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With each Hawaiian island offering a distinct personality, diverse adventures and activities and a plethora of sights, how does one pick? Here’s our quick guide for choosing the right Hawaiian island for your vacation plans: 

O’ahu: “Big City, Small Island”

Centered around Honolulu – the state’s capital and the island’s largest city – O’ahu is particularly well known for iconic Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbour and surfing on the North Shore. First-time Hawaii visitors will find everything they seek, and then some. It’s certainly not a quiet island, but that means more choices in activities, accommodations, dining, shopping and more. Take a surfing lesson, kayak in Kailua Bay, hike up Diamond Head, tour the USS Missouri or venture into the Central O’ahu and the rural Wai’anae Coast.

Maui: “Volcanoes and Sunsets”

Breathtakingly beautiful, Maui is the stuff that dreams are made of. Drive the Road to Hana, a winding, 64-mile route to the northeastern shore. Along the way, you’ll be staggered by scenic waterfalls, volcanic beaches, botanical gardens and rainforests. Spend your days whale watching, windsurfing, diving, snorkeling, sailing and more. Upcountry Maui boasts one of the world’s top sunrise spots – atop Haleakala volcano. Not an early riser? The volcano offers pretty sublime sunsets as well.

Kauai: “Garden Isle”

For a more relaxed island experience, head to the Garden Isle, so named for its lush rainforest foliage. There’s a quieter ambience throughout the island, as compared to its busier neighbors, but you’ll still find plenty to do. Take a boat or helicopter tour to marvel at the Na Pali Coast, or go hiking along the unforgettable Kalalau Trail. Go zip-lining, visit towering Hanakapiai Falls and snap a few photos at gorgeous Lumahai Bay, which has been featured in countless films. 

Hawaii Island: “The Big Island”

The largest island of the Hawaii archipelago, The Big Island is incredibly diverse, offering everything from the snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea to the lunar-like landscape of Volcanoes National Park to the lush Waipio Valley. There are temples and significant sites celebrating Hawaii’s ancient history and spirituality, two active volcanoes with oozing lava flows, emerald cliffs, black-sand beaches and rolling farmland. Explore the island easily thanks to its miles of highways and byways to experience 8 of the world’s 13 climate zones. 

Lanai: “Pineapple Island”

Tiny and rural, Lanai is a short ferry ride from Maui. It’s one of the most romantic of the Hawaiian islands and a favorite honeymooning destination for its secluded ambience (and yet easy access to Maui’s offerings). Check out the otherworldly landscape of the Garden of the Gods, as well as Shipwreck Beach, named for the offshore remains of a WWII tanker ship. For golfers, Lanai is a dream. It’s home to one of Jack Nicklaus’ masterpieces, the Manele Golf Course, with three holes built on the cliffs above Hulopoe Bay and featuring lava outcroppings, ravines and thorny kiawe as natural hazards.

Molokai: “The Friendly Isle”

A couple interesting facts about Molokai: The remote island was a leprosy colony from 1866 to 1969. And, more than half of its residents are at least part Native Hawaiian. If not by bloodlines alone, Molokai is considered the most traditional of the Hawaiian islands. The locals are insistent that their land continues to be respected. Case in point: the numerous ancient sites here have been carefully restored and protected and big development is frowned upon. Visitors are expected to be participatory travelers, not bystanding vacationers. Those seeking to immerse themselves in local traditions, learn and volunteer as part of their visit will be gladly welcomed.

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