When I made my first trip to Hawaii I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting the huge elevation changes. Hawaii is so beautiful not just because it is an island with great views of the ocean but the incredible mountain landscape left behind from the volcanoes. The elevation changes in Hawaii is what makes it so awe inspiring. As we considered a move to Kona the elevation of became much more important than just what it did for the view.
Elevation levels in Hawaii:
- Hilo: 59′ (Hawaii)
- Honolulu: 19′ (Oahu)
- Kapaa: 19′ (Kauai)
- Kihei: 3′ (Maui)
- Kahului: 0′ (Maui)
- Lihue: 220′ (Kauai)
- Mililani Town: 627′ (Oahu)
- Pearl City: 89′ (Oahu)
- Princeville: 194′ (Kauai)
- Kailua-Kona: 7′ (Hawaii)
- Waipahu: 62′ (Oahu)
Not a big surprise that most of the popular cities and towns in Hawaii are located near the shore and therefore have low elevations. The ocean creates jobs such as tourism, defense (Navy & Coast Guard), and agriculture (sugar, flowers, macadamia nuts). But there is a draw to higher elevations in Hawaii.
Highest Elevation on Each Hawaiian Island
Now that I live on the side of a huge volcano in Hawaii I often get a glimpse of the peak of Mauna Kea. This made me wonder what the highest point was in Hawaii. I also wondered about the highest point on each island.
Here are the highest points on each Hawaiian Island:
- Hawaii’s highest point is at 13,803 ft above sea level at the peak of Mauna Kea making it the the highest point in all of the Hawaiian islands
- Maui’s highest point is at 10,023 ft above sea level at the peak of Haleakala
- Kauai’s highest point is at 5,148 ft above sea level at the peak of Kawaikini’
- Molokai’s highest point is at 4,970 ft above sea level at the peak of Kamakou
- Oahu’s highest point is at 4,010 ft above sea level at the peak of Mount Kaala
- Lanai’s highest point is at 3,366 ft above sea level at the peak of Mount Lānaʻihale
- Kahoolawe’s highest point is at 1,483 ft above sea level at the peak of Puʻu Moaulanui
- Niihau’s highest point is at 1,281 ft above sea level at the peak of Mount Pānīʻau
One thing many people do not realize is that Mauna Kea is considered the world’s tallest mountain. Mount Everest is the highest from sea level at 29,029 ft but Mauna Kea measures 33,500 ft from the base to the peak making it the tallest when measured from base to peak.
Mauna Kea has, as of the writing of this post, recently come into the news based on protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope from being constructed on its summit. Mauna Kea, for some native Hawaiians, is considered sacred ground and full of history they believe should be protected. The dispute has not yet been resolved and time will tell how this will play out.
How Elevation Impacts the Weather in Hawaii
All these stats are quite interesting but not really all that tangible when it comes to understanding how the elevation impacts you when you are visiting or living in Hawaii. And that became very clear as we started looking at homes to buy here in Kona, Hawaii.
Let me explain what I mean. If you are in “downtown” Kona the average annual temperature is 74.6°F. But if you go up to just 1,000 ft the average temperature drops to 70.4°F.
You might be thinking going up 1,000 feet in elevation may be quite a ways away. But it’s not. That is what makes Hawaii so spectacular is the mountains (or volcanoes) that just shoot up. To go from the 7′ elevation of “downtown” Kona to the 1,000′ level is a mere 7.5 miles away.
What this means is that just a few miles can significantly change the climate. Not just a difference in 4.2°F but also a difference in annual rainfall of 26 in and 49 in!!
What you’ll generally find in Hawaii is that for every 1,000 feet in elevation change you will realize a 3°F drop in temperature.
Rainfall has a whole lot more factors than just elevation which is why we can’t say that for every certain amount of elevation change the rainfall goes up a certain amount. Instead there is more of a band-like situation when it comes to rainfall and humidity.
The Kona Coffee Belt
That band-like situation is referred to as the coffee belt here in Kona. That’s where some of the world’s-best coffee is made. And it is based on elevation (for temperature) but also the humidity and rainfall that occurs. You can see it in this map from the University of Hawaii which shows this band of annual rainfall right where the coffee farmers have their farms.
The Best Elevation for Living in Hawaii
If you’re considering a move to Hawaii like we were the question then becomes which elevation is best for living.
As you can imagine there are a wide range of answers to this question based on preference. For example, do you like rain or are you moving to Hawaii to get away from the rain? Do you want a pool in your backyard or will you just plan to go to the ocean when you want to get in the water? Do you prefer having your windows open or shut the majority of the time?
All these questions can help you in determining which elevation is best for you.
Where We Decided the “Perfect” Elevation Was
The best way to get a feel for elevation and the impact it will have on your day-to-day life in Hawaii after you buy a home is to actually go to homes for sale. When we were visiting Hawaii this sounded like a great idea but finding them was impossible. This is one of the major reasons we created Calling Kona Home. We wanted to give others the resources we wished we had when we were investigating a move to Hawaii. So, if you’re interested in checking out real estate to get a feel for the impact elevation has you’ll want to check out the upcoming Open Houses in the Kona area!
As we started looking at homes we considered a few things including:
What we found is the further up in elevation we went the privacy increased and weather cooled down. The view was still amazing but different than what you got closer to sea level. If you like seeing or even hearing the waves crash you will need to find a home closer to the ocean. If, on the other hand, you enjoy having a wide panoramic view of the ocean then being higher in elevation might be just what you’re looking for!
After visiting for years and searching for real estate more seriously we decided we wanted to be in the 800′ to 1800′ range. That was still a big range considering the swing in temperature and rainfall that can occur but from there it would depend on the homes we could find.
We ultimately settled on a home right in the middle of that range at 1300′. The home is situated in an ideal spot so much that we don’t have heat or air conditioning. We don’t even have ductwork in our home. Coming from Colorado this was quite a shock to us. But it works. In the “winter” it is a bit cooler at night that we may need to shut the windows or put on some pants (instead of shorts). And in the summer we may need to turn the fans up a bit or pull the window coverings closed to avoid the sunlight beating in. But all-in-all it is a pretty amazing spot that allows us to keep the windows open just about year-round! Oh…and we save a ton on heat and A/C!