How to Choose an Island for Your Trip to Hawaii

Mappingmegan

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As tropical getaways go, you can't beat a vacation to Hawaii. As a dream destination with a universal appeal, it's easy to see why the islands have become synonymous with paradise. From sugary white beaches to Technicolor coral reefs, and a diverse range of hiking trails and volcanoes for the adventurous soul, Hawaii truly has something for everyone.

However, it's not always as simple as just deciding to vacation in Hawaii. Each of the islands here are truly diverse, offering a whole new set of sights, experiences and attractions, so it's important to choose the right one.

The following tips will help you choose the right island for your trip. Alternatively, if you have the time, plan on some island hopping and take in a few!

Kauai

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Kauai is the northernmost island in Hawaii, and it's a great choice for those who want to experience rugged natural landscapes and travel off the beaten path. It is the most undeveloped of the main islands, so it sees far fewer crowds, and you'll get access to untamed nature like lush forests and white, sandy beaches.

Believed by many to be the most beautiful of all of the islands, Kauai boasts a variety of natural wonders including the Napali Coast and literally hundreds of cascading waterfalls. But of all the beauty to behold, none are as impressive as the Waimea Canyon.

At approximately ten miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep, the canyon and its environs offer spectacular hiking and biking opportunities. Be warned that it is hard to tear your eyes away from the sweeping vistas provided by the Waimea Canyon.

Additional highlights here include the trails of Kokee State Park, Wailua Falls, and Poipu Beach wasvoted one of America's best beaches.

Maui

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Maui is a great choice for those who love beaches, hiking, and food. This is the second largest island in the Hawaiian chain, and many believe it is home to some of the best beaches in the world.

Maui highlights include whale watching in Lahaina Town as well as driving the Road to Hana — one of the most scenic drives in the world. The Road to Hana is all about the journey and not just the destination. This scenic drive located on the island of Maui is famous for its majestic views and diverse stops all along the way.

This is best experienced as a day-long adventure, taking the time to stop and visit the scenic overlooks, flowing waterfalls, and cute shops and restaurants dotting the road. Make sure you have car insurance though; it’s a road which is wide enough for one and a half cars, with cars (and semi trucks and petrol tankers!!) coming from both ways.

Travelers to Maui also enjoy the many hiking trails that wind past waterfalls and through volcanic national parks. Of course, there's also a great restaurant scene here. Foodies flock here for Hawaiian regional cuisine.

Maui’s southwestern shores are home to many extraordinary beaches, and Makena Beach, also known as “Big Beach,” is one of the island’s best. This is one of the largest beaches in Maui, with golden sands extending nearly two thirds of a mile long and 100 yards wide. You can swim or snorkel in these pristine waters, picnic in the shade, or simply sunbathe on the seemingly endless expanse of sand.

Hawai'i - The Big Island

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The big island is aptly named — it is larger than the rest of the islands combined, and because of this, travelers can experience 11 of the world's climatic zones. This means everything from white sandy beaches and snow-capped mountains to waterfalls, rainforests and one of the world's most active volcanoes.

Travelers interested in hiking, culture, and wildlife will love it here. Highlights include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Historic Kailua-Kona Town, Waipio Valley, and Ka Lae (America's southernmost point).

Volcanoes National Park is also here, and an ideal way to see first-hand the power of Mother Nature. Visitors who have the opportunity to explore the crater-filled landscape feel like they are walking on the moon. You can experience the park on foot by hiking, by car by taking the scenic drives, or by air on a helicopter tour.

Traveling by car, you can choose the Crater Rim Drive or the Chain of Craters Road, both offering spectacular views.

Oahu

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Oahu is known as the "gathering place." I you're traveling internationally, you will first land here at Honolulu's airport before making a domestic connection. However, Oahu itself has a lot to offer for those willing to spend some time before transiting. This is a great spot for travelers hoping for adventure with access to modern amenities, and the island offers a vibrant mix of cultural and natural wonders.

Highlights include surfing the North Shore's famous giant waves, hiking along knife-edged pali (cliffs), and reliving American history with a visit to the Pearl Harbor museums. Waikiki Beach is also a big draw for international visitors because it's considered Hawaii's most iconic beach.

Re Pearl Harbor, the bombing of this military base is what eventually led the United States into World War II, so the historical significance of Pearl Harbor cannot be overstated. A tour of the USS Arizona is preceded by a moving film, detailing the tragic events of the day. The humbling and emotional experience is what makes Pearl Harbor the most popular tourist attraction in the state.

Timing: Whales are around from December to May

Keep in mind when you're choosing an island, that many people travel assuming they can see whales at any time of the year, though whale watching season only runs for 6 months, and you won’t see them outside of this period.

The waters surrounding Maui specifically are the stage for a massive migration of North Pacific humpback whales; thousands of them travel to Hawaii from December through until May, heading into the shallow waters to breed.

Plenty of whale watching cruises are available, and you can join boats that head out and get right up close (within 100 yards) the whales and their young. While you can’t swim with whales here, they’re very active in the water, and you’ll see them breaching, and surfacing quite a lot.

These massive creatures range between 40 to 50 feet long, so you can often see them from the shore too. Head to the McGregor Point lookout west of Maalaea and the beaches of Kaanapali, Kihei and Wailea, and keep your eyes open!

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

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