With over a dozen of Hawaii articles on our blog about, it’s pretty clear that we love these islands. And, having spent several weeks island hopping the Hawaiian islands, we have discovered several unique – sometimes surprising – facts about Hawaii. We’ve gathered the most interesting, educational and fun trivia in this extensive list of Hawaii facts.
29 Interesting facts about Hawaii
1. The Hawaiian archipelago comprises 132 islands and islets.
Hawaii consists of 137 islands of which 8 main islands. But only 6 of those – Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Hawaii island a.k.a. Big Island, Lanai and Molokai – are open to visitors, the other 2 – Kahoolawe and Niihau – are off-limits.
Planning a Hawaii family vacation and not sure where to go? Then check out our articles on the best island in Hawaii to visit for every type of traveler and the best islands in Hawaii for kids.
2. Kauai is the oldest of Hawaiian island, the Big Island is the youngest.
The Hawaiian archipelago originates from the slow northwestward movement of the Pacific Plate’s middle section over a volcanic hot spot. Islands are formed under the ocean and pushed towards the northwest over a period of thousands and millions of years. Kauai, located furthest from the hotspot, is estimated to be over 5 million years old. The oldest parts of the Big Island, located closest to the hot spot and therefore the youngest of Hawaiian islands, were formed about between 0.5 and 1 million years old.
3. A new Hawaiian island called Loihi is forming offshore of the Big Island.
Because of the periodic eruptions of the submarine volcano at the hot spot, a new island called Loihiwill appear when the summit breaks the ocean surface. Still one to three miles to go and then, probably in a several thousands of years, the Big Island will no longer be Hawaii’s youngest. Loihi is located about 20 miles off the south coast of the Big Island.
4. The Big Island is getting bigger every day.
It may not remain the youngest forever, but the Hawaii Island is growing in landmass size on a daily basis. For decades, the infamous Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has caused continuous lava flows, adding land to the island’s southeast coastline. Since 1983, 570 acres (230 hectares) of land have been incrementally added. After Kilauea’s most recent eruption in May 2018, the island’s landmass increased by no less than 875 acres acres (354 hectares). This newly formed land is, however, unstable and several extra layers of lava flow would be required in order for the surface to stabilize.
5. Hawaii is home to a US National Monument that’s larger than all other US National Parks combined.
This must be one of the most surprising facts about Hawaii. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is a linear cluster of atolls, pinnacles and cays with lagoons, corral reefs and submerged banks surrounded by ocean over a distance of almost 1,243 mi (2000 km). This UNESCO World Heritage site was established as Marine National Monument by President George W. Bush in 2006 and expanded by President Barack Obama to include an even larger perimeter of ocean waters.
With its total surface of 583,000 m2 (1,510,000 km2), Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is more than twice the size of Texas. Yet this vast site, which includes important spiritual places such as Nihoa and Mokumanamana, is seldomly visited because of its remote location northwest of Kauai. It actually pre-dates Kauai, consisting of the first string of volcanic masses along the hot spot trail.
6. Hawaii is the United States’ southernmost state.
Key West in Florida is the southernmost place in the contiguous 48 states but the Big Island is the southernmost place of all 50 states. Ka Lae, also known as South Point, is the southernmost point on the island and popular with cliff divers. You’ll find Papakolea, the unique green sand beach, just a few miles to the east.
7. Hawaii features 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones, the Big Island has 8.
The 3-tier Köppen climate classification features 4 main climates and a joint total of 14 climate zones. No less than 10 of those climate zones can be found on the Hawaiian islands. The Big Island accounts for 8 of those climate zones, from the hot desert zone to the arctic periglacial zone.
8. Mount Waialeale on Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth.
This lush green mountain on Hawaii’s Garden Isle is often considered to be thé wettest place on earth. But, although this might have been the case several decades ago, it no longer is now. The first prize of wettest place on earth goes to Cherrapunji and the second to Mawsynram, both located in India and respectively averaging 467.35 inches (11,870 mm) and 463.66 inches ( mm) of yearly rainfall. Mount Waialeale used to come in third with an average of more than 450 inches ( mm). However, in recent years, both Big Bog and Put Kukui in Maui have seen even more rainfall. Then again, as the weather keeps changing, so do these scores.
What’s certain is that the dormant shield volcano Mount Waialeale, Hawaiian for overflowing water, will always be one of the wettest places on earth. The misty ocean air gets trapped by the high summit rising 5,148 feet above sea level. Because the mountain walls are so steep, the humid air can rise quickly and forms rainy clouds. Kauai is also the northernmost of Hawaiian islands and so the high peak of Mount Waialeale is the first point of contact for storms.
Your best chance to see the summit is during a crisp, early morning from either Kapa‘a or Wailua. Alternatively, opt for the helicopter tour to hover near the base of the waterfalls of Waialeale’s so-called weeping wall.
9. Three languages are spoken on Hawaii, two official ones and one informal language.
Hawaii is the only US state to have 2 official languages: English and Hawaiian. Pidgin or Hawaii Creole English is an informal language, originating from the communication between native Hawaiians, plantation owners and the immigrant laborers. It’s a diverse mix of Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese words.
10. The Hawaiian alphabet consists of just 12 letters.
The 12 letters that make up the Hawaiian alphabet are the vowels A, E, I, O, U, the consonants: H, K, L, M, N, P, W. Other elements include the ‘okina (apostrophe) to indicate a sound break and the macron (straight bar) on the vowels to indicate that they’re long vowels.
Another interesting fact about Hawaii language is that every syllable and word end in a vowel. Therefore, there’s no “s” added to plural forms. The word luau, for example, is used for both the singular as well as for the plural form.
11. Iolani Palace is the only official Royal Palace in the United States.
Hawaii is the only US state to have royal residences. The only official one is Iolani Palace in Honolulu (Oahu). The first, rather modest, residence on this site was first built in 1845 by King Kamehameha III and later used by other monarchs. In 1882 it was replaced by an American Florentine-style palace for the last two monarchs of Hawaii, King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani. You can now visit the first and second floors of Iolani palace. The Grand Hall with its gorgeous koa staircase, the Throne Room where royal balls were held and the Imprisonment Room where Queen Liliuokalani stayed under house arrest after the overthrow of the monarchy are some of the highlights. On the palace grounds, you can still see the Coronation Pavilion where Kalakaua was crowned king.
Other royal residences include Hānaiakamalama or the Queen Emma Summer Palace in Nu‘uanu (Oahu) and Hulihe‘e Palace in Kailua-Kona (Big Island). Both former summer residences are now museums.
12. The statue of King Kamehameha in front of the Honolulu Supreme Court is not the original statue.
That one got lost en route to Hawaii from Europe where it was sculpted and casted. Since the revelation was supposed to be the highlight of the festivities in commemoration of the 100-year arrival of Captain Cook to the Hawaiian islands, a second casting was quickly ordered. This one did arrive, unfortunately not in time for the celebrations. The first, original statue was retrieved eventually and can now be found in Kapaʻau along the Kohala coast on the Big island of Hawaii, where King Kamehameha was born. A third replica stands in the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall since Hawaii became part of the USA. A fourth one stands proudly in Hilo, again on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was supposed to shine at the Princeville Resort on Kauai but residents objected since the king never managed to conquer this island.
13. Hawaii is home to the highest sea cliffs on earth.
At the central northern tip of the island of Molokai, you’ll find the isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula. Its rugged North Shore Pali sea cliffs are the tallest in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Sources that use another definition of cliff rank them among the highest on earth. Also the height differs according to the source: from 3,315 ft (1010 m) to 3600 ft (1100 m) with a 60-degree slope. There are three ways to reach the Kalaupapa cliffs: via a scenic air tour, by mule or by hiking the 3.5-mile strenuous Kalaupapa Pali Trail (which is currently closed due to a landslide) with its 26 switchbacks.
14. A handful of people still live in the former leper colony.
It may be the most gloomy in this list of facts about Hawaii but it remains an important one. When leprosis, now known as Hansen’s disease, was introduced to the Hawaiian island by outsiders, the natives had no immunity. Since there was no cure for this disease, King Kamehameha saw no other solution to stop the disease from spreading than to isolate the people that got infected. A leper colony was established on the remote Kalaupapa Peninsula in Molokai in 1866. It was a time of family tragedies, during which even young children were separated from their parents. Over 8,000 patients of this disease lived and died in the colony, cared for by Belgian priest Father Damien from 1873 onwards.
The former leper colony is now the Kalaupapa National Historical Park. You can visit the hidden community with remaining residents, who have been treated and are now cured, as well as the grave site of Father Damien and the church. Kalaupapa National Historical Park only allows up to 100 visitors a day and permits must be obtained in advance.
15. Molokai’s coast boasts the longest continuous fringing reef in the US.
A fringing reef is a type of coral reef that’s either grows directly from the shoreline or is separated from the shore by a lagoon. The longest continuous fringing reef in the US can be found off Molokai’ssouthern coast. This 28-mile long reef is home to stony coral, exotic fish, monk seals and sea turtles.
16. Touching endangered animals is considered a sign of disrespect.
This is one of those Hawaiian facts that you should be aware of when traveling the the archipelago. Touching endangered animals is not just against the law but also considered very disrespectful in Hawaiian culture. So, whether you spot a Hawaiian sea turtle (honu) basking in the sun at one of the Hawaiian beaches – like we did at Punalu’u black sand beach – or in the shallow lagoon waters – like we did near Hilo – keep your distance.
17. Hawaii is snake-free (except for one harmless land species and one elusive sea species).
Hawaii has no indigenous snakes. Keeping a pet snake is prohibited on the islands and incoming ships and planes are throughly inspected for stowaways. But Hawaii does have one non-native species, the Brahminy Blind Snake also known as the flowerpot snake. And that’s exactly how it must have been introduced to the islands somewhere last century, hidden in the soil of flower pots that were imported from the Philippines. With an average length of just 2.5-6.5 inches (6.35-16.5 cm), it looks more like an earthworm. Because it’s non-venomous and harmless, Hawaiians don’t even think of it as a snake.
There’s also one sea snake that resides in the open ocean waters around the Hawaiian islands, the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. It’s rare for this species to come closer to shore and this only occurs example after rare events such as the El Niño currents. It’s a poisonous snake but, since it’s rarely encountered, no bites have ever been reported.
18. Hawaii has its own time zone.
The Hawaiian islands have their own time zone called Hawaiian Standard Time or Hawaii–Aleutian Time, since they share this time zone with Alaska’s westernmost Aleutian islands and St. Lawrence island. Daylight savings time is not observed in Hawaii. Therefore, Hawaiian Standard Time runs 2 hours behind Pacific Standard Time, 3 hours behind Pacific Daylight Time, 5 hours behind Eastern Standard Time, 6 hours behind Eastern Daylight Time and always 10 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time or Greenwich Mean Time.
19. Hawaii is the only US state to commercially grow coffee.
Coffee seedlings where imported from Brazil and planted in an orchard on Oahu in 1825. Although coffee is produced on several Hawaiian islands, it’s the Big Island that’s considered to produce the best of the best. Kona coffee thanks its popularity to the excellent conditions created by the Mauno Loa volcano. It’s one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Unlike in other coffee-producing countries, which are located closer to the equator, Hawaiian coffee beans are grown in the sun instead of the shade.
Kona coffee is one of the best Hawaii gifts to buy for friends and family members.
20. Hawaii is the only US state where cacao beans are grown commercially.
Cacao is native to South America and usually grows in humid, tropical climates that are situated close to the equator. Hawaii is located a bit further from the equator than other cacao-producing countries, making it the coldest pace in the world to grow cacao. What started with a cacao plant that was imported from Guatemala and introduced in the Don Marins gardens of the King in 1833, grew out to be a successful economic activity.
21. Hawaii is the first US state to ban reef-damaging sunscreen (effective January 2021).
According to the National Park Service, massive amounts of sunscreen damage coral reefs every year. In order to protect these vital ecosystems and drive sunscreen manufacturers to find more natural solutions, the state of Hawaii has taken the drastic measure to ban coral-harming sunscreen. Therefore, choosing the right sunscreen for Hawaii is more important than ever before. Go for either chemical sunscreen without oxybenzone and octinoxate or for non-nano sunscreens mineral sunscreen without titanium dioxide. Use SPF lotions and creams instead of sprays and wear more UV-protective clothes such as rash guards.
Note that the Hawaiian sunscreen ban will include even more harmful chemicals as of 2023.
22. Over 10 million travelers visited Hawaii in 2019.
For a state with less than 1.5 million inhabitants, that’s an impressive number of visitors.
23. The Hawaiian flag is a hybrid of two other nations’ flags.
The flag of Hawaii consists of eight horizontal stripes in white, red and blue and a Union Jack in the top left corner. The number of stripes represents the 8 main Hawaiian islands. The Union Jack refers to the friendship between the UK and Hawaii and the striped pattern to the friendship between the USA and Hawaii.
24. Beaches are smoke-free.
Since 2015, it’s illegal to smoke at a Hawaiian beach or at a state park. Tobacco products and e-cigarettes are banned from those areas. Many Hawaiian city and county parks were already smoke-free. Hawaii also increased the legal smoking age statewide to 21.
25. Hawaiians live longer than other US nationals.
Life expectancy in Hawaii is at 81.3 years, which is higher than in any other US state. The previous fact about Hawaii might have something to do with that.
26. Not all lei are made of flowers.
Lei are the garlands that locals wear during celebrations and gift to visitors as a welcome token. Most lei are made of orchids or plumeria, they can also be made with shells, nuts or feathers. Hawaiian men usually wear lei made of kukui nuts and, on special occasions, open-ended lei made of maile leaves.
Not all lei are worn around the neck. Haku are shorter lei that are worn around the head. Luau dancers usually also wear ankle and wrist lei.
27. The Ironman triathlon championship takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii.
This challenging competition started on Oahu in 1978. Three separate sports events where combined into one: the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 mi or 3.86 km), the Oahu Bike Race (112 mi or 180.2 km) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles or 42.195 km). In 1981, the Ironman championship moved to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.
28. Hawaii is the first US state to ban plastic bags.
Since 2015, grocery stores across the state of Hawaii are prohibited to distribute plastic bags. Only reusable, compostable bags and recyclable paper bags are allowed. An exception is made for medical and sanitary bags.
29. The first aloha shirts were adorned with Japanese patterns.
The short-sleeved, colored and buttoned aloha shirts date back to 1920-1930. The first patterns were inspired by Japanese natural features but, over the years, replaced with Hawaiian prints. Hawaiian women have their own patterned attire for celebrations, a long loose dress called muumuu.
The most colorful aloha shirts are mostly worn by tourist whilst the Hawaiians tend to prefer subdued tones.
13 Fun facts about Hawaii
30. Coconuts can mailed for free to just about any destination.
No need for it to be wrapped or boxed. You do want to make sure it’s an old coconut that’s dried out. If you’re not sure, you can have it checked for approval by the agricultural inspection at the airport. Then decorate it, address it and have it stamped and sent (according to weight) in any Hawaiian post office. This certainly beats the classic post card!
31. The ukulele isn’t an original Hawaiian instrument.
Hawaiian music is easy to recognize partly thanks to the unique sound of the ukulele. It’s not, however, an original Hawaiian instrument. The ukulele is a Hawaiian variation to the machete, which was introduced in 19th century Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. In Portugal several variations to this instrument exist, each belonging to a different region. Braguinha or minhoto are the most popular ones.
32. Each of the Hawaiian island has its signature flower.
It’s one of little-known facts about Hawaii that each island has its own type of flower. The tropical flowers are used in lei and as decoration during celebrations.
- Oahu: Ilima
- Maui: Lokelani (damask rose)
- Big Island of Hawaii: lehua ohia
- Kauai: Mokihana (green berry)
- Niihau: Pupu shell (not a flower)
- Molokai: White kukui blossom
- Lanai: Kaunaoa (yellow and orange air plant)
- Kahoolawe: Hinahina (beach heliotrope)
33. Each island in Hawaii has a signature color.
A Hawaii fact that’s similar to the one above is that every island has its own color.
- Oahu: Yellow
- Maui: Pink
- Big Island of Hawaii: Red
- Kauai: Purple
- Niihau: White
- Molokai: Green
- Lanai: Orange
- Kahoolawe: Grey
34. Every Hawaiian island has a nickname.
The nickname highlights a characteristic of the islands.
- Oahu: The Gathering Place
- Kauai: The Garden Isle
- Maui: The Valley Isle
- Hawaii island: The Orchid Isle
- Molokai: The Friendly Isle
- Lanai: The Private Isle (and before the Pineapple Isle)
- Niihau: The Forbidden Isle
- Kahoolawe: The Target Isle
35. The Hana Highway has (HI-360) has 620 curves and 59 bridges over a distance of 59 miles.
This is the legendary winding road at Maui’s east coast, connecting the towns of Kahului and Hana. Many of the 620 curves are hairpins and many of the 59 bridges are one-way. The Hana highway makes for an epic road trip thanks to the amazing ocean views and the various scenic Road to Hana stops.
36. There are no billboards in Hawaii.
Hawaii was the first US state to ban billboards. Alaska, Maine and Vermont follow that example. Who needs billboard in a place of such incredible natural beauty?
37. Gambling is illegal in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian islands are all about connecting to nature and appreciating the local culture. It’s a true paradise so why spoil it with casinos? The ban applies to other forms of gambling too such as sports betting, slot machines, horse races, lotteries, bingo and charity raffles. Even cruise passengers are not allowed to gamble on Hawaiian waters.
38. All Hawaiian beaches are public.
A good-to-know Hawaii fact: All beaches on the Hawaiian islands are open to the public (except for certain Federal Government areas). The public beach is defined as extending up to the high-water mark. The part of the beach beyond that point may be privately owned. Therefore, make sure to follow the public beach access signs in order to avoid walking over the private side of a beach.
39. Hawaii doesn’t have a statewide police department as depicted the popular Hawaii 5-0 series.
Instead, the Hawaiian police departments are managed by each county government.
40. The island of Kauai doesn’t allow buildings taller than a palm tree.
Only two buildings on the Garden Isle are exempt from this rule: the Kauai Marriott Resort that was built before the rule was in place and the iconic Princeville Resort which is perched on a cliff.
41. Once a year, Hawaii crowns a queen.
Lei royalty is a thing in Hawaii. This garland means so much to Hawaiians that a holiday is dedicated to it: May day is Lei day.
Celebrations take place at all the main islands, the main one being held at Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. Hula performances and live music set the mood for a lei contest, demonstrations and the coronation of the Lei Queen. She must excel in lei making, hula and Hawaiian language fluency.
42. Visitors return thousands of lava stones to Hawaii by mail each year.
Taking souvenirs from either Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or Haleakala National Park is strictly prohibited. Yet, visitors seems to ignore the rules and eagerly tend to take lava rocks home. It’s not just illegal but also considered disrespectful in Hawaiian culture. According to island legends, those who take home lava rocks or beach sand will be cursed by volcano goddess Pele. After all, Hawaiian culture teaches that natural features carry spiritual significance.
When bad luck comes over them, vacationers often link it to this legend. So, in order to reverse the curse, they return the sand or volcanic rocks by mail, sometimes accompanied by a written apology. The rocks are put back onto the volcanic soil by park rangers, asking the volcano to bring health and happiness to the sender.
10 Hawaii facts for kids
43. Hawaii has beaches in 4 shades of sand.
One of those 4 shades is classic white, the others are more surprising, a result of the lava and the minerals it contains:
- On the east coast of Maui, along the Road to Hana, you’ll find the a sand beach called Kaihalulu Beach and the black sand beach in Waianapanapa State Park.
- On Big Island, you’ll find the unique green sand beach of Papakolea and several black sand beaches, the most popular one being Punaluu beach.
44. The banyan tree in the heart of Lahaina (Maui) is one of the largest in the world.
This mesmerizing Maui banyan tree (ficus bangalensis) was planted in 1873 in Lahaina, the former capital of Hawaii. It’s over 60 feet high (about 18 m), its crown is 225 feet wide (about 70 m). The banyan’s aerial roots formed 16 new trunks that support this ever-growing tree.
45. The Hawaiians didn’t invent shave ice.
Shave ice, the colorful and refreshing Hawaiian treat, was introduced to Hawaii by Japanese immigrants a century ago. They worked at pineapple and sugar plantations. With their machetes they broke off slivers of ice and covered them in fruit juice.
46. Baby humpback whales are born in the Hawaiian waters.
Humpback whale season in Hawaii runs from November to May and peaks in February. The safe and warm ocean waters between Maui and Lanai are their preferred location to breed, calf, nurture and relax on their migration from Mexico to the north Pacific.
47. The Hawaiian islands only have two native mammals.
The islands of Hawaii are the most remote islands on earth. As a result, several endemic species – both animals and plants – are found nowhere else on the planet. These two mammals are unique for Hawaii:
- The monk seal, one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, occasionally comes to shore to bask in the sun and nap. They measure around 7 ft (just over 2 m) and weigh around 500 pds (225 kg).
- The hoary bat, an endangered species related to the vesper bat, with a brown and white furry appearance and an approximate wingspan of 10.5 to 13.5 in (27 to 34 cm).
48. Hawaiian green sea turtles are protected under Federal and State laws.
Green sea turtles exist in most ocean waters around the equator. The Hawaiian green sea turtle or honu can often be found basking on the beach, nibbling from algae on a lagoon or swimming along in the shallow ocean waters. We were lucky enough to experience all three of these encounters during our Big Island adventure. They’re not actually green from the outside, rather from the inside because of their algae-focused diet.
It’s an endangered species Act and, thankfully, conservation efforts have resulted in a population increase over the last decades. So, it’s primordial to remember Hawaii fact number 16. An adult honu weighs around 400 pds (180 kg) and can live up to 70 years.
49. The Hawaiian state bird is a goose.
The endemic Hawaiian goose or nene became the Hawaiian state bird in 1957. Hawaiian culture considers them guardian spirits of the land that joins the forces of mountains and oceans. At some point, in the mid-20th century this species was so endangered that there were only 30 nene left. Conservation programs have been successful and since 2018, the Hawaiian goose is no longer considered an endangered animal but a threatened one.
Here are some peculiar facts about Hawaiian geese that make them unlike any other breed:
- They aren’t migratory and stay island-bound. So, you won’t find a Maui nene fly off to the Big Island.
- They prefer walking over flying. You’ll often find them on golf courses and in other grassy areas.
- Their feet are less webbed and they have longer toes which helps them thrive on the rocky Hawaiian lava fields.
50. On Kauai, chickens outnumber the tourists.
Chickens and roosters overrun the Garden Isle. You can spot them in residential neighbourhoods, at tourist attractions and around restaurants where they seek handouts. Several theories exist as to why there are way more chickens here than on the other Hawaiians islands:
- During hurricane Iniki, the most powerful hurricane to strike Hawaii and mostly Kauai in 1992, many chicken farms were destroyed and allowed the animals to escape. Other islands were less affected by Iniki.
- Over a century ago, immigrant workers held many roosters for the purpose of cockfighting.
- Unlike on Oahu, Maui, Big Island and Molokai, the mongoose was never introduced on Kauai. This squirrel-meets-ferret-meets-chipmunk is native to India but brought to the other islands in the late 19th century in an attempt to control rats in the sugar cane fields. A failed attempt because rats are nocturnal animals while mongoose prefers daylight. The mongoose is known to be fond of eggs which could explain why chickens roam on Kauai and not as much on the other islands.
51. The Hawaiian state flower is the yellow hibiscus.
The hibiscus was named the is state flower of Hawaii in 1923. At that time, no specific variety was detailed. In 1988, the yellow hibiscus or pua aloalo became the state flower. This species, scientifically knowns as Hibiscus brackenridgei, is endemic to Hawaii but very rare. So much so, that it’s considered endangered. Its main threats are animals and invading plant species.
52. The Candlenut tree is the Hawaiian state tree since 1959.
The candlenut tree was introduced in Hawaii by the ancient Polynesians. It can grow up to 80 ft (25 m) in height and has an oval-shaped canopy with light silver-green leaves. Its white blossoms are the official flower of Molokai (remember number 31 in this list of facts about Hawaii?). The name candlenut comes from the oily nuts that can burn like a candle.
In Hawaiian culture, the tree is known as kukui. Hawaiians used every part of this tree: the wood to make kayaks, the trunk to make paint, the fibers for weaving and the nuts for their precious oil. The kukui tree became a symbol of enlightenment, peace and protection.
Nowadays, the nuts still serve a variety of applications. The roasted and chopped white substance inside the nuts is used as the local spice inamona in poké bowls. Sanded and polished nuts are used in lei, especially those worn by men.
13 Facts about Hawaii volcanoes
53. Hawaii is home to 4 active and 2 dormant volcanoes.
The 3 active volcanoes on the Big Island are Mauna Loa, Hualalai and Kilauea (which last erupted in May 2018). The Mauna Kea is dormant and therefore unlikely to erupt anytime soon. Maui is also home to 1 dormant volcano, the Haleakala. The last active volcano is located on the most recent Loihi Seamount island (see number 2 in this list of facts about Hawaii).
54. No less than 6 volcanoes make up the Big Island.
Not bad for a 4,028 m2 (10,430 km2) island, right? From old to young, the 6 Big Island volcanoes are Mahukona (extinct), Kohala (extinct), Mauna Kea (dormant), Hualalai (active), Mauna Loa (active) and Kilauea (active).
55. Mauna Loa is world’s largest volcano.
Measuring 60 mi (96 km) in length and 30 mi (48 km) in width, the active shield volcano Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on earth both in mass and volume. Its name means long mountain and it rises 13,680 ft. (4 170 m) above sea level and another 16,400 ft (5 000 m) below sea level, totalling 30,080 ft (9 170 m). This volcano encompasses more than half the island. The Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984 and, based on its track record, the next eruption is long overdue.
56. Moon and mars are simulated on the lava fields of Mauna Loa.
The surfaces of the moon and the planet Mars have similarities to the top of Mauna Loa. Henk Rogers, a Dutch entrepreneur and Hawaiian resident who did well in the video game industry, purchased a site of a former quarry previously used by Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. His passion for space exploration led him to lease it to the University of Hawaii, who has the permits to use the land.
The 5-year Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), funded by the NASA, ended in 2018. The simulation took place in a small dome located along the slope of Mauna Loa. Teams of 4 to 6 people stayed in the structure for months and ventured outside in space suits, just as if they were on Mars. A new mission is planned to simulate stays on the moon.
57. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, trumping Mount Everest.
A bold statement but this fact about Hawaii is very true… if you take into account the height from Mauna Kea’s summit to the ocean floor. Mauna Kea rises 13,796 ft ( 4 205 m) above the ocean and measures up to 19,700 ft (6 000 m) below the ocean floor. With a total height of 33,500 ft (10 210 meters), it is 4000 ft (1 200 m) taller than Mount Everest.
So, why challenge yourself to do conquer the Mount Everest if you can climb the Mauna Loa (starting from half way up the volcano)? That’s not cheating, is it? Clear skies guarantee the most breathtaking views.
58. Hawaii is home to a glacial lake.
Lake Waiau is located right below the summit of Mauna Kea, inside a cinder cone. At 13,020 feet, it’s the only glacial lake in the mid-Pacific and counts as one of the highest lakes in the world.
59. The Mauna Kea summit currently hosts 13 telescopes; the 14th addition will be the second largest in the world.
An extremely large and highly powerful telescope is currently being built atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island. The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is the result of an international collaboration aimed at maximizing our understanding of the universe. The telescope with an aperture of 1181 inches (30 m) will be placed in a dome with a diameter of 217 ft (66 m) and a height of 180 feet (55 m). The conditions at Mauna Kea are known to be ideal for getting ultra-sharp images.
All that sounds impressive but it has been causing quite some controversy. Conflicts of interest between Native Hawaiians and the US Government are known to span generations. Many Hawaiian sites are considered sacred and spiritual beliefs often clash with state interests. The TMT project is no exception. The Mauna Kea is sacred ground for Native Hawaiians and therefore, up until recently, the construction of the telescope has provoked mass protests.
60. Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world.
Kilauea is the youngest volcano on the Big Island and counts as the most active volcano worldwide. So, it definitely lives up to its name means, which means spewing. There have been 36 eruptions since 1952, the last eruption dates from May 2018. We happened to be there just 2-3 weeks before this legendary event and it was the most memorable episode of our trip to Hawaii. We hiked the Kilauea Iki trail and literally felt the heat standing at the Kilauea Iki crater floor, which is dotted with cracks and steam vents. It consistently ranks as one of the best Big Island hikes for a reason.
61. Vog is an issue in Hawaii, not smog.
Clear skies, plenty of nature and trade winds create the perfect conditions for a smog-free environment. However, there’s this other category of emissions that Hawaii has to deal with: vog. It consists of a mixture of volcanic gases and dust, emitted by the overly active Kilauea volcano. The winds can spread it over the Big Island and, on occasion, the vog even reaches other islands such as neighbouring Maui.
People suffering from asthma or other another respiratory condition might experience shortness of breath or breathing difficulties. The danger is highest close to the volcano, because that’s where sulfur dioxide concentrations are can be most harmful. Therefore it’s important to stop by the visitor center before starting your volcano hike in Maui or on Big Island. There’s a silver lining, though, because voggy skies usually are known to result in gorgeous orange sunsets.
62. The Big Island features 2 types of hardened lava.
The flow rate of lava results in 2 distinct types of lava, both of which can be seen at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- Pahoehoe lava is characterized by a smooth, ropy, rippled surface. It’s created when lava flows slowly. The skin that forms on top prevents heat loss. A tear in that skin is quickly healed. This type of lava can appear in different patterned shapes, depending on the trajectory of the flow. It’s an easy surface to walk over, even with slippers.
- Aa lava is characterized by a rough, jagged, crumbly sharp surface with chunks of lava. It’s created when lava flows rapidly. It also loses heat rapidly, resulting in thicker lava. When the crust gets torn, bits of it fall into the underlying lava and form chunks. You need sturdy shoes to walk over this type of lava.
Since the flow rate is subject to the steepness on the volcanic slopes, flows beginning as pahoehoe can convert to aa when a steep slope is encountered. Never the other way around because aa lava has is too cold and solidified to convert to pahoehoe lava.
63. Not all lava is black.
Lava minerals are rich in iron. When the volcanic gases oxidize, the lava changes color. We found different shades on the Kilauea Iki crater lake, from brownish to reddish.
64. Maui is home to the largest dormant volcano in the world.
The dormant Haleakala volcano encompasses three quarters of the island of Maui. It rises 10,023 ft (3 055 m) above and measures up to 17,977 ft (5 479 m) below the ocean floor, totalling 28,000 ft (8 534 m). Haleakala actually used to be taller but it suffers from erosion. Even the once circular crater has eroded into an S-valley, carved by landslides and water. In the past 1,000 years, Haleakala has erupted 10 times or more, the last time was around 500 years ago.
One of the quintessential Maui things to do (with kids) it catching a sunrise or sunset from the Haleakala summit.
65. Flowers bloom in the crater of Kilauea.
We never expected to find bright flowers on a volcanic crater floor. Yet, we found this tree at the Kilauea crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Lehua blossom on the Ohia trees adds a dash of color to the black lava lake. It’s a strong tree, native to Hawaii, that roots in the lava cracks when windblown seeds mix with water and nutrients. Nature’s full of surprises!
12 Facts about Hawaiian culture
66. Lei should to be returned to the earth.
Lei should never be thrown in the trash but instead, returned to the earth. Hang it on a branch or burry it, but don’t throw it away.
67. The hula is not only danced by women.
The hula, Hawaii’s typical dance, was a ceremonial ritual to worship the gods and evolved to a form of storytelling with movements and chants (mele). Many legends and stories were passed on from generation to generation by means of hula.
The dance usually starts with a mele, a chant to introduce the story, which is always brought by a man. Then women tend to take over and express the rest of the story with gracious and sensual movements. But that hasn’t always been the case. Before the hula-ban by the missionaries, both men and women used to dance the hula. The movement of men were leaning towards the Hawaiian martial art lua. In recent years, there’s been a revival of hula among men. Something to look forward to next time you attend a luau.
68. In early Hawaiian culture, big = beautiful.
Ancient Hawaiians found corpulent women to be more attractive. That was especially true for prominent women such as chieftesses.
69. Leave no trace, especially at cultural sites.
This must be one of the most important facts about Hawaii. According to Hawaiian beliefs, natural features such as animals and plants carry spiritual significance. The same goes for stones, rocks and flowers. Be considerate and respectful when you visit cultural sites and grounds such as volcanoes, petroglyphs and temples. Speak silently, don’t replace stones and take your trash with you.
During out visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we noticed how other visitors stood on rocks to catch a glimpse of the orange glow in the Halemaumau crater. A Hawaiian, who was patiently waiting until the tourists were done taking photos so that he could lay down his offering to goddess Pele, was clearly offended by that action. Standing on rocks is not-done on sacred grounds.
70. Why you should never refuse a lei.
Lei symbolize aloha and are a gift of friendship, welcome and appreciation. It’s considered impolite to refuse or remove one in front of the giver. Etiquette dictates that should wear it at least as long as you’re in the presence of the giver. There’s only one exception, see number 73 in this list of facts about Hawaii.
71. How to wear a lei.
Don’t wear it like a necklace, hanging from the neck. Instead, a lei is meant to be worn draped over the shoulders and hanging from either side.
72. Pregnant women wear an open lei.
Women who are pregnant are the only ones who can politely refuse a lei. In Hawaiian culture it is believed that, in this case, the lei would symbolize wrapping the umbilical cord around the unborn’s neck. Therefore, a traditional lei is considered bad luck and an open lei is the only one that should be worn by pregnant women.
73. Hawaii remembers and honors its past royals.
Hawaiians are proud of their heritage. They honor the royals or alii from past times with yearly celebrations. Some examples:
- June 11 is King Kamehameha Day, celebrating the man who unified the Hawaiian islands. It’s a colorful day with floral parades and flower drapings and festivities take place on all islands.
- Easter Sunday is the start of the week-long Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo (Big Island), honoring King David Kalakaua a.k.a. the Merrie Monarch. The missionaries that came to Hawaii had banned the hula and tried to erase the Hawaiian culture. After the death of Kamehameha, there were many racial conflicts. David Kalakaua was the flamboyant king who managed to settle things and bring back the Hawaiian soul that had been suppressed for decades. At his coronation, the then-banned hula was performed for an entire week. This event is commemorated during the Merrie Monarch Festival, a cultural celebration with a hula competition, performances and art exhibits.
74. Wearing the flower left or right makes a difference.
A woman wearing a flower above the right ear means, is considered to be available. When she wears the flower above the left ear, it means she’s taken.
75. Kalua pig is traditionally cooked in an underground oven.
Luau feasts include both hula performances and sumptuous dinners. One of the traditional Hawaii foods that you’ll most likely get to enjoy, is kalua pig. Kalua litteraly means cooking in an underground oven. That’s exactly how the pork is traditionally prepared. The underground oven called imu is actually a large pit in which a hardwood fire heats the stones and the coals. The salted pork is then placed amidst several layers of ti leaves and banana leaves. A thick layer of soil covers the construction and the meat is left to cook in the imu for several hours before being removed and shredded.
76. There’s a Hawaiian ceremony you can actively take part in.
On Fridays, at the beach in front of The Royal Hawaiian hotel in Waikiki, visitors can participate in the sunrise cleansing ceremony called Hiu Wai. Participants immerse themselves in the calm morning water, accompanied by Hawaiian chants and in the light of the rising sun. This ritual is intended to cleans body, mind and spirit and to inspire happiness and vitality. Participants then return to shore at their own pace and welcome the day with a final Hawaiian chant.
77. Cliff diving is more than just fooling around.
Black rock in West-Maui has long been a popular spot for cliff-diving. Contrary to what you may think, it’s not just a pass-time for daredevils. The history of Hawaiian cliff-diving goes back to the 18th century. King Kaheikili of Maui challenged his warriors to dive from that same cliff as proof of their courage and loyalty. It wasn’t so much the height that intimidated the Hawaiians but rather the fact that they believed Black Rock or Puu Kekaa to be the portal to the afterworld.
Black Rock is now an extension of the grounds of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, which brings a nightly cultural ceremony to commemorate that historic ritual. A diver blows a conch shell in 4 directions, sprints barefoot up to the rock, lights the torches and dives into the ocean. The only difference is that the diver now jumps in head-first while traditionally, warriors jumped in feet-first. You don’t need to be a guest of the hotel to witness the ceremony since it’s located on the beach. And as you may remember from Hawaii fact number 38: beaches are public.
5 Hawaii history facts
78. At one point, the Hawaiian islands were known as the Sandwich islands.
Captain James Cook was the first European to set foot in Hawaii in 1778. He named the islands the Sandwich Islands, after the Earl of Sandwich. This Earl, named John Montagu, was one of Cook’s sponsors. When King Kamehameha united the islands in 1819, he renamed the islands as the Kingdom of Hawaii.
79. There’s still a small plot of British soil on Big Island.
South of Kailua-Kona on Big Island, the Captain James Cook monument honors this British explorer. The plot of land on which the white obelisk overlooks Kealakekua Bay, was deeded to the British government by Hawaii.
80. There was no mercy for those breaking the strict rules.
In the old days, there were many rules or kapu that dominated Hawaiian life: shadows of common people were not allowed to touch shadows of the upper class, men and women were to eat separately, etc. Breaking the kappa always resulted in punishment, sometimes even death. The only way to avoid punishment was to kapu to Pu’uhonua, a place of refuge south of Kailua-Kona where all Hawaiians were guaranteed to stay unharmed. To this day, you can visit Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park to learn all about the kapu and other historic facts about Hawaii.
81. Hawaiian language used to be oral only.
The missionaries that arrived in Hawaii had a hard time communicating with the locals. So far, the Hawaiian language had been an exclusively oral language. The missionaries translated it into a written language so that foreigners could learn it and better interact with the Hawaiian people.
82. Tsunamis are a real threat and you can see why in Hilo.
Tsunami are a threat to all main Hawaiian islands. Three devastating tsunamis took place in Hilo Bay during the 20th century:
- The 1946 tsunami hit the bay with 54 ft (16.4 meters) waves and took 159 lives.
- In 1960, a major earthquake generated a tsunami with 34 ft (10.5 m) waves, making 61 casualties.
- The last major tsunami took place in 1975, when waves of 47 ft (14.3 m) crashed on Keauhou Landing and killed 2 people.
In 1994, the Pacific Tsunami Museum was established in Hilo to commemorate these unfortunate events. The small museum is housed in a former bank. It tells the story of the and informs visitors about the Tsunami Warning System that is now in place. You can even try it out yourself by creating your own miniature tsunami.
Well, that’s it for this list of facts about Hawaii. This list is based on a combination of Hawaiian facts we picked up during our trip and extensive research. Nevertheless, mistakes happen. Should you notice a misinterpretation, then please do inform us and we’ll rectify it.
Now tell us, how many did you know? Which one(s) surprised you? Other thoughts? Any Hawaiian fact you’d like to add to this list? Let us know in the comments!