Living on Maui, we are a little prejudiced- we think this island is “No Kai Oi,” the best. We’re also a little spoiled. We are a three-island county (or five if you count uninhabited Kahoolawe and Molokini islet). Just across the channel is Lanai, the Pineapple Island, and Molokai, the Friendly Island. When you look at the ocean views from the sunny south or west shores of Maui, you will see these islands, and can easily visit one or two.
Here are some thoughts and ideas about planning your first trip to Maui, and whether you should visit other islands during the same vacation, or not.
Should you visit multiple islands?
Each of the other main Hawaiian Islands, Oahu, the Big Island of Hawaii, and Kauai, each have their own distinct flavor. While it’s possible you could visit multiple islands in one trip, unless you are planning an extended stay, it’s not advisable.
Since the average vacation is 10 days, you will end up spending more time in airports than on the beach if you try and see them all. Don’t forget the time to repack your belongings, drive to the airport, turn in your rental car, wait at the airport, fly to another island, wait for bags, get another rental car, drive to your condo, unpack. Plus, with added security and health screening measures that will likely remain in place after COVID-19, this time frame will be extended.
There is plenty to do on and around Maui to more than fill a 10-day vacation, plus most people want time to relax, hang loose and lounge on our beautiful beaches.
An argument for keeping your first visit just on Maui
Each island has some unique features, but overall, the majority of what people come to Hawaii for can all be found on most of them. However, Maui has the most diverse options. You can take a boat ride to snorkel or dive around Molokini, a partially submerged volcanic cinder cone. Travel up a 10,000ft volcano for a breathtaking view of sunrise, or stargazing just after sunset. Travel the curvy road to Hana, landing in one of the most authentic Hawaiian enclaves, where the journey is half the fun. There are an abundance of waterfalls and dramatic sea views on the way, not to mention hikes and black sand beaches. Go on a whale watch during the winter, or parasail above aqua reefs and golden sand in summer. And of course, everyone must go to a luau at least once!
From Maui, you can take a day trip to Lanai on a passenger ferry. This diverse island has two luxury resorts and two renowned golf courses. But Lanai also has pristine beaches, rugged landscapes and a funky town. You can scuba dive through underwater caverns, rent a jeep on island, go on a tour, or just hang out at one of the hotels for a destination lunch.
Check out our comprehensive Things to Do guide, for more great Maui adventures.
If you have more than 10 days
There aren’t any specific rules on how long you should visit each island, but keep in mind if you have done most of your wish list activities on Maui, you could spend less time on the second island you visit. Here are a few recommendations for adding on another island adventure if you have an extra four or five days.
Kauai. On Kauai, take a tour of the Napali coast by boat or helicopter. Known for its towering pali, or sea cliffs, the area is punctuated by lush, narrow valleys, streams and cascading waterfalls. On another day visit Waimea Canyon State Park. Often dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the canyon is approximately ten miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep. While there are many great hikes in the area, you can also take a spectacular drive around a good portion of the rim, or take a helicopter flight to see both the Napali coast and Waimea Canyon by air.
Big Island of Hawaii. On the Big Island, the main attraction is Volcanos National Park. In 2018, a new eruption of Kīlauea volcano changed the island of Hawai‘i forever. From May through August, large lava flows cut a devastating path to the ocean, while the summit was rocked by tens of thousands of earthquakes, towering ash plumes, and a massive collapse of Kīlauea caldera. While still an active volcano, there currently is no molten lava or lava glow to see anywhere in or out of Volcanos National Park. However, it is still an amazing area to view, learn about and discover.
Note that Hawaii well deserves its name as a “Big Island.” Driving times will be longer on this island.
Oahu. On Oahu, there are two very unique areas, depending on your interests.
A one-hour drive will take you from bustling Waikiki through rural countryside, where you can stop at the Dole Plantation. A beautiful journey down a dramatic ridge affords impressive view of the North Shore. Check out rustic Haleiwa Town, and continue on to the Polynesian Cultural Center. This cultural center opened in 1963 to the public with over 42 acres to explore today. You could easily spend all day here exploring the many different aspects of native culture, including shows, and activities.
If you have military or historical interests, a visit to Pearl Harbor is very impactful. The Pearl Harbor area was designated a national historic landmark in 1964 for its strategic importance related to the United States’ annexation of Hawai’i, and for the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack during World War II. “Battleship row” includes the USS Arizona, the USS Bowfin and the USS Missouri. The Arizona Memorial was constructed over the hull of the sunken USS Arizona. The shore-secured USS Missouri provides an authentic opportunity to explore a battleship. Visitation and management of the memorial is under the responsibility of the US Navy.
Note: A day tour to Pearl Harbor can be arranged from Maui, including flights and tours.
If you are a repeat visitor to Hawaii, consider continuing to use Maui as your base of operations as you explore other islands. There is a familiarity in getting to know Maui, its people and places, or what we call no ke ʻano o ka noho ʻana, a sense of belonging.