Beyond Kauai: The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Beyond Kauai: The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

We’re all familiar with the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai, but did you know that even more lies beyond this main grouping of islands? What we think of as the “big four” make up a small portion of the Islands of Hawaii.

Beyond this grouping lie what are known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The area of these islands totals 3.1 square miles and save for one, they’re all found outside of the Tropic of Cancer.

In 2006, President George W. Bush named the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a Marine National Monument, called Papahanaumokuakea.

Travel to these islands is strictly regulated by the State of Hawaii, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and requires a permit. Even more than the main Hawaiian Islands, the Northwestern Islands are incredibly delicate ecosystems that haven’t been much affected by the presence of humans. To further protect these islands, travel is very limited and comes with a set of rules, including all clothing worn must be brand new and still wrapped prior to arrival. Other regulations require all equipment to be thoroughly cleaned and frozen for 48 hours. This is to prevent the introduction of any invasive organisms, and guarantees that only the most dedicated conservationists make the effort to come to these islands.


The only of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands located within the Tropic of Cancer, Nihoa—also known as Moku Manu—is the youngest of this side of the island chain. Named for its tooth-like appearance, Nihoa was once a much larger landmass, but has eroded through the centuries, leaving only the cliffs that are visible.

Necker Island

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Necker Island

Necker, or Mokumanamana, is thought to have been used by the Hawaiians for religious ceremonies. Composed primarily of volcanic remains, it has a barren landscape.







French Frigate Shoals

About a dozen small islands make up the French Frigate Shoals – Kanemilohai in the Hawaiian language – accompanied by 12 sandbars and a 120’ peak that serves as the only remnant of the volcano that formed it.

Gardner Pinnacles

The smallest of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Gardner Pinnacles, or Puhahonu, served as landmarks for mariners. The rocky terrain makes the area look barren, but the water surrounding the region is home to the largest number of fish species in the chain.

Laysan Island

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Hawaiian Monk seal on Laysan Island

Named for its egg shape, Laysan Island, or Kauo, is large enough to encompass a 100-acre lake in the midst of its otherwise unremarkable terrain.









Lisianski Island

Reaching only 40’ above sea level, Lisianski (Papaāpoho) is geologically similar to Laysan, and its large reef is very rich.

Pearl and Hermes Atoll

This atoll, called Holoikauaua in Hawaiian, is almost completely underwater, with a surface land area of only .139 square miles. Its most striking feature is the reef that surrounds it.

Midway Atoll

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Millions of albatrosses inhabit Midway Atoll

Probably the best known of the Northwestern Islands, Midway Atoll, or Pihemanu, served as the site of a battle that was the turning point in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Located about halfway between the North America and Asia, Midway is the only one of these islands that isn’t considered a part of the State of Hawaii.




Kure Atoll

A unique-looking atoll, Mokupapapa is surrounded by a barrier reef six miles in diameter and has a shallow lagoon. With most of its landmass submerged, the highest point of Kure is only 20 feet above sea level.

Hidden Oahu: Hiking Makapu’u

Hidden Oahu: Hiking Makapu’u

Sunrise from Makapu’u trail is one of Oahu’s secret treasures. A paved road winds from the parking lot to the iconic lighthouse, giving you a panoramic view of the eastern coast with its beautiful beaches and deep blue sea. This trail is perfect for those who prefer an easy, smooth walk in the sun with the sea breezes on their faces. However, for those with a little more adventure in mind, you might enjoy Makapu’u as many locals do; just don’t tell anyone we told you.

Makapu'u Lighthouse
Makapu’u Lighthouse

The key to seeing the best of Makapu’u is timing. Its location on the easternmost point of Oahu makes it an idyllic spot for one of Hawaii’s treasures, our sunrises.






For the more adventurous visitor, there’s no better spot to watch the sunrise than the pillboxes above Makapu’u. These concrete bunkers were used as sentry lookouts during both world wars. To get there, you hike up the side of the hill, as opposed to the paved road that goes around it. While it’s a relatively short hike, about 20 minutes to the top, it is steep and rocky. It’s a far cry from the paved road used by most people. There is a semblance of a path closest to the cliff edge. This may unnerve those who are afraid of heights, as it is a long, long way down. You can also make your own path up the hill, just be wary of cactus and other thorny bushes on your way up.

Makapu’u after sunrise

It should be noted this part of the hike is not for kids or those not physically fit. If you are unsure of yourself, stick to the paved road; it’s still a nice hike with beautiful views of Pele’s Chair and all of Waimanalo at the end. Whichever you choose, you’ll have a spectacular view of the stunning Hawaiian sunrise.





As we said, timing is key, and depends on the season when you visit. If you’re in paradise from September through March, you should arrive at Makapu’u by 05:45. In April through August, the sun rises earlier, so you should arrive by 5 at the latest. Be sure to bring flashlights and jackets, as it will be dark and chilly while you hike, before the morning sun warms you up. If you come during the winter, keep an eye out for humpback whales, as they make the islands home during their vacation. Seeing the sun peek over the water and create the most sublime and picturesque colors, regardless of where you do it, is an absolute must while in Hawaii.

One benefit to the early start is beating the crowds of tourists who arrive Makapu’u later in the day. Another is avoiding the scorching sun. It’s best to avoid hiking Makapu’u between 11-4, as that part of the island can get quite hot. Many tourists miss the east side of the island, which is unfortunate because Oahu has so much more to offer besides the better known tourist destinations. Start your day early with a sunrise at Makapu’u; you won’t regret it!

Getting to Know Your Destination: Facts About the Hawaiian Islands

Getting to Know Your Destination: Facts About the Hawaiian Islands


Think you know all there is to know about the destination you chose for your vacation? Believe it or not, the Hawaiian Islands offer a lot more than beautiful beaches and stunning scenery. So, to make sure you know some of the basic details and unique facets of this unique place, we’ve compiled a list of interesting Hawaiian facts.

Get educated before you go!

The Hawaiian Alphabet

English is the main language being spoken in the 50th state today, but long before contact with Europeans, there was a distinct Hawaiian language, a relative of the other languages spoken around Polynesia.

During the early 19th century, American missionaries devised a written form of Hawaiian using Latin letters so that they could print copies of the Bible in the local language. Hawaiian is written using only 13 letters, five vowels A, E, I, O, and U, and eight consonants H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and the glottal stop known as ‘okina.

A Most Delicious Economy

Hawaiian coffee

Planning to spend all of your time in Hawaii doing nothing but beach fun and ziplining adventures? Then you’d be missing out on the fascinating production of coffee, cacao, and vanilla beans. The Kona District of the Big Island of Hawaii is world-famous for its coffee, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on the chocolate tours available on Maui and Oahu.

Hawaii is the only state in the US where these delicacies are grown.





Breaking Down “Aloha”

Ever wonder where the common Hawaiian greeting came from? “Aloha” actually descended from the Proto-Polynesian word “alofa,” which means love, mercy, and compassion. The traditional meaning of “aloha” is as a greeting or an expression of love.

Volcanic Effects

Lava entering the ocean

The Big Island has been feeling the force of Kilauea, a massive volcano that’s been been active since 1983. This makes Hawaii the only state with an increasing land area. As lava flows into the ocean, it solidifies and builds up to enlarge the island’s size.










Much more than just a dance for tourist entertainment, hula has a significant place in Hawaiian history and culture. Hula was used as a form of worship and storytelling. Suppressed by the missionaries and revived by King Kalakaua—the Merrie Monarch—the dance was, and still is, performed by both men and women.

A Stroke of Bad Luck

Want to leave this stunning paradise with something to remember it by? Whatever you do, don’t take any lava rocks. Many travelers who have disregarded this advice have come to believe the rocks brought them all kinds of bad luck.

Who’s a Hawaiian?

Unless someone is descended from the original Polynesians who settled these islands centuries ago, it’s inaccurate to call them “Hawaiians.” Most residents of Hawaii simply refer to themselves as “locals.”

Multi-Colored Beaches

Punaluu black sand beach

As you explore the beaches of the Hawaiian Islands, you’ll see that not all sand is the same. You’ll find black, red, green, and yellow sands on different beaches across the islands.