If there’s one question I get asked more often than any other, it’s which Hawaiian Island is best?
I’ve done a pretty extensive blog post on that topic here, but I still get a lot of variations on this question.
After reading up on the different Hawaiian Islands, most people can pretty quickly narrow it down to two choices. That’s when I start getting the this island vs. that island questions.
Say you’re going to Hawaii for a week and you want a laid back vacation without a lot of people around. It’s easy enough to cross Oahu off the list. And after doing a bit of research, maybe the sheer size of the Big Island overwhelms you. So that leaves you with Maui or Kauai. So you start asking around. Guess what? All the people who have been to Maui loved it. And all the people who have been to Kauai will say it’s definitely the best. The people who have been to both will either suggest splitting your trip between the two because who could possibly choose, or they’ll have a definite favorite. Bless those people who can make a decisive recommendation!
Now I’ll tell you what I think ; ) There’s no “best” island. People’s “favorite” or “best” islands depends largely on their personality types and what kind of a vibe they like on vacation. Now unless you match that person 100%, your opinions are likely to differ.
So for the first post in this island vs. island series, I’m going to tackle Maui vs. Kauai. But I’m not going to just tell you which I think is best, because that’s not really going to help YOU decide. I’m going to do my best to break down the pros and cons of each island so you can decide for yourself which will be best. I will let you know my personal favorite at the end though.
I’m going to start out by making a bold statement. You can’t narrow any Hawaiian Islands out of your search by asking “which ones has the best/most ‘nature’?” I’ve heard so many people say, “if you want nature, Kauai is definitely the best island.” Bull. If you want “nature,” you’ll be happy on any of the islands-even on Oahu with its population of one million. These are some of the most spectacular islands in the world and they haven’t gotten that reputation because of their modern architectural marvels. Each Hawaiian Island features STUNNING natural landscapes. The discussion about which is more “natural” or features better nature is a bit more nuanced.
Let’s start with Kauai. If I was forced to name the most beautiful Hawaiian Island, I would probably say Kauai. Most of the island (but especially the north shore) is made up of those jagged, green peaks that movies like Jurassic Park have made so famous. It is lush, it is tropical, and it is stunning. However, I have to admit that 75% of the most spectacular sites I’ve seen on Kauai either involved a helicopter tour, a boat tour, or an extensive hike. So while it might be the most beautiful, most of that beauty isn’t highly accessible.
The Napali Coast is by far what makes Kauai the most beautiful island, but like I mentioned above, it’s so remote that you’ll only see it via helicopter, boat, or strenuous hike. Actually, I would say the Napali Coast is trumped in beauty by Wai’ale’ale Crater (the birthplace of Kauai), but since you’ll only see it for a couple of minutes on a helicopter tour (and because of weather conditions only a percentage of helicopter flights are actually able to enter into the crater), it’s not a major factor for most visitors.
However, I will make another bold statement here. I would almost say if you’re not going to do a helicopter tour, skip Kauai because you’ll be missing its most magical parts.
The other major natural site on Kauai is Waimea Canyon, often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It is truly unique, and it’s easily seen by car or via hiking if you’re more adventurous. However, once again, it’s most impressive when seen from a helicopter.
The north shore of Kauai is its true gem. It’s so lush, green, and gorgeous, however it’s that way because of all the rain. It is a rainforest after all. I cannot emphasize how much it rains on the north shore of Kauai, especially during the winter months.
Overall, Kauai does lush and tropical very well, but now on to Maui.
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Maui wins easily for the most diverse island. It has lush and tropical, curated resort areas, rainforests, valley, rolling ranchland, and an arid volcano summit. While Kauai excels in the green, jagged peaks department, Maui has it all.
Maui’s two most notable natural features are the Road to Hana which is a gorgeous winding road through the junglish side of Maui featuring countless waterfalls and colorful sandy beaches, and Haleakala, the 10,000 foot summit of Maui’s dormant volcano. Watching sunrise or sunset at the summit of Haleakala is a completely unique experience. You’ll feel more like you’re on Mars than earth due to the terrain. And driving the road to Hana is one of the best adventure day trips in Hawaii. Along this route is where you’ll find the famous black and red sand beaches. Here’s something to note: both of these drives (while not dangerous) feature a LOT of winding roads so if you’re seriously prone to motion/carsickness that may have just knocked those out for you.