Hawaii is undoubtedly a holiday-of-a-lifetime kind of destination - but each of the six inhabited islands has its own character, soul, and a nickname. So how should you choose which to visit? Read on...
What comes to mind when you think of Hawaii? Those who haven't yet been to the other side of the world may think of white sandy beaches, surfing, tiki torches, hula skirts or Pearl Harbour. Those who have been to USA's newest state, which joined the Union on the 21st August 1959 (it was a good year, also seeing the addition of Alaska) are likely to conjure memories of canyons and volcanoes, lush hills, enticing waters and the true Polynesian spirit that weaves through each and every experience on the islands.
Having to pick a favourite Hawaiian island is a bit like asking to pick your favourite child: quite cruel and near impossible. Along with the six inhabited islands, there is also a seventh inhabited island - Ni'ihau, known as The Forbidden Isle, but it has only 130 permanent inhabitants, all of whom I imagine to be characters from Lost…
Kaua'i (The Garden Isle)
The northernmost of the accessible and visitor friendly islands is Kaua'i (The Garden Isle), which is the oldest of the islands at almost 6 million years old. When Hollywood needs a breathtaking natural backdrop, this is where they come: more than 75 features, including Jurassic Park and King Kong were filmed on Kaua'i. It is a hiker's paradise, with trails leading into Waimea, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and along the dramatic Na'apali Coast, which is inaccessible by road. The island is also home to Mount Wai'ale'ale, whose summit is one of the wettest places on earth.
Oahu (The Gathering Place)
Next up (or down, as we're moving on the map) is 'The Gathering Place', Oahu - the most populous of the islands and home to three quarters of Hawaii's residents. Honolulu itself is part-Miami, part-Ayia Napa, attracting many tourists from mainland USA. As it hosts the main international airport, it is a convenient place to stop at the end of your holiday - visit Pearl Harbor and stock up on all important American labels. What's more, Oahu's North Shore is a world famous professional surf spot, with waves reaching 50 feet during the winter months.
Maui (The Valley Isle)
Maui is the Valley Isle, and for a first time visitor is the all-encompassing island, with more miles of accessible beach than any other, superb diving and snorkeling (especially by Molokini), a crescent shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater, as well the dormant volcano Haleakala - at the summit of which the temperature often dips below freezing, meaning that no sunrise is ever the same.
An absolute must do, preferably in a Mustang, is the Road to Hana, one of the world's most spectacular drives. Make sure to either overnight in Hana, or start the day early, because although it is only 52 miles long it takes almost three hours to drive!
Lanai (The Pineapple Isle)
The hour long ferry crossing to Lanai (The Pineapple Isle) is worth it, even if only for the whale watching opportunities. From January to April, humpback whales migrate from the gulf of Alaska to Hawaii, delighting passengers en route to this tiny island, which used to be the world's foremost grower and exporter of pineapples.
Today, this idyllic island - which has only 30 miles of paved roads and not a single traffic light - is home to two Four Seasons hotels, a handful of restaurants and small shops, as well as walking trails and rugged back roads that can only be explored in a four wheel drive.
Hawaii (The Big Isle)
The youngest and biggest of the islands is Big Island, officially known as Hawai'i (just to confuse everyone). It is home to one of the world's most active volcanoes and the state's biggest national park. Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park provides visitors with the chance to see blistering lava flow into the sea - a sight not to be missed, and is best viewed from a boat.
It is also here that you can visit Hawaii's southernmostpoint and Kealakekua Bay, where Captain James Cook met his untimely and brutal death. Today, the peaceful bay is a great kayaking spot. Although I don't exactly need an excuse to go back to Hawaii, I decided to save the small and untouched island of Molokai for my next visit. I am looking forward to making the 20-hour journey again, as there are still so many beaches, rainforests, mountains and craters to explore. In the meantime, I'll do as the locals, and continue living aloha.