The islands were formed by volcanic eruptions triggered by moving plate tectonics. As hot magma flowed from the volcanoes into the ocean, it cooled into sheets which then began layering and eventually forming islands. The theory of island biogeography explains, in part, the dramatically different ecosystems and species present on the individual islands by illustrating how the distance and size of the islands influence colonization and extinction rates of flora and fauna. The Hawai’ian islands were first discovered by Polynesians who introduced the distinctive plants and animals that are viewed as native today. The species that live here have evolved under these unique conditions and many cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
Due to their remote geography, Pacific Island cultures have thrived without outside intervention for thousands of years. Despite being absorbed by the United States in the late 1800’s, these communities are dedicated to maintaining traditional languages, foods, and customs, even while more recent events (such as WWII) have had major impacts on the islands. NPS has dedicated parks and memorials to help preserve and protect the rich histories and resources of these one-of-a-kind places for future generations to enjoy.
Haleakalā National Park
At Haleakalā National Park, located on the island of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, there are remnants of ancient Polynesian settlements that are still evident in the form of ancient buildings, shrines, and temple ruins. A partnership today between Kīpahulu ʻOhana, a local non-profit, and NPS is one of many agreements that have contributed significantly to restoration of these sites, as well as education efforts to support local communities. In addition to archeological wonders, Haleakalā is home to bamboo forests, colorful native birds, and ancient volcanoes. Perhaps most exciting, are the hiking trails leading to 400ft waterfalls deep in the rainforest, or to the top of the cinder cone with views of rainbow-colored deserts and ancient lava flows. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to Haleakalā National Park.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
At Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you can visit museums and memorials to learn about the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and its role in the incitement of World War II. The USS Arizona Memorial is one of the park's main attractions, with a 45-minute guided visitation program running daily. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Kalaupapa National Historical Park is one of Hawaii's more remote parks, as it is only accessible by a 3.5 mile hike on Moloka'i Island. The park was established to preserve the history of the 8,000 leprosy patients who were forcibily sent to this site to quarantine between 1866 and 1969. Kalaupapa is now considered a refuge and home for the remaining residents who are now cured of Hansen's disease (previously known as leprosy). Today, you can visit historic buildings and memorial grounds of those who passed. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to Kalaupapa National Historical Park.
Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site is located on the big island of Hawai'i and is dedicated to remembering the Hawaiian Kingdom. The grounds feature a temple and offering tower built by King Kamehameha I. Here you can learn about Hawaiian warriors while walking on the same land they did many years ago. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, located on the big island of Hawai'i, was established to celebrate and teach others about traditional Hawaiian activities and culture. Two fish ponds and a fish trap are kept on site as an example of native fishing practices. They have also preserved petroglyphs left by original Hawaiian inhabitants which serve as a window into the past. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park.
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Puʻuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is located on the big island of Hawai’i. It is home to the puʻuhonua, place of refuge, protected behind a 965 foot long barrier aptly called The Great Wall. Visit other cultural landmarks such as the 1871 trail or head to the water for fishing, snorkeling, and lounging under the palm trees. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is located on the big island of Hawai'i and is home to two of the largest active volcanoes in the world, with eruptions occurring as recently as early 2023. Visitors come from around the world to witness active lava flows and the unique nighttime glow they emit. The island also features miles of hiking trails leading to the edge of crater pits, woodland meadows, and pristine rainforests. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
National Park of American Samoa
The remotely-located National Park of the American Samoa spans across four islands: Tutuila, Ofu, Olosega, and Ta'ū. They showcase tropical rainforests, coral reefs, and a park visitor center that houses exhibits on Samoan culture. Go snorkeling among thousands of colorful fish, hike among forest birds and plants, and explore the secluded villages. Housing near the island is extremely limited, so when planning lodging consider the Homestay Program which allows you to stay with a local family on the island. Learn more about the island and the Homestay Program here. You can also click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to the National Park of the American Samoa.
War in the Pacific National Historical Park
War in the Pacific National Historical Park is located on the island of Guam and preserves the memory of those who lost their lives in World War II. Visit the Memorial Wall, which lists the names of the U.S. service members and civilians who lost their lives in Guam during the war. The park also features the Asan Ridge Trail through a limestone forest where you can view culturally significant plants used in traditional Guam food and medicine. Click here to find out more about the attractions and plan your visit to War in the Pacific National Historic Park.
Article written by Audrey Nelson
for "A Day in the Life of a Fellow" Article Series
National Park Service - Workforce Management Fellow
in Partnership with Northwest Youth Corps (NYC)