Home to golden sands, world-famed surf, stunning landscapes and verdant rainforest – complemented by the fascinating Polynesian culture – HAWAII is indeed a hot ‘Bucket List’ destination
Think Polynesian culture, hula dancers in grass skirts and beautiful beaches lined with coconut trees, and Hawaii would come to mind. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about five-and-a-half hour’s flight west of San Francisco, or less than a seven-hour flight east of Tokyo, Hawaii is the only American state with a majority Asian population.
If you look at the map of Hawaii, you will see a cluster of eight islands, with six of them open for tourists: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Big Island, Lanai and Molokai. So how do you decide which island to visit?
Read on and have all your questions answered in this QUICK GUIDE TO HAWAII.
If you’re strapped for time and can’t decide which of the Hawaiian island you should visit, just pick Maui. The second largest among the Hawaiian islands, Maui offers a bit of everything.
The Whalers Village at the whaling town of Lahaina is popular for shopping and you can book a whale-watching cruise at Lahaina Harbor. If you have a car, you can drive two hours up the steep and winding road to the summit of Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano, to catch the sunrise. Remember to bring a jacket as it can get quite cold at the summit.
At dusk, you can join a luau, a traditional Hawaiian feast where local foods are served with live music and hula performances. There are many restaurants on the island organising luaus but you can try the smaller towns such as Paia for a more traditional feel.
If you are budget conscious, do bear in mind that Maui is considered the most expensive among all the islands in Hawaii.
When it comes to entertainment, shopping, hotels and tourist attractions, Oahu offers the most variety. On the island, you can find high-end shops selling luxury items centred around the busy Waikiki area in Honolulu. Hawaii’s biggest mall, Ala Moana, and the big flea market, Aloha Stadium, are also located on the island. Oahu has an efficient public transportation system and lots of bus tours which makes it easy for tourists to get around without renting a car.
About an hour’s drive from Honolulu is Pearl Harbor, Hawaii’s most famous attraction. You can get around the harbor by boat to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri Memorial and several museums. A visit to Pearl Harbor can easily take up a whole day, especially for history buffs.
You can also spend a day snorkelling at Hanauma Bay, a protected nature preserve on Oahu’s southeast coast. At North Shore, you can visit the Polynesian Cultural Center which showcases cultural dances, food, music and other local traditions.
For night owls, there are plenty of bars, restaurants and nightclubs either at Chinatown or near Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
For those who are more adventurous and prefer to avoid the tourist crowd, Kauai would be a better choice. The island is sometimes called the ‘Garden Island’ because of its lush tropical rainforests, mountains and waterfalls with many hiking trails. It’s also the only island with navigable rivers, making it ideal for kayaking especially along the Na Pali Coast or through the Wailua River.
The western side of Kauai is home to Waimea Canyon, where you can drive for an hour along a curvy road that offers spectacular views of the mountains, valleys and the nearby island of Ni’ihau which is only accessible to native Hawaiians.
Other great spots to explore are the Kokee State Parks, Kilauea Lighthouse and Poipu Beach for snorkelling. If you are lazy to go on foot or by boat, you can always book a helicopter tour.
Honeymooners may want to consider a visit to the Fern Grotto by boat along the Wailua River. Along the way, you will be entertained by local singers and musicians.
If you like local art and culture, make a trip to Hanapepe Town on Kauai’s southwest coast, where they have an event every Friday night from 6pm to 9pm.
As the name implies, Big Island is the largest among the Hawaiian islands and the only one with active volcanoes and lava. Tourist attractions on the island include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Pu’ukohola Heiau, Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park and Akaka Falls State Park. When you are exploring the active volcano at the park, stick to the marked path and never try to get closer to the lava.
Day activities on the island range from horseback riding, kayaking and surfing to exploring the beaches, parks, museums and art galleries. Luxury resorts can be found along the Kohala Coast but budget stays can also be found.
For foodies, a visit to the Hilo Farmers Market is a must, especially on Wednesday and Saturday from 6am to 4pm, when local farmers and craftsmen gather to sell their goods.
Among the islands in Hawaii, Lanai has the lowest population and is the least commercialised. The waters surrounding the island are crystal clear and ideal for snorkelling while the rugged terrain is suitable for off-road adventures by jeep, UTV or horseback. Two of the most luxurious resorts in Hawaii are found here: Four Seasons Resort and Hotel Lanai.
If you wish to see the real Hawaii as it was many years ago, go to Molokai. The island may be similar to Lanai in some ways but it does not have luxury resorts and has fewer accommodation choices.
When To Go
Hawaii enjoys warm, tropical weather with constant temperature ranging from 25°C to 30°C throughout the year. There may be higher rainfalls during the winter months from November to March but rain showers are often short lived. If you wish to avoid the peak seasons with higher rates on airfare and accommodation, avoid US holidays such as Christmas, New Year and Easter.
Getting There & Around
AirAsia X operates several flights a week to Honolulu, Hawaii from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a stopover in Osaka, Japan. From the US mainland, there are many flights to Hawaii but do check out Hawaiian Airlines for special deals.
There are airports in all the six main islands in Hawaii but Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on the island of Oahu is the largest and serves as a hub for both international and connecting flights between the islands.
To avoid disappointment, go online and reserve your tickets in advance, especially for popular attractions such as Pearl Harbor.
If you’re visiting the Big Island to explore the active volcano, wear sturdy shoes as the lava rocks can be sharp. Locals believe it is bad luck to bring fragments of lava rock away from the island and some even go as far as to shake off the dust on their shoes.
The fragrant flower ‘lei’ is often given as a welcome gift. Before you leave the island, toss a flower into the ocean, signifying that you will be back someday.
Photos © iStock by Getty Images (unless specified otherwise)