Rumor has it that Pele the fire goddess was chased across the Pacific Ocean by her sister Namakaokaha’i, the water goddess. As Pele spewed her lava on one island, Namakaokaha’i doused the flames. Pele ended up on the Big Island, safely housed in Mauna Loa, too high up for her sister’s waves to reach. The Hawaiian Islands were born of fire, but scientifically speaking, they were created by a “hot spot” far beneath those waves. Over time, erosion by wind and water -- along with the arrival of animals and people -- gave each island its own personality.
Kauai -- Island of Discovery
Kauai was the first of the main islands created by Pele. Once tagged the “Garden Isle” because of its lush greenery, Kauai is now promoted as the “Island of Discovery.” Capt. James Cook arrived in Kauai first. This is the land of the menehune, small folk thought to come out at night to complete impressive tasks such as the Menehune Fishpond near Lihue. Kauai has wide sandy beaches, lush rain forests, towering cliffs and impressive waterfalls. The photogenic isle caught the attention of Hollywood, and was used as a backdrop for films such as “South Pacific” and Elvis Presley's “Blue Hawaii.” In movies, even T-Rex roamed the North Shore forests, terrorizing scientists in “Jurassic Park.” Personality wise, Kauai is laid back, photogenic and impressively green.
Oahu -- The Heart of Hawaii
Oahu was Pele’s second creation, and it has a split personality. The southern end is home to metropolitan Honolulu, the state capital that is just as sophisticated as anything on the mainland. Waikiki Beach, famed surfing and sunning spot with a reputation for partying, is a bonus. Kapiolani Park, an open green space in the heart of the resort area, has the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium. The North Shore is for those seeking out-of-the-box adventures. This unruly coast is home to gigantic waves challenging surfers that dare to enter the water. Laniakea Beach is a favorite sunning spot for green sea turtles. The endangered creatures don’t mind photos, but getting too close is not advised. Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa has been serving up its sweet, cooling treats since 1951.
Maui -- The Magic Isle
Maui is the island of magic and romance. Kaanapali Beach on the western shore is the most famous of the island’s locales. This is a land of long lazy days, fiery sunsets and between November and April, humpback whales dancing offshore. Molokini Island, a crescent-shaped remnant of a volcanic cone, is a prime snorkeling and diving spot. Sleepy Hana is a bit of heaven on earth that so impressed aviator Charles Lindbergh that he chose that spot as his final resting place. Once you’ve negotiated the 52 one-lane bridges and the 600 hairpin turns you might be ready to spend the night. Accommodations range from pampered luxury at the Travaasa Experiential Resort to the more remote Hana by the Sea near romantic Hamoa Beach. Haleakala Crater takes up much of eastern Maui, and its summit is a great place to welcome the dawn.
Molokai -- Hawaiian by Nature
Molokai is lightly populated, lightly visited and very much represents the Hawaii of old. This is where Father Damien ministered to those banished to Molokai because they had Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy. Kalaupapa National Historical Park is now open to visitors, accessed by a long hike or mule ride down a winding, narrow path. Today the good father is Saint Damien, and he is buried on the site. Plan a picnic on Papohaku, a family friendly white sandy beach, or book a sports fishing charter out of Kaunakakaui Harbor. Play a round of golf at Ironwood Hills, a laid-back golf course that doesn’t even require tee times. Nature lovers and those who want to relax a bit -- or a lot -- will enjoy carefree Molokai.
Lanai -- Hawaii’s Most Enticing Island
It wasn’t too long ago that Lanai’s tagline was “The Pineapple Isle.” Once, this little cone-shaped island was one big pineapple plantation, with the exception of Lanai City and the Cavendish Golf Course. The course was built for the plantation workers, and to this day does not accept tee times. It’s also free. Today the island is home to two upscale Four Seasons Resorts, the oceanfront Manele Bay and the inland Lodge at Koele. Part of the enticement is the pure luxury offered by both of these resorts and world class golf at their respective courses. Another draw is the chance to bounce along a dirt road in search of hidden treasures such as the sculptured rocks at Garden of the Gods or the remote sands of Polihua Beach. Snorkeling the reefs off Hulopoe Beach Park is an unmatched underwater treat.
Hawaii -- The Big Island
Pele’s current home, the island of Hawaii, is affectionately known as the Big Island. This is the land of paniolos herding cows on the Parker Ranch, of observatories scanning the universe from perches atop Mauna Kea and of world class golf courses adding color to an almost desert-like western shore. The sleepy town of Hilo, on the eastern end, is a reminder of times past. It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture horses tied up outside some of the storefronts rather than cars in parking spots. Roughly 30 miles southwest of Hilo is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Fiery rivers of lava continue to pour over the landscape on its way to the sea. Since Kilauea’s awakening in 1994, the volcano destroyed the town of Kalapana but in return added 491 acres of real estate to the island. Pele and her sister are still fighting. Southeast of the Big Island, the island of Loihi is forming at the bottom of the sea. It will be centuries before the tip of Loihi breaches the surface, if Pele wins the argument.