Nickname - The Gathering Place
Size: O‘ahu is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, with a land area of 597 square miles.
It is 44 miles long and 30 miles wide.
Highest Point: Mt. Ka‘ala, 4,020 feet
Miles of Shoreline: 112 miles
County Seat: Honolulu
Introduction: In the ancient Hawaiian language, Oahu probably meant something very special, perhaps the name of a god or brave chief. However, the original meaning has remained buried with the early Hawaiians. The third largest island in the Hawaiian Chain, Oahu is home to about 75% of the state’s population. And since the early 1800s, Honolulu, the state’s capital, has served as the center of business as well as government.
Until Pearl Harbor was made navigable early in this century, Honolulu’s harbor was the only protected body of water of its size within 2,000 miles of Hawai‘i. Strategically located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Oahu is the hub of American military operations, hosting the single largest combined US military presence in the world.
Though Honolulu’s harbor was always conveniently there, waiting for weary ships to sail into her comfortable waters, explorers didn’t find her for more than sixteen years after the coming of Captain James Cook in 1778. This was probably because the navigable channel leading into the harbor was only about 550 feet wide and easily overlooked, but also because in those early post-contact days the Big Island and Maui were greater centers of Hawaiian power than Oahu.
Kamehameha & Kalanikupule
In 1795, two British ships in Honolulu Harbor were commandeered with the ship’ captains’ lives ending violently, as Oahu’s ambitious King Kalanikupule wanted to use the ships, their guns and captured crewmen to attack Hawai‘i’s well-armed and advancing King Kamehameha. But the Oahu king’s naval stragegy was a bit late; about four months later, Kamehameha invaded Oahu and dealt Kalanikupule and his Oahu soldiers a series of devastating defeats which ended in a final and ultimately unsuccessful last stand at the Battle of Nu‘uanu Valley. As for Kalanikupule, he was captured thirteen months later and ended his life on Oahu as a human sacrifice to Kamehameha’s war god, Kukailimoku.
The Importance of Honolulu’s Harborfront
Meanwhile, in Kamehameha’s hands, Honolulu became the most important stop-over point in the mid-Pacific ocean. Within a few years, dozens, then scores, and eventually hundreds of ships a year were lying yardarm-to-yardarm in Honolulu’s harbor.
With the coming of sailing vessels, trinkets, gun powder, alcohol and a Westerner’s concept called money, the more akamai, or smart, Hawaiians, including Kamehameha the Great, began moving to Honolulu’s harborfront. Kamehameha himself was only able to tolerate this commercial chaos for about eight years (1804-1812), but though he eventually moved away and spent his life at quieter Kailua-Kona, his Big Island “capital,” he closely monitored money-making matters at Honolulu until his death in 1819.
Oahu: Crossroads of the Pacific
With the coming of whaling-related revenues, the sons of Kamehameha the Great, Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III, moved Hawaii’s capital to the booming whaling town of Lahaina. But eventually the Hawaiian elite conceded that the real action was taking place at Honolulu and in 1845, Kamehameha III moved lock, stock and legislature to Oahu. On August 30, 1850, Kamehameha III officially declared Honolulu to be the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
The best thing about Oahu is that it has everything that you could want in an island paradise as well as all the amenities one would expect at the Crossroads of the Pacific. Beyond its world-famous beaches, you will find that Oahu offers a wealth of multicultural experiences.