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We have recently come back from our first trip to the island of Oahu. When planning this trip it was hard to conceptualise how large the island of Oahu is – especially as you zoom out on a map and compare to United States mainland.
Oahu is the third largest of the Hawaiian islands with an area of 597 square miles or 1,545 square kilometres.
The island of Oahu is home to Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii and can be explored by car in one to three days depending on the number of stops you choose to take.
Is Oahu A Big Island?
With a total area of 597 square miles (1,545 square kilometres), Oahu is a fairly large island, surpassed in size only by Maui and the aptly-named Big Island. Oahu is 44 miles (70 kilometres) long and 30 miles (48 km) wide. It has 227 miles (363 kilometres) of beaches, many of which are among the most beautiful in the world.
Although Oahu is a relatively small island, it has a high population density and is home to just over one million people. Oahu has the largest population of all the Hawaiian islands.
You’ll see lots of high-rise buildings in the dense southern part of Oahu, which is where the capital city of Honolulu is located. Overall, Oahu’s size makes it easy to get around and with a rental car, you can explore much of the island on your own.
How Long Does It Take To Drive Around Oahu?
To see many of the highlights of Oahu, you can take what is known as the Oahu Circle Drive or Oahu Circle Tour, stopping at various points around the island. If you were to drive this route straight through, you could drive around the whole island in about four hours.
However, what adds time to your journey is the number of places you stop, and how long you spend in each location. Seeing just the highlights of the island can be done in one full day (roughly 8 – 10 hours).
If you pick up your rental car from the airport while in Oahu then be sure to arrive at Honolulu Airport with an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour so that you’re able to complete any paperwork and commute across to the terminal with plenty of time.
However, those looking to explore more of the island’s beaches, go on hikes, and experience full-day activities will want to schedule roughly three days of exploration.
Despite its name, the Oahu Circle Tour does not actually circle the entirety of Oahu, because the road does not go all the way around the island. Instead, this popular route cuts up the middle of Oahu to the North Shore, then along the eastern side of the island, before returning to Honolulu in the southern part of the island.
Driving from popular points in Oahu can be a relatively quick journey. For example, Waikiki Beach near Honolulu to the North Shore of the island is around 33 miles (53 kilometres) and takes about an hour to drive.
There are plenty of things to do in Waikiki. Being the most densely populated neighbourhood in all of Oahu you’ll find an extensive range of hotels, a variety of restaurants and bars as well as both independent and chain stores here.
How Many Days Do You Need In Oahu?
With all that in mind, you’re likely questioning how many days you need to spend in Oahu. Based on our experience, we recommend five days in Oahu. Since Oahu is a relatively compact island, this gives you plenty of time to fully explore and try lots of different activities in Oahu.
In five days, you can do several waterfall hikes in Oahu, a road trip around the island, visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, go snorkelling with sea turtles, and spend time relaxing on Oahu’s beautiful beaches.
If you want a more laid-back, slow-paced trip and don’t want to pack in the activities, six or seven days is a good amount of time to spend in Oahu. This will still allow you to see the highlights of the island while enjoying more downtime.
It’s possible to visit Oahu on a day trip from another Hawaiian island like Maui, but this will not give you enough time to explore the island in-depth. Instead, a day trip can offer a quick introduction to Oahu and a few of its highlights.