Hawaii is one of the most unique and special places in the world.  Many people consider this to be a sacred land, and it is!  At Hawaii Wilderness we don’t consider ourselves a simple tourism program and try hard to avoid it.  We strive for meaningful experiences by exposing our students to real Hawaiian culture and awe inspiring places.  Our goal is to help students gain the same respect and appreciation for this place that we have.  Preparing students with a basic understanding of Hawaii’s land and people helps us achieve this goal.


  • At 2,400 miles from the nearest major landmass, Hawaii was one of the last places on earth to become populated.
  • Hawaii’s first inhabitants are believed to have arrived in sailing canoes from the Marquesas Islands, about 500 A.D.
  • About 1000 A.D., waves of Tahitians arrived and conquered the Marquesans.
  • The great explorer, Captain James Cook was the first European to discover Hawaii, in 1779.  He came ashore at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island.  The Hawaiians had a prophecy that the great god, Lono, would return from the South in a large white cloud during their Makahiki celebration of the harvest.  Cook arrived at just the right time, from just the right direction, with large white sails and was treated like a god.  He and his crew eventually wore out their welcome and Cook was killed in a minor scuffle.  From then on, Hawaii was on the charts and became a major port for European and American ships doing business in the Asian Pacific.
  • One of the young Hawaiians present at Cook’s death would go on to unite the islands under one rule, King Kamehameha the Great.  Kamehameha is probably the most revered and legendary person in Hawaiian history.
  • As a child, Kamehameha was hidden and protected in Waipi’o Valley.  He was trained to be a great warrior from a young age.  One of his skills was catching spears that were hurled at him in mid-air.  He grew up to be almost 7 feet tall and over 300 pounds.
  • One of Kamehameha’s rivals, Keoua, was returning home after a battle.  Mauna Loa suddenly erupted and Keoua lost half of his army.  The dying warriors’ footprints were encased in lava, which can still be seen in Volcanoes National Park.
  • Kamehameha ruled in peace from the unification until his death in 1819.
  • In 1820, the islands saw the arrival of both missionaries and sailors on Whaling ships, which naturally led to conflict.  Many Hawaiians embraced Christianity and the Whaling industry became obsolete.


  • Ancient Hawaiian extended families (ohana) were organized into pie shaped land divisions from the mountains to the sea, called ahupua’a.  Family members would produce necessary hardwoods, fruits and vegetables, and fish at each elevation and share. The spirit of growing and sharing food with ohana is very prevalent in Hawaiian culture today.
  • The ancient Hawaiians fulfilled their physical needs with a minimum of difficulty and were able to devote time to artistic pursuits like hula and surfing.  The rich culture and easy going lifestyle still holds true today.
  • In the late 1800′s, immigrants from China, Japan, the Philippines and Portugal came to Hawaii to work in sugar cane plantations.  Working along side each other, they developed a colorful creole language called “pidgin.”  Pidgin is still widely spoken today, and is very entertaining!
  • The Big Island is home to more raised Toyota Tacoma’s with oversized tires than anywhere else on the planet.  (This statistic is unofficial… but we love our big trucks!)


  • There are 4,000 islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago, and only eight major islands- Hawai’i (aka Big Island), Maui, Kaho’olawe, Lana’i, Moloka’i, O’ahu, Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau.  Each island is very unique.
  • Hawaii is known as “the endangered species capital of the world.”  It has more endangered and threatened species than all other U.S. states combined.
  • The Big Island has two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world.
  • Mauna Loa is the tallest mountain on earth, when measured from the ocean floor.
  • Mauna Kea receives several inches of snow per year (and is excellent for snow sledding!)
  • A new Hawaiian island, named Lo’ihi, is currently forming.  It’s 3,000 ft. underwater, so give it a few thousand years to pop up.
  • Since the islands are so isolated, all life arrived by way of 3 W’s- waves, wings, and wind.  The first settlers carefully brought “canoe plants” with them that were critical to their survival.  Hawaiian plants and animals were slow to develop and have evolved into very unique species.


  • Hawaiians were some of the first in the world to use aquaculture.  They built rock walls across shallow bays.  The walls had small holes allowing small fish to swim in and out.  As the fish continued feeding they grew too large to swim out and were trapped.
  • As the geologically youngest Hawaiian island, the Big Island has the most rugged and interesting underwater topography.
  • In Kona, there are no rivers flowing to the ocean and very little sand and sediment, which makes the reefs pristine and the snorkeling superb!
  • Humpback Whales migrate from Alaska to warm Hawaiian waters to breed every November through May.  They can often be seen spouting and frolicking as close as 100 yards from the beach.

For further reading:

  • A Concise History of the Hawaiian Islands, Dr. Phil Barnes- A great overview of Hawaii’s ancient and modern history, which can be read in a few hours.
  • Ancient Hawai’i, Herb Kane- A beautifully illustrated account of culture, religion, and everyday life in Hawaii before contact with Western civilization.  Kane is one of Hawaii’s most renowned artist/historians.
  • Kamehameha the Great, Julie Williams- An easy and entertaining read about the most revered and influential Hawaiian of all time.

Interested in purchasing these books?  Please support our local economy by buying from .  They’re one of the very few “Hawaiiana” bookstores on the island, and we’d like to keep them in business!

Waimanu Valley is one of the most remote and beautiful valleys anywhere. Have a look at this incredible place!

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