Capital and largest city: Honolulu
Nickname: Aloha State
It’s no doubt that the Hawaiian culture has left an indelible mark in history. From the skilful, innovative ways of Polynesian sea voyaging to the ancient traditions of the Hawaiian family, we continuously learn from our ancestors. The Hawaiian language is now being taught throughout Hawaii schools and the legacy of the Hawaiian monarchy is still revered today. The revitalization of the Hawaiian culture continues to remind us that the past clearly defines the present. There are many ways to connect with both contemporary and historical cultural activities throughout each island.
In an effort to revive the ancient ways of surfboard building and practice, Diane Fujii Johnson and Tom Stone decided to reconstruct wooden surfboards and the traditions that surround them. "I was born and raised here," says Diane, founder of the Hawaiian Longboard Federation (HLF). "I always loved surfing but never knew the historical and cultural aspects of it. Then as I began meeting with Tom, I found out there were a lot of rituals in making these ancient wooden surfboards."
"Back in the old days, you actually had to make your own board, so it was an extremely complex process," says Tom Stone, a professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii. "The wooden boards stood 12-feet tall and weighed over 100 pounds. So the community as a whole had to work together to make just one board."
Hawaii’s Big Island culture and history
It’s easy to immerse yourself in the culture of Hawaii's Big Island. Try dancing the hula and taking part in an authentic feast. Head upcountry and discover the uniquely blended Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Mexican cultures - still alive and well among Hawaiian cowboys on the island’s giant ranches. On Kealakekua Bay, Captain James Cook dramatically lost his life in 1779. Puukohola Heiau is a sacred spot which was built in 1790 by King Kamehameha as an offering to the gods, where he asked for success in his campaign to unite the Hawaiian Islands.
Maui culture and history
From the timeless grandeur of Haleakala Crater to the historic charm of 19th Century Lahaina, Maui offers a wealth of historic and cultural attractions. The town of Lahaina is in fact a National Historic District, with timeless charm and a variety of important historic sites that take one back to the days when the town served as an important whaling port. History buffs will also find that the Lahaina-Kaanapali and Pacific Railroads provide an unforgettable journey into the area’s romantic plantation past. No matter where you travel on Maui you are sure to find points of historic and cultural significance.
Lanai culture and history
A place of deep cultural significance, Lanai boasts many historical sites, old fishing villages, and unique topographical features like the boulder-strewn Keahikawelo. In the center of the island, Lanai City features thoroughly and lovingly restored landmarks, including the lovely Lanai Playhouse and Theatre and the charming Hotel Lanai, both dating from the 1920’s. A prehistoric mystery lingers in Luahiwa, where visitors will find 34 boulders featuring intriguing petroglyphs carved by ancient Hawaiians.
Molokai culture and history
Molokai residents show a deep regard for tradition and take great care to preserve the island’s unique cultural heritage. Here, it often seems as if the past and the present exist simultaneously. One of the island’s most popular cultural attractions is the Kalokoeli Fishpond, where ancient Hawaiians once practiced a remarkably sophisticated form of aquaculture. As many as 60 of these fish ponds once operated along the southern shore, and most of them were constructed at least 700 years ago. Another must-see is the Iliiliopae Heiau, one of the largest ancient temple platforms in all of Hawaii. Set deep within a thriving forest, this historic site offers a palpable sense of wonder and spirituality.
Oahu culture and history
Oahu’s rich cultural heritage may be something you seek out, but you’ll most certainly find it without even trying. There are several ways to soak up Oahu’s colourful history. Museums, temples, cultural centres and festivals just to name a few. Historical artefacts can be found at both the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace, home to the last reining monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. Take in turn-of-the-century architecture with a stroll through Chinatown, or ride the trolley through Waikiki and you’ll see historical hotels such as the Sheraton Moana Surf rider and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel made famous in the early 1900’s.
Kauai culture and history
Archaeologists speculate that the first “tourists” to Hawaii landed on Kauai perhaps as early as 500 A.D. The gentle Pacific Ocean trade winds that brought settlers from Marquesas, Tahiti, Samoa and other South Pacific islands were the same that eventually led Captain James Cook to make his first landing in Hawaii on the shores of Waimea, Kauai in 1778. Educational displays of the artifacts and contemporary crafts of the Native Hawaiians can be found at the Kauai Museum. Discover ancient sacred sites on the banks of rivers, near fishponds, in parks or set among the cliffs. Attend a luau (feast) at one of the resorts to see the dances and hear legends of Kauai. Other places where Kauai’s culture and beauty pervade are botanical and cultural gardens, the Kokee Natural History Museum, the Waioli Mission, and the charming historical towns of Hanalei, Hanapepe and Lihue.
Honolulu is on the south shore of the island of Oahu, a volcanic mass divided into sections by two separate mountain ranges. Both ranges run northwest to southeast: the Waianae range on the western side of the island, and the Koolau range to the east. The Koolau separate the city of Honolulu and its hotel-choked neighborhood of Waikiki from the windward side of the island and the towns of Kailua and Kaneohe. Travelers can take one of three tunnels — Pali, Likelike or the H-3 freeway — to cross from one side to the other. Between the two mountain ranges is a central plain. To the south of this plain is Pearl Harbor, home to the Arizona Memorial Museum; to the north is the legendary surfing area known as the North Shore.
Honolulu's neighborhoods have distinctive identities. The office buildings of downtown Honolulu are just north of Honolulu Bay. To the east of downtown is Waikiki, which is bordered by Diamond Head. Makiki Heights, to the north of downtown, surrounds Punchbowl Crater, home of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. East from that is lovely, rainy Manoa, where you will find the University of Hawaii. Farther east are Hawaii Kai and Kahala, both known for their expensive homes.
The history of Honolulu is really the history of Oahu. The island was an independent fiefdom controlled by a succession of Polynesian chiefs until the 1780s. That's when the ambitious king of Maui, Kahekili, conquered Oahu and killed its chief — his own stepson — in a bid to enlarge his territories. After Kahekili's death, his sons battled one another for control of the islands. This division made it easier for the now-legendary Kamehameha I to conquer all of the Hawaiian Islands. With the help of Westerners with firearms, Kamehameha's troops took Oahu in 1795 in a rout that ultimately forced the defenders off the cliffs at Nuuanu Pali. His court was set up in Waikiki, and then moved to Honolulu in 1809.
During the first half of the 1800s, Oahu saw the same influx of foreign missionaries and whalers that arrived on other Hawaiian Islands. By the 1840s, Honolulu was a busy port town doing a brisk trade in the sandalwood harvested on the island. Sandalwood later gave way to sugar, and laborers from China, Japan, Portugal and the Philippines were brought in to work the plantations.
After U.S. sugar companies engineered the takeover of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu's Pearl Harbor became the centerpiece of U.S. naval operations in the Pacific. On December 7, 1941, a squadron of some 400 Japanese planes attacked the base, killing more than 2,400 people and marking the entrance of the U.S. into World War II. With the advent of jet travel in the post-War years, Honolulu became the gateway for millions of paradise-seeking vacationers, and developers built the towering hotels of Waikiki.
There is no "best" time to visit Honolulu. The city's climate is warm and sunny most of the year, though residents do notice a seasonal change with temperatures dropping to an average of 75 F/25 C in late October. Things stay that way through May, before the temperature goes soaring just above 90 F/32 C, where it stays from July through September.
Trade winds blow across the island most of the year, and the air only gets uncomfortably humid when trade winds stop and Kona winds from the south take their place. November-April is considered the island's rainy season, even though the rain showers usually come and go in a matter of hours. The combination of rain and sun makes conditions ideal for stunning rainbows, which can often be seen arching over mountain valleys. Most of Oahu's rain falls in the higher elevations and on the island's windward side, ensuring contoured slopes covered with thick verdant rainforest.