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How many islands should you plan on visiting?

Visit one…two…or all of them?

One of the biggest mistake many first-time visitors to the Aloha State make is to try and take in too much of the island experience with too little time.  While on paper, it might seem like you could spend a week and island-hop until you’ve taken in the six major islands, or even just the four most-visited islands, it would be a mistake to do so and do any of them…or yourself, any justice.

Not to mention, each time you decide to pack up and move to the next island, you’ll lose a minimum of 3-hrs to half-a-day in check out, check-in of hotels, car rentals, and airports.  It would be heart-breaking to find that you spent more time in-transit, than actually experiencing the islands.  On the other hand, I have heard people complain that they were not impressed with Hawaii when they never got outside of Waikiki.

After committing so much in both time and money to get to Hawaii, you should do more than just “see” the islands via a windshield tour.  Frankly, you could spend a week on Oahu or the Big Island and barely scratch the surface of what either has to offer.  And, while admittedly, you could take in much of the readily accessible sites on Kauai or Maui in that time-frame, it might also surprise you to see how much more you might experience if you slowed down to relax and enjoy your time there.


Kauai is a popular pick for those people looking to simply slow-down and smell the flowers.  Its a very relaxed destination and while traffic is becoming more of an issue in a few spots, for the most part the island and its residents promote that relaxed vacation getaway that many visitors are seeking.   Kauai actually has a law limiting the height of buildings to “no taller than a coconut tree”.  Natural beauty rules here.

Kauai is home to one of the wettest spots on earth and as such, offers several beautiful waterfalls, as you might expect from such a rainy island.  In addition, all that rain has worked to create the island’s version of the Grand Canyon, Waimea Canyon.  It not only offers some picturesque vistas, but also some great hiking trails for all fitness levels.  An option for those who prefer not to pack their hiking boots is to rent bicycles and bike down (glide) from the top to sea-level.


Haleakala Crater on Maui is most frequently seen from the parking lot and viewing area adjacent to the Haleakala National Park Headquarters.  There are several trails that run through the crater and even cabins that can be rented (reservations in advance are required) for those who would like an enhanced experience of this dormant volcano.  And, like Waimea Canyon on Kauai, you can arrange to rent bicycles that you can ride down from the 7000′ park entrance to sea-level, at your own pace.

Even a “quick” windshield viewing of the famous road-to-Hana will require much more than a map might have you believe.  Geographically, its just over 50 miles from Kahului to Hana, so you might be led to believe it would be a matter of 2-3 hours to get there and back and you would be frustrated when you find yourself not quite to Hana when you hit the two-hour mark.   What you need to factor in is the 53 mostly single-wide bridges, over 300 curves that must be navigated and sharing the road with a couple thousand other drivers making the same trek!

The phrase, “Its not the destination, but the journey”, could not apply more than here.  While Hana is a very appealing town, 80% of the experience is in the great vistas, waterfalls, and beaches to be enjoyed along the way.  By the way, if ever there was a time to splurge and rent a convertible or soft-top Jeep, this would be it.  This is as picturesque a drive as the island of Maui offers…slow down, stop often, and soak it all up.

And of course, no discussion of Maui activities would be complete without at least mentioning snorkeling at Molokini island, a very popular activity.  If you’re fortunate enough to plan your visit during the winter season, you will also find the wintering whales a common site along the southern coast.


Honolulu is a world class city of almost a million residents; its the 11th largest city in the US, which also means world class hotels and restaurants.  Oahu is home to many of the iconic places that first come to mind when you hear the word “Hawaii”; Waikiki, Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, to mention a few.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is the #1 paid tourist attraction in the state and offers a convenient way to experience many other island cultures from around the south Pacific.  There are several commercial luaus to chose from, but you could also attend a luau on Kauai, Maui, or the Big Island of Hawaii as well.  Oahu also offers you over 100 beaches to choose from and all the water-related activities you might want to try, from surfing to kayaking to snorkeling, you’ll find all the necessary equipment readily available for rent throughout the island.

And, while any map will show you that you could easily drive-around the island in a few hours, you’ll find taking the better part of the day as you  enjoy the view or visit interesting locales a better experience.  To truly enjoy Hawaii, you need to abandon the rush-to-get-there mindset and slow down, after all, you’re on vacation, right?

The Big Island

That brings me to the island of Hawaii, referred to as the Big Island so as to avoid confusion with the state of Hawaii.  Once again, you could make the drive around the island in 6-7 hours, what would be the point in doing so?

The Big Island offers 11 of 13 climatic zones.  Kona, where many of the hotels/resorts are located, is on the dry western side of the island which receives less than 30 inches of rain annually; while Hilo, located on the eastern, windward side of the island is the wettest city in the US, receiving well over 200 inches of rain per year.  You can be swimming in the morning and viewing the stars from 13,000′ on the slopes of Mauna Kea, weather permitting.

As the youngest island in the chain, the Big Island offers the fewest number of sandy beaches, but offers them in an array of white, black, and even green sand.  You can swim with Manta Rays at night off Kailua and have your choice of snorkeling, scuba, or even staying feet dry in a submersible while doing so.  You could take a stab at catching a marlin, tuna, or mahimahi, just minutes, not hours, out of the harbor.

This was in no way intended to be a cover-it-all article, but rather a brief overview of just a few of the things to do you will find on the main islands.  You can find entire books written about all that there is to do on each island.  So, make the most of your visit and limit yourself; an island-per-week is a good rule of thumb to go by.  Besides, that will leave you additional islands to look forward to on your next visit to the 50th state…and I’m sure you’ll want to return.

Fare Buzz

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