Hawaiian Islands

How many are there and how many people live on them?

By Deane Barker

There are technically eight islands…but not really.

There are four islands with any notable population.

  • Hawaii or “The Big Island” is the largest physically, by far; all the other islands could fit inside of it, with lots of room to spare
  • Maui is the next biggest, but it’s just 18% the size of the island of Hawaii
  • Oahu is only 15% of the size of the island of Hawaii, but it has Honolulu, which means about 80% of the population lives here and it has 8x the population density of any other island; Pearl Harbor is also located on Oahu, and the North Shore of Oahu is considered some of the greatest surfing waters in the world
  • Kauai is about 14% the size of the island of Hawaii

There are four more islands – Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, Kahoolawe – but few people have heard of them and both population and physical size drop off considerably.

The entire thing is actually an underwater mountain range, with the summits of the mountains poking up above the water to form islands (see picture). Mauna Loa – which forms the Big Island – is technically the largest mountain in the world, stretching over 30,000 feet from it’s base underwater to its summit.

What’s a little confusing is that Honolulu isn’t on the island of Hawaii, but rather Oahu. This is weird, because we say “Honolulu, Hawaii,” referring to city and state. But in this case, the state name and an island name are the same. Honolulu is in the state of Hawaii, but not the island of Hawaii. We could probably expand the name to be “Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.”

In addition to the eight major islands, there are 130 or so other islands – meaning, any landform above sea level – but that have no appreciable population (in fact, the smallest of the eight majors – Kahoolawe – has no population either).

Why I Looked It Up

I had a nine-hour layover in Honolulu. I took an Uber into the city and had a conversation with the driver. I was a little confused afterwards, so I did some research.

I thought Honolulu was kind of a dump, honestly. So I asked a few friends who had gone to Hawaii about their trips. Turns out they all went to Kauai or Maui.


Added on

I was confused by this statement in a news article.

Tropical Storm Calvin strengthened Tuesday as it continued to approach Hawaii’s Big Island, where more than a million people are under a state of emergency and a tropical storm warning is in effect.

It seemed to imply that a million people on the Big Island were under threat. However, Oahu is the only island with a population that big.

Later in the article:

Between 4 and 8 inches of rain are expected, with some areas seeing up to 10 inches, mainly along the windward and southeast flank of the island of Hawaii, colloquially known as the Big Island.

I just think it was worded poorly. The first quote would necessarily have to be talking about the population of the state as a whole.

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