Big Island facts and trivia

Fact sheet of the Big Island of Hawaii. Learn about Hawaii and surprise your friends with the fun facts and trivia we have collected on the Big Island.  After reading, you can test your knowledge and find out if you are “Da BIG Kahuna” by taking our 5 minute Hawaii Quiz.

Humuhumunukunukuapuaa (reef trigger fish)

Humuhumunukunukuapuaa (reef trigger fish), the state fish of the Big Island of Hawaii

If you like lists, why not have a look at our 3 favorite snorkel spots, or five best short hikes on Hawaii!

Big Island Fact Sheet

Aloha!

Aloha means many things, including: love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, sentiment, grace, charity, greeting, salutation, regards, sweetheart, lover, loved one, to love, to be fond of, and many more things. It is commonly used as a greeting or a way to say goodbye. (back to top)

Aloha Shirts

The aloha shirt, a sport shirt with exotic designs, became fashionable in the world in the 1980s.The Hawaiian shirts were worn by superstars such as Richard Gere, Bob Barker, Timothy Hutton, Jack Nicholson, and Paul Newman. (back to top)

Aloha State

Hawaii is the 50th state of the USA. By a legislative act, Hawaii became officially known as the “Aloha State” in 1959. (back to top)

Antipodes

An antipode is a person that lives on exactly the other side of the planet. The antipodes for all Hawaiians except those living in the north of Kauai are people living in the country of Botswana in Africa (see the pictures to convince yourself). The antipodes for people living in the northern part of Kauai are Namibians (from Namibia). (back to top)

Air Strikes on Hawaii

The air force bombed a lava flow that threatened Hilo in 1935, but failed to stop it. Read more Hawaiian facts and trivia about the volcanoes in A Short History of the Big Island in 5 Volcanoes. (back to top)

Captain Cook

Did You know that the famous British explorer Captain James Cook died on the Big Island during a struggle with the native population? This happened in Kealakekua Bay (also nicknamed Captain Cook) in 1779 A.D.

Nowadays, Kealakekua Bay is a favorite destination for snorkeling and diving on the Big Island that should not be missed. (back to top)

Earthquakes on Hawaii

Hawaii is not the state with most earthquakes, but it is the state with the highest earthquake density! The Big Island is by far the most seismically active island of all Hawaiian islands. Read more in “Hawaii, the Earthquake state?” (back to top)

Endangered Birds

More birds have become extinct in Hawaii than in any other part of the world. A total of 26 species died out and 27 more are endangered by changes in their natural habitats, forest destruction, rats, mongooses and man. (back to top)

Green Sand Beach

Green sand beach is one of the two green sand beaches in the United States, and one of the 4 green sand beaches worldwide! It gets its color (and name) from olivine crystals that wash out of a 49.000 year old cinder cone next to the beach. Other names for this beach are Papakolea and Mahana beach. Find out why  on our dedicated “Green sand beach trivia page” [including pictures!].  (back to top)

Hāpuʻu or Hawaiian tree fern

The Hāpuʻu or Hawaiian tree fern (Cibotium menziesii) is what gives many places on Hawaii that “Jurassic park” feel. It also has medicinal use and features in a hawaiian proverb about famine and death. Curious? Find out more at our dedicated “Hāpuʻu trivia” page. (back to top)

Hawaii Island Flower

Island flowers and colors are used to represent each island.The Island Flower of the Big Island is called the “Pua Lehua”. It is the red blossom of the ōhiʻa lehua tree, and is intimately connected to an interesting hawaiian legend. (back to top)

Hawaii Nicknames

The Island of Hawaii has many nicknames, so be careful not to get confused. If you hear people about the following islands, they all talk about the same island.

“The Big Island”

“The Orchid Island”

“Hawai’i’s Island of Adventure”

(back to top)

Hawaii State Bird

The Hawaiian Goose or Nēnē (Branta sandvicensis) is a species of goose endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It is the official state bird of Hawaiʻi and is exclusively found in the wild on the islands of Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi. The Hawaiian name Nēnē comes from its soft call. (back to top)

Hawaiian Alphabet

The current official Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 letters: 5 normal vowels; A, E, I, O, U: 5 Vowels with Macrons; Ā, Ē, Ī, Ō, Ū: and 8 consonants; H, K, L, M, N, P, W, ʻokina. The ʻokina is an apostrophe which represent the glottal stop. Despite this limited amount of letters, Hawaiian know some proper tongue-twisters, such as the state fish called “humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa”. (back to top)

Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa

The state fish of Hawaii is the humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa. Translated from Hawaiian it means “triggerfish with a pig-like short snout”. It is not, as often claimed, the longest fish name in Hawaiian; that distinction belongs to lauwiliwilinukunukuʻoiʻoi (“long-snouted fish shaped like a wiliwili leaf”). (back to top)

Ironman Triathlon

The Ironman Triathlon was moved from Oahu to the Big Island in 1981. It runs now between Kona in the East and Hawi in the North. (back to top)

Kahili Ginger

Kahili ginger is very pretty and an invasive species originating from eastern India. ‘Kahili’ is a Hawaiian word for a feather standard or a long pole decorated at one end with a cluster of feather plumes, which is a symbol of royalty and is/was used as a ceremonial emblem in Hawaii.

[more information and pictures of Kahili Ginger]

This plant is probably one of the first to catch your eye if you are visiting Volcano Village or the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park , but can be found in forests on all Hawaiian islands. (back to top)

Kailua

Kailua means means “two seas” or “two currents”. It is a contraction of the words kai (meaning “sea” or “sea water”) and ʻelua (meaning “two”). There are two cities on the Hawaiian islands called ‘Kailua’. The biggest Kailua is on the windward side of O’ahu, while the smaller lies on the leeward side of the Big Island. Because in the Hawaiian language, ‘leeward’ means ‘kona’, Kailua on the Big Island is also referred to as ‘Kailua-Kona’. (back to top)

Kilauea

The Kilauea Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world – and it has been active for a long time! The Hawaiian name “Kīlauea” means “spewing” or “much spreading,” probably in reference to the lava flows that it already erupted in ancient Hawaiian times. (back to top)

Lake Waiau

Just below the summit of Mauna Kea, inside a cinder cone, is Lake Waiau. This is the only glacial lake in the mid-Pacific, and, at 13,020 feet above sea level, it is also one of the highest lakes in the world. [update Nov. 2013: it looks like Lake Waiau is in trouble. It is shrinking quickly and now holds less than 1%(!) compared to its pre-2010 volume. source] (back to top)

Loihi

The Big Island is the youngest Island of Hawaii, but that will change in the future! As the island moves away from the hot spot responsible for the Hawaiian Islands, a new Island is already forming 15 miles southeast of the coast of Big Island: Loihi. The summit of Loihi has already risen by two miles, and  it still has one mile to go until it breaks the ocean surface. In another 30 or 40 thousand years, Loihi will be born as the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands! (back to top)

Loco Moco

The Loco Moco is a dish native to Hawaii. It consists of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy, but there are many variations. These include amongst others: chili, bacon, ham, Spam, kalua pork, Portuguese sausage, teriyaki beef, teriyaki chicken, mahi-mahi, shrimp, oysters, and other meats, Big Island Grinds can tell you more. (back to top)

Mauka and Makai

In Hawaii, there are two uniquely local words that describe a direction:

- Mauka (mow-kah) means on the mountain side in the context of directions. 
- Makai (mah-kigh) means on the ocean side in the context of directions.

These words are used very frequently and without a further description in Hawaii. So, now you’ll know when you go what these words mean and you’ll be navigating like a local. (back to top)

Meteors in Hawaiian Culture

There are several words for a meteor or comet in the Hawaiian Language: Koll, Akualele, Hokulele and Hoku Welowelo. Leiepio means “To fly, as a meteor through the sky”. You can learn more about Meteors in Hawaiian culture here. (back to top)

Mahukona Volcano

The Mahukona volcano is the oldest and northernmost volcano of the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s existence was predicted in 1890 but it took scientists up to 1987 (almost 100 years!) to confirm this. You can read more about the Mahukona volcano (and the 5 other volcanoes that are, have been or will be part of the big island) on our Big Island Blog. (back to top)

Not So Big

Big Island might be “big” compared to the other Hawaiian islands, but in reality it is quite small. From the southern tip to the northern tip the distance is 95 miles. From east to west it is 80 miles. (back to top)

Pahoehoe and A’a

There are two different kinds of hardened lava you can encounter on the Big Island: Pahoehoe (pronounced ‘pah hoy hoy’) and a’a (pronounced ‘ah ah’). These Hawaiian words are used worldwide to describe these two kinds of lava. Pahoehoe flows can change into a’a flows when they loose most of the  gas present in the flowing lava. The surface of a’a lava is very sharp and rough, while pahoehoe lava surfaces are more smooth. (back to top)

Pele’s Hair

Pele’s hair is not hair from the Hawaiian goddess of fire Pele. Instead, it is the internationally recognized name for little strands of lava glass that are created during ongoing eruptions. Read more about Pele’s hairs (including picture). (back to top)

Pidgin

Pidgin (or Hawaiʻi Creole) originated as a form of communication used between English speaking residents and non-English speaking immigrants in Hawaii. Almost all locals weave pidgin in their everyday (English) conversations, so try keeping your ears open. If you want to look up a couple of phrases, here is a good place to start. (back to top)

Pineapples in Hawaii

Ask anyone what they think when you say “Pineapple”, and they will almost certainly say “Hawaii”! Pineapples have for long been a symbol of Hawaii, but they do not originate from there. Pineapples are native to South America, and made their way to Hawaii via Europe in between the 16th and 18th century.  Read more about the history of pineapples on Hawaii, about how Hawaiian a “pizza Hawaii” is, and at least 5 other pieces of interesting pineapple facts in our special pineapple fact sheet.

Recent Lava Damage

Between 1983 and 1991, lava flows repeatedly invaded communities on Kilauea’s coastal south flank burying eight miles of highway and destroying 181 houses and a visitor center in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. (back to top)

Sandwich Islands

When Captain Cook first landed on the Hawaiian islands in 1778, he named them the Sandwich Islands. Not because he was so happy he could finally get some proper food, but after his Patron, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. (back to top)

Spam

Spam (the food, not the unsolicited emails) is very popular on Hawaii. More spam is consumed on Hawaii than in any other state of the USA. One popular local snack is “Spam Musubi”. (back to top)

Telescopes on Hawaii

Mauna Kea on the Big Island houses some of the world’s biggest telescopes, and more scientific observatories in one place than anywhere else in the world. (back to top)

The 1946 Hilo Tsunami

In 1946, a 56-foot tsunami swept over the east side of the island. If you are in Hilo, you can still see the consequences because the houses closest to the bay have never been rebuild. (back to top)

The Widest State

If measured from east to west, the state of Hawaii is almost 1500 miles long. This makes Hawaii the widest state of the United States!! (back to top)

Two Ladies Kitchen

The large Japanese population of Hawaii has a very positive effect on the local food. Have you ever heard of Mochi?

Mochi (little Japanese rice cakes) are now a very popular snack in Hawaii. For one of the best tastes of the Island, go to Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo and ask for the Strawberry Mochi! (back to top)

Ukulele

The ukulele was made famous by Hawaiian music (think Israel Kamakawiwoʻole), but is not a native Hawaiian instrument – it is Portuguese! The ukulele came to Hawaii in the 19th century as an Hawaiian interpretation of the “cavaquinho” or “braguinha” and the “rajao”, small guitar-like instruments taken to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. (back to top)

Waipi’o Cliffs

The amazing sea-cliffs found on the North of the Big Island (for example at Waipi’o Valley or Pololu), are likely caused by a gigantic land-slide some 200.000 years ago, when part of the island slid into the sea. These valleys also offer two of our five favorite short hikes on Hawaii! (back to top)

Wiki

“Wiki” (as in wikipedia) is a Hawaiian word and means “Quick”. (back to top)

World Records for Hawaii

Did you know that Mauna Kea on the Big Island is the tallest sea-mountain of the world and, if measured from the ocean bottom, is 4000 feet taller than Mt. Everest? More record-breaking trivia on the Big Island. (back to top)