Hawaii (pronounced u big bum by locals) is the 50th state of the United States of America.
Situated nearly at the center of the north Pacific Ocean, Hawaii marks the northeast corner of Polynesia. While it was once a major hub for the whaling, sugar and pineapple industries, it 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.
Hawaii is an archipelago of over nineteen distinct volcanic islands located over a geological "hot spot" in the Pacific. The Pacific plate on which the islands ride moves to the northwest, so in general the islands are older and smaller (due to erosion) as you move from southeast to northwest. There are eight major islands, six of which are open to tourism.
These are some of the bigger cities in Hawaii.
Where tourism is concerned, Hawaii has something for everyone. The island of Oahu, the most populous and home to the state capital and largest city of Honolulu, is great for people who wish to experience the islands and still keep the conveniences of a large city. Rainforests and hiking trails are located just minutes from Waikiki Beach, one of the world's best tourist destinations. In the winter, large waves on Oahu's north shore turn the normally sleepy area into the surfing capital of the world.
On the other hand, those who wish to experience Hawaii at a slower pace would do well to visit one of the Neighbor Islands (the other, less populated islands around Oahu). All the neighbor islands offer opportunities to relax and enjoy the sun and scenery. Many of the natural wonders of the Islands are located on the Neighbor Islands, from Waimea Canyon on Kauai, to Haleakala on Maui, to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Numerous waterfalls and rainforests evoke memories of what the islands might have looked like before major corporations set their sights on Hawaii.
Polynesians migrated to, and established communities on, the islands of Hawaii before the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778, who is widely credited as the first European visitor to the islands. At that time, each island was a separate kingdom. With the support of western advisors and weapons, Kamehameha I of the island of Hawaii conquered all the islands except Kauai, which acquiesced to his rule in 1810.
After Kamehameha II abolished the kapu (taboo) system, American missionaries came to the islands to spread Christianity. Their children would later become successful businessmen in the Islands. Pineapple and sugar cane plantations were established, and workers from other countries were imported as contract laborers. Later, their descendants would also become established as successful professionals.
The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 through an coup allegedly led by a group of American businessmen. While the U.S. administration at the time refused to annex the former sovereign nation, in 1898 the United States did annex the islands, which became a territory in 1900, and a state of the United States in 1959.
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. Its population, descended both from the original plantation workers and from more recent arrivals, and in which no one group has a majority, is often cited as an example of multiculturalism at its best. 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. And certainly the environment is conducive to longevity...Hawaii has the longest predicted life expectancies of any U.S. state. 
Depending on where you're located in Hawaii, the weather can be very different over even short distances. On the same day, on Oahu you might find sun over the beaches in Waikiki and rain only miles away in Manoa Valley.
Although the islands receive abundant amounts of both sunshine and rain, rain is more likely on the north and east sides of the islands, which face the prevailing northeasterly tradewinds (the "windward" side of the island), as well as the mountain peaks and valleys. The moist tropical air carried by the tradewinds is forced upward by the mountains, resulting in clouds and rain. Rain is less likely on the coastal areas of the "leeward" sides (the south and west sides) of the islands.
Although there are no "seasons" in the islands in the same sense as the rest of the U.S., the climate does go through annual cycles based on rainfall. The "wet" season in Hawaii (cooler temperatures and more rainfall) runs roughly from October to March, and the "dry" season (warmer temperatures and less rainfall) from April to September. There is therefore a higher probability of rain if you visit during the peak of tourist season in late December or January.
Hurricane season in the islands runs from June to November. Although Hawaii's relative isolation means that it is affected only rarely by tropical cyclones, a destructive storm will occasionally hit the Islands, such as Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki hitting Kauai in 1982 and 1992.
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. Daytime temperatures generally range from the mid-70s in "winter' to lower 90s in "summer". There is usually no more than a 20-degree difference between daytime high and nighttime low temperatures.
Consequently, besides your driver's license, credit card, camera, binoculars, and other essentials, it's best to keep your clothes to a minimum... a jacket, sweater/shawl, one or two pair of washable slacks/shorts, walking shoes, sandals and swim gear. Sunscreen is also essential. The suitcase space you save can be used to fill up on island purchases.
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, Kona on the Big Island, and Lihue on Kauai as well.
Depending on the airline, nonstop flights to Honolulu leave from most major gateway airports on the West Coast (as well as some smaller ones), as well as many major airports in the Midwest and East Coast. The flight from Los Angeles or San Francisco takes about 5 hours, comparable to a flight between the West and East Coasts. Thus, a flight from New York can take about 10.5 hours...be sure to pack some Dramamine.
As Hawaii is one of the United States, travel to Hawaii from the U.S. Mainland is not much different from traveling between two states on the Mainland. It is not necessary to bring a passport (or any documentation of U.S. citizenship) when traveling to Hawaii from the U.S. Mainland. The only paperwork that you'll be asked to fill out is required by the U.S. and Hawaii State Departments of Agriculture to prevent harmful plant pests and diseases from coming into Hawaii. Any fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and the like need to be declared and inspected by Department of Agriculture personnel at your point of arrival; some items may be prohibited from entering Hawaii at all. Penalties for non-compliance are stiff. Avoid bringing such items with you if at all possible. It's not worth the hassle.
In December 2006 the budget airlines Jetstar will start flying from Australia to Hawaii.
Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. whose Interstate Highways don't connect to any other state. This is due to the state being a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean. If you want to take your car to Hawaii it will either need to be amphibious or freighted by ship. For information on car rental, see Get around below.
While the days where everyone arrived in Hawaii by boat are long gone, there are limited numbers of trans-Pacific cruises to Hawaii that leave from ports on the West Coast.
On Oahu there is an excellent public transportation system TheBus. You can buy a booklet called "TheBus" at local ABC Stores giving route information on how to get around the island. Route Schedules are also available on The Bus Website. Public transportation systems are less developed on the Neighbor Islands.
Five inter-island airlines, Aloha Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, Pacific Wings, and go! (a subsidiary of Mesa Air) provide virtually all flights between the islands. Aloha and Hawaiian are the two established airlines. go! started service in June 2006, positioning itself as a discount carrier. Consequently, as of summer 2006, there is a fare war underway between the three carriers; round-trip fares can be as low as about US$60 roundtrip, about half of what the going fare was in 2005. Travelers can save money and time by planning "triangle routes" that arrive in Hawaii on one island and leave on another.
Flight times run anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. Flights can usually be purchased a day or two before departure, although this may increase the cost of traveling.
Charter boats sail and motor between some islands, especially the Maui-Molokai-Lanai area. But, crossing the channels between islands can be extremely rough going. Because of this, a few charter companies specialize in having boats delivered inter island and can meet you at your destination.
Norwegian Cruise Lines operates both U.S.-flagged and foreign flagged cruise ships between the islands. By February 2007 Maui departures are being eliminated, leaving Honolulu Harbor as the sole originating port. The two boats are the Pride of Aloha and the Pride of Hawaii.
Currently, there are no ferries between the Hawaiian islands, but a local company, Hawaii Superferry, is aiming to have ferries between Oahu and Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island running in early 2007 if things run on schedule.
Car rentals should be booked as soon as possible as the price charged is based on a supply/demand basis. The exception is Waikiki where you will not need a car on a permanent basis so just rent a car the day before you want one. Collision insurance coverage is very expensive through car rental companies, so if you have a gold plus Visa or MasterCard and it offers collision coverage, use it. If not, get coverage from your own insurance company prior to your trip. Car rental rates for 5 or 6 day periods are often the same as 7 day rentals. Use your gold card Visa or MasterCard for medical and trip cancellation insurance if it has coverage, and if not, buy from your flight travel agent. Additional Hawaii car rental insurance information.
Gasoline, while nowhere near the prices charged in Europe, is significantly more expensive in Hawaii than on the U.S. Mainland. Expect to pay about 10% more than the prevailing rate on the Mainland for gasoline in Honolulu. Neighbor Island prices can be as much as 10-15% above that.
Scooters are also an excellent alternative to getting around the islands. Rental rates are fairly cheap (about $50/day). The scooters are also fun to ride and are cheap on gas!
As part of the United States, English is the main spoken language of Hawaii. There are some subtle differences in usage (see below), but standard English is universally understood in 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. As Japan is the most important international tourist market in Hawaii, many tourist destinations offer information in Japanese and have personnel who can speak 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 signs in Hawaii use Hawaiian words, and most street signs use Hawaiian names. The following is a brief primer on Hawaiian pronunciation:
Each vowel is pronounced separately. For instance, the highway connecting Honolulu and Kaneohe on Oahu is called the Likelike Highway, and is pronounced LEE-keh-LEE-keh, NOT like-like.
You will often see an apostrophe-like symbol in some words. This symbol, called the 'okina, means that the following vowel is pronounced with a catch in the throat, much like the sounds in "uh-oh" are separated. A line above a vowel means that the vowel is extended and stressed.
Some useful words include:
When talking with Hawaii residents, be aware of the following differences in word usage. These may result in miscommunications. Also see Respect below.
As in the rest of the United States, U.S. 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.
Other than the stereotypical grass skirt (which is not generally worn in Hawaii except by hula dancers), no pieces of clothing are more associated with the Islands than the aloha shirt and the muumuu.
The ever-present aloha shirt comes in a wide variety of designs. On one end, there are the brightly colored, tourist-oriented, polyester aloha shirts that many stores throughout the Islands carry. On the other end of the spectrum are the type of collared aloha shirts that have become standard business attire among career professionals in Hawaii, in the same way that the business suit is on the mainland. These aloha shirts are usually cotton-polyester blend and are "reverse print." Reverse print means that the design is printed on the inside of the shirt, resulting in a more muted, businesslike look.
For females, the muumuu is a long Hawaiian dress, usually made of cotton, that hangs loosely from the shoulder.
Several island companies specialize in aloha shirts and muumuus:
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. As its name implies, the Polynesian Cultural Center covers not just Hawaii but also the cultures of Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, and the Maori people of New Zealand.
The unemployment rate is very low in Hawaii. Hawaii is not an easy place to legally find casual work for non-US work permit holders. To apply for a local government job, by law you must be a Hawaii resident. This is changing though. Currently, police officer applicants do not have to be residents.
Contemporary food in Hawaii, like the language and popular culture, is a medley of traditional Hawaiian, Portugese, American, and Asian Pacific flavors. Pacific "fusion" cuisine was largely invented in Hawaii. Well-known local chefs include Sam Choy, Alan Wong, Russell Siu, Roy Yamaguchi, and George "Chef Mavro" Mavrothalassitis. 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 & Brazil).
One of the most common ways that local food is served is in the form of plate lunch, usually meat or fish with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. It's always a good deal at any lunch wagon, mall, or outside food court. L&L Drive Inn and Zippy's are probably the most widely distributed chain of plate lunch spots in the Hawaiian islands. Branches of L&L are in some locations on the Mainland as well (as L&L Hawaiian Barbecue).
Perhaps the best setting for tourists to enjoy traditional Hawaiian food is at a luau, or a traditional Hawaiian feast. Tourists can find luaus at various locations in the Islands, including many of the major resort hotels. At a modern luau traditional Hawaiian favorites are served buffet style, and there is also Hawaiian music, hula, and other Polynesian entertainment. The downside is that they can be pricey and prices can vary widely; expect to pay between USD $50 and $90 per adult and about half that per child.
Dishes that are often found at luaus include:
Other local dishes include favorites such as the following:
For specific places at which to eat, see the individual island or city articles. Be sure to check the coupon books that are available at display stands for meal specials.
There are a number of excellent local brewpubs in Hawaii. Mehana, Sam Choy's, Honu, Waimea Brewing Company, Keoki's and Kona Brewing Company all brew beer in Hawaii or brew it on the mainland and ship it to the islands. The largest of the group is Kona Brewing, which has won several national awards and runs to brew pub / restaurants in the islands (one in Kailua Kona, the other in Hawaii Kai on Oahu).
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. Although Hawaii is generally considered relatively safe, it does have some violent crime. Consequently, women should not walk alone in unlit areas. Use common sense in Honolulu, although Honolulu has one of lowest violent crime rates of metro areas in the U.S. Stay Smart and act as if you were in your own home city, lock doors, lock cars, and dont leave valuables lying around.
Be sure to have travel health insurance. See Stay healthy in United States of America for more information.
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. For instance, there are many heiau (temples) in the Islands, where the ancient Hawaiian religion was practiced. Some of these have become tourist attractions, but visitors should treat these places with the same level of respect one would show at a place of worship.
If you visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you will no doubt hear about Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. An urban legend has it that people who have taken volcanic rock from the slopes of Mauna Loa or Kilauea have suffered various misfortunes; it is believed that it is the wrath of Pele. In any case, it is illegal to take rocks or other material from a national park.
Also, the status of Native Hawaiians vis-a-vis the U.S. federal government has become a hot topic in recent years, with some Native Hawaiian groups seeking a degree of sovereignty for the Hawaiian people as redress for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and U.S. annexation in the 1890s. (Honolulu is home to the only royal palace on U.S. soil.) There is currently no consensus among Native Hawaiians on what form this sovereignty should take, with some preferring the status quo of ordinary citizenship, some seeking a status similar to that of Native Americans, and some wanting complete independence and secession from the Union. Discussions of Hawaiian sovereignty can arouse a variety of strong opinions among Hawaii residents of all ethnicities, and the uninitiated visitor would be wise to avoid bringing up the topic in casual conversation.
Some Native Hawaiians may attribute accidents caused by nature (such as a landslide at Sacred Falls that killed several people) to the Menehune (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menehune) punishing tourists disrespecting the land. Menehune or not, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world and its sites deserve our respect. Bottom line: respect the land and the people; there may be more there than meets the eye.
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. The public libraries offer Internet access, but only for library cardholders. Visitors may purchase a 3-month library card for $10.00.
Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii can be a stepping off point to explore Oceania.
When leaving Hawaii for the U.S. Mainland, all baggage must be inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at the airport. Be advised that fresh fruits (with the exception of pineapples and treated papayas) are prohibited from leaving the islands to prevent the spread of fruit flies. Consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more details.