The question: I'm planning a surprise 30-day trip to Hawaii for my wife, spending each week on a different island. Where should we go, and what highlights should we make sure to include?
Sure, they're splashed out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, all volcanoes, waterfalls and beaches, but each of Hawaii's islands is as different as our own provinces, says Jeanette Foster, author of Frommer's Hawaii ( frommers.com).
Her first word of advice?
"Do not try to do all six islands in 30 days. Pick a couple of islands and really explore them – otherwise you will be spending your fabulous vacation visiting our interisland air terminals, not the most pleasant way to see Hawaii."
Foster offers a sampling of the major islands to help you pick:
Kauai: Known as the "Garden Isle," this lush island is ringed with beaches. Its major resort areas are Princeville in the north and the Poipu Resort area in the south, says Foster, a long-time Hawaii resident who has written dozens of Frommer's guidebooks on Hawaii. "Kauai is perfect for people looking for a vacation that includes golfing, spending time on the beach or in the ocean. … It is not the island for nightlife." Highlight? A helicopter tour over the pinnacles, canyons and spectacular falls with Blue Hawaiian ( bluehawaiian.com).
Oahu: Nightlife, shopping and top-chef restaurants are big draws of this populous island. "But there also is a quieter side of Oahu, away from Honolulu and Waikiki – on the North Shore … and the less-congested windward coast." Highlight? Wandering through the galleries, shops and street entertainment in Honolulu's Chinatown during First Friday, a must-experience cultural celebration held the first Friday each month.
Maui: Popular Maui is a cross between urban pleasures and laid-back experiences, says Foster. There's shopping, spas and nightlife, but also more low-key charms such as the village of Hana – once you survive the curves of the Hana Highway. Highlight? Greeting the sun from atop the sacred volcano, Haleakala. Sunsets are spectacular, too: "When the sun kisses the ocean, the colour lights on the clouds at their peak performance," says Foster, noting that sometimes at that moment there's a green flash of light.
Molokai: Reached by ferry from Maui, there are no traffic lights and only one hotel. This is the place to relax and explore old Hawaii. "In fact, as you leave the tiny airport on Molokai, someone has put up a home-made sign, which reads: 'Slow Down – You On Molokai Now.'" Highlight? The Molokai mule ride ( muleride.com), where you descend from 520-metre-high cliffs along countless switchbacks to a former leper colony below.
Lanai: A former pineapple plantation and Hawaii's smallest island, Lanai's economy now features two big Four Seasons resorts – one at the sea, one in the mountains – as well as smaller accommodation. "Nightlife is sitting under a canopy of stars, shopping is going to the farmer's market on Saturday, and dining [off-resort]… is dropping by for coffee to listen to the locals 'talk story' at one of the tiny restaurants." Highlight? If you can forsake hiking, horseback riding and diving, this is the place to just sit back and relax, Foster says.
Big Island of Hawaii: This island is true its name – it's big. And there's much to do here: snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing in the ocean, golfing on top greens, taking a tour up the volcano Mauna Kea for star-watching or watching lava (if you're lucky) run into the ocean near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Keep your energy up for all these pursuits with a visit to the famous Kona Coffee plantations. Highlight? "Walking back in time to ancient Hawaii from the Mo'okini Heiau, a human sacrificial temple dating back to 780 A.D.," says Foster.
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Special to The Globe and Mail
Follow Karan Smith on Twitter: @karan_smith.