10 Interesting Things We Bet You Didn't Know About Hawaii

White snow

2.8min read

Published 23 August 2016


The typical image of Hawaii that springs to mind is palm trees, beaches, surfers, luau and hula dancing. But there is more to the Hawaiian archipelago than meets the mind's eye. It is made up of eight main islands, each with something different to offer. Here are 10 little-known facts to get you started on your Hawaii island hopping adventure.

1. Cowboys Roam The Highlands

 Two men in blue shirts and black cowboy hats next to horse saddles

Today's Hawaiian cowboys are descendants of Mexican vaqueros. Picture: Kerry van der Jagt


Forget John Wayne, Hawaiian cowboys (Paniolos) are of the flower-wearing rather than gun-toting variety. Unlike their Wild West cousins, the cowboys on the Big Island (descendants of the Mexican vaqueros) are a product of the gentle landscape, dressed not to kill but to honour their land.

2. You Can Get A Good Coffee (Yes, Really)

 Green tree field
Coffee beans growing on Hawaii, the Big Island. Picture: Kerry van der Jagt


After numerous trips to the US, I’ve discovered where the Americans hide their good coffee – in the Kona district of the Big Island. The advantage of hosting two of the world's most active volcanoes is fertile soil suitable for coffee bean growing.

3. It Snows!

 White snow
Snow on Mauna Kea. Picture: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Kirk Lee Aeder


When I first heard that it snows during winter (January and February) on the Big Island’s Mauna Kea volcano, my immediate response was, “Can I ski there?” The answer is yes – locals do and call the characteristic soft snow 'pineapple powder'. But with a lava rock base, no lifts and the possibility of altitude sickness, it is hard to endorse it.

4. Hawaii Once Had A Royal Family

The Hawaii Ionalni lit up at night
Iolani Palace tells the story of Hawaii's last two monarchs. Picture: Getty Images


The rise and fall of the Hawaiian Kingdom is a sweeping tale of royalty and revolutions, rogues and sugar barons. A tour of the Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu offers a glimpse into the turbulent lives of the last two monarchs – King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.

5. You Can Visit The Beach Where Captain Cook Was Killed

 View of trees and rocks from the water
A white obelisk marks Captain Cook's demise. Picture: Getty Images


A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turnoff to Kealakekua Bay, on the Kona Coast of the Big Island, is a reminder of the fate of one of the world’s great explorers – Captain James Cook. Killed on February 14, 1779, in a conflict between his crew and the Hawaiians, Cook is remembered by a simple white obelisk.

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6. You Can Swim Inside A Volcanic Crater

 Birds eye view of the Hawaii crater
The Molokini Crater on Maui. Picture: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Ron Dahlquist


When it comes to serious lava action, the Big Island wins. Home to a jigsaw of five, visitors can chopper across smoking vents, descend into lava tubes, hike up a volcano or even sleep on top of one, but only on Maui can you swim inside a volcanic crater.

7. Beaches Come In Black, Red & Green

A group of people swimming in blue water
The red sand beach at Kaihalulu on Maui. Picture: Kerry van der Jagt


Black-sand beaches are fairly common but few are as scenic as Punaluu Black Sand Beach on the Kua coast of the Big Island. For a green beach, head to Papakolea on the Big Island (where the Martian-green colour is caused by olivine, a mineral also found in large quantities on Mars) and for a red beach there’s Kaihalulu on Maui, a hidden place where rust-red sand meets Gatorade-blue water.

8. There’s A Road Trip For Every Island

Blue waves from the ocean hitting the rocks
A lush landscape on the Road to Hana. Picture: Kerry van der Jagt


Driving the Big Island is a lesson in volcanology, while Maui’s Road to Hana, with its 620 bends and 59 bridges, is lush and challenging. Kauai, known as the ‘Garden Island’ is all about hanging valleys and hippies, while a lap of Oahu is an opportunity to appreciate the island away from the masses.

9. There’s A Roadside Stall Around Every Bend

Orange and brown shrimp food truck
Fumi's Kahuku Shrimp Truck on Oahu's North Shore. Picture: Kerry van der Jagt


Hawaii’s cuisine is a multicultural melting pot of Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino and Korean blended with Polynesian staples. Oahu’s North Shore is famous for its shrimp trucks (try a garlic shrimp plate at Fumi’s Kahuku), while Maui’s Road to Hana is all about fresh fruit stands selling banana bread, sugarcane juice and coconut candy.

10. The Spirit Of Aloha Is Everywhere

Pink, yellow and white leis for sale at a lei stand
Aloha is everywhere, even in the roadside 'honesty' stalls. Picture: Kerry van der Jagt


Aloha is real, not just a marketing gimmick or clothing brand. Meaning the ‘spirit of loving kindness’, aloha can be found everywhere – from the welcome oli, a seismic event as intense as the volcanic forces that shaped the islands, to the scent of frangipanis, a signal that the ancestors are still around.

The writer travelled with the assistance of Hawaii Tourism Oceania.

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Expert tip

An easy and cost-effective way to see all the Hawaiian islands is on a cruise. All of the cruising is done overnight, so you go to sleep docked at one island and wake up docked at another. This is a great way to enjoy a full-day shore excursion on each island, and never have a day at sea.



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