The idea of eloping to Hawaii is on so many minds. But which Hawaiian island should you elope to?
There are the green mountains and lush forests of Kaua’i, or “Little Los Angeles” (Honolulu) on Oahu. Or the happy medium of every island on Maui, the lesser traveled and remote islands of Lana’i and Moloka’i. You can always explore the Big Island of Hawaii with its rockier beaches and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Having been to most of the islands in person, a few of which to photograph epic elopements, I want to give you a break down of each accessible, inhabited, island. Every island provides a slightly different atmosphere and a variety of scenery. Some are more difficult to get to than others, while some, like Oahu, are certainly more crowded.
A little history and some fun facts about Hawai’i
- There are 8 main islands in the Hawaiian Island chain: Hawaii (The Big Island), Maui, Kaho’olawe (pronounced koo-oo-law-vay), Moloka’i, Lana’i, Oahu, Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau).
- Kaua’i is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. The Big Island of Hawaii is the newest.
- Yes, there still is a leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. The current population is roughly 7 inhabitants still in the colony voluntarily, even though the quarantine was lifted decades ago.
- The island of Moloka’i has the tallest sea cliffs in the world (yes, taller than Cliffs of Moher in Ireland).
- Hawaii has no daylight savings time.
- Many Airbnb and other private rentals do not have air conditioning, so don’t expect that to be a given. Confirm before booking if that’s important to you.
- If you watch weather forecasts for any island, it will almost always say “rain”. It’s because at any point, it is likely raining somewhere on the island.
Let me start off with my favorite islands and work down from there!
Elope on Kaua’i
Eloping on Kaua’i is very much an outdoor experience. While there are resorts, the most breathtaking views are where there isn’t a typical “venue”. The island is very relaxed, and the “city” vibe is nowhere to be found. Hike the Kalalau Trail (with a permit, of course), or visit Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. Take a horseback ride near Princeville, or stroll the famous Tunnels Beach. If you’re an outdoorsperson, you’ll love Kaua’i.
Some activities on Kaua’i (many of which I’ve tried!):
- Horseback rides
- Zip lining
- One of the best escape rooms I’ve been to
- Helicopter rides
- SCUBA diving
- Overnight backpacking
- Catamaran rides
- Whale watching in the winter months
Flights arrive daily into the city of Lihue (pronounced: Lih-hoo-ee). They’re comparable to flights into other islands like Maui and the Big Island, and range from $300-$600 USD or more, from the West Coast of the United States.
There is no way to completely circumnavigate the island via road. It takes roughly 2.5 hours to drive from Hanalei (essentially the most northern terminus) to Waimea Canyon, accessible in the southwest part of the island. Top speed on the island is 55mph in some places, but often it varies between 25mph and 45mph.
Elope on Maui
Maui is a great mixture of all the islands. You have the rainforests on the windward side of the island in Hana, and the lush beaches and sun on the leeward side. Hana boasts red and black sand beaches, as well as bamboo forests and waterfalls. Leeward towns like Kihei and Lahaina provide safety from the wind and wetter weather. You also have lava fields in the south of the island and the otherworldly volcanic Haleakala National Park, where it’s been known to snow in winter months.
This island has resorts, and areas like Kihei that are more financially friendly with their Airbnbs.
Here are a few activities to consider on Maui:
- The Road to Hana (start early and if you can, stay at least one night so you see more, and avoid the daily rush back to the rest of Maui).
- Hana red sand beaches, black sand beaches, lava tubes, and bamboo forests
- Helicopter rides
- Snorkel tours (I recommend circumnavigating Lana’i on a 12 hour tour instead of Molokini Crater!)
- Visiting Dragon’s Teeth or Old Town Lahaina
- Whale watching in the winter months
- Visit the Iao Needle
- Check out Little Beach (near Big Beach/Makena Beach State Park) for Sunday jam sessions if you’re not uneasy about “clothing optional” rules
- Visit the north shore and epic surfing at JAWS
- Drive up to the summit of Haleakala at sunrise (you’ll need a permit for parking separate from your national parks pass) or at sunset and view the Milky Way from the best seat in the house.
Flights arrive daily to Kahului (Kah-hoo-loo-ee), on the northern shore of the main portion of the island. It’s roughly a 30-45 minute drive to Kihei from the airport, and an hour or a little more to Lahaina. From anywhere on the island, it’s at least a 2 hour drive to the summit of Haleakala. From Kihei to Lahaina it will take about an hour.
The drive to Hana will typically take several hours from the “start” of the route. There are simply too many waterfalls and stunning vistas. PRO TIP: Drive with someone and have one of you drive to Hana and then switch drivers. That way you aren’t creating a hazard on the winding roads, while locals try to buzz past you.
If you want to drive to Haleakala at sunrise, it’s best to arrive at least one hour beforehand. We left Kihei at just before 2am for sunrise at 5:45am and it took 2 hours to summit, and parking spaces were already scarce. Bring warm clothing! It’s surprisingly cold! A parka and ear muffs won’t go unappreciated.
Elope on Lana’i or Moloka’i
Get away from it all. See stunning topography and shipwrecks. Moloka’i and Lana’i do just that. While there isn’t much to do aside from sightseeing and golfing (Lana’i has a worldclass golf course and condos that rent for $10,000 per night), there is plenty to see.
Lana’i has amazing sights and was once known as “The Pineapple Island” because of its pineapple production. While it doesn’t claim that crop output anymore, you can still see the tarp and Visqueen flapping in the wind in some fields. They used this as a barrier against weeds and to easily identify and collect the pineapples.
On Lana’i you can:
- Visit the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary (they have an impressive outdoor area!)
- See The Garden of The Gods
- Check out shipwrecks
- Relax on a deserted beach
On Moloka’i you can:
- Check out the historic Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove
- Take a fishing charter out of Kaunakakai or stroll along the state’s longest pier
- Enjoy a round of golf
Lana’i and Moloka’i Logistics
The best and easiest way to get to both islands is by ferry from Maui (in Lahaina). Moloka’i also has an airport, though with limited flights.
Once you’re on the island, the easiest way to get around is by rental car on Moloka’i, or by Jeep or ATV on Lana’i.
PRO TIP: If you’re staying on Lana’i, I highly recommend renting ATVs. While they aren’t allowed on paved streets and inside town, you can walk them the 2-3 blocks through town and ride on the dirt paths following the road. Renting jeeps allow you to get down dirt trails to see shipwrecks and other sights where they don’t even allow Jeeps. You can get nearly anywhere on the island with ATVs. We’ve personally rented from Lanai Jeep Rentals and while I don’t believe John still owns the company (who personally picked us up from the ferry harbor), they’re our go-to.
Elope on Hawaii (The Big Island)
If you’re wanting to see active lava flows and a constantly changing landscape, elope to the Big Island of Hawaii. Not only are there rugged sights, you can enjoy world class golfing, snorkeling, and more.
Some things to do on the Big Island:
- Manta Ray night dives
- Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Take a tour around the island with Kailani Tours
- Whale watching in the winter months
Big Island Logistics
Southwest is now starting to offer flights to the Big Island, landing in Kailua-Kona. The best place to stay for general access to things is the Kona area. To get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it will be about a two hour drive from Kona in any direction. Don’t forget to spend time on the windward side of this island for more lush greenery! That is a safe bet for any island you visit!
Elope to Oahu
What can I say? Oahu has access to all the beauty of Hawaii and all the conveniences of a big city. They don’t call it Little Los Angeles for nothing. From the North Shore to Pearl Harbor, you can experience wilderness but also metropolitan life.
Some activities on Oahu:
- Hike Diamond Head
- Visit Pearl Harbor
- Check out the North Shore
- Lounge on Waikiki Beach
- Visit Kualoa Ranch, where movies like Jurassic Park and King Kong have been filmed.
- Check out the Dole Pineapple Plantation and go through the pineapple maze and see if you can make it onto the leaderboard.
- Attend a luau
- Snorkel in Hanauma Bay
Oahu is by far the cheapest island to fly to, but it’s met with high amounts of traffic. On the plus side, private Airbnb rentals are more competitive so they’re frequently cheaper than on other islands.
Overall I would definitely have to say that Oahu is my least favorite, purely because of the traffic and popularity it has. There are much more culturally enriching islands (sorry for all my awesome friends who are lucky enough to live on Oahu! You get to witness Hawaii beauty daily!). It’s important to be able to truly connect with your partner or other travel companion and the island you’re on, without unnecessary distractions. Whatever island you choose, I hope this has been helpful in deciding which Hawaiian Island you should elope to!