Ranking Hawaii’s Best Islands from The Best Islands in Hawaii

The Best Islands in Hawaii

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Ranking Hawaii’s Best Islands

The Aloha State consists of eight main islands, one of which is uninhabited. There are more than 125 isles in total. Choosing where to go when you only have a week off from work can be a daunting experience. There is so much to see, adventures to experience and hidden gems to explore. The following ranking is based on points given for how many visitors each island gets a year, adventure opportunities, affordable lodging, and the variety of the local culture.

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Maui

Hawaii’s second largest island boasts a lush landscape littered with wondrous waterfalls, bamboo forests and of course, sandy shores lined with palm trees, making it the ideal destination for nature lovers of all kinds. Surfing and scuba diving are just two exciting adventures you can embark on. Go rappelling and zip lining, explore lava fields, hike a volcano, or visit Haleakala. There you can also go paragliding, camping, biking down a volcano, and stargazing.

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Maui – cont’d

According to TripAdvisor, the best places to visit here include Kihei, which is home of the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Lahaina for a traditional Hawaiian experience, luaus and all, and Wailea, where you can experience the island’s more luxurious side with activities like golf, shopping and spa sessions.

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Oahu

You may think that tourists go primarily to the Big Island, but Oahu is the most visited of all the Hawaiian islands with nearly 4.7 million visitors a year, according to Hawaii Guide. Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and the famous beach known as Waikiki are there. Oahu is also one of the coolest surf places in the world. Trek up Diamond Head, snorkel in Turtle Bay, and visit the Pearl Harbor National Monument.

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The birthplace of modern stand-up paddling, Hawaii is a must-visit spot for avid paddlers. The island offers every version of the sport from stand-up surfing to SUP yoga, in addition to the many places to paddle and shops that rent out gear. Oahu’s dramatic jungle and waterfalls have been seen as backdrops in many favorite TV shows and movies including Jurassic Park.

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The Big Island

“The Gathering Place” is the third largest Hawaiian island. Thanks to the presence of Mount Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island gives visitors the unique opportunity to come face-to-face with flowing lava and steam vents almost every day of the year. On a dramatic night trek, watch as the molten lava lights up the sky with an eerie glow.

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Did you know that you can ski on the Big Island? Mauna Kea is a 13,796-foot volcanic mountain with a top that occasionally gets just enough snow for people to ski. There are no lifts, no grooming, no resorts, but a road that goes to the summit to serve the observatories located at the top, according to Hawaii Info Guide.

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Kauai

The island gets a bonus for the Kauai Half Marathon. The pristine sand beaches, lush jungle-like rain forests and massive green cloud-covered mountains, whose waterfalls bring the heavy rains that collect on the peaks cascading down to the beaches below offers one of the most beautiful places anywhere on earth for a running event, according to Half Marathons. Also, the 22-mile-long (round trip) Kalalau Trail is gorgeous. It provides the only foot access to the spectacular Na Pali Coast and the hidden beaches along the way.

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Kauai is home to the breathtaking Hali’i Falls where you can actually swim. You will find the stunning falls deep in the jungle. You can only get to the multifaceted waterfall by hiking through a bamboo forest, which is an adventure in itself. Hali’i means “spread out,” which is exactly what the waterfall looks like.

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Niihau

Niihau is the “Forbidden Island” of Hawaii. There are about 200 Native Hawaiians who reside there. They have kept their traditional way of life and even still speak Hawaiian. The main form of transportation is biking. You can see the island if you are on a helicopter tour but won’t be able to land unless you have permission from the Robinson family, which own the island.

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The island is one of the most incredible scuba diving locations. Thanks to its isolation, Niihau is home to some of the most pristine dives in all of Hawaii, with crystal-clear visibility at 120 feet or deeper. The advanced sites include giant arches, vast caves, mazes of lava tubes, and one 280-foot wall dive where, as you descend, you float through almost every level of sea life. Kauai-based Seasport Divers leads one-day trips with three dives at Niihau.

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Molokai

Did you know that the world’s tallest sea cliffs are on Molokai’s north shore? These superb cliffs soar between 3,600 and 3,900 feet above the ocean, according to GoHawaii.com. Tourists can’t really drive to see them because there are no roads to take them, but they can take a helicopter tour, a direct flight to Molokai, or go to the Kalaupapa overlook from Pala’au State Park.

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Hawaii is the only state with a tropical rainforest and it is located in Molokai’s east end. It receives 240 inches of rainfall a year. Go on a gorgeous hike through the lavish forest along mountain streams and pools and past ancient Hawaiian taro patch and hale. Make sure you make it all the way to see the 150-foot waterfall in the jungle where scenes from LOST, Hawaii Five-0 and Jurassic Park were filmed.

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Lanai

Lanai is an idyllic tropical getaway that Forbes even calls “a hidden travel gem.” The privately owned island is just about 9 miles away from Maui. The conditions for snorkeling and scuba diving are perfect. And it’s never crowded. Don’t miss a chance to swim in Hulopoe Bay, which is a marine preserve, go whale watching, horseback riding, and hiking. Two Four Season Resorts on the island will pamper you.

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Keahiakawelo, also known as Garden of the Gods, is an ethereal rock garden. It’s located approximately 40 minutes from Lanai City. The location’s mysterious lunar topography is populated with boulders and rock towers that were arranged centuries ago. Locals say this windswept landscape is the result of a contest between two priests from Lanai and Molokai. Each was challenged to keep a fire burning longer than the other, and the winner's island would be rewarded with great abundance. The Lanai priest, Kawelo, used every piece of vegetation to keep his fire burning, which is why this area is so barren.

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Kahoolawe

Kahoolawe’s nickname is “the Target Island.” The 45 sq. m. uninhabited island was used as a target by the U.S. Navy and Air Force for cleaning up unexploded shells until 1990. No one is allowed to go ashore without permission. There is no fresh water. Your only way ashore is through volunteer work opportunities offered throughout the year, according to Hawaii Magazine. There is large-scale restoration work with volunteers planting native flora or removing invasive weeds.

The Best Islands in Hawaii