For many, many people, a vacation in Hawaii is a bucket list wish. At the very least, it’s a must-see destination. But, in order to get the most out of the trip, it’s wise to put some research and planning into it long before you book. We strongly believe this is true no matter where you are intending on travelling.
Right now, more than ever, the Covid-19 pandemic has made this type of preparation not only good advice but also ‘essential’. Travel requirements and closures (including hotels, attractions and, in some cases entire destinations) are quickly changing. If you’re not keeping up with the travel conditions and ongoing modifications, the one thing you can expect is disappointment.
Hawaii, in particular, is a region that necessitates some thought, especially as there are multiple islands involved, each with its own charm and features, as well as what it can offer tourists. So, here is some information about the islands that you might not be familiar with, along with some pro tips for visiting the region.
The state of Hawaii is made up of 137 islands in the Hawaiian chain. Some are extremely little and uninhabitable but there are, nevertheless, 137 in total. Of all these, only 6 truly cater to travellers.
Breakdown of the 6 Major Islands in alphabetical order:
This is the largest island in the chain. It is home to the active volcanos Kilauea and Mauna Loa, and all but four of the world’s climate zones. Hawaii offers a wide range of landscapes from lava fields to rainforests to colored-sand beaches — Papakōlea Beach is a green sand beach located near South Point, and jet-black sand can be seen at Panaluu Beach, located on the Kau coast. Several luxury resorts and hotels as well as vacation rentals await travellers on this island.
Hawaii, the namesake of the Hawaiian Islands is also known as The Big Island.
Discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778, this island was built for adventure, with a tropical rainforest that covers much of the land. It is the least populated of the six islands and has a quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
The landscape offers the perfect setting for exploring and outdoor adventures, especially hiking. It has also served as the backdrop for some Hollywood movies.
Kauai is also known as The Garden Isle.
This is the second-largest island in the Hawaiian chain. Maui is extremely popular due to 30 miles of acclaimed beaches, the scenic Road to Hana, and the volcanic peak of Haleakala.
Maui also offers spectacular views of the humpback whale migration, several stunning golf courses, luxury resorts, and plenty of interesting shops and restaurants.
Maui is also known as The Valley Isle.
This island lies east of Oahu and is half the size of Kauai. At approximately 38 by 10 miles in diameter, the tourism industry on Molokai is small when compared to the other Hawaiian Islands. However, that does not mean that it doesn’t have a lot to offer travellers, which is why its visitors tend to be a lot of day-trippers from Maui or Oahu. Several National Parks are available for exploration, however, do not expect much in the way of facilities.
Points of interest include Kalaupapa National Historical Park, which offers views of a former leper colony. If staying a night or two, visitors have their choice of condo rentals and guest houses.
Molokai is also known as The Friendly Isle.
Located approximately eight miles from Maui, Lanai offers visitors luxury accommodations and world-class golf in serene landscapes, offset with exploration and adventure. Journey to the northern side of the island for Shipwreck Beach, named for the wreck of the WW11 tanker that sank just off the shore.
Go 4-wheeling along rural roads, or just admire views of Maui and Molokai, only 8 and 23 miles away respectively. Animal lovers will enjoy green turtles at Polihua Beach with Humpback Whales passing by.
Lanai is also known as The Pineapple Isle.
This is perhaps the most familiar island due to the well-known state capital of Honolulu, the famous Waikiki Beach, and the landmark volcano Diamond Head (Leahi).
The historical site of Pearl Harbor is located on Oahu, and though pineapple farming has decreased significantly over the years, the island still hosts some of the Dole pineapple fields north of Honolulu.
Oahu is also known as The Gathering Place
Choosing an Island or Islands
Choosing the type of Hawaiian vacation you want and which island, or islands, you want to include depends on several things, such as your budget and the amount of time you have to spend. But trying to include too much will only leave you exhausted and disappointed because there won’t be enough time to truly enjoy any of it. When it comes to Hawaii, less can be more. If you’re visiting for only a week, we suggest choosing the island you think you will enjoy most and perhaps adding a day-tripper to another island or splitting your time between two (3 days/4 days). Trying to do more than two islands in a week is never advisable unless it’s part of a cruise where island-hopping is built right into the itinerary and the cruise lines take care of the transportation and excursions.
If, however, your vacation entails 10-14 days, you might consider splitting your time between two islands and adding a day-tripper or overnight excursion to a third.
Try to remember that, even though passenger ferries between the islands can be as short as 90 minutes and commercial flights can be as swift as half an hour, you need to factor in wait times on either end, travel time to your destination once you arrive, check-in and wait times for excursions or hotels, and time also must be set aside for meals and such. In the end, despite that an island-hop might only be a few miles away, you can expect that it will encompass the better part of the day.
Choosing a Hotel or Resort
After you have chosen your island, the next thing to choose is your hotel or resort. Clearly, your budget will play a big role in your decision. But other things should factor in as well. For example, Hawaii has several luxury destinations with plenty of amenities and room configurations to suit the needs of various travellers. But it also has moderately priced accommodations, rental condos, timeshares, and guest houses. There are even a few all-inclusive resorts available in Hawaii, however, that is not the norm.
So, the first thing to decide is what type of accommodations make the most sense for you and your travel companions and thoroughly examine all the options. Do you want a simple, traditional hotel room that offers 2 double or queen beds, or are you looking for an upgraded suite with extra bedrooms and amenities? Are you looking to be pampered with spas, massages, tennis and golf facilities and top-notch dining? Or are you the type of traveller that likes to keep it simple and perhaps make some of your own meals? If you answered yes, you should be looking toward accommodations that feature a full or partial kitchen. Do you want an ocean view, or would you prefer to be inland?
Once you have narrowed down the type of lodgings you want and what is available to you, you can then play with your budget a bit. You might not mind splurging a little to get the vacation you have always dreamed about. On the other hand, you might decide that other things are more important, such as the excursions and activities you want to experience.
With that mind, when choosing your accommodations, take into account the type of places you wish to visit during your stay and find out which hotels or resorts will be the most conveniently located.
Take the time to research prices and deals from various vacation suppliers (you might even be surprised to find a travel agent can offer more affordable options than online) and be sure to read some ‘reputable reviews’ that actually focus on the accommodations and amenities. Look for ‘tourist’ photos of the property as opposed to photos on the resort website because these can be misleading since they usually feature only the best-looking rooms with the very best views.
Choosing Activities and Excursions
Choosing your activities, much like choosing the island or islands you want to visit, depends on a few different factors. For starters, it depends on how outdoorsy you are as well as the type of things that interest you. And, as we’ve already discussed, each island has its own charm and features, so a lot depends on what’s available to you in the area.
If you are interested in scenery and sunbathing, it stands to reason you can do that on any of the islands. Hiking, surfing, and snorkelling can also take place on any of the islands. However, even then, some islands are better than others for certain things.
For example, for hikers, Kauai’s Kalalau Trail comes highly recommended. In Oahu, Kaena Point, Diamond Head Trail, and Koko Crater Trail are widely suggested as the best places to go. You might even hear talk of Oahu’s Haiku Stairs, otherwise known as Stairway to Heaven (photo shown on the left). However, “officially” that route has been closed due to the risk factor of old and damaged stairs. On the Big Island of Hawaii, trekkers won’t want to miss Hi’ilawe Falls in Waipio Valley, also known as the Valley of the Kings. On the same island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains an excellent route for hikers with the Halemaumau Crater.
For surfers, four islands present the best areas for catching a wave. Starting with Oahu, surfers can consider Puaena Point, Chun’s Reef, Turtle Beach, and Diamond Head Cliffs. If Maui is your destination, think about heading to Kaanapali Beach or Lahaina Breakwall. Or, if heading to the Big Island of Hawaii, Kahaluu Beach, a friendly beach for beginners, Honolii Beach Park, or Anaehoomalu Bay, which is also famous for snorkelling and windsurfing.
If surfing isn’t your thing but you want to enjoy the water, consider learning how to paddle a traditional Hawaiian outrigger, take a catamaran or whale spotting cruise, or enjoy a sunset cruise or night cruise, all of which are available on several islands. Do your research before you go and get an idea of what’s available, what tickets cost, and what the cruise schedules are so you can partake when you get there. On the Big Island, a business by the name of LightSUP offers sunset paddleboard tours that allow guests to view manta rays offshore.
Also available on most of the islands are a variety of traditional luaus, helicopter tours, snorkelling excursions, shark dives, submarine adventures, horseback riding, dolphin watches, rafting ventures, volcano explorations, off-road tours, and a hop-on/hop-off trolley tour that allows guests to visit several top attractions at their own pace.
Golfers will be in their element in Hawaii, with oceanfront courses and scenic backdrops that you will remember for a lifetime. There are more than 80 spectacular golf courses located on the six major Hawaiian Islands ranging from award-winning resorts and public courses to municipal layouts and private facilities. Hawaii offers a 365-day-a-year golf experience unlike anywhere else on the globe, so it makes sense that this destination has become a favourite for pros to visit. For a look at some of the courses, visit our article Golf Destination: Hawaii right HERE.
The Hawaiian Islands features an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood from the Pacific, and much in the way of high ground cattle farms. With traditional dishes and global influences, this is a destination any foodie will love. Honolulu has become known as a culinary magnet, many luxury resorts feature restaurants overseen by celebrity chefs, and many eateries throughout the islands boast farm-to-table recipes. There is no shortage of places to dine, from roadside stands to local diners, and from recognizable chain restaurants to high-end bistros, there is something to please every palate. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Hawaii unless you experienced a festive luau.
After you have chosen your hotel/resort and your excursions and activities, research restaurants in the area and make a list of the ones you would like to try. You might also want to jot down their business hours, a contact number, or consider making reservations ahead of time.
A lot of your decisions will be based on personal preference, but just be sure to factor in everything we have suggested so your accommodations and chosen attractions/activities will make sense instead of causing you problems when you are there. The goal is to do your homework ahead of time so by the time you arrive in Hawaii, you can simply enjoy it. And, as noted at the beginning, be sure to check for information and restrictions concerning Covid-19.