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Which Hawaiian Island to Choose?!

With multiple Hawaiian islands to choose from it can be hard to know where to start

The Hawaiian Islands provide an abundance of history, ecology and adventures on land and sea that bring in around 10 million tourists a year. Out of the 137 "islands" in the Hawaiian chain only six can be visited by tourists.

A Little Bit of History

The islands were first settled by Polynesians sometime between 124 and 1120 AD. The history of the Polynesians was passed down through genealogy chants that were recited at formal and family functions. The dominant religion in Hawaii, similar to other Polynesian societies, was the polytheistic kapu or taboo religion, which has a theology, ritual and a code of conduct. There are many gods and heroes with people worshiping different gods in different ways. In addition, each family is considered to have one or more guardian spirits or family gods known as ʻaumakua to protect them. Explorers visited and settled between 1542-1790s. This contact was one of the drivers that created the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1795 after King Kamehameha had conquered all but one of the main islands. Unfortunately, a coup (backed by the US and European business class on the island) overthrew Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893 and was later annexed to the US in 1897 (many say illegally annexed). During World War II Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941 by the Imperial Japanese Navy, killing almost 2,500 people. The history of the Native Hawaiians has created a culture that is steeped in traditions and the importance of ohana (family) that all can learn from.

Commonalities between the islands

When choosing an island to visit, remembering that they all have many things in common can help narrow down your choice by focusing on what is unique about each instead. The islands have AMAZING beaches, snorkeling, flora & fauna, waterfalls, boat tours, hiking, horseback riding, 4x4 tours, ziplining, surfing, fishing, golfing, helicopter tours, historic sites, lu’au, shopping, food, lodging and climate. While some islands may have a “better” option for some of these, they can still be found. Many islands also provide volunteer activities to give back to the community and gain some perks through the Malama Hawaii Program. Every island will provide an amazing adventure no matter what, so just start with one that matches the most and keep going back for more or try a new island.

The Big Island (Hawai’i) - The Orchid Isle

Known for: Travelers who enjoy archeology and history, a visit to NASA-funded Imiloa Astronomy Center on the highest peak in Hawai‘i, whale-watching, volcanoes, and national park hikes.

Unique Adventures

  • Visit ecologically diverse locales with 8 of the 13 different climate zones

  • Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to view an active volcano

  • Peak whale-watching during January-March where thousands of Humpbacks gather

  • Snow covered mountain peaks during December-February

  • Taste and tour US only home-grown coffee plantations

  • Ancient historic site of PuuKohola Heiau where you can trace the footsteps of a king

  • Largest isolated inhabited Waipio Valley where many early Hawaiian Ali'i (kings/chiefs) lived


Oahu - The Gathering Place

Known for: Travelers who want the high energy of big cities (Honolulu/Waikiki), family-friendly places, fine dining, historical sites, luxury resorts, museums, shopping, nightlife, surfing, and urban art.

Unique Adventures

  • Huge surfing waves on North shore between November-February, can get up to 30ft or more

  • Learn all about the many Pacific Islands at the Polynesian Cultural Center

  • Get lost in a garden maze and learn how pineapple are grown at the Dole Plantation

  • Visit the Sea Life Park to meet dolphins and many other sea creatures, you can even experience the Ka Moana Lu'au

  • Pay respect to the many lives lost at Pearl Harbor

  • Explore underwater and learn how to save our reefs at Hanauma Bay & Nature Preserve

  • Get panoramic views from Nuuanu Pali Lookout


Maui - The Valley Isle

Known for: Travelers who want it all—adventure, biking, black- and red-sand beaches, food and culture, epic driving, park visits, and relaxing.

Unique Adventures

  • Hike/bike the largest dormant volcano in Haleakala National Park

  • Bike/Drive/Tour the 64.4 mile long Road to Hana

  • Go pick your own pineapple in the tiny plantation town of Haliʻimaile

  • Swim with majestic manta rays year round with peak season being late spring, summer, and early fall

  • Peak whale-watching during January-March where thousands of Humpbacks gather

  • Scuba dive or snorkel around a volcanic atoll, Molokini Crater

  • Explore historic Lahaina Town

  • Hike around Iao Valley State Park, home to the iconic Iao Needle


Kaua’i - The Garden Isle

Known for: Travelers looking for a quiet, laid-back island full of natural beauty, waterfalls, and long stretches of beach, as well as a chance to learn about ancient traditions and visit quaint small towns.

Unique Adventures

  • Be amazed at Waimea Canyon State Park - “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”

  • Hike some of the best trails in the state (Kalalau Trail)

  • Mountain Tube through historic sugarcane plantation canals

  • Enjoy the beauty of Wailua Falls

  • Soak up the sun at Poipu Beach

  • Relax and enjoy the beauty of Hanalei Bay

  • Put your rain gear on and visit the wettest spot on earth: Mount Waialeale averages 450 inches of rain annually

  • Hike and backpack camp along the Napali Coastline


Moloka’i - The Friendly Isle

Known for: Travelers who prefer a remote adventure, bird-watching, macadamias, Kalaupapa national historical park, swimming, and snorkeling

Unique Adventures

  • Off the grid island with no resorts and least populated with the most Native Hawaiians

  • Scuba/Snorkel around the highest sea cliffs and Hawaii's longest continuous fringe reef

  • Learn about the cultural history of the island at Kalaupapa Park

  • Birthplace of the hula, so learn a few steps


Lana’i - Pineapple Island

Known for: Travelers who crave a small, uncrowded island with a cat sanctuary, golf courses, plantation architecture, and snorkeling.

Unique Adventures

  • Few tourists makes for a unique adventure in an of itself

  • Take a ferry from Maui to visit in a unique way

  • Enjoy the many cats on the island and volunteer at the Lanai Cat Sanctuary

  • Spinner dolphins and humpback whales that breach offshore in winter (Jan-Mar)

  • Try your shot at archery and sporting clays with Lanai Archery and Shooting Range

My personal love for the islands and their history has driven me to visit all of the islands I can to learn more and give back.


For more pictures of my latest trips to Hawaii check out Polarsteps

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