Hawaii F.A.Q.

Recreation of an ancient Hawaiian grass hut at Waimea Valley, Oahu.

Answers to  Frequently Asked Questions about Hawaii

Below are answers to questions I have been asked about Hawaii. I have had classes of school children who were learning about Hawaii send me questions several times. I am always happy to share my love and knowledge of Hawaii with others!

View of Diamond Head from Magic Island on Oahu

What does the word Hawaii mean?

Hawaii is the name of the largest of the Hawaiian islands (also known as the Big Island) and is the name of the 50th State in the USA which is a collection of 8 islands – Hawai’i, Maui, Lana’i, Moloka’i, Koho’olawe, O’ahu, Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau. Many believe the name Hawai’i was adapted from the name Hawaiki, the name for a mythical homeland of all Polynesians. Others believe it is a variation of a South Pacific island Raiatea, which was called Havaii at the time of migration.

How were the Hawaiian Islands formed?
How many volcanoes are in Hawaii?
How many islands are in Hawaii?

The Hawaiian islands are very different land forms from the Mainland USA. Hawaii was formed when a molten ‘hot spot’ weakened the Earth’s crust until it broke open and molten lava started pumping out. That one ‘hot spot’ stays in the same place as the Pacific Tectonic Plate moves slowly northeast towards Japan and has created all of the Hawaiian Islands. There are actually 132 islands (8 major islands and 124 smaller islands, reefs, atolls and shoals) in the Hawaiian Island Chain that have been created by that one hot spot over hundreds of millions of years. The chain runs 1,600 miles (2,560 kilometers) from the oldest formation, the Kure Atoll in the northwest, to the Big Island of Hawaii in the southeast. Eight main islands are considered part of the State of Hawaii: Ni’ihau, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, Koho’olawe, Oahu, the Big Island of Hawaii. Ni’ihau and Koho’olawe are very tiny islands and are not accessable to the public without permission. Kauai, the oldest of  the main accessable island and it began forming almost 6 million years ago, and stopped erupting only 4.2 million years ago!

When were each of the Hawaiian Islands created?

Scientists estimate the islands were formed:
Kauai: between 3.8-5.6 million years ago.
Oahu: Waianae between 2.7-3.4 million years ago.
Oahu: Koolau between 2.2-2.5 million years ago.
Molokai: West 1.8 million years ago.
Molokai: East between 1.3-1.5 million years ago.
Maui: West between 1.15-1.3 million years ago.
Maui: Haleakala 0.8 million years ago.
Hawaii: Kohala Mt. less than 1 million years ago.
Hawaii: Pu’u Wa’awa’a 0.4 million years ago.

New land formed on the Big Island formed by the active lava flow.

What is the total length of the coast line for the state of Hawaii?

General Coastline 664 statute miles and this includes lengths of general outline of seacoast not including Niihau or Molokai which we did not find information on.
Hawaii, Big Island           266 miles
Kauai                 90 miles
Lanai                 47 miles
Maui                 120 miles
Oahu                 112 miles
Kahoolawe       29 miles
Data per the Hawaii County Databook 1995

What is each islands nickname and why is it called that?

Hawaii – The Big Island because it is the largest of all the islands.

Kauai – The Garden Island because it is the wettest and greenest of all the islands.

Lanai – The Pineapple Island because it was a private island once owed by Dole to grow pineapples.

Maui– The Valley Island because it has two mountain masses separated by a valley.

Oahu – The Gathering Place because about 3/4 of Hawaii’s people live on this island.

Molokai – The Most Hawaiian Island because per capita it has the most people of Hawaiian ancestry living on it. Molokai is also known as the Friendly Island due to the hospitality it’s residents typically extend to visitors.

Kahoolawe – The Uninhibited Island because it is so small and offers very little resources to inhabit it. It was used as a bombing target by the US until 1994.

Niihau – The Forbidden Island because it is a privately owned island and only invited guests are allowed on it.

What is the official state flower for Hawaii as well as the official flower for each of the Hawaiian Islands?

The official State flower for Hawaii is the endemic Yellow Hibiscus hibiscus brackenridgei, known as the pua aloalo.
Hawaii – Red Ohia
Kauai – The Mokihana Berry
Lanai – Kaunaoa, a yellow and orange air plant
Maui- Pink Lokelani aka Pink Rose
Oahu – Yellow Ilima
Molokai – Kukui Blossom
Kahoolawe – Hinahina
Niihau – rather than a real flower White Pupu Shells which are only found on the shores of Niihau are their official “flower”.

How tall are the volcanoes?

All of the Hawaiian Islands are made from several volcanoes ranging from a few feet above sea level to the tallest volcano in the islands, Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii which stands 13,796 ft above sea level (plus another 18,000 feet below sea level!). Another tall volcano located on the Big Island is Mauna Loa which stands 13,680 ft. Because of erosion (after a million years of rain, wind and waves) some volcano craters are only a hundred feet above sea level. (That’s about as tall as a coconut tree) Hanauma Bay had 1/3 of its’ volcanic crater fall into the ocean during an earthquake and filled with sea water. Now it is a popular snorkeling spot on Oahu, a marine preserve teeming with sea life. The lowest crater has to be Molokini. A small island south of nearby Maui, Molokini rises a mere 45 ft at its’ highest and forms a thin crescent shaped island excellent for snorkeling and diving.

Thurston Lava Tube on the Big Island where lava used to flow you can now hike through it!

Do volcanoes usually erupt in Hawaii? How often do volcanoes erupt?

There is currently one island that is volcanically active, Hawaii also known as the Big Island. Mauna Loa is an active volcano on the Big Island. Kilauea has been erupting non-stop since 1989, but it isn’t shooting magma up in the air all that time as you might imagine. Currently the most visible molten rock flows from Kilauea Caldera at Pu’u o’o vent where most of the magma flows through lava tubes and abruptly meets the ocean creating new land. Within the last decade another vent spewing molten lava was discovered 20 miles South of the Big Island. It’s called Loihi Sea Mount and is still under water. Unfortunately none of us will live the 10,000 years to see it become an island.

View into Pu’u O’o Crater from a helicopter with lava vents and the glow of lava is visible in the center vent!

How hot is the lava in Hawaii?

This is kind of a trick question. Magma is molten rock below the Earth’s surface, and lava is molten rock that flows freely on the surface. Since lava is actually melted rock the temperatures are extremely hot and very depending on the geological composition of magma. To give you a general idea, lava that’s hot enough to flow is about 2000-5000 degrees Fahrenheit!

Does taking lava really give you bad luck?

You might be tempted to take some lava home from your Hawaiian vacation as prized keepsakes but beware that this will anger ‘Pele’ the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Pele is probably the most well known of the legendary Hawaiian demigods. She creates and destroys with fire. Pele has a quick temper and takes offenses seriously. There are several traditions concerning Pele, the best known of these is about lava rocks. Since Pele created the islands the lava rock is like her flesh or a piece of her. It’s said that misfortune will befall anyone who removes lava rock away from Hawaii. This also includes black sand, which is pulverized lava rock. There is a large display at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park of lava rocks sent back to Hawaii by visitors who have had bad luck since taking them home. Letters of apology also on display accompanied the rocks begging Pele for forgiveness.

If you would like to return lava rock you have taken from any Hawaiian Island you can return it to Pele by mailing it to: Headquarters, Volcanoes National Park, Volcano, HI 96785

What is Pele’s Hair?

“Pele’s Hair” is the name given to hair-like strands of volcanic glass that are stretched from still-molten masses of lava as they are launched or fall through the air at a lava fountain, a lava cascade, or a spatter cone. Geologically, Pele’s hair is a mineraloid formed from basaltic lava. Pele’s hair can form as a flying globule of molten lava separates into two or more pieces, and thin strands of lava stretch between the pieces after their separation. The strands solidify into glassy strands and accumulate downwind from their source. The strands are known to have been carried up to several kilometers from their source by the wind. Strands of Pele’s hair are very thin, almost always under 1/2 millimeter in width. They range in length from tiny broken pieces up to strands as long as 2 meters. Their appearance can be similar to coarse human hair with a golden-brown color.

How big is Hawaii? 
How many mountains are there?
Are there many beaches?

The state of Hawaii is 6,427 square miles. Only Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut are smaller. There are many, many mountains in Hawaii. Volcanoes, which have eroded into lush green mountains created all of Hawaii. Everywhere you can go you can see beautiful waterfalls, peaks, and valleys. The islands have snow capped mountains, deep canyons, lush rainforest, and many miles of beautiful beaches. The Islands are surrounded by water and are subject to wave erosion. Having waves crashing against the shores for thousands of years has created beaches all around the islands.

Lava field in Kalapana on the Big Island from a 1990 lava flow which covered roads and two residential subdivisions in the surrounding area.

Why do some beaches in Hawaii have black, green, gray, or red sand?

In Hawaii there are white sand, black sand, gray sand, green sand, and red sand beaches, but not all types of sand are found on each island. The color depends on what the sand was created from. In Hawaii the term black sand beach is used only for beaches with a high concentration of grains of black volcanic glass. The black volcanic glass is created by molten lava flows entering the cool ocean causing the glassy rinds to shatter. True black sand beaches are only found in a few locations on the Big Island. There are beaches on the Big Island and the other Hawaiian Islands that appear black in color but they only have a small percent, a small pocket, or trace amounts of black volcanic glass and they are not true black sand beaches.

Green sand beaches are created from grains of a semi-precious gem called olivine. White sand beaches are created from bits of shells, calcareous algae, sea urchins, and coral. Gray sand beaches are created from gray basalt. Red sand beaches are created from grains of sand that are high in iron content. When the iron oxidizes it turns red. The beaches range from powdery soft to sharp shards depending on the erosion that occurs in the area.

How far is Hawaii from the USA?
What is the time difference in Hawaii?

Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States of America in 1959. It is located about 2,160 miles from California, which would be the closest state on the Mainland USA to Hawaii. Hawaii is about 6,000 miles from Washington, DC. Hawaii is in it’s own time zone called Hawaii Standard Time (HST). HST is 3 hours BEHIND Pacific Standard Time and 6 hours BEHIND Eastern Standard Time in the Spring & Summer. Deduct an hour for Daylight Savings during the Fall and Winter.

What is the climate in Hawaii?
Does it snow in Hawaii?

Because the Hawaiian Islands have lots of different environments (rainforest, beach, desert) there are lots of different climates. In places like Waikiki, Kailua-Kona, Kihei, and other beach towns it is nice and warm almost all year round. The rain forest region is located up in the mountains where the rain clouds collect after the moisture evaporates. This region is cooler and wetter due to the rain and tree coverage. This is also where you will find lots of waterfalls! The desert regions are very hot and dry and you can even find cactus growing, there is very little rain. On the Big Island fields of lava from past eruptions look like huge parking lots. Not much grows in this area, there are miles and miles of nothing but black lava. This region is very hot and dry. The summit of the taller mountains are very cold with high winds year round. The summits (top) of the tallest mountains in the islands do get snow in the winter. There are three mountains that get snow, Mauna Kea (13,796 ft) and Mauna Loa (13,680 ft) on the Big Island and Mt. Haleakala (10,023 ft) on Maui. Because these mountains are so tall it will snow on these summits and at the same time be sunny and 80 degrees at the beach. Mauna Kea is actually the tallest mountain in the world when measured from the sea floor to the summit.

Is it really hot in Hawaii?
What is the average temperature?

It does get hot sometimes but there usually is a nice breeze blowing from the Northeast, called ‘the trade winds,’ which keeps everyone cool when the sun is hot. Hawaii is located close to the equator so the sun is very strong. When the trade winds don’t blow it can get very hot and humid. This doesn’t happen very often though. It averages in the high 80’s during the day and high 70’s during the night in the summer. It averages in the high 70’s during the day and low 70’s during the night in the winter. It is a very comfortable year round range of 66-88 degrees F (78 degree avg.) We are able to wear shorts all year long, but in the winter we may have to put on pants or a light jacket in the evening.

What is the highest & lowest temperatures recorded in Hawaii?

Highest recorded temperature in Hawaii: 100 °F (38 °C) on April 27, 1931, in Pāhala. The surface waters of the open ocean around Hawaiʻi range from 75 °F (24 °C) between late February and early April, to a maximum of 82 °F (28 °C) in late September or early October.

Lowest recorded temperature in Hawaii: 12 degrees, which makes Hawaii the only state that has not seen subzero temperatures. This was recorded at the Mauna Kea Observatory (elevation of 13,796 feet) on May 17, 1979.

How do rainbows happen, anyway?
Can you see rainbows every day in Hawaii?

A rainbow forms when raindrops falling through the air separate white sunlight into a spectrum. It is seen usually in the sky opposite to the sun and also in the spray from waterfalls. When the sunlight enters a raindrop it is refracted, or bent, and reflected from the back surface of the drop in such a way that the viewer sees light appear as a spectrum of colors! The colors can be seen, however, only when the angle of reflection between the sun, the drop of water, and the observer’s line of vision is between 40° and 42°. We see a lot of double rainbows in Hawaii. In the brightest or primary rainbow, often the only one seen, the colors are arranged with the red outside. Above the perfect bow is a secondary bow, in which the colors are arranged in reverse order; this bow is dimmer, because of a double reflection within the drops. You will often see rainbows while in Hawaii and that also means it does rain: usually light rain in the mountain areas. From Waikiki look skyward for rainbows toward Manoa Valley or downtown Honolulu early in the day. As the sun rises higher, rainbows will appear lower in the sky or even low to the ground. It is probably possible to see a rainbow every day somewhere in the islands. If it is sprinkling and sunny out at the same time that is when a rainbow is visible. Depending on the position of the sun and how much rain is falling the rainbow may appear as a partial rainbow, a full sky rainbow, a really fat rainbow with wide bands of color, and even a double rainbow where two rainbows appear at the same time.

Is the Pacific Ocean cold?

Compared to the Atlantic Ocean the Pacific Ocean is very warm. The average temperature of the waters around the Hawaiian islands is 78 degrees year round. But Hawaii actually has the coldest waters in the Indo-Pacific region. Other waters in the Pacific must be like taking a bath!

Is the ocean really as blue as it appears in the photos on your web site?

YES! The ocean water is blue because of microscopic red algae (plants). The red algae absorb the red/orange color in sunlight, so we see mostly blue. Depending on how deep the ocean is it can appear in many beautiful shades of blue. In the shallow waters yellow-ish sand reflects light to make the ocean appear turquoise green! (Blue + Yellow = Green)

How big are waves in Hawaii?
How big was the BIGGEST wave in Hawaii?

Hawaiian waves are measured from the back, so a 6ft wave in California is equivalent to a 3ft wave in Hawaii. A surf spot on Maui called Jaws can get as large as 78 feet. The largest waves are in the winter time on the North sides of the islands. During the winter months the waves on the North shores range 4 to 40 feet, 50+ when rare winter storms hit. During the summer months the North shores range 1 to 3 feet. On the South shores the waves range 3 to 15 feet in the summer and 1-3 feet in the winter. The size of the waves is determined by the way the islands were formed and by storms that occur in the Pacific Ocean. Earthquakes in Japan and Alaska can cause huge Tsunami’s (some call them tidal waves) in Hawaii. The energy of the earthquake travels through the ocean and can create waves taller than a 16 story building! (That’s 160 feet!) When these occur many people are killed or injured and buildings and homes are destroyed. The last Tsunami that hit Hawaii was in the 1970’s. In the wintertime we do get large waves that are generated by storms in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Check out this video of surfer Mike Parson’s tow-in surfing a 65 foot wave at Jaws (Peahi) on Maui in January 2002.  Cinematography by Peter Fuszard.

Did you ever go surfing naked?

Surfing naked was done prior to 1820’s. The native Hawaiians normally didn’t wear much for clothing, like Native American Indians. The clothing they wore was made from the bark of a tree and didn’t make a good bathing suit. So, when the men surfed they would remove their tree bark clothing and surf naked. Once the Catholic missionaries arrived from Massachusetts they convinced the Hawaiians that being naked was evil, so the practice of surfing naked was stopped. Today, public nudity is illegal, so we do not surf naked.

Do girls surf?

Yes, lots of girls and women surf. Surfing was invented in Hawaii over 200 years ago and people from all around the world have been enjoying it ever since.

Green Sea Turtles can often be seen while snorkeling, surfing and enjoying beach activities. If you see a turtle look but do not touch.
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are endangered and federally protected. Touch by a human can be harmful to their health.

Do you see dolphins?

We’ve seen dolphins from shore several times. They jump and flip around in the air, spinning up out of the water. We have also been swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Quest lagoon on the Big Island at the Hilton Waikoloa. We fed fish to them, kissed them, and learned a lot of interesting things about them. Two neat things we learned were that their bellies feels like the ridges on a record album and it turns pink when they are happy! There is a bay on the Big Island and Lanai where wild dolphins often go for morning swims. If you encounter wild dolphins do not touch or feed them. You could infect them with harmful germs and they could bite you trying to defend themselves from your aggressive moves. Just swim with your hands to your side and enjoy the moment!

Are there a lot of sharks in the oceans around Hawaii?

There are several types of sharks in the oceans around Hawaii. Hawaii only has a few reports of shark bites a year but no deaths due to them in a long time. Sharks do not hunt down humans to eat them. When a there is a shark bite reported it is usually by a surfer or a boogie board rider. When the shark looks up at the people on their boards it only can see a silhouette of it. Like, if you were to open your eyes underwater and look up. Things look dark against the bright light coming into the water. The shape of a surfer looks like the shape of a seal; the board is long and shaped similarly to a seal, the surfer paddles the board with his arms and looks like a seal flapping its flippers. Boogie board riders look like big turtles because their board looks similar to the shape of a turtle shell and the board riders arms and legs stick out and flap around like a turtles arms and legs. Sharks eat seals and turtles so that’s why they may chomp into the human wave riders by accident. Once they get a bite of a human they usually let go because we’re thin and bony not blubbery like they were looking for. Also humans usually fight back. When a shark bites into you are supposed to punch it in its’ snout. This part is very sensitive and it will let go! To read more about sharks found in Hawaii and why they attack click here!

What can you see whales doing when you whale watch?

Humpback whales come from Alaska to Hawaii in December every year to give birth to their calves in the warmer waters of Hawaii as well as to mate. You are able to spot whales from land at several lookouts around the islands. You usually just see a spray of water blast up when the whales surface to breathe air. Whales breathe oxygen from the air like humans do, unlike fish which absorb oxygen from the ocean water and can NOT breath out of the ocean. Sometimes the whales lift their tails or flukes out of the water or slap their flipper on the surface. Whales also just pop their head out of the water which is called a eye spy. Sometimes if you are really lucky the whales will jump out of the water and land on their side, this is called breaching. Maui is known to have the largest transient population during Humpback whale season and also has the most frequent sightings. If you see a whale while out on a boat keep in mind that it’s illegal to approach a whale closer than 500 feet(166yds). Often on Maui whale watching boat tours they cut their engines and float in whale territory and the whales will come right up to the boat to investigate. It is OK if the whales approach you, just do not touch or feed the whales because this can pass harmful germs to the whales. You can see whales around any of the islands between the end of December and the end of April.

I took this photo from shore near Lahaina Maui where a pod of whales were putting on a show for a whale watching tour catamaran.

What kinds of animals live in Hawaii?

Hawaii has 8,800 native species found only in Hawaii. Sadly, most of the animals that are only found in Hawaii are endangered. Being isolated on these islands has allowed any animals that made it here to evolve in unique ways. Hawaiian Monk Seals and Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are endangered species. The Hawaii state bird is the Nene Goose and they are also endangered species. Hawaii once had lots of different non-flying birds only found in the Hawaiian Islands. Many of the first native birds that evolved in the islands were ground dwellers and they had no predators to need to fly from on their isolated island home. Once the rats made it to the island on the canoes of first Hawaiian settlers then they began to eat the birds eggs, then the birds. The early native Hawaiians also hunted the flightless birds as a food source. To help save the birds people introduced mongoose to eat the rats. Unfortunately the mongoose are diurnal, which means they hunt during the day, and the rats are nocturnal, which means they hunt at night, so now Hawaii has both wild mongoose and rats. Other animals that were introduced to Hawaii by early merchant ships visiting Hawaii are deer, goats, and wild pigs with big tusks. These animals were brought so the sailors on  merchant ships could have fresh meat when they came the islands. Many citrus fruit trees were also brought to Hawaii by merchant ships so the sailors could have fresh fruits that would combat scurvy while they were in the Hawaiian Islands. There aren’t any squirrels, chipmunks, or snakes in Hawaii. If snakes ever made it to Hawaii they would slither up trees to birds nests and would kill off the remaining native birds in the islands. Brown Tree Snakes are responsible for this in Guam where there are no longer birds on the island.

What makes Kona Coffee so special and expensive?

Kona coffee is the market name for coffee cultivated on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts of the Big Island of Hawaii. It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Only coffee from the Kona Districts can be described as “Kona”. The traditional Kona Coffee taste profile is light, sweet and fruity with hints of spice or nuts. As Kona Coffee is roasted, it first picks up flavors of sweetness and fruit. As the roast progresses the sweetness and fruitiness decline and the coffee develops body. Kona Coffee is sold in blends with as little as 10% Kona Coffee in them and are sold in pure 100% Kona Coffee.  A well-known and appreciated trait of 100% Kona coffee is its low acidity. Almost none of the flavor notes that make 100% Kona Coffee special will show through in the low percentage so if you want to enjoy what makes Kona Coffee so special splurge and get 100% Kona Coffee.

What kinds of fruits can I see growing by the roadside in Hawaii?

You will find a variety of island fruits growing on roadside farms, along rainforest trails, and in residential yards. Fruits like papaya, pineapple, coconut, macadamia nut, coffee, mountain apple, guava, avocado, mango, oranges, lemon, lime, lychee, grapefruit, star fruit, pomello, bananas, passion fruit, pomegranate, taro, breadfruit, strawberry guava, and more! You may be tempted to stop and pick some growing on the side of the road. Please do not trespass onto someone’s farm or private property to try to sample fresh growing island treats. Hefty fines can be imposed if you are caught doing so, especially from commercial farms and pineapple fields. If you go hiking and know what you’re looking for you can find refreshing treats growing along mountain trails. There are roadside fruit stands you can purchase many fresh produce items grown by area farmers. Some will offer to cut up what you buy and make it ready to eat like pineapples, mangos, coconuts. If you collect or purchase fresh fruits please note they can only be taken outside of the Hawaiian Islands if they are agriculturally inspected. If you would like to take fresh island pineapple or papaya home with you there are vendors at the island airports that sell pre-inspected fresh fruits in handy carry cases ideal for taking a back a bit of paradise with you.

How many people live in Hawaii?

In 1998 the State of Hawaii reported 1,193,001 people live in the state of Hawaii. The city and county of Honolulu is the home to the majority of residents with 872,478 calling it home. Almost 7 million additional people visit the islands each year. In 1998 the state of Hawaii reported the ethnicity breakdown of Hawaii’s residents as: Caucasian 22%; Hawaiian/part Hawaiian 21%; Japanese 18%; Filipino 13%; Chinese 3%; Black 1%; Hispanic origin 7.3%. Less than 1% of Hawaii’s population is pure Hawaiian, meaning they are descendants from peoples who populated the Hawaiian islands prior to 1776, before contact with non-Hawaiians.

What is the tallest building in Hawaii?

Aloha tower is 10 stories tall (184 feet, 2 inches, topped by a 40-foot flagstaff). For four decades the Aloha Tower was the tallest building in all of Hawaii. The tallest building in the state of Hawaii is now the First Hawaiian Center located within blocks of the Aloha Tower in the Historic Downtown Honolulu/Business district. The First Hawaiian Center was completed in 1996 towering at 438 feet and is the first building in Hawaii to exceed 400 feet.

How tall do the palm trees get?

Palm trees can grow to 80 feet, about 8 stories on a building. On Kauai, Molokai, and Lanai there are laws that no building can be taller than the tallest palm tree on the island. This keeps these islands looking very natural and not like a big city.

How much green do you see all day?

Lots! There are plants, flowers, and trees inside and outside. The mountains are very green from the rain forest that covers them. In the city there are beautiful flowering trees, palm trees, and lots of ground flowers. Lots of people are very creative with beautiful trees, plants, and nicely groomed lawns in their yards. In office buildings there are great arrangements of tropical flowers, mini palm trees, and even indoor waterfalls! Being in a tropical environment is very beautiful and relaxing.

Do they have Christmas in Hawaii?

Yes, Mele Kalikimaka (Meh-lay Kah-lee-kee-mah-kah) is how you say Merry Christmas in Hawaiian. We have our live-cut Christmas trees shipped in from Washington state and Alaska. Santa is at the mall to find out what is on everyone’s wish list. Lots of businesses and tall buildings put up holiday lights. It really puts us in the holiday spirit to drive around and look at all the decorations.

Is it fun living/do you like living in Hawaii?

My husband and I LOVE living in Hawaii! It is very fun to explore and learn about. It is very different from where we grew up in Massachusetts. We have seen and done so many amazing things. We are very happy we moved here and do not plan to ever move from the islands.

What is the significance behind what ear a flower is worn behind?

If you are married or “taken” the flower should be worn behind your left ear. An easy way to remember this is it is the flower is worn on the same side as a wedding ring is worn. If you are single the flower should be worn behind the right ear.

If I was to have leis at my wedding who would get them?
What is the symbolism behind this tradition?

Leis are given any time as a symbol of love and/or appreciation. At some Hawaiian weddings the parents of the groom adorn the bride with a lei and the parents of the bride adorn the groom with a lei as a symbol of welcoming them into the family. Sometimes rather than the parents, the bride and groom adorn each other as the ceremony begins as a symbol of their love for one another. Wedding guests do not typically bring leis to give to the bride and groom.

Leis are also worn by the parents of the bride and groom and the wedding party rather than having them wear corsages and boutonnieres. At some weddings the bride and groom also provide the minister a lei to wear either because the minister is either a close friend or because they want the minister to be wearing a lei for their photos. Some brides and grooms also elect to adorn all wedding guests with fresh flower, silk flower, or shell leis to add a full island flair and as a keepsake from the wedding. Having everyone in leis makes for excellent photos and people really seem to get into the aloha spirit and “hang loose” when they are wearing a lei!

There really is no set rule on having leis at your wedding; it is all personal preference. The suggestions I offer on my “Hawaii Weddings Anywhere” advice are just suggestions to spark ideas. Take what interests you and incorporate it into your wedding.

On my recent visit to Hawaii I stopped at a small roadside store and they were selling food items I would like some assistance identifying. There were small sealed clear bags filled with shriveled red ball like items, and others with shriveled up strips of something. What are these?

It sounds like you saw packages of seed snacks. Seed snacks are made from dried and pickled fruit seeds like prunes, mango, papaya, pineapple, coconut, cherries, lemon, strawberries, etc. Many seed snacks are available plain or with a coating of Li Hing powder to add a tangy zip. Some of the seed snacks are an acquired taste, like li hing mui (dried prune with li hing powder), which is probably the shriveled red ball like snack you saw. Seed snacks are very popular with island locals and are hard to find outside of Hawaii.

Where can I find an authentic luau?

This is a question we hear quite frequently. The word lu’au means Hawaiian feast. The food is a main feature of every luau, and is accompanied with Hawaiian and Polynesian song and dance. A non-commercial luau would likely be in someone’s back yard, at the beach, or in the park with some barbecue food and some ukulele music, probably playing volleyball or just sitting around talking story. This may sound like your last summertime party because that’s what a luau is… a gathering of friends and family! The traditional luau that is put on for visitors usually has a crowd of up to eight hundred people with “Hawaiian style food” and an entertaining Polynesian review. Some allow you to join in on Hawaiian games and crafts, as well as explore cultural exhibits. Many display the removal of the Kalua pig from the `imu (underground oven) where the pig was cooking for a day. The feast is normally buffet style with many local food favorites of tender pig, teriyaki beef, mahi-mahi (fish), chicken longrice (it looks like bait, but it’s rice noodles in chicken broth with chicken pieces), white rice, poi, sweet potato, rolls, pineapple, and either coconut cake or haupia (coconut pudding). Commercial luaus are held on each island.

Is the Polynesian Cultural Center worth it, or a tourist trap?

The Polynesian Cultural Center is both worth it, and a “tourist trap.” You will see ancient style villages, crafts and tools along with demonstrations from each of the seven isles of Polynesia who’s people came to inhabit these islands from AD500 to the 1700’s. You won’t see Hawaii’s people living in a little grass shack, Honolulu has all of the modern conveniences of an average city. If you wish to see ancient Polynesian life you will enjoy the Polynesian Cultural Center. There also is a great Imax movie, and an elaborate river parade. The crowd is pretty large there and the lu’au is nothing special, it’s not like going to the others. You eat a Hawaii buffet in a pavilion. The entertaining night show is later in the evening at their outdoor auditorium and is the best. Everything told to you is also said in Japanese and that can be distracting, and the ‘cheap seats’ are a bit far from the stage. To see it all, you spend seven to nine hours of your time here, including round-trip transportation. It’s about an hour from The Polynesian Cultural Center in La’ie to Waikiki.

What type of nightlife is available in Hawaii?

The Waikiki area of Oahu, the Kona area of the Big Island, and the Lahaina area of Maui all offer a variety of night time entertainment for adults. There are unique cocktail shows, bars, dance clubs, “men’s clubs”, sunset cruises, and a wide selection of restaurants. Some dance clubs are for 18 year olds and older. Other clubs are for those 21 years old and over. There are also family oriented activities like star gazing adventures, magic shows, movies, and other unique dinner shows. Oahu has the most evening activity options.

I recently went to the Dole Pineapple Plantation on Oahu and was disappointed that there was no tour of the pineapple cannery. How come?

Since the pineapple agriculture boom in the 1920’s Hawaii has been known as the place where pineapples are grown. What many people do not realize is that due to the high cost of land in Hawaii it is no longer profitable to grow pineapple to be used for consumption outside of Hawaii. The last of the canneries on Oahu closed in the 1990’s and as far as we are aware of there is only one remaining pineapple cannery in the islands and it is located on the island of Maui. You will still find fields of pineapples growing around the islands. These will be primarily sold to island residents and island restaurants. Very few pineapples are actually shipped outside Hawaii. They can be special ordered but they are very expensive, averaging about $25 for a 4lb pineapple. That same pineapple is only $3 at a local farmers market. When the pineapples are shipped outside Hawaii they have to be picked fresh, examined for bugs, pass agricultural inspection, and then express shipped to the customer. The best way to enjoy a delicious sweet juicy Hawaii pineapple is while IN Hawaii!!!

Can I just show up in Hawaii with my camping gear and sleep on the beach?

Camping in Hawaii is a great way to enjoy Hawaii’s natural beauty to the fullest. You can set up camp by the ocean or even hike to remote areas of the island like lush valleys and hidden coves. However, you can not just show up and put up a tent anywhere. If you plan to stay at a State or County Park or Campground you will are required to apply for a camping permit prior to your arrival. Park rangers will be checking it to ensure the permit is for the park and dates listed. Permit applications must be received at least 7 days before the event and no earlier than 1 year in advance. The maximum length of stay allowable under each permit at any one park is 5 consecutive nights. Another camping permit for the same park can be issued to any adult covered under a previous permit only after 30 days have elapsed. Some parks also offer cabins for rent. For more information on camping areas and permits please call the Division of State Parks: (Oahu) 808 587-0300, (Hawaii- The Big Island) 808 974-6200, (Maui) 808 984-8109, (Kauai) 808 274-3444.

Is there Sandalwood in Hawaii? I love the smell of it, I thought it was Hawaiian.

For a long time, until about 1800, Sandalwood trees were plentiful in parts of Hawaii. Because this fragrant wood was a very valuable commodity in Asia it was harvested in the Hawaiian Islands to the point of near extinction and is among 199 threatened or endangered plant species in Hawaii. For the most part there is little evidence left by the massive clear-cutting of sandalwood. There are huge pits that were dug in the shape and dimensions of ships’ hulls. These pits were used to measure the capacity for transport of the sandalwood. Native Hawaiians endured back braking labor to harvest the sandalwood. They would cut the trees with hand tools, drag them by hand to lay in the hull pits, then once the pit was full they dragged the trees more than ten miles over rough terrain to waiting ships in the harbor. As you can imagine this was a very treacherous job and many men died in the process. Tiring of the work conditions, the laborers took to uprooting seedlings so that their children would not have to grow up to suffer the same torturous fate.

From a luau show, it seems like the original Hawaiians are from Tahiti – is that true?

It is believed the first Hawaiians migrated from the Marquesas between 0-500 A.D. using double hulled canoes and navigating using the stars. Tahiti is another Polynesian Island located near Marquesas. Polynesia means many islands and refers to: Ellice Islands, New Zealand (Aoterroa), Tonga, Samoa, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Marquesas, Tuamotu, Society Islands (Tihati), Cook Islands, and Hawaii. If you ever visit the Island of Oahu in Hawaii the Polynesian Cultural Center allows you to discover first hand the many interesting cultures of Polynesia.

Can I bring my dog with me on my Hawaiian vacation?

Hawaii is a rabies free state, and to insure it stays that way strict regulations regulate bringing domestic pets into the islands. Rules for what needs to be done to bring dogs into the state are update by the state of Hawaii at https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/ai/aqs/aqs-info/

Do I need bring a change of clothes to the beach or can I walk around in my bathing suit?

You can actually walk barefoot and shirtless in the streets and into island stores. Most stores on the mainland post the ‘No shoes, no shirt no service’ policy right on the door for health and safety reasons. Well, here in Hawaii it’s more of a laid back beach community attitude. If it’s hot and you’re driving along enjoying the breeze with your tee shirt off and you decide to go into a 7-11 for an iced tea, you can just walk right in. People won’t even look twice…unless you’re a female! In that case even just a bikini is okay. Personally, I don’t want to pick up any foot fungus or stub my toe so I always wear shoes. The sun can be very strong so a t-shirt or cover up is also recommended when not on the beach.

How much money should I bring on my Hawaiian vacation?

There are endless options of ways to enjoy your time in Hawaii so it really depends on your interests, expectations, and available funds. Although it costs quite a bit for airfare and hotel for a Hawaiian vacation you do not have to go into debt to have fun. There are many low cost and free ways to explore and enjoy your stay in paradise. The key is to get the most for your money while making your dream Hawaiian vacation come true. Hiking is a no or low cost activity that can take you to the parts of Hawaii you have been dreaming of like lush rainforests, along shorelines overlooking the turquoise blue ocean, through volcanic fields, and even into extinct volcanoes. Take time to check out and smell all the beautiful flora and fauna found in Hawaii. There are Botanical Gardens and/or Arboretums on each island allowing you to view a wide variety of species easily in one location. Visit a coffee, pineapple, or macadamia nut farm to see how your favorite island treats are grown and processed. Expand your mind by visiting some of the many cultural and historical museums in the islands. With an average year round air and water temperature of 75 degrees F you can enjoy several days at the beach getting a sun tan, snorkeling, learning to surf, kayaking, boogie boarding, or body surfing. Plan a romantic adventure where you pack a picnic, drive the coast until you find an uninhabited beach, then enjoy lunch, a swim, a stroll along the shore, and build sand castles. There are some activities with higher priced admission fees which are worth the cost if it is something you have always wanted to do, like skydiving or flying in a helicopter to see flowing lava on the Big Island. It costs about $50 a day to rent a car but you can spend days site seeing by car so it is also a good value for the money. Use our web site to explore your options and make note of adventures you want to enjoy. Once you know what you want to do you are able to determine how much money you will need to bring. Account for $50+ per person per day for meals.

Do you know if I can listen to any of the Hawaiian radio stations over the Internet?

With the amazing progress available because of computers you are able to enjoy listening to radio stations in Hawaii no matter where in the world you are! We’ve created a resource of several island radio stations that allow you to listen in live using the Internet. Some will even allow you to email song requests! This is also a good resource to research stations to listen to while in the Hawaiian Islands. Browse the station options as well as the styles of music each plays at here!

I am staying on Maui but will be flying into Honolulu Airport on the morning of my last day then connecting to another flight home in the afternoon. Will I have time to take a cab to see the Arizona Memorial before my flight departs?

The Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is about a 25 minute cab ride from the Honolulu Airport and costs about $25-$30 one way. Since the recent release of the Pearl Harbor movie the lines to get into the Arizona Museum and Memorial have been long. There is free admission to the museum and the shuttle boat to the memorial. Tickets are handed out for the free boat shuttle over to the memorial on a first come first served basis, and if the tickets are all given out those without tickets are able to view the Arizona Memorial Museum, but not able to go over to the actual Memorial. If you are able to get to Pearl Harbor no later than 9am you should have no problem acquiring boat shuttle tickets, visit the museum and memorial, and get back to the airport by 2pm. We highly recommend checking in yourself and your luggage with your departing airline prior to going to Pearl Harbor so when you return to the airport you only need to go directly to the boarding gate and wait to board. If you get done with the Arizona Memorial early and are leaving on a Wednesday, Saturday, or Sunday the famous Aloha Stadium swap meet is a short bus ride away from the Arizona Memorial and is open until 2pm on these 3 days. The swap meet is a great place to pick up island snacks and souvenirs at good prices.

I am having a Hawaii theme baby shower for my sister and would like to know how the ancient Hawaiian women handled pregnancy and child birth?

The mother’s diet during pregnancy was regulated from the fourth month. She would eat greens and herbs to build up her baby’s body and stayed away from salty foods. After the sixth month she would cut back on her diet so that the baby does not gain too much weight because a large baby causes a difficult birth.

When the contractions began it was declared the day of confinement for the pregnant woman. Her many relatives gathered and she was encouraged to walk around until the pain became intense. She then took a kneeling position with both knees apart. No Hawaiian woman dared scream in pain while giving birth or she would be shamed in front of her family. During the birth the Kahuna Ho-Ohanau, which is like a modern day midwife, examined and assisted the mother-to-be during the birth. If the baby was in the wrong position he oiled his hands with kukui oil and manipulated it. During the birth the Kahuna Ho-Ohanau would send someone to the beach to get morning glory leaves which some was given to the mother to eat and others were rubbed on her abdomen. After delivery the placenta was washed and buried under a tree and the mother was given warm broth with herbs and her abdomen was wrapped with tapa cloth.

The birth of a child of Ali’i (high chief) was similar but also entailed elaborate ceremonies. Each island had sacred birthstones which were used for Ali’i births. The pregnant Ali’i gave birth by leaning against the reclining birthing stones and were surround by 36 stones on which sat the royal midwives. If the baby was a girl her cord was cut at the birthing stone location. If the child was a boy he was taken to a heiau (temple) where the Kahuna Ho-Ohanau cut the cord with a bamboo knife, made offerings of pig, coconut and tapa cloth, and a special prayer was said. After birth, Ali’i children were then taken back to the house and a wet nurse was chosen as the royal child’s “kahu”, who took great care in feeding the royal child. A special drum was then sounded to announce the royal birth.

I was snorkeling in Hawaii on my recent vacation and encountered something weird I’m hoping you can help identify. On the ocean floor was something black shaped like a giant sausage about a foot long with sand on it. I touched it with my finger and it didn’t seem like a rock but it didn’t move or swim away. Was this a giant slug of some sorts?

What we believe you encountered was a sea cucumber known as ‘loli’ in Hawaiian. These creatures are members of the Echinoderm phylum (spiny skinned animals) and are relatives of sea urchins, sea stars, and sand dollars. There are over 900 varieties of sea cucumbers found all over the World ranging from 1 inch to 39 inches long and in a variety of colors. Sea cucumbers are known as the recyclers of the reef and are very important in maintaining a healthy marine environment. They eat with feeding tentacles that come out from one end of their body and look like slim noodles with a blossom of grippers on the end. The feeding tentacles grip bits of sand and pull them into the digestive system where all the bits of decaying plant and animal matter in the sand are digested. When they poop, they actually poop out cleaned recycled sand. They do not have a skeleton and support their body by retaining seawater. Without a restrictive skeleton they can even change their size by taking in or letting out seawater. Sea cucumbers do not have eyes but are aware of their surroundings by detecting chemicals in the water. They have hundreds of suction cup feet which they use to suck in water and detect chemicals, to move around with, and to hold themselves in place. It is important not to pick up a sea cucumber because when they are pulled from their hold on the sea floor or rock their suction cup feet are often ripped off their body which can be harmful to the creature. It’s harmful to remove them from the ocean because they can not breathe oxygen from air and they often squirt out the water used to support their body due to the atmospheric pressure and lack of skeleton. Sea cucumbers do not have much to defend themselves. When attacked they will either release their suction cup feet hold and float off in the current, or some can eject part of their digestive tract which is very sticky and will often foul attacks by other sea creatures. There are lots of fascinating creatures found in the waters of Hawaii .

What exactly is in those fancy island drinks they serve at luaus?

The three most popular island drinks served at luaus are the Mai Tai, Blue Hawaii, and Chi-chi. These are all easy to make and you can enjoy them wherever in the world you are! If you are planning a luau you can mix up some tropical drinks for sure-fire hit! You can also decorate your guests with silk flower leis and grass skirts!  Always be ‘akamai’ (smart), don’t drink and drive or serve drinks to minors.

Mai Tai

There are a lot of variations on this basic recipe for a Hawaiian favorite. A word to the wise, don’t have one mai tai after another, with almost 4oz. of liquor and that fruity flavor you might be dancing a hula to the pounding in your head!

2 oz. light rum – 1 oz. Triple sec orange liquor – 1 tbsp. Orgest almond liquor or almond flavored syrup – 1 tbsp. Grenadine – 1 tbsp. lime juice – 1 dash 151 proof rum or dark rum (optional)

Shake ingredients (except the dark rum) and strain into a large glass about 1/3 full with crushed ice. Decorate with a maraschino cherry speared to a wedge of fresh pineapple. Top with a dash of dark rum for that reddish color, or for sure inebriation 151 proof rum. Put an orchid in each drink for the full Hawaiian effect.

Blue Hawaii

1 oz light rum – 2 oz pineapple juice – 1 oz Blue Curacao – 1 oz Cream of coconut – 1 slice pineapple – 1 cherry

Blend light rum, blue Caracas, pineapple juice, and cream of coconut with one cup of ice in an electric blender at high speed. Pour contents into a highball glass. Decorate with the slice of pineapple and a cherry.


1 1/2 oz vodka – 4 oz pineapple juice – 1 oz cream of coconut – 1 slice pineapple – 1 cherry

Blend vodka, pineapple juice, and cream of coconut with one cup of ice in an electric blender at a high speed. Pour into a wineglass, decorate with the slice of pineapple and the cherry, and serve.