Hawaii is the most Pacific state of the United States. It consists mainly of the Hawaiian Islands, an archipelago near the geographic center of the North Pacific Ocean, and other islets unrelated geographically to the archipelago; in all, eight main islands and 124 islets, reefs, and shoals. The major islands in order of size are Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Hawaii entered the Union on August 21, 1959, as the 50th state. Hawaii’s economy was long dominated by plantation agriculture and military spending. As agriculture has declined in importance, the economy has diversified to encompass a large tourist business and a growing manufacturing industry. The name of the state is taken from the island of Hawaii and is a Polynesian word or name of unknown meaning. In the 19th century the name was extended to the entire archipelago. Hawaii is called the Aloha State.
Land and Resources
Hawaii, with an area of 28,313 square km (10,932 square miles), is the 43rd largest state in the U.S.; 6.9% of the land is owned by the federal government. The islands of the state extend in a 2,400-km (about 1490-mile) arc from east to west. Elevations range from sea level to 4,205 miles (13,796 feet) at the peak of Mauna Kea, on Hawaii Island. The state’s coastline is 1,207 km (750 miles) long.
The eight main Hawaiian islands comprise the tops of one or more shield volcanoes (those that form from quiet lava flows rather than explosions), which rise from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The largest island, Hawaii, is formed from five volcanoes: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai, Kohala, and Kilauea. Both Mauna Loa and Kilauea are active. Maui is made up of two shield volcanoes and a central plain, the isthmus. The larger of the volcanoes is Haleakala; the smaller is the more heavily eroded West Maui Mountain, the highest peak of which is Puu Kukui. Oahu has two heavily eroded shield volcanoes, which form the Koolau and Wainanae mountain ranges. Between the two ranges lies a central plateau, on which sugar and pineapple are planted. Honolulu lies on a coral plain at the southeastern end of the island. Prominent features of Oahu’s landscape are Diamond Head and Punchbowl, both tuff cones—volcanic features caused by explosive ash eruptions.
Kauai consists of a single eroded volcanic shield. The island has spectacular sea cliffs on its northwestern coast, the famed Na Pali Coast, as well as a number of inland canyons, the most notable of which is the spectacular Waimea Canyon. Molokai comprises a plateau in the west and rugged mountains in the east. Jutting out from the precipitous northern coast of this island is the Kalaupapa Peninsula, site of a colony for victims of leprosy (Hansen’s disease). Lanai is a single shield volcano with a central plateau on which is located the world’s largest pineapple plantation. Niihau consists of a plateau that rises above coastal plains. Privately owned, it has a population that is almost completely ethnic Hawaiian. Smallest of the eight main islands is the barren and unpopulated Kahoolawe, used as a military bombing target. The small western islands are either coral atolls or lava formations. Soils are generally present in coastal areas and in areas between mountain ranges.
Hawaii has a tropical climate moderated by oceanic influences and prevailing northeasterly trade winds. Temperatures vary little from place to place except with elevation. The average annual temperature of about 23.9 degrees C (about 75 F) varies little between summer and winter months. The recorded temperature in the state has ranged from -11.1 degrees C (12 F) at Mauna Kea in 1979 to 37.8 degrees C (100 F) at Pahala in 1931.Unlike temperature, rainfall varies tremendously according to location. Highest rainfall is usually at moderate elevations on the windward (E) sides of islands and is due to the condensing of moisture in the oceanic trade winds. Leeward (W) locations are drier, because they are shielded by mountains from the moist winds.
Plants and Animals
More than 2,500 species of native plants and a large number of introduced plants are found on the islands, including a great variety of shrubs, trees, grasses, and flowering plants. The only native mammals are the hoary bat, the monk seal, and the Polynesian rat. The latter was introduced by early Polynesian settlers but has evolved into a distinct subspecies. A variety of native birds are found, but many species, such as the Hawaiian goose (nene), are endangered. Many species of birds and domesticated mammals have been introduced to the islands since the early 19th century.
According to the 1990 census, Hawaii had 1,108,229 inhabitants, an increase of 14.9% over 1980. The average population density in 1990 was 39 people per square km (101 per square miles). Hawaii had the most racially and ethnically diverse population of any state in the U.S. Whites made up 33.4% of the population, the lowest proportion of any state; blacks made up 2.5% of the total. Among the many other population groups were 247,486 persons of Japanese descent (22.3% of the total); 168,682 persons of Filipino origin (15.2%); 138,742 persons of Hawaiian ancestry (12.5%); 68,804 persons of Chinese extraction (6.2%); 24,454 persons of Korean descent (2.2%); and 15,034 persons of Samoan extraction (1.4%). Many people in the state are mixtures of several racial and ethnic backgrounds. Hawaii also had a notable diversity of religious groups, with Eastern religions forming significant minorities.
Hawaii’s museums contain some of the finest collections of Polynesian ethnology and natural history in the world. Among the most noteworthy of these are the following: the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, the oldest museum in Hawaii, which opened in Honolulu in 1889; Hanalei Museum, in Hanalei, Kauai; and the Kauai Museum, in Lihue. Honolulu is also the home of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, with collections of both Western and Oriental art; the Hawaii Opera Theatre; the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra; and the Archives of Hawaii, the most extensive collection of Hawaiian literature in the United States.
Many of Hawaii’s historical sites commemorate Hawaiian monarchs and the islands’ early Polynesian heritage. The Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, in Honaunau, was originally a sanctuary built about 1500; Iolani Palace, in Honolulu, built between 1879 and 1882, was the royal residence of the last two rulers of the Hawaiian Kingdom; King Kamehameha’s statue, in Kapaau, was commissioned by the legislature in 1878; and the village of Ulu Mau, in Kaneohe, is a replica of an early Hawaiian village. Also of note is the USS Arizona Memorial, in Honolulu’s Pearl Harbor.
Sports and Recreation
Hawaii’s mild, semitropical climate, long coastline, and beautiful mountains make it ideal for such outdoor activities as surfing, swimming, hiking, boating, golf, tennis, skindiving, camping, and of course, ultrarunning.
The tourist industry is by far the most important sector of Hawaii’s economy. Each year more than 6.8 million visitors produce more than $10 billion for the state economy. Tourism directly or indirectly provides more than 225,000 jobs. Visitors are attracted to Hawaii because of its year-round pleasant climate, its spectacular scenery of beaches and volcanoes, and its multiethnic culture. The principal resort area is Waikiki, on Oahu, where most of the hotels are located, and where the beach is world famous. The islands of Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai also have important visitor areas, and tourism is developing on Molokai as well. Among the five areas administered by the National Park Service are Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on Hawaii, and Haleakala National Park, on Maui; each receives more than one million visitors annually. The state also maintains a system of 41 parks and more than 60 state forests.