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Insider's Guide to the Islands of Hawaii

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Insider's Guide to the Islands of Hawaii

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Wai'anapanapa State Park on Maui is home to one of the few black sand beaches found on the islands. Photo courtesy of OluKai

OluKai is partnering with Hawaiian Airlines to offer one grand prize winner (and a companion!) their very own 4-day, 3-night Ultimate Island Adventure in Hawaii. For full details and to enter, visit OluKaiAdventure.com (but hurry—entry is open from April 15, 2017 to May 15, 2017, and the winner will be selected by May 20, 2017). After you enter the contest, read on and get inspired for your own adventure in the Hawaiian islands.

The Hawaiian Islands are known as a world-class travel destination thanks to their pristine beaches, lush jungles full of waterfalls, awe-inspiring volcanoes, and epic surf swells. This collection of eight major islands and more than 100 uninhabited islands has earned Hawaii the title of the world’s most isolated archipelago. Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from their closest neighbor, a visit to the Hawaiian Islands is the farthest you can get from any other landmass in the world. And this is where adventure begins.

Volcanic activity from the ocean floor formed the major islands—Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, Niihau, and the Big Island of Hawaii—as well as the archipelago’s smaller islets, coral reefs, and sand shoals. Visitors to Hawaii can see evidence of the islands’ volcanic history (and present) through the lava rock formations, black sand beaches, dormant volcano craters, and several active volcanoes.

Knowing the general lay of the land as well as the must-do adventures in each of Hawaii’s main destination islands—Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island—is a surefire way to make the most of this paradise in the Pacific. Don’t forget to stick a pair of flip-flops in your pack and trainers on your feet if you plan to be hanging out at the beach or hiking around (which we can practically guarantee you’ll be doing).

Maui

There are nearly 20 waterfalls along the Road to Hana.
There are nearly 20 waterfalls along the Road to Hana. Jessie Hodge

Home to impressive mountain ranges, countless opportunities for viewing wildlife, the legendary big-wave surf spot known as ‘Jaws’, and one of the state’s national parks, it’s no surprise that Maui is a mecca for outdoorsy travelers.

Anyone visiting Maui should experience the thrilling and scenic Road to Hana, a winding drive along the coastal cliffs and tropical jungle on the eastern side of the island. While the drive in and of itself is undeniably an adventure—sending you through hundreds of hairpin turns and 54 one-lane bridges as you track the rugged coast—the opportunities for roadside experiences make this trip unforgettable. Venture out for quick hikes to misty waterfalls and stunning vistas, or enjoy the picturesque beaches and enticing small towns full of charm and tropical eats. Some of the best stops include the Ho’okipa Lookout (great for watching surfers and sunsets), the easily accessible Twin Falls, and Wai’anapanapa State Park.

Save time at the end of the drive for a visit to Haleakala National Park, about 10 miles past Hana. Hike the four-mile Pipiwai Trail through bamboo forests up to Waimoku Falls, swim in the Seven Sacred Pools (get there early or it can be crowded), or stay overnight and catch sunrise the next morning on the summit of Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano.

Kauai

Kauai, the fourth largest island, is truly the ideal place for an adventurous Hawaii experience. The island is known for its tropical forests, towering seaside cliffs, 3,600-foot-deep canyon, and impeccable beaches the cover half the coastline. Unlike the other three main islands, Kauai is primarily rural. No building taller than a palm tree is allowed, meaning that instead of high-rise hotels and luxury condos, you’ll find small towns where life moves at a slower pace—even by Hawaiian standards.

A trip to Kauai would not be complete without experiencing Waimea Canyon, affectionately called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. About ten miles long, one-mile wide, and roughly 3,600 feet deep, Waimea Canyon’s vibrant red walls burst with lush vegetation and cascading waterfalls. View the canyon on a scenic drive down Highway 550, or choose from one of the many hiking trails in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks. The trails include easy-going lookouts that require less than a mile of walking, a variety of hikes in the two to eight-mile range, and the 11.5-mile (one-way) Waimea Canyon Trail starting at the bottom of the canyon and leading to Waimea Town (crossing the Waimea River several times along the way).

Oahu

The famous North Shore draws surfers from around the world.
The famous North Shore draws surfers from around the world. Daniel Ramirez

In contrast to rural Kauai, Oahu is the most populated and most frequently visited island of Hawaii. Home to the largest city on the Hawaiian Islands (Honolulu), historic Pearl Harbor, and well-known beaches, there’s something for everyone on Oahu. Many visitors find themselves at the famous beach and bustling resort area of Waikiki in Honolulu, but the island boasts several other beaches that are definitely worth exploring.

Head to the North Shore of Oahu to experience legendary surf waves and pristine white sand beaches. Stop by Ehukai Beach Park to see the iconic Banzai Pipeline, serving up those perfectly barreling waves that surfers dream of. A few minutes south on Highway 83 is Waimea Bay, where the pioneers of big wave surfing first ventured out into the impressive winter swells that roll in from November through February. Round out the North Shore surfing (or sunbathing) experience with visits to Haleiwa and Sunset Beach, both of which host world-class surfing competitions during peak season.

Big Island

Watch sunrise over the fiery Halema‘uma‘u Crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Watch sunrise over the fiery Halema‘uma‘u Crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island of Hawaii is a place of incredibly distinct environments, with both tropical forests and desert landscapes, the world’s tallest sea mountain (which even gets snow in the winter), and some of the most active volcanoes on earth. The Big Island was originally formed by five major volcanoes that overlapped to create one large island, and as the Kilauea volcano continues to erupt, the island continues to grow. Besides stunning natural diversity, the Big Island also boasts the best preserved Hawaiian temples and historical sites in the entire state (like Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park near Kona).

The active Kilauea Volcano, the glow from the lava lake in Halema'uma'u crater, and the Pu’u Loa petroglyph field are all must-see experiences on the Big Island. Luckily, all of these sights are located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of two national parks in the Hawaiian Islands. (Check the current park updates if you hope to see lava flowing from Kilauea.) For the best views of the plume erupting from Halema’uma’u crater, head to the Jaggar Museum, and stay after sunset to see the lava lake deep inside the crater glowing against a starry backdrop.

No matter which island you choose to spend your time, you can’t go wrong. With an abundance of both natural and cultural sites on all of the islands, you could spend a lifetime exploring all that they have to offer.

Originally written by RootsRated for OluKai.