How to choose a Hawaiian island
Whirling Tahitian hula dancers celebrate their art at the Merry Monarch Hula Festival. (Emily Riddel/LPI)
Planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands but not sure where to start? Wherever you travel around the Hawaiian Islands, fantastical beaches, friendly faces and ono grinds (good eats) are practically guaranteed, but every island has a unique flavour.
Get swept up by the kinetic energy of the capital island, Oahu. Hang loose on Maui, which offers a little something for everyone, but especially for beach bums. Gaze at the towering sea cliffs on ancient Kauai. Wonder at new land being birthed by volcanoes on the Big Island, Hawaii's youngest isle. Escape to total resort luxury on Lanai or learn to live life off the land on rural Molokai, where native Hawaiian traditions run strong. Whatever you are seeking in paradise, the Aloha State has it - all you have to do is open your eyes.
Oahu: Best for beaches, food, museums
Multicultural modernism - Explore Oahu if you want to take the measure of multiracial Hawaii, which confounds the categories of census-takers. Here, East and West merge as ancient Hawaii greets the 21st Century.
Big city, small island - Three-quarters of state residents call "The Gathering Place" home, and everyone rubs elbows - on the beach and the bus, on city sidewalks and country lanes. Still sprawling, even empty beaches are just a short drive from downtown Honolulu's art galleries, museums and monuments.
An endless feast - If you do nothing else on Oahu, eat. Japanese izakaya (gastropubs), island-style food trucks, high-wire fusion menus by Hawaii's top chefs - it is all here, waiting to be tasted.
Hawaii (The Big Island): Best for hiking, culture, wildlife
Hiking - Kilauea, the most active volcano on Earth, conjures up a dreamscape for hikers: emerald amphitheatre valleys and icy waterfall pools, lava flows both active and ancient, crashing against rain forest and some of the loftiest summits your boots will ever struggle to top.
Hawaiian culture - On the Big Island, culture is participatory - absorbed, rather than simply observed. Here you are invited to create a lei, dance a hula, beware the night marchers and watch as fish are caught the old Hawaiian way.
Wildlife - Spinner dolphins leap in the air, sea turtles glide up to a seaweed buffet, and endangered nene cross the road regularly here. In winter, humpback whales are the show-stoppers.
Maui: Best for beaches, hiking, food
Sun and surf - Justifiably famed for its glorious strands, Maui's got a beach for every mood - wind-whipped kiteboarding meccas, calm snorkelling coves, hidden gems and some of the biggest surfable waves on the planet. Or just plop down on the sand and scan the horizon for wintering whales.
Trails galore - Maui's trails go to the most amazing places: towering ridge-tops, cascading waterfalls, bamboo forests and a cindery volcanic national park. Choose from easy strolls to hardy backcountry treks.
Locavore heaven - Grass-fed beef from upcountry pastures and bountiful organic gardens ensure Maui's chef-driven restaurants have the raw ingredients to whip up their famed Hawaiian regional creations.
Lanai: Best for remoteness, history, beaches
Isolation - Ignoring the great views of other islands, Lanai feels like an isolated bit of subtropical pleasure far from the rest of the world (as opposed to the 25-minute plane ride from Honolulu). There are not many people, the landscape is stark and you can go on adventures exploring its unvisited corners.
Pineapples - Nearly the entire island supplied the world with pineapples for much of the 20th Century. The crops are gone but the vintage plantation town of Lanai City still beguiles.
Hulupoe Beach - Lanai's one main beach is a beauty. The long, bay-side crescent of sand is good for snorkelling and it is backed by a tidy, uncrowded park.
Molokai: Best for culture, adventure, history
Most Hawaiian - More than 50% of Molokai's people have indigenous heritage. Locals consistently favour preservation of the land and culture over schemes that would promote tourism. Yet there is aloha spirit everywhere and visitors find a genuine rather than a paid-for welcome.
Saint Damien - A young priest who travelled to the island's remote Kalaupapa Peninsula in 1873 to care for leprosy patients is America's first saint. Today the spectacular peninsula is a national park and a visit is one of Hawaii's top adventures.
Wild adventure - The world's tallest sea cliffs, misty rain forests, hidden waterfalls and deserted beaches are just some of the features that beckon.