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These heavenly islands send a siren call across the Pacific Ocean to visitors around the world. Trade winds blow the rain away year-round and the volcanic mountains covered in lush vegetation create varied microclimates; many-vowelled place names trip up the tongues of mainlanders; outdoor living is the norm; and the sunsets are what clichés are made of.

There is, of course, a modern Hawaii to discover beyond the hibiscus and mai tais, one with modern problems, but the natural beauty and out-of-this-world locations are what pull millions of visitors a year to these beautiful isles.

What is it known for?
Leis and luaus, primordial film sets for Jurassic Park and Lost, fair winds and fair weather, Hawaii wears its "paradise found" label proudly. The current American president, Barack Obama, spends his holidays here, as the first president to come from the 50th state in the union. His multicultural and bi-racial background is a common story in Hawaii, where the Polynesian, Asian, European and American waves of settlement have created a singular culture. "I wouldn't want to raise my kids anywhere else," said Sheree Stewart, a real estate attorney who lives on Oahu with her husband and two children. "You can never tell what race anyone is, and people are from all over, so you grow up learning about everyone's culture and ethnicity."

So many things here are of the superlative sort: the best surfing, the best hiking, the best volcano peeking, the best whale watching. The islands all have different personalities, each with its own soul, from the black sand beaches of the Big Island to the limpid Pool of Oheo on Maui.

Where do you want to live?
The first step of any vacation or second-home buyer is to choose the island that is right for you. "Each island offers such different lifestyles," explained Jeffrey M Fox, broker-owner of Kahala Associates in Oahu. "Oahu means 'the gathering place' and is the core of Hawaii." In fact the other islands used to be called the "outer islands", but are now known as the "neighbouring islands". Honolulu is the urban core with the culture, restaurants, shopping and so on. Nearby Waikiki, on the south side of Honolulu, is the number one resort area with many condos, beaches, hotels and restaurants. "I tell my buyers Waikiki is the best investment because all three types of buyers come here: the owner-occupant, second-home buyer and investor who wants to rent," said Fox.

Kailua is more upscale (and where President Obama stays), especially on the windward side of the island, where oceanfront homes start at around $3.5 million. Buyer beware: "oceanfront" is not the same as "beachfront". Diamond Head and Kahala are the Beverly Hills and Brentwood of Hawaii, and are especially in demand from second-home buyers from the west coast and California. Oceanfront starts at $7.5 million and goes into the double digits. "There are three vacant lots on Kahala Avenue currently on sale for $45 million," said Fox. However, the flat land and lack of trade winds mean it gets much hotter than more established, older neighbourhoods like Manoa.

The other two islands that are the most popular for second-home buyers are Maui and Kauai. Maui is especially popular with Californians and sales there mirror southern California in volume and prices. "Maui is different because you can see the other islands from there," said Tobi Fisher, director of sales for Hawaii Life Real Estate in Maui. Many look to Wailea on the south shore where the Four Seasons is and where many celebrities own. Entry level is about $1.7 million for a single-family, oceanfront house in a gated community.

On the west side of the island Kanapali and the town of Lahaina is the most popular spot to buy, as well as one of the most popular vacation spots because of the harbour, great snorkeling and nightlife along Front Street in the old whaling village of Lahaina. "A two-bed oceanfront unit can go from $235,000 in Lahaina to $450,000 for a one bed in Kaanapali," explained Fisher.

Kauai is the westernmost island and has a more remote feel to it. Buyers who want to rent out their house when they are not there look in the Princeville resort area and Poipu Beach, where houses can start at $500,000. Those who want their houses to themselves may look in resort areas as well, but also in secluded areas north of Hanalei Bay and near Kilauea in the island's north where estates can go for upwards of $10 million.

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