The Hawaiian Islands

Aloha! Let’s hop on a virtual plane and cruise to Hawaii for a tropical visit to a few major islands.

Hawaii has approximately 137 islands, many of which are very small. There are eight major islands and we’re going to frolic on the four most commonly visited ones.

We are 2,000 miles (3,200 km) west of the U.S. coast in an isolated spot in the Pacific Ocean.

The islands were formed from volcanoes on the ocean floor approximately 40-70 million years ago. Some of Hawaii’s volcanoes are dormant, while others continue to erupt.

The oldest islands are in the north and are smaller due to longer exposure to erosion. We’ll start in the north.

You can see the eight major islands in the map (above). Niihau, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe are primarily not open to tourists for various reasons.

Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island are where most residents live and tourists visit.

As a tourist who has visited Hawaii many times and always to enjoy the wildlife, the emphasis here will be on the world outdoors.


The oldest of the main islands, Kauai has had more time for soil and plants to reestablish on top of the lava eruptions. It is also one of the wettest places on earth. With steady rainfall, the waterfalls and lush forests offer rich vistas on Kauai.

Other stunningly beautiful sights on Kauai include the NaPali coast and Kilauea Point in the north.

There’s a tricky trail on the coast of NaPali that offers some of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen, like this one, below.

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge has a lighthouse and one of the largest populations of nesting seabirds in the state.

Here we have seen frigatebirds, albatross, shearwaters and more. This nene, below, was photographed from Kilauea Point, it is Hawaii’s state bird. I have participated in Nene counts for this beleaguered-but-reviving endemic species, the rarest goose in the world.


This island is home to the state’s capital, Honolulu, and is the busiest and most populated.

One day we went birding with my nephew and his son, Oahu residents, in Kapiolani Park at the base of Diamond Head. We were looking for a would-be lifer, the fairy tern, but to no avail.

Below are two photos of Diamond Head, a volcanic mountain that has not erupted in over 150,000 years. This first photo is from Kapiolani Park. The aerial shot below it shows Diamond Head’s crater.

The north side of Oahu is a world-famous surfing hotspot…

…and is less urbanized with good habitat for birds, including this common moorhen and Hawaiian stilts.

The beauty of every Hawaiian Island is the mountains that dominate the landscape. All are made from volcanoes, and volcanic activity is different on every island. This is what makes each island unique.


Maui was formed by two volcanoes that now overlap each other into one island. The younger of the two volcanoes is on the eastern side, called Haleakala.

There is a visitor center at the top, yielding these incredible views of the volcanic mountain and crater.

Not far from the summit we have had the fortune of finding endemic honeycreepers several times. Honeycreepers are nectar-feeding birds native only to Hawaii, many of them have become extinct over the years. We spotted this Amikihi in Hosmer’s Grove. (Hawaii has no hummingbirds.)

As it is with all these main Hawaiian Islands, the top of the mountain is typically more undeveloped and has native flora and fauna, whereas the base of the mountain has more human development and introduced plants and wildlife.

Warmer weather, beaches and access to supplies is understandably the human draw at the mountain bases.

Which side of the island you are on, leeward or windward, is also a factor for development due to weather.

So many times I have spent the day on the mountain’s top, bundled up, sometimes soaking wet, as we went birding and hiking and exploring. Then we would drive back down to our condo where everyone is in bathing suits, relaxed and sipping on a drink in the midst of fragrant tropical trees.

So we also spend time snorkeling and swimming in bays and coves. I have had the honor of snorkeling in this cove, below, several times.

The Big Island.

Also known as the island of Hawaii, it is the largest and youngest island in the chain. Being the youngest island, it still has volcanic eruptions.

The Big Island is my favorite. I like it because it is bigger and less congested and very interesting. I find the lava formations fascinating and love the unique landscapes that resemble moonscapes. I have seen the most birds and wildlife on this island, too, native and otherwise.

This photo below shows an expansive vista of lava landscapes on the Big Island’s Saddle Road. After an eruption has cooled down, years later, plant life takes root. Here there are plants, but it is mostly lava. The landscape varies depending on where the lava has spewed and hardened, and how many years it has been.

Volcanoes National Park is a must-see for us on the Big Island due to numerous hiking and birding opportunities.

Volcanoes National Park, National Park Service website

This is an active lava flow spitting fire and smoke, below, taken from a very far and safe distance. Kilauea Volcano.

On the other side of the Big Island, this is one of my favorite snorkeling spots near the Place of Refuge on the south Kona coast. The “beach” is all hardened, black lava. It’s not a place for laying out, but under the water are a variety of coral and fish, spinner dolphins and green sea turtles.

As we reluctantly head back to Kona International Airport, we still have a little time to check out this marina formed with black lava and showing Mauna Loa (volcano) in the sky’s horizon.

Thanks for joining me on this Hawaiian Island tour…or as they say in Hawaii: Mahalo.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

76 thoughts on “The Hawaiian Islands

    • It was great fun to bring you this mini-vacation, Eliza. I thought I was the only one left who says “Calgon, take me away!” I love that you do, too. Big smiles and thanks to you, Eliza.

    • I am so glad you enjoyed the Hawaii post today, Lenore. I’m glad you have been there and that you’re going back too. I know I sure did resolve to go back again soon after composing this post! Aloha!

  1. It is, without doubt, a fascinating part of the world, Jet. I found myself drawn to Kauai, which reminded me a lot of Madeira, but I have a blogging friend on Maui and the volcanic activity there is awe inspiring. Sign me up! I’m happy to join you.

    • That’s a good point, Walt, Hawaii is not one of our more commonly visited states and many folks don’t know much about it. I think here on the west coast we are more familiar with it than you easterners. I love Hawaii, and am glad I could share it here with you. Thanks so much, Walt, I always enjoy your words.

  2. Wow – that’s an incredible shot of the H crater on Maui – every time I’ve gone up there it’s been foggy! (which is always a bummer cause we got up at four to try to catch the sunrise!) My favorite spot so far on the islands is Sunset Beach on the North shore of Oahu.

    • You’re right about Haleakala, Jan, and it usually being foggy. We were lucky that day. It was late in the day between 5:30 and 6pm. I liked hearing about Sunset Beach on Oahu’s north shore, thanks for the tip. Sending thanks and a big smile to you, Jan, and hoping your steps are getting easier.

  3. It’s a beautiful place to visit, and so pleasantly warm. The only complaint I had was that it was hard to get cold water out of the tap. Even that was warm. But the birdlife and all those little tropical animals and the tropical fruit we never can grow in Canada – those were all a real treat, just as this post was.

    • I liked hearing about your observations in Hawaii, Anneli. The tropics have their ups and downs, and I, too, like the tropical animals and tropical fruit. Many thanks, Anneli.

  4. Mahalo for a lovely tour of the islands! So many interesting creatures and sights in the most beautiful settings. We don’t usually leave Oahu since we have kids and grandkids there, so it was fun to tour all the islands with you and Athena.

    • I am delighted you enjoyed today’s tour of Hawaii, Nan. It was fun to put this together, and gave me a boosting thought to return soon. Lovely, as always, to have you stop by.

  5. This was a fabulous Friday morning adventure, Jet! The aerial shot of Diamond Head is a real eye opener! Took me a few goes, but spotted six geckos – a delightful photograph. I always enjoy your Hawaiian narratives and they remind me that we must visit there one day. Been fascinated from childhood, when watching Jack Lord and friends fight crime. Probably wasn’t the best tourism advert, but I’ve wanted to visit ever since… “Plane tickets to Hawaii, Mrs. PC?” “Book ‘em, Adam-o!” (That sounded better in my head…)
    Thanks, Jet, and have a great weekend!

    • When I put the six-geckos photo in, pc, I thought of you. I knew you would count them…that’s so fun. I like that aerial shot of Diamond Head too, for just that reason, an eye-opener. And I LOL at your fictional conversation about booking tickets. You and Mrs. PC would have a blast on Hawaii. Thanks so much for this spirited exchange today, pc. Happy weekend to you, too.

  6. Thanks you for letting me frolic with you in this beautiful place. I’ve never been but our younger daughter went last year and loved it. I smiled at seeing the stilts and the finch is gorgeous. Have to put Hawaii on our someday list.

    • It’s wonderful that your daughter has been to Hawaii, Janet, and I have the feeling you might go too someday. In the meantime, it was fun sharing this virtual tour with you. Thanks very much.

  7. This is one place I haven’t been to. Everyone tell me that is like paradise. I can see that already, lush in vegetation, great beaches, volcanos, mountains, animals of land and sea you dancing hula… yes, it’s paradise. Thank you for a great informative post, my friend. 🙂

    • I’m smiling H.J., happy that I could share a bit of paradise with you here today. Out here on the west coast we are lucky that Hawaii is so close. The Caribbean is very far away for us, just like it is easier for you folks on the east coast to access it. Nice to have a country so big that we can have our tropical adventures. My warmest thanks, dear friend.

  8. Pingback: The Hawaiian Islands — Jet Eliot – Echoes in the Mist

  9. Always great to travel to Hawaii. Sure do miss the ocean breezes. I’m not sure but that maybe me in that surf picture or it could be a dream.

      • You can see I’ve not been. Went to Costa Rica, but not to Hawaii yet. My Sis lived there as her husband was stationed there militarily. Suppose I should ask more questions about being there. You certainly make it look enticing. And thank you for sharing

  10. Thank you Jet. I love Hawaii and would love to return there….but if that doesn’t happen…am very grateful to have enjoyed such a place. I love everything about it:). Have a beautiful weekend. Janet 🙂

    • It is terrific that you have had the opportunity to visit the Hawaiian Islands, Janet. I love how you have seen and experienced so much of the world. Thanks so much for your lovely visit and comment today. Cheers to you, my friend.

  11. I’ve never been to Hawaii but want to go so badly. Thank you for this tour. How fun that you have family there and have been able to visit all the islands!

    • As an avid hiker, you would no doubt enjoy the mountains and trails of Hawaii, Diana. But in the meantime, I am honored to share a bit of the Islands with you here today. Thank you, I appreciate your visit.

      • Yes, the NaPali coast trail would be a great one for you, Diana. We went just a couple miles to as far as they allowed. That was tricky enough with narrow, wet, muddy trails and steep drops. At that point you have to have a pre-arranged permit and there are backpacking camps for hearty hikers like you. I think you would love it.

  12. Thanks for taking us along virtually on this lovely tour and travelogue, Jet. I appreciate posts like this, well I appreciate all your posts :-), but this especially as I will likely never get to Hawaii…at least in this life. Loved seeing the landscapes and those gecko butts sticking out from the fruit.

    • One of the reasons I like to blog is to “go” to places I may never see in my lifetime. Our planet is a big one! So I am totally delighted to share the beauties of Hawaii and other places I visit, while virtually enjoying beautiful spots in, say, Massachusetts or Acadia with you. My warmest thanks for your comment, Steve.

  13. My two faves are Kauai and Hawaii, Jet. I first backpacked the NaPali coast trail in the early 70s, absolutely magical. I’ve been back a number of times to both islands over the years. When I lived in Alaska, it was my wintertime escape. Peggy and I were going to spend Christmas on the Islands two years ago but Covid stopped out trip. Maybe this year. Thanks for the inspiration.

  14. Between you and Brad I’m getting really jealous about not having the opportunity to get to Hawaii yet (long story, but Linda and I have tried several times and something always happens – somehow we have been cursed by some evil Hawaiian diety). They definitely have incredibly cool looking birds over there (Saffron Finch and Apapane fit that description for sure!). In the meantime I will have to live vicariously through your adventures there. I will remind Brad to check out this post.

    • Yes, the Hawaiian Islands are such a joy to visit, Brian, you and your wife would enjoy it. For finding the native birds, you need to go into the mountains. But wherever you are on the islands, there is always something exotic and delightful. I am happy to say that Brad did check out this post. I hope you do get to Hawaii one day. Sending a smile and thanks for your visits.

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