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Hawaii (island)

Nickname: The Big Island
Landsat mosaic, 1999–2001.
Area 4,028 sq mi (10,430 km2)
Area rank 1st, largest Hawaiian Island
Highest elevation 13,803 ft (4,207.2 m)
Highest point Mauna Kea
United States
Flower Red Pua Lehua ('Ohi'a blossom)[1]
Color ʻUlaʻula (red)
Population 185,079 (as of 2010)
Density 46 /sq mi (17.8 /km2)

Hawaiʻi, also called the Island of Hawaiʻi,[2] the Big Island or Hawaiʻi Island ( or ; Hawaiian: or ), is an island located in the U.S. state of Hawaii. It is the largest and the southeastern-most of the Hawaiian islands, a chain of volcanic islands in the North Pacific Ocean. With an area of 4,028 square miles (10,430 km2), it is larger than all of the other islands in the archipelago combined and is the largest island in the United States. The island is often referred to as the "Big Island" to reduce confusion between the island and the state. It is coterminous with Hawaiʻi County and includes the Hilo Micropolitan Statistical Area.

As of the 2010 Census the population was 185,079.[3] The county seat and largest city is Hilo. There are no incorporated cities in Hawaiʻi County (see Hawaii Counties).


  • History 1
  • Geology and geography 2
    • Volcanism 2.1
    • The Great Crack 2.2
    • The Hilina Slump 2.3
    • Earthquakes and tsunamis 2.4
    • National protected areas 2.5
    • Adjacent counties 2.6
  • Demographics 3
  • Government and infrastructure 4
    • County government 4.1
    • State government 4.2
  • Economy 5
    • Top employers 5.1
  • Education 6
  • Transportation 7
    • Roads 7.1
    • Airports 7.2
    • Seaports 7.3
  • Places of interest 8
  • Maps 9
  • Communities 10
    • Census-designated places 10.1
    • Unincorporated communities 10.2
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


James Kealoha Beach, "4-Mile Beach", in Hilo

Hawaiʻi is said to have been named for Hawaiʻiloa, the legendary Polynesian navigator who first discovered it. Other accounts attribute the name to the legendary realm of Hawaiki, a place from which the Polynesian people are said to have originated (see also Manua), the place where they go in the afterlife, the realm of the gods and goddesses. Captain James Cook, the English explorer and navigator who was the captain of the first European expedition that discovered the Hawaiian Islands (obviously Polynesians had discovered them long before), called them the "Sandwich Islands" after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich.[4] Cook was killed on the Big Island at Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779, in a melee which followed the theft of a ship's boat.[5]

Hawaiʻi was the home island of Paiʻea Kamehameha, later known as Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha united most of the Hawaiian islands under his rule in 1795, after several years of war, and gave the kingdom and the island chain the name of his native island.

Geology and geography

Aerial view, 3D computer-generated image

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 5,086 square miles (13,170 km2), of which 4,028 square miles (10,430 km2) is land and 1,058 square miles (2,740 km2) (20.8%) is water.[6] The county's land area comprises 62.7 percent of the state's land area. It is the highest percentage by any county in the United States. (Delaware's Sussex County comes in second at 48.0 percent, while Rhode Island's Providence County is third at 39.55 percent.)

In greatest dimension, the island is 93 miles (150 km) across and has a land area of 4,028 square miles (10,430 km2)[7] comprising 62% of the Hawaiian Islands' land area. Measured from its sea floor base to its highest peak, Mauna Kea is the world's tallest mountain, taller than Mount Everest is, with Everest being above sea level.[8]


The five shield volcanoes
Steam plume as Kīlauea red lava enters the ocean at three Waikupanaha and one Ki lava ocean entries. Some surface lava is seen too. The image was taken on April 16, 2008.

The Island of Hawaiʻi is built from five separate shield volcanoes that erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. These are (from oldest to youngest):

Geological evidence from exposures of old surfaces on the south and west flanks of Mauna Loa led to the proposal that two ancient volcanic shields (named Ninole and Kulani) were all but buried by the younger Mauna Loa.[9] Geologists now consider these "outcrops" to be part of the earlier building of Mauna Loa. Another volcano which has already disappeared below the surface of the ocean is Māhukona.

Because Mauna Loa and Kīlauea are active volcanoes, the island of Hawaii is still growing. Between January 1983 and September 2002, lava flows added 543 acres (220 ha) to the island. Lava flowing from Kīlauea has destroyed several towns, including Kapoho in 1960, and Kalapana and Kaimu in 1990. In 1987 lava filled in Queen's Bath, a large, L-shaped, freshwater pool in the Kalapana area.

The southmost point in the 50 States of the United States, Ka Lae, is on Hawaii. The nearest landfall to the south is in the Line Islands. To the north of the Island of Hawaii is the Island of Maui, whose Haleakala volcano is visible from Hawaii across the Alenuihaha Channel.

Approximately 35 km (22 mi) southeast of Hawaii lies the undersea volcano known as Loihi. Loihi is an erupting seamount that now reaches approximately 3,200 feet (980 m) below the surface of the ocean. Continued activity at current rates from Loihi will likely cause it to break the surface of the ocean sometime from 10,000 to 100,000 years from now.

The Great Crack

Photo showing clouds of steam surrounding lava that is partly black and partly glowing orange
Lava entering the Pacific at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in April 2005, increasing the size of the island.

The Great Crack is an eight-mile-long, 60 feet (18 m) wide and 60 feet (18 m) deep fissure in the island, in the district of Kau. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), The Great Crack is the result of crustal dilation from magmatic intrusions into the southwest rift zone of Kilauea.[10] While neither the earthquake of 1868 nor that of 1975 caused a measurable change in The Great Crack, lava welled out of the lower 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) of the Great Crack in 1823.[10]

The visitor can find trails, rock walls, and archaeological sites from as old as the 12th century around the Great Crack. Approximately 1,951 acres (7.90 km2) of private land were purchased during the Presidency of Bill Clinton, specifically to protect various artifacts in this area as well as the habitat of local wildlife.

The Hilina Slump

Photo of coastline with 10 people standing or walking on the beach and palm trees in background
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park

The Hilina Slump is a 4,760 cubic miles (19,800 km3) chunk of the south slope of the Kīlauea volcano which is slipping away from the island. Between 1990 and 1993, Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements showed a southward displacement of about 10 centimeters (four inches) per year.[11] Undersea measurements show that a "bench" has formed a buttress and that this buttress may tend to reduce the likelihood of future catastrophic detachment.[12][13]

Earthquakes and tsunamis

Big Island Beach
Anaeho'omalu Beach Panorama

On April 2, 1868, an earthquake with a magnitude estimated between 7.25 and 7.9 on the Richter scale rocked the southeast coast of Hawaii. This was the most destructive earthquake in the recorded history of Hawaii.[14] It triggered a landslide on Mauna Loa, five miles (eight kilometers) north of Pahala, killing 31 people. A tsunami claimed 46 more lives. The villages of Punaluu, Ninole, Kawaa, Honuapo, and Keauhou Landing were severely damaged. The tsunami reportedly rolled over the tops of the coconut trees up to 60 feet (18 m) high, and it reached inland a distance of a quarter of a mile in some places.[15]

On November 29, 1975, a 37-mile (60 km) wide section of the Hilina Slump dropped 11.5 feet (3.7 meters) and slid 26 feet (7.9 m) toward the ocean. This movement caused a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and a 48 feet (10 m) high tsunami. Oceanfront property was washed off its foundations in Punaluu. Two deaths were reported at Halape, and 19 other people were injured.

The island suffered tsunami damage from earthquakes in Alaska on April 1, 1946, and in Chile on May 23, 1960. Downtown Hilo was severely damaged by both tsunamis, with many lives lost. Just north of Hilo, Laupahoehoe lost 16 schoolchildren and five teachers in the tsunami of 1946.

In March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the east coast of Japan again created a tsunami that caused significant damage in Hawaii. The estimated damage to public buildings alone was about three million dollars.[16] In the Kona area this tsunami washed a house into Kealakekua Bay, destroyed a yacht club and tour boat offices in Keauhou Bay, caused extensive damage in Kailua Kona, flooded the ground floor of the King Kamehameha Hotel,[17] and permanently closed the Kona Village Resort.

National protected areas

Lehua blossoms, Hawaiʻi

Adjacent counties


As of the census[22] of 2010, the island had a resident population of 185,079. There were 64,382 households in the county. The population density was 17.7/km² (45.9/mi²). There were 82,324 housing units at an average density of 8/km² (20/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 34.5% White, 0.7% African American, 22.6% Asian, 12.4% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 29.2% from two or more races; 11.8% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.

There were 64,382 households out of which 32.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.60% were married couples living together, 13.20% had a woman whose husband did not live with her, and 30.40% were non-families. 23.10% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.75 and the average family size was 3.24.

The age distribution was 26.10% under 18, 8.20% from 18 to 24, 26.20% from 25 to 44, 26.00% from 45 to 64, and 13.50% who were 65 or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 100 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98 males.

Downtown Kona, Hawaii
Downtown Hilo, Hawaii

Government and infrastructure

County government

Hawaii County, Hawaii, encompasses the entire island of Hawaii. Executive authority is vested in the Mayor of Hawaii County who is elected for a four-year term. Since 2004, the election by the voters has been on a non-partisan basis. In 2008, Billy Kenoi was elected Mayor, succeeding Harry Kim who had served a two-term limit.[23] Legislative authority is vested in a nine-member County Council. Each member represents a geographical region of the island, which closely correlates to one of the nine tax map districts of Hawaiʻi County. Members of the County Council are elected on a non-partisan basis to two-year terms, with the latest election occurring in November 2010.

Administrative districts were originally based on the traditional land divisions called Moku of Ancient Hawaii. Some of the more heavily populated districts have since been split into North and South districts to make them more comparable on a population basis.

The number following each district is the Tax Map Key (TMK) number, used to locate state property information. They are assigned in a counter-clockwise order beginning on the eastern side of the island.[24]
Nr. District Area
moku Map
1 Puna 499.45 31335 Puna District subdivision of Hawaii County
2 South Hilo 394.38 47386 Hilo
3 North Hilo 370.65 1720 Hilo
4 Hāmākua 580.50 6108 Hāmākua
5 North Kohala 132.92 6038 Kohala
6 South Kohala 351.72 13131 Kohala
7 North Kona 489.01 28543 Kona
8 South Kona 335.38 8589 Kona
9 Kaʻū 922.22 5827 Kaʻū
  Hawaiʻi County 4028.02 148677 6 moku

County council districts do not directly match the property tax districts because of the variation in the population density of voters in urban areas to rural areas; Hilo & Kailua (Kailua-Kona) towns are densely populated areas, while other districts such as Kaʻū, Puna, Hāmakua, and North & South Kohala are more sparsely populated.[25]

Several government functions are administered at the county level that are at the state or municipal level in other states. For example, the county has its own office of liquor control.[26]

State government

Hawaii Department of Public Safety previously operated the Kulani Correctional Facility in Hawaii County, on the Island of Hawaii.[27] In 2009, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety announced that Kulani Correctional Facility would close.[28]


Kohala Coast Beach on the Big Island
Aerial view of Cyanotech Corp. microalgae ponds at NELHA.

Sugarcane was the backbone of Hawaiʻi Island's economy for more than a century. In the mid-twentieth century, sugar plantations began to downsize and in 1996, the last plantation closed.

Most of Hawaiʻi Island's economy is based on tourism, centered primarily in resort areas on the western coast of the island in the North Kona and South Kohala districts. More recently, Hawaiʻi Island has become a focus for sustainable tourism.

Diversified agriculture is a growing sector of the economy. Major crops include Macadamia nuts, papaya, flowers, tropical and temperate vegetables, and coffee beans. Only coffee grown in the Kona District of this island may be branded Kona coffee. The island's orchid agriculture is the largest in the state, and resulted in the unofficial nickname "The Orchid Isle." The island is home to one of the United States' largest cattle ranches: Parker Ranch, on 175,000 acres (708 km2) in Waimea. Hawaiʻi is also known for astronomy, and numerous telescopes are operated on the summit of Mauna Kea, where atmospheric clarity is excellent and there is little light pollution.

  • Hawaii (island) at DMOZ
  • Hawaii State overview
  • The West Hawaii Today
  • Hawaii Tribune-Herald – East Hawaiʻi Newspaper
  • Big Island Video News – video news for Hawaiʻi island
  • Hawaii Weather Today – Glenn's daily Weather Narrative
  • Pacific Disaster Center – The Source for Daily Pacific Disaster News
  • – Hilina Slump information from Hawai'i Volcanoes Observatory
  • Hawaii Scenic Byways Information
  • websiteHawaii CountyOfficial
  • Volcanoes National Park
  • Economic background from the Revision of the Hawaii County General Plan
  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

External links

  1. ^ "Hawaii Island Flower - Red Pua Lehua ('Ohi'a blossom)". State Symbols USA. July 31, 2012. Retrieved August 3, 2012. 
  2. ^ According to the Geographic Names Information System, Island of Hawaiʻi is the preferred name, see iʻU.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Island of Hawai.
  3. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  4. ^ Jarves, James Jackson (1843). History of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands. Tappa et Dennet. p. 1. 
  5. ^ "History - Captain James Cook". BBC. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  6. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990".  
  7. ^ "Table 5.08 – Land Area of Islands: 2000" (PDF). State of Hawaii Data Book. State of Hawaii. 2004. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  8. ^ Highest Mountain In The World
  9. ^ MacDonald, G. A.; Abbott, A. T. (1970). Volcanoes in the Sea. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.  
  10. ^ a b Are We Breaking Away – The Great Crack, USGS, July 16, 1998.
  11. ^ Owen, Susan; Segal, Paul; Freymueller, Jeff; et al. (1995). "Rapid Deformation of the South Flank of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii".  
  12. ^ Morgan, J. K.; Moore, G. F.; Clague, D. A. (2003). "Slope failure and volcanic spreading along the submarine south flank of Kilauea volcano, Hawaii".  
  13. ^ "Hawaiian Landslides – Slope failure on Kilauea's submarine south flank (Subsection)".  
  14. ^ Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (26 October 2006) "Destructive Earthquakes in Hawai`i County Since 1868". Retrieved 21 Mar 2012
  15. ^ Walter C. Dudley (1998). Tsunami! (second ed.). University of Hawaii Press. pp. 222–224.  
  16. ^ Nakaso, Dan (14 March 2011) "Tsunami damage estimate for Hawaii now tens of millions". Star Advertiser, Retrieved 15 Mar 2011
  17. ^ "King Kamehameha Hotel is new and improved after last year's tsunami". KHON2. Retrieved 1 April 2012. 
  18. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  22. ^ "American FactFinder".  
  23. ^ "Office of the Mayor". official web site. County of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  24. ^ Hawaii County: 2000
  25. ^ i County Council"ʻ"Hawai. official web site. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  26. ^ "Office of Liquor Control". Hawaii County web site. Retrieved December 25, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Kulani Correctional Facility." Hawaii Department of Public Safety. Retrieved on September 30, 2010.
  28. ^ "Closure of Kulani Saves $2.8M Annually; Facility to Help At-Risk Youth." Hawaii Department of Public Safety. July 2009. Retrieved on September 30, 2010.
  29. ^ University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) (2012-05-18). "Economic Impact of the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii Authority Tenants on the State of Hawaii". Honolulu, HI:  
  30. ^ County of Hawaii CAFR
  31. ^ The maps in the This Week Big Island Magazine
  32. ^ Hele-On Bus website retrieved 2009-045-08
  33. ^ Hawaii January 29, 2014


See also

Unincorporated communities

Hawaii from space, January 26, 2014[33]

Census-designated places

The island was traditionally divided into districts called moku. The names of the districts are (counter-clockwise, from the southeast): Puna, Hilo, Hāmākua, Kohala, Kona, and Kaʻū. The county government subdivides some of these to form elective districts of the county council. There are no incorporated municipalities on the island.



Green turtle lying on an old lava flow; the background shows a Hawaiian temple, known as a "heiau" in the Hawaiian language.
ʻAkaka Falls on Kolekole Stream

Places of interest

Major commercial ports are Hilo on the East side and Kawaihae on the West side of the island. Cruise ships often stop at Kailua-Kona.


There is also:

Two commercial airports serve Hawaiʻi Island:


Rental car offices are at the international airports. Taxi service is also available. Island-wide bus service is provided by the "Hele-On Bus".[32]

  • Mamalahoa Kona Heritage Center
  • Royal Footsteps Along the Kona Coast
  • Ka'u Scenic Byway – The Slopes of Mauna Loa

There are presently three Hawaii Scenic Byways on the island of Hawaii:

There are also State highways 270 (KawaihaeHawi) and 180 (the "Kona coffee road", from Honalo to State highway 190), Saddle Road (Hilo to Waimea, passing between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea), South Point Road (Highway 11 to South Point), etc.

Two roads connect the two major cities, Hilo on the east coast and Kailua-Kona on the west coast of the island:[31]


Bus in Hilo, Hawaii



# Employer # of Employees
1 State of Hawaii 8,115
2 Hawaii County 2,745
3 United States Government 1,364
4 Hilton Waikoloa Village 984
5 Wal-Mart 852
6 KTA Super Stores 800
7 Mauna Loa Resort 685
8 The Fairmont Orchid 577
9 Four Seasons Resort Hualalai 562
10 Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel 487

According to the County's 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[30] the top employers in the county are:

Top employers


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