There are a few things everyone knows about Hawaii: it’s beautiful and sunny, its people are friendly, and it was the last state to be admitted into the Union. But what are some lesser-known facts about the Aloha state that might surprise you?
1. It Has Its Own Time Zone
Well, at least within the U.S. it does. Hawaii sits within the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone (UTC -10). This time zone is used only by the youngest state and a few small islands off the coast of Alaska (known as the Aleutians). However, it’s not exactly a timezone entirely of its own: it’s the same time used by French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, but they use another term to describe it. Bottom line: set your clocks if you’re heading to the luau.
2. Hawaii or Hawai’i?
There is some confusion over the proper spelling of the state’s name, as well as that of other named places throughout the island. The apostrophe-like sign sometimes placed between the two i’s is called an ‘okina. It’s a piece of punctuation used in Polynesian languages to denote something called a glottal stop, which is a forced pause between two sounds. So, in Hawaiian, you would say the “ee” sound at the end twice. Hawaiian also has the macron (a horizontal line over a vowel), which indicates the sound is to be elongated.
In other words, one spelling is the Hawaiian one and one the anglicized version, which is most commonly used when writing in English. However, don’t let that stop you from trying to pronounce the place names the Hawai’ian way on your next visit!
3. The Weather Is Not Perfect Everywhere
People tend to visit Hawaii for the beaches and alluring tropical climate. It may then come as a surprise to some that several parts of Hawaii are known for their inclement weather. During winter, you can find snow on two of the volcanoes on the Big Island (the Island of Hawaii), and Mount Wai’ale’ale in Kauai has the second-highest rainfall rate on earth.
4. You Can’t Visit All The Islands
Hawaii is made up of eight substantial islands: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Island of Hawaii. Of these, only six are regularly accessible to tourists, with Nihau and Kahoolawe having only very limited access. Niihau is privately owned by the Robinson family, the descendants of a rich plantation owner who purchased the island in 1864. It is inhabited by approximately 200 native residents and has only recently opened for limited tours.
Kahoolawe, on the other hand, is owned by the state but uninhabited. It has never been very populated due to a lack of freshwater, and after several years as a U.S. Army training ground, the Hawaiian State Legislature declared the whole island as the Kahoolawe Island Reserve in 1993. It can now only be used for native Hawaiian cultural and subsistence purposes, such as rituals and traditional fishing.
5. Surfing Is Older Than You Think
While our image of what a surfer looks like is distinctly modern – a van, a tan, an aroma that reminds us of Woodstock – the art of surfing on waves has been a Polynesian pastime for thousands of years. In fact, surfing was brought to California by a real estate magnate who was looking for ways to attract people to Redondo Beach and thought of the Hawaiians he had seen surfing when on vacation in the islands. He hired Hawaiian surfer George Freeth to surf on the coast as a curiosity, and surfing became a Californian obsession from there. For this reason, Freeth is considered the “Father of Modern Surfing.”
6. Hawaii Is the Only State That Honors A Monarch
For most of Hawaii’s history, the islands were separate chiefdoms, often at war with one another. In 1785, they were unified into one Kingdom of Hawaii under King Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha was more than a great military leader: he ensured long-lasting peace between the islands during his lifetime and is still a much-beloved figure by Hawaiians.
In fact, they have a public holiday in his honor: King Kamehameha Day, which is observed every June 11. The day celebrates many aspects of traditional Hawaiian culture, which Kamehameha had upheld in the face of increasing Western influence. The highlight of the holiday is the series of brightly colored floral parades held throughout the state, featuring dancers representing each island, as well as the block parties that follow.
7. It Has Some Unique Crops
The crop most commonly associated with Hawaii is the pineapple, and for a good reason: the state produces over one-third of all the commercially sold pineapples in the world. However, Hawaii’s tropical climate and fertile soil also give it the distinction of being the only state in the U.S. to produce coffee, cacao, and vanilla beans.
Hawaii is set apart from the U.S. by far more than just the ocean. Its culture, traditions, and history are entirely separate from those seen anywhere else in the country. This is ultimately what makes the state so fascinating to visit and discover – aside of course from the stunning beaches. However, until we book our next ticket, learning these new facts about Hawaii and its history will just have to do.