Which Hawaiian island is right for you?


By Sarah Sekula, published in GoEscape

I’m not a repeat-destination kind of girl. But Hawaii’s primordial landscape beckons me back continually. For first-timers, choosing one island to visit is tough. Don’t worry, though, I’ve done the leg work. Good news is: you can’t go wrong.

Hawaii, the Big Island: Moonbows, lava, rainforests

Hawaii is the largest of the Hawaiian islands, which means it’s a massive canvas for natural wonders. Snow-capped mountains, a green-sand beach and epic waterfalls, just to name a few.

To-do list:

—Explore the lava-rock terrain in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park via bicycle.

—Come nighttime, snag a crystal clear view of the Milky Way with lava glow in the distance thanks to active volcano Kīlauea.

—Don snorkel gear with Kona Diving and make friends with manta rays (some with 14-foot wing spans) in the calm waters off the Kona Coast.

—Chow down on malasadas (sugar-dusted, pudding-filled pastries) at Tex Drive-In.

—Paddle across Kealakekua Bay. Keep your fingers crossed for spinner dolphins.

Kauai: Lifestyle, hiking and arts

This rural island is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands and the most isolated. Be prepared: Squawking chickens will be your alarm clock.

To-do list: 

—Grab fresh poke from a fish market, rent a surfboard and go beach camping. It’s easy to find a spot all to yourself.

Waimea Canyon, a mini version of the Grand Canyon, is a must. Hike to the bottom, lounge on boulders and swim in the cool waters.

—Trek along the fluted sea cliffs of the Napali Coast where Jurassic Park was filmed. Take a 2-mile hike along the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach or hike the whole 11 miles.

Maui: Hiking, kitesurfing, bamboo forests

The west side of the Valley Island has five-star spas, a killer foodie scene and shopping.

The east side is all about waterfalls, ponds and empty beaches; locals there still practice throw-net fishing and the aloha spirit abounds. Visit both.

To-do list:

—Follow the famous Road to Hana, a world-famous scenic drive, for dreamy vistas of rainforests, waterfalls and beaches.

—Watch an awe-inspiring sunrise at the top of 10,023-foot Haleakala.

—Cool off with an outrigger canoe ride and snorkel session off the shores of Makena Beach while buggy-eyed turtles swim alongside.

—Pick fresh veggies O’o Farm where the chef will whip up a dazzling feast.

—Lounge on Ho’okipa Beach while world-class windsurfers skim across the water.

—Bring a big appetite to the Old Lahaina Luau for legendary music and hula.

Oahu: Shopping, food, surfing

Oahu, the capital island, is where three-quarters of Hawaii residents live. Places like Honolulu and Waikiki are crowded. However, there are plenty of hideaways for R&R.

To-do list:

—Hike iconic Diamond Head for killer views of Waikīkī and the Oahu’s south shore.

—Listen to live music at The Shell, a historic outdoor venue where Oahu resident Jack Johnson sometimes performs.

—Grab local, organic eats at Ward Market on Saturdays. Hint: Try the breadfruit hummus.

—Snap pics of from Pali Highway. Brag worthy, indeed.

—Ride big waves on the North Shore, or just watch ‘em roll in.

Molokai: Wilderness, culture, adventure

Molokai is as Hawaiian as it gets. There are ancient fish ponds and untouched beaches. With no Starbucks and limited transportation it is lower on the tourist radar, but that is what makes it so special.

To-do list:

Papohaku Beach, possibly the most gorgeous beach in Hawaii, is worth checking out.

—Pick enough blooms at Molokai Plumeria Farm to create your own lei.

—Hike to the 250-foot Moa’ula Falls at the head of magical Halawa Valley.

—There’s nothing like descending the world’s tallest seas cliffs (1,700 feet) via mule to Kalaupapa.

Lanai: Gardens, history, beaches

This privately owned island makes for a quiet getaway. There are no traffic lights and no malls, but plenty of natural beauty.

To-do list:

—Stop and smell the roses at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai gardens.

—Take in the Seussical rock formations at Garden of the Gods. It’s worth the rough and rugged drive.

At Hulopo’e Bay, walk to the clifftop perch known as Sweetheart Rock, and look for frolicking dolphins.