HAWAII: One Island Chain, Eight Unique and Beautiful Links

To celebrate the release of the 4th book in her Islands of Aloha mystery series, JoAnn Bassett is going to share some fun stuff about (and great pictures of) Hawaii, the setting of her novels and her home for many years. Each book in her series features a different island, or section of an island.

Take it away, JoAnn!

Joann Bassett, Author We all know Hawaii is a unique place. It is the only state that can claim to have no straight line border anywhere along its perimeter–because it is all islands, 137 of them to be exact.

What I think is most fascinating, however, is that within Hawaii the eight major islands are each unique to themselves. We mainlanders tend to think of the Hawaiian Islands as pretty much all the same. But each of the islands has its own distinct style and vibe. Just for fun, let’s look a bit at each of the eight.

O’ahu is often the first island you think of when you think of Hawaii. Made famous by the TV show, Hawaii Five-O, it is the seat of the state government and home to about seventy percent of the state’s population.

O'ahu skyline

The skyline of O’ahu

Honolulu, the state capital, is the largest city in the world – literally. Because of a quirky clause in the Hawaii state constitution, any of the 137 islands that does not belong specifically to another county automatically belongs to Honolulu. As a result, the city of Honolulu is about 1,500 miles long–longer than halfway across the 48 contiguous states!

Maui hosts the most visitors of any of the Hawaiian islands. It’s home to Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, and the vintage whaling town of Lahaina. So many celebrities own property and visit the island every year that seeing someone “famous” isn’t uncommon. Oprah Winfrey has not one but two homes on Maui. Most visitors stay and play on the West Side, where resorts sit cheek to jowl along the coastline and the economy is nearly one-hundred percent tourism.

beach on Maui

Ka’anapali beach on the island of Maui

Maui boasts the world’s most loved beach, Ka’anapali, and many of the destination weddings in Hawaii are performed on this island. My wedding planner protagonist, Pali (pronounced Polly) Moon, is based on Maui. The first two books in the series, Maui Widow Waltz, and Livin’ Lahaina Loca, showcase this popular island.

Hawaii is referred to as the Big Island. Much confusion is sparked by one of the major islands having the same name as the state itself. It’s sort of like New York and New York City. But unlike New York, the Big Island does not host the state’s most famous city.

On the Hilo side, the Big Island is very local, laid-back and tropical. This side is the gateway to Volcanoes National Park, a lush surreal landscape of steaming vent holes bordering a massive moonscape of lava.

Big Island steam vent

A steam vent on the Big Island

On the Kona side, the dry side, large resorts have been built along the Kohala Coast to the delight of sun worshipers and golfers. The Big Island also grows many of the crops the state of Hawaii is known for: coffee, macadamia nuts, and orchids, to name a few.

Lana’i also has a confusing name. The word “lanai” in Hawaiian means a porch or balcony. But the name of the island of Lana’i has three syllables instead of two—lah-na-ee, as opposed to lah-neye. This small island is almost totally owned by one man, Larry Ellison, of Oracle software fame. Although the island used to be covered in pineapple plants, the pineapples are all gone now.

Lanai resort

A resort on Lana’i

Due to some unfortunate events at the end of Livin’ Lahaina Loca, Pali finds herself in Witness Protection on Lana’i in the 3rd book of the series, Lana’i of the Tiger.

Kaua’i is the fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands. It is home to the Waialeale Mountain, that averages 488 inches of rain per year and is considered the wettest spot on earth. Called “The Garden Isle,” Kaua’i is green beyond imagining. The sunny south side, anchored by the town of Poipu, is where most visitors stay. Waimea Canyon, sometimes referred to as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is a stunning red, brown, and tan gorge that appears out of place in the lush surroundings.

The North Shore town of Hanalei is where Peter Yarrow of the group Peter, Paul and Mary wrote their famous song about marijuana, Puff the Magic Dragon. That gives you some idea of the vibe of the place. In the 1970’s, a hippie enclave called Taylor Camp was located there.

Kaua'i valley

A valley on the island of Kaua’i.

In my new release, Kaua’i Me a River, Pali spends a lot of time on this island, trying to find out what happened thirty years ago, when her hippie mother died under mysterious circumstances.

Molokai is considered the most “Hawaiian” of the islands that are accessible to the public. It doesn’t have much tourist development and the locals live a quiet laid-back lifestyle. It’s an everybody-knows-everybody kind of place.

The east end of the island is very wet—getting some 240 inches of rain in a year. Most people remember Molokai as home to Kala’aupapa, the place where people suffering from leprosy (now called, Hanson’s Disease) were sent to live in isolation. One of the Catholic Church’s newest saints, Father Damien, died while helping the inhabitants there.

Ni’ihau island is smaller and privately-owned. Only some 200 people reside there. They live in the traditional ways—speaking Hawaiian and without using modern conveniences. Non-residents cannot come on the island, except by invitation or by obtaining one of a very limited number of hunting permits.

Kaho’olawe is the smallest island of the major eight, only 45 square miles. It is a sore subject in Hawaii. Once an inhabited island, for decades it was used for bombing practice by the U.S. military. Groups are trying to restore the island but it will take time and money to erase its sad past.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this armchair tour of Hawaii. If you like all things Hawaiian as I do (or if you just like a good whodunnit), please check out my Islands of Aloha Mystery Series.

Kaua’i Me a River is now available on Amazon. The next book in the series will be set on O’ahu and the last will be on the Big Island. (Also, Monday thru Thursday of next week, Maui Widow Waltz, the first book in the series will be FREE on Amazon. Bookmark it now so you can get it free next week!)

Cover of Kaua'i Me a RiverIt’s her thirty-fifth birthday, but Maui wedding planner Pali Moon is doing her best to ignore it. Then she receives a letter from a lawyer in Hanalei, Kaua’i, requesting her presence at a meeting to discuss an ‘urgent family matter.’ The letter brings Pali’s Kaua’i past rushing back—her birth at a hippie enclave on the North Shore in the 1970’s; her father deserting the family never to be heard from again; and, worst of all, her mother’s tragic death when Pali was only five. What could a Hanalei lawyer possibly have to say that would be worth dredging all that up again? But curiosity and devotion to her mother’s memory win out and Pali heads to Kaua’i. What she discovers on The Garden Island not only rewrites her history but also alters her future.

Posted by JoAnn Bassett. For several years, JoAnn lived in an oceanfront home on Maui, but her husband wasn’t the island rat that she is, so now they live mostly in Southern Arizona. She travels to Hawaii throughout the year, and enjoys writing about life on “the most idyllic islands in the Pacific.”

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    April 26, 2013 at 2:20 am

    I loved this jaunt through the islands. How cool to get a sense of what each one is like from a long-term resident.

    Hawaii has just moved way up on my bucket list. Thanks, JoAnn!

  • Reply
    April 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks Kass! I love writing about Hawaii almost as much as I love being there.

  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    April 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    JoAnn, I love this armchair tour! I know very little about Hawaii and have never visited. Maybe someday! It looks so beautiful. How wonderful that you got to live there, and get to visit it still.

    Looking forward to some fun reading!


  • Reply
    Shannon Esposito
    April 26, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Oh wow, they’re all beautiful! So, how do you get from one island to the other? Are they close enough for a boat ride or do you have to fly? My daughter is actually moving to Honolulu in August to go to grad school at HPU. So, I’m sure we’ll be visiting her at some point. 🙂

    • Reply
      April 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Oh boy, HPU! What a wonderful place. The best way to get from island to island quickly is by air. They tried a high-speed ferry between O’ahu, Maui and Kaua’i but it met with fierce opposition by environmentalists who claimed it endangered whales and other sea creatures. And it was a rough ride! You can take a ferry from Maui to Lana’i at less than half the cost of a plane ticket but other than that, it’s pretty much air travel all the way. Once your daughter gets settled, have her apply for a HI driver’s license to take advantage of kama’aina savings on almost everything.

  • Reply
    Kirsten Weiss
    April 26, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    So much to see, so little time!

  • Reply
    Catie Rhodes
    April 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    How beautiful! Love your pictures. Almost as good as visiting. Hawaii is one place I’ve never been but find fascinating.

    We live cheek to jowl (loved that expression) in the suburbs of Houston. When we go on vacation, we try to visit places where we encounter few people. We take a vacation from people as much as anything else. I’ve never checked deeply into visiting Hawaii because I know it would be crowded (which is awful, really).

    You have me totally curious about your series. It’s officially in my TBR pile.

    • Reply
      April 26, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      Catie, There are huge areas of Hawaii that are literally rural. With hardly any people to be seen for miles and miles. Avoid Honolulu and West Maui, that’s where all the “action” is and that’s where all the people are. Go upcountry Maui or the Big Island. You will be stunned at how much open space there is!

      • Reply
        Catie Rhodes
        April 27, 2013 at 11:11 am

        Thanks for the insider’s tip, JoAnn! This is great stuff to know. 🙂

  • Reply
    Beverly Diehl
    April 26, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    And I didn’t even have to pay ticket handling fees! What a wonderful tour of the islands, I loved “visiting” and the pictures were incredible. Sounds like a very interesting book, too.

    • Reply
      April 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Beverly. One of the things I love about Hawaii is that even a “point and shoot” photographer like me can get astounding pictures. There’s always something beautiful around every bend.

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