Last updated on August 24th, 2022
The 50th star on the U.S. flag is best known for its tropical beaches, emerald peaks, golf courses galore, and pampering resorts. But how well do you really know Hawaii? In this post, we’ll cover a few interesting facts about Hawaii so that next time you’re mingling at a cocktail party, you can sound just a little bit wiser.
Visiting Hawaii? Sample itineraries, guides to the best spots, and the must-see highlights in five islands are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
The only U.S. state flag to feature another nation’s national symbol, the Hawaiian flag is a mix of American and British influence. The flag’s use of the Union Jack can be explained by the early British influence over Hawaii after “discovery” by Captain James Cook in 1778. Cook tragically found his death in Hawaii but close ties were later formed with King Kamehameha the First. The flag’s eight straps represent Hawaii’s eight major islands. After a series of modifications over the years, the current flag of Hawaii has been in use since 1845. It’s also worth mentioning that many Hawaiians also feel represented by the flag of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Well, that is partially true since Hawaii doesn’t technically have ski facilities. On the Big Island, the summit of Mauna Kea is often covered in snow. It’s the preferred choice for giant space telescopes though often to the disapproval of local native Hawaiians. Just a short drive from the summit, the sandy beaches of the Kona coast are where you can surf and work on a tan after your snowball fight. In fact, on a clear day, you can see the snow-capped mountain from the beach. Such is the diversity of the Hawaiian islands.
Partially true but nonetheless interesting, if the height of mountains was measured from their base on the seafloor, Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii would be taller than Mount Everest by more than 1,000 meters. You see, Mauna Kea “only” officially measures 4,207 m (13,803 ft), but that’s because 5,759 m are hidden beneath the waves. Considering that Mount Everest, with its 8,849 meters (29,031 ft), begins well inland on a continental plate, I think it’s quite unfair…
Just saying the word Hawaii (properly pronounced huh-WAH-yee) immediately evokes images of tropical beaches and lush jungles, but where did the name originate? Some legends say that Hawaii is named after a legendary explorer named Hawai’i Loa who was the first to spot the chain. However, other theories propose that the name originates from the ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. There is no consensus on where exactly Hawaiki is located but some speculate it refers to the Samoan island of Savai’i.
It’s hard to fathom, but the original Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii sailed to these islands without the aid of any modern instruments, just by reading the stars at night, the clouds and currents during the day, and following birds when they got somewhat close to land. There is a wide consensus that Hawaiians sailed almost 4,000 kilometers from what is commonly referred to as Tahiti. To be exact, they most likely originate from the Marquesas Islands archipelago, the northernmost island chain in French Polynesia.
On the lush island of Maui, one wouldn’t expect there to be a desert. At 3,055 meters (10,023 ft), the sheer height and position of Haleakala create bizarre weather patterns on the island. Venture into its crater and discover a desert landscape found deep in the Southwest of the mainland. Meaning “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, Haleakala is considered the world’s tallest dormant volcano. It last erupted hundreds of years ago and nobody quite knows when it will wake up once again.
Back on the Big Island, this volcano certainly isn’t asleep. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983, adding well over 100 km2 of new land to the island and continuing to do so with force as you’re reading these lines. It is currently the world’s most active volcano, even forcing the evacuation of numerous nearby communities in recent years. To visit Kilauea, head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, take to the air in a scenic helicopter ride, or join a boat tour and venture to a waterfall of lava.
Of America’s 50 stars, Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages. Though everyone speaks English, you’ll be lucky to hear some Hawaiian during your stay as it is a beautiful language. Part of the Austronesian language family, the Hawaiian alphabet is largely attributed to the work of Christian missionaries who most likely needed to transfer the oral language into written form in order to ease the spreading of the gospel. Many words in Hawaiian closely resemble or are identical to the same words in other Polynesian languages, a further testament to the connection between these voyagers of the sea.
Hawaii’s independence movement still exists though it is small. Its mission is to resurrect the Kingdom of Hawaii. That’s right. Hawaii used to be ruled by a monarch. That wasn’t always the case though as the islands were divided among tribes who frequently went to battle over land and resources. The first to unite the islands under a single rule was Kamehameha the Great, who de facto created the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1795. The last Hawaiian monarch was Queen Liliʻuokalani who ruled until she was overthrown in 1893 in what is viewed by many as an illegal act aided by local American businessmen and government officials.
Polynesians are credited with the invention of surfing. Early encounters between Europeans and Polynesians mention islanders using floating devices to ride waves. Surfing, in its early form, was a very important part of Polynesian culture. That culture arrived with the early Polynesian explorers to the Hawaiian islands, perhaps as early as the 11th century. Over the years, Hawaiians perfected the technique of standing on a surfboard, surf clubs began popping up, news spread from the shores of Waikiki Beach to the rest of the world, and the rest is history. One of the earliest Hawaiian surfing legends is Duke Kahanamoku, whose statue proudly overlooks Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
They might be a great source of income for municipalities, but since the 1920s, billboard signs cannot be erected in Hawaii. In fact, Hawaii was the first state to enact this ban, later followed by a number of other U.S. states. Perhaps it’s due to their interference with the natural scenery or maybe due to their distraction, if visiting Hawaii from a major urban area on “the mainland”, you’ll surely notice this after a few days on the islands.
Hawaii is physically one of the smallest states but it’s huge in terms of its tourism industry. On an average year, Hawaii welcomes over nine million visitors. Tourism is both a blessing and a curse in Hawaii. Though the local government as well as many businesses and families rely on the tourist dollars, many view mass tourism as a threat to the natural environment and quality of life. On some islands, officials have or are seriously debating ways to limit tourism numbers. My advice? Get off the beaten track and visit lesser-known islands such as Molokai or head to the Big Island where there is no shortage of space.
This wraps up my list of interesting facts about Hawaii. I hope it was interesting enough for you to plan to visit these islands someday. If you plan ahead and know where to find the authentic slices of Hawaii, it can really be a vacation to paradise. Check out this Hawaii Travel Guide that will help you plan your Hawaiian adventure.
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