Geography of Hawaii

Hawaii seen from space

Hawaii seen from space
Photo credit: NASA

Hawaii – the longest and most isolated archipelago in the world

Did you know that Hawaii is the most remote island chain in the world? In fact, the Hawaiian archipelago is located in the Central Pacific Ocean, 2,390 miles (3,850 km) from California and 3,850 miles (6,195 km) from Japan. Hawaii is the furthest from any landmass in the world.

Formerly known as the Sandwich Islands, the Hawaiian Islands span the distance of 1,523 miles (2,451 km) from the Big Island of Hawaii in the southeast to the Kure Atoll in the northwest. This makes Hawaii the world's longest island chain.

The state of Hawaii is named after the largest of the islands, located in the south of the archipelago. The eight main Hawaiian Islands are Oahu, with the state capital of Honolulu, Hawaii (Big Island), Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau und Kahoolawe. They are located at the southeastern end of the island chain. Toward the northwest, there are 124 more uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals and atolls that are collectively known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii's location in the world

Hawaii seen from space

Formed by undersea volcanoes

All of the Hawaiian Islands were formed by volcanic activity, which means that the islands are actually the tips of huge mountains underneath the ocean that were born from gigantic eruptions. Starting from northwest and going down to the southeast, each volcano is progressively younger. The oldest one in the northwest of the island chain was formed about 80 million years ago. The volcanoes on the southernmost island, the Big Island of Hawaii, are still active today and the creation of new land can be witnessed there on many days of the year.

Some numbers

The highest mountains are located on the Big Island. Mauna Kea rises 13,796 feet (4,205 m) and Mauna Loa 13,679 feet (4,169 m) above sea level. The mean elevation of the state of Hawaii is 3,030 feet (923 m) above sea level.

Hawaii is the 43rd largest of the 50 states in the USA ahead of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

Hawaii's total land area is 6,422.63 square miles (16,634.53 km²). Hawaii's total coastline is 750 miles (1,207 km). Hawaii doesn't have many rivers, but the longest river is the Kaukonahua Stream on Oahu, measuring 33 miles (53 km) in length. Although Hawaii doesn't have many rivers, the Islands are home of many waterfalls. The highest waterfall is Kahiwa, a 1,750-foot (533 m) cascade on Molokai.

Hawaii's location on planet Earth: 21°18'41°N 157°47'47°W

Rank of islands by size
  • Big Island of Hawaii: 4,028.42 square miles (10,433.55 km²)
  • Maui: 771.99 square miles (1,999.45 km²)
  • Oahu: 597.64 square miles (1,547.88 km²)
  • Kauai: 552.35 square miles (1,430.59 km²)
  • Molokai: 260.46 square miles (674.58 km²)
  • Lanai: 141.07 square miles (365.36 km²)
  • Niihau: 67.60 square miles (175.09 km²)
  • Kahoolawe: 44.60 square miles (115.50 km²)

Comparison of islands by size

This graphic shows how big Hawaii's Big Island is. The land areas of the islands of Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau and Kahoolawe all fit into the Big Island's land area and there is still room. The map is an approximate and is not to scale. But it gives you an idea of the islands' approximate size in relation to each other.

Compare Islands by Size

Elevations of major Hawaii summits

Big Island of Hawaii:    
Mauna Kea 13,796 feet 4,205 meters
Mauna Loa 13,679 feet 4,169 meters
Hualalai 8,271 feet 2,521 meters
Kaumu o Kaleihoohie 5,480 feet 1,670 meters
Kilauea (Uwekahuna) 4,093 feet 1,248 meters
Kilauea (Halemaumau Rim) 3,660 feet 1,116 meters
Haleakala (Red Hill) 10,023 feet 3,055 meters
Haleakala (Kaupo Gap) 8,201 feet 2,500 meters
Puu Kukui 5,788 feet 1,764 meters
Iao Needle 2,250 feet 686 meters
Kaala 4,003 feet 1,220 meters
Puu Kalena 3,504 feet 1,068 meters
Konahuanui 3,150 feet 960 meters
Tantalus 2,013 feet 614 meters
Olomana 1,643 feet 501 meters
Koko Crater (Kohelepelepe) 1,208 feet 368 meters
Nuuanu Pali Lookout 1,186 feet 361 meters
Diamond Head 760 feet 232 meters
Koko Head 642 feet 196 meters
Punchbowl 500 feet 152 meters
Kawaikini 5,243 feet 1,598 meters
Waialeale 5,148 feet 1,569 meters
Kalalau Lookout 4,120 feet 1,256 meters
Haupu 2,297 feet 700 meters
Sleeping Giant (Nonou) 1,241 feet 378 meters
Kamakou 4,961 feet 1,512 meters
Olokui 4,606 feet 1,404 meters
Kalaupapa Lookout 1,600 feet 488 meters
Mauna Loa (Kukui) 1,430 feet 436 meters
Lanaihale 3,366 feet 1,026 meters
Paniau 1,250 feet 381 meters
Puu Moaulanui 1,483 feet 452 meters
Puu Moaulaiki 1,434 feet 437 meters