Separated from the mainland by 2,500 miles and two time zones, Hawaii is a state like no other, born of volcanic fire and inhabited by some of the most exotic and unusual plants and animals in the world. The Nat Geo Wild special “Wild Hawaii,” which premieres on March 23, beautifully illustrates why these islands are so captivating. But there’s nothing like experiencing them in person to get a true sense of the place, as became clear on a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, where boat and helicopter excursions provided both up-close and panoramic perspectives. Enlightening on so many levels, the result was a wealth of random information, all illustrated here.

1. Hawaii is the world’s longest archipelago, spanning over 1,500 miles and 10 degrees of latitude.

2. There are eight main islands and 124 smaller uninhabited ones. The Big Island is twice the size of all the other islands put together.

Kilauea volcano burning

Photo: Nat Geo Wild

3. Kilauea (above) is the most active volcano in the world. Appropriately, its name means "spewing." It has been continually erupting for the last 30 years.

Pahoehoe lavea from Kilauea

Photo: Gerri Miller

4. There are two types of lava seen all over Hawaii: the rough, rocky, fragmented kind called a’a and the smooth, ropy kind called pahoehoe, which is shown above.

5. From the sea floor, Mauna Kea measures 33,476 feet, more than twice as tall as Mount Everest.

Mauna Kea covered in snow

6. At 13,796 feet, Mauna Kea (above) is Hawaii’s tallest volcano, now dormant. The summit is often snow-covered in winter.

7. Although its peak is lower than Mauna Kea’s by 119 feet, Mauna Loa is larger in mass and volume. It last erupted in 1984.

8. Ka Lae on the Big Island, aka the South Point, is the southernmost point in the United States.

green sand beach of Papakalea

9. Not far from South Point is Papakalea, the famous green sand beach, which gets its color from olivine crystals formed by volcanic eruptions. There are also several black sand beaches on the Big Island, so colored by tiny shards of lava.

shark preys on albatross10. Only 7400 people live on Molokai, a former leper colony, and even fewer on Lanai, the smallest inhabited island open to visitors. Niihau is privately owned, and Kahoolawe, just 11 miles long, and once a military testing ground, is now an uninhabited reserve.

11. One in 10 baby albatross (right) fall prey to tiger sharks that leap out of the water to catch them.

12. The world-renowned Hawaiian macadamia nut is not native to Hawaii. Originally imported from Australia as ornamental vegetation in the 1880s, it wasn’t until the 1920s that it became a harvest crop.

13. Kona coffee is grown on the leeward side of the Big Island on the volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. Any coffee cultivated outside the Kona District cannot carry the Kona name.

baby turtle

Photo: Nat Geo Wild

14. Hawksbill sea turtles lay up to 200 eggs at a time that hatch after two months, but only a fraction live to maturity. The ones that do can live 30-50 years in the wild.

whale tale

Photo: Melissa Vincent

15. Of the about 10,000 humpback whales that migrate to the north Pacific from January to April, about two thirds are found in Hawaii, with the greatest numbers in Maui, and Kona on the Big Island a close second.

16. A population of albatross on Oahu mate for life, and an estimated 20 percent of the pairs are homosexual, aside from brief encounters necessary for impregnation.

manta rays

Photo: Keller Laros

17. Manta rays eat 10-12 percent of their body weight every week in plankton. Filter feeders, they don’t have teeth, and they have no swim bladder — so if they stop moving, they sink.

Aerial view of Hilo, Hawaii

Photo: Gerri Miler

18. With 275 days per year with some rain, Hilo on the Big Island is the third wettest spot in the United States (behind Ketchikan and Yakutai, Alaska). A quarter of the island’s 180,000 people live in the city.

19. In contrast, the Big Island’s second largest city, Kona, is on the western side and gets only 10 inches of rain per year. Not surprisingly, most of the island’s resorts are located there or on the nearby Kohala Coast.

Huge waves in Maui

20. Some of the largest waves in the world can be found in Pe’ahi on the north shore of Maui. Aptly called Jaws by surfers, the surf break has produced waves of higher than 60 feet.

Waterfall at Apua Point

Photo: Gerri Miller

21. Along the cliffs of the Big Island, there are many spectacular waterfalls so remote that they can be seen only from the sea or from the air. These include the falls at Apua Point on the northeast Kohala Coast, which can be 1,200 feet tall or more. The number of waterfalls fluctuates with the rainfall.

Puffer fish rescue

Photo: Melissa Vincent

22. When threatened, pufferfish blow up like water balloons, but if they’re too close to the surface, they may be unable to deflate. The crew of the Na Pali Ka dive boat rescued one floating fish, partially deflating it by hand and safely placing it in an underwater cave until it could swim on its own.

two dolphins

Photo: Melissa Vincent

23. The spinner dolphins that congregate off the Kona coast of the Big Island are aptly named: they often leap out of the water and spin on their tails. About six feet long and less than 200 pounds, they live for 30 years, on average.


24. Maui’s Haleakala National Park, with the eponymous volcano at the center, is home to the Hawaiian state bird, an endangered species of goose called the nene. It almost went extinct in the 1940s due to hunting, predators and habitat loss, but a breeding and reintroduction program boosted the population. There are an estimated 300 birds in the park, and a few hundred more throughout the island.

25. Many movies and TV shows have been filmed in Hawaii, even if they’re not set there. “Jurassic Park,” “George of the Jungle,” “Tropic Thunder,” ”Six Days, Seven Nights,” “The Thorn Birds” and “South Pacific” were shot at least in part on Kauai. “Just Go With It,” was filmed there and on Maui, “The Tempest,” “Waterworld,” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” were shot on the Big Island, and “Magnum P.I.,” “Lost,” “The Descendents” and the current “Hawaii Five-O” are all Oahu productions.

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