There are 7 major Hawaiian islands; in no particular order they are 'Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Hawaii, Molokai, Lanai, and Niihau'. All the Hawaiian Islands together comprise the state of Hawaii. These islands are all similar in that they are volcanic in origin, and generally have the same balmy temperatures with cooling ocean breezes - but there are incredibly different attributes to each island worth learning for the first-time or repeat visitor to assist them in making an informed destination decision.
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First, some simple facts for all the islands:
1. Language spoken is English (with some pidgin) and currency is the dollar.
2. Whale season is January to March.
3. Average summer temperature is about 83 degrees and average winter temperature is about 79 degrees.
4. It rains a little more in the winter. (That's the only way to tell it is winter)
5. It gets cold up on the mountains - so bring a sweater if you will be visiting the 3000 foot above sea level or higher.
6. The area code for all the islands is 808.
7. The time zone is Hawaiian Standard - which is three hours before California during Daylight Savings time.
8. The windward (east) facing sides of the islands are generally rainier than the leeward (west) facing sides.
And now, the islands:
Oahu - The Gathering place
Some famous places on Oahu are Honolulu, Waikiki beach, Pearl Harbor, the North Shore, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Oahu is best known because its high population and very developed cities allow the island to offer many different sights, attractions, and cultural shows. Oahu was the first island to develop tourism as an industry. About a million people live on Oahu and about 5 million visit Oahu each year. This can make the island a little crowded but it makes up for that with the sheer amount of choices of attractions for you to visit, from water sports to nature to restaurants to culture exhibits. Oahu is a good choice for you if you don't mind a lot of people and some traffic in order to be able to experience almost everything Hawaii has to offer on one island.
Kauai - The Garden Isle
Some famous places on Kauai are Lihue, the Na Pali coast, Waimea Canyon, and Hanalei Bay. Kauai is best known for its very beautiful and lush green valleys and the rugged, unspoiled Na Pali coastline. About 70,000 people live on Kauai and about 1 million visit there each year. Kauai has really good beaches and plenty of watersports with a lot of local culture mixed in. Kauai is a good choice for you if you want to see Hawaii at its greenest and prettiest but still want plenty of conveniences ... like a fancy restaurant right around the corner.
Maui - The Valley Isle
Some famous places on Maui are Kahalui and Lahaina, Haleakala (a volcanic crater), and the road to Hana (and Hana itself). Maui is best known for its whale watching and its beaches. About 100,000 people live on Maui and a little over 2 million visit each year. Maui is second only to Oahu with how many people visit each year and it is a very popular vacation spot for college students - so there may be a little partying going on around you -and the island balances this with great beaches, spectacular views, and a lot of nature attractions. Maui is a good choice for you if you want a good balance of the beauty of Hawaii with the conveniences of the cities and don't mind sharing the beach with a few people.
Hawaii - The Big Island
Some famous places on the Big Island are Kona and Hilo, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the active Kilauea volcano, South Point, and Mauna Kea (a mountain that gets snow in the winter). The island of Hawaii is mostly called "the Big Island" and is best known for its active volcano and its black sand beaches. About 140,000 people live on the Big Island and a little over a million visit each year. The Big Island has 11 different climates and three different colored sandy beaches (green, black, white). The Big Island is a good choice for you if you want to really get into nature and see Hawaii at its newest without a lot of other people around.
Molokai - The Friendly Isle
Some famous places on Molokai are Kauanakakai, Halawa beach park, and Molokai ranch. Molokai is best known for Kalaupapa (the leper colony) and Father Damien's work there. About 7,000 people live on Molokai and about 80,000 people visit there a year. Molokai is quiet, small, peaceful, and relaxing. It has long, empty, sandy beaches and pretty forests. Molokai is a good choice for you if you want to get away from the rest of the world and relax all day long on the beaches or the golf courses.
Lanai - The Private Isle
Some famous places on Lanai are Shipwreck beach, the Garden of the Gods, and Manele Bay. Lanai is best known for its solitude. About 3,000 people live on Lanai and about 100,000 visit each year. The only accommodations on Lanai are two Luxury Hotels ... one on the ocean, and one on the mountain. You can hang out on the beach all day, or hike or golf without seeing hardly another person. Bill Gates rented the entire island for his wedding in 1994 for exactly that reason. Lanai is a good choice for you if you are not on a budget and want a lot of peace and quiet.
Niihau - The forbidden Isle
Niihau is a small, privately-owned island with a population of about 300 Hawaiians. No one is allowed to visit unless they are invited by someone who lives there.
Unfortunately, in describing the physical attributes of the islands I neglected mentioning the people who live there in the interest of brevity. Once you visit you will see the spirit of Aloha that is shown by the residents of Hawaii and the fascinating Polynesian culture are two of the things that always draw visitors back to Hawaii.
When planning a trip to Hawaii, you can't go wrong with any island, but if you research and choose an island according to your tastes, you can increase your enjoyment of Hawaii. I would also suggest visiting no more than 2 islands in a 7 day period to allow you to experience the most of each island.
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