Hawaii is Closer than you Think

Oh those intrepid Googlers, the source of so much amusement and adventure as I relentlessly review their keyword searches captured in my access logs. What would a weekend morning be without a cup of coffee and a pile of raw statistical data to be mined through? Some people prefer the New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle. Not me. I travel to faraway places through the curious wanderings of my fleeting visitors who stop by only for a moment, never to return. I value each and every one of them and would never question their wisdom and insight. I’m sorry, I have to pause for a moment; I can’t even type that with a straight face. Check out these two totally real queries from viewers I’m sure must be future Nobel Laureates:

  • is hawaii actually part of the us
  • what state borders hawaii

I can imagine a context where either query might be considered rational. It’s all about context. The first question arrived right around the time of the Inauguration. Obviously it was a last-ditch attempt by the Twelve Mile Circle’s secret admirer (ya betcha) to undo the election and throw the results to the runner-up. If Hawaii wasn’t actually part of the United States then Barack Obama couldn’t be president, correct?[1]

The second question can be repurposed, and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t actually result in something interesting. What the viewer really meant to ask but didn’t articulate well, was: What state is closest to Hawaii?. Well, excluding Hawaii itself of course, the surprising answer: Alaska.

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As usual, the answer appears instantly when it’s drawn on a map even with a quick eyeball examination. Most people don’t conceptualize the amazing length of the chain of Hawaiian Islands which stretches about 1,500 miles. The northwestern or leeward part of the chain, with the exception of Midway Atoll (an unorganized, unincorporated territory), belongs within jurisdiction of the state of Hawaii. From Kure Atoll it’s only 1,576 miles to the southernmost spot in Alaska, Nitrof Point on Amatignak Island using the Great Circle Method of calculation. That makes Kure Atoll about the same distance from the Big Island as it is to Alaska!

Now I know what you’re thinking,

OK, Mr. Smarty Pants. Enough with the trick questions. Nobody really cares about a two-hundred acre speck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, although admittedly it’s pretty cool because it’s the northernmost coral atoll on the planet. Tell me, what’s the closest state to "normal" Hawaii where the people live and the pineapples grow?

I can do that. Let’s take a look. Using the Howder Draws a Bunch of Lines between Hawaii and California Method of calculation, it appears that the shortest distance between Hawaii and the so-called Mainland happens between the Big Island and California. Specifically it’s between the northeastern edge of the Island of Hawaii near Hilo and the Flumeville / Point Arena area of California about 120 miles up the coast from San Francisco. Here the total distance between Hawaii and California is about 2,285 miles. I thought originally that the distance would have been shorter from nearby Cape Kumukahi (the easternmost point in Hawaii) but once I mapped it out I saw that it’s several miles longer due to the way the two states orient. There’s also a spot in Maui that is perhaps only two miles further away, too. Either way, right around 2,285-2,288 miles.

Now let’s turn to the northernmost spot in the southeastern or windward islands, the part of Hawaii that people generally think of as "Hawaii" even thought we all know it’s a false assumption. That spot marks the location of the Kilauea Lighthouse on the island of Kauai. Draw a line up to the closest point in Alaska and it arrives at Samalga Island, the westernmost of the Fox Islands group in the eastern Aleutians. It’s one and a half square miles of uninhabited glory. However just a sliver away further and right next door is Umnak Island and the 39 inhabitants of its only town, Nikolski. This island once housed Fort Glenn, a strategically important site during the second world war. It also features Mount Okmok, a volcano that erupted in 2008. Neat stuff!

Oh, the total distance between Kauai and Samalga Islands? 2,175 miles. It’s still shorter to Alaska than the west coast of the Lower 48, even using the cheater approach. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. When I was in Anchorage several years ago on business I noticed a flight waiting at one of the gates with a Honolulu destination listed. Now I know why.

[1]That assumes you believe his Birth Certificate rather than one of several conspiracy theories. Otherwise I’d have to withdraw my attempt to make the question sound intelligent and you would need to reach your own conclusion about the mental capacity and/or education of the person who submitted it.

5 Replies to “Hawaii is Closer than you Think”

  1. Hey, I live on Umnak island @ the old Ft. Glenn, and let me tell you, the volcano blowing up is not all that neat a stuff. Want any other info.

    1. I certainly agree it would be rather unpleasant to experience first-hand, for sure.

      Twelve Mile Circle usually deals with topics of geography, history and geology so "neat" within that context would equate to "interesting" (i.e., Umnak’s unique geographic placement with respect to the primary Hawaiian islands; its vital but relatively unknown contribution during the second world war, and its recent volcanic activity). In other words, it has a lot of fascinating aspects that few people know anything about. Experiencing the eruption first-hand would fall into a different category entirely: "things that probably suck."

      I’m sure we’d all love to hear more about your experiences.

    2. Lonnie,
      Lucky U !
      Can U find/determine the distance from ur airport at Nikolski (IKO) to the closet airport in Hawaii//In s/miles is ok and civilian, military or unattended will work ? May be Kauai.
      Thanks, jim

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