same. But each of the islands also has its own distinct style, vibe and feel.
Just for fun, let’s look at a bit of each one:
O’ahu is often the first island you think of when you think of Hawaii. Home of Hawaii Five-O and the state government, O’ahu is home to about seventy percent of the state’s population. Honolulu is the largest city in the world – literally. According to the Hawaii state constitution any island among the 137 islands in the state which does not belong to another county belongs to Honolulu. Therefore, the city of Honolulu is about 1,500 miles long. That’s longer than halfway across the 48 contiguous states.
Maui hosts the largest number of visitors of any of the Hawaiian islands. It’s home to Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano and the vintage whaling town of Lahaina. Oprah Winfrey has not just one home on Maui but two (although so many celebrities own property and visit the island every year that seeing someone “famous” isn’t uncommon.) Maui has boasts the world’s most loved beach, Ka’anapali. Most visitors stay and play on the West Side, where resorts sit cheek to jowl along the coastline and the economy is nearly one-hundred percent tourism.
Of course there’s always the confusion sparked by having one of the major islands having the same name as the state itself. It’s sort of like New York and New York City. But unlike New York, the Big Island does not host the state’s most famous city. On the Hilo side, the Big Island is very local, laid-back and tropical. The Hilo side is gateway to Volcanoes National Park, a lush surreal landscape of steaming vent holes bordering a massive moonscape of lava. On the Kona side, the dry side, large resorts have been built along the Kohala Coast to the delight of sun worshipers and golfers. The Big Island also grows many of the crops the state of Hawaii is known for: coffee, macadamia nuts, and orchids, to name a few.
The fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands, Kaua'i is home to Waialeale Mountain, which averages 488 inches of rain per year and is considered the wettest spot on earth. Called “The Garden Isle” Kaua'i is green beyond imagining. The sunny south side, anchored by the town of Poipu, is where most visitors stay. Waimea Canyon, sometimes referred to as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is a stunning red, brown, and tan gorge that appears out of place in the lush surroundings. The North Shore town of Hanalei is where Peter Yarrow of the group Peter, Paul and Mary wrote the song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.” That gives you some idea of the vibe of the place.
This island also has a confusing name. The word “lanai” in Hawaiian means a porch or balcony. But the island of Lana’i contains a glottal stop, or okina. This means the name has three syllables instead of two—lah-nah-ee, as opposed to lah-neye. This small island is almost totally owned by one man, Larry Ellison, of Oracle software fame. Although the island used to be covered in pineapple plants, the pineapples are now all gone.
The island of Molokai is considered the most “Hawaiian” of the public Hawaiian Islands. It’s east end is WET—getting some 240 inches of rain in a year. Most people remember Molokai as home to Kala’aupapa, the place where people suffering from leprosy (now called, Hanson’s Disease) were sent to live in isolation. One of the Catholic Church’s newest saints, Father Damien, died while helping the inhabitants there.
The other two…
There are two other islands, Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe. Ni’ihau is a privately-owned island with little to no access to outside people. Only some 200 people live on Ni’ihau and they live in the traditional ways—speaking Hawaiian and without using modern conveniences. The island of Kaho’olawe is a sore subject in Hawaii. It was once an inhabited island but for decades was used for bombing practice by the U.S. military. Groups are trying to restore the island but it will take time and money to erase its sad past.
I hope you've enjoyed this quick jaunt around the islands. I'd love to hear from you about which island is your favorite! (Although I know it's hard to choose...)