Hawaii, an archipelago in the tropics, sits 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) into the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. There are almost 140 volcanic islands within Hawaii. They stretch almost 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) across the vast ocean, many unpopulated of course, and they take the name from the largest, Hawaii. Locals often use the nickname, “Big Island” to differentiate that island from the whole archipelago. Two-thirds of the archipelago’s 1.4 million population live on O’ahu island where you will find the state capital, Honolulu. It is the 50th State of the USA, having been annexed by the USA at the end of the 19th century.
In the decades leading up to that significant numbers of settlers both from Asia and American and British traders had changed the population mix considerably. James Cook had first found Hawaii in 1778 yet British influence soon waned. It has a large Buddhist community with the culture a mix of indigenous, American and East Asian. It was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 that brought the USA into the Second World War. Its appeal includes its lovely climate, fine beaches, and perfect waves for surfing. Life in Hawaii, originally a plantation economy, is good. Hawaii is the 3rd wealthiest state of the USA and life expectancy exceeds 80 years, the best of all USA States. Anyone interested in outdoor activities on land or sea will definitely find plenty during their time on the archipelago. Read on and you will get some ideas as well as getting an appreciation of the people and their culture.
- What Is Hawaii Known For?
- Plan Your Trip
- Top Tours
- 1- Being The 50th State
- 2- Beautiful Beaches
- 3- Active Volcanoes
- 4- Mauna Kea, the “Highest Mountain in the World”
- 5- Lush Rainforests
- 6- Wonderful Cuisine
- 7- Colourful Aloha Shirts
- 8- Lei Garlands
- 9- Luau Parties
- 10- Pearl Harbour
- 11- Native Language
- 12- Surfing
- 13- Hula Music and Dancing
- 14- The Aloha Spirit
- 15- Honolulu
What Is Hawaii Known For?
1- Being The 50th State
Hawaii’s contact with the outside world brought trade but several new diseases.
As a result, the population fell to just 40,000 approaching the last decade of the 19th century when the SA overthrew the local monarchy and took control.
Hawaii had already seen the influx of a significant number of settlers, many from East Asia to the 50th State of the USA was very different from those in the North American mainland itself.
Its tropical location and the huge impact made by the Pacific Ocean will perhaps make you forget it is part of the USA but the archipelago is happy to be just that.
You will find things in the 50th State that you will not find in the other 49.
Its latitude is one of the main reasons, but not the only one.
2- Beautiful Beaches
Few places in the world offer such a variety in their beaches.
Hawaii is volcanic so there is no surprise that some of the beaches have black sand yet the coral reefs around the islands, the strong currents and strong waves combine together to produce some lovely stretches of white sand.
Elsewhere, there are even red and green beaches.
Combining all those colours with the blue of the ocean and the whole setting is beautiful.
Every beach in Hawaii is free; no exclusive hotels can offer their own stretches of sand.
Wherever you are in Hawaii, you will never be far away from a lovely beach.
Coral reefs ensure that many of the beaches are sheltered and swimming in the warm blue waters is relaxing.
Note that there are beaches into which huge waves crash.
These beaches are more likely to attract surfers and spectators rather than swimmers.
3- Active Volcanoes
The youngest of the volcanoes in Hawaii form a long line on the main islands of the archipelago, stretching the whole length of the archipelago.
There are fifteen of them in all while there are five main volcanoes that are still classified as active.
Four of those are on “Big Island” with the fifth, Mount Haleakala, on Maui.
Volcanoes have created stunning landscapes throughout the archipelago.
If your interest is volcanoes and you have limited time, you must head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on “Big Island.”
There you will have the chance to visit an active volcano which you should only do with local advice and guidance.
There are a number of popular tours that you can book to introduce volcanoes to you as well as other natural features.
- Big Island Active Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coffee
- Hawaii Small-Group Volcano Experience with Lunch and Restaurant Dinner
- Hilo Shore Excursion: Active Volcano, Lava Tube, Waterfall and Gardens
4- Mauna Kea, the “Highest Mountain in the World”
Mauna Kea is an inactive volcano, the highest point in Hawaii at 4,207.3 metres (13,803 ft).
Its real claim to fame however is that its height from the seabed is 9,330 metres (30,610 ft) making it higher than Everest from its base.
Estimates put it at around a million years old.
It last erupted between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, hence its classification as dormant.
All the summits on Hawaii are regarded as sacred and that limited the people who were able to go there.
The slopes of Mauna Kea were covered in forests yet some areas were cleared for agriculture and livestock in the 18th century.
Some of the livestock went feral and there are current moves to remove them from the slopes to restore Mauna Kea to its former state.
Mauna Kea’s summit is a great place for astronomical observation and there are 13 telescopes in the Mauna Kea Observatories where extensive research is done.
Native Hawaiians still disagree with the constructions because of the sacred nature of the summit.
Recommended tour: Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour
5- Lush Rainforests
The main islands of Hawaii get significant rainfall; they are lush and green with significant rainforests where there no settlements nor agriculture.
Half of the forested area has disappeared since the arrival of settlers.
Agriculture fed the people while logging was required for construction.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park provides visitors of a setting typical of the islands’ pre-human activity.
There are further protected regions in places like the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on “Big Island” while Haleakala National Park is worth a mention.
Hawaii has a great deal to offer those wanting outdoor activities and hiking is decidedly one of them.
You can walk through rainforests where you are also likely to come across impressive waterfalls as you walk.
6- Wonderful Cuisine
Bold and diverse are two words that can be used to describe Hawaiian cuisine.
Two other words are fresh and local.
You can expect to find coconut in many local dishes whether they are curries or sweet desserts.
The origins of the dishes vary from Polynesian to European and Asian.
Poi is a dish served throughout the islands so it can be regarded as the national dish of Hawaii.
The basis is taro root, baked or steamed, which is pounded into a consistency like pudding.
In itself it is bland but you then add pork or salted salmon (known locally as lomi-lomi).
Pork is commonly used, as is salmon.
Rice, corns, leaves and a range of fruits such as guava and passion fruit are also regular ingredients.
7- Colourful Aloha Shirts
In difficult times, colour often lifts the mood, even temporarily.
The bright colours of the Aloha dates back to the Great Depression, now almost a century ago.
The shirts were meant to lift moods and help people forget their troubles.
Since that time, Alohas have become fashionable as something to wear to look good.
The colours of Hawaii simply add to the effect.
Aloha is a greeting, translating into “hello” or “goodbye” and in either case, it is a sign of the friendliness of the locals.
Locals wear Alohas in most settings other than formal ones.
Business and social meetings and Alohas are the regular dress and of course visitors to Hawaii will surely buy at least one as a souvenir of their trip?
You may well stand out in an aloha when you return back home but on the Hawaiian archipelago you will be one of thousands.
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8- Lei Garlands
Lei Garlands are common across the whole of Polynesia.
They are given to people as they arrive in the islands and regularly to locals by their loved ones as they leave.
Similarly, you can expect them to play a role in every special occasion such as a wedding, graduation ceremony and school dances.
The garlands are made from different things strung together.
They may be flowers but another common lei which represents love, change and desire is made from hala fruit which has a pulpy interior and a fibrous outer edge.
Fresh flowers and foliage in general are commonly used to make lei garlands which will be “presented” as quickly as possible after they are made.
Some leis use small sea shells, feathers and even bones.
They will obviously last much longer than those made from flowers.
If you want a special lei, the island of Ni’ihau is known for its leis made from small gem-like shells or book a traditional airport Lei greeting on Kahului Maui.
9- Luau Parties
A Luau is a Hawaiian celebration.
The word means “young taro tops” and taro root is one of the traditional ingredients used in Hawaiian cuisine.
The food served at luau parties also include chicken or squid cooked in coconut milk.
Food is just one element of a party.
There is plenty of music, dancing and of course drink.
The tradition first began in the middle of the 19th century with taro the main meal served.
The parties have continued with the whole occasions expanded with time.
If you are on one of the large islands on the archipelago, you can attend a party but make sure you go colourfully dressed because everyone else there will be in bright colours.
You don’t want to stand out, do you?
10- Pearl Harbour
In 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.
It came as a real surprise and ultimately the attack led the USA to join the hostilities, something that Japan came to regret a few years later.
The USA had a naval base there, and even to this day, the US Navy regards Hawaii as central to its military.
Japan and the USA had been talking about the future of the Pacific, especially in relation to China, for months before the attack.
The Japanese wanted an end to USA sanctions yet they perceived that little progress was possible.
They saw the US Navy as a threat to their expansion plans in SE Asia.
Recommended tour: Pearl Harbor Remembered Tour
11- Native Language
It is perhaps no surprise that the native Hawaiian language is among the list of endangered world languages, especially because of the archipelago’s status as a State of the USA.
The constitution of Hawaii written in the mid-19th century by the monarchy had Hawaiian as the official language but even then, English was widely spoken.
English became the official language in schools by the end of that century.
The native language was spoken by 0.1% by 2000 yet the danger of the language dying out had been recognised years before that.
Classes in Hawaiian were introduced and still exist even though English is clearly predominant.
Another “language”, Hawaiian Pidgin, exists as well.
It developed within the immigrant population working in plantations which employed a number of different nationalities from Europe and SE Asia.
There are just 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, the 5 vowels from English included.
The 8 consonants are h, k, l, m, n, p and w.
If you ask a local to go through the alphabet, he or she will start with the vowels then go to the consonants in the order above.
There are strong, and justified, claims that surfing began in Hawaii and it is now a worldwide recreation.
It is now a highly skilled professional sport.
The first mention of surfing was shortly after the death of Captain Cook in 1779 yet it could well have been enjoyed throughout Polynesia for centuries.
In Hawaii, it was reserved for royalty, thereby earning the title of the “sport of kings.” In 1819, all the population was allowed to surf yet it was discouraged by missionaries for the rest of the century.
Waikiki Beach opened up for surfing early in the 20th century and another century on, you will see huge numbers of surfers enjoy the waves.
That is throughout the islands especially in high season which is from November to February.
Waikiki Beach remains one of the best places to learn to surf while surfing as a spectator sport is hugely popular or go off the beaten track and book this group surf lesson at Kalama Beach in Kihei.
13- Hula Music and Dancing
Native Hawaiians developed a dance with song and chant, Hula, which comes in several forms, the main two being Hula ʻAuana and Hula Kahiko.
Kahiko is the original form while Auana evolved from the 19th century onwards with Western influence including instruments such as guitar and double bass.
Hula dancers and musicians actually toured the USA, as evidenced by a mention in an Ohio newspaper in 1921.
The dances are complex, some with significant hand movements representing swaying of trees or waves on the ocean.
Documents recording ancient dances preserve traditions.
The songs come from a more modern era and exist on sheet music.
If you are on holiday in Hawaii, there will be plenty of opportunity to watch hula dancing and listen to its music.
14- The Aloha Spirit
Aloha is a way of life that embraces community and its values.
Central to the spirit is the natural world and achieving a harmonic balance in life.
It involves kindness, humility, patience and unity.
“Aloha Spirit” coordinates heart and mind with the aim of treating others as you would treat yourself.
The consequence is the creation of harmony far and wide.
Sadly, that is something that the world is far away from achieving.
The word “aloha” actually also means hello as well as goodbye and you will hear the word used as frequently as any other word when you are in Hawaii.
The world could learn from the local Hawaiians and their commitment to the Aloha Spirit.
Crime figures in Hawaii compare very favourably with the other States of the USA, in some cases half the USA average.
The Aloha Spirit clearly helps.
Honolulu is often the first port of call for visitors to Hawaii.
It is the capital and comfortably the largest city.
You will experience a mix of cultures, Western, Asian and Pacific if you spend time there.
The name means “sheltered harbour”, a descriptive name and one of the main reasons for it being the capital as it has been since the mid-1800s.
Honolulu receives more than 2 million visitors annually, a figure that compares favourably with other USA cities; it is in the country’s top 10 in visitor numbers.
There is plenty to see and tour if you visit.
Pearl Harbour is fairly close with the USS Arizona Memorial and the Missouri are both very popular.
There are natural wonders nearby on Oahu including a hike to Diamond Head Crater.
Waikiki is a neighbourhood with plenty of good restaurants, shopping and hotels.
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