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The Big Island
Landsat mosaic, 1999–2001.
Landsat mosaic, 1999–2001.
Location in the state of Hawaii.
Location in the state of Hawaii.
Location 19°34′N 155°30′W / 19.567°N 155.5°W / 19.567; -155.5
Area 4,028.0 sq. mi. (10,432.5 km²)
Rank 1st, largest Hawaiian Island
Highest point Mauna Kea
  13,796 ft. (4,205 m)
Population 148,677 (as of 2000)
Density 37/sq mi (14/km²)
Official Insignia
Flower ʻŌhiʻa lehua
Color ʻUlaʻula (red)
Aerial view, 3D computer generated image

The Island of Hawaiʻi, also called the Big Island or Hawaiʻi Island (pronounced /həˈwaɪ.i/ in English and [həˈwɐiʔi] or [həˈvɐiʔi] in Hawaiian), is a volcanic island (the eastern-most in the Hawaiian islands chain) in the North Pacific Ocean. With an area of 4,028 square miles (10,432 km²), it is larger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined and is the largest island in the United States.

Hawaiʻi is said to have been named for Hawaiʻiloa, a Polynesian navigator who first discovered it. However, other accounts attribute the name to the legendary land or realm of Hawaiki, a place from which the Polynesians originated (see also Manua), the place where they go in the afterlife, the realm of the gods.

The Island of Hawaiʻi is administered as the County of Hawaiʻi within the state of Hawaii. The county seat is Hilo.



The Island of Hawaiʻi,[1] also called the "Big Island" or "Hawaiʻi Island" (pronounced /həˈwaɪ.i/ in English and [həˈwɐiʔi] or [həˈvɐiʔi] in Hawaiian), is a volcanic island in the U.S. State of Hawaii in the North Pacific Ocean. With an area of 4,028 square miles (10,432 km²), it is larger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined and is the largest island in the United States.

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 land or realm of Hawaiki, a place from which the Polynesians originated (see also Manua), the place where they go in the afterlife, the realm of the gods. Captain James Cook, who called them the "Sandwich isles", was killed on the island at Kealakekua Bay. Hawaiʻi was the home island of Pai`ea Kamehameha, called Kamehameha I Kamehameha the Great, who by 1795 united most of the Hawaiian Islands under his rule after several years of conquest. He gave his Kingdom of Hawaii the name of his native island, and the islands now are known collectively as "Hawaiian Islands". The Island of Hawaiʻi is administered as the County of Hawaiʻi. The county seat is Hilo.

Geology and geography



The five shield volcanoes

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.[2] Geologists now consider these "outcrops" to be part of the earlier building of Mauna Loa.

In greatest dimension, the island is 93 miles (150 km) across and has a land area of 4,028.0 square miles (10,432.5 km²),[3] representing 62% of the total land area of the Hawaiian Islands. Measured from its base at the sea floor, to its highest peak, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, even taller than Mount Everest, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Traditionally, Hawaiʻi is known as the "Big Island" because it is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands and also to ease confusion between Hawaiʻi Island and the state.

Because Mauna Loa and Kīlauea are active volcanoes, the island of Hawaiʻi is still growing. Between January 1983 and September 2002, 543 acres (220 ha) of land were added to the island by lava flows from Kīlauea volcano extending the coastline seaward. Several towns have been destroyed by Kīlauea lava flows in modern times: Kapoho (1960), Kalapana (1990), and Kaimū (1990). A large fresh water pool, in a deep L-shaped crack in the Kalapana area,known as Queen's Bath, was filled in by lava in 1987.

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 04/16/08.

Hawaiʻi is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago, and contains the southernmost point in the United States, (Ka Lae). The nearest landfall to the south would be in the Line Islands. To the north is the island of Maui, where East Maui Volcano (Haleakalā) is visible across the Alenuihāhā Channel.

18 miles (29 kilometers) off Hawaiʻi Island's southeast coast is the undersea volcano known as ʻihi. Lōʻihi is an actively erupting seamount that lies 3,200 feet (975 m) below the surface of the ocean. It is thought that continued volcanic activity from Lōʻihi will cause the volcano to eventually breach sea level and later attach at the surface onto Kīlauea, adding even more land to Hawaiʻi's surface area. This "event" is presently predicted for a date several tens of thousands of years in the future.

The Great Crack

The Great Crack is an 8-mile (13 km) long, 60 feet (18 m) wide and 60 feet (18 m) deep fissure in the island, in the district of Kaʻū. The Great Crack is actually the "result of crustal dilation from magmatic intrusions into the [southwest] rift zone and not from the seaward movement of the south flank. There is no evidence that the Great Crack is getting bigger at this time or that the island is tearing apart along this seam."[4] Furthermore, neither the 1868 nor the 1975 earthquakes caused measurable change in The Great Crack.[4]

Rifts like the Great Crack are often the sites of volcanic eruptions, and in 1823 lava welled out of the lower 10 km (6 mi) of the Great Crack.[4]

Lava enters the Pacific at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in April of 2005, increasing the size of the island.

One can find trails, rock walls, and archaeological sites from as old as the 12th century around the Great Crack. Much of these finds are on the park side of the fence. About 1,951 acres (7.90 km2) of private land beyond the fence were purchased during the Bill Clinton administration specifically to protect the various artifacts in this area as well as to protect the habitat of the turtles.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park

The Hilina Slump

The Hilina Slump is a 4,760 cubic mile (20,000 kilometre³) chunk of the island on the south slope of the Kīlauea volcano which is slipping away from the island. Between 1990 and 1993, Global Positioning System measurements showed the a southward displacement of the south flank of Kilauea up to approximately 10 centimeters per year.[5] Undersea measurements show that a "bench" has formed a buttress at the forefront of the Hilina Slump, and "this buttress may tend to reduce the likelihood of future catastrophic detachment."[6][7]

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

On April 2, 1868, an earthquake with a magnitude estimated between 7.25 and 7.75 on the Richter scale rocked the southeast coast of Hawaiʻi. It triggered a landslide on Mauna Loa, five miles (8 km) north of Pahala, killing 31 people. A tsunami claimed 46 additional lives. The villages of Punaluʻu, Nīnole, Kawaʻa, Honuʻapo, and Keauhou Landing were severely damaged. According to one account, the tsunami "rolled in over the tops of the coconut trees, probably 60 feet (18 m) high ... inland a distance of a quarter of a mile in some places, taking out to sea when it returned, houses, men, women, and almost everything movable."[8]

On November 29, 1975, a 37-mile (60 km) wide section of the Hilina Slump dropped 11 1/2 feet (3 m) and slid 26 feet toward the ocean. This movement caused a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and a 48 feet (10 m) high tsunami. Oceanfront properties were washed off their foundations in Punaluʻu. Two deaths were reported at Halapē, and 19 others were injured.

The island suffered tsunami damage from earthquakes in Chile in 1946 and Alaska in 1960. Downtown Hilo was severely damaged in both, with many lives lost. Just north of Hilo, Laupāhoehoe lost 16 school children and 5 teachers in the 1946 tsunami.


As of 2008, the island had a resident population of 175,784.[9] As of 2000,[10] there were 148,677 people, 52,985 households, and 36,877 families residing in the county. The population density was 14/km² (37/mi²). There were 62,674 housing units at an average density of 6/km² (16/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 31.55% White, 0.47% African American, 0.45% Kanaka Maoli, 26.70% Asian, 11.25% Pacific Islander, 1.14% from other races, and 28.44% from two or more races. 9.49% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 52,985 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.

In the county the population was spread out with 26.10% under the age of 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 years of age 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.


Sugarcane was the backbone of Hawaiʻi Island's economy for more than a century (see Sugar plantations in Hawaii). In the mid-twentieth century, sugar plantations began to downsize and by 1996, the last sugarcane plantation had closed down.

Most of Hawaiʻi Island's economy is based on tourism (see Tourism in Hawaii), centered primarily on the leeward (western) coast of the island in the North Kona and South Kohala districts. However, diversified agriculture is a growing sector of the economy. Major crops include Macadamia nuts, papaya, flowers, tropical and temperate vegetables, and coffee beans. Kona coffee must be from the district on this island only. The island's reputation for growing orchids has earned another nickname of "The Orchid Isle." Cattle ranching is also important. The island is home to one of the largest cattle ranches in the United States: Parker Ranch, on 175,000 acres (708 km2) in around Waimea. Astronomy is another industry, with numerous telescopes on Mauna Kea owing to the excellent clarity of the atmosphere at its summit and the lack of light pollution.

Tourist information

Red lava

The Big Island is famous for its volcanoes. Kīlauea, the most active, has been erupting almost continuously for more than two decades. At the coast where the lava meets the ocean, billows of white steam rise from the shoreline. At night, the lava lights up the steam to give an orange glow. When molten lava makes contact with the ocean, sea water turns into steam and the sudden cooling causes the newly formed lava rocks to explode and crack into small pieces. The broken up lava is further ground by the ocean waves to produce Black sand beaches.

Places of interest

Lehua blossoms (ʻōhiʻa lehua), Hawaiʻi


Cities and towns

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. Some of the named towns include:

Colleges and universities


Island-wide zero-fare public transport is provided by the "Hele-On Bus".[11] Two commercial airports serve Hawaiʻi Island:

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



  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographical Names Information System: Island of Hawaiʻi
  2. ^ MacDonald and Abbott, 1970
  3. ^ "Table 5.08 - Land Area of Islands: 2000" (PDF). 2004 State of Hawaii Data Book. State of Hawaii. 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-23.  
  4. ^ a b c Are We Breaking Away - The Great Crack, USGS, July 16, 1998.
  5. ^ Owen, Susan, Paul Segal, Jeff Freymueller, et. al., "Rapid Deformation of the South Flank of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii," Science 3, March 1995: Vol. 267. no. 5202, pp. 1328 - 1332.
  6. ^ Morgan, J. K., G. F. Moore, and D. A. Clague (2003), "Slope failure and volcanic spreading along the submarine south flank of Kilauea volcano, Hawaii," Journal of Geophysical Research, 108(B9), 2415, doi:10.1029/2003JB002411.
  7. ^ "Hawaiian Landslides -- Slope failure on Kilauea's submarine south flank (Subsection)". Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Retrieved 2009-09-15.  
  8. ^ Walter C. Dudley (1998). Tsunami!. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 222-224. ISBN 9780824819699.  
  9. ^ "Resident Population by County: 1990 to 2008". State of Hawaii data book. Hawaii state department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. Retrieved 2009-12-07.  
  10. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  11. ^ Hele-On Bus website retrieved 2009-045-08


  • MacDonald, G. A., and A. T. Abbott. 1970. Volcanoes in the Sea. Univ. of Hawaiʻi Press, Honolulu. 441 pages.

External links

Coordinates: 19°34′N 155°30′W / 19.567°N 155.5°W / 19.567; -155.5

Simple English

The Island of Hawai'i is the largest of the U.S. Hawaiian Islands, and the southern. The island is built from seven separate shield volcanoes that erupted more or less one at a time, one partly covering the other. The later volcanoes mostly buried two of the earlier ones. These are (from oldest to youngest): Kohala (extinct), Ninole (extinct, mostly buried), Mauna Kea (extinct or dormant?), Hualalai (dormant), Mauna Loa (active), Kulani (extinct, mostly buried), and Kilauea (very active).

The largest city on the island is Hilo. Hilo is filled with historic buildings, interesting shops, parks and has a constant stream of performances, festivals and events. It is on the rainy east side of the island. The city of Kailua-Kona is on the dry west side of Hawaii, and is popular with tourists.

Called locally the "Big Island," its area is 4,038 sq. miles (10 458 square kilometers). The widest part of the island is 93 miles (150 km) across.

The Big Island makes up more than half (~62%) of the total land area of the State of Hawaii and is governed under the County of Hawaii.



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