Perched in the middle of the Pacific, more than 2,000 miles from the US mainland, the eight islands of Hawaii are a refuge for travellers seeking exotic landscapes, beautiful beaches and a chance to see one of the world’s largest volcanoes in action. Most visitors flock to the popular islands of Oahu and Maui, which we’ll talk about below. But there are two more islands that, while less visited, offer a unique take on Hawaii that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the state. Or the world.

Oahu

Home to the majority of the state’s population, Oahu mixes modern history with ancient traditions, and natural wonders with cutting edge entertainment. It’s no surprise this is the most visited of the Hawaiian islands.

Stay

With its sunset and sunrise-facing pools, The Modern Honolulu is a convenient home base for taking in the city’s sights and scenery. Go further afield at the Turtle Bay Resort. This North Shore resort offers traditional rooms as well as beach cottages and villas. With its nightly entertainment, free ukulele lessons and golf course access, you’ll be hard pressed to find an excuse to venture off the grounds.

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Diamond Head State Monument is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Hawaii. Formed 300,000 years ago during a massive eruption, this 475-plus acre park is popular for its trails, tunnels and postcard views of the sea. In winter, you might even see a humpback whale pass by. Another famous site in Oahu is the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. A quick boat ride takes you to the site of the USS Arizona, which was bombed on December 7, 1941. From a small dock you can still see oil dripping from the tanks of the sunken ship below. It’s a powerful and moving experience for Americans and visitors alike. Wrap up your stay with a day trip to Oahu’s North Shore. The area’s larger than life waves attract surfers from all over the world.

Eat

No trip to Hawaii is complete without trying the state’s unofficial dish, poke. This raw tuna salad is a staple at family gatherings, grocery store delis, and walk up cafes like Ono Seafood. Here the poke is served over rice with toppings like miso, wasabi and mayonnaise. The food is so popular you’re lucky to snag a seat at one of the restaurant’s few tables. For an equally delicious meal, and a guaranteed seat, reserve a table at the House Without a Key. With its nightly hula shows and excellent views of Diamond Head, this restaurant serves fresh seafood, Hawaiian classics, and a taste of local culture. If you need a break from fish, check out Taormina Sicilian Cuisine, which serves southern Sicilian dishes like eggplant caponata and Catanese pasta.

Maui

Hawaii’s second largest island is popular with travellers seeking small town charm, less crowds, and stunning scenery. With its waterfalls and forest-covered hills, Maui is often called “The Valley Isle.”

Stay

On the northwest tip of the island, set among the pristine beaches of the Kapalua Bay, Montage Kapalua Bay offers 24 acres of rest and relaxation. After exploring the island, take a bamboo and ginger oil soak in the resort’s spa or rejuvenate with a beachside yoga class. A bit further south, the Westin Maui Resort and Spa on Maui’s famed Ka’anapali Beach offers local entertainment like Polynesian luaus and dinner shows. For a quieter evening, slip into one of the private beachside cabanas for a romantic sunset dinner.

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The waters around Maui are the island’s main appeal. Paddle among sea turtles and dolphins during a kayak and snorkelling tour of Maui’s southern shores. Or scan the waterline for breaching humpbacks during a whale-watching excursion in Lahaina Harbor. Back on dry land, a trip to Haleakala Crater & National Park offers a chance to explore Maui’s famed cliffs and valleys. The journey takes you through fields of lavender, rainforests and waterfalls to the volcanic and rugged terrain of Haleakala Crater. Along the way you’ll pass agricultural towns, ancient battlegrounds and sacred burial sites.

Eat

Set along Maui’s famed “road to Hana”, Mama’s Fish House has received numerous awards, including Travellers’ Choice top restaurants, for its fresh fish and friendly service. The star of the menu is the macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi, caught daily by the restaurant’s fishermen. Another great Maui option is the Hali’imaile General Store. Don’t be confused by the name. “The Store”, as it’s called here, has been serving Asian fusion dishes since the 1980s. The coconut seafood curry is always a crowd pleaser, as are the cocktails. The Store’s mai tais are some of the biggest – and strongest – on the island. For excellent views – and slightly lower price points – head to Honu Seafood and Pizza. Load up on Dungeness crab mac and cheese and shrimp pizza while watching the waves crash just beyond the restaurant’s windows.

Kauai

A stunning island often overlooked by the more popular Maui and Oahu, Kauai is the least commercially developed Hawaiian island. The centuries have shaped the “Garden Isle” into a land of jagged cliffs, green valleys and cascading waterfalls.

Stay

Tucked among the palm trees of Kalapaki Beach, the Garden Island Inn is a charming boutique hotel that offers resort amenities at a surprisingly low price point. The rooms feature original art and ocean view balconies, and guests can enjoy the resort’s beach chairs, boogie boards, and snorkel sets for no extra charge. On the other side of the Kalepa Mountain Forest Reserve, Kauai Shores offers daily complimentary yoga classes and morning orientations during which guests can get tips on what to see and do from local guides.

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Get your bearings with a sightseeing flight over Kauai’s jagged coastline, the spires of Na Pali Coast State Park and the waterfalls of Hanalei Valley. Then get your feet wet sailing and snorkelling among the green cliffs and secluded beaches of Kauai’s northern coast. For a more rugged take on this rugged island, take a jeep tour of Kauai’s back country. You’ll get to explore sites like the Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, and the geysers of Spouting Horn at your own pace.

Eat

With scenery this dramatic, it feels silly to eat in a normal old dining room. At Tidepools, contemporary Hawaiian cuisine is served in thatched-roof bungalows floating in a lagoon at the base of a waterfall. Or enjoy local fish tacos, pina coladas and expansive views of Nawiliwili Bay and the Hoary Head Mountains at the Barefoot Bar at Duke’s Kauai. The Lava Lava Beach Club (motto: “bikinis and board shorts welcome”) serves epic breakfasts and multiple takes on Bloody Marys on the shores of Kauai’s Coconut Coast.

Island of Hawaii, AKA the “Big Island”

The island of Hawaii is among the least visited of the Hawaiian islands. To avoid confusion with the name of the state, this island is called “Big Island”. It lives up to its name. The island of Hawaii is almost twice as big as the other Hawaiian islands combined.

Stay

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, with its lava rock garden showers, white sand beaches, and private lanais, is the ideal place to relax after a day of exploring. For a truly unique stay, the Chalet Kilauea is located in a tropical rainforest just five minutes from Volcanoes National Park.

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With so much to see and do, you’ll want to maximize your time on the Big Island. Booking a full day tour allows you to cover a lot of ground in a short time. Start your day exploring the strange green moonscapes of Saddle Road, passing through banyan tree sanctuaries and macadamia nut farms, before reaching Volcanoes National Park. Here you can walk through lava tubes and fields of steam vents, drive through rainforests and crater fields, and see Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, glowing red in the night sky. Perched 13,796 feet above sea level, this observatory is home to world class telescopes and world class views. After the sun dips beneath the cloud line below you, the clear skies offer some of the darkest night sky viewing on the planet.

Eat

You can expect to find a wide variety of food on an island this diverse. The beachside Ulu Ocean Grill and Sushi Lounge plays up the Polynesian influence on Hawaiian cuisine using locally sourced pineapple, melons and herbs. At Pueo’s Osteria, hearty Italian dishes like wild boar ragu and vodka gnocchi are the star of the show. For a French take on Hawaiian flavours, try the bouillabaisse, made with Kauai shrimp, or the onion soup served with pumpkin at Blue Room Brasserie & Bar.