Kauai, Hawaii Coast Ocean Cliffside
Aerial view of the Honopu Arch at Na Pali coastline, Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaii Island Nicknames: Taking Culture Tours Of Their History And Legends

What are the Nicknames of the 8 Hawaiian Islands?

By Hayley Simpson | Published on April 7, 2022

There are eight major islands of Hawaii; each island has a unique nickname that reflects its distinct personality and culture. Some you can visit to discover the Hawaiian magic for yourself, while others you'll have to use your imagination for as they are not open for tourism. In this mini Hawaiian history lesson, you'll learn all about the origin of the Hawaii island nicknames and what makes each island so special.

1. Oahu: The Gathering Place

What Is Oahu's Nickname?

Oahu is nicknamed the Gathering Place for two main reasons. With the state's highest population, 72% of residents "gather" in Oahu, calling it home. It's also where you'll find the state capital of Honolulu, as well as Hawaii's main port, financial district, military base, international airport, and university, making it a tourism mecca. With both urban and natural adventures waiting on this tropical island's doorstep, it's easy to see why it's nicknamed this.

Every great Oahu vacation starts in Waikiki. The beachfront district is lined with places to gather with loved ones, including cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops. O'ahu is also a place where outdoor adventurers thrive — where you can spend your days surfing the world-famous breaks on the North Shore, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, or hiking to the top of Diamond Head. Trek to this picturesque volcanic crater on the edge of Waikiki and admire the sweeping panoramic views of the island.

2. Maui: The Valley Isle

What Is Maui's Nickname?

Head to the cruise ship’s top-level viewing deck as you approach port in Lahaina and you'll quickly realize why Maui is nicknamed the Valley Isle. Most of the island's towns are nestled in the central valley between its two major mountain ranges: Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. Haleakala is the world's largest dormant volcano and offers an incredible sunrise show from its summit. For even more unbelievable views of the lush island consider planning a helicopter tour excursion as you visit Maui on vacation.

History abounds on the Valley Isle, too. The famous Kaanapali resort area and Lahaina, a former whaling port, served as Hawaii's capital until 1845. As you adventure along the twists and turns of the forest-surrounded Hana Highway — one of the world's most famous and scenic coastal drives — you'll see untouched nature, such as powerful waterfalls, dramatic, Jurassic Park-like landscapes, and black sand beaches.

3. Kauai: The Garden Isle

What Is Kauai 's Nickname?

One look at Kauai as you sail into port, and you'll instantly appreciate why this lush island is nicknamed the Garden Isle. Kauai's unrelenting rain is a complement to its extensive undeveloped land. Kauai's Garden Isle status and history are evident in popular attractions such as Wailua Falls, Waimea Canyon (known as the Pacific's version of the Grand Canyon), the towering sea cliffs along the Nā Pali Coast, the famous Fern Grotto in Wailua River Valley and lush Kalalau Valley. Kauai is actually the oldest Hawaiian island, forming some five million years ago, making its untouched regions feel like a step back in time. Coupled with fine white sand beaches, Kaua'i is a one-of-a-kind island.

Unsurprisingly, Kauai is home to the best botanical gardens in Hawaii, including Allerton Garden, Limahuli Garden and Preserve and Na 'Aina Kai Botanical Gardens — Garden Isle, indeed!

 4. Hawaii Island: The Big Island

What Is Hawaii's Nickname?

Most travel vacationers don't realize that the Big Island is actually the nickname for Hawaii Island and not the other way around. Though not to worry as even many locals are unaware of this distinction, which demonstrates how much this particular nickname is a part of the local dialect.

As the name suggests, the Big Island is, well, big. Covering over 4,000 square miles, it's America's largest island. Home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where Kilauea Volcano has been continuously erupting for over 30 years, the Big Island of Hawaii is geologically diverse. You'll also find two other major volcanoes here — Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. In addition, the sprawling Kau Desert, lush valleys, and tropical rainforests serving as backdrops to glistening beaches.

5. Molokai: The Friendly Isle

What Is Molokai's Nickname?

You'll feel the true spirit of aloha when you visit Molokai — home to the state's largest population of native Hawaiians. The island's nickname, the Friendly Isle, was bestowed upon it by the residents to reflect the welcoming and tight-knit communities dotted across Molokai. 

Here, everyone knows each other, and looking out for your neighbors is a way of life. Since Molokai is less developed than the other islands that hold major cities, Hawaii's cultural diversity of Japanese and Filipino foods shine here in the small beach-side joints. Grab a bite and chat up one of the friendly locals, who have been known to invite tourists along to parties or on tours to hidden gems throughout the island. Aside from the friendly people and authentic cuisine, the island's major drawcard is that its north coast has the world's highest sea cliffs, which must be seen to be believed.

6. Lanai: The Pineapple Isle

What Is Lanai's Nickname?

Lanai's nickname, the Pineapple Isle, can be traced back to 1922, when James Dole (of what is now known as the world-famous Dole Food Co.) bought the island and proceeded to transform it into the world's largest pineapple plantation. Pineapple production ceased in the early 1990s and the Oracle Corporation bought 98% of the island in 2012. Today, vacation tourism is Lanai's biggest industry, as it's home to two major world-class resorts that boast views of the surrounding islands.

Lanai is also often referred to as the Secluded Island. It's a great place to experience what it's like to go off the grid due to its 89,000 acres of countryside — much of which is untouched by man. Keahiakawelo is worth a visit if you don't mind going off the beaten path, literally. Miles of dirt roading will bring you to Keahiakawelo, or the Garden of the Gods — an otherworldly red rock garden. The landscape of rock towers, spires, and formations was caused by erosion, but the lore behind it is much more interesting. Legend goes that two kahuna (priests), one from Lanai and one from Molokai, were in a contest from the gods to keep a fire burning on their respective island. They were promised great abundance on their island if they could keep the fire going longer than the other. Desperate to win, the Lana'i kahuna burned up all of the vegetation in Keahiakawelo, leaving behind a barren landscape.

7. Niihau: The Forbidden Isle

What Is Niihau’s Nickname?

Niihau’s nickname is literally the Forbidden Isle, that is unless you're a member of the Robinson family, the sole owners of the island. U.S. Navy personnel, government officials, and invited guests are the only other ones who can step foot on Niihau. However, if you've ever wanted to tick "tour an almost deserted Hawaiian island" off your bucket list, you can do a tour of Niihau. But beware, it's not cheap!

8. Kahoolawe: The Target Isle

What Is Kahoolawe’s Nickname?

Kahoolawe is the smallest of the eight Hawaiian Islands. Its nickname, the Target Isle, originates from when the island served as a U.S. Navy and Air Force bombing range for training and testing purposes. However, this destroyed the island's natural environment and resulted in it being covered with unexploded shells. Fortunately, it ceased being the Target Isle in the 1980s. It's off-limits to tourists, though Native Hawaiians may still go there for subsistence fishing, spiritual activities, environmental restoration, historic preservation, and education.


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