Hawaii and Pacific: Hawaii - Choosing Your Island Paradise

Lori Seto
by Lori Seto

Need a little recreation Rx? The Hawaiian Islands feel like a world away, combining dramatic feats of nature -- volcanoes, canyons, and waterfalls -- with centuries-old island traditions, yet you won't need a passport to visit this paradise. Read our Hawaiian Island overview below to choose the one perfect spot or plan an island-hopping honeymoon to satisfy both your yens.


  • Who will love it: Nature Lovers
  • Location: Northwestern-most island in the chain
    Play Tarzan and Jane on The Garden Isle of Kaua'i (pronounced "ka-wah-ee"), the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. Kaua'i is a total sensory experience, a place where the richly hued Waimea Canyon shares real estate with white-sand beaches, sea geysers, dramatic cliffs, ginger-scented jungle, rare seabirds, wild fruits, sequoia forests, fern grottoes, and cascading waterfalls. Its natural bounty has been the backdrop for many films and TV shows including South Pacific, Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark and, perhaps most famously, Fantasy Island. Hit the trail, slip into a kayak, or hop a horse to explore the real deal up-close.


  • Who will love it: Laidback loungers
  • Location: Just north of Lana'i
    Kickback and coast on Moloka'i ("mole-ah-ka-ee"): Despite the fact that hula was invented here, the world seems to spin a little slower on this charming island near the middle of the chain. It's known as the Friendly Isle -- and thought by some to be the "most Hawaiian" of the Islands. Come here to rediscover the simple pleasures of pokey exploration and conversation (called "talking story") under palm tree wind chimes. Speaking of palm trees, you won't see any buildings higher than one (three stories), and traffic lights, honking horns, and car snarls are nonexistent. Spend mellow days exploring the Kamakou Preserve, a mountainside rain-forest preserve, and sun worshipping on three-mile-long Papohaku Beach, the longest stretch of sand on the Hawaiian Islands.


  • Who will love it: Silence Seekers
  • Location: Middle of the chain
    Quietly commune with each other and Mother Nature on the island of Lana'i ("la-na-ee"), which is smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean -- and the center of the Hawaiian chain. Perfect for those seeking unspoiled surroundings and posh digs, the Pineapple Island -- named so because it was and is almost wholly owned by Dole -- Lana'i is home to only one "major" city (where most of its nearly 3,000 citizens live) and just 30 miles of paved roads. Speechless awe is not uncommon as you hike the spectacular Munro Trail through rain forest to the top of Lana'ihale Mountain; wander the surreal Garden of the Gods, a Mars-like collection of red lava rock formations; and dive the Cathedrals, where 60-foot pinnacles create cathedralesque chambers filled with fish parishioners.


  • Who will love it: Fickle personalities
  • Location: Southeast of Moloka'i and Lana'i
    It's easy to be moody in Maui: This one island offers an ideal combination of activity and inertia -- perfect if you only have time to visit one island or like to keep your options open -- yet lives up to its Magic Isle moniker. Rainbows are regulars and artists swoon over the dreamy vistas. By day, award-winning beaches; palm-fringed golf courses (Maui's west coast is called the Golf Coast thanks to nine world-class courses); and Haleakala National Park, the largest dormant volcano in the world -- the Manhattan-sized crater is filled with hiking trails and lush valleys -- battle for your attention. Rent some wheels and hug the Hana Highway, an enchanting 52-mile, 600-curve coastal drive framed in cascading jungle- and waterfall-covered cliffs and ocean drop-offs. At night you and yours can haunt swanky restaurants, watch a luau, or simply sit on your star-lit lanai (balcony) and listen to waves break upon the moonlit shore.

The Big Island

  • Who will love it: Drama queens
  • Location: Easternmost-island in the chain
    Summon your inner volcano goddess. Hawaii's Big Island is one of theatrical contrast: vibrant blue sea and white surf lap black beaches and green palm trees shimmy above barren, silver gray lava fields. The youngest island in the chain, Hawaii's Big Island is also the largest -- and still growing! Lava flow from Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, has added more than 450 acres to the island over the past 18 years. Visit the park to hike tropical rain forests, fern forests, alpine summits, and prehistoric lava tubes. Ponder the grandeur over a handful of native macadamia nuts and a mug of renowned Kona coffee, available all over the island and at many of its more than 600 coffee farms.


  • Who will love it: People people
  • Location: Northwest of Moloka'i and Lana'i
    Social butterflies will appreciate why O'ahu ("oh-wa-oo") is known as the gathering place: Everyone's here! There's the famed Waikiki Beach, a district of Honolulu that hums with a multicultural mix of cultures, shops, restaurants, shows, discos, and tourist attractions, including the Honolulu Zoo, 500-acre Kapi'olani Park, Waikiki [band] shell and aquarium. Venture north to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, a Polynesian "EPCOT" of sorts, and stay for the dinner buffet and evening show. Rimming the island are some great beaches, including Waimea Bay (of the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA" fame) and Halona Cove (near the Halona Blowhole) where you can suck face in the From Here to Eternity surf. On a somber note, no visit to O'ahu is complete without visiting the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which hovers directly over the wreckage of the warship, also the final resting place of many of the men who died that day (their remains are still inside).

Can't decide? Don't. The islands are all within easy flying distance of one another.

More info: Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, (800) GO-HAWAII

Photo: Courtesy of Tracy Yu and Leon Stronsky

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