If you've never visited the islands of Hawaii, it's hard to know which one would be best for you. Each island is very diverse and has its unique offerings, which can make choosing very difficult. In fact, once you've visited one island, you can return again to another and have a completely different set of experiences, sights, and attractions. Hopefully, my next few posts will help you learn a little more about each one.
Not all of the Hawaiian islands are inhabited and open to tourists, but there are six major islands to visit. Kauai, Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, and Lanai are all distinctly different, so it boils down to a personal choice of the kind of experience you'd like to have. One thing they all have in common is the island spirit and aloha, so it's hard to imagine not having a great vacation no matter which island you choose.
Maui, The Valley Isle
Maui is home to many quaint towns, artist communities, and local favorites that have been around for generations. With its shimmering beaches, sacred Iao Valley, migrating humpback whales, and sunrise on Haleakala, it's not surprising that Maui has been voted the "Best Island" by Conde Nast Traveler for 19 years. With 120 miles of coastline, Maui offers over 30 miles of beautiful sand beaches- white, black, and red. These are some of the best beaches in the world to swim, snorkel, and surf. Makena and Kaanapali beaches are two of the most famous. If you're looking for a place to stay while on Maui, you will find a big variety. There are luxury resorts, condo rentals, bed and breakfasts, chain hotels, and seaside cottages.
Most visitors to the island begin their vacations in Central Maui, arriving at Kahului Airport. Home to much of the island’s population, this area offers plenty of interesting attractions and off-the-beaten-path treasures to uncover. The top attraction in Central Maui is Iao Valley State Park, with fog-shrouded forests, lush valleys and bubbling streams. You can take an easy hike on a paved trail to view one of Maui’s most iconic landmarks, the Iao Needle. At the gateway to Iao Valley State Park, you can browse local shops, restaurants and historic sites in the small town of Wailuku. The neighboring town of Kahului is a busy shopping district with Maui’s largest mall, and if you want to stock up for your vacation, everything you need can be found here.
When your mind imagines Maui, it probably looks a lot like the island’s east side: cascading waterfalls hidden in lush rainforests, roadside pineapple stands, and hairpin turns around plunging sea cliffs. It’s all here, along the legendary Road to Hana—one big reason why East Maui is a must-see on any traveler’s list. The Hana Highway begins in the town of Kahului in Central Maui and winds along the island’s northern coast for 52 miles. The drive to Hana can take as few as 3 hours or last an entire day, depending on how many pictures you stop to take and food stands you sample. After you’ve navigated the more than 600 white-knuckle turns and 50 bridges, you’ll enter Hana, a charming small town where time seems to stand still and aloha is a way of life.
You’ll find the sunniest, driest area of Maui on the southwestern coast. South Maui is filled with miles of sandy beaches and clear views of the islands of Lanai, Molokini and Kahoolawe. You can explore the underwater aquarium at the Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea Bay or golf at world-class courses in Wailea. Shop and dine in some of Maui’s best restaurants and resorts.
The sunny northwest coast of Maui was once a retreat for Hawaiian royalty and the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Today, West Maui is home to
spectacular resorts, shopping, restaurants, plenty of activities and some of the most amazing sunsets in the world. Traveling north from Maalaea and the Maui Ocean Center, your first stop is the historic whaling town of Lahaina. Rustic buildings recall its days as Hawaii’s busiest port, while quaint shops on Front Street and winter whale watching make it a favorite port of call for cruise ship passengers. A few minutes more on the Highway and you’ll find yourself drawn into the beautiful Kaanapali Resort. Whether you’re staying in the area or just passing through, a stroll on the Kaanapali Beachwalk is a must. On this side of the island, resorts melt into one another, and it doesn’t take long to lead you to Kapalua, known for championship golf and private getaways. Here, the tone is quieter, with understated elegance. Despite their proximity to each other, and the other hotels nestled in between, there is one thing these resorts disagree on: which resort has the best sunset and the best view. The islands of Lanai and Molokai'i are just across the channel, and as the West Maui sun sets, it washes the coastline in a magical glow.
Golden beaches give way to rolling hills and misty mountains as you ascend into Upcountry Maui, which is located on the higher elevations surrounding Haleakala — the island’s highest peak. Since early times, Hawaiians have farmed the volcanic soil of Upcountry fields, growing taro and sweet potato. Today, you can take farm tours, visit Surfing Goat Dairy and even sip Maui-made wines and spirits in the rustic towns of Kula and Makawao. Upcountry is also the home of the paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboys. Further east, Haleakala presides over the "Valley Isle," with epic sunrises and otherworldly landscapes that feel more like the moon than Maui. It’s a dramatic departure from the coconut palms of Kaanapali and Kapalua, but a day trip to the Upcountry will bring you closer to Maui’s heartland.
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Ann Jones, CTC, MCC