|"Traveling to Hawaii is as close as an American can get to visiting another country while staying within the United States."|
"Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states (1959), and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of Australia. Hawaii's natural beauty, warm tropical climate, inviting waters and waves, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists, surfers, biologists, and volcanologists alike. Due to its mid-Pacific location, Hawaii has many North American and Asian influences along with its own vibrant native culture. Hawaii has over a million permanent residents along with many visitors and U.S. military personnel. Its capital is Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu.
There are primarily six major islands to visit in Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii’s Big Island. Due to shifting volcanic activity, the oldest Hawaiian island is Kauai to the northwest and the youngest is Hawaii’s Big Island to the southeast. You can see this difference by comparing the topography of these two islands: On Kauai you’ll find lush rainforests and sea cliffs worn by time along the Napali Coast. Hawaii’s Big Island features rugged lava landscapes as well as Kilauea Volcano, erupting to this day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Isolated in the mid Pacific, 2,400 miles from the nearest continent and having never shared a connection to any other land mass, the Hawaiian Islands are the most remote major island group on earth. It is generally drier on the leeward (western) sides of the islands, and wetter on the windward (eastern) sides. Hawaii’s wide range of elevations and microclimates allow you to experience a variety of environments including some of the world’s best beaches, lush rainforests, volcanic deserts and scenic high-altitude views."
Deciding which island to visit on my first trip to Hawaii was no easy task. Each of the islands offers its own distinct personality and unique experiences. Of the six major islands I scratched off two right away: Molokai, "the least changed and most laid-back of all the islands, with plenty of peace and quiet," and Lanai, a small island that "attracts the well-heeled in search of privacy." I wanted adventure, and these two islands just can't compete with the others in this respect. I was left to decide between the remaining four islands:
Kauai, "the oldest and northernmost island, is graced with dramatic, natural beauty. Known as the 'Garden Isle,' you'll find the lush, green folding sea cliffs of Napali Coast, the colorful and awesome Waimea Canyon, and more beaches per mile of coastline than any other Hawaiian island."
Oahu is the most developed of the islands, home to the state capitol and the majority of Hawaii's population. "It's a vibrant mix of natural and cultural wonders with hot restaurants and lively nightlife, the legendary North Shore (surfing pros), cultural sites including Pearl Harbor, and popular Waikiki Beach."
"Maui no ka 'oi means the best, the most the tops. It's the second largest island and the most diversified, home to what some believe are the best beaches in the world. The waters off of Maui are also some of the best places in the world to whale watch every winter. Wake up early to catch the Haleakala sunrise, stroll through the historic hot spot of Lahaina town, or drive the long and winding road to Hana for spectacular scenery."
Big Island, or the island of Hawaii, "is larger than all of the other islands combined, and is vast enough to hold 11 of the world’s 13 climactic zones—from sandy beaches to snowcapped mountains. See waterfalls, rainforests and botanical gardens in Hilo, explore the calm and clear water off of Kona, or view Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park."
At the advice of several people, I chose Maui, since it has a mix of everything.
"Maui no ka 'oi is what locals say - it's the best, the most, the top of the heap. To those who know Maui well, there's good reason for the superlatives. The island's miles of perfect-tan beaches, lush green valleys, historic villages, top-notch windsurfing and diving, stellar restaurants and high-end hotels, and variety of art and cultural activities have made it an international favorite. Combining the best of both old and new Hawaii, Maui weaves a spell over the more than 2.5 million people who visit its shores each year, and many decide to return for good."
One thing to know about Hawaii is that paradise doesn't come cheap. It's remote, and accordingly everything is noticeably more expensive than on the mainland. Mid-December through mid-April is the busy tourist season, so understand that prices on airfare, car rentals and lodging is priced at a premium during these times. Keep in mind that the temperatures are wonderful all year long, if you want to avoid the crowds. I bought my round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Maui on November 19th for $595, although it's generally significantly cheaper to fly from Seattle. I booked a car rental for 16 days for $277. As always, the daily rate gets cheaper with the more days you book, and it was especially a bargain considering the outrageous price I would have paid had I booked it during the high season, when I saw people paying over $100 for just one day in an economy car! With transportation covered and lodging arranged, I was all set, and on November 27th I enthusiastically hopped my 5 1/2 -hour flight to the tropics.