Akaka Falls. The biggest attraction is Volcanoes National Park, where you can see an active volcano. There is lots of hiking during the day, and at night you can see the red glow from the lava.
Pros: Sandy beaches, great snorkelling, rainforest, waterfalls, active volcano, historical sights, no rain (in some places)
Cons: All the attractions are very far apart. Each area has many downsides. Relatively few hotels and restaurants.
Oahu is the most populous island, home to Honolulu and 75-80% of the population of Hawaii. The main tourist spot is Waikiki Beach, a mix of an amazing (though busy) beach, expensive stores, and lots of restaurants (at all price points).
Unfortunately, I have only spent one day exploring the rest of the island. On that one day I did a “circle drive” around the island, where I discovered lots of great scenery (not as good as Kauai, but better than Maui) as well as my favourite Hawaiian town of Haleiwa, a foodie paradise (we had the most amazing Thai food, and there are tons of food trucks).
Pros: Biggest selection of hotels/restaurants, Waikiki, nice scenery, lots of activities (we liked the aquarium in Waikiki, or Pearl Harbor), big choice of Luaus (we recommend Chief’s, it’s an amazing experience even if its only tourists), Haleiwa
Hopefully this post gives you a good overview of the Hawaiian islands!