Hawaii (Hawaiian: Hawaiʻi, sometimes pronounced ha-VAI-ee by locals) is the 50th state of the United States of America. Situated nearly at the center of the north Pacific Ocean, Hawaii marks the northeast corner of Polynesia. While it was once a major hub for the whaling, sugar and pineapple industries, it is now economically dependent on tourism and the U.S. military. The natural beauty of the islands continues to be one of Hawaii's greatest assets. Honolulu is the state's capital, largest city, and cultural hub. Hawaiian and English are the official languages of Hawaii.
Hawaii is an archipelago of over nineteen distinct volcanic islands located over a geological "hot spot" in the Central Pacific. The Pacific plate on which the islands ride moves to the northwest, so in general the islands are older and smaller (due to erosion) as you move from southeast to northwest. There are eight major islands, six of which are open to tourism.
Almost always called the Big Island to avoid confusion, it's the largest of the islands and home to Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa (the largest and one of the most active volcanoes on Earth), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, coffee and macadamia nut plantations, working ranches, and even green sand beaches. Kailua-Kona is the busiest part of the island on the dry, leeward side, and near the mega-resort Kohala Coast area with nearly zero annual precipitation. The saddle road (quite passable and a must see – despite what rental car companies say) passes between the massive volcanoes and connects Kohala with Hilo, the largest town on the Big Island and county seat with annual precipitation of more than 300 inches per year. Unlike anywhere else on Earth and definitely worth a look.
Nicknamed "the Gathering Place," Oahu is the most populous and developed island. Its southern shore is home to the city of Honolulu, the state capital and largest city; four out of every five kama'aina (Hawaii residents) call it home. It is the governmental and commercial center of the state, and Waikiki Beach is arguably the best known tourist destination in Hawaii. Outside the city are pineapple fields, and the North Shore of Oahu, which is known each winter as the home of some of the largest waves in the world. The USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor is also very popular visitor destination.
The second largest island in the chain, and home to the 10,023 foot (3,055 m) tall volcanic mountain crater of Haleakala. It is nicknamed "the Valley Isle" for the narrow plain between Haleakala and the West Maui mountains. On the west side of the island are the resort areas of Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua, while the south side is home to Kihei, and Wailea. On the east side is the tiny village of Hana, reached by one of the most winding and beautiful roads in the world.
"The Garden Isle" is home to several natural wonders, such as the Wailua River, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali Coast. Mount Waialeale is known as one of the rainiest spots in the world. It boasts the most beaches out of the major islands, with the longest being Polihale measuring 17 miles in length. It's similar to the Big Island in that they have the most rural feel out of the 4 major islands.
"The Friendly Isle" is the fifth largest and one of the least developed of the main Hawaiian Islands. It is home to Kalaupapa, the place where long term sufferers of Hansen's Disease (also known as leprosy) were forced into quarantine by the Hawaiian government until 1969. It is now known for pristine, breathtaking tropical landscapes, environmental stewardship, rich and deep Hawaiian traditions, and a visitor-friendly culture.
Known as "the Pineapple Isle," formerly the world’s largest pineapple plantation owned by Dole Foods; it is now home to two high-end resorts. Just 3,135 people live on its 141 square miles. There are no traffic lights, movie theaters or bakeries. There is just one gas station and three main roads. It is ringed with vast and empty beaches, accessible only by four-wheel drive.
A privately owned island with an entirely Native Hawaiian population. Until very recently, "the Forbidden Isle" was off limits to all but family members and invited guests of the owners. Tourism to the island is limited to helicopter, ATV, and hunting excursions originating on Kauai. There are around 130 Niihau residents and Native Hawaiian is the official language. They do not have running water, use solar power and live rent free.
A former U.S. Navy bombing range, which remains uninhabited. Efforts are being made to rehabilitate the island, but cleanup efforts continue.
- Honolulu - state capital and most-populous city
- Kahuku - on Oahu
- Kailua - on Oahu
- Lihue (Hawaiian: Līhuʻe) - on Kauai
- Lahaina (Hawaiian: Lāhainā) - on Maui
- Kahului - on Maui
- Wailuku - on Maui
- Hilo - largest city on the Big Island
- Kailua-Kona - on the Big Island
- Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail on the Big Island.
- Haleakala National Park on Maui
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
- Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Moloka‘i
- Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island
- USS Arizona National Memorial on O‘ahu
- Waimea Canyon on Kaua‘i
- NaPali Coast on Kaua‘i
- Waikiki on O‘ahu
The name game
The reef triggerfish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus), the state fish of Hawaii, is known in the Hawaiian language as the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, which means "triggerfish with a snout like a pig". It is not the longest Hawaiian fish name, as is often thought; that distinction instead goes to the lauwiliwilinukunukuʻoiʻoi ("long-snouted fish shaped like a wiliwili leaf"), the forceps butterflyfish (Forcipiger longirostris).
Where tourism is concerned, Hawaii has something for everyone. The island of Oahu, the most populous and home to the state capital and largest city of Honolulu, is great for people who wish to experience the islands and still keep the conveniences of a large city. Rainforests and hiking trails are located just minutes from Waikiki Beach, one of the world's best tourist destinations. In the winter, large waves on Oahu's north shore turn the normally sleepy area into the surfing capital of the world.
On the other hand, those who wish to experience Hawaii at a slower pace would do well to visit one of the Neighbor Islands (the other, less populated islands around Oahu). All the neighbor islands offer opportunities to relax and enjoy the sun and scenery. Many of the natural wonders of the Islands are located on the Neighbor Islands, from Waimea Canyon on Kauai, to Haleakala on Maui, to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Numerous waterfalls and rainforests evoke memories of what the islands might have looked like before major corporations set their sights on Hawaii. The road to Hana is one of the most scenic on Maui, as you manipulate many turns overlooking the Eastern coast of the island. It leads you over bridges and past beautiful waterfalls. Ultimately, you can end up at the Oheo Gulch Pools (which are not sacred and there's more than seven), where the hiking is quite the experience.
On 11 October 2009, Father Damien de Veuster (1840-1889), a Belgian priest who came to the island of Molokai in 1864 to treat victims of leprosy - and eventually succumbed to the disease - was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI.
Polynesians migrated to, and established communities on, the islands of Hawaii before the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778, who is widely credited as the first European visitor to the islands. At that time, each island was a separate kingdom. With the support of western advisors and weapons, Kamehameha I of the island of Hawaii conquered all the islands except Kauai, which acquiesced to his rule in 1810.
After Kamehameha II abolished the kapu (taboo) system, American missionaries came to the islands to spread Christianity. As the ancient Hawaiians did not have any concept of owning land the missionaries became official land owners of many of the islands. Their children would later become successful businessmen in the Islands and still own entire islands to this day. Pineapple and sugar cane plantations were established, and workers from other countries (in particular Japan, the Philippines, China, and Korea) were imported as contract laborers. Later, their descendants would also become established as successful professionals.
The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by a group of American businessmen. While the U.S. administration at the time refused to annex the former sovereign nation, in 1898 the United States did annex the islands, which became a territory in 1900, and a state of the United States in 1959.
Hawaii also became an important outpost for the U.S. military through the 20th century, and Pearl Harbor was the site of the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, that resulted in the U.S. joining World War II. Today, the military maintains its presence here, with several major military bases on the island of Oahu alone; Pearl Harbor remains the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Over the years, many major retail chains have expanded their presence in Hawaii, making the Islands look more and more like the continental United States, often at the expense of local businesses. Nevertheless, Hawaii remains culturally vibrant. Its population, descended from the Native Hawaiians, the original plantation workers, and more recent arrivals, and in which no one group has a majority, is often cited as an example of multiculturalism at its best. There is a strong commitment to perpetuating native Hawaiian cultural traditions, as well as the cultural heritage of Hawaii's many immigrant communities from the Pacific, Asia and Europe. And certainly the environment is conducive to longevity... Hawaii has the longest predicted life expectancies of any U.S. state.
Depending on where you're located in Hawaii, the weather can be very different over even short distances. On the same day, on Oahu you might find sun over the beaches in Waikiki and rain only a few miles away in Manoa Valley.
Although the islands receive abundant amounts of both sunshine and rain, rain is more likely on the north and east sides of the islands, which face the prevailing northeasterly tradewinds (the "windward" side of the island), as well as the mountain peaks and valleys. The moist tropical air carried by the tradewinds is forced upward by the mountains, resulting in clouds and rain. Rain is less likely on the coastal areas of the "leeward" sides (the south and west sides) of the islands.
Although there are no true "seasons" in the islands in the same sense as the rest of the U.S., the climate does go through annual cycles based on rainfall. The "wet" season in Hawaii (cooler temperatures and more rainfall) runs roughly from October to March, and the "dry" season (warmer temperatures and less rainfall) from April to September. There is therefore a higher probability of rain if you visit during the peak of tourist season in late December or January.
Hurricane season in the islands runs from June to November. Although Hawaii's relative isolation means that it is affected only rarely by tropical cyclones, a destructive storm will occasionally hit the Islands, such as Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki hitting Kauai in 1982 and 1992 respectively.
Overall, Hawaii is warm and balmy — when you step out of the plane you'll immediately notice that the air is soft and humid — and during the summer months the tradewinds provide a pleasant breeze. Daytime temperatures generally range from the low 70s (21°C) in "winter" to the mid 80s (27°C) in "summer". Very rarely does the air temperature exceed 90°F (32°C) even in the hottest part of summer; however, the humidity will make it feel as if it were a few degrees hotter. Ocean temperatures range between 73°F (23°C) degrees in the winter to 78°F (25.5°C) in the summer. There is usually no more than a 20°F (12°C) difference between daytime high and nighttime low temperatures.
Consequently, besides your driver's license, credit card, camera, binoculars, and other essentials, it's best to keep your clothes to a minimum...one or two pair of washable slacks/shorts, light shirts, walking shoes, sandals and swim gear. A light jacket or sweater may be necessary depending on when and where you go, but heavy clothing is not normally necessary in most areas. Sunscreen is essential since Hawaii's close proximity to the Equator translates into very strong sun radiation. The suitcase space you save can be used to fill up on island purchases.
Although the above is true for most of the Islands, you will find exceptions. A good rule to remember is the higher the elevation, the cooler it will be. Upcountry areas of Kauai, Maui and the Big Island will be cooler during the day, in the 60's, and much colder at night, in the 40's. At the highest elevations on Maui and the Big Island, temperatures can drop to near freezing in places like Haleakala National Park, Volcanoes National Park, and Mauna Kea. On the Big Island, both of the largest mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, can receive snowfall year around, mostly in the winter, and can even experience blizzard conditions.
There is more of a difference from the day-to-night temperatures in Hawaii than there is summer-to-winter. Given that, there can be more of a difference from lower elevations to higher elevations than either of those, depending on where you are visiting. It's important to research the areas you plan to visit and bring clothing suitable for those conditions.
Best times to go
Hawaii's tropical weather tends to be most attractive to tourists when the weather is frightfully cold at home. It's not surprising, then, that the peak tourist season in Hawaii is the Northern Hemisphere winter (mid-December to mid-April). The highest prices tend to be during the Christmas and New Year's season, with a second peak around spring break in March and April. Hawaii's weather is at its best (not too hot and not too cold, with not so much rain) in April, May, September, and October - ironically, this is also the period when some of the best deals can be had.
As Hawaii is one of the 50 United States, flights to Hawaii from the U.S. Mainland (that is, all of the U.S. outside of the state) are considered domestic flights. Therefore, it is not necessary for U.S. citizens or legal immigrants to show a passport (or any documentation of U.S. citizenship or immigration status) when entering Hawaii from the U.S. Mainland. It is also not necessary for foreign visitors to show passports or visas if they arrived on a flight from the mainland (i.e. if Honolulu was not their port of entry).
With that said, Hawaii does have some unique requirements that are intended more to control the flow of plants and animals than that of people. The islands have unique plant and animal life found nowhere else. They also have diseases and pests not found on the U.S. Mainland, and are free of other diseases and pests that are commonly found elsewhere. Because of this, Hawaii is an agricultural quarantine zone relative to the mainland. For travelers, this means three things:
- You are required by the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture to fill out a written agricultural declaration shortly before your flight to Hawaii lands. One declaration form is required per family; the forms will be collected before landing. Any fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and the like need to be declared and inspected by Department of Agriculture personnel at your port of arrival; some items may be prohibited from entering Hawaii at all. Penalties for non-compliance are stiff. To avoid delays and hassles, avoid bringing such items with you if at all possible. (On the reverse side of this declaration is a Hawaii Tourism Authority questionnaire that asks for information about your stay. You are encouraged but not required to complete this questionnaire.)
- When leaving Hawaii for the U.S. Mainland, all baggage (checked and carry-on) must be inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at the airport. With the exception of pineapples and treated papayas, any fresh fruits are prohibited from leaving Hawaii to control the spread of fruit flies. It does not matter whether the fruit was grown in Hawaii; the prohibition applies just as much to apples imported from the mainland and bought in local grocery stores. Consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more details. Bags are inspected by X-ray, so depending on the airport you leave from and the airline, be prepared to submit to as many as three checkpoints on the way to your Mainland flight: having your checked bags X-rayed in the ticket lobby, the TSA security checkpoint, and perhaps a separate agricultural inspection for your carry-on bags on the way to your gate.
- As Hawaii is rabies-free, pets such as dogs and cats are subject to complex and strict quarantine requirements. The least restrictive provisions (direct airport release or 5-day maximum quarantine) require, prior to arrival, at least two rabies vaccinations at least thirty days apart and at least 90 days before arrival, the latest of which must be current; microchip implantation; and a negative rabies blood test within the last three years, but at least 120 days before arrival. Pets failing to meet these requirements will be subject to quarantine for up to 120 days. These requirements usually make it prohibitive for most short-term visitors to Hawaii to bring their pets. Those planning long-term visits or moving to the Islands with sufficient lead time, however, will find these requirements useful.
Hawaii does not observe Daylight Saving Time, which means that the time difference between Hawaii and most of North America varies by the time of year. For reference, Hawaii is two time zones behind the U.S. West Coast, thereby accounting for a three hour time difference during DST. Arizona, which also does not observe DST save for the Navajo Reservation, is always three hours ahead of Hawaii year-round.
Most flights from the mainland US and almost all international flights land in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. From here, passengers destined for a Neighbor Island will connect to an interisland flight (see By Plane in Get Around below). Direct service from the mainland is also available to Kahului on Maui, Kona and Hilo on the Big Island, and Lihue on Kauai as well.
Depending on the airline, nonstop flights to Honolulu leave from most major gateway airports on the West Coast (as well as some smaller ones), as well as many major airports in the Midwest and East Coast. The flight from Los Angeles or San Francisco takes about 5 hours, comparable to a flight between the West and East Coasts. Thus, a flight from New York can take about 10.5 hours.
While the days where everyone arrived in Hawaii by boat are long gone, there are limited numbers of trans-Pacific cruises to Hawaii that leave from ports on the West Coast. However, one fascinating way to experience Hawaii is by taking a cruise ship between the islands (see Get around: By boat).
There are limited freighter services, but if you are an American citizen embarking in the USA and wishing to travel to Hawaii then you cannot travel this way (because of the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, which says foreign-flagged ships cannot carry passengers from one U.S. port to another unless they stop in a foreign country - try cruises from Ensenada, Baja California or Vancouver, British Columbia).
It is also worthwhile to troll west coast marinas leaving you contact info and posting to online discussion boards for people planning to spend around a month sailing from the mainland. Just remember that a month with strangers can be stressful so do what you can to be sure you have picked a good experienced crew and boat to sail with and be a good crewperson yourself. Also ensure that any expectation in either direction of compensation including work duties, food, supplies, and damaged equipment is covered in writing so everything is clear between you and the boat owner. Storms and days stuck becalmed are to be expected but this is part of the life of a real sailor as much as racing with the wind.
Because Hawaii is an archipelago, air travel is, by and large, compulsory for traveling within the state. Travelers can choose from either a scheduled or unscheduled air carrier. Both scheduled and unscheduled air carriers are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration via the states local Flight Standards District Office.
Three scheduled inter-island air carriers, Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines, and Island Air, provide set scheduled flights between the islands. Go! started service in June 2006, positioning itself as a discount carrier. You can save money and time by planning "triangle routes" that arrive in Hawaii on one island and leave on another, avoiding the cost of a return inter-island flight.
Scheduled flight times run anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour and can usually be purchased a day or two before departure, although this may increase the cost of traveling.
Visitors wanting to fly according to their own demand (as opposed to a pre-set published times) should consider flying on an unscheduled air carrier also known as air taxi service. You simply contact the air carrier directly and arrange a time and place for pick up. Iolani Air and Big Island Air are two such air carriers.
The Hawaiian islands are populated with airstrips that some carriers choose not to service due to economic or operation considerations that make flights not feasible. In some instances air taxi companies may be the only means of reaching a certain location or air strip.
Hunters and campers with cumbersome gear planning trips to remote island regions, as well as visitors wishing to "island hop", should consider air taxi service to meet their demands.
Charter boats sail and motor between some islands, especially the Maui-Molokai-Lanai area. But, crossing the channels between islands can be extremely rough going. Because of this, a few charter companies specialize in having boats delivered inter island and can meet you at your destination.
Inquire at nearby marinas about joining the crew of a local sailboat or yacht out for a cruise.
On Oahu there is an excellent public transportation system TheBus. You can buy a booklet called "TheBus" at local ABC Stores giving route information on how to get around the island. Route schedules are also available on The Bus website. Public transportation systems are less developed on the neighboring islands.
If you want to take your car to Hawaii, it will either need to be amphibious or freighted by ship with very high cost, making this infeasible unless you plan a long-term stay in Hawaii. However, Hawaii is the only state that honors all other U.S. state vehicle licenses until they expire, provided you apply for a permit within 10 days of the car's arrival. (Incidentally, Hawaii is also the only state that does not require intended residents to exchange their out-of-state driver's licenses.)
Car rentals should be booked as soon as possible as the price charged is based on a supply/demand basis. The exception is Waikiki where you will not need a car on a permanent basis so just rent a car the day before you want one. Collision insurance coverage is very expensive through car rental companies (it can easily double your daily rate or more). Consider using a credit card with collision coverage. All U.S.-issued consumer Visa credit (but not debit) cards, many MasterCard cards and some American Express cards include secondary collision coverage; some American Express, Visa business and Diners Club cards offer primary coverage. Alternatively or additionally, prior to your trip, verify that both collision and liability (also called third-party) coverage from your own auto insurance company extends to rental cars. Car rental rates for 5- or 6-day periods are often the same as 7-day rentals. Use a credit card that includes medical and trip cancellation insurance benefits; if you cannot, consider buying trip insurance from your flight travel agent. View more on Hawaii car rental insurance. Also be aware some hotels may charge you for car parking; check with your hotel for parking fee before you book your car. International tourists with non U.S. credit cards are not covered by the above. By clicking on your country of origin when obtaining a quote from the car rental company's website, often an inclusive quote with loss damage waiver and supplemental liability insurance is provided. Otherwise using a travel agent website within your country e.g. your local Expedia website or local car hire broker will often also include insurance in their quote.
Gasoline, while nowhere near the prices charged in Europe, is significantly more expensive in Hawaii than on the Mainland. Expect to pay about 10% more than the prevailing rate on the Mainland for gasoline in Honolulu. Neighbor Island prices can be as much as 10-15% above that.
Be aware that outside of the major highways (H1, H2 and H3) most locals refer to the roads not by number but by name, and will likely not understand if you ask for a road by number. For example, you would never hear someone refer to Kalanianiole Highway as "route 72" or "highway 72."
If you ask for directions, they will likely not be given in terms of compass direction. Instead you will probably receive relative directions based on landmark. Common landmarks include mauka (toward the mountains), makai (toward the ocean), and on Oahu, ʻEwa (toward Ewa Beach, roughly west) and Diamond Head (toward Diamond Head, roughly east). So a query for a grocery store might be met with "go two blocks makai, turn right on King and it's half a mile up on the mauka side of the street."
Scooters are also an excellent alternative to getting around the islands. Rental rates are fairly cheap: about $50/day, or $135 for three days, which you can sometimes haggle down. The scooters are also fun to ride and are cheap on gas (typical mileage is 60–100 mpg, or 2.3–3.9 L/100 km). You can ride them anywhere except on limited-access highways (of which there aren't many in Hawaii, and there's always a surface street that's probably more scenic).
Scooters only require a valid license for driving a car, not a motorcycle license. The driver must be over 15 (legally out-of-state license aren't acceptable unless the driver is 18, but this is rarely enforced). It's illegal for two or more persons to ride a moped, although this may not be enforced in more remote areas such as Big Island. Helmets are not mandatory, but if you want one (which is always a good idea) you should be able to rent one with your scooter, possibly for free. When you get your scooter, inspect it first, as some are in bad repair: make sure the headlights and turn signals are working, and insist on taking it for a quick spin around the block to check that the acceleration, transmission, brakes, and steering are okay. If anything is amiss, insist on a replacement scooter, or walk away from the deal and find another rental company.
Scooters that can go over 30 mph or have an engine larger than 49 cc are classified the same as motorcycles, so you need a motorcycle license. Motorcycle rentals are easy to find. On most islands, you can also rent out Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Depending on where you travel a bicycle can be a great form of transportation if you keep a few things in mind. Some roads are very narrow and winding which may create a hazard when sharing the road with cars. There are also some steep hills as Hawaii is a series of mountains erupting from the sea; without a topo map an apparent shortcut may require a challenging hill while a long loop may be flat and avoid large terrain getting you there quicker. If you stay near the beach there is the salty sea air and rain which will eventually rust a bicycle which is kept outside, keep on top of chain and part maintenance and cleaning to prevent damage. Honolulu has a bicycle registration law requiring a tag for $15, and bicycles without registration can be impounded by police. The law and common sense require a white front and red rear light when operating a bicycle during twilight and night. Many airlines charge an oversized luggage fee for most full size bikes even when boxed; some tour-capable folding bikes can be fit inside a standard suitcase, but most public transportation does not allow bicycles at all.
Hawaiian and English are the official languages of Hawaii. However, English is by far the main spoken language. There are some subtle differences in usage (see below), but standard English is universally understood in Hawaii. Hawaiian "pidgin" English, a creole that many locals grew up speaking, incorporates bits of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese and many other languages, in addition to its own unique idioms. As Japan is the most important international tourist market in Hawaii, many tourist destinations offer information in Japanese and have personnel who can speak Japanese. There are also many ethnic communities that speak languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Ilocano, Vietnamese, Korean, Samoan and the native Hawaiian language.
Learning a few words of Hawaiian can be fun and useful. Some signs in Hawaii use Hawaiian words, and most street signs use Hawaiian names. The following is a brief primer on Hawaiian pronunciation:
- a as in father
- e as in buffet
- i as in machine
- o as in phone
- u as in fruit
- ai, ae roughly like the igh in high
- au, ao roughly like the ow in cow
- ei roughly the ay in hay
- ou roughly like the o sound in boat.
The Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 characters: all 5 vowels plus 8 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w, and the apostrophe) which are generally pronounced in Hawaiian as they are in English, except that w can also take on the sound of v in certain words. The apostrophe is actually not an apostrophe but an ʻokina, and represents a glottal stop: the following vowel is pronounced with a catch in the throat, much like the sounds in "uh-oh" are separated. A line above a vowel means that the vowel is extended and stressed.
Each vowel or diphthong is pronounced separately. For instance, the highway connecting Honolulu and Kaneohe on Oahu is called the Likelike Highway, and is pronounced LEE-keh-LEE-keh, not like-like.
Some useful words include:
- Hello = Aloha. (ah-LOH-hah)
- Goodbye = Aloha. (ah-LOH-hah)
- Love = Aloha (ah-LOH-hah) (So you indirectly refer to "love" when you first see someone and when they have to go)
- Thank you = Mahalo. (mah-HAH-loh). (Although this word is found on fast food trash receptacles around the islands, it does not mean "trash".)
- finished, done = pau (pow)
- help/respect = kokua (koh-KOO-ah)
- woman = wahine (wah-HEE-neh)
- man = kāne (KAH-neh)
- child = keiki (KAY-kee)
- local resident = kamaʻaina (kah-mah-EYE-nah)
- toward the mountains = mauka (MOW-kah, MOW rhymes with pow)
- toward the ocean = makai (mah-KIGH)
- appetizer = pupu ("POO-poo")
As mentioned above, standard English is understood in Hawaii, and Hawaii residents are generally very friendly. However, there are some subtle differences in word usage. When talking with Hawaii residents, be aware of the following differences in word usage to avoid miscommunications. Also see Respect below.
- Always refer to the continental United States as "the Mainland" rather than "the States." For instance, say "Back on the Mainland..." instead of "Back in the States..." Hawaii has been one of "the States" since 1959, and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement notwithstanding (see Respect below), most Hawaii residents are proud to be part of the United States. This is especially true for Japanese Americans, many of whose relatives served in the celebrated 100th/442nd unit in World War II. Using the term "the States" (implying that Hawaii is somehow foreign) may be seen as naive at best and condescending at worst. However, don't be surprised if some local people are condescending towards you because you are from the mainland. The "local" vs. "mainland" difference is something local people are only too happy to point out. Also, "mainland" includes places like Key West and Bar Harbor, even though those locations are all on islands themselves.
- Residents of Hawaii do not necessarily consider themselves "Hawaiian." For instance, when asking a Hawaii resident, "Are you a native Hawaiian?" don't be surprised if his reply is "No, I'm Japanese." (Ask instead, "Were you born and raised in Hawaii?") On the Mainland, for example, a Californian means any person who lives in (or has ties to) California. However, in Hawaii, the terms "Hawaiian" or "native Hawaiian" are reserved to mean someone who is descended from the aboriginal people of Hawaii. This definition even appears in state laws. Because Hawaii is made of people of various ethnicities, someone whose family may have lived in Hawaii for generations may still not be Hawaiian by the above definition. To avoid misunderstanding, it is best to refer to Hawaii residents as such: Islanders, "locals", or kamaʻaina (as above), unless you know for a fact that they are of native Hawaiian descent.
As in the rest of the United States, U.S. dollars are the local currency. There are plenty of banks, ATMs, and money change offices in all cities. However, none of the major American and foreign banks have branches in Hawaii, so the banking sector is served exclusively by small local banks. ATMs are scarcer on the North Shore of Oahu and other rural areas. Note that because Hawaii is an island state and transporting goods to Hawaii is more difficult, the prices for most goods are more expensive.
Hawaii has a 4% general excise tax statewide on the gross income of all businesses, which is generally passed on the consumer as a de facto 4.166% "sales tax." As of 2007, the City and County of Honolulu adds an additional half-percent on the excise tax rate, making the "sales tax" rate on Oahu 4.712%.
Other than the stereotypical grass skirt (which is not generally worn in Hawaii except by hula dancers), no pieces of clothing are more associated with the Islands than the aloha shirt and the muʻumuʻu.
The ever-present aloha shirt comes in a wide variety of designs. On one end, there are the brightly colored, tourist-oriented, polyester aloha shirts that many tourist-oriented stores throughout the Islands carry. On the other end of the spectrum are reverse print aloha shirts, which have become standard business attire among businessmen in Hawaii, in the same way that the business suit is on the mainland. These aloha shirts are usually cotton-polyester blend with the design printed on the inside of the shirt, resulting in muted colors that are considered businesslike in Hawaii. This kind of aloha shirt can be found in department stores.
For women, the muʻumuʻu is a long Hawaiian dress, usually made of cotton, that hangs loosely from the shoulder.
A special note on shoes: The lightweight sandal commonly referred to on the Mainland as a "flip-flop" or "thong" is known as a "slipper" or "slippa" in Hawaii. Using the mainland term will get you a quizzical look from locals. Call them by their island name and they will instantly know what you are talking about.
Made in Hawaii
One of the most popular souvenirs to buy in Hawaii are locally made bath & body products. The islands feature some of the most unique and refreshing fragrances in the world which you can easily find in Hawaiian shampoos, body lotions, soaps, oils, incense, floating candles, and much more.
The Hawaiian islands offer a vast number of activities. Hiking and eco tours are popular on most islands, with opportunities for horseback riding, ATV, air tours, and other methods of exploring the landscape. Museums and historical sites such as Pearl Harbor are also to be found throughout the islands. Cultural activities such as the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu also make for interesting day-long activities.
Oahu is famous for Pearl Harbor tours, but also popular are shark dives in cages, Waikiki snorkel tours as well as around Oahu Tours where you will see all the major highlights of Oahu including Diamond Head, the North Shore and Dole Plantation where you can sample menu items made from fresh picked pineapples.
Maui is the location for humpback whale watching from December 15 to April 15 each year as the massive humpbacks migrate to Hawaii's warm waters to bear their calves. Also famous from Maui is the Molokini Crater which is a partially submerged volanco crater that you can snorkel at.
Kauai is untamed and beautiful. It has been featured in many major motion pictures over the past two decades (Jurassic Park, Tropic Thunder, The Descendants, Avatar, and many more) . See this island by land or by air to take in the true beauty of this island. Oh and just be ready to see the roaming Roosters that inhabit the island.
The Big island is the volcano island where you can take a land tour or fly over the incredible huge volanco on a helicopter tour. Doors off flights allow you to feel the heat from the volanco, an amazingly unique experience. Also on the Big Island you have the rare opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, not captive ones.
Hawaii is best known for its beaches and water activities. Surfing is practically a religion in Hawaii, and scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities exist nearly everywhere. In addition, jet skiing, parasailing and kayaking are available in tourist areas.
Since many of the Islands tours and excursions are interacting with nature in some way, it's important to look in to each and make sure they are respecting the Islands. There are many endangered animals and plants, because of this there are many laws protecting them. A good example would be tour boats that have been fined for chasing dolphins or whales in order to please the tourists, while it's actually illegal and highly disrespectful. Govern yourself the same way while you visit and remember to kokua na `aina or respect the land.
Tourists who want to get a taste of Hawaiian culture can sign up for classes in hula, surfing and lei-making at most tourist destinations.
There also a number of cultural and historical centers on Oahu well worth your time, such as the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace.
If you have the money, the time and the inclination, the Polynesian Cultural Center provides a window into Polynesian culture. As its name implies, the Polynesian Cultural Center covers not just Hawaii but also the cultures of Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Easter Island and the Maori people of New Zealand.
The outer islands also have destinations such as Maui Center for Culture and the Arts and the Big Island has the Hilo Art Museum. the Lyman House Museum and the Pacific Tsunami Museum as well as the University of Hawaii's ʻImiloa Astronomy Center and Kula Kai Caverns.
For those on a budget, there are many activities you can do on any island that are free. All state parks are free to visit and even some National Parks. When the National Parks are not free, most find them very affordable. Hiking, beaches, snorkeling and other like activities are always free when on public land and there are no private beaches. On the Big Island there are many free ranger programs at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical park and other locations. At the Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea, you can stay any night of the year between 6pm and 10pm and enjoy a free astronomy tour including large and small telescopes for you to look through. Some hiking and other activities are located within National Parks, like Volcanoes so they are at cost, of course.
Given the current economic situation, the unemployment rate in Hawaii is at its highest point in many years, but is still below the average unemployment rate for the country as a whole. Hawaii is not an easy place to legally find casual work for non-US work permit holders. To apply for a local government job, by law you must be a Hawaii resident. This is changing though. Currently, police officer applicants do not have to be residents.
Contemporary food in Hawaii, like the language and popular culture, is a medley of traditional Hawaiian, Portuguese, American, and Asia-Pacific flavors. Pacific "fusion" cuisine was largely invented in Hawaii. Well-known local chefs include Sam Choy, Alan Wong, Russell Siu, Roy Yamaguchi, and George "Chef Mavro" Mavrothalassitis. Seafood is, of course, fresh and tasty. Local beef comes from ranches on Maui and coffee is grown on the Big Island. Tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, bananas, guavas, and papaya, as well as fresh sugar cane, can be bought in most corner stores (although you may be surprised to learn that many of those fruits are now imported from distant locales such as The Philippines & Brazil).
One of the most common ways that local food is served is in the form of plate lunch, usually meat or fish with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. It's always a good deal at any lunch wagon, mall, or outside food court. L&L Drive Inn and Zippy's are probably the most widely distributed chain of plate lunch spots in the Hawaiian islands. Branches of L&L are in some locations on the Mainland as well (as L&L Hawaiian Barbecue).
Another way of enjoying local food when roaming around the island is to keep an eye out for the converted trucks/vans that are parked in their regular spots in gas station parking lots, some parks and a variety of places on the island. These lunch wagons offer plate lunches, are popular with the locals and provide great meals (on plastic plates) at very reasonable prices. There is no reason to fear them; they are very common and popular. More recently, food carts have started to provide other kinds of cuisine besides the standard plate lunch.
You may be surprised to find that even the McDonald's menu is different. Saimin, a Hawaiian noodle soup inspired by ramen, is a permanent menu item, and was the first regional food to be served in a McDonald's. Another favorite is the breakfast platter at Hawaiian McD's features Portuguese sausage, Spam, eggs, and steamed rice, sometimes with fresh pineapple. Also, while on the Mainland orangeade is a fruit-flavored alternative to Coke or Sprite, in Hawaii, fruit punch fills that role.
Perhaps the best setting for tourists to enjoy traditional Hawaiian food is at a luau (lū‘au), a traditional Hawaiian feast. Tourists can find luaus at various locations in the Islands, including many of the major resort hotels. At a modern luau traditional Hawaiian favorites are served buffet style, and there is also Hawaiian music, hula, and other Polynesian entertainment. The downside is that they can be pricey and prices can vary widely; expect to pay between USD $50 and $90 per adult and about half that per child.
Dishes that are often found at luaus include:
- Lomi salmon, salted salmon hand-mixed (lomi-lomi means "to massage") with tomatoes, onions, and pepper; like an island salsa
- Kālua pig, pork wrapped in banana leaves and steamed inside an imu (ground boiler); similar to pulled pork
- Pipi kāula, Hawaiian style beef jerky
- Poi, ground and boiled taro root paste
- Laulau, pork & butterfish (black cod) wrapped in ti leaves then steamed
- Lū‘au, taro leaves baked with coconut cream and usually octopus (this dish inspired the modern name of the Hawaiian feast)
- Haupia, a gelatin-like dessert prepared from thickened coconut milk; famous for being a mild laxative
Other local dishes include favorites such as the following:
- ʻAhi, yellowfin tuna, excellent as sashimi (Japanese style sliced raw fish) or as poke (chopped and seasoned raw fish).
- Mahimahi, dolphin fish, served as a steak, sandwich, or in almost-raw thin strips.
- Ono, a type of fish also known as wahoo. Not coincidentally, the name resembles the Hawaiian word for "delicious," ʻono.
- Shave ice, an island version of snow cones made from finely shaved ice, comes in lots of ʻono flavors. Order your shave ice with azuki beans and/or a scoop of ice cream.
- Saimin, Hawaii's version of noodle soup or ramen. Hawaii is also known for its high quality noodle houses which offer all the Japanese noodle staples (udon, ramen, soba, etc.).
- Malasada, Fried bread rolled in plenty of sugar, often sold at special events. Portuguese origin.
- Manapua, local name for a popular type of Chinese dim-sum otherwise known as char siu bao. Cured sweet pork wrapped in soft white bread.
- Spam musubi, an unorthodox variant of Japanese riceballs (musubi), composed of salted rice formed into a rectangular shape and topped with spam, wrapped in seaweed. Popular enough to be sold in every Hawaiian 7-Eleven.
- Chicken/pork adobo, Filipino dish widely offered and appreciated in Hawaii.
- Loco moco, this local specialty consists of a hamburger patty on rice, topped with over easy egg and gravy. Excellent with tabasco sauce. Can be eaten for breakfast or lunch.
- Chicken katsu, fried chicken cutlet with savory sauce. Usually served with rice and mac salad.
If you are roaming the island away from tourist areas, you may find restaurants are scarce. Many of the numerous golf courses have dining rooms open to the public that offer great meals. They seem to welcome the non-golfer. For specific places at which to eat, see the individual island or city articles. Be sure to check the coupon books that are available at display stands for meal specials.
Popular local snacks are also heavily influenced by the large mix of cultures present in Hawaii, primarily the Chinese and Japanese. Since many of these snacks are unique to Hawaii and cannot be found anywhere else, consider purchasing a few bags from any grocery store to bring on your travels. A large portion of local snacks fall under the category known as "Crack Seed" which refers to a variety of pickled, candied, and dehydrated fruit snacks of Chinese origin.
The most popular iterations of Crack Seed snacks are:
- Li hing mui - Salted dried plums that are especially popular with the younger locals. Li Hing Mui is known for its unique sweet, salty, and sour flavor. It is commercially sold either with the plum seed intact or seedless and also in a powdered form that can be sprinkled onto arare, fruits, gummy bears,and many other snacks.
- Pickled or dried fruits - Mangoes are usually dehydrated for a sweet snack or kept wet and flavored with Li Hing Mui powder. Lemon and orange peels are also salted and dried for a salty/sour snack.
Other popular local snacks include:
- Arare - Japanese rice crackers flavored with soy sauce that come in many different shapes and sizes. Arare is commonly paired with dried seaweed, li hing mui powder, or popcorn. Also commonly referred to as "Kaki Mochi" or "Mochi Crunch".
- Dried Seafood - Dried cuttlefish and octopus strips, known by their Japanese names "Ika" and "Tako", are very popular snacks. Tuna, or "Ahi", is also dried and made into Ahi Jerky.
- Macadamia nuts - Sweet nuts commonly associated with Hawaii as a whole. Dry roasted macadamia nuts are commercially sold plain, with flavoring, or in chocolate. Macadamia nuts in snack form are more popular with tourists than with locals and are usually given as gifts.
If you would rather catch your own, fishing in the ocean or gathering in tidepools is free and requires no permit. Fresh-water fishing, however, does require a license.
Beer: there are a number of excellent local brewpubs in Hawaii. Mehana, Sam Choy's, Honu, Waimea Brewing Company, Liz's Pub, Keoki's and Kona Brewing Company all brew beer in Hawaii or brew it on the mainland and ship it to the islands. The largest of the group is Kona Brewing, which has won several national awards and runs two brew pub restaurants in the islands (one in Kailua Kona, the other in Hawaii Kai on Oahu).
Theft is a big problem in cities as well as beaches and parks. If you are camping on a beach, keep bags locked in a car (but don't assume that they are safe in the trunk, especially if you are driving a rental) and keep valuables in a hidden money belt. Although Hawaii is generally considered relatively safe, it does have some violent crime. Consequently, women should not walk alone in unlit areas. Although Honolulu has one of the lowest violent crime rates of metro areas in the U.S., use your common sense. Stay smart and act as if you were in your own home city: lock doors, lock cars, and don't leave valuables lying around. Some campgrounds now require a permit (this has the effect of moving homeless people away from tourist areas). Be sure to apply for a reserved area and have your permit even in free camping areas especially around Honolulu.
Any of the beaches are vulnerable to pickpockets and thieves who break into cars. If you are using a rental car, it is advised you buy a bumper sticker or two to make it seem like you are a local. Paradoxically, keeping the car windows open will prevent break-ins and car damage, as the locals will think there is nothing of worth in the car. As a rule of thumb, do not bring anything to the beach you do not plan on using. If you must bring money, bring a friend to keep it safe.
If you are planning a hike in the mountains, monitor local weather reports carefully and use extreme caution in case of rain. Rain is more likely in the mountains, and flash flooding can occur near stream beds with little or no warning. Unsuspecting hikers can drown and be swept downstream.
Although it is rather rare, the threat of a natural disaster can occur at any time in Hawaii, sometimes with little or no warning. Besides the occasional explosive volcanic eruption on the Big Island and occasionally destructive hurricanes (see Weather in Understand above), Hawaii can also experience tsunamis and earthquakes.
- On 22 May 1960, the Great Chilean Earthquake (magnitude 9.5) generated a destructive tsunami that devastated Hilo on the Big Island, killing 61 people.
- On 11 September 1992, Hurricane Iniki made a direct hit on Kauai, killing six and causing $1.8 billion in damage.
- On 15 October 2006, most of the state was affected by a magnitude 6.7 quake off Kailua-Kona. No casualties were reported, but it caused extensive property damage and power outages of up to 14 hours on Oahu.
Fortunately, Hawaii has a highly developed civil defense system. High-pitched civil defense sirens are tested statewide at 11:45AM on the first working day of each month. If you hear these sirens go off at any other time, turn on the nearest radio or television set for emergency information.
If a tsunami is expected, either evacuate coastal areas subject to inundation (this includes most of Waikiki), or failing that, find the nearest concrete high-rise hotel and go to the third story or above. Follow the instructions of police and first responders at all times. If ordered to evacuate an area, do so quickly.
Hospitals in Hawaii meet U.S. standards for care, and can be found in the urban areas of each island. The hospitals in Honolulu are larger and have the most advanced equipment; the hospitals on the neighbor islands provide general care. There is currently a shortage of specialists on the Neighbor Islands. Depending on where you are and how serious your condition is, be advised that you may need to be medically evacuated to Honolulu for treatment.
The main tourist areas of each island have walk-in urgent care clinics where you can receive non-emergency treatment for whatever ails you. Some clinics even make hotel room calls. Check with the local phone book or your hotel. In Waikiki, try Doctors on Call (808-971-6000). The clinic is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you plan to go hiking in the backcountry or go swimming in freshwater pools in Hawaii, be advised of the risk of catching leptospirosis. Leptospirosis generally causes flu-like symptoms; in rare cases it can be fatal; the incubation period can be from 2-30 days after exposure. Do not swim in freshwater pools if you have open sores; see a doctor if you develop flu-like symptoms after hiking or swimming. If you do not have open sores and swim in these areas, the best way to avoid Leptospirosis or any bacteria is to never drink any natural water, no matter how clean it looks. If you are backpacking and this is a must, remember to bring the needed water filters and/or iodine pills to treat your water.
Be sure to have travel health insurance. If you are a U.S. resident with private health insurance, you should consult your insurance carrier to determine what co-payments apply and to what extent your insurance is accepted in Hawaii by doctors and hospitals in the event you need health care while on your trip. However, if you get a job in Hawaii - even a part-time job - you will receive health insurance by state law (presuming that you are a U.S. citizen or have a green card and are therefore legally eligible to work). See Stay healthy in United States of America for more information.
If you have respiratory problems, be aware of volcanic smog (also known as vog). Vog is formed when sulfur dioxide gas from Kilauea mixes with sunlight, water, and dust particles to form a haze made up primarily of sulfur compounds. Normally the northeasterly trade winds blow vog away from the rest of the islands. Southeasterly winds (also known as Kona winds in Hawaii), however, can blow vog toward the other islands. Vog can be a nearly constant presence on the Big Island. While many people in Hawaii can experience symptoms related to vog, it can especially affect those with asthma or other chronic respiratory illness. If you have a respiratory condition and plan to visit the Big Island, consult your doctor for advice.
When going to the beach/swimming always wear sunscreen lotion or sun guard to protect your skin from burns, as well as hats, covers and sunglasses. The islands are far closer to the equator than most tourists understand, so even if the weather is cooler, the sun's power is still more intense.
Hawaii's laid-back reputation extends to dress: with ideal weather year-round in most places, shorts are always appropriate around the islands. Long pants are fine, too, and you will still be quite comfortable. You do normally need to wear a shirt in public; going bare-chested is for the beach, although businesses near the beach are tolerant of it, particularly outside of the city. Sandals and flip-flops are always fine for casual wear, but note that they're always called slippers or slippa by locals. Going barefoot off the beach is not common in the cities, but again, businesses tolerate it to some extent.
Remember that Hawaii has many of the Earth's climates on each small island. Research the locations you plan to visit and dress accordingly, as some areas like Volcanoes National Park or Mauna Kea on the Big Island, or Haleakala National Park on Maui will leave you miserable in shorts and tank tops, as they may have below freezing weather, drenching rain and even snow.
For the beach or pool, boardshorts or swimming trunks for men are the most popular, though with so many visitors from Asia, speedos are welcome too. Female toplessness is legal in Hawaii, if uncommon. Swimming nude is illegal, although there are a few isolated beaches on each island where people risk it. Unless you're spending the day trekking from beach to beach, save beachwear for the beach and wear regular clothes.
Businessmen in Hawaii have the rare distinction of forgoing suits and wearing slacks with muted aloha shirts. As a visitor, you would probably be overdressed in a suit; a dress shirt (with or without a tie) and slacks would be fine. If you do wear an aloha shirt for business, wear it like you would any other button-up shirt for business: tuck it in, button all but the top button, and wear an undershirt if that's your style.
The business aloha shirt extends also to dressing up for fine dining, entertainment, and even church; some preachers wear business aloha shirts for church services. As a visitor, just put on a collared shirt, shoes (such as casual loafers), and, depending on the restaurant you're going to, either shorts or slacks. Ties and jackets will never be necessary.
In general, American standards of etiquette (see Respect in United States of America) apply in Hawaii. Hawaii, however, has certain cultural differences, owing to the Native Hawaiians and the large population of Asians and people of Asian descent.
- As is the custom in many Asian countries, always remove your footwear when entering the home of an island resident, if so invited. Shoes and sandals are generally left on the front porch or just inside the front door.
- Hawaiian culture should be respected and travellers should be sensitive to the state's rich cultural heritage and diversity - and the fact that the tourist experience of Hawaiian culture may only scratch the surface. For instance, there are many heiau (temples) in the Islands, where the ancient Hawaiian religion was practiced. Some of these have become tourist attractions in their own right, but visitors should nevertheless treat these places with the same level of respect one would show at a place of worship. To show respect, do not horseplay, rearrange or move any item, and never, ever take any item, including rocks and sand, with you.
- If you visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will no doubt hear about Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. An urban legend has it that people who have taken volcanic rock from Hawai'i, not just the park, have suffered various misfortunes; it is believed that it is the wrath of Pele. In any case, it is illegal to take rocks or other material from a national park. It is also unethical and looked down upon to take any rocks, sand or natural item from the Islands, for religious, moral and environmental reasons alike. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
- Also, the status of Native Hawaiians vis-a-vis the U.S. federal government has become a hot topic in recent years, with some Native Hawaiian groups seeking a degree of sovereignty for the Hawaiian people as redress for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and U.S. annexation in the 1890s. (Honolulu is home to the only royal palace on U.S. soil.) There is currently no consensus among Native Hawaiians on what form this sovereignty should take, with some preferring the status quo of ordinary citizenship, some seeking a status similar to that of Native Americans, and some wanting complete independence and secession from the Union. In addition, private and government programs that benefit Native Hawaiians have been called into question via a series of lawsuits that have received extensive coverage in local media. Discussions of Hawaiian sovereignty and programs can arouse a variety of strong opinions (both in support and in opposition) among Hawaii residents of all ethnicities, and the uninitiated visitor would be wise to avoid bringing up these topics in casual conversation.
Some Native Hawaiians may attribute accidents caused by nature (such as a landslide at Sacred Falls that killed several people) to the Menehune punishing tourists disrespecting the land. Menehune or not, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world and its sites deserve our respect. Bottom line: respect the land and the people; there may be more there than meets the eye.
Hawaii uses the U.S. postal system. Internet access can be found in most tourist areas and many hotels. General wi-fi access is available only at select hotels and cafes. The public libraries offer Internet access, but only for library cardholders. Visitors may purchase a 3-month library card for $10.00.
Hawaii's area code is 808. When dialing any off-island telephone number, dial 1 + area code + phone number. You must include the 808 area code when calling another island.
As Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the state has few nearby neighbors.
- California - The point of departure for many visitors from the continental United States.
- Oceania - Hawaii can be a stepping off point to explore the many islands of the Pacific as well as the countries of Australia and New Zealand.