By Hawaii.com Team
The first “visitors” to the Islands of Hawaiʻi came not knowing what to expect — or even that the Islands existed. It is generally believed Hawaiʻi’s first permanent inhabitants sailed in voyaging canoes from the southern hemisphere islands of the Marquesas, between 300 and 800 A.D. Later waves of settlers arrived by the 12th century, this time from Tahiti.
The 137 islands, islets and shoals that make up the Hawaiian Island chain sit at the northern tip of the Polynesian Triangle, an expanse of ocean roughly the size of Europe and North America combined.
As one of the most geographically isolated, continuously populated spots on Earth, Hawaiʻi is a land of many contrasts. Urban Honolulu, the state capital, is a cosmopolitan metropolis with a population of more than 370,000; the entire island of Molokai, a scant 50 miles away, has 7,400 residents.
All Hawaiian Islands have a “dry side” and a “wet side.” The windward (east) side of each island attracts more annual rainfall. The leeward (west) side is always the drier area of the island.
Hawaiʻi’s tropical latitude gives it little difference in year-round day length and the amount of sun, even in the winter. But because the Islands’ terrain varies in altitude in certain spots (primarily on Maui and the Big Island with these Islands’ large volcanoes), temperatures can vary. The average annual temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 degrees Celsius) fluctuates only a few degrees from summer (May through October) to winter (November through April), and — surprisingly to many newcomers — the summits of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi’s Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are often blanketed with snow. (NOTE: There are no formal ski areas on these mountains, but locals do snowboard and ski on their own power.)
Together, the eight main Hawaiʻian Islands — Hawaiʻi, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, Kaho’olawe, Lanai and Ni’ihau — are home to virtually every geographic formation, terrain and climate to be found on earth, and the possibilities for outdoor enthusiasts are boundless: There are lava deserts on the Big Island and highland rainforests on Kauai; on Molokai you’ll find the world’s tallest sea cliffs and miles of pristine beaches.
What’s more, modern Hawaiʻi’s culture is every bit as diverse as its geography, with virtually every nation and ethnicity represented in its food, festivals, music and art. From hula and hip hop to the Honolulu Symphony and community theater, the possibilities for today’s visitors to participate in Hawaiʻi’s rich culture are limited only by the imagination.
Did you know Hawaiʻi….
- is home to the longest continuously erupting volcano in recorded history (Kilauea Caldera on the Big Island has been producing a lava flow since January 1983)
- has no daylight savings time
- is home to the oldest educational institution west of the Rocky Mountains (Lahainaluna School in Lahaina, Maui, founded in 1831). The Lahainaluna campus was also the site where the first newspaper west of the Rocky Mountains was published, in the late 1830s.
- has no snakes in the wild
- is considered the nation’s endangered species capital
- is home to the tallest mountain on the planet (Mauna Kea on the Big Island — measured from the seafloor — tops out at 33,476 feet. From sea level it measures 13,796 feet high).
- has the only U.S. city to be founded by royalty (Honolulu, on the island of Oahu), and hosts the only royal residence on U.S. soil (‘Iolani Palace)
- hosted a structure (‘Iolani Palace) that featured electricity before even the White House in Washington, D.C.
- had a Hawaiian monarch, King Kalakaua, who was the first reigning monarch to circumnavigate the globe and the first foreign head of state to speak before a joint session of Congress.
- had a population that, during the Hawaiian monarchy, was among the most literate in the world.
- is home to (reportedly) the wettest spot on earth (Wai’ale’ale, Kaua’i’s highest mountain, records about 485 inches of rainfall per year)
- has two official languages — Hawaiian and English
- is comprised of 137 islands, encompassing a land area of 6,423.4 square miles (and only seven of these islands are inhabited)
- is still growing (Lo’ihi, a new seamount 20 miles off the Big Island of Hawai’i, is giving birth to the chain’s next island — due to rise above the waves in another 60,000 years)
- is the most geographically isolated population center on earth (we’re 2,000 miles from the Marshall Islands, 2,390 miles from California, 2,500 miles from Tahiti, 3,850 miles from Japan, 4,900 miles from China, and 5,280 miles from the Philippines)
- has no rabies and requires a process to determine if incoming cats and dogs have the disease
- is the only place on earth that hosts all branches of the U.S. military
- is the only state in the nation with no incorporated towns (towns and regions are governed by counties, each encompassing an entire island or more: The City & County of Honolulu governs the island of O’ahu plus all the isles stretching north up the Hawaiian Island chain to the island of Midway; the County of Maui governs Maui, Moloka’i, Kaho’olawe and Lana’i; the County of Hawai’i governs the Big Island of Hawai’i; and the County of Kaua’i governs Kaua’i and Ni’ihau. Each county has a mayor and a council.)
- has the most advanced telecommunications system in the world; is one of only five states in the U.S. with 100 percent digital switching for telephones; and has more fiber optic cable per mile, per capita, than any other state.