8 Interesting Facts About Hawaii

Hawaii is a U.S state that conjures up so many different images for people. It’s a vacation destination filled with luaus, leis, and beaches. It’s a fascinating set of islands with active volcanoes, unparalleled biodiversity, lush tropical rainforests, and eight national parks. During my many years of traveling the world, Hawaii a place I’ve always enjoyed visiting and learning more about the state’s history and culture. So with that, it’s time for the next installment of 8 Facts You Might Not Have Known: Hawaii Facts edition.

Oil Slick from the USS Arizona
Oil Slick from the USS Arizona

1. The USS Arizona is still leaking oil.

Sunk on December 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona has been leaking oil for almost 70 years. The leak is obviously small but the fuel tanks were full when the ship was sunk, so no one has any idea when the leak will stop.

Bonus Fact:  Located off the island of Oahu, Hawaii, the sunken battleship lies submerged in about 40 feet of water and directly over it floats a memorial that accepts visitors year-round. If you’re keen on learning a unique take on the Pearl Harbor events, we’re keen on All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor.

2. Hawaii is growing in landmass size every day.

About 55,000 dump trucks worth of new Hawaii are being created every day from the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Since 1990, 540 new acres of land have been added to the Big Island. The vast majority of the new volcanic rock ends up in the ocean and falls to the seafloor. There is, in fact, a brand new island being created under the water off the coast of the Big Island, called Loihi. It will rise above the ocean surface in about 10,000 to 100,000 years.

Two Pool Falls in Hana, Hawaii
Two Pool Falls in Hana, Hawaii.

3. Hawaii boasts 11 different climate zones.

Because of the mountains on the islands, precipitation and temperature can vary dramatically over short distances no matter you are in the Hawaiian islands. On the big island alone you can find a number of intriguing microclimates: rainforests, deserts, grasslands and even an alpine climate on top of Mauna Kea. The east side of the Big Island averages 20 inches of rain per year and Mt. Waialeale on Kauai averages 486 inches a year. The record high temperature in Hawaii (100°F, 37.8°C) is the same as the record high temperature in Alaska—but interestingly both of these states were not yet official U.S. states when they recorded their scorching hot days. 

4. Hawaii has a 5th county.

Most people think Hawaii has four counties: Honolulu (covering the island of Oahu), Maui (covering the islands of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai, and Kahoolawe), Hawaii (covering the Big Island), and Kauai (covering the island of Kauai and Ni‘ihau).

There is technically, however, a 5th county with only 147 inhabitants: Kalawao County. Kalawao is a small peninsula on the island of Molokai which is only accessible by a mule trail. It was used during the time of the Kingdom of Hawaii as a leper colony (now called Hansen’s disease). It is also the location of the Kalaupapa National Historical Park. The only elected position is sheriff. All other governmental functions are taken care of by the State of Hawaii Department of Health.

5. Hawaii is one of the largest states in the United States.

Most people only consider the eight main islands that make up Hawaii. However, approximately 130 islands make up the state of Hawaii and extend over 1,600 miles, making it one of the largest states in terms of distance from end-to-end. The northern and westernmost island is Kure Atoll, which is also the northernmost coral atoll in the world. It’s also 100 miles to the east of the International Date Line.

The only island in the Hawaiian Island chain that is not part of the State of Hawaii is Midway Island, which is a territory of the United States and is controlled by the Department of the Interior. All of the islands that are not part of the main Hawaiian islands are part of the city of Honolulu, which makes Honolulu one of the largest cities in the world in terms of distance.

Green Sand Beach on the Island of Hawaii
An interesting fact: You can find fascinating green sand beach on the island of Hawaii.

6. You can find beaches with four different colors of sand.

In addition to the famous and common white sand beaches, you’ll also find beaches with black, green, and red sand.

  • The Green Sand Beach is located near the South Point of the Big Island of Hawaii. The green comes from a mineral olivine, which can be found in small amounts in most volcanic rock on the Big Island.
  • The black sand can be found at Punaluu State Park on the Big Island, and it comes from crushed volcanic basalt.
  • The red sand is found at Kaihalulu Beach off of Hana Road on the Island of Maui. The red comes from oxidized iron the rock.
Read Sand Beach on the Hana Coast of Hawaii.
Read Sand Beach on the Hana Coast of Hawaii.

7. The Captain Cook memorial on the Big Island is British Territory.

Captain Cook was killed 1779 in Kealakekua Bay. The land on which the obelisk which sits is owned by the government of the United Kingdom. In exchange, the British government gave the land underneath a JFK memorial in Runnymede, England to the United States.

8. The Kingdom of Hawaii lasted less than 100 years.

Final unification of the Hawaiian islands and the creation of the Kingdom of Hawaii took place in 1810 under King Kamehameha I. The last monarch was Queen Lili’uokalani, who was overthrown in a coup organized by Dole Pineapple company (more on that fascinating event here). It was the only state to have previously been a monarchy and the Iolani Palace is the only Palace in the United States.

Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii
Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Recommended Resources And Readings:

If you’re traveling to Hawaii, then you’ll likely want to pick up the Lonely Planet Hawaii for the best advice on where to go and where to stay. But if you’re keen to learn more fascinating facts about the Hawaiian Islands’ culture, history, and landscape, there are our favorite reads.

Best Books About Hawaii:

21 thoughts on “8 Interesting Facts About Hawaii”

  1. Interesting facts! I think that Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s a shame that some places in Hawaii were destroyed by overdevelopment.

  2. A few more things about what you mentioned in the article: 1) There is more than one black sand beach on the Big Island. I’ve seen 3 or 4 of them, some are short and intimate, surrounded by picturesque cliffs. 2) The new land being created by lava flows at the ocean’s edge is considered state-owned land; anyway, as raw jagged black rock, it’s not very useful to anyone for a long time (100s of years) after it is formed. 3) The green sand you mentioned also has flecks of a gold-like substance; I’ve been there and it’s very beautiful to see!

  3. Very interesting. There seems to be a bit of stigma attached to Hawaii at the moment, so it’s good to hear positive things!

  4. And I was surprised to learn recently that the seldom visited area includes Papah?naumoku?kea which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  5. I’ll add a 9th: In 1993 President Clinton officially apologized to the Hawaiian people on behalf of the United States for overthrowing their kingdom. I doubt many Hawaiians feel any better…

  6. I didn’t know much about Hawaii besides what I learned from Forgetting Sarah Marshall! But I’ve always wanted to see a volcano and black sand sound so bad-ass, I feel like a trip to Hawaii is in order!

  7. I went to Hawaii almost 5 yrs ago for my honeymoon and I absolutely loved it there. If I could I would move there, but I don’t think I would get a lot of work accomplished living there. I knew about the leaking USS Arizona but the other facts were new to me. Very interesting!

  8. wow green sand… thats exotic!

    for those who are unaware of this, Hawaii mean “Island of the flowers” and their native alphabet has only 12 letters: a, e, h, I, k, l, m, n , o, p , u, and w. You gotta love the language: huhu (angry), kaukau (food), mahimahi (tasty fish), it sounds lovely.

    happy travels everyone!


  9. Wow… I didn’t know any of those things! I was most surprised by how large it actually is… I had no idea that it had over 130 islands.

  10. Didn’t know much about Hawaii other than it is one of my dream places to visit. In fact your article shocked me at how little I know. Thanks for an interesting and informative article.

    • Aloha Friend,

      Mahalo for your admiration of our lovely native Hawaiian language. It is indeed quite poetic and very pure, you may say, as there are no foul words or phrases in our language.

      May I correct something you brought up: The word “Hawai`i” does not translate to “Island of Flowers”. The Hawaiian word for flower is “pua” and the word for island is “moku” or a variation thereof. Actually, there are various beliefs as to the meaning and origin of the name “Hawai`i”. One such belief is that the name comes from the term “Havaiki” which was the mythical birthplace of all Polynesia.

      Up until the arrival of the white missionaries, the Hawaiian language was an oral language. It was the early missionaries who translated it into a written language so that other foreigners could better understand and learn the language. Included in the alphabet are the diacritical marks: ‘okina and kahak?, which are both essential to the language since they have the ability to change word meanings entirely.

      Mahalo again and aloha!

  11. This is so interesting, especially about the oil tank and the largest city in US. Have you ever experienced scuba diving in Hawaii? That’s my dream.

  12. Very interesting facts, especially about the 11 different climate zones and being one of the largest states. I have visited Maui and Oahu, but would love to see Kauai and the big island…imagine the hiking possibilities in so many different geographical zones!

  13. It is also home to one of the world’s largest astronomical observatories. Stargazing on Mauna Kea is unlike anywhere else in the world. Simply stunning.

  14. Ive seen black sand beaches when I lived in sicily, even here in Argentina they have them. But red and green sand beaches? upload those pics!

Comments are closed.