After 14 years in the islands we can now boast that our eyes have been graced with the beauty of each islands personality.We lived on Hawaii Island for 12 years. It’s the newest of the islands, and the landscape reflects its youth.

On the Kona, or leeward side of the island, moist trade winds don’t buffet the land.It’s a hot and dry terrain with mostly grasses venturing a life in the cracks of the weathering lava flows. They begin their slow process of breaking down the upper layers, and along with the rain and solar radiation, they slowly reduce the hard surface to soil. The western coast of Hawaii Island is still that primordial land, slowly changing.

1801 Lava Flow in Kona.


The northern part of Hawaii Island is known as Kohala and it is the oldest, its difference obvious even to the casual observer. The old volcano has eroded and the wind and rain has changed the once jagged and rocky slopes to smooth curves.

Maui and Oahu are similar in appearance, although on Maui the remnants of two monster volcanoes are still easily apparent. To the north are the West Maui mountains, still displaying the typical gentle arc of a shield type volcano. But like Kohala, it is being slowly eroded. Large furrows cut by the trade winds and running water have scarred its surface, but its form is still intact.

West Maui Mountains

Oahu is an island whose origins are less obvious. The famous shoreline around the perimeter has many sandy beaches and the land rises as you go inland (Mauka). But Oahu’s volcanic past has been eroded into a dormant tropical paradise.

Kauai is a different animal. It looks different, it feels different, its age shows in the erosion of the original volcano. But Kauai has a much different personality. It is a magical place in paradise.

Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay is framed by the tall and steep mountains to the south and the town of Hanalei is what we think of when we imagine Hawaii in times past. The highway bends and turns as it descends through thick greenery to sea level, and then crosses a river. The road cuts through a massive wall of green and you feel like nobody lives here.

And then you come to Hanalei. OMG! A clearing in the growth with a short strip of shops, small wooden buildings along a two lane highway. Restaurants and shops selling the same items, mostly ‘T’ shirts and other memorabilia. The old school house has been turned into shops and restaurants and the wide lawn area that fronts the street has characteristics of a park in a rural town with benches and sunshades for tourists.

To continue on past Hanalei you venture back into the jungle, cross rivers, and then come to the end of the road. The Napali coast interrupted the road building as it is rugged and impassable – but it’s one of the most dramatic coastlines one can imagine.

Our first visit to Kauai was to Princeville on the north side of the island. There the trade winds blow almost every day, and it rains most days, mostly in the mornings and at night, and it keeps the landscape green and the air thick with moisture.

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Take it from someone who has lived in paradise for 15 years. If you are able, visit all of the islands on your next trip. Start on the Big Island and move north. See the differences. But make it a point to go to Kauai – experience the real Hawaii –

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and sit on your lanai in Princeville and have a drink of champagne as you watch the sun set.

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