What To Expect On Each Of The Hawaiian Islands

A quick guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands and what you can expect to find on each one.

The state of Hawaii recognizes 137 different islands that are part of their state.  The majority of these “islands” are islets (a new word to me that evidently means really small island), big rocks, or coral reefs that disappear with the changing tides.  In terms of realistic visiting options, there are 8 main islands that are actually big enough to explore.  Hawaiian islands

The traditional Hawaiian alphabet only has 13 letters. This means that Hawaiian words almost always contain  H’s, K’s, M’s, P’s, and L’s, and often look the same.  To differentiate, the words just seem to get longer.  The longest Hawaiian word I’ve encountered is Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, which is the name of the state fish (good luck pronouncing that one).  Many of islands and cities on those islands can get confusing if you aren’t careful.  Think you have nothing to worry about? Consider the fact that Hanalei, Haena, Halaula,Honalo, Hanamaulu, Hauula, Heeia, and Halawa are all names of different cities within the islands.  Furthering the confusion, we call the entire group of islands Hawaii, but the biggest Hawaiian island is actually named Hawaii as well.

To help simplify trip planning, I give a brief overview of what you can expect on each of the 8 main islands. Almost all international and mainland USA flights go into Honolulu (Oahu), but there are a few options into Kahului (Maui) and Kona (Hawaii) directly as well.

To transfer between islands, almost everyone flies as ferry options are extremely limited. Just because something is listed for one island, doesn’t mean that you can’t find it on one of the others. I’m sure you don’t find it shocking that each of the islands feature beautiful beaches.

What to pack: Shop our Hawaii essentials! 

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Oahu

The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Kauai – This island is known as the “Garden Isle” for its lush vegetation and beautiful hikes that take you to hidden waterfalls. Dramatic cliffs on the Na Pali Coast are a must see! City ordinances prohibit construction of any building higher than a coconut tree, so views are never obstructed. Click through to read the full post!


Overview_Mapoahu1

Oahu – This is the most visited and populous island in Hawaii. It features the capitol city of Honolulu and a lot of the most common tourist spots like Waikiki beach, the North Shore, the bamboo forest and Pearl Harbor.  To find out more see my post, “The Top 11 Things To Do on Oahu.”

When we visited Oahu we ended up staying in the Courtyard Waikiki Beach Hotel and loved it!  The location was right up on the beach which was amazing.  You guys can book or check prices here

Kauai

The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Kauai – This island is known as the “Garden Isle” for its lush vegetation and beautiful hikes that take you to hidden waterfalls. Dramatic cliffs on the Na Pali Coast are a must see! City ordinances prohibit construction of any building higher than a coconut tree, so views are never obstructed. Click through to read the full post!

 

Overview_Mapkau

Kauai – This island is known as the “Garden Isle” for its lush vegetation and beautiful hikes that take you to hidden waterfalls.  Dramatic cliffs on the Na Pali Coast are a must see!  City ordinances prohibit construction of any building higher than a coconut tree, so views are never obstructed.  Also, for some reason there are thousands of wild chickens roaming around the island. Hawaiian islands

Molaka’i

The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Molaka’i – Supposedly this is the “purest” and least developed all the Hawaiian islands. If you come to this island, you will not find Starbucks and fancy resorts, but you can expect to experience the classic slower paced island style. Click through to read the full post!Photo: Wiki CommonsCord Cardinal / Flickr

Overview_Mapmolo

Molaka’i – Supposedly this is the “purest” and least developed all the Hawaiian islands.  If you come to this island, you will not find Starbucks and fancy resorts, but you can expect to experience the classic slower paced island style.  In general I think animosity from towards visitors from locals is overstated (unless you are competing for waves), but on Molaka’i it is supposed to be non-existent.

Psst: If you’re interested in planning the cheapest trip possible to Hawaii, then I created a free cheatsheet for you, which details the top 5 tools we used to plan our trip to Hawaii.  Click the image below to download it!

Kahoʻolawe

The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Kahoʻolawe – This small island was previously used as bombing range to train US soldiers. As you can imagine, there was not a native population then, and today there are still no permanent residents on this island. Click through to Avenly Lane Travel to read more!Photo: Wikipedia

Overview_Mapkah

Kahoʻolawe – This small island was previously used as bombing range to train US soldiers.  As you can imagine, there was not a native population then, and today there are still no permanent residents on this island. Hawaiian islands

Maui

The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Kauai – This island is known as the “Garden Isle” for its lush vegetation and beautiful hikes that take you to hidden waterfalls. Dramatic cliffs on the Na Pali Coast are a must see! City ordinances prohibit construction of any building higher than a coconut tree, so views are never obstructed. Click through to read the full post!


Overview_Mapmaui

Maui – This island is often said to have the most beautiful beaches in the world.  In my experience, Maui is dominated by beautiful beaches, high end resorts, and golf courses.   Maui is also the launching point for the only inter-island ferries to Molaka’I and Lana’i.

To read more on the red sand beach click here.

Hawaii (The Big Island)

h11awaii-(6)The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Kauai – This island is known as the “Garden Isle” for its lush vegetation and beautiful hikes that take you to hidden waterfalls. Dramatic cliffs on the Na Pali Coast are a must see! City ordinances prohibit construction of any building higher than a coconut tree, so views are never obstructed. Click through to read the full post!Photo:MKandel

Overview_Mapbig

Hawaii (The Big Island) – This is the biggest of all the Hawaiian islands, though it is not densely populated.  It features beautiful resorts in Hilo and Kona, but also tons of natural beauty.  Aside from the expected pristine beaches, the Big Island is a perfect spot to go horseback riding through the rainforest, take a helicopter ride over active volcanoes, or lounge on a black sand beach.

Lana’i

The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Lana’i – Previously, almost all of this comma shaped island was used as a pineapple plantation. With pineapple production being phased out, the island is developing as a touristy resort spot. Currently, it is a great place to rent 4WDs to explore the sites by driving over dirt roads and trails. Click through to Avenly Lane Travel to read more!Photo: Matt Gragg Photography / Flickr

A road cuts through an old abandoned pineapple plantation on the island of Lanai.

Overview_Maplan

Lana’i – Previously, almost all of this comma shaped island was used as a pineapple plantation.  With pineapple production being phased out, the island is developing as a touristy resort spot.  Currently, it is a great place to rent 4WDs to explore the sites by driving over dirt roads and trails.

Niʻihau

The Ultimate Guide to all of the Hawaiian Islands! Niʻihau – This island is privately owned and closed to visitors. The island is used almost exclusively for livestock cultivation. Click through to Avenly Lane Travel to read more!Photo: Flickr

Overview_Mapnii

Niʻihau – This island is privately owned and closed to visitors. The island is used almost exclusively for livestock cultivation.

Read Next: 11 Places You Can’t Miss In Hawaii 

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16 Comments

  • Alex says:

    Love this! I’ve actually always wondered about the Hawaiian islands! Great post!

  • Molokai and Maui are two that I definitely want to visit. I’ve been to Oahu and Kauai and LOVED Kauai’s outdoor scenery and nature. Each island definitely has it’s own personality and unique characteristics.

    • Claire Kennedy says:

      Molokai and Maui are at the top of our list as well. We are planning on visiting Kauai, Maui, and the big island this winter and we are so excited. Hawaii is just too gorgeous to limit yourself to only one island.

  • Marc says:

    Wow, Great pictures which give you the desire to jump onto a plane. I have been dreaming on going to Hawaii for the last few years and my dreams are coming true. Next year we are going to big island for a wedding and I am sure to enjoy my time there and also try to island hop.

    • Claire Kennedy says:

      That is so exciting!! It is pretty easy to island hop once you are there so hopefully that will work out. You will love it!

  • Kristi says:

    We actually asked some locals about the free roaming chickens on Kauai. They said that during Hurricane Iniki in 1992, several farms were destroyed and many of the chickens were able to get free. They then bred with the native Hawaiian chicken, which is sacred, so in turn, they all became sacred, so no one is allowed to kill them. I’ve read lots of theories online, but that’s what we were told by a few different locals on our trip in 2015.

  • Nice place. The view is fantastic.

  • Dalton says:

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but
    after I clicked submit myy comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.Anyhow, just wanted too say excellent blog!

  • Marie says:

    Wow, I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii, but now I want to even more! Thank you for sharing more information on each of the islands. It will be helpful when I plan a trip someday! 😉

    • Claire says:

      I am so glad to hear it was helpful! I remember when I first visited Hawaii being so confused wondering which island to visit. Thank you for reading Marie!

  • Rhiannon says:

    I hear that Kauai lacks mongooses, which are found on the other main islands. Mongooses eat eggs, hence the huge chicken population. Don’t know if it’s true, it’s what one of the locals told me when I was visiting there.

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