The Hawai’ian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands (Mokupuni o Hawai‘i) are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from the island of Hawaiʻi in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll.

The Hawai'ian Islands

image: molokai mapMoloka’i

This shoe shaped island is rarely visited by tourists but those in search of the ‘real’ Hawai’i should look no further: the island is cheaper accomodation wise than Maui or Oahu as there are no major resort chains here.
Very steep cliffs on one side and gorgeous beaches on the other the ‘Slipper Isle’ is a well kept secret in Hawai’i. The Kalaupapa Peninsula famous for the now abandoned leper colony established there by Father Damien (who died from the disease) is now one of the most popular destinations on the island.You must go on a guided tour and access is usually by mule but the spectacular ocean views make it a highlight of Hawai’i.

Maui

The second most popular tourist island in Hawai’i, Maui is actually two volcanoes joined by eroded debris washed down over the centuries, giving it the name meaning ‘The Valley Island’. This island has some of the most fertile sugar cane growing areas anywhere.
Lahaina is an old whaling town that is now catching a fish of a different kind, tourists. The main street of the town is lined with art galleries, hamburger restaurants and dive shops and is a pleasant place to take a stroll, though you won’t find much Hawai’ian culture among the t-shirts and postcard stands.
Ka’ana’pali is Maui’s answer to Waikiki, though instead of clusters of crowded hotels and packed beaches a huge stretch of luxury properties with massive gold courses that cater to the mainly upper middle class clientele, much of it from the west coast of the USA. Most of the world’s resort chains are stationed here.

The Road to Hana is a popular day drive from Lahaina, though with so many twists and turns the road is not for those unused to driving on the right or with a large vehicle. Still the waterfalls and Pacific ocean vistas make it a pleasant way to get to Hana, a small isolated town that gives a good picture of what rural Hawai’ian life is like.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Oahu

Most Hawai’ians call Oahu home and ¾’s of the island’s population live here. The name actually means ‘The Gathering Place’ as Hawai’ians came here in ancient times by canoe to attend tribal meetings.The island is also the Pacific headquarters for the US military so there is a large military presence around the south central part of the island.
The State capital, Hololulu is situated not far away from Waikiki and has a central business district with high rises and city parks not far from the old royal palace where Queen Liliokolaniwas overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1893, which resulted in the US government’s annexation of the Hawai’ian islands, paving the way for the admission of Hawai’i as the 50th state in 1959.

Chinatown is a short walk from downtown Honolulu and offers an interesting and more authentic Asian experience than those of other ‘Chinatowns’ in other US mainland cities. Temples and pagodas stand next to excellent Asian restaurants serving Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese food and the markets make an interesting stroll in the mornings.

Calm and placid most of the year the North Shore of Oahu really heats up in December when large Pacific storms in Alaska and Japan create the world’s largest waves for surfing. Huge crowds gather to watch the brave few tackes these behemoths and injuries and deaths are not uncommon, it is strictly expert only territory. Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach are local favorites. For diving and snorkelling on Oahu try Hanauma Bay, an ancient caldera that has some of the tamest fish in the world. Diving is best on the protected part of the south coast in places like Sharks Cove and Ewa Beach.

Kauai

As the oldest island in Hawai’i, Kauai is also the lushest and greenest place in the archipelago.
Rainforests make excellent backdrops for hiking and some of the best bodyboarding in Hawai’i can be experienced on Poipu Beach, on Kaui’s north shore. Waimea Canyon is one of the island’s most famous sights, a result of the erosion that has been happening here since the island was born. Helicopter flights are available all over Hawai’i and in the rainy season fantastic waterfalls make this an even more spectacular experience. The largest navigable river in Hawai’i, the Wailua River, is 30 miles from Waimea. It’s best explored by kayak passing sacred temples where animal and human sacrifices were once offered to the gods.

Kahoolawe

Flat, dry and not on any tourist itinerary for years, Kahoolawe has long been a diving spot visited by Lahaina operators though off limits to anyone wanting to have a look around.
It is attempting to revive Hawai’ian culture by setting up a settlement there. This won’t be easy: the featureless island was for years used by the US military as a bombing range and thousands of unexploded ordinances remain.

Lana’i

Once a large pineapple plantation, Lana’i has also been a popular dive spot for Maui based diver boats for years. In recent times the island has been developed as a high end luxury resort. In good weather a ferry operates from Maui to the island and travellers can snorkel at Hulopoe beach.

Hawaii Volcanoes NP 3

Hawai’i

The island of Hawai’i is two times larger in size than all of the other islands combined. It has a vast range of landscapes from the icy cold slopes of the Mauna Kea observatory to the rainy and green forests surrounding Hilo, the sleepy town on the island’s southeast coast.
The west coast is where the tourists flock for sunny skies and deep blue water congregating in the tourist centre of Kona. In the north is the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the USA, Parker Ranch, that is staffed by Paniolo’s imported from Mexico. Covering over one tenth of the entire island, parker ranch has more than 85,000 cattle.

Perhaps the most famous National Park in the United States, Volcanoes Nat’l Park has the unique distinction of allowing visitors to get right up to active lava flows and witness new land being born. The park is easily reached from Hilo, on the islands east shore, but as most visitors stay in Kona the park is a two hour drive in each direction. It is best to allow several days to really experience all the park has to offer as numerous nature trails wind their way through lava tubes, ancient calderas and other volcanic formations. As in many sights in Hawai’i a rental car is essential here to see everything.

If you’re really lucky, Kilauea volcano, that has been active since the early 1980’s will put on a show for you and a thick river of lava will pour towards the sea, where huge clouds of steam rise up; at night low clouds are illuminated with the orange glow from the lava.

Niihau

Owned entirely by the Robinson Family (who are not native Hawai’ian) Niihau has completely shut out the developing world and has no electricity, running water or telephones. Native Hawai’ian is spoken by the less than three hundred inhabitants and Niihau is known as the ‘Forbidden Island’ for its restrictive admission policy.

 

By Dave Lowe

Related Content