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Exploring Hawaii Part I - Choosing an Island

So you want to travel to Hawaii but you have no idea where to start. You’ve probably heard of Honolulu (not actually the name of the island), and you believe Hawaii is only for rich retirees clad in Hawaiian shirts (well that part’s kinda true). But Hawaii truly offers something for everyone at every price point. There’s really something magical about Hawaii. If you’ve had the opportunity to visit the islands, you get what I’m saying.

Out of all the destinations I’ve travelled to, Hawaii (Maui specifically) is one of my favourite places in the world. I’ve been to the Hawaiian Islands four times, and would continue to go every year if there weren’t so many other places in the world to explore. Fellow wanderlusts will understand.


Before I share all of my secrets on how to explore Hawaii without breaking the bank (part II), you need decide what island is right for you.


The four major islands of Hawaii are Oahu (not Honolulu), Maui, the Big Island and Kauai. I’ve had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time on each island (yes, it's possible for middle-class folks like us) and let me tell you, they are vastly different.


First things first. Determine your main priorities. Action? Adventure? Relaxation? Let’s break it down.


Oahu

If you’re looking for action, Oahu is the island for you. It’s literally a big city on the ocean. Skyscrapers and Louis Vuitton stores surround the famous Waikiki beach. There are restaurants, shopping centers and bars galore. It’s the home of Pearl Harbour, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Diamond Head. There’s no shortage of things to do and people to see. And by people I mean hordes and hordes of tourists.

Travel tip: While I do recommend visiting Oahu at least once (Pearl Harbour is pretty amazing), I don’t think Oahu (especially the Waikiki beach area) is a great representation of “Hawaii”. I’d recommend spending a few days in Oahu and then hopping on a quick flight to another island for a more authentic Hawaiian experience.


Big Island

If you’re looking for an adventure vacation, head to the Big Island. Home of Volcano National Park, you can hike through lava rock and get up close with an active volcano. Some of the best snorkeling of my life was at the Captain Cook Memorial point on the Big Island. Picture crystal clear waters (because there’s not a whole lot of sand on the Big Island), thousands of colourful fish, turtles that eat out of your hand, and dolphins frolicking in the background. The town of Kailua-Kona is the main district where you can find a few restaurants and shops. Think beach town. No one dresses up, and flip flops are appropriate everywhere.

Travel tip: Hike the Keauhou Trail in Volcano National Park. You start out in a rain forest and end up in a lava field where sulfur gases escape through the ground below. You’ll feel like you’re on the moon.


Kauai

There’s a reason Kauai is called the garden island. The majority of the island is untouched rain forest. The trees are a magical shade of green and the waterfalls are plentiful. Now why do you think that is? If you said boatloads of rain, you’re correct. The wettest spot in the world is located on the island of Kauai. We spent 10 days on the island and it poured rain for 8 of those days. But don’t count Kauai out. Its natural beauty is something to be seen. Kauai is the quietest of the islands, with only one main road. There are no chain restaurants or stores, and everything closes by 9:00 pm. If you need a break from it all, Kauai is the place to be.

Travel tip: Take a helicopter ride over the Na Pali coast. The views of the coastline are stunning and can't be seen from land.


Maui

Ah Maui. My favourite place in the world. If you’re not sure what island to start with, Maui is the perfect mix of all of the islands. If you’re looking for action and people, you have the town of Lahaina which is bursting with restaurants, shops and art galleries. Looking for more of a small town feel? Try Kihei or Paia for local restaurants and markets. Five star resorts? Wailea is the place for you. Maui is home of the Haleakala Crater which offers amazing views of sunrise and sunset. For the extreme adventurers, you can cycle down the crater – we’re not quite that adventurous. For those looking for Maui’s hidden wonders, drive down the spine-tingling road to Hana. Incredible hiking trails, secret waterfalls, and red, black and white sand beaches are a few of the stops on your way to the sleepy town of Hana. If you’re in Maui in February you’re in for a treat. It’s mating season! (for the whales that is) Book a whale watching tour or simply stare out into the ocean and I guarantee, you will see whales flip-flopping around trying to impress the opposite sex. If you only have time to visit one island, choose Maui.

Travel tip: Stay as long as you can in Maui. There is so much to see, and you won’t be able to squeeze it all into a few days.


So. Have you chosen an island? Maybe all four are on your list. Now that I’ve gotten you excited about Hawaii, make sure to subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out on Exploring Hawaii Part II – Keeping it Affordable.

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