Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Neighbor Islands (Those Other Islands of Hawaii Where People Live)

As a child growing up on the main island of Oahu, I always wondered about these mysterious Neighbor Islands. Maui, Molokai, Kauai, and the Big Island (to be confusing, this island has the same name as the state of Hawaii) were the fringes of the known world. The island of Kaho’olawe was still being bombed as a military test site. Ni’ihau was, and still is, forbidden to outsiders.  

Oahu in relation to the other islands, the Neighbor Islands. 

Who lived in these Neighbor Islands besides farmers and ranchers and plantation workers? Why did tourists go there? Didn't they used to be called the Outer Islands? When did they get the name Neighbor Islands? Was it connected with promoting tourism? 

After all, Oahu was the center of everything. It’s where Honolulu, the state capitol is located. It’s the island of Pearl Harbor, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Hawaii Five-O and Magnum PI. It’s where King Kamehameha I ruled from after uniting (or conquering) the other islands. It’s where the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy took place.  It’s where most people in Hawaii live, more than 1 million of us. Visitors to Oahu are often surprised by how built up and developed it is. The trick with Oahu is to know where to go, to find exquisite natural areas and beaches.  
As a child, the Neighbor Islands seemed so far away, even though it was only a 30 minute plane ride. When you add driving and airport time, they always seemed like they were in another state. Despite attempts at an interisland ferry throughout the years, it mostly hasn’t worked.

The Neighbor Islands aren't secondary islands, but almost everything comes through Oahu. When I mail a letter to another town on Maui, it goes first to Honolulu on Oahu, then back to Maui. When we buy things at a store, they are often shipped from Oahu, which is where many distribution centers are. 

Now that I’ve lived on two Neighbor Islands, I can say plenty of people live outside of Oahu, and yes, there is a lot less nightlife here! There are real jobs, cars, hotels, houses, and problems. Some issues seem to affect the Neighbor Islands more than Oahu. These issues include the Superferry controversy, Jimmy Pflueger’s destruction of a coral reef and a dam on Kauai, and a hot issue now: GMOs (genetically modified organisms) because of the extensive GMO crop testing done here. 

Oahu residents sometimes seem so insulated to me, going from Longs (a drugstore), Foodland (a locally owned supermarket chain), Costco and Zippy’s (a local restaurant chain) while struggling with ongoing traffic problems.  Neighbor Islanders sometimes look at horror at Oahu’s development, asking “Could that happen to us?” The answer is yes, if we don’t learn from Oahu.

If this topic interests you, here’s another post about the differences between Maui and Oahu.

P.S. If you are blog hopping from the A to Z challenge, please include your link if you comment! I try to reciprocate comments as quickly as I can, though I did lag behind last year, especially towards the end.

P.P.S. I am running two mini-contests during the A-Z Challenge (and into part of May). Here's how to enter


  1. Maybe that's just the post office's way of sending a letter to the main center first. That happens to letters I send locally. They go up to San Jose first, then back to Hollister. All within 24 hours. It cracks me up.

  2. That's so interesting that Ni’ihau is forbidden to outsiders. Now I really want to go there. :-) And it also makes me laugh about the mail going to Oahu and back.

    Hope you’re having fun with the A to Z challenge,

  3. Ah, but how to get an invitation?


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