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Hawaii 101 or What Everyone Needs to Know About the Islands

Hawaii 101 or What Everyone Needs to Know About the Islands

Come join the class, it’s called Hawaii 101 or What everyone needs to know about these enchanted isles.

Whether you’re a wahini (wa-heenee) woman, or kane (kaw-nay) man, a malahini (mawla-heenee) newcomer, or a kama’aaina (kawmah-eye-nah) children of the land, it’s good to know the basics about your islands.

First, there are 8 islands, actually a couple hundred stringing halfway up to Alaska, but there only are 8 main ones. And each island has a nick-name. Hawaii Island is so big it has 3 nicknames.

Hawaii - Google map image with all 8 major islands and their names

Hawaii/Big Island

Starting with Hawaii Island, the farthest one south. Hawaii is the biggest, measuring 100 miles long and 90 miles wide. It’s like the Planet Jupiter of the islands because it can fit all the other islands inside of it with room to spare.

It called the Big Island, also the Orchid Island because of the miles of wild orchids swaying along the roads. It is also called The Fire Island because of the live volcanoes. One has been erupting continuously since 1982.

The eruptions are dazzling to behold, shimmering red and gold geysers.

There are three majestic mountains, Mauna Loa, (Mawna-low-ah) from her side the lava flows, Mauna Kea, (Mawna-kay-ya) the largest mountain in the world measured from the ocean floor, and smaller Hualalai, sounding beautiful to say, Hu-ah’-la-lye.


A few miles to the north of the Big Island is Maui.  Beautiful, green Maui shaped like a woman. Two roundish parts of the island are joined in the middle by a valley looking like her thin waist. To the south is Haleakala, a giant extinct volcano quite large, rivaling Mauna Kea to the south.

Maui is the movie star of the islands, everyone knows Maui. She is beautiful, beaches, waterfalls, valleys, so many valleys Maui is called the Valley Isle.

For some secret reason everyone says Maui is the best. That is the saying in Hawaiian, Maui no ka ‘oi, pronounced, Maui no kah oy.

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Looking west from your Maui vacation rental condo, you can see 2 of the other Hawaiian islands, tiny Lanai (lah-nye) and Kahoolawe (kah-ho-o-la-vay).


Lanai is a small island now owned by a billionaire named Ellison, the lucky dude. Lanai grew pineapples so Lanai is called the Pineapple Island.


A short 10 minute sail south from Lanai is Kahoolawe,( kah-ho-o-lavay) a small half barren, have lush island a few miles wide.

It was a bombing site for the U.S. Navy for forty years. It was bombed almost every night for decades. In the 90s Hawaiian protesters and the senator Daniel Inouye stopped the bombings. Kahoolawe is called the Target Island.

A short sail away is another speck of an island called Molokini, basically a sailboat party lagoon. Too small to be an official island, but it has great snorkeling.


A couple miles north of Maui is a rectangular island called Molokai, known as the Friendly Island. It is also known for being able to rent a mule and ride into the hills.


Moving up the chain is the land of Hawaii 5-0, Magnum P.I., Blue Hawaii with Elvis, Pearl Harbor and Diamond Head. Not forgetting Waimea Valley, Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Pipeline, the big wave beaches of the North Shore.

The population hub of the islands is O’ahu. Nothing needs to be said about O’ahu because it’s all been said already. Although crowded it is secretly beautiful. O’ahu is called The Gathering Place.


Moving north is the island most distant from other islands, the little gem of Kauai. Number 7 of the islands.

Its claim to fame is having a river big enough for scenic riverboat tours. It is also the home of the ancient elves known as the Menehunes (men-a-hoonies). Real or not, when you lose something Hawaiians believe the Menehunes stole it. Kauai is as beautiful as a garden so is called The Garden Isle.


Last, and hidden in the mist of rumor and legend, is the small island of Ni’ihau (Knee-ee-how). It is privately owned and shrouded in secrecy. A few Hawaiian and local families live there and no one can visit without permission. They say that once someone leaves, they can never return, like the Garden of Eden. It is called the Forbidden Isle. It gives Hawaii an aura of mystery.

There you have it, the 8 islands represented by the 8 stripes in the Hawaiian flag. Someday you will hear about how the British were always nice to the Hawaiians so they put the British Union Jack on the Hawaii Flag.

But as for now, you’ve passed Hawaii 101 with flying colors. Aloha.

10 thoughts on “Hawaii 101 or What Everyone Needs to Know About the Islands

  1. Thanks for the overview of the islands of Hawaii! Saving my pennies – would Iove to visit! Maybe I’ll just start swimming west 🙂

  2. great explanation of the major islands that make up Hawaii. Love the spelled out pronunciation of the Hawaiian words. Can’t wait for your next posting. Mahalo

  3. Loved this! Dennis succinctly describes what is special about each of the main islands. His light-hearted and colorful descriptions take you there. Add plane ticket to Hawaii on my Christmas list!

    1. Dennis is working on an article on what to see on the Big Island. You will want to get on the plane tomorrow 🙂

  4. Having lived on or visited several Hawaiian islands, I greatly enjoyed Dennis’ succinct , yet intriguing descriptions of each.

  5. Having visited only two of the islands in your summary, I want people to know that of all the adventures we’ve had and all the beautiful land we visited, what stays with me the most is the Hawaiian people. The true beauty of this paradise is the constant presence of the true Aloha culture. The whole world should only live and practice this.

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