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Nicknames of the Hawaiian Islands

Article by Benjamin Herrick

If you hear someone utter the word “Hawaii,” no doubt images of crystal clear waters, clean white sand beaches, and fantastic Luaus flash before your eyes. Every Hawaiian island certainly deserves such associations, but each island has a personality of its own. In fact, locals affectionately refer to the various islands with a series of semi-official nick-names that encompass some of the unique beauty specific to each Island. Let’s go through the islands by nickname and see if we can’t figure out which island they each describe.

The Gathering Place:

Waikiki Beach

This Island has the largest population of any of the Hawaiian Islands. Famous the world over for places like Waikiki beach and Pearl Harbor, the Gathering Place is indeed one of the most popular islands. Host to the NFL Pro-Bowl, the Gathering Place’s Aloha Stadium is home to some of the most lively tailgating anywhere. On Sundays when there are no games, the tailgating takes a more commercial twist as venders move in and set up the states largest swap meet. The University of Hawaii Warriors go to class on this Island, but if they want to see Lava they are going to have to fly on over to our next Island.

The Big Island:

With the most recognizable name, the Big Island might be the easiest island to figure out, but it’s certainly not the most specialized. In fact, the various climates on the big island range from deserts to snow, prairies to lava fields. If we were recounting the islands in purely environmental terms, any of the island descriptions could be considered as describing the big island. Current home of the Goddess Pele, the Big Island certainly shows signs of her activity. It is home to Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the world when measured from its base at the ocean floor to the top of its peak. Some of the most powerful land based telescopes in the world can be found atop mountains on this island, but if you wish to set your sites on something more down to earth you might want set your targets on our next island.

The Target Isle:

Kahoolawe Bomb Crater

If you want to visit this island, look into getting certified for bomb disposal or tropical plant propagation. The Target Island was shelled by the US military for years as a testing site for various ordinances. Today, conservationists, government officials, volunteers and students across the state are working to return the target island to its pre-bombardment condition. By introducing native Hawaiian plants, the target isle may soon need a nick-name change, like the next island on our list.

The Pineapple Island/The Secluded Island:

Formerly renowned as a major pineapple exporter, this island’s name has changed over the years as pineapple production dwindled. 98% of the island is owned by Castle and Cooke, (Dole) with the remaining two percent owned by the state of Hawaii. Only two luxury hotels are located on the Secluded Island, which made it a bit easier on the wallet of Mr. Bill Gates when he rented the entire island (every room of every hotel room, every golf course etc.) for his marriage to Melinda French in 1994. The “Garden of the Gods” is located on the northern part of the island, and is home to some bizarre natural rock formations that admittedly don’t match the lushness of our next Island’s “Gardens.”

The Garden Isle:


This beautiful island is considered by many locals to be the most scenic and lush of Hawaii’s better known islands. The garden isle is home to Waimea Canyon, which you can easy to picture if you think of a more tropical, smaller grand canyon. It’s worth mentioning –since this is the garden island after all– that the mokihana (green berry) is the designated official flower. The most geologically mature of Hawaii’s Islands; the Garden Isle enjoys beautiful sandy beaches on fifty percent of its 111 mile long coast. At five million years old the Garden Isle is tied for the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, with our next location.

The Forbidden Isle:

The smallest of the Hawaiian Islands, the 2009 census recognized only 120 residents. The forbidden island was purchased by Elizabeth Sinclair in 1864, and is now owned by her descendents, the Robinson family. If you wish to explore this unique island, make friends with its owners or residents, because admittance here is only granted after being invited. The Forbidden Island is home to several native Hawaiian plants and animals that can only be found there. The neighboring small islands, simply called the north-west Hawaiian Islands, are considered bird sanctuaries. Speaking of sanctuary, our next island acted as a safe haven of sorts for not birds but people.

The Friendly Isle:

Saint Damien

Sanctuary for early Hawaiians suffering from Hansen’s disease, the friendly island is perhaps most well known for being home to Hawaii’s only Saint. Saint Damien, or Father Damien as he was known during his time, spent the better part of his life at the Kalaupapa leper colony, easing the suffering of unfortunate individuals suffering from this devastating condition. The Friendly Island is perhaps so named because of its population being comprised of a majority native Hawaiians. On the Friendly Isle, no building is taller than the tallest palm tree, and there isn’t even one traffic light to be found. The world’s highest sea cliffs and the longest waterfall in Hawaii are both located here, but Hawaii’s highest waterfall is going to be found on our next island.

The Valley Isle:

Home to the second highest waterfall in the United States, the Valley Isle is the site of some of Hawaii’s most beautiful mountain ridges. The world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala, is located on the Valley Isle. It also has the most square miles worth of swimmable beach than any of the Hawaiian Islands. The Valley Isle is a lock year in and year out as Condé Nast Traveler Magazine’s worlds best island, as it is going on over a decade holding that distinction. The Road to Hana is one of the most scenic drives anywhere, and has hundreds or turns as it winds its way through the Valley Isle’s scenicâ• ¦ Valleys.

Were you able to figure out which islands are which? If not here they are from top to bottom:

Oahu, The Big Island of Hawaii, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Kauai, Niihau, Molokai, Maui.

If you want to explore these islands yourself get in touch with us at Discover Hawaii Tours, who will be more than happy to assist you with all your island discovering needs.

About the Author

2010 University of Hawaii Graduate and current Staff Writer for Discover Hawaii Tours.

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