Helicopter flying over the Waimea Canyon in Kauai's lush scenery

Hawaiian Islands: Nicknames Explained

Along with their extremely interesting histories, there are many different stories and legends behind the nicknames of the Hawaiian Islands.

The people of Hawaii have given the islands many nicknames over the years. Each one tells a unique story about the island or its people and has meaning worth exploring.

In this blog post, we will explore these nicknames and what they mean. From largest to smallest in size, below are the Hawaiian Islands’ nicknames and their explanations.

1. Hawaiʻi Island — “The Big Island”

Hawaii Island, commonly known as “The Big Island,” is the largest island in the Hawaiian chain. It is also the youngest and most volcanically active of the islands. 

The Big Island is home to five volcanoes, two of which are still active.

The Big Island is also home to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a popular tourist destination. The park is home to the two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano and has been erupting consistently since 1983. The lava from Kilauea has created a new landmass that is now about 14 miles long and 3 miles wide.

Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano. It last erupted in 1984 and is expected to erupt again in the next few years.

Hawaii Island is also home to Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that rises to a height of over 13,000 feet. The summit of Mauna Kea is one of the best places in the world for stargazing.

Fun fact: Hawaii island is still growing! The lava from the Kilauea volcano is slowly adding new land to the island.

The Big Island is a popular spot for those who want to experience the beauty of nature. From its active volcanoes to its black sand beaches and gorgeous waterfalls, there is something for everyone on this island!

See also: Snorkeling Two Step Beach At Honaunau Bay

Me at Waipio Valley Lookout on The Big Island of Hawaii with a view of the mountains and a black sand beach
Waipio Valley Lookout – Big Island

2. Maui — “The Valley Isle”

Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is often called “The Valley Isle.” Two shield volcanoes make up Maui: Haleakala to the east and Mauna Kahalawai (West Maui Mountains) to the west. The wide valley between these two volcanoes is how Maui got its nickname.

This valley is a popular spot for hiking and camping and is also home to many waterfalls and streams.

Haleakala is the world’s largest dormant volcano and is a popular tourist destination for those who want to watch the sunrise or sunset. Haleakala Park offers some of the most breathtaking views of Hawaii. If you’re looking for an adventure, Haleakala is your place.

The West Maui Mountains are a popular spot for hiking and camping as well, and they too contain many waterfalls and streams to explore. If you’re looking for a more relaxed vacation, the West Maui Mountains are the perfect place to peacefully enjoy the beauty of Maui.

See also: Big Island vs Maui: Which one to choose?

Little Beach Maui

Me and Cody at Waimoku Falls on the Island of Maui with a view of the 400 foot waterfall
Waimoku Falls

3. Oʻahu — “The Gathering Place”

Oahu is often called “The Gathering Place” because it is the most populous island in Hawaii. This island is also the home to Honolulu, the state capital.

While not the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is where most Hawaii-bound visitors spend the majority of their time. If you’re looking for an action-packed vacation, this is the island for you. There are plenty of activities and attractions to keep you busy, including hiking, surfing, snorkeling, shopping, etc.

Oahu is also where the majority of the state’s population resides. According to the 2020 Census, just over 70% of the people living in Hawaii live on Oahu. This is mainly because Honolulu, the state capital and largest city in Hawaii, is located here. Honolulu offers more job opportunities and a more urban lifestyle than the other islands.

See also: The Best Luau in Oahu: A Complete Guide

Me in a yellow dress at Kualoa Regional Park with a view of Chinaman's Hat on Oahu
Chinamans Hat Oahu

See Also: 71 Awesome Things to Do on Oahu With Your Family

4. Kauaʻi — “The Garden Isle”

Kauai is the oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is often called “The Garden Isle” because of its lush green landscape and undeveloped mountain ranges. About 97% of Kauai is uninhabited, allowing its vegetation to thrive and grow expansively.

Kauai is a popular spot for nature lovers and those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. This allows for plenty of outdoorsy activities to keep you busy.

Kauai is also home to the Napali Coast, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii. The Napali Coast is a stretch of coastline with cliffs that rise up to 4,000 feet.

Fun Fact: Kauai has about 43 miles of beach line, which is the most out of any Hawaiian island!

Kauai is home to Mount Waiʻaleʻale, one of the wettest spots on earth. The mountaintop receives an average of 450 inches of rain per year!

Kauai is also home to many different types of plants and flowers that are not found anywhere else in the world, solidifying its nickname of “The Garden Isle”.

See also: Queen’s Bath Kauai

Cody watching the sunset at Poipu Beach on the island of Kauai
Poipu Beach Sunset

5. Molokaʻi — “The Friendly Isle”

Molokai is often called “The Friendly Isle” because of its small-town, laid-back feel and hospitable locals. It’s the fifth-largest island in Hawaii and home to about 7,500 people.

Molokai is also home to the Kalaupapa Peninsula, a National Historical Park. 

The Kalaupapa Peninsula is an isolated spot once used as a leper colony. Today, people can visit the Kalaupapa Peninsula on a guided tour through muleride.com.

Molokai is also home to the world’s tallest sea cliffs, the Moana Loa Sea Cliffs. These cliffs are over 3,000 feet tall and offer stunning views of the coastline and ocean.

Birds eye view of the Molokai Coastline with gorgeous blue water and lush scenery

6. Lānaʻi — “The Pineapple Isle”

Lanai is the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii. It is often called “The Pineapple Isle” because it used to be covered in pineapple plantations.

Lanai used to produce about 75% of the world’s pineapples.

It’s only about 140 square miles, making it about the same size as Manhattan.

Today, Lanai is home to two resorts, the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and Hotel Lanai. The island is also home to one of the world’s largest privately-owned wildlife preserves, the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.

The island has many activities to keep you busy, including hiking, biking, and horseback riding. You can also tour the pineapple plantations or visit the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.

Fun Fact: Lanai was once owned by James Dole, the founder of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. Today, Lanai is owned by billionaire Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle.

See cliffs at Lanai Island with gorgeous blue water

7. Ni’ihau — “The Forbidden Isle”

Niihau is the least populated of the Hawaiian Islands. It is often called “The Forbidden Isle” because it was once off-limits to outsiders. Niihau is only about 18 miles long and 5 miles wide.

Niihau has mostly been privately owned since 1864 by the Robinson family, and only about 200 people live on the island. The majority of the residents are Native Hawaiian.

If you wanted to visit the island, you would need to book a tour directly through the owners. It comes at a hefty price, but it is all worth it once you experience the beauty of this place.

Aerial view of Kauai and Nihau, in Hawaii
Aerial view of Kauai and Niihau

8. Kaho’olawe — “The Target Isle”

Kahoolawe is the smallest of the eight major Hawaiian Islands. It’s about 12 miles long and uninhabited. It is often called “The Target Isle” because it was used as a bombing range by the US military during World War II.

After years of environmental activism, the US Navy finally returned Kahoolawe to the state of Hawaii. Since then, there has been a huge effort to clean up the island and remove all the explosives.

Bird's eye view of Kahoolawe Island

The Wrap Up

The Hawaiian Islands are some of the most beautiful in the world, and their nicknames add to their flair and charm. 

If you’re looking for a nickname for the entire state of Hawaii, it’s sometimes referred to as “The Aloha State.

Aloha can be used to mean “hello”, “goodbye”, “love”, “compassion”, “mercy”, and more.

The spirit of aloha is about being kind and respectful to others, living in harmony with nature, and taking care of the ohana. It’s no wonder that this word has been used as part of the official state nickname!

Hawaii is a truly unique place with something for everyone. From its nicknames to its natural beauty, there is no other place quite like it in the world.

Mahalo for reading our post. Until next time, Aloha!


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