Choose your own adventure
Whether you’re on a thrill-seeking mission or looking for secluded luxury, you can be sure to find an island paradise that’s just right for you, writes Dilvin Yasa.
Confusion often reigns for first-timers travelling to Hawaii. How many islands are there exactly? (18 including the main six below). There’s a Hawaii within Hawaii? Which one should I visit? In a perfect world, we’d say all of them, but if you’ve got limited time (and funds), consider your interests and go from there.
Best for thrill-seekers: Hawaii
Whether you’re keen to zipline across waterfalls, leap from tall mountains or simply roll around a black sand beach with a glamorous partner, satisfy your inner James Bond with a trip to Big Island Hawaii — also known as Hawaii’s Island of Adventure.
Larger than all the other islands combined, Hawaii island is home to 11 of the world’s 13 climatic zones (everything from snow-capped mountains to rainforests), and you can make the most of each one by throwing yourself wholeheartedly into the action. Put swimming with manta rays on Kona Coast, hiking Volcanoes National Park, and star-gazing from Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano some 4,000 metres above sea level, at the top of your list and add further activities from there.
Stay: With private bungalow-style rooms and wealth of five-star features including seven pools and what is arguably the best restaurant on the island, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is the pick of the bunch.
Best for romance: Lanai
Celebrate your love for your partner all day — and all night — long on the relatively secluded island of Lanai, where remote beaches, stunning sunsets and opulent resorts come together to give you the ‘best of’ Hawaii, but without the crowds.
Affectionately known as the ‘private isle’, the island has no traffic lights and few paved roads, but what it does have is a stunning protected marine reserve and endless deserted stretches of white sand to enjoy. Walk hand-in-hand along the rock formations of Keahiakawelo, or enjoy the scenery along the Munro Trail from a 4WD, then sink a few cocktails as you gaze at the sunset from picturesque Kaumalpau Harbour. Here’s to you and your clever romantic holiday ideas!
Stay: Admittedly you’re hardly spoiled for choice in Lanai, but happily the choices you do have are exceptional with Four Seasons Resort Lanai leading the charge. Bordering the marine reserve, the resort features two world-ranked golf courses plus plenty of on-site and off-site activities for two.
Best for gourmands: Oahu
Are you the kind of traveller who’s led by your tastebuds? Zero in on Honolulu — not for its shopping malls or nightclubs (although you could certainly take your time enjoying those too), but for the amazing restaurants and eateries that dot the magnificent landscape.
Most gourmands make their first stop at upscale Town which serves up an Italian take on classic American cuisine, or Alan Wong’s Restaurant, but we say head straight to the five-star Kahala Hotel & Resort for their paper-thin pancakes before following it up with a food tour such as ‘Best of Chinatown’. By all means, give yourself over to fine dining as the mood takes you, but don’t forget to leave some room for the island’s famous plate meals such as the ones from Rainbow Drive-in. You may need some elasticised waistbands for the trip home…
Stay: Possessing both a grand Victorian charm, and every five-star amenity you could care to imagine, you can do no better than calling Waikiki’s historic Moana Surfrider home for a few days.
Best for families: Maui
If there’s one thing guaranteed to help you recover from the trau ma of enduring ten straight hours of ‘Are we there yet?’ it’s landing in Hawaii’s second-largest island which is home to some of Hawaii’s best beaches, wildlife and family-friendly resorts.
Depending on what your kids are into, you can ride a genuine 1890s train on the Lahaina-Kaanapali Railroad, marvel at the sharks swimming overhead at the Maui Ocean Centre, zip-line across the jungle, turn kids into Junior Rangers at the Haleakala Visitor Centre, or snorkel by Black Rock where kids young and old can interact with everything from moray eels to sea turtles. In other words, sufficient activity to exhaust them for the trip home.
Stay: Featuring a 1,860m2 kid’s club complete with video arcade and movie theatre and a pool complex that includes watersides, white-water rapids, rope swings and caves, the Grand Wailea will keep kids amused 24/7.
Best for purists: Molokai
Ever found yourself pontificating on the how awesome Bali or Byron was before all the tourists came and ruined it for everybody? Book your flight to Molokai immediately and rejoice in a traditional environment that’s still largely untouched by tourism (just don’t become that bore when you get back).
With the vast majority of locals favouring preservation of land and culture over tourism schemes, ‘attractions’ as we know them are few and far between, but what you get is the chance to watch fisherman haul in their catch in the harbour town of Kaunakakai free of Instagrammers, or the chance to meander around the 800-year-old fishponds.
If you’re feeling truly adventurous, you can ride a mule some 500m to the remote seaside Kalaupapa National Park which has countless historic sites to visit, or you can take a sunrise hike through the jaw-dropping Halawa Valley, but whatever you do, don’t come back and write about it like I am (oops).
Stay: Free of big-name chains, the closest you’ll find to a resort is Hotel Molokai which offers travellers small luxuries such as an oceanfront restaurant and bar.
Best for nature lovers: Kauai
One to schedule immediately after an eating tour of Oahu, the oldest and northernmost island of the Hawaiian islands is Kauai, a jungle-like paradise crammed with emerald mountains and valleys, tropical rainforests and cascading waterfalls and rivers. Add to that some of the prettiest waterholes and beaches in all of Hawaii and you’ve got the deepest connection you could have with Mother Nature.
Although there are many parts of Kauai you can only access by sea or air (a helicopter tour is highly recommended), the best way to get a feel for the island is to hike what you can — be if the easy-going trails that criss-cross through the rainforest, or the more challenging paths along the NaPali coastline.
Don’t just keep it on the land; nature lovers will also enjoy snorkelling on Poipu Beach and kayaking Wailua River — just don’t forget to allocate a bit of time to get to know its small yet charming town.
Stay: With its own saltwater lagoon and ten dining options, the luxurious Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is the jewel in the island’s crown.