Aside from starring in endless movie and TV sets, Hawaii represents the ultimate dream vacation for many. However, what else is there to know about these islands? Learn its history, culture and other unique aspects through these Hawaii facts.
- Hawaii is an archipelago including 137 islands.
- The Hawaiian Islands extends over 2,400 km from north to south.
- The total land area of the Hawaiian Islands covers 16,637 km².
- 1.42 million people live in the Hawaiian Islands as of 2018.
- The Hawaiian Islands lie over 3000 km from North America.
- The Polynesians first settled Hawaii in the 10th century.
- Tahitian cultural influences reached Hawaii in the 13th century.
- The legendary rulers Liloa, Hākau and, ʻUmi a Līloa united Hawaii in the 15th century.
- British Royal Navy Captain James Cook discovered Hawaii in 1778.
- King Kamehameha I founded the historical Kingdom of Hawaii in 1795.
- American influence extended over Hawaii beginning in the 1850s.
- The Kingdom of Hawaii collapsed in 1893 with the islands annexed by the USA as a US Territory.
- Japan attacked Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and brought America into WWII.
- Hawaiians began lobbying for statehood in 1954.
- US President Dwight D. Eisenhower granted Hawaii statehood in 1959.
- The British used to call Hawaii the Sandwich Islands.
- The Hawaiian Islands take their name from the biggest island in the archipelago: Hawaii Island.
- Homosexual and bisexual relationships were common and accepted in pre-colonial Hawaii.
- The reef triggerfish represents Hawaii as its state fish.
- Hawaii’s state flower is the yellow hibiscus.
Hawaii Facts Infographics
Hawaiian pizza isn't actually from Hawaii.
Hawaiian pizza has sparked one of the most polarizing debates in the history of food. Whether you think pineapples belong on pizza or not, you should probably leave Hawaii out of it. After all, nothing about it is Hawaiian.
In fact, we owe the idea to Sam Panopoulos, a Greek native who moved to Canada at 20 years old. Panopoulos experimented with putting pineapples on pizza in 1962 to attract more customers to his pizza shop in Ontario. Panopoulos and his brothers named it “Hawaiian” pizza after the brand of the canned pineapples they used.
There are no snakes in Hawaii.
The islands’ geographic isolation kept any snake species from reaching them. They also avoided coming to the islands with the human settlers. Today, it is illegal for anyone without special permission to bring snakes to the islands. And that special permission is only to stock the islands’ strictly-regulated zoos. Snakes have no natural predators on the islands, so it’s very important to keep them under control. Otherwise, they could irreparably damage the Hawaiian environment. Definitely something we here at Hawaii facts can get behind.
The Hawaiian Islands used to be called the Sandwich Islands.
James Cook was a captain of the British Royal Navy in the late-18th century. He led a series of expeditions to explore the world’s oceans, making many discoveries. Cook was the first European to make contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Upon finding it, Captain Cook named it the Sandwich Islands, after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Montagu was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time and approved Captain Cook’s expeditions. Thus, Cook named the islands in his honor.
The sea wears away at older Hawaiian islands.
This is why the older islands to the northwest of the archipelago are smaller than the rest. Erosion by the waves slowly breaks and washes pieces of the islands away. However, it’s a gradual process that takes thousands of years.
Part of Hawaii is a national monument.
Hawaii’s northwest area forms the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. This includes 10 small islands and many atolls, along with their surrounding waters. US President George H. W. Bush founded the monument in 2006 to protect the archipelago’s rich and diverse wildlife. US President Obama later expanded it in 2016 to the limits of America’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This makes it one of the largest protected areas in the world, covering 1.5 million km² of land and water.
Hawaii stands over the Hawaii Hotspot.
A hotspot is a point in the Earth’s crust where the magma from the mantle flows up to the surface. The Hawaii Hotspot is what feeds Hawaii’s volcanoes, and the underwater volcanoes nearby. Hotspots are also immobile, in contrast to the Earth’s crust which moves with the tectonic plates. This is why the older islands of Hawaii have no active volcanoes. As the Pacific Plate moved, the older volcanoes lost their connection to the mantle and went extinct. The hotspot remains though, forming new volcanoes that grow into new islands.
Hawaii’s name comes from its legendary discoverer.
Hawaii comes from Hawaiʻiloa, a mythical explorer who discovered and founded the first settlement on the islands. The names of his children are also used for other islands in the archipelago. Those are his sons Maui and Kaua’i, and his daughter Oahu.
Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s tallest mountain.
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano around 1 million years old. Its last eruption dates back to over 4000 years ago. It stands about 4.2 km high, but that’s only the part of the volcano that’s above the water. If we include the part of it that’s underwater, the volcano’s height is 10.2 km, and the tallest in the world. That surprised us here at Hawaii facts too.
There are 13 telescopes around Mauna Kea’s peak.
The volcano’s height makes it very suitable as a site for astronomical research. Various agencies operate these telescopes, from NASA and the University of Hawaii, to even other nations. The telescopes are also not limited only to looking at the visible universe. Radio and heat telescopes are among the telescopes on the volcano, able to see what would be invisible to the human eye.
Hawaii last witnessed an eruption in 2018.
This was the 2018 Lower Puna Eruption, named for the district it took place in. On May 3, 2018, Kīlauea erupted along its East Rift zone, sending lava fountains up to 90 meters into the air. Volcanic quakes damaged roads and infrastructure, as did lava flows from the eruption. Excellent disaster preparation and management on the part of the local government ensured there were no casualties. Volcanic debris and the hustle of evacuation caused 24 injuries, broken bones being the most serious. Volcanic gas also caused nausea among evacuees and staff.
Hawaii’s islands are the most isolated in the world.
Hawaii is over 3000 km from the closest continent, North America. This has affected the development of life on the islands over millions of years. Low competition caused by the infrequent addition of new species to the islands led to the evolution of several unique species. These include the Hawaiian Monk Seal, the Pueo, and the Puaiohi among others. Human settlement of the islands, first by the Polynesians and then Europeans changed all that. New, competing species arrived with them, and development damaged natural habitats. Today, Hawaii has more endangered species than any other US state, while many unique plant and animal species have since gone extinct.
Kapu is what the ancient Hawaiians called their code of conduct.
Kapu doesn’t have a direct English translation, but it’s closely related to the concept of a taboo. You can see this in the sense that kapu is a series of social rules that govern different areas of life. This includes lifestyles, gender roles, politics, and religion. Violation of any of its tenets is punishable with immediate execution. A grim example of Hawaii facts, no doubt.
Ancient Hawaii had a caste system.
There were four castes in ancient Hawaii. At the top were the Ali’i, composed of the chiefs. Second in importance was the Kahuna, composed of the priesthood. Most Hawaiians belonged to the third caste, the Makaʻāinana, composed of the commoners. The lowest caste was the Kauwā, made up of prisoners of war or their descendants.
The ancient Hawaiians played nose flutes.
There’s one of the more interesting examples of Hawaii facts: Ancient Hawaiians who played nose flutes were called Ohe hano ihn. The reason they played flutes in such a way was because of a belief that noses were cleaner and purer than mouths.
Captain Cook died in Hawaii during his last visit to the islands.
The captain’s death resulted from a series of quarrels that started when he stole an idol from a local temple. The Hawaiians then stole one of his boats, leading Captain Cook to take King Kalaniʻōpuʻu hostage. The captain planned to force the boat’s return with such a tactic but underestimated the Hawaiians. They attacked, rescuing their king and killing the captain before he could escape back to his ship. One of the darker Hawaii facts, for sure.
The first Europeans in Hawaii brought diseases with them.
This is a very grim example of Hawaii facts. And if this sounds familiar, then yes, it’s much like what happened with the Native Americans. Even if they weren’t showing any symptoms, the British who first arrived in Hawaii brought many diseases with them. These included measles, smallpox, and the flu. Not having encountered any of those diseases before, the Hawaiians lacked any resistance. By 1820, those diseases killed half of the native population.
King Kamehameha I is also known as Kamehameha the Great.
King Kamehameha I united Hawaii into a single nation. Before that, various chiefs and kings ruled over the islands and regularly fought one another. Kamehameha himself only started out as the ruler of Hawaii Island. Over the next 15 years, he conquered Oahu and Maui, before getting defeated at Kaua’i. Changing tactics, he used diplomacy to convince Kaua’i and its ruler to submit to him in 1810. Kamehameha then introduced a western-style constitution and proclaimed the Kingdom of Hawaii. This marked the end of ancient Hawaii, as Hawaii actively modernized in the following decades.
June 11 is King Kamehameha Day.
King Kamehameha Day is a holiday celebrating Kamehameha the Great, founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii. It started in 1871, by order of King Kamehameha V, and remained celebrated even after America’s annexation of Hawaii. This makes Hawaii unique as the only state in Hawaii to celebrate in honor of a past monarch. The holiday celebrations include parades, parties, and other events. How’s that for Hawaii facts?
Queen Liliʻuokalani was the last monarch to rule over Hawaii.
She became queen in 1891, after her brother’s death. In his reign, American interests led to the forced imposition of a new constitution that stripped the monarchy of power. It also reduced Hawaiian participation in government, leaving it dominated by Americans on the islands. The queen planned to reverse this, starting with a new constitution. Unfortunately, this only gave American interests an excuse to launch a coup, with a marine company landing on Hawaii in 1893. They placed the queen under house arrest until her abdication in 1895. In 1898, the USA finally annexed Hawaii as a US Territory.
The Native Hawaiian religion had 4 major gods.
They are Kāne, Kū, Lono, and Kanaloa. Kāne was the most important, as the Hawaiian creator god ruling over the dawn, the Sun, and the sky. Kū ruled over many aspects, such as farming, fishing, war, and magic. He also ruled over the forest and the rain. Notably, among Hawaiian gods, Kū demanded human sacrifice, usually of the Kauwā caste. Lono was the god of fertility and music. Kanaloa is sometimes synonymous with Kāne but is otherwise the god of the underworld.
The Native Hawaiian religion enjoyed a revival in the 1970s.
This came as part of the Hawaiian Renaissance, marked by a general revival of Hawaiian tradition and culture. With regard to religion, outrage erupted over the US Navy’s use of Kahoolawe Island for target practice. The island is home to many native shrines and temples going back centuries. This forced the US Navy to limit its use of the island to protect native sites. It also inspired greater conservation efforts for native plant and animal life.
Hawaiians practiced ancestor worship.
Up to a point, the Aumakua being a deified ancestor with the role of a family’s guardian god. Some families had more than one Aumakua, with one family recorded as having over 50. Hawaiians worshiped their Aumakua in natural places they believed the Aumakua to live at. They also believed Aumakua sometimes appeared in animal form, which they saw as ominous.
The Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters.
It’s still actually the Roman alphabet used in the rest of the USA, but the Hawaiian language only needs 12 letters. These are the 5 vowels, and 7 consonants: H, K, L, M, N, P, and W.
Surfing is a major part of Hawaiian culture.
This isn’t only because of Hawaii’s geography making it a wonderful place to surf. It’s also because of surfing’s role as a traditional sport in Hawaiian and by extension, Polynesian culture. In fact, it’s more than a sport to Hawaiians, it’s an art. Considering how much practice it takes to surf well, we here at Hawaii facts completely agree.
The Sony Open in Hawaii takes place every year in January.
The Sony Open in Hawaii is an annual golf tournament on the PGA Tour, and one of the FedEx Cup Series. Ever since the tournament began in 1965, the tournament always takes place at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions has taken place in Hawaii ever since 1999.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions is the PGA Tour’s annual opening tournament. It’s held in January, on the island of Maui. First held in 1953, the tournament’s first forty years took place in the continental United States. Starting in 1999 though, it’s always held on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
Hawaii hosts one of the world’s largest marathons.
This is the Honolulu Marathon, held every year in December at Honolulu, Hawaii. The marathon runs a distance of 42.2 km and involves tens of thousands of people. The location gives the event an exotic air, making it very popular among first-time runners.
The Ironman World Championship takes place every year in Hawaii.
The Ironman World Championship is the final event for a series of triathlon competitions held worldwide. Like the qualifiers, the championship is a triathlon event. First held in Oahu in 1978, the event moved to Hawaii Island in 1981. The first part of the event is a swim over 3.86 km in Kailua-Kona Bay, followed by a bike ride. This is the longest part of the event, running over 180 km over and back the Hawaii Lava Desert. The final part of the event is a 42 km marathon along the coast back to the starting point.
Hilo in Hawaii hosts the Merrie Monarch Festival every year.
Now here’s another festive example of Hawaii facts. The festival takes place after Easter and lasts a whole week. It refers to King David Kalākaua, nicknamed the Merrie Monarch for his patronage of the arts. The festival’s centerpiece is competitive and non-competitive exhibitions of hula dancing, held over a whole week. Dancers come from all over the world, such as from Alaska, Australia, and New Zealand. Local dancers both professional and amateur also make appearances.
The Hawaii International Film Festival sets the standard for Asian-Pacific cinematography.
Held annually since 1981, the HIFF showcased Asian-Pacific cinematography to the world. It also allows new and emerging filmmakers to make a fair debut onto the international stage. The primary event is in Honolulu every November, along with a spring showcase in March. Other educational and industrial events are also held over the course of the year.
Hawaii is set as an example by universal healthcare advocates in the United States.
This is thanks to the islands’ healthcare system, as per the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act of 1974. Under the system, businesses must provide insurance to all employees working more than 20 hours per week. Insurance companies operate under heavy regulation in the state, leading to low insurance costs.
Hawaii does not have a single state police force.
This makes it unique among the American states, all having state police forces of their own. Instead, each of Hawaii’s 4 municipalities has a police force of their own. Forensic services get shared between them from the Honolulu Police Department.
The US Congress passed the Apology Resolution in 1993.
The resolution is an admission that the USA violated Hawaiian sovereignty with Hawaii’s annexation in 1898. It has caused controversy in the USA, based on allegations of historical revisionism behind the resolution.
The Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement began in the 1960s.
It started against the perceived ignorance of many issues in Hawaii. These include the effects of urbanization and development, as well as disrespect for native sites. The movement has also demanded reparations for the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1895. Other items on their agenda include pushing for greater autonomy or even independence for Hawaii.
It’s rude to refuse Lei Flowers when they’re offered to you.
Lei Flowers are the proper name for those wreaths worn around the neck in Hawaiian festivals. And not only is it rude to refuse them, it’s also rude to take them off in front of the person who gave it to you. You’re also not supposed to throw them away, but instead to return it to the land. Definitely one of the must-know Hawaii facts if you plan on visiting.
Hawaii provided the setting for many movies.
Well, it’s not hard to see why. Hawaii provides the perfect tropical setting. Popular examples include Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and Tropic Thunder.
Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts aren’t from Hawaii.
They’re grown in Hawaii, but Macadamia Nuts aren’t native to Hawaii. They’re native to Australia, with the nuts brought to Hawaii by American and European settlers. They set up plantations to grow the nuts and sell them, along with other non-native crops. These include sugar and coffee, two other major exports of Hawaii today.
Billboards are not allowed in Hawaii.
This is because they’re seen as taking away from the scenic views of the natural landscape. In the whole USA, only three other states have also banned billboards on their lands. These are Alaska, Maine, and Vermont. The reasoning behind the ban there is the same as in Hawaii.
A plane did not crash in Hawaii in 2004.
In 2004, people said a plane had crashed along the coast, and even called Hawaiian police over it, but it didn’t. At least, not in reality. The plane crash was part of the setting of the TV series Lost, filmed in Hawaii in that year. The callers only took the props and set of the TV series at face value, and misunderstood.
The first Asian-American Senator of the United States came from Hawaii.
One of the more historic Hawaii facts: Hiram Fong was first elected to the US Senate in 1959 and was also the first Senator for Hawaii after receiving statehood. A descendant of Chinese immigrants, Fong already had a long career before entering the federal government. He had been a former member of the Hawaii House of Representatives, after all. He represented Hawaii in the US Senate until 1977 when Spark Matsunaga became the new senator from Hawaii.
Hawaii has its own time zone.
This shouldn’t be surprising, considering the huge distance between Hawaii and the rest of the USA. Hawaii Standard Time is 2 hours behind Pacific Standard Time, and 5 hours behind Eastern Standard Time. Daylight savings is also not in effect in Hawaii.
There are no majorities in Hawaii.
The basic definition of majority is fifty percent plus one. And no ethnic group in Hawaii fits that definition. Asian-Americans make up the plurality, that is the largest minority, at 37.3%. Caucasians come next, at 26.7%, then native Hawaiians at 9.9%. Blacks make up 0.5% of Hawaiians, with the remaining 23% identifying as ‘other’.
Gambling is illegal in Hawaii.
You’d think that with Hawaii being a tourist hotspot, gambling would be big there. However, every form of gambling is illegal on the islands. Cruise ships aren’t allowed to enter Hawaiian waters either if they allow gambling onboard. The only way to gamble is in private, but it is still illegal, and you can get arrested for it.
All beaches are public in Hawaii.
This is thanks to the state government declaring all beaching state property and thus public property as well. Businesses and private individuals who try to obstruct access to any beach face heavy fines. The only exceptions are a few beaches for use by the US government or military, and even then they’re technically still public property. And let’s stay honest: do you want to hold a beach party next to a nuclear warship?
There are wallabies in Hawaii.
The wallaby is a mammal native to Australia, and which looks like a small kangaroo. The wallabies on Hawaii came to the islands as part of a zoo exhibit but escaped into the wild. Since they’ve managed to adapt to the islands, and have not damaged the environment to any degree. For that reason they’re left alone as they’re not hurting anyone or anything. Currently, it’s estimated there are 40 wallabies in Hawaii, and between their small number and shy nature, they aren’t seen often.
There’s a limit on the height of buildings on Kaua’i Island.
That limit is the height of the tallest palm tree on the island. This is the reason you will never find any high rise on the island. Well, there is one exception: the Marriott Hotel. And that’s only because they built the hotel before the law went into effect.
Former US President Barack Obama came from Hawaii.
Well, he was born there, at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu. He and his parents left for the continental United States a week after, and by the time he ran for president, he was the senator for Illinois.
The Apollo Program’s astronauts trained in Hawaii.
The Apollo Program’s astronauts trained at Mauna Loa’s lava fields. Of course, the lava was already hard, but that was the whole point. NASA noticed the similarities between the hard lava surface and that of the Moon and concluded they’d make for good training ground.
Hawaii legalized abortion on demand in 1970.
They were the first US state to do this, 3 years as it was before Roe vs Wade reached the US Supreme Court. Colorado had legalized abortion in 1967, but only in conditional cases. These include rape, incest, and if the pregnancy or childbirth risked the mother’s life.
The Arizona Memorial commemorates all the dead of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Unlike other American battleships sunk or damaged in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy didn’t repair Arizona. They judged her too damaged and left her as she was. After the war, they removed the parts of the ship above the water and built the present-day memorial on top. The bulk of Arizona’s hull is still underwater, and a tomb for the over 1000 crewmen killed when the battleship exploded.
The Hawaii State Flag includes the British Union Jack in its upper left corner.
This is to commemorate the friendship between the United Kingdom and the old Kingdom of Hawaii. It also makes the Hawaii State Flag the only American flag to include the flag of a foreign country.
Hawaii is the only American state with a rainforest.
Well, Hawaii is the only state with a tropical climate. Puerto Rico is tropical and has a tropical rainforest, but it’s also not a state.
Hawaii has the world’s highest sea cliffs.
These are the Kalaupapa Cliffs on the peninsula of the same name, on Moloka’i Island. They rise over 600 meters above the Pacific Ocean.
Hawaii’s Moloka’i Island once housed a leper colony.
Lepers are people who suffer from leprosy, a non-communicable skin disease. At the time though, people thought it was communicable, and separated lepers from the rest of the population. In 1866, King Kamehameha V founded the leper colony on Moloka’i Island to isolate lepers from the rest of the islands. The colony continued to exist until 1969 when it was finally demonstrated that leprosy isn’t communicable. Today, only 14 lepers still live in the former colony, and of their choice.
Hawaii’s Mount Haleakala is the largest dormant volcano on Earth.
It forms 75% of Maui Island’s landmass and rises over 3 km in height. Its last known eruption was in 1790, though some evidence suggests this is a miscalculation. Instead, the last eruption may have taken place in the 17th century.
Aloha doesn’t only mean hello.
It’s the most common meaning, and it’s usually used as that, but it’s not limited to that alone. Aloha is also used as a goodbye. It’s a very flexible word, the context of which gets lost in translation.
Hawaiians take their shoes off before entering a house.
Not, it’s not unique to Japan. Hawaiians do it too, and regardless of what country it is, it does make sense. Taking your shoes off before entering a house does keep dirt on your shoes from getting in as well.
Hawaii is rabies-free.
And the state has strict quarantine laws to make sure it stays that way. If you want to bring a pet with you on vacation in Hawaii, get ready. You’ll be spending months getting the proper certificates and checkups you need to get into Hawaii with your pet.
Midway Atoll is part of Hawaii.
This atoll is over 1000 km away from the inhabited islands of the archipelago and isn’t inhabited. Because of this, Midway isn’t part of the State of Hawaii. Instead, the atoll is an unincorporated territory of the United States.