Palm trees, surfing, great weather and the ‘aloha’ spirit – these are the things everyone (including moi!) loves about Hawaii. Here are 20 other fascinating snippets that’ll heighten your appreciation.
1. All eight of the Hawaiian Islands were formed from the same magma source. The tectonic plate on which the islands sit moves slowly northwest but the source, or hotspot, stays put. The size of each island is dictated by the length of time the hotspot is active when the landmass is positioned above it.
2. The tallest Hawaiian mountain, Mauna Kea, stands taller than Mount Everest (8850 m) if you count the part lying under the Pacific Ocean. That’s not how we measure mountains, though, so its official height is only 4205 m. Mauna Kea is over 10,000 m tall from sea floor to peak.
3. All Hawaii volcanoes are of the shield variety, so they have a gentler slope than the conical shape most people associate with volcanoes. They are so named for their large size and low profile, resembling a warrior’s shield lying face-up.
4. The landscape on the island of Hawai‘i, nicknamed the Big Island to avoid confusion with the state as a whole, is very much smooth because it’s the newest of the islands and is still being formed. The mountains on Kaua‘i, the oldest island, have had time to be shaped by water into jagged peaks and deep valleys.
5. Hawaii is the only state in the US where you can snowboard in the morning and surf in the afternoon. Snow is common on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island in some winter months, while the temperature on the coast remains around 25°C.
6. Each of the main islands has a nickname for its unique personality. Hawai‘i is the Big Island, Maui the Valley Isle, Kaua‘i the Garden Isle, Moloka‘i the Friendly Isle, Lana‘i the Pineapple Isle, Ni‘ihau the Forbidden Isle, Kaho‘olawe the Target Isle (after the nuclear testing that took place there) and O‘ahu the Gathering Place.
7. The most densely populated of the islands with almost a million people, not including tourists, O‘ahu has a second nickname amongst locals: the Traffic Isle.
8. There are only seven consonants in the Hawaiian language – H, K, L, M, N, P and W – but they use all five vowels.
9. A backwards apostrophe (‘) or ‘okina in the spelling of a word or name represents a glottal stop in the pronunciation, meaning you’re supposed to constrict the back of your throat whenever you see the symbol. So you’ve been pronouncing Hawai‘i wrong your whole life.
10. The official spelling of the state Hawaii does not include the ‘okina as a compromise with the US Federal Government. The island name still uses the symbol, though, as do the University of Hawai‘i, the National and State parks services and some private entities in the state.
11. Besides human transport, there are only three ways flora and fauna can make it to the islands: wind, wing and water. That means the only mammals native to the islands are the hoary bat and the monk seal.
12. Humans brought with them rats (most likely accidentally) and mongoose (as an unsuccessful attempt to control the rats), among other creatures, but snakes are still largely nonexistent on the islands. The Hawaiian government regularly conducts amnesty programs to encourage anyone with a pet snake to hand it over to the authorities rather than release it into the wild.
13. The official state bird, the Nene, is thought to have evolved from Canada geese that flew (or were blown) to the islands shortly after The Big Island was formed. The official population in 1952 was only 30 birds, down from an estimated 25,000 in 1778, but as of 2004 the wild population had bounced back to 800 thanks to careful and ongoing conservation efforts.
14. Because of their isolation, many endemic plant species have lost all traces of defence mechanisms. For instance, Hawaii has a species of holly,Ilex anomala, whose leaves are completely without spikes.
15. Despite being performed by women today, the hula was originally the domain of men and used as a form of worship to a Hawaiian god.
16. Hawaii has no racial majorities. Asians make up about 39 per cent of the population, Caucasians about 25 per cent, native Hawaiians about 10 per cent, and Latinos around 9 per cent.
17. The island’s love of Spam is no myth. Almost every gas station and convenience store offers Spam Musubi, a snack that consists of a slab of sushi rice with a long slice of grilled spam wrapped in seaweed.
18. Tour operators often spread the story of Pele’s Curse to visitors, warning that anyone who takes volcanic rock from the islands will be punished with bad luck from Pele, the goddess of the volcano. Each year park rangers receive dozens of volcanic rocks in the post with strict instructions about where to return them to break tourists’ curses.
19. The climate on each island can vary considerably between the windward side to the northeast and the leeward side to the southwest, which are protected from the cloud cover by the mountains in the middle. Most resorts are located on the drier, sunnier leeward coasts.
20. Hawaiians don’t use compass directions, as most people know them. They’ll usually direct you either ‘mauka’, towards the mountain, or ‘makai’, towards the ocean, as those are landmarks you can almost always see.
One more thing you might not know, but definitely should, is that Hawaiians are amongst the friendliest people in the United States, if not the world.