“The Aloha State” became the 50th state in 1959, but the history of Hawaii goes back centuries earlier. Roughly 1,500 years ago, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands first set foot on Hawaii's Big Island. With only the stars to guide them, they miraculously sailed over 2000 miles in canoes to migrate to the Islands.
500 years later, settlers from Tahiti arrived, bringing their beliefs in gods and demi-gods and instituting a strict social hierarchy based on a kapu (taboo) system. Hawaiian culture flourished over the centuries, giving rise to the art of the hula and the sport of surfing, but land division conflicts between ruling chieftains were common.
In 1778, Captain James Cook, landed on Kauai at Waimea Bay. Naming the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" in honor of the Earl of Sandwich, Cook opened the doors to the west. Cook was killed only a year later in Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii's Big Island.
In 1791, North Kohala born Kamehameha united the warring factions of Hawaii’s Big Island and went on to unify all of the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810. In 1819, less than a year after King Kamehameha's death, his son, Liholiho, abolished the ancient kapu system.
In 1820, the first Protestant missionaries arrived on Hawaii’s Big Island filling the void left after the end of the kapu system. Hawaii became a port for seamen, traders and whalers. The whaling industry boom flourished in Lahaina Harbor in Maui. Throughout these years of growth, western disease took a heavy toll on the Native Hawaiian population.
Western influence continued to grow and in 1893, American Colonists who controlled much of Hawaii's economy overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom in a peaceful, yet still controversial coup. In 1898, Hawaii became a territory of the United States.
In the 20th century, sugar and pineapple plantations fueled Hawaii's economy bringing an influx of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese immigrants. Lanai, under the leadership of James Dole, became known as the “Pineapple Island,” after becoming the world’s leading exporter of pineapple. This mix of immigrant ethnicities is what makes Hawaii’s population so diverse today.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Oahu. Four years later, on September 2, 1945, Japan signed its unconditional surrender on the USS Battleship Missouri, which still rests in Pearl Harbor today. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th State of the United States. Today, Hawaii is a global gathering place for visitors to share in the spirit of aloha. Beyond the sun and surf of the islands, they urge you to discover the rich cultural history of Hawaii to add even more depth to your visit.
Hawaii Island and all the Hawaiian Islands are complex but fragile ecosystems that are easily affected by outside influences. This is partly why, in today’s small jet-connected world, Hawaii has the highest number of endangered and threatened native plant and animal species of any place on the planet. Though the Hawaiian Islands are some of the most remote in the world, they are by no means isolated, hosting more than seven million visitors each year--nearly seven times more than the resident population.
The model for sustainability in Hawaii was already in place and practiced for more than a millennium by Native Hawaiians. Their fishing, farming, planting, aquaculture and methods of food sustainability and use of ahupuaa (contiguous land divisions which extended from the uplands to the sea) are widely regarded as the most efficient in the Pacific.
You can learn about these ancient methods at museums and historic places like Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, and see modern practices of sustainability in the efforts of Hawaii Regional Cuisine as well as the ranches of Waimea, the coffee farms of Kona and Holualoa, as well as the botanical gardens and farmers’ markets located throughout the island.
Like any large industry, tourism can put stresses on Hawaii’s natural beauty, heritage and people – the very treasures that you come to experience. Sustainable tourism on Island is about protecting, enhancing and conserving these resources for the enjoyment of future residents and visitors.
There are primarily six major islands to visit in Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii’s Big Island. Due to shifting volcanic activity, the oldest Hawaiian island is Kauai to the northwest and the youngest is Hawaii’s Big Island to the southeast. You can see this difference by comparing the topography of these two islands: On Kauai you’ll find lush rainforests and sea cliffs worn by time along the Napali Coast. Hawaii’s Big Island features rugged lava landscapes as well as Kilauea Volcano, erupting to this day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The Hawaiian Islands are also one the most isolated archipelagos in the world and the southernmost state in the United States. It is generally drier on the leeward (western) sides of the islands, and wetter on the windward (eastern) sides. Hawaii’s wide range of elevations and microclimates allow you to experience a variety of environments including some of the world’s best beaches, lush rainforests, volcanic deserts and scenic high-altitude views.