There's enough beauty and activity in Hawaii to fill more vacations than we could take in a lifetime. With so much to choose from, first-time visitors need to be selective. Our recommendation is to settle first on the Hawaii you want to see. It might be beaches, a luau and nightlife; it might be rare orchids and hikes in the rain forest; it might be quiet countryside, small towns and scenic drives. Whatever the combination, there is almost certainly an island or islands best suited to your Hawaii vacation dreams.
Hawaii, quite literally, is growing. Active lava flows from Kilauea Volcano are forming new land daily. There's even a new island forming a few thousand feet/meters below the surface of the ocean, off the southeastern coast of the Big Island, that will someday become the newest Hawaiian island. In fact, it already has a name: Loihi.
Everyone will find something enjoyable in Hawaii, and different islands will appeal to different people. Each island is unique, with distinctive attractions, special places and geophysical features.
Here's a look at the eight primary islands and their major attractions:
Major Destinations on the Big Island: the Kona coast; Kailua-Kona; Hilo; Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with two active volcanoes (Mauna Loa and Kilauea); Mauna Kea (the world's tallest mountain).
Big Island Attractions: If you're into the outdoors, this is the place for you. Attractions include sandy beaches in shades of green, red and black; beautiful coral reefs; snorkeling; deep-sea fishing; gorgeous flowers, including most of the orchids for lei made in the state; cattle and horse ranches; horseback riding; mesmerizing landscapes; cascading waterfalls; golf; watersports; and hiking. Nightlife and shopping are limited.
Major Destinations on Kauai Island: Waimea Canyon, Kokee State Park, Poipu, Lihue, Napali Coast, Princeville, Hanalei.
Kauai Island Attractions: Mountains; valleys; waterfalls; spectacular beaches; hiking; fishing; golf; whale-watching; kayaking and sailing; bird-watching; ziplining; and snorkeling, surfing and other watersports. Shopping and nightlife are limited.
Lanai Island Attractions: Sailing, fishing, golfing, ocean rafting, hunting and back-road exploring.
Major Destinations on Maui Island: Haleakala National Park, Iao Valley, Hana, Ka'anapali, Kihei, Lahaina, Wailea and Wailuku.
Maui Island Attractions: Wonderful beaches; calm ocean bays; stunning mountain and volcano vistas; sugarcane fields; highland ranches; twisting mountain roads; whale-watching; upcountry agriculture tours; golf; hiking; ziplining; sailing and other boat excursions; deep-sea fishing; and watersports such as snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, windsurfing and parasailing.
Major Destinations on Molokai Island: Kaunakakai, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Halawa Valley.
Molokai Island Attractions: Isolated beaches, mountains, waterfalls, deep-sea fishing, history, hiking and relaxing.
Major Destinations on Oahu Island: Downtown Honolulu, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, the North Shore.
Oahu Island Attractions: City life, including theater, opera, museums, shopping, nightclubs and fine dining; lush greenery; beautiful beaches; great historic sites; sailing; surfing, windsurfing, kayaking and other watersports; golf; and hiking.
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