As the most isolated population center on earth, the Hawaiian Islands consist of eight major islands, several small islets and numerous atolls extending approximately 1,500 miles. While the majority of these islands are uninhabited and unnamed, or nearly impossible to gain access to – like the private island of Ni’ihau, or Kaho’olawe – other islands are simply a plane ride or short boat trip away.
As the fifth largest Hawaiian Island, Molokai has a usable land area of 260 square miles and is known for the Kalaupapa National Historic Park, a settlement which was founded in 1866 in order for individuals with leprosy to be quarantined. On a happier note, the island is currently used for tourism, pineapple production, and cattle ranching.
2. Mokulua Islands
Off the coast of Kailua, on Oahu’s eastern shore, are the Mokulua Islands, often simply referred to as the Mokes, or “Twin Islands.” Less than a mile off shore, these two islands are popular kayaking or paddle boarding destinations.
When most people think of Hawaii, it’s Maui that comes to mind: with a plethora of beach resorts, outdoor activities, world-class beaches and diverse geography, Maui is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in Hawaii. It is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands – but is only the 17th largest island in the country – and has the third-highest population, at just 144,000.
The smallest of Hawaii’s eight main islands, Kaho’olawe is also one of the hardest to access. Due to a lack of fresh water, the island has always been sparsely populated, and during World War II, the Armed Forces of the United States used the small island as a training ground and bombing range. The mess is still being rectified, and currently the island can only be legally used for native Hawaiian cultural, subsistence, and spiritual purposes.
Home to nearly two-thirds of Hawaii’s population, Oahu is only the third-largest island in the state, measuring in at less than 600 square miles. The southeastern shore of the island is home to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, and with it, much of the state’s industry.
The sixth-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Lanai is also known as the Pineapple Island, for its past as an island-wide pineapple plantation. The island is home to one school that serves the entire island, and you won’t find a single traffic light on Lanai. Larry Ellison, founder and chairman of Oracle, owns approximately 98 percent of the island.
The westernmost island of Hawaii’s eight main islands is Ni’ihau, privately owned by the Robinson family, and generally off-limits to everyone except relatives of the owners, government officials, and invited guests. During World War II, a Japanese Navy fighter pilot crashed here and terrorized the islands’ residents for a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, known as the Ni’ihau Incident. The primary language for Ni’ihau’s residents is Hawaiian.
8. Chinaman’s Hat
Also known as Mokoli’i, this small island lies of the coast of Kaneohe Bay, and is part of Kualoa Regional Park. Mokoli’i translates to “little lizard” in Hawaiian, and according to Hawaiian mythology, the island is what remains of a giant lizard whose tail was chopped off and thrown into the Pacific by Hi’iaka, a Hawaiian goddess. The island can be visited by kayak, boat or surfboard during daylight hours.
9. Hawaii Island
Often referred to simply as the Big Island, Hawaii Island is larger than all of the other islands in the chain combined, with a total area of approximately 4,000 square miles. The island consists of five separate shield volcanoes, and is the third-largest island in America, and all of Polynesia, behind the two islands of New Zealand.
10. Ford Island
An islet in the center of Pearl Harbor, Ford Island measures in at more than 400 acres. The island was sold to the U.S. Army in 1916 for use by an aviation division, and later taken over by the U.S. Navy in 1939 as a station for battleship and submarine maintenance. The island is accessible by members of the Armed Forces and DoD cardholders, as well as by those who visit the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites as part of a tour group.
Home to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the dramatic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, Kauai is often referred to as the “Garden Isle,” thanks to the tropical rainforest that covers most of the island. The island is Hawaii’s fourth-largest, and also the geologically oldest of the main islands.
12. Molokini Crater
A small, uninhabited islet between the islands of Maui and Kaho’olawe, Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater. The islet has an approximate area of just 23 acres, and is a world-class snorkeling and scuba diving destination.
13. Rabbit Island
Located less than a mile off the coast of Kaupo Beach near Makapu’u, is Manama Island. Affectionately referred to as Rabbit Island due to its shape as seen from the shores of Oahu and its once prominent rabbit population introduced by John Adams Cummins, the island’s highest point is approximately 361 feet, with an area of 63 acres.
Which of these islands do you call home? Which is your favorite to visit? Share your photographs, opinions and stories with us on our Only In Hawaii