The Hawaiian Islands Guide: Beginner’s Guide to Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands Guide

Here is your beginners guide to the Hawaiian Islands!

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Eight Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands. There are 132 total islands and 124 smaller islets and atolls for you to explore. Hawaii is located in the North Pacific Ocean.  The Hawaiian Islands are about 1,860 miles (3,000 km) from the nearest continent. Hawaii is the only US State made entirely of islands. Hawaii is the southernmost state in the USA.

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The Hawaiian Islands rise from the ocean as peaks of an undersea mountain range known as the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain, formed by volcanic explosions long ago. Visiting the Hawaiian Islands is an incredibly rewarding experience that will leave you with a legacy of travel memories.

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Hawaii: The Aloha State

The name Hawaii is derived from the name of the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii Island. The word Hawaii is from the Proto-Polynesian hawaiki language. It means ‘place of the gods’ or ‘homeland’.

Hawaii state’s nickname is “Aloha State’, because the word ‘Aloha’ is one of the most commonly used words in Hawaiian Language. Aloha is the Hawaiian word for love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy. It is commonly used as a simple greeting. Based on the context, Aloha can mean ‘hello’, ‘welcome’, ‘love’, ‘best wishes’ or even ‘goodbye’

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Visit Hawaii: Six Primary Islands

Oahu (Gathering Place)

Oahu is a U.S. island in the Central Pacific, part of the Hawaiian island chain and home to the state capital, Honolulu. Highlights of the city include historic Chinatown and the Punchbowl, a crater-turned-cemetery. You will love visiting Waikiki, an iconic beach. dining, and nightlife area. For History Buffs, West of Honolulu is Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor is the site of the WWII’s 1941 bombing attack and home to the USS Arizona Memorial.

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Oahu is the most commercial of the islands, and home to Waikiki and Honolulu. But do not let that fool you: Oahu mesmerizes visitors with rainforests, mountains, valleys, and spectacular ocean waves. A great suggestion for any island newcomer is to rent a car (an open top is ideal) and drive the perimeter of the island – you may well be awed by how undeveloped and quaint much of the island remains. Honolulu, on the southern tip of Oahu and bordered by both mountains and ocean, is actually one of the largest cities in the United States and home to near 80% of the Hawaiian population. Waikiki is famous the world over, where urban culture and the distinct Polynesian flavor of Hawaii co-exist in perfect harmony. Diamond Head, a mountainous volcanic crater, is a famous and easily recognizable landmark.

Kaua’i (Garden Isle)

Kauai is an island in the Central Pacific, part of the Hawaiian archipelago. It’s nicknamed “the Garden Isle” thanks to the tropical rainforest covering much of its surface. The dramatic cliffs and pinnacles of its Na Pali Coast have served as a backdrop for major Hollywood films, while 10-mile-long Waimea Canyon and the Nounou Trails traversing the Sleeping Giant mountain ridge are hiking destinations.

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Geologists say that Kauai is the oldest island of the six tourist islands. The rugged coast boasts more miles of beach and hiking trails than all the other islands. This is the island serving as a backdrop to many films, including Jurassic Park. Its primitive, tropical beauty evokes the Garden of Eden – it is an island of mountains and valleys, waterfalls and beautiful beaches. On the Northwest side of the island, 3,000 foot cliffs line the Na Pali Coast, much of it inaccessible except by boat or hikes on foot. The island is circular in shape, offering five areas developed for tourism. This well-rounded destination appeals to commercial shoppers, fine diners, and eco-tourists alike.

Hawai’i (Big Island and Orchid Isle)

The Big Island of Hawaii (officially named Hawaii) is the largest island in the United States’ Hawaiian archipelago in the Central Pacific. Its diverse terrain spans colored-sand beaches at Papakolea (green) and Punalu’u (black) to lush rainforest. Within Volcanoes National Park, there are 2 active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Hapuna Beach and Kahalu’u Beach Park in the west are popular snorkeling sites.

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Maui (Valley Isle)

Maui is an island in the Central Pacific, part of the Hawaiian archipelago. Sprawling Haleakala National Park encompasses the island’s highest peak, volcanic Haleakala, as well as the pools and waterfalls of Ohe’o Gulch, accessed via scenic, winding Hana Highway. The island’s 30 miles of beaches include golden-crescent Kapalua, sheltered from strong currents by lava-rock promontories.

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The Hawaiian island of Maui has something for everyone. The dormant Haleakala volcano (though officially classified as “active”) and Kahalawai volcano watch over Hawaii’s second largest island and shape the island’s mountains, valleys and waterfalls. Visitors to Maui are surprised by how undeveloped most of the island feels, and yet how much it offers in terms of dining, resorts and nightlife. Maui is also the whale watching center for the islands (the humpback whale is the state animal). Driving to the top of Haleakala to watch the sunrise is a Maui visitor ritual (many opt to bike back down from the top), as is a drive around the island’s perimeter on the 50 mile Hana Highway. Another attraction is the small village of Lahaina, full of great shops and restaurants.

Moloka’i (Friendly Isle)

Molokai is a Hawaiian island in the central Pacific. On the island’s northern Kalaupapa Peninsula is a steep path leading to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, an isolated former leper colony below towering cliffs. The site can also be viewed from the clifftop Kalaupapa Lookout in Palaau State Park. Nearby, the park’s Phallic Rock is said to have fertility powers.

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Words most often associated with the island of Molokai are peace and tranquility. Molokai is home to many of the ecological and adventure-oriented activities found in Hawaii. The eastern side of the island is very green and tropical. In contrast, the western side offers dry grasslands and beaches. To the north, tall sea cliffs rising more than 3,500 feet above sea level look out over the ocean. The cliffs create Hawaii’s tallest waterfall. The Kalaupapa Peninsula is considered one of the state’s most beautiful areas. Kalaupapa is the former home of the island’s famous leper colony, bordered by high, sheltering cliffs on one side. The main “urban” area is Kaunakakai. It is a small town with no traffic lights.

Lana’i (Getaway Isle)

Lanai is one of the islands comprising the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the Pacific Ocean. On its northern side is Shipwreck Beach, known for its offshore wreck of a WWII tanker. Take in the views of Molokai and Maui islands. In the northwest, long, secluded Polihua Beach attracts green turtles. Humpback whales sometimes appear past its shoreline. Inland is the Garden of the Gods, a lunar landscape of rock towers and boulders.

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Lanai is a largely rural island, sheltered from the leeward winds by Maui, some nine miles away. There are only 32 miles of pavement on the island, and much of it is given over to luxury resorts, golfing, and activities for adventurous personalities, and it is oft-considered the Hawaii’s best snorkeling and scuba diving spot.

Lanai was at one time a giant pineapple plantation. Lanai is home to some of Hawaii’s most famous beaches, such as Hulopoe Bay. The only town on the island is Lanai City, a quaint town filled with small shops and artist studios. Lanai entertains many visitors with large luxury resorts and their attendant championship golf properties.

Planning Your Visit to the Hawaiian Islands

Before you start planning your getaway it is important to determine what kind of Hawaiian experience you want to enjoy. There are an overwhelming number of possibilities for the first time traveler. GoGo Travel can help you make thoughtful choices in your vacation planning taking into account your personal preferences, interests, time, and budget.

Time is a critical factor in planning your vacation. Second, is choosing which of the Hawaiian Islands is best for your adventure. If you are going to be in Hawaii a short time (less than a week) it would be a mistake to book hurried tours on different islands. Experienced travelers may bypass Oahu and opt for visiting the neighbor islands. Visit Maui for its beaches and whale watching, Kauai for some hiking, or Lanai for rest and relaxation.

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You may find these Blog Posts helpful in planning your trip to Hawaii…

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