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Travel Guide North America USA Western United States Hawaii

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Introduction

Riding the waves

Riding the waves

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Hawaii is USA's 50th state and a popular holiday destination for its citizens, as well as foreign tourists. Together with Florida, it's one of a few states where it's usually summer year round. The most popular island is Oahu, where you'll find Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and numerous other options to have a relaxing holiday. Maui is a good number two, and has great beaches and surfing as well as fantastic scenery. You can do daytrips to from here to islands like Molokai and Lanai. Kauai is another gem, in the northwest of the archipelago, while Hawaii Island (or the Big Island) is as big as all islands combined and is great for wachting the stars, hiking and more of a nature destination compared to the other islands.

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Geography

Hawaii is an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean roughly 3,200 kilometres southwest of the continental United States, south of Alaska, and north of Tahiti. Hawaii is the southernmost state of the United States and the second westernmost state after Alaska. Only Hawaii and Alaska do not share a border with another U.S. state. Hawaii is the only state of the United States that is not geographically located in North America, grows coffee, is completely surrounded by water, is entirely an archipelago, has royal palaces, and does not have a straight line in its state boundary. Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, stands at 4,205 metres but is taller than Mount Everest if followed to the base of the mountain, which, lying at the floor of the Pacific Ocean, rises about 10,200 metres.

The eight main islands, Hawaiʻi, Maui, Oʻahu, Kahoʻolawe, Lanaʻi, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau are accompanied by many others. Kaʻala is a small island near Niʻihau that is often overlooked. The Northwest Hawaiian Islands are a series of nine small, older masses northwest of Kauaʻi that extend from Nihoa to Kure that are remnants of once much larger volcanic mountains. There are also more than 100 small rocks and islets, such as Molokini, that are either volcanic, marine sedimentary or erosional in origin, totaling 130 or so across the archipelago

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Major Islands

  • Oahu - Nicknamed "the Gathering Place," Oahu is the most populous and developed island. Its southern shore is home to the city of Honolulu, the state capital and largest city; four out of every five kama'aina (Hawaii residents) call it home. It is the governmental and commercial center of the state, and Waikiki Beach is arguably the best known tourist destination in Hawaii. Outside the city are pineapple fields, and the North Shore of Oahu, which is known each winter as the home of some of the largest waves in the world. The USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor is also very popular visitor destination.
  • Hawaii Island - Almost always called the Big Island to avoid confusion, it's the largest of the islands and home to Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa (the largest and one of the most active volcanoes on Earth), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, coffee and macadamia nut plantations, working ranches, and even green sand beaches. Kailua-Kona is the busiest part of the island on the dry, leeward side, and near the mega-resort Kohala Coast area with nearly zero annual precipitation. The saddle road (quite passable and a must see – despite what rental car companies say) passes between the massive volcanoes and connects Kohala with Hilo, the largest town on the Big Island and county seat with annual precipitation of more than 300 inches per year. Unlike anywhere else on Earth and definitely worth a look.
  • Kauai - "The Garden Isle" is home to several natural wonders, such as the Wailua River, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali Coast. Mount Waialeale is known as one of the rainiest spots in the world. It boasts the most beaches out of the major islands, with the longest being Polihale measuring 27 kilometres in length. It's similar to the Big Island in that they have the most rural feel out of the 4 major islands.
  • Maui - The second largest island in the chain, and home to the 3,055-metre tall volcanic mountain crater of Haleakala. It is nicknamed "the Valley Isle" for the narrow plain between Haleakala and the West Maui mountains. On the west side of the island are the resort areas of Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua, while the south side is home to Kihei, and Wailea. On the east side is the tiny village of Hana, reached by one of the most winding and beautiful roads in the world.
  • Molokai - "The Friendly Isle" is the fifth largest and one of the least developed of the main Hawaiian Islands. It is home to Kalaupapa, the place where long term sufferers of Hansen's Disease (also known as leprosy) were forced into quarantine by the Hawaiian government until 1969. It is now known for pristine, breathtaking tropical landscapes, environmental stewardship, rich and deep Hawaiian traditions, and a visitor-friendly culture.
  • Lanai - Known as "the Pineapple Isle," formerly the world’s largest pineapple plantation owned by Dole Foods; it is now home to two high-end resorts. Just 3,135 people live on its 141 square miles. There are no traffic lights, movie theaters or bakeries. There is just one gas station and three main roads. It is ringed with vast and empty beaches, accessible only by four-wheel drive.
  • Niihau - A privately owned island with an entirely Native Hawaiian population. Until very recently, "the Forbidden Isle" was off limits to all but family members and invited guests of the owners. Tourism to the island is limited to helicopter, ATV, and hunting excursions originating on Kauai. There are around 130 Niihau residents and Native Hawaiian is the official language. They do not have running water, use solar power and live rent free.
  • Kahoolawe - A former U.S. Navy bombing range, which remains uninhabited. Efforts are being made to rehabilitate the island, but cleanup efforts continue.

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Cities

  • Hilo - eastcoast of The Big Island; wettest U.S. city.
  • Honolulu is the state's capital and largest city.
  • Kailua Kona - westcoast of The Big Island.
  • Kahului - Maui's main city.
  • Lihue - on Kauai.

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Sights and Activities

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is a national park located on the island of Maui. The park covers an area of 134.62 km2 of which 77.98 km2 is a wilderness area. It was originally created as part of the Hawaii National Park along with the volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea on the island of Hawaiʻi in 1916. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was made into a separate national park in 1961. The park area was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. The name Haleakalā is Hawaiian for "house of the sun."

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can see the only active volcano in North America. Here are steaming vents and gleaming black rocks, the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution - processes that thrust a bare land from the sea and clothed it with unique, exotic, tropical ecosystems and a distinct human culture. The park highlights two of the world's most active volcanoes, and offers insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands as well as world-famous views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. An experience visiting the volcano on the Big Island has two parts. There is the steaming Kilauea crater at nearly 4,000 metres high as well as the long slope near Kalapana where the molten lava goes into the ocean. Watching earth being created is an experience you will never forget and is best done near sunset. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is only one of several astounding natural features on the Big Island of Hawai'i. You can also find Mauna Kea, the world's tallest peak as measured from base to summit, sacred Waipi'o Valley with its lush flora and black sand beach, and eleven of the world's thirteen climate zones in one area of the island or another.

Mouna Kea

2 of the 14 Observatories on Mauna Kea

2 of the 14 Observatories on Mauna Kea

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Mauna Kea is by some measures the tallest mountain in the world. It is located on the Big Island. When measured from the base of the mountain on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, it rises 10,203 metres to its peak, taller than Mount Everest if using the same measurement. It is a dormant volcano, with its last eruption dating back to about 2500 BC.
In the Hawaiian language, Mauna Kea means "white mountain", so named because its summit is regularly covered with snow in winter. The mountain's summit is one of the best astronomical sites in the world and several leading observatories can be found there as a result.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai is 10 miles long a mile wide.
  • Waikiki Beach on Oahu offers the chance to unwind.

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Events and Festivals

The Festive Islands of Aloha

Dive deep into Hawaii’s local community and you’ll discover a culture alive with “paniolo” (cowboys), Chinese dragons, fire dancers, ethnic festivals, culinary events, and an exotic collection of celebrations unique in all the world. Throughout the year, you’ll also encounter parades, street parties, food and craft fairs, concerts and family activities that honor every aspect of Hawaii’s diverse culture.

Annual Celebrations

Many of Hawaii’s most memorable celebrations occur like clockwork, every year. Some, like the Honolulu Marathon (December) and the Hawaii International Film Festival (October), draw visitors from around the globe. Others, like Oahu’s Prince Lot Hula Competition (July) or the Eo E Emalani I Alakai Festival (October) on Kauai, and Molokai's Fetsivals of Aloha (October) are primarily local events that also have a strong allure for visitors who want to experience “authentic” Hawaiian culture.

Likewise, events that feature local foods and agricultural products attract both locals and visitors. Kapalua Wine & Food Festival (June) on Maui is Hawaii's longest-running and most prestigious food and wine event and hosts world-class winemakers, master sommeliers and chefs for thousands of wine and food lovers. And the Big Island’s Annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival (November) has something for everyone with nearly 50 events over 10 days.

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Weather

Hawaii is a popular destination among people looking for great weather. There are however differences throughout the year and even between parts of the islands. The southwestern parts are generally much drier compared to the northeastern parts of the islands. Honolulu is located in the southwest and has only between 20 and 50 mm of rain during most of the year, more so from November to February. Temperatures here are highest between July and October, around 28 °C during the day and around 24 °C at night. The other months are still nice and warm, between 24 °C and 27 °C during the day and around 20 °C at night.

The northeastern parts have even less fluctuation regarding temperatures though nights tend to be slighly cooler, days a bit warmer, especially in 'winter'. Here, rainfall is high with between 200 and 400 mm of rain a month, the wettest again from November to March. It is quite unusual for tropical islands to have the wettest time of year coincide with the slightly cooler months. Oddly enough, the possibility of a tropical storm or even a hurricane is higher from May to November, opposite to the wetter months. Still, such storms are less frequent compared to for example the Caribbean or west Pacific.

This website gives a fantastic summary with climate charts and maps of the 4 main islands, which show the differences on each Island, ranging from pretty dry on the main popular coastal areas, to extremely wet on the other side of the islands and even more so on some of the mountain ranges.

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Getting There

By Plane

Oahu:
Honolulu International Airport on the island of Oahu (airport code: HNL) is the main gateway to the islands of Hawaii and the principal hub of Hawaiian Airlines. There are direct routes to Honolulu's airport from Asia, North America and the Pacific.

Dozens of international destinations are served, among which many cities in the US, like Los Angeles, Seatlle and New York City. Other destinations include Vancouver, Auckland, Fiji, Taiwan, Micronesia, American Samoa, Seoul, Melbourne, Sydney, Manila, and quite a few cities in Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka.

To/from the airport
TheBus (Honolulu) routes 19, 20, and 31 stop on the upper (departure) level of the airport. Routes 19 and 20 connect the airport to Pearlridge Center (20 only), Hickam AFB (19 only), Downtown Honolulu, Ala Moana Center, and Waikiki. Route 31 connects the airport to Tripler Army Medical Center, via Kalihi Transit Center. Routes 9, 40, 40A, 42, and 62 run on Nimitz Highway within walking distance of the airport.
Taxis, limousine services, (hotel) shuttles and rental cars are all widely available, some of them requiring advance reservations.

Hawaii Island:
Kona International Airport (KOA) is the major airport on the western side of the Big Island.
There are direct flights to the Big Island with United Airlines from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. US Airways has flights from Phoenix.
American Airlines and Delta Airlines also serve the airport from Los Angeles. Some other cities with direct flights include Vancouver (seasonal), Seattle, Oakland and Tokyo.

Maui:
Kahului Airport (airport code OGG) handles all flights to and from Maui. Destinations include Vancouver in Canada and several mainland US cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Anchorage, Portland, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver and San Francisco.

Kaua'i:
Lihue Airport (LIH) is located on the southeast coast of the island. From here, Alaska Airlines flies to Seattle, American Airlines and Delta Airlines to Los Angeles, United Airlines to Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco, US Airways to Phoenix and there are seasonal flights with Westjet to Vancouver.

By Boat

While the days where everyone arrived in Hawaii by boat are long gone, there are limited numbers of trans-Pacific cruises to Hawaii that leave from ports on the West Coast. However, one fascinating way to experience Hawaii is by taking a cruise ship between the islands (see Get around: By boat).

There are limited freighter services, but if you are an American citizen embarking in the USA and wishing to travel to Hawaii then you cannot travel this way (because of the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, which says foreign-flagged ships cannot carry passengers from one U.S. port to another unless they stop in a foreign country - try cruises from Ensenada, Baja California or Vancouver, British Columbia).

It is also worthwhile to troll west coast marinas leaving your contact info and posting to online discussion boards for people planning to spend around a month sailing from the mainland. Just remember that a month with strangers can be stressful so do what you can to be sure you have picked a good experienced crew and boat to sail with and be a good crewperson yourself. Also ensure that any expectation in either direction of compensation including work duties, food, supplies, and damaged equipment is covered in writing so everything is clear between you and the boat owner. Storms and days stuck becalmed are to be expected but this is part of the life of a real sailor as much as racing with the wind.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are dozens of flights between the islands, including Hawaii Island, Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Lanai and Molokai. Airlines include Hawaiian Airlines, Go!, Island Air, Mesa Airlines and Pacific Wings.

By Car

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Bus

On Oahu there is an excellent public transportation system on "TheBus". You can buy a booklet called "TheBus" at the local ABC Stores giving route information on how to get around the island. Route schedules are also available on The Bus website. Public transportation is limited on the neighboring islands, it is recommended to rent a car to get around. If necessary, there are still bus services available within and between populated areas on the other islands. They are:

  • Hele-On - Hilo, Kona, Waimea and around the big island of Hawai'i
  • Kaua'i Bus - Kauai
  • Maui Bus - Kahului, Wailuku, Lahaina, and other places in western Maui. No service to the Haleakala NP in the eastern part of the island.

No regular bus services exist on Molokai or Lanai.

By Boat

Expeditions has ferries between Maui and Lanai. Finally, Molokai Ferry travels once a day between Maui and Molokai.

Hawaii on a cruise
With two basic alternatives, Hawaii is one not to be missed. Start from Honolulu, go around the other Polynesian islands and get back to the most populated island takes around seven days. Other choices would leave from Vancouver, San Diego or Los Angeles. The longest cruise would take almost two weeks from mainland, taking few of those days to get to Hawaii. Visit the Big Island (Hawaii Island) and look at the volcanic formations, enjoy luxurious Oahu and Maui full of resorts and beautiful beaches.

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Eat

Contemporary food in Hawaii, like the language and popular culture, is a medley of traditional Hawaiian, Portuguese, American, and Asia-Pacific flavors. Pacific "fusion" cuisine was largely invented in Hawaii. Well-known local chefs include Sam Choy, Alan Wong, Russell Siu, Roy Yamaguchi, and George "Chef Mavro" Mavrothalassitis. Seafood is, of course, fresh and tasty. Local beef comes from ranches on Maui and coffee is grown on the Big Island. Tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, bananas, guavas, and papaya, as well as fresh sugar cane, can be bought in most corner stores (although you may be surprised to learn that many of those fruits are now imported from distant locales such as The Philippines & Brazil).

One of the most common ways that local food is served is in the form of plate lunch, usually meat or fish with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. It's always a good deal at any lunch wagon, mall, or outside food court. L&L Drive Inn and Zippy's are probably the most widely distributed chain of plate lunch spots in the Hawaiian islands. Branches of L&L are in some locations on the Mainland as well (as L&L Hawaiian Barbecue).

Another way of enjoying local food when roaming around the island is to keep an eye out for the converted trucks/vans that are parked in their regular spots in gas station parking lots, some parks and a variety of places on the island. These lunch wagons offer plate lunches, are popular with the locals and provide great meals (on plastic plates) at very reasonable prices. There is no reason to fear them; they are very common and popular. More recently, food carts have started to provide other kinds of cuisine besides the standard plate lunch.

You may be surprised to find that even the McDonald's menu is different. Saimin, a Hawaiian noodle soup inspired by ramen, is a permanent menu item, and was the first regional food to be served in a McDonald's. Another favorite is the breakfast platter at Hawaiian McD's features Portuguese sausage, Spam, eggs, and steamed rice, sometimes with fresh pineapple. Also, while on the Mainland orangeade is a fruit-flavored alternative to Coke or Sprite, in Hawaii, fruit punch fills that role.

Perhaps the best setting for tourists to enjoy traditional Hawaiian food is at a luau (lū‘au), a traditional Hawaiian feast. Tourists can find luaus at various locations in the Islands, including many of the major resort hotels. At a modern luau traditional Hawaiian favorites are served as a pūpū (buffet of appetizers and small main dishes (similar in size to Spanish tapas), which gave its name to the American Chinese "pupu platter"), and there is also Hawaiian music, hula, and other Polynesian entertainment. The downside is that they can be pricey and prices can vary widely; expect to pay between USD $50 and $90 per adult and about half that per child.

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Drink

Beer

There are a number of excellent local brewpubs in Hawaii. Mehana, Sam Choy's, Honu, Waimea Brewing Company, Liz's Pub, Keoki's and Kona Brewing Company all brew beer in Hawaii or brew it on the mainland and ship it to the islands. The largest of the group is Kona Brewing, which has won several national awards and runs two brew pub restaurants in the islands (one in Kailua Kona, the other in Hawaii Kai on Oahu).

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Sleep

Hotel and Motel Chains

There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:

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Contributors

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Hawaii Travel Helpers

This is version 68. Last edited at 14:58 on Aug 30, 16 by Utrecht. 49 articles link to this page.

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