Set your watch to island time in lush Hawaii
The Hawaiian archipelago sits just in the middle of the Pacific Ocean approximately 2,400 miles southwest of San Francisco. Standing side by side, eight main islandsOahu, Maui, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, Ni'ihau and the “Big Island”of Hawaiiare remote and brimming with botanic gardens, beaches, mountains, lunar landscapes and local seafood practically served up right from the ocean. Hop aboard a flight from the west coast to Honolulu International Airport (HNL), and you could be checked into your Hawaiian hotel in time for tonight's luau.
When you view the opening credits and hear the familiar "Hawaii Five-O" theme, that's Oahu. On the horizon, the craggy rock of Diamond Head, known locally as Leahi, stands out against the skyline. Oahu’s capital, Honolulu, sits on the southeast coast of the island and this is where you'll stumble upon Waikiki beach, the famous King Kamehameha statue and the majestic Iolani Palace.
Different tastes are catered for at Oahu's hotels, but if visitors are looking for a landmark stay, the Royal Hawaiian is the place. Affectionately named the Pink Palace of the Pacific due to its color and a lush tropical setting overlooking the Pacific, the Royal is a fine location for soaking up local culture.
Laid back, with just enough nightlife to keep visitors entertained, Maui is a favored vacation destination for travelers from around the globe. Step inside the quaint whaling town of Lahaina, where artists have long found inspiration in the island landscapes, galleries line the shores and souvenirs come in the form of arts, crafts and old maps, plus scrimshaw, or carved ivory.
The highest peak on Maui is Haleakala, or “House of the Sun.” Because the peak is more than 10,000 feet above sea level, a trek to the top is no spur-of-the-moment affair. There are paved roads but no gas stations or places to buy food in Haleakala National Park. Stop for fuel and supplies in Kahului or Pukalani. From Kahului, it takes about two hours to reach the summit. Don't forget to bring a camera or sketchbook to document what's sure to be a glowing orange and red sunset, which casts its color over the whole island.
The Big Island
The island of Hawaii has twice the land mass of the other main islands combined, and with seven districts and at least as many micro-climates, diversity is the standout feature here. Fiery volcanoes define the terrain on the Big Island: Mauna Kea, Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai and Kohala. The southernmost of these active volcanoes, Kilauea, has been erupting since the early 1980s, and tours are available to see the lava as it glistens and flows through the night.
The "kapu" or forbidden islands
Kaho'olawe and Ni'ihau
Of the eight major islands, only six are open to visitors. Kaho'olawe, a tiny island off the south shore of Maui, is not inhabited by humans at all. During the reign of King Kamehameha III, Kaho'olawe was used as a place of exile.
Ni'ihau is another wild and untamed Hawaiian Isle. This privately owned retreat is cared for by the Robinson family and, aside from a handful of military officials and family guests, nobody is permitted to visit the mysterious wave-swept shores where people still speak the Hawaiian language and television is not allowed.
Best time to visit Hawaii
If weather is the deciding factor, there is no wrong time to visit Hawaii. The overall climate is consistently comfortable with temperatures rarely exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're coming from the mainland, pack your summer clothes. Bring a light sweater just in case, because it can get chilly at higher elevations.
Skilled surfers flock to the north shore of Oahu from November to February, when the waves are often gigantic. Mighty humpback whales visit Hawaii between December and May and are always a magical sight, whether viewed from a tour boat or your hotel balcony.
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