Hawaii – The Ultimate Guide
Is Hawaii a state or an island? The answer is both. This island, more than any other in this state, is a bit schizophrenic when it comes to names. This is the biggest island in the state, so it is commonly referred to as (brace yourself) the Big Island. Its Hawaiian name is Hawaii. So far, so good. But the whole state is called Hawaii. So you figure the capital must be here, right? Nope, Honolulu is on O‘ahu. This must be where most of the people live, right? Uh-uh. O‘ahu has 80 percent of the population. Well, this must be where Pearl Harbor is, correct? Wrong answer—it’s on O‘ahu, too.
So why is the state named after this island? Because it’s the biggest island, and this is where King Kamehameha the Great was from. It was he who brought all the islands under one rule for the first time. His first capital was here at Kailua (another naming headache). When you do all that, you have some historical influence. In our book and app we will refer to this island as the Big Island. When we say Hawaii, we mean the whole state. In short, in Hawaii could be anywhere—on Hawaii is on the Big Island.
Hawaii – Map
Hawaii – Weather
Hawaii’s weather varies greatly between the islands. If you’re still deciding which island you’d like to visit, we have a page with an overview of Hawaii’s weather on Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. We also have pages with more details specific to each island. Check these pages for complete information on the weather:
Hawaii – Islands
What we call the Hawaiian Islands are simply the latest creations from an island-making machine. Someday they will disappear, existing as nothing more than footnotes in the Earth’s turbulent geologic history.
Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau are the oldest of the eight major islands. Lush and deeply eroded, the last of Kaua‘i’s fires died with its volcano a million years ago. O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Kaho‘olawe—their growing days are over as well. Maui is in its twilight days as a growing island. After growing vigorously, Hawaiian volcanoes usually go to sleep for a million years or so before sputtering back to life for one last fling. Maui’s volcano Haleakala has entered its final stage and last erupted around 1790.
The latest and newest star in this island chain is Hawaii. Born less than a million years ago, this youngster is still vigorously growing. Though none of its five volcano mountains is considered truly dead, these days Mauna Loa and Kilauea are doing most of the work of making the Big Island bigger.
Hawaii – Maui
Maui is the undisputed playground of Hawaii. No other island has the range of activities and scenery available to you here. There’s almost nothing you can’t do on Maui: hike in pristine rain forests, snorkel in an extinct crater, coast a bicycle 10,000 feet down a volcano, walk along miles of beaches, frolic under a waterfall, dive into a natural freshwater pool, lie on a black or even red sand beach, or sip a drink as the sun sets over nearby islands. Whatever fantasy about Hawaii you have, Maui is bound to deliver.
Hawaii – Oahu
O‘ahu: land of myths. We’re not talking about ancient Hawaiian myths. We’re talking about the myths that exist about this island, both for visitors and for those who live on the neighbor islands (including me before I moved here to do this guide.) The biggest myth is that O‘ahu is Waikiki and Waikiki is O‘ahu. Nothing could be further from the truth. O‘ahu has all the wonder, adventure and discovery that a person could ever ask for—and far more.
Hawaii – Kauai
Kaua‘i is a unique place. People who visit here recognize this immediately. There are plenty of places in the world featuring sun and sea, but no other place offers the incomparable beauty, lushness and serenity of Kaua‘i. Living here, we get to see first-time visitors driving around with their jaws open, shaking their heads in disbelief at what they see. Without a doubt, you will never see more smiles than during your visit to Kaua‘i.
Hawaii – Big Island
The Big Island has it all. Nowhere else in the world will you find the diversity available here. Pristine rain forests, lava deserts, world-class beaches, snow-covered mountains, an active volcano, dazzling sunsets and just about every activity you can think of. The island is huge—about the size of Connecticut. Navigating your way through this maze of opportunity can be daunting.
Hawaii – Itineraries
You now have a basic understanding of what each Hawaiian island has to offer, but we have only scratched the surface. We have complete itineraries on where to stay, what to eat and what to do on Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. Make the most of your vacation with these itineraries:
Hawaii – Restaurants
Find Hawaii restaurants to satisfy any craving. Get candid reviews of Maui’s Leilani’s on the Beach, Oahu’s Top of Waikiki, Big Island’s Beach Tree and more.
Hawaii – Vacation
Your Hawaii vacation starts with choosing where you want to stay and deciding how you’ll get around. Discover real Hawaii vacation rental gems on each island.
Hawaii – Cruise
There is no better way to see Hawaii besides cruising your way in the ocean and admiring the scenic beauty of the islands. Discover the Hawaii cruise of your dreams.
Hawaiian – Time
One aspect of Hawaiian culture you may have heard of is Hawaiian Time. The stereotype is that everyone in Hawai‘i moves just a little bit slower than on the mainland. Supposedly, we are more laid-back and don’t let things get to us as easily as people on the mainland. This is the stereotype… OK, it’s not a stereotype. It’s real.
Hopefully, during your visit, you will notice that this feeling infects you as well. You may find yourself letting another driver cut in front of you in circumstances that would incur your wrath back home. You may find yourself willing to wait for a red light without feeling like you’re going to explode. The whole reason for coming to Hawai‘i is to experience beauty and a sense of peace, so let it happen. If someone else is moving a bit more slowly than you want, just go with it.
One gesture you will see often—and should not be offended by—is the shaka sign. This is done by extending the pinkie and thumb while curling the three middle fingers. Sometimes visitors think it is some kind of local gesture indicating up yours or some similarly unfriendly message. Actually, it is a friendly act used as a sign of greeting, thanks or just to say, Hey. Its origin is thought to date back to the 1930s. A guard at the Kahuku Sugar Plantation used to patrol the plantation railroad to keep local kids from stealing cane from the slow moving trains. This guard had lost his middle fingers in an accident, and his manner of waving off the youths became well known. Kids began to warn other kids that he was around by waving their hands in a way that looked like the guard’s, and the custom took off.
Frequently asked questions about Hawaii
What are the 7 Hawaiian islands?
Hawaii is made of eight major islands, seven of which are inhabited. The 7 Hawaiian islands are the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and Niihau. The eighth island is the uninhabited Kahoolawe. You can learn about the offshore islands on our Hawaiian Islands page.
Why does Hawaii have a British flag?
Hawaii has a British flag to symbolize their ties to Britain. In January 1778 an event occurred that would forever change Hawai‘i. Captain James Cook, who usually had a genius for predicting where to find islands, stumbled upon Hawai‘i. He had not expected the islands to be here. He was on his way to Alaska on his third great voyage of discovery, this time to search for the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Cook approached the shores of Waimea, Kaua‘i at night on January 19, 1778.
The next morning Kaua‘i’s inhabitants awoke to a wondrous sight and thought they were being visited by gods. Rushing aboard to greet their visitors, the Kauaians were fascinated by what they saw: pointy-headed beings (the British wore tricornered hats) breathing fire (smoking pipes) and possessing a death-dealing instrument identified as a water squirter (guns). The amount of iron on the ship was incredible. (They had seen iron before in the form of nails on driftwood but never knew where it originated.)
Cook left Kaua‘i and briefly explored Ni‘ihau before heading north for his mission on February 2, 1778. When Cook returned to the islands in November after failing to find the Northwest Passage, he visited the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
Hawaii – Mobile App
More things to reveal in the app:
- Reviews on Hawaii Resorts with their locations
- Reviews on every single beach on the islands
- Interactive maps of Kauai, Maui, Oahu and the Big Island
- Details to help plan your visit to Hawaii’s best sights, tours, activities and more
Download our app to plan your perfect trip to Hawaii