The Five Coolest Facts You Never Knew About Hawaii

Hawaii is the most isolated chain of islands in the world. For thousands upon thousands of years, the islands sat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean untouched. Only the sounds of a few native species cut the air as towering waterfalls and dramatic landscapes lay quiet.

The islands sit in the middle of the Ring of Fire which crowns the borders of the Pacific Ocean. Massive volcanoes rise out of the sea to create the islands only to die out and go dormant. Weather and erosion then take their toll before the island yet again succumb to the seas.

Hawaiian islands have risen and fallen through the ages, and you can even snorkel the skeleton of a long-forgotten island off the coast of Maui. The Molokini Crater was once the proud summit of a volcanic island, but that island has fallen. Now only half of the very top of the crater pokes through the waves, and the long-dead volcano is now home to thousands of tropical fish for you to enjoy during a snorkel tour.

Then Polynesian settlers, who we now call ancient Hawaiians, arrived from a far-off land. The heart of Polynesia had grown overpopulated, so brave sailors loaded up longboats to set sail into the sunset looking for new lands. They brought coconut trees and pigs with them, and that’s why the islands now teem with swaying palms. They were not indigenous.

And this just brushes some of the fascinating histories of the islands. Here are five more facts that you may not know about Hawaii but will blow your mind.

Hawaii Had Cowboys Long Before The Wild West

CowboyCaptain James Cook was the first European to set eyes on the Hawaiian Islands back in 1779. He sent word back to Europe that he had discovered “The Sandwich Islands.” Then, in 1793, the Royal British Navy arrived.

George Vancouver, an esteemed officer in the navy, brought a gift for King Kamehameha, and the king himself hauled the gift to shore in his own boats. The islands received their first load of livestock in the form of a flock of sheep, one bull and five longhorns.

The famous king announced a Kapu on the livestock. All Hawaiians were forbidden to touch or hunt the animals. The ban lasted for a decade and the animals began to flourish. In fact, they flourished so much that the livestock became a nuisance on the islands, often wandered into towns to disrupt the lives of the locals while destroying crops and other plants. That’s when John Parker Palmer arrived on the islands.

The courageous man had come to Hawaii all the way from New England, and he instantly formed a bond with the famous King Kamehameha. John Parker Palmer was soon summoned to China during the War of 1812. He then returned with an American musket.

The king then lifted to Kapu on the cattle to allow John Parker Palmer to hunt the animals whose numbers had grown into the thousands. Beef then became popular on the islands, and the king summoned more cowboys to help with the burgeoning industry. Thus gave rise to the paniolo -- the Hawaiian Cowboy. The paniolo roamed the islands to rustle cattle at least 10 years before the Wild West Cowboys were plying their trade on the mainland.

The Big Island welcomed many cattle rustlers from Portugal, and those paniolo brought with them the malasada. And you can still walk into a Big Island cafe to order the authentic Portuguese sweet treat.

It Snows On Hawaii

SnowYou can ski during the months of January and February on Hawaii’s Big Island. The Big Island shares the name of the state -- Hawaii -- and it is home to one of the largest mountains on earth. Mauna Kea rises more than 13,000 feet above sea level, but it is the largest mountain on the planet if you measure from the ocean floor. It’s even bigger than Everest.

At the top of the mountain, you’ll find an important cosmic observatory which is managed by the University of Hawaii. There is a multitude of research buildings and observatories strewn over an 11,000-acre site near the mountain’s arid peak.

Multiple countries, including the United States, have invested more than $2 billion into the research facilities. The combination of dry air and elevation makes Mauna Kea perfect for observing the cosmos. Air is also collected at the top of the mountain to monitor the progress of climate change.

The top of the mountain often receives snowfall in the winter. You can drive an all-wheel-drive vehicle to the summit where you’ll find plenty of locals shoveling snow into their truck beds for the children of the island below. You’ll also find some hearty sledders, snowboarders, and skiers.

Skiing isn’t so easy at the top of Mauna Kea. You won’t find any chair lifts and the ground is rather rocky. You’ll have to be careful on your run down the slope, and, at some point, you’ll get too low in elevation and the snow will end. That’s when you’ll have to carefully stop before hauling yourself back to the summit for another run. It’s exhausting and a bit dangerous. You might be better off skiing in Colorado or Utah.

The Big Island Is Still Growing

big islandYou can see the life cycle of a Hawaiian island up close and personal in Hawaii. The Big Island is home to Volcanoes National Park where you can view a lava crater under the supervision of park rangers. You’ll have to check ahead of time if the observation center is open, but, when it is open, it is safe to view the lava from a distance.

You can also go outside the park to find the flow of lava pouring out of the crater. The flow is unpredictable. It can be non-existent, flowing with great power in a river of magma or it can be flowing in an underground impossible-to-see trickle.

The path of the lava is also unpredictable. You might be in awe at the houses built on stilts atop fresh lava fields on the Big Island. Many of these homes and communities are destroyed when the flow of lava changes direction, but the land is incredibly cheap and it may be the most affordable way to build a home in Hawaii.

If you are lucky enough to find a flow of lava, you can follow it down to the ocean. There, it pours into the cooling waters to create a massive geyser of steam and glass. Don’t get too close. The fumes are toxic. In fact, don’t get too close to the lava at all. You’ll feel the blistering heat of the molten rock yards away.

The cooling lava forms new land and it is growing The Big Island by 40 acres per year. But this growth could be a danger that threatens the West Coast of the mainland. The lava can cool into a shelf that reaches out into the ocean with no foundation to the ocean floor. A big enough shelf can break off into the Pacific Ocean to create a tidal wave in the direction of the mainland.

No matter what lays in store for the growing island, it’s a powerful act of nature that is a wonder to behold.

Alaska’s Humpback Whales Breed In Hawaii

whaleHumpback whales from cold waters all over the world make an annual journey to Hawaii. These majestic creatures begin to arrive between the months of January and March. The annual migration is one of the longest on planet earth. Humpback whales swim nearly non-stop for six to eight weeks over the course of 6,000 miles to reach the warm waters of Hawaii.

They arrive exhausted yet happy. This is a celebratory occasion for the whales as it is time to breed, birth, and raise young calves in the protected waters of Hawaii. And you can often see the whales celebrating by breaching with each other in the deep waters just off the coast.

You can choose to join a whale watch where you’ll get closer to the whales than you ever thought possible. In fact, you might even get splashed by a breaching whale. But, if you don’t want to board a boat, there’s no shortage of sightings from the safety of a white sand beach.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to witness one of the only examples of inter-species play on planet earth. You may have seen spinner dolphins jump out of the water near your favorite beach. They are called spinner dolphins because they spin like a football when out of the water. Well, spinner dolphins and humpback whales can be seen playing with each other on rare occasions.

The spinner dolphin will swim right at the humpback whale’s face. The dolphin will then slide up onto the snout of the humpback whale to be thrown high into the air by the whale. The dolphin will spin in delight before crashing back down into the water.

Nearly Everything You See -- People, Plants and Animals -- Has Been Imported To The Islands

importedThose idyllic palm trees swaying in the wind were imported to the islands. In fact, coconut trees were one of the first plants to be introduced to Hawaii by the Polynesians that settled the islands hundreds of years ago. The trees, which bear life-sustaining coconuts, thrived in the hot, humid weather of Hawaii. As it turns out, nearly every introduced species of plant and animal thrive on the islands.

Hawaii is the most isolated chain of islands in the world. The volcanic islands rose from the seafloor with land thousands of miles away in every direction. Very few plants were native to these volcanic rocks just a few hundred years ago. Try to imagine the islands without all the luscious green trees and plants. They would be islands covered in waterfalls with just a few shrubs here and there with fields of volcanic rock.

That means nearly every fruit tree was imported, and some have even grown to become invasive species. Mango, starfruit, passion fruit, avocado, lime, lemon, longan, rambutan, and pineapple were all imported. Each of these plants has thrived in the verdant island climate. Strawberry guava trees have invaded the island of Kauai to the point where the government now pays locals to eliminate the trees in the wild.

The only native animal species to the islands are the Hawaiian goose, the Hawaiian monk seal, and the hoary bat. Everything else, including the famous Kalua pig, was imported. The very first ancient Hawaiian settlers brought pigs with them on their ocean voyage boats.

The islands’ climate is conducive to survival for both plants and animals. You can pop on over to Kauai to see for yourself. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki let dozens of caged chickens loose on the island. Now Kauai is known as the “chicken island” for its high population of feral birds. If you don’t see them right away, you’ll definitely hear them at dawn.

The Hawaiian authorities limit the introduction of new animal species after a hard-earned lesson. Farmers back in the 1800s introduced mongoose to tamper the rat population. That means rats jumped ships to thrive on the islands. The mongoose, with no natural predator on the islands, has flourished to the point of becoming a nuisance on Oahu, Maui, and Molokai.

This explains the state’s strict import policies. You’ll be forced to fill out a customs-like form when flying to the islands from the mainland. You cannot bring any animals with you to Hawaii, and authorities even make it difficult to fly your pet to the islands. But all their efforts have paid off. You won’t find any snakes in Hawaii and rabies is non-existent.

Interestingly, a zoo escape on Oahu has led to a small number of wild wallaby on the island. Wallaby is miniature kangaroos imported from Australia that hop around and have a Joey-filled pouch. That might be cute, but you have to think of all the negative things that have been imported to the islands like mosquitoes. Somebody in the distant past brought those blood-sucking insects to Hawaii and they’ve flourished.

It begs the question -- Who would do that?