Hawaii Travel Guide - Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Oahu

Does it get any more iconic than hanging out (or ten) at Waikiki Beach?
Does it get any more iconic than hanging out (or ten) at Waikiki Beach?

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Julie and I have traveled to Hawaii to vacation on several occasions. While our primary reason for coming to the Hawaiian Islands was to visit the many waterfalls in the state, it was not lost on us that there were many other things to see and do while we were here.

In this page, we're providing a travel guide to share our own experiences in the Hawaiian Islands. By keeping it personal, you know you're getting genuine travel tips from people who have actually been there as visitors looking for ways to get the most out of a visit on limited time and budget. Hopefully, you'll find our shared experiences useful for your own trip planning, especially when you're deciding between which island(s) to visit.

Since a visit to this state means choosing between its major islands (Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Kauai, and the Big Island), where each of the islands had a different personality of its own, we'll first provide a general breakdown of what each island has to offer.



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THE ISLAND OF OAHU

Looking towards the Pacific Ocean amongst the high rises next to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu Looking towards the Pacific Ocean amongst the high rises next to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu
The island of Oahu (or O'ahu) is the capital isle because the state's capital of Honolulu is here. This island features the most famous beach on the Hawaiian Islands in Waikiki Beach as well as a legendary surf scene on the island's North Shore. It is also the most developed island as there's a rare freeway in the capital city as well as a bustling nightlife, shopping, and a bit of a food scene as well. Indeed, Julie and I thought this was the one island that had something for everyone - families, shop-a-holics, foodies, surfers, adventurers, etc. Therefore, most of the people I know who have been to Hawaii or are considering going to the state for the first time generally choose to go to this island before coming back to visit the other islands, if given the opportunity.



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THE ISLAND OF MAUI

The cratered moonscape of the Haleakala Summit on Maui is the scene of the famous sunrise as well as some otherworldly hiking The cratered moonscape of the Haleakala Summit on Maui is the scene of the famous sunrise as well as some otherworldly hiking
The island of Maui (or Mau'i) was actually the island that we visited first before the other islands since we were already into waterfalls, and this island had a bunch of them along the Road to Hana. In addition to the famous winding road on the island's windward side, the island also features the surreal sunrise on the summit of Haleakala, where we've seen people go on a bike ride once the sun has come up. We've also explored hidden beaches (some with sands of varying colors from yellow to red to black). The island definitely has a less developed feel than Oahu, but we've noticed that there's still enough familiar "home-away-from-home" activities like golfing, shopping, or just living it up at the resorts and time shares to keep it from being a completely rural island. Indeed, in terms of the "busy" and "developed" factor, this island is probably #2 behind Oahu.



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THE ISLAND OF MOLOKAI

A view of part of Molokai's sea cliffs from the Kalaupapa Lookout A view of part of Molokai's sea cliffs from the Kalaupapa Lookout
The island of Molokai (or Moloka'i) is said to be the most Hawaiian of all the Hawaiian Islands. Once Julie and I had finally made the visit for ourselves, we could totally see why. It definitely has that off-the-beaten-path feel as it has largely escaped the mass commercialism that has affected the other major islands. I've read that the island has a "dismal economy", but over the years, we've learned that "economy" almost always comes at the expense of environment and way-of-life. In fact, they still practice fishing the traditional way through ingenious fish ponds, and in a testament to the slower pace of life here, there's not even a single traffic light on the island! Moreover, there seems to be a bit of mystery and intrigue associated with this island thanks to a former leper colony on the Kalaupapa Peninsula as well as the beautiful yet legendary Halawa Valley, where we were face-to-face with one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all the Hawaiian Islands.



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THE ISLAND OF KAUAI

Believe it or not, Hawaii has a grand canyon of its own, and it's the Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai Believe it or not, Hawaii has a grand canyon of its own, and it's the Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai
The island of Kauai (or Kaua'i) is known as the Garden Isle, which we'd imagine got this name because of its reputation for being green thanks to its tendency to get a lot of rain. In fact, the Wai'ale'ale Crater in the heart of the island is said to be one of the wettest places on earth historically averaging over 450 inches of rain per year! When Julie and I made our visit, we were keen to visit the island's waterfalls, but most of them required going on a helicopter ride or a guided tour (or trespassing through private land, which is not good). That said, our waterfalling intentions exposed us to the island's main natural features like the rugged Na Pali Coast (home of the famous yet difficult Kalalau Trail) and the Waimea Canyon (Hawaii's own Grand Canyon of the Pacific), among others. Then, with a mix of understated resorts and condos (none of them are permitted to become high rises), this island seemed to have that mix of nature and amenities without losing most of that slower island rhythm that can be lost from over-commercialization.



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THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was where we got to see the primal forces of land creation as well as some surreal land formations like the Holei Sea Arch shown here Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was where we got to see the primal forces of land creation as well as some surreal land formations like the Holei Sea Arch shown here
The Big Island of Hawaii (or Hawai'i) is by far the largest of all the Hawaiian Islands anchored by twin shield volcanoes in Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Yet, it's probably because of its size that the island has a remarkably rural feel compared to most of the other islands. Indeed, we had to get used to longer drives to get from place to place, but that meant that there were more opportunities to be surprised by its surprising diversity of landscapes from dry deserts to lush rainforests to even tundra as well as getting to experience snow! While it's possible to live it up in the resorts on the island's drier west shores, we were able to have a more genuine Hawaiian experience on the island's rainier side to the northeast and fiery side to the southeast. Indeed, we were surprised by Hilo's small town feel, which is surprising for a "city", and we were even culturally surprised by the cowboy (Paniolo) culture at Waimea. Then, we've had the incredible experience of getting close to flowing lava, where the southeastern slopes of Mauna Loa remain active as the island continues to grow!




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TOP ATTRACTIONS

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was where we got to see the primal forces of land creation as well as some surreal land formations Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was where we got to see the primal forces of land creation as well as some surreal land formations
Frequently, Julie and I have been in situations where we do our trip research, but we're not quite sure how or where to begin. So to make this search easier, we're sharing our top attractions based on our own personal experiences (so you know this is a genuine list). Hopefully, you can leverage our shared experiences to seed your own trip research and make your own vacation a bit easier to plan. Follow this link to see our list of Top 10 Hawaii Attractions.




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WATERFALLS

Akaka Falls was one of our favorite waterfalls in the Hawaiian Islands. Click to see what the rest of our favorites were Akaka Falls was one of our favorite waterfalls in the Hawaiian Islands. Click to see what the rest of our favorites were
The main reason why Julie and I were inspired to visit Hawaii in the first place was to see its many waterfalls. So the following link is our list of the Top 10 Hawaii Waterfalls based on our own personal experiences. Hopefully, this summary helps you get ideas on the ones that we felt were the most worthwhile while making your trip planning just a bit easier.



Waimea Falls was one of many other waterfalls that didn't make our Top 10 list, but was certainly worth visiting, especially since it was possible to swim beneath it Waimea Falls was one of many other waterfalls that didn't make our Top 10 list, but was certainly worth visiting, especially since it was possible to swim beneath it
To see the rest of the Hawaii Waterfalls that Julie and I have personally visited, we've composed a series of pages detailing each individual waterfall across all the Hawaiian Islands (including maps). As you'll see, the types of waterfalls that aren't famous tend to allow for a more intimate and less crowded experience. So it's certainly worth having a look to see what else the Hawaiian Islands have to offer. Click this link to get to our Hawaii Waterfalls pages.




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ITINERARIES

Gorgeous view of Kalalau Valley Gorgeous view of Kalalau Valley
If you're looking to make your visit to Hawaii a reality, here's a list of our itineraries to give you examples of how we made our trips happen. Each of the itineraries contains a schedule with links detailing what we did on each day (including which waterfalls we've visited), corresponding trip reports, where we stayed, and other logistical activities of note. Click on this link to get to the Hawaii Itineraries.




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TRAVEL BLOG

Horseback riding within Waipi'o Valley was one of our more memorable experiences in Hawaii Horseback riding within Waipi'o Valley was one of our more memorable experiences in Hawaii
If you're looking for something more detailed than the summary we're providing on this page, then we have travel blogs or trip reports detailing each of our visits to the Hawaiian Islands as they happened. Here's the link to our Hawaii Travel Blogs page.




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TRAVEL RESOURCES

Best Time To Visit Hawaii

Weather matters a lot when you're on precious vacation time, and getting caught in torrential downpours and flash floods like what's shown here is certainly not desirable Weather matters a lot when you're on precious vacation time, and getting caught in torrential downpours and flash floods like what's shown here is certainly not desirable
If you're trying to figure out when to visit the Hawaiian Islands, we've composed a write-up based on our many trips here, which allowed us to notice certain patterns and rhythms that you may find useful for your trip planning purposes. Here's the link to our Best Time To Visit Hawaii page.



Hawaii Book Reviews

Some guidebooks have been criticized for encouraging trespassing, which then prompted angry local counter-reactions like this Some guidebooks have been criticized for encouraging trespassing, which then prompted angry local counter-reactions like this
This page goes into the books, maps, and other travel resources that we've consulted during the course of our trip planning and in-the-field guiding. We've composed our own reviews based on our experiences as we've put these resources to the test. We've also reviewed other books about Hawaii concerning its history, which helped us gain a better appreciation of the Hawaiian Islands in ways that most tourists wouldn't get by simply staying in resorts of visiting luaus. Here's the link to our Hawaii Book Reviews page.



Should I Drive The Road To Hana?

Driving the Hana Highway meant we had the freedom to explore the scenic windward side of Maui, but it also meant we had the responsibility of driving with aloha for the safety of everyone Driving the Hana Highway meant we had the freedom to explore the scenic windward side of Maui, but it also meant we had the responsibility of driving with aloha for the safety of everyone
One of the famous roads in the Hawaiian Islands is the Road to Hana in Maui Island. While we've been able to drive this road on several occasions, it took a bit of getting used to, and it's not for everyone. So we've composed a writeup detailing what it's like to drive this road as well as some strategies on getting the most of a visit to windward Maui. Here's the link to our writeup answering the question Should I Drive The Road To Hana?




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