Hawaii (sometimes pronounced ha-VAI-ee 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. Honolulu is the state's capital, largest city, and cultural hub.
Hawai'i is an archipelago of over nineteen distinct volcanic islands located over a geological "hot spot" in the Central 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.
Hawaii, the "Big Island," is the largest of the islands.
Oahu, nicknamed "the Gathering Place," is the most populous and developed island. Its southern shore is home to the city of Honolulu; four out of every five Hawaii residents call it home. It is the governmental and commercial center of the state, and Waikiki Beach is arguably the best known tourist destination in Hawaii. Outside the city are pineapple fields, and the North Shore of Oahu, which is known each winter as the home of some of the largest waves in the world. The USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor is also very popular visitor destination.
Maui is the second largest island in the chain and is home to 10,023 foot (3,055 m) tall volcanic mountain crater of Haleakala. It is nicknamed "the Valley Isle" for the narrow plain between Haleakala and the West Maui mountains. On the west side of the island are the resort areas of Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kihei, and Wailea. On the east side is the tiny village of Hana, reached by one of the most winding and beautiful roads in the world.
Kauai, the "Garden Isle," is home to several natural wonders, such as the Wailua River, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali Coast. Mount Waialeale is known as one of the rainiest spots in the world.
Molokai, the "Friendly Isle," is one of the least developed islands in the chain. It is home to Kalaupapa, the leper colony on Molokai's north shore that was the home of Father Damien.
Lanai was at one time completely owned by Dole Foods and was the largest pineapple plantation in the world; it is now home to several exclusive resorts.
Niihau is a privately owned island with an entirely Native Hawaiian population. Until very recently, the island was off limits to all but family members and invited guests of the owners. Tourism to the island is limited to Helicopter, ATV, and hunting excursions originating on Kauai.
Kahoolawe, which was once a former US Navy bombing range, remains uninhabited. Efforts are being made to rehabilitate the island, but cleanup efforts continue.
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 a few 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 true "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 balmy - 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 low-80s (27°C) in "winter" to the high 80s (31°C) in "summer". Ocean temperatures range between 77° (25°C) degrees in the winter to 82° (28°) in the summer. There is usually no more than a 20-degree Fahrenheit (12°C) 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, one or two pair of washable slacks/shorts, walking shoes, sandals and swim gear. Sunscreen is essential since Hawaii's close proximity to the Equator translates into very strong sun radiation. The suitcase space you save can be used to fill up on island purchases.
Foreign travelers entering Hawaii directly from another country are subject to the same entry requirements as for the United States in general. See the Get in section of the United States article.
As Hawaii is one of the 50 United States, flights to Hawaii from the U.S. Mainland are considered domestic flights. Therefore, it is not necessary for U.S. citizens or legal immigrants to show a passport (or any documentation of U.S. citizenship or immigration status) when entering Hawaii from the U.S. Mainland. It is also not necessary for foreign visitors arriving from the U.S. Mainland to show passports or visas (U.S. entry formalities are done at the port of entry). 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 port 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.
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. Bags are inspected by X-ray, so depending on the airport you leave from and the airline, be prepared to submit to as many as three checkpoints on the way to your Mainland flight: having your checked bags X-rayed in the ticket lobby, the TSA security checkpoint, and perhaps a separate carry-on bag inspection on the way to your gate.
Hawaii does not observe Daylight Saving Time. For reference, Hawaii is two time zones behind the US West Coast, thereby accounting for a three hour time difference during DST. Arizona, which also does not observe DST save for the Navajo Reservation, is always three hours ahead of Hawaii year-round.
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.
Jetstar is a budget Australian airline that recently started connecting Honolulu to several cities in Australia at very reasonable prices.
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. However, one fascinating way to experience Hawaii is by taking a cruise ship between the islands (see Get around: By boat).
Because Hawaii is an archipelago, air travel is, for the most part, compulsory for traveling within the state. Four inter-island airlines, Hawaiian Airlines , Island Air , Pacific Wings , and go!  (a subsidiary of Mesa Air) provide virtually all flights between the islands. 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 four 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 ship is called Pride of America.
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.
If you want to take your car to Hawaii, it will either need to be amphibious or freighted by ship, making this infeasible unless you plan a long-term stay in Hawaii. However, Hawaii is the only state that honors all other US state vehicle licenses until they expire.
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 (it can easily double your daily rate or more). Consider using a credit card with collision coverage. All U.S.-issued consumer Visa credit (but not debit) cards, many MasterCard cards and some American Express cards include secondary collision coverage; some American Express, Visa business and Diners Club cards offer primary coverage. Alternatively or additionally, prior to your trip, verify that both collision and liability (also called third-party) coverage from your own auto insurance company extends to rental cars. Car rental rates for 5 or 6 day periods are often the same as 7 day rentals. Use a credit card that includes medical and trip cancellation insurance benefits; if you cannot, consider buying trip insurance from your flight travel agent. View more on Hawaii car rental insurance . Also be aware some hotels may charge you for car parking, check with your hotel for parking fee before you book your car. International tourists with non US credit cards are not covered by the above. By clicking on your country of origin when obtaining a quote from the car rental company's website, often an inclusive quote with loss damage waiver and supplemental libability insurance is provided. Otherwise using a travel agent website within your country eg your local Expedia website or local car hire broker will often also include insurance in their quote.
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!
English is the main spoken language. 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:
a as in father
e as in red
i as in machine
o as in phone
u as in fruit
ai, ae roughly like the igh in high
au, ao roughly like the ow in cow
ei roughly the ay in hay
ou roughly like the o sound in boat.
The Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 characters: all 5 vowels plus 8 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w, and the apostrophe) which are generally pronounced in Hawaiian as they are in English, except that w can also take on the sound of v in certain words and the apostrophe is a glottal stop (which has the speaker curtailing the flow of air and resuming as though speaking two separate words).
Each vowel or diphthong 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:
aloha (ah-LOH-hah) (So you indirectly refer to "love" when you first see someone and when they have to go)
Mahalo. (mah-HAH-loh). (Although this word is found on fast food trash receptacles around the islands, it does not mean "trash".)
toward the mountains
toward the ocean
As mentioned above, standard English is understood in Hawaii, and Hawaii residents are generally very friendly. However, there are some subtle differences in word usage. When talking with Hawaii residents, be aware of the following differences in word usage to avoid miscommunications. Also see Respect below.
Always refer to the continental United States as "the Mainland" rather than "the States." For instance, say "Back on the Mainland..." instead of "Back in the States..." Hawaii has been one of "the States" since 1959, and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement notwithstanding (see Respect below), most Hawaii residents are proud to be part of the United States. Using the term "the States" (implying that Hawaii is somehow foreign) may be seen as naive at best and condescending at worst. However, don't be surprised if some local people are condescending towards you because you are from the mainland. The "local" vs. "mainland" difference is something local people are only too happy to point out.
Residents of Hawaii do not necessarily consider themselves "Hawaiian." For instance, when asking a Hawaii resident, "Are you a native Hawaiian?" don't be surprised if his reply is "No, I'm Japanese." On the Mainland, for example, a Californian means any person who lives in (or has ties to) California. However, in Hawaii, the terms "Hawaiian" or "native Hawaiian" are reserved to mean someone who is descended from the aboriginal people of Hawaii. This definition even appears in state laws. Because Hawaii is made of people of various ethnicities, someone whose family may have lived in Hawaii for generations may still not be Hawaiian by the above definition. To avoid misunderstanding, it is best to refer to Hawaii residents as such, or as Islanders, "locals", or kama'aina (as above), unless you know for a fact that they are of native Hawaiian descent.
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. Note that because Hawaii is an island and transporting goods to Hawaii is more difficult, the prices for most goods (with the exception of Macadamia nuts and pineapples) are more expensive.
Hawaii has a 4% general excise tax statewide on the gross income of all businesses, which is generally passed on the consumer as a de facto 4.166% "sales tax." (The slight increase because they're taxed for collecting this "tax"!) As of January 1, 2007, the City and County of Honolulu adds an additional half-percent on the excise tax rate, making the "sales tax" rate on Oahu 4.712%
Hiking / Eco Tours
Native Guide Hawaii  Tel: (808) 982-7575 Family friendly, educational, personal tours on the Big Island of Hawaii. Hilo native, Warren Costa, does a great job of interpreting the unique geological, cultural, and natural features of the island.
Helicopter / Air Tours
Girls Who Surf  Tel: (808) 772-4583 Lessons include equipment, instruction, and are conducted away from the crowds at Waikiki. The friendly, professionally certified staff caters to women, men, children, visitors, and residents on the island of Oahu.
Pearl Harbor Memorial Tours - Pearl Harbor and Island tours
Hawaii Inter-Island Tours - One Day Hawaii Inter island Tours
Big Island Day Tour - Day Tours from Oahu
Big Island of Hawaii Volcano Tour - Hawaii Kilauea Volcano Tours
Maui Road to Hana Tour - Guided and Narrated Tour of Maui's Road to Hana
Polynesian Cultural Center - Tours of the Polynesian Cultural Center
Polynesian Cultural Center - Polynesian Cultural Center Official Site
USS Missouri Battleship Tour - USS Missouri tours
Oahu North Shore Tour - Guided and Narrated Tour to the North Shore of Oahu
Swim with The Dolphins at Sea Life Park
Whale Watching, Dolphin Encounters and Snorkeling, Concerts, and Nightlife
Hawaii has a thriving scene of art, theatre, concerts, clubs, bars, and other events and entertainment.
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 Big Island. 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
Beer: 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 two brew pub / restaurants in the islands (one in Kailua Kona, the other in Hawaii Kai on Oahu).