What To Know
The Hawaiian Islands are located just south of the Tropic of Cancer in the Pacific Ocean, 2,400 miles southwest of California. Oahu is situated to the southeast of Kauai and to the northwest of Molokai. Hawaii's capital, Honolulu, is located on Oahu.
The Hawaiian islands were all formed by volcanic activity on the ocean floor of the Pacific. Each island is essentially a mountainous volcano or group of volcanoes that has risen above the surface of the ocean and expelled lava to create land mass. Oahu is the third largest of the six major islands in the Hawaiian Island chain, and the second youngest.
Before annexation to the United States, Hawaii was once an independent kingdom. Each island was a separate domain until 1795, when the first King Kamehameha united all of Hawaii. The charismatic Kamehameha and a dynasty of his progeny ruled the islands for the next century.
However, by the time King Kamehameha I died in 1819, Hawaii's socioeconomic system was already undergoing dramatic changes. Many of the ancient customs of the traditional "kapu" system were overthrown, and the burgeoning whaling industry and the missionionary movement were beginning to alter the islands' former way of life.
Hawaii slowly became populated by mainlanders trying to make money off of the islands' natural riches. And as in many parts of the world, the indigenous traditions of the Hawaiian islands ultimately gave way to sometimes violent pressures from missionaries, to be replaced by Catholicism and Christian morality.
By the late 19th-century, the United States was actively involved in shaping the islands' politics. Although the majority of Hawaiians opposed annexation, President McKinley signed an annexation agreement on July 7, 1898. An important Allied naval base during World War II, Oahu's Pearl Harbor was the site of the Japanese 1941 bombing which ultimately lead to the U.S.'s involvement in the war. Hawaii was finally granted statehood on August 21, 1959.
The average annual temperature on Oahu is 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and nights get a bit cooler. Temperatures tend to be a few degrees higher during the summer, and a bit lower during winter. Oahu's east side is the wettest part of the island; the west, north, and south sides of the island are dryer and more sunny. While the average rainfall in Waikiki is only 25 inches, the upper Manoa Valley, north of Honolulu, averages 158 inches of rain per year. Check out Oahu's current weather forecast in order to better plan your trip.
When to Go
Any time is a good time to visit Oahu. While the island's primary tourist resorts stay full most of the year, accommodations are less expensive during off season, which is between April and mid-December.
Over 875,000 people live on Oahu. People of Caucasian origin compose 24 percent of the population, while 21 percent are Japanese, 16 percent are Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian, and 39 percent are Filipino, Chinese, and other Asians.
Although contemporary culture in Hawaii is similar to that of the rest of the U.S., Hawaiians strive to preserve cultural traditions. Language and hula classes are common, and traditional arts and crafts thrive. The social tradition of giving flower necklaces, or leis, illuminates the richness of the Hawaiian culture. Different leis have different meanings. For example, tourists are given leis of plumeria, while a bride might wear a lei of pikake. There are special leis for hellos and good-byes, and each island has its own particular lei.
Hawaii's sizable Asian influence is evidenced by much of the islands' cuisine. A typical "mixed plate" for lunch comes with rice and macaroni salad, as well as your choice of an Asian dish such as chicken teriyaki (Japanese), beef with oyster sauce (Chinese), or kalua pig (Hawaiian). Kalua pig, a favorite of luaus, is a suckling pig slow-cooked in an underground oven. Dried salted fish is also a favorite, as is poi, a stew made from the taro plant. Indigenous fruits such as star fruit and breadfruit are used in many traditional recipes.
For dessert, try a local favorite, shave ice--it's like a snow cone but even better. Or, sink your teeth into some chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, available at nearly every drugstore, grocery store, and souvenir shop.