- The Road to Hana in Maui offers a two-hour trip of 600+ stunning hairpin turns and jaw-dropping cliff views
- Exploring Volcanoes National Park in Big Island, with Hawaii volcano tours
- Humpback Whale Watching in Maui
- Hiking the Na Pali Coast, a 22-mile trek you won’t forget
- Surfing or stand-up paddling along Oahu’s North Shore
- Eating authentic local cuisine (shave ice is a must!)
- Participating in a luau celebration at sunset
Hawaii Planning: What Islands Should You Visit?
It’s not easy to do and see it all in Hawaii on a limited amount of time. Fortunately, it’s inexpensive to fly between islands, and a little advanced planning goes a long way. Here is a quick rundown of the more popular islands to help you better determine where you’ll spend your time.
Maui: Maui is most renown for being a hot vacation spot. Around here you’ll find plenty of luxury resorts, but also budget-friendly travel options. Driving the Road to Hana is one of the top things you should do, because the adrenaline rush you’ll get from navigating over 500 hairpin turns is impossible to beat. Nature lovers will want to trek a volcano at Haleakala National Park, or hike the trail to the Seven Sacred Pools. There are beaches galore, too; towns like Lahaina and Paia are surrounded by plenty of soft sandy beaches, and snorkeling is a must.
Oahu: This island is home to Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital city. There’s plenty to do around here, and city-goers will appreciate all the fine cuisine options. Tour the Pearl Harbor site, or spend your days shopping. For surfing adventures, the North Shore has plenty of ‘em. Hiking to the top of Diamond Head is a fun but challenging feat, and a road trip to circumnavigate the entire island is recommended.
Big Island: Big Island is all drama. This is the place to go if you feel like doing lots of camping and hiking. You’ll find Volcanoes National Park here, as well as the Mauna Kea Observatories, the world’s largest observatory for optical, infrared, and submillimetre astronomy. You may even be able to see lava flowing into the ocean!
Kauai: Here’s another one for the adventure lovers! Check out the beaches along the Coconut Coast, or hike through Waimea Canyon. A boat trip along the cliffs of the Napali Coast is another special activity.
Molokai and Lani: Get off the grid on these islands! Molokai and Lani are both brimming with natural beauty, but they’re much less developed and touristy in comparison to the other islands. These are the places to go if you want to escape the crowds.
Hawaii is a clear choice for sun seekers! Year-round warm temperatures in this tropical destination means you’ll have plenty of time to work on your tan while beating the winter blues. Even in the winter months, temperatures are high.
However, if you plan on being one with nature – especially on Big Island where the altitude is higher – pack some layers. It can cool down drastically in the evenings. Rain showers and storms are also common, so pack some rain gear to keep dry when you’re doing those volcano treks through the clouds.
Eating in Hawaii is always a surprise and a pleasure. There’s a ridiculous amount of Asian fused food, and for whatever reason, Hawaiians revere their Spam. They love Spam so much, in fact, that there is an entire festival dedicated to it. There’s even Spam Musubi – a bizarre but surprisingly delicious sushi and spam combo.
Let’s talk about the fresh fruit. Once you get your hands on some fresh pineapple, even from a roadside stand, you’ll never be able to go back to regular ol’ supermarket pineapple again! Then there are cantaloupes, coconuts, passion fruit, honeydews, papayas, and many, many more.
Seafood is, of course, a popular option too. Tuna poke can be found everywhere, as well as ahi poke, and you can never go wrong with a good fish taco.
Then there’s poi, a Hawaiian dish made from taro roots. And kalua pork – a pig roast over an open fire – is likely one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. Tender, slow-roasted meat? Yes, please! For dessert: you gotta try shaved ice with three different flavours, and always ask for ice-cream at the bottom. Say “yes” to condensed milk served as a topping, and mochi as well (a Japanese rice cake dessert that is sprinkled on top like little marshmallows).
Things to Know Before You Go
Hawaii definitely does things on its own terms, and “island time” is a very real concept here. Cities like Honolulu function efficiently, like most big cities do, but when you hit up the smaller islands and everywhere in between, the pace is a little slower. It’s important to leave that “go go go” mentality behind. Slow down, and enjoy the experience of simply “being.”
When it comes to the locals, “Hawaiian” is only used to refer to people of Hawaiian descent…which is actually just under 10% of the state’s population. Even if someone is born and raised in Hawaii, that doesn’t necessarily make them Hawaiian. When in doubt, ask where the “locals” go. Fun fact: Hawaiian is really a language, and Hawaii is the only state that has two official languages!
And finally, perhaps the most important point: don’t trespass on private property. You’ll notice some signs by the beach or parks that say “kapu,” which means it’s a sacred site, like an ancient burial ground or a meeting point for royalty. Please be respectful and don’t tread on these places.
Thankfully, island hopping is very cheap! If you’re going from island to island, flying is the best way to do it (and sometimes the only way to do it). Airlines like Hawaiian Air and Island Air offer extremely cheap rates, and there is no shortage of flights coming and going.
Oddly enough, ferry services aren’t really available. You can get from Maui to Lani, and perhaps a few other options, but flying is typically the only transportation that makes sense.
Bus schedules and such also vary per island. While the transportation system isn’t overly reliable on islands like Maui, on Oahu, the buses are incredibly dependable and very quick. You can get anywhere you want in a short amount of time.
Rental car options are plentiful, but can be expensive. It’s still perhaps the best way to do things, though. Renting a vehicle in the middle of the week is always cheaper than on the weekends. Be diligent about good insurance! Hawaii’s dramatic landscapes can cause accidents, and tires get blown out very easily. If you’re doing a lot of adventuring, perhaps a Jeep is the best way to go.
Ready to plan your visit to Hawaii? Check out these popular guides and trips.