In the Pacific Ocean, 2,000 miles away from the US mainland, you’ll find the beautiful state of Hawaii. Officially nicknamed “The Aloha State”, the Hawaiian archipelago is most famous for its tropical islands, white sand beaches, mega volcanoes, excellent surf, native culture, and breathtaking scenery.
As the only US state situated outside of North America, Hawaii consists of 137 volcanic islands spread over an area of 1,500 miles in Polynesia. Most tourism is directed to the 8 major islands: Hawaii, Kaho’olawe, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Moloka’i, O’ahu, and Ni’ihau.
The lush tropical climate of the state makes it a major vacation destination throughout the year and it is one of the most visited states in the US. Whether lounging on pristine beaches, hitting the surf, hiking the mountains, or exploring the cities and towns, Hawaii is the perfect destination for endless adventures and total relaxation.
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History of “The Aloha State”
Before Hawaii became a part of the United States, the islands had a long history that dates back to early Polynesians. The exact dates of the settlement have long been debated by historians, but the most recent evidence using carbon dating indicates that the first settlers arrived around 940-1130 A.D.
The first Polynesians lived on the coasts of the islands and were isolated from the world for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until 1500 that settlers began to move to the interiors of the islands. In these early days, each island was ruled by a separate kingdom and went unnamed. It wasn’t until the ruler Kamehameha I, that the islands were called “Hawaii”.
European discovery of Hawaii first occurred in January 1778 when the British explorer, James Cook sighted the islands on one of his voyages. Cook stayed in the area for just over a year as he sailed around the Hawaiian and North American coasts looking for the Northwest Passage. In January and February 1779, Cook returned to Hawaii to resupply.
On February 14th, the explorer was killed in Hawaii after a confrontation with the locals. Shortly after the death of James Cook, Hawaii became a kingdom that lasted from 1795 to 1893. Hawaii became a United States territory in July 1898. Just over 6 decades later, it would become the 50th state in August 1959.
Perhaps one of the most famous events in Hawaiian history was the Attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. A surprise military operation that took place on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese Navy bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. The attack was a pivotal moment during the war because it led to the formal entry of the US into World War II.
While Hawaii has had a storied past, it’s now known for its deep-rooted culture, laid-back lifestyle, and respect for the land. Protecting its habitat, Hawaii has the country’s most state and national park coverage, spanning over 4 million acres.
Capital City of Honolulu
Supporting a population of 350,964 people as of 2020, Honolulu is the capital and largest city in Hawaii. The city is located on the Island of O’ahu on the southeast coast. As the capital, Honolulu acts as a major transportation hub as it connects Hawaii to the rest of the world.
Honolulu is a bustling city that’s become one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations with travelers coming from far and wide. Part of it’s allure is the nearly endless list of activities for tourists visiting the city. Filled with shops, restaurants, beaches, historic sites, educational activities, and natural green spaces, the city keeps guests entertained from day to night.
For a little retail therapy, tourists should check out the famous Ala Moana Center, which is the world’s largest open-air shopping center. Stores throughout the center include luxury, department, and souvenir brands. To find local goods, Honolulu has excellent farmer’s markets where you can find fresh products, handmade goods, and various local products.
There’s also plenty to sightsee in the capital city. Major hotspots include Waikiki Beach, ‘Iolani Palace, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Honolulu Botanic Gardens, the Kaka’ako District, Aloha Tower, and Manoa Waterfall.
Hawaii, “The Big Island”
Covering an area of 4,028 square miles, the Island of Hawai’i is locally known as “The Big Island”. The nickname came about partly because of the island’s size and as a way to differentiate between Hawaii the state and Hawaii the island. During the 2020 census, 200,629 people lived on the Big Island.
Hilo is the Big Island’s capital city and is well-known to tourists. Other popular places to visit on the island include the smaller Kailua Kona, Volcano, and Waimea. The Big Island is most famous for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the Waipi’o Valley, Punalu’u Beach, and the Akaka Falls State Park.
Kaho’olawe, “The Target Isle”
A mere 44.59 square miles in size, the island of Kaho’olawe is the smallest of Hawaii’s 8 main islands. Called “The Target Isle”, Kaho’olawe is off-limits to the public, meaning those who wish to visit will need to join a volunteer work program that has special access to the island.
The island’s nickname came from the time when the US Navy used the land as a bombing range. There’s still a risk of encountering unexploded bombs on the island, which is why it has been closed to the public. However, tracing back the history of the island, Kaho’olawe has always had few permanent residents.
Partly due to the lack of fresh water, the US Census Bureau states that there are no permanent residents on the island. Unlike most of the other Hawaiian islands that are famous for their lush landscapes, most of the Target Isle is covered in saprolite hardpan soil.
Kauai, “The Garden Isle”
Called “The Garden Isle”, Kaua’i is most famous for its stunning natural beauty. For those that want to see some of the most spectacular landscapes during their trip to Hawaii, the island of Kauai should be at the top of your list.
Home to a mere 73,298 people as of 2020, most of the island features uninhabited land. The two famous state parks in Kauai are Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. Waimea Canyon State Park is often called “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” because of its impressive rock formations that stretch for 10 miles.
Perhaps the most easily recognized part of the island is the Nā Pali Coast State Park, which features dramatic high cliffs that rise 4,000 feet above the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. The sheer faces of the cliffs make the state park inaccessible to vehicles, but visitors can take helicopters, kayaks, paddleboards, boats, or hike through the land.
Lanai, “The Pineapple Isle”
Lana’i is another small island in Hawaii that was once a pineapple plantation. Hence, it is nicknamed “The Pineapple Isle”. The only town on the island is Lanai City and the rest of the island, about 98%, is privately owned by Larry Ellison, the co-founder of the Oracle Corporation. The remaining 2% of the island is owned by the state or is privately owned homes.
In 2020, the population of Lanai was 3,193. Most people consider this island to be quite rural as most of the roads are dirt and there are no traffic lights. Although there are few local residents, tourism to Lanai has become more prominent in recent years. Tourists can stay at one of the two resorts on the island.
Attractions on Lanai include the Challenge at Manele, Experience at Koele, and the Cavendish Golf Courses. Shipwreck Beach is another hotspot because of the wrecked ship that sits just off the coast.
Maui, “The Valley Isle”
With an area of 727.2 square miles, Maui is the second-largest island in Hawaii. As of 2020, the island supports a population of 168,307. Called “The Valley Isle”, the island is dramatically split between two mountain ranges – Haleakalā and West Maui.
Throughout the island, there are a few popular tourist towns and many local attractions. Maui’s most famous towns include Wailuku, Kīhei, Wailea, Lāhainā, and Kā’anapali. Lāhainā is particularly popular with tourists because of the Kā’anapali and Kapalua resort areas.
Other attractions in Maui include the Hāna Highway, Haleakalā National Park, and the Iao Valley. Many are drawn to the island’s black sand beaches and waterfalls, which can be found along the coasts and in the canyons.
Moloka’i, “The Friendly Isle”
Much more laid-back is the island of Moloka’i. Home to 7,404 people as of 2020, the island’s nickname comes from the tight-knit communities living in the small towns. Locals are very protective of their island and don’t want it overrun with tourists in order to ensure the land remains undamaged.
With fewer crowds, visitors that do travel to Moloka’i can explore protected areas like the Pala’au State Park, Kiowea Beach Park, Kakahai’a National Refuge, and the Kalaupapa National Historical Park.
O’ahu, “The Gathering Place”
With a population of 1,016,508 as of 2020, O’ahu is the third largest island in Hawaii and home to the state capital city of Honolulu. Known as “The Gathering Place”, there are nearly 4.7 million visitors that travel to the island annually. Honolulu is certainly a popular destination, but there are plenty of other attractions to see in O’ahu too.
The island’s top beaches besides Waikīkī include Kāne’ohe Bay, Kailua, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay. O’ahu’s top attractions include the Ka’ena Point, Kualoa Ranch, Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, the Makapuu Lighthouse, and the Waimea Valley.
Ni’ihau, “The Forbidden Isle”
Another island with restricted access is Ni’ihau and it’s appropriately called “The Forbidden Isle” because it is closed to the public. Purchased by Elizabeth Sinclair in 1864, the island’s ownership was passed to her descendants, the Robinson family. Today, the island is only open to Robinson family members, invited guests, and special tours.
Most people visiting the island will take a half-day helicopter or beach tour of Ni’ihau. The only other tours that are offered are private, paid hunting safaris. All of these tours are strictly supervised with a limited number of slots open each year.
Hawaii is most famous for its beaches and people travel from the far corners of the world to be able to lay out on the fine sand or play in the surf. Some of the state’s beaches are more famous than others, but no matter which island you’re visiting, you’re guaranteed to find a beautiful sandy spot.
Waikiki Beach on the island of O’ahu is the state’s most famous beach and it has been a hotspot since the early 1900s. Packed with big crowds and lined with luxurious hotels, tourists can mingle with the locals and enjoy the beach’s amazing views.
For a much less crowded beach, tourists should check out the Polihale State Park beach on the island of Kauai. Stretching for 17 miles, the beach is only accessible by four-wheel drive, but its remote location and view of the stunning Nā Pali cliffs make the journey well worth it.
On Maui, Wailea Beach has become famous for its luxurious resorts which include the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, Andaz Maui at Wailea, and the Grand Wailea. With golden sand and gentle waters, this beach is perfect for daytime swims or sunset strolls.
One of Hawaii’s famous black sand beaches is Punalu’u, which is on the Big Island. Beyond the black sand, visitors can check out the volcanic rocks that emerge from the shore. Sea turtle sightings are particularly popular in the area and the close proximity to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park makes it a popular place for visitors along the Kona-Kohala Coast.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
There are two national parks in Hawaii, but the most famous by far is the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Situated on the Big Island, this national park is home to two active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, while Mauna Loa is one of the largest shield volcanoes in the world.
Visitors to the national park can learn more about the volcanoes at the Main Visitor Center. Other activities in the park include day hikes, backcountry hikes, the Crater Rim Drive, Chain of Craters, Mauna Loa Road, and the Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook, where you can see the lava glow red.
“The Safest Place In The World”
There are plenty of reasons to visit Hawaii from the world-class beaches, lush island mountains, magnificent waterfalls, and epic volcanoes. Beyond the looks, the islands are filled with friendly people and rich culture. No matter where you find yourself, Hawaii is guaranteed to be the adventure of a lifetime. So, get ready to join the crowds and prepare to be amazed by this state’s diverse beauty.
Get the most out of your island vacation by unwinding at one of Hawaii’s natural hot springs.
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