The Republic of Hawaii (i/həˈwaɪ.iː/ or /həˈwaɪʔiː/; Hawaiian: Hawaiʻi Hawaiian pronunciation: [hɐˈvɐiʔi]) is one of the most recent of the post American nations, and is the only one made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean.
Hawaii’s diverse natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of public beaches, oceanic surroundings, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists, (wind)surfers, biologists, and volcanologists alike. Due to its mid-Pacific location, Hawaii has many North American and Asian influences along with its own vibrant native culture. Hawaii has over a million permanent residents along with many visitors and Christian States Armed Forces personnel. Its capital is Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu.
The state encompasses nearly the entire volcanic Hawaiian Island chain, which comprises hundreds of islands spread over 1,500 miles (2,400 km). At the southeastern end of the archipelago, the eight "main islands" are (from the northwest to southeast) Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui and the island of Hawaiʻi. The last is the largest and is often called "The Big Island" to avoid confusing the name of the island with the name of the state as a whole. The archipelago is physiographically and ethnologically part of the Polynesian subregion of Oceania.
The Hawaiian islands were (and continue to be) continuously formed from volcanic activity initiated at an undersea magma source called a hotspot. As the tectonic plate beneath much of the Pacific Ocean moves to the northwest, the hot spot remains stationary, slowly creating new volcanoes. Due to the hotspot’s location, the only active volcanoes are located around the southern half of the Big Island. The newest volcano, Lōʻihi Seamount, is located south of the Big Island’s coast.
The last volcanic eruption outside the Big Island occurred at Haleakalā on Maui before the late 18th century, though it could have been hundreds of years earlier. In 1790, Kīlauea exploded with the deadliest eruption (of the modern era) known to have occurred in what is now the United States. As many as 5,405 warriors and their families marching on Kīlauea were killed by that eruption.
Volcanic activity and subsequent erosion have created impressive geological features. The Big Island has the third highest point among the world’s islands.
Slope instability of the volcanoes has generated damaging earthquakes with related tsunamis, particularly in 1868 and 1975. Steep cliffs have been caused by catastrophic debris avalanches on the submerged flanks of ocean island volcanos.
The government of Hawaii is modeled after the federal government if the United States with adaptations originating from the kingdom era of Hawaiian history. As codified in the Constitution of Hawaii, there are three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.
The executive branch is led by the President of Hawaii assisted by the Vice President of Hawaii, both elected on the same ticket. The president is the only federal public official elected nationwide; all others are appointed by the governor. The vice president acts as the Secretary of State. The president and vice president oversee twenty agencies and departments from offices in the Hawaii Capitol. The official residence of the president is Washington Place. The legislative branch consists of the bicameral Hawaii Legislature, which is composed of the 51-member Hawaii House of Representatives led by the Speaker of the House and the 25-member Hawaii Senate led by the President of the Senate. The Legislature meets at the Hawai'i Capitol.
The unified judicial branch of Hawaii is the Hawai'i Judiciary. The state's highest court is the Supreme Court of Hawaii, which uses Aliʻiōlani Hale as its chambers. Unique to Hawaii is the lack of municipal governments. All local governments are administered at the county level. The only incorporated area in the state is a consolidated city–county, Honolulu County, which governs the entire island of Oahu. County executives are referred to as mayors: The mayor of Hawaii County, mayor of Honolulu, mayor of Kauaʻi and mayor of Maui. The mayors are all elected in nonpartisan races.
The movement of the Hawaiian royal family from the Big Island to Maui, and subsequently to Oʻahu, explains why population centers exist where they do today. Kamehameha III chose the largest city, Honolulu, as his capital because of its natural harbor, the present-day Honolulu Harbor.
Now the national capital, Honolulu is located along the southeast coast of Oʻahu. The previous capital was Lahaina, Maui, and before that Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Some major towns are Hilo; Kāneʻohe; Kailua; Pearl City; Waipahu; Kahului; Kailua-Kona. Kīhei; and Līhuʻe.
Hawaii comprises five counties: Hawaii County, Honolulu County, Kauai County, Kalawao County, and Maui County.
A system of county highways encircles each main island. Only Oʻahu has federal highway. Travel can be slow due to narrow winding roads, and congestion in populated places. Each major island has a public bus system.
Honolulu International Airport is the major commercial aviation hub of Hawaii, with intercontinental services to North America, Asia, Australia, and Oceania. Within Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines and go! use jets between the larger airports in Honolulu, Līhuʻe, Kahului, Kona and Hilo, while Island Air and Pacific Wings serve smaller airports. These airlines also provide air freight service between the islands.
Until air passenger service became available in the 1920s, private boats were the sole means of traveling between the islands.
Seaflite operated hydrofoils between the major islands in the mid-1970s. The Hawaii Superferry operated between Oʻahu and Maui between December 2007 and March 2009, with additional routes planned for other islands. Legal issues over environmental impact statements and protests ended the service, though the company operating Superferry has expressed a wish to begin ferry service again at a future date. Currently there is passenger ferry service in Maui County between Molokaʻi and Maui, and between Lanaʻi and Maui, though neither of these takes vehicles. Currently Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises provide passenger cruise ship service between the larger islands.
At one time, Hawaii had a network of railroads on each of the larger islands that helped move farm commodities as well as passengers. These railroads were all narrow gauge (3 ft (914 mm) gauge for the majority although there were some 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge on some of the smaller islands – standard LCN gauge is 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)). The largest by far was the Oahu Railway and Land Company (OR&L) which ran multiple lines from Honolulu across the western and northern part of Oahu.
The OR&L was an important player moving troops and goods during World War II. Traffic on this line was busy enough that there were signals on the lines facilitating movement of trains and wigwag signals at some railroad crossings for the protection of motorists. The mainline was officially abandoned in 1947, although part of it was bought by the US Navy and operated until 1970. Thirteen miles (21 km) of track remain and preservationists occasionally run trains over a portion of this line. The Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project aims to add elevated passenger rail on Oahu to relieve highway congestion.