Eight Superior Land Formations That You will Love In Hawaii Defined

Learn how these natural landmarks got their popular nicknames.

Learn how these natural landmarks got their popular nicknames. Photo: outdoorPDK / cc-nc-sa

1. Chinaman’s hat (Mokolii)

Chinamans Hat OahuPhoto: Sarah Camp / cc-nd

The actual local legend of this basalt island means “little lizard” in Hawaiian. Local Hawaiians believed that Hiiaka, the goddess of Hula, killed a giant lizard and threw its tail into the ocean – this very small island off Kaneohe Bay.

Because of its resemblance to an Asian conical hat, its common name became Chinaman’s Hat, which inspired a popular local children’s book called The Story of Chinaman’s Hat.

2. Crouching lion (Kauhiimakaokalani)

crouching lion oahuPhoto: Joel / cc-nd

On the windward side of Oahu, this rock formation is on the ridge of Kahana Bay. Local Hawaiians believed it was the head of a very large dog because, according to legend, Pele turned a demigod to stone after defying her. (Remember: there are no lions on the islands, so you would never have thought to compare the shape of this formation to a lion.)

It wasn’t until the Westerners made contact with Oahu that the name became the Crouching Lion.

3. Sleeping Giant (Nounou)

Sleep Giant Kauai Nomenou MountainsPhoto: Larry Loos / cc

You will encounter the figure of the giant from afar on Kauai’s east side. If you stare at the Nounou Mountains, you can see the resemblance of a giant resting on its back. This is one of the few geological formations where the English nickname overlaps with Hawaiian legend.

It is believed that a giant who lived on Kauai after hard work and overeating, retired and has not woken up since. Another story tells that to deter unwanted intruders, residents lit fires on the route to illuminate their grand silhouette.

4. Rabbit Island (Manana)

Rabbit Island Oahu WaimanaloPhoto: david bingle / cc-nc-nd

Manana means lively and is one of Oahu’s most famous natural attractions. Its common name, “Rabbit Island”, is twofold: because of its resemblance to the head of a rabbit and because it was once a breeding ground for introduced rabbits.

Hawaiian businessman John Adams Kuakini Cummins founded the rabbit colony in the 1880s, but had to be destroyed 100 years later because they destroyed the native ecosystem.

5. Olomana’s body killed

Olomana Trek Oahu LegendPhoto: Sean Munson / cc-nc-nd

Olomana (“divided hill” in Hawaiian) generally refers to three mountain peaks on the windward side of Oahu that are intense and dangerous trails that only very experienced hikers should attempt.

According to ancient legend, the most pointed peak is the lower half of the slain giant warrior Olomana, who used to rule everything from Kualoa to Makapuu. The king of Oahu, Ahuapau, ordered the warrior Palila to fight Olomana. He managed to cut it in half, toss its top half into the ocean, and leave its remains on land.

6. Lizard head (Molokini)

Molokini crater legendPhoto: Aftab Uzzaman / CC-NC

Many are familiar with the seductive crescent shape of the Molokini crater off Maui, but not many are familiar with the Hawaiian legend that explains it. And even those who are most likely to get it wrong. Contrary to popular belief, Molokini’s crater is actually the head, not the tail, as reported by most online reports.

The landmark resource of local Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui, “Place Names of Hawaii,” tells the folk tale as such: the fire goddess Pele and a female lizard fell in love with the same prince, and in jealous rage, Pele cut the lizard in half. The submerged head became Molokini.

Updated on 10/22/15: In another ancient creation chant entitled “Myth of Papa-Hanau-Moku”, Molokini is said to be the afterbirth of Papa, a central figure in Hawaiian mythology who is considered the mother of the islands. This neither discredits the oral tradition passed down through generations, but only illustrates the richness of the origins of the names of the land formations of Hawaii.

7. Lizard tail (Puu Olai)

Puu-Olai-MauiPhoto: Kris Nelson / CC-NC-ND

Puu Olai, a dormant volcanic cinder cone on Makena Beach, is also part of the lizard. With a little imagination, you can tell the shape of its tail sticking out into the ocean.

8. Heart-shaped rock of Nakalele

heart shaped rock maui nakalelePhoto: D Smith / cc-nc

The lava fields that are in the northernmost part of the island have left this cavity, which is quite … lovely. To the right of Nakalele Blowhole on Maui is a heart-shaped puka (hole) that has become a target in its own right.

Keywords:: Chinaman’s hat (Mokolii), Crouching Lion (Kauhiimakaokalani), Hawaii story, Heart-shaped rock of Nakalele, Land formation, Lizard tail (Puu Olai), Lizard head (Molokini), Rabbit Island (Manana), Killed body of Olomana, Sleeping Giant (Nounou), Stories behind Hawaii places

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