Aloha, Hawai’i!

JOURNEY OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN AND DISCOVER SIX TROPICAL ISLANDS THAT ARE DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT YET EQUALLY ENCHANTING.

BY JEN MURPHY

HAWAI’I HAS LONG BEEN SYNONYMOUS WITH TROPICAL VACATIONS. Home to 400-plus beaches and eight national parks, the islands are a natural paradise. They are also rich with history and culture. Each of the six main islands has its own distinct character. Here’s your personal guide to discovering the aloha spirit on each.

MAUI

Maui lures travelers with its perfect balance of wild nature and beachfront luxury. Award-winning golf courses and polished resorts can be found on the south and west side in Kapalua, Ka’anapali, and Wailea. Famous surf breaks, like Pe’ahi (Jaws), and paniolo (cowboy) culture await on the island’s North Shore and jungle- and farm-covered upcountry. 

ADVENTURE: Go paddling with Maui Eco Tours. From December through April, kayak excursions offer the opportunity to spot humpback whales during their annual migration. Snorkeling promises sightings of turtles, rays, and colorful coral.

VOLUNTOURISM: The Pacific Whale Foundation’s Volunteers on Vacation program gives visitors the chance to give back while experiencing the beauty of Maui’s natural environment. Lend a hand with farm chores on O‘o Farms in Kula each Wednesday, or work alongside a naturalist to remove invasive plant species in Haleakalā National Park on the first and third Saturday of the month.

CULTURE: Tucked away in Hana, Ala Kukui Cultural Retreat Center hosts workshops on traditional practices like kapa (bark cloth) and ipu heke (a double gourd drum).

SAVOR AND SIP: Top Chef favorite Sheldon Simeon recently opened Lineage in the shops of Wailea. His family-style menu (huli huli chicken, pork n’ peas) pays homage to his island of Hawai‘i roots.

STAY: Spread across 24 oceanfront acres, Montage Kapalua Bay offers it all, from two immense golf courses to a splashy spa and lagoon-style pools. One- to four-bedroom condos and a kids’ club make it a great option for families.

ISLAND OF HAWAI‘I

Island of Hawai‘i is the largest landmass in the island chain. Home to all but four of the world’s climate subzones, this is an island of contrasts, offering both dramatic, lava-sculpted landscapes and a sun-drenched, resort-dotted coastline.

ADVENTURE: Located in the plantation town of Hawi, Flumin’ Kohala invites guests to kayak along the century-old irrigation ditch that once supplied water to the people of Kohala.

VOLUNTOURISM: The Stewardship at the Summit project in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park provides visitors the opportunity to help out the ‘aina (land) by cutting invasive Himalayan ginger on the park trails.

CULTURE: One Saturday a month, the Volcano Art Center hosts hālau hula (schools) from around the island to perform in an outdoor setting in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. 

SAVOR AND SIP: Locally-loved Puka Puka Kitchen in Hilo melds Greek and Indian influences with Hawai‘i flavors. The ahi plates and chicken katsu at this tiny spot should not be missed.

STAY: Known for its signature orange umbrellas, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel entices guests away from the sun and sand with immersive cultural activities such as lei making, hula lessons and free art tours of the resort’s extensive collection.

MOLOKA‘I

A trip to “the Friendly Island” offers a glimpse of the Hawai‘i of a bygone era. No building is taller than a palm tree and you won’t find a single traffic light. The slower pace and strong sense of community means every visitor discovers the true meaning of aloha.

ADVENTURE: More than 250 rare Hawaiian plants grow in the 2,750-plus acre Kamakou Preserve, located on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain. Nature conservancy staff lead a monthly hike from April through October.

VOLUNTOURISM: A group of residents formed the Moloka‘i Land Trust as a way to preserve nature. Weekly volunteer activities, from nursery work to dune restoration, are available.

CULTURE: When leprosy broke out in the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1860s, King Kamehameha V banished the afflicted to the remote Kalaupapa peninsula on the north shore. A former prison, Kalaupapa National Historical Park tells a story of forced isolation. 

SAVOR AND SIP: Set within a refurbished green-and-white plantation house, Kualapu‘u Cookhouse serves hearty island fare like baby back ribs with guava bbq sauce and classic lunch meals.

O‘AHU

Of all the Hawaiian Islands, none offers as much diversity as O‘ahu. Get your “big city” fix of restaurants and culture in the bustling capital, Honolulu, on the South Shore. Then head to the North Shore to experience the island’s world-class waves and the trapped-in-time vibe of plantation-era town, Hale‘iwa.

ADVENTURE: A 2.5-hour guided horseback tour of Gunstock Ranch reveals historical WWII sites, stunning vistas, and a taste of real ranch life. End your trek by planting a Monarch Milo tree in the property’s Legacy Forest.

VOLUNTOURISM: Every third Saturday of the month, 63-acre Papahana Kuaola invites volunteers to get their hands dirty with restoration activities like native plant propagation and weeding along the upper reaches of He‘eia stream.

CULTURE: Since the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum opened in 1889, its researchers have acquired 25 million items—from cultural objects to biological specimens—that tell the story of Hawai‘i.

SAVOR AND SIP: When chef Ed Kenney opened Town in Honolulu’s Kaimukī neighborhood in 2005, his dedication to sourcing local, organic ingredients garnered rave reviews. Today, he runs a mini restaurant empire that includes Kaimukī Superette, Mahina & Sun’s, and Mud Hen Water.

STAY:Halekūlani translates to “house befitting heaven.” Stay one night and you’ll understand why. The historical 410-room hotel, nestled on five acres fronting Gray’s beach in Waikīkī, excels in Hawaiian hospitality. Past guests have included Doris Duke and Clark Gable.

LĀNAʻI

Billionaire Larry Ellison purchased what was once the world’s largest pineapple plantation and has transformed it into Hawai‘i’s most exclusive getaway. The island’s 47 miles of mostly rugged, shipwrecked, and turtle-dotted shores draws adventurers with a penchant for luxury, too.

ADVENTURE: Spot breaching whales and acrobatic spinner dolphins on a five-hour sailing excursion with PacWhale Eco-Adventures. The ship’s certified marine naturalist will help identify coral and fish during a session. 

VOLUNTOURISM: Cat lovers won’t want to miss a visit to Lāna‘i Cat Sanctuary. The nonprofit partners with the Four Seasons Resort Lāna‘i to give guests a chance to assist with everything from painting kitty shelters to helping socialize the felines.

CULTURE: Treasures of all kinds, from poi pounders to plantation equipment, fill the small, community-run Lāna‘i Culture & Heritage Center.

SAVOR AND SIP: Coffee Works, Lāna‘i’s sole java joint, caffeinates the entire island with its delicious lattes. For a souvenir, order a bag of Kona-grown beans.

KAUA’I

Kaua‘i’s emerald valleys, tropical rainforest, and cascading waterfalls make this island a tropical gem. From the golden beaches of the east side to the dramatic cliffs of the Nāpali Coast in the north, the island promises enchanting natural beauty and endless options for adventures.

ADVENTURE: The thrilling eight-zipline tour from Skyline Eco Adventures in Po‘ipū sends guests soaring above a vibrant green canopy of Kukui, the state tree, and Uluhe fern.

VOLUNTOURISM: Volunteer Kaua‘i posts opportunities with organizations such as Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. Join the Surfrider Foundation for a beach cleanup or commit two weeks to working with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui.

CULTURE: Dive deep into the history of the island at the Kaua‘i Museum in the town of Līhu‘e. Exhibits focus on King Kaumuali‘i, the last independent king of Kaua‘i, and how Polynesian culture helped shaped the island.

SAVOR AND SIP: Bar Acuda in Hanalei showcases the freshest ingredients from the island’s fishermen and organic farmers. Wine is a specialty at this tapas spot, so ask the knowledgeable team to suggest a pairing.

STAY: Set along a white sand beach on Po‘ipū’s easternmost coastline, Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa is known for its over-the-top amenities, including four pools, seven restaurants, and the island’s largest waterslide. Eco-innovations include an old tennis court converted into a hydroponic garden where its restaurants source ingredients.


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Image by TC Perch from Pixabay


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