Oahu, also known as “The Gathering Place”, is the third-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is home to roughly one million people—over two-thirds of the population of the U.S. state of Hawaii. The island is within Honolulu County and the state capital, Honolulu, is on Oahu’s southeast coast.
Including small associated islands such as Ford Island plus those in Kane?ohe Bay and off the eastern (windward) coast, its area is 596.7 square miles (1,545.4 km2), making it the 20th-largest island in the United States.
Oahu is 44 miles (71 km) long and 30 miles (48 km) across. Its shoreline is 227 miles (365 km) long. The island is composed of two separate shield volcanoes: the Wai?anae and Ko?olau Ranges, with a broad valley or saddle (the central Oahu Plain) between them. The highest point is Ka?ala in the Wai?anae Range, rising to 4,003 feet (1,220 m) above sea level.
The island, which constitutes the bulk of Honolulu County, had a population of 1,016,508 according to the 2020 U.S. Census, up from 953,207 people in 2010 (approximately 70% of the total 1,455,271 population of Hawaii, with approximately 81% of those living in or near the Honolulu urban area). Oahu has for a long time been known as the “Gathering Place”. The term O?ahu has no confirmed meaning in Hawaiian, other than that of the place itself. Ancient Hawaiian tradition attributes the name’s origin in the legend of Hawai?iloa, the Polynesian navigator credited with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. The story relates that he named the island after his daughter.
Oahu has a well-developed transportation network that resembles that of many other U.S. cities. There are four Interstate Highways on Oahu: H-1, H-2, H-3, and H-201. H-1 runs from Kapolei (Leeward side) to Honolulu, where it turns into Kalaniana?ole Highway. H-2 serves as a spur route towards the suburbs of Mililani and Waipio, the town of Wahiawa, the North Shore, and Schofield Barracks. H-3 connects central Oahu to Windward Oahu and Marine Corps Base Hawaii via the Tetsuo Harano Tunnels. H-201, the only auxilliary Interstate Highway outside of the contiguous United States, serves as a bypass of H-1. Other areas are predominantly served by state highways. The City and County of Honolulu operates a bus system known as TheBus and is currently building a new elevated rail system.
The city of Honolulu—largest city, state capital, and main deepwater marine port for the State of Hawai?i—is located here. As a jurisdictional unit, the entire island of Oahu is in Honolulu County, although as a place name, Honolulu occupies only a portion of the southeast end of the island.
Well-known features found on Oahu include Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Hanauma, Kane?ohe Bay, Kailua Bay, North Shore, and the resort destination, Ko Olina.
While the island is designated the City and County of Honolulu, excluding the minor Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, residents identify settlements using town names (generally those of the census-designated places), and consider the island to be divided into various areas which may overlap. The most commonly accepted areas are the “City”, “Town” or “Town side”, which is the urbanized area from Halawa to the area below Diamond Head (residents of the island north of the Ko?olau Mountains consider the Town Side to be the entire southern half), “West Oahu”, which goes from Pearl Harbor to Kapolei, ?Ewa and may include the Makaha and Wai?anae areas; the “North Shore” (northwestern coast); the “Windward Side” (northeastern coast from Kahuku to Kane?ohe); the “East Side” or “East Coast” (the eastern portion of the island, from Kane?ohe on the northeast, around the tip of the island to include much of the area east of Diamond Head); and “The Valley” or “Central Oahu” which runs northwest from Pearl Harbor toward Hale?iwa. These terms are somewhat flexible, depending on the area in which the user lives, and are used in a mostly general way, but residents of each area identify strongly with their part of the island, especially those outside of widely-known towns. For instance, if locals are asked where they live, they would usually reply “Windward Oahu” rather than “Laie”.
Being roughly diamond-shaped, surrounded by ocean and divided by mountain ranges, directions on Oahu are not generally described with the compass directions found throughout the world. Locals instead use directions originally using Honolulu as the central point. To go ?ewa means traveling toward the western tip of the island, “Diamond Head” is toward the eastern tip, mauka is inland (toward the central Ko?olau Mountain range, north of Honolulu) and makai toward the sea. When these directions became common, Diamond Head was the eastern edge of the primary populated area. Today, with a much larger populace and extensive development, the mountain itself is often not actually to the east when directions are given, and is not to be used as a literal point of reference—to go “Diamond Head” is to go to the east from anywhere on the island.
Oahu is also known for having the longest rain shower in history, which lasted for 200 consecutive days. Kane?ohe Ranch reported 247 straight days with rain from August 27, 1993 to April 30, 1994. The average temperature in Oahu is around 70–85 °F (21–29 °C) and the island is the warmest in June through October. The weather during the winter is cooler, but still warm with an average temperature of 68–78 °F (20–26 °C).
The windward side is known for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Lanikai Beach on the windward coast of Oahu has been consistently ranked among the best beaches in the world. (Wikipedia)
These fascinating photos were taken by Nick DeWolf that show daily life of Oahu beaches, Hawaii in 1973.
(Photos © Nick DeWolf)