Hawaii has been an iconic tourist destination for decades.

Generations of travellers have been drawn to the Aloha State for its spectacular beaches, excellent surfing and enhancing Polynesian culture — and it’s only getting more popular.

The US state is an archipelago of eight major islands where the experience and local charm is wildly different from one island to the next.

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Six of the Hawaiian Islands are open for tourism — and here’s a beginner’s guide to each island, what makes it so special, and why you should consider having your holiday there.


This is the island that probably comes to mind when you think of Hawaii.

Home to the state’s capital, Honolulu, and most of its iconic sites, Oahu is the cultural and physical centre of the Hawaiian Islands and the most popular island for tourists. And not just for tourists — about two-thirds of Hawaii’s population lives here, too.

Oahu is also the most developed of the islands, with a massive range of accommodation options, places to eat and drink, museums and entertainment offerings.

Most famous for: The iconic Waikiki Beach, the Pearl Harbour National Memorial, and North Shore, the stretch of coast famous for its massive waves and international surfing contests.

Best for: Travellers with a bucket list who want to be in the thick of the action.


Oahu might boast Hawaii’s most famous beach in Waikiki but the best beaches are found in Maui.

Maui, which is known as the Magic Isle, is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands and has a variety of different landscapes, from lush rainforests and stunning mountains to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This all makes it another popular choice for tourists.

It offers something for everyone — especially when it comes to outdoor recreation. You can go ziplining and hiking, mountain biking and on leisurely drives. At the coast, tourists can go surfing and windboarding, kayaking and snorkelling.

It might be a summer hotspot but Maui is also special in winter, when it becomes a peak stop in the annual migration of humpback whales.

Most famous for: Being home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Best for: Tourists who want a good mix of adventure and relaxation.


Kauai, the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, is also the oldest. An oasis away from the action of Oahu and Maui, Kauai is most famous for its natural beauty.

The island is awash with bright green valleys and dramatic mountains and is mostly covered with tropical rainforests, from which it earns its nickname, the Garden Island.

In fact, the island’s natural wonders — especially the emerald green pinnacles on the Na Pali Coast — have served as a backdrops for dozens of TV shows and Hollywood blockbusters, including Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean and Disney’s upcoming Jungle Cruise.

Most famous for: The dramatic green landscapes that will make you forget the beach.

Best for: Outdoorsy tourists who want a calmer, quieter Hawaiian experience.


Hawaii — also known as The Big Island — is the largest, boldest and most arguably the dramatic of the Hawaiian Islands. Why? Volcanoes.

The destructive volcanic activity in Hawaii last year happened on the Big Island, when the mighty volcano Kilauea explosively erupted after having erupted continuously since 1983. Kilauea and its larger neighbour, the also-active Mauna Loa, are the island’s top drawcards for tourists, who can literally watch lava flowing into the ocean.

Most famous for: The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has helped tourism on the Big Island grow at a faster rate than the other Hawaiian Islands.

Best for: Intrepid tourists who want to see Hawaii’s legendary volcanoes up close.


Molokai is the least populated of the islands and has the least tourist facilities, but that just makes it the perfect place to go off-grid.

While it’s not a massive tourist hotspot, there is plenty to intrigue those who do visit Molokai.

More than half of people on the island have indigenous Hawaiian heritage and there’s a big focus on preserving land, culture and ancient sites.

One of the island’s biggest claims to fame is that according to legend, it’s where the hula goddess Laka gave birth to the iconic hula dance, and there’s a hula festival held each year to celebrate it.

The island was a dedicated quarantine site for people with leprosy until 1969. These days it’s known as Hawaii’s “Friendly Isle”.

Most famous for: Being Hawaiian Island most untouched by tourism.

Best for: Curious tourists who want to escape the crowds and the beaten track.


The tiny island of Lana’i is a quick ferry ride from Maui and but feels like a world away.

The slice of paradise is almost completely owned by billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who bought 98 per cent of the island for a cool $443 million in 2012. He has flagged his intention to turn Lana’i, a former pineapple production powerhouse, into an eco-friendly tourism hub.

The island boasts a number of golf courses and a Four Seasons Resort complete with a Nobu Matsuhisa restaurant, but also has rustic rural roads, hidden beaches and intriguing archaeological sites.

Most famous for: Being a billionaire’s paradise.

Best for: Day-trippers from Maui who are keen to explore a more rustic side to Hawaii.