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What we see as the eight islands of the Hawaiian archipelago are in reality the visible peaks of a sprawling oceanic mountain range that first erupted into existence more than 65 million years ago. Today the resulting tropical landscapes outlined by some of the world’s most breathtaking beaches host millions of visitors seeking warm weather, brightly colored sunsets, crystal-clear waters, and maybe even the occasional whale or sea turtle sighting against the backdrop of paradise.
But what makes Hawaii particularly special is the opportunity to discover your favorite island specific to your interests. Island hopping is easy and reasonably affordable, so whether you prefer the cosmopolitan luxuries of Honolulu, the laid-back vibes of Maui, the rugged landscape of the Big Island, or the breathtaking biodiversity of Kauai, there’s an opportunity to mix and match should you want to wander.
Fly into any of the Hawaiian island airports — from bustling Honolulu International Airport (HNL) to diminutive Lihue Airport on Kauai (LIH) to the lava-fields-framing Kona International Airport (KOA) – and you’ll notice a completely different energy compared to other airports around the globe. Travelers and employees alike seem to move at a relaxed pace. Over the years each island has invested heavily in optimizing the flow of people, with helpful staff and terminal signage clearly pointing guests toward taxis, rental car agents, and rideshares immediately upon exit.
A year-around temperate tropical climate buffered from trade winds means almost any time is a good time to visit the Hawaiian islands. That said, each island hosts a multitude of microclimates and localized weather specific to its unique geography. This means it’s possible to experience all four seasons in one day, especially across the biggest island of Hawai’i, where 11 out of 13 climate zones can deliver both sunburns and frostbite if you’re ill prepared. The windward (north and east) sides of islands tend to be wetter, while coastal regions along the south and west sides can be so dry that cacti can be spotted growing along hillsides. Pack layers in preparation for a surprise rain shower or a chilly welcome at the top of a volcano. And be sure to bring high-strength sunscreen, as it’s easy to burn under a tropic sun.
Traveling Maui’s 64.4-mile stretch of winding coastal cliff-hugging highway and one-way bridges can admittedly be a white-knuckled experience, but the journey rewards with unforgettable sights along the way: waterfalls emptying into emerald pools, empty stretches of beaches, and black sand beaches where local kids build sandcastles. Most visitors turn back after reaching the sleepy town of Hana, but those who continue to complete the loop will take in a surreal and sometimes barren landscape shaped by volcanic forces still slumbering underneath.
Walking through the world's highest rainforest can be both disorienting and magical. The boardwalk trail is often blanketed by a swirling layer of fog, slowing your pace to a shuffle. But this is all to hikers’ benefit, provoking visitors to stop, listen, and look around more carefully than if the path was easier. Unusual accumulations of moss and fruiting mushrooms can be found all along the way, with rare endemic birds often heard but rarely seen, masked by the dense vegetation. The hike ends at Kilohana Lookout, where on a clear day you’ll look out onto the depths of Wainiha Valley all the way out to Hanalei.
For most of us, walking upon an active volcano crater might be the closest we’ll get to visiting another planet. And indeed, the landscape of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park frames an otherworldly geological scar — a hot, steaming, hissing wound stinking of sulfur dioxide gas. For those hesitant to get that up close and personal, the 11-mile route known as the Crater Rim Drive allows you to take in the view safely from your car, or at various lookouts or observation decks from a distance.