Hawaii is the 50th state of the United States of America. Situated nearly at the center of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii was once a major hub for the whaling and sugar industries and is now economically dependent on tourism and the U.S. military. The natural beauty of the islands continues to be one of Hawaii's greatest assets.
Over the years, many major retail chains have expanded their presence in Hawaii, making the Islands look more and more like the Mainland U.S. -- often at the expense of local businesses.
Nevertheless, Hawaii remains culturally vibrant. There is a strong commitment to perpetuating native Hawaiian cultural traditions, as well as the cultural heritage of Hawaii's many immigrant communities from the Pacific, Asia and Europe.
Hawaii is an archipelago of islands. There are eight major islands.
These are some of the bigger cities in Hawaii.
Depending on where you're headed in Hawaii, the weather can be very different. On the same day, you might find sun over the beaches in Waikiki and rain only miles away in Manoa Valley. There is a high probability of rain if you visit during the peak of tourist season in late December or January.
Overall, Hawaii is warm and temperate -- when you step out of the plane you'll immediately notice that the air is soft and humid -- and during the summer months the tradewinds provide a pleasant breeze.
Most flights from the mainland US and almost all international flights land in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Direct service from the mainland is also available to Kahului on Maui and Kona on the Big Island as well. The flight from Los Angeles or San Francisco takes about 4 hours.
Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. with Interstate Highways that don't connect to another state.
On the islands there is an excellent public transportation system with buses running between every town and out to most beaches. Between islands are small and medium 'island hopper' flights that take 30-45 minutes. Flights can usually be purchased a day or two before departure. Charter boats sail and motor between some islands, especially the Maui-Molokai-Lanai area.
As part of the United States, English is the main spoken language of Hawaii. Hawaiian "pidgin" English, spoken by many locals, incorporates bits of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese and many other languages, in addition to its own unique idioms. Many tourist destinations offer information in Japanese. There are also many ethnic communities that speak languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Ilocano, Vietnamese, Korean, Samoan and the native Hawaiian language.
Learning a few words of Hawaiian can be fun and useful. Some useful words include:
US dollars are the local currency. There are plenty of banks, ATMs, and money change offices in all cities. ATMs are scarcer on the North Shore of Oahu and other rural areas.
Tourists who want to get a taste of Hawaiian culture can sign up for classes in hula, surfing and lei-making at most tourist destinations.
There also a number of cultural and historical centers on Oahu well worth your time, such as the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace.
If you have the money, the time and the inclination, the Polynesian Cultural Center provides a window into Polynesian culture -- delivered Vegas/Disneyland-style.
Hawaii is not an easy place to find casual work for non-US work permit holders.
Hawaiian food, like the language and popular culture, is a medley of Hawaiian, American, and Asian Pacific flavors. Seafood is, of course, fresh and tasty. Local beef comes from ranches on Maui and coffee is grown on the Island of Hawaii. Tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, bananas, guavas, and papaya -- as well as fresh sugar cane, can be bought in most corner stores (although you may be surprised to learn that many of those fruits are now imported from distant locales such as The Philippines).
Local dishes include favorites such as:
Hawaii has long prided itself on the taste of its tap water -- which is filtered naturally through porous volcanic rock.
Theft is a big problem in cities as well as beaches and parks. If you are camping on a beach, keep bags locked in a car (but don't assume that they are safe in the trunk, especially if you are driving a rental) and keep valuables in a hidden money belt. Honolulu has some violent crime and women should not walk alone in unlit areas.
Hawaiian culture should be respected and travellers should be sensitive to the state's rich cultural heritage and diversity -- and the fact that the tourist experience of Hawaiian culture may only scratch the surface.
Hawaii uses the US postal system. Internet access can be found in most tourist areas and many hotels. General wi-fi access is available only at select hotels and cafes.