awe inspiring elevation in Hawaii

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.

Mauna Kea Highest Peak Telescopes

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:

  1. 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
  2. Maui’s highest point is at 10,023 ft above sea level at the peak of Haleakala
  3. Kauai’s highest point is at 5,148 ft above sea level at the peak of Kawaikini’
  4. Molokai’s highest point is at 4,970 ft above sea level at the peak of Kamakou
  5. Oahu’s highest point is at 4,010 ft above sea level at the peak of Mount Kaala
  6. Lanai’s highest point is at 3,366 ft above sea level at the peak of Mount Lānaʻihale
  7. Kahoolawe’s highest point is at 1,483 ft above sea level at the peak of Puʻu Moaulanui
  8. 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.

Hawaii from Space by NASA

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.
source: NOAA

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.

kona coffee belt

The Kona Coffee Belt

Kona Hawaii Coffee Belt Elevation Weather

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:

  • View
  • Privacy
  • Weather

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!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Wpalmer

    Yeah. I think if you are going to write an elevation article, you might want to include the names of cities and towns with higher elevations.

    1. Scott Wynn

      Good point. I think the hard part about that is the confusion of certain cities. For example I live in Kona and you can be right at sea level or up 1500ft, maybe even higher. There are towns like Holualoa or Kaloko that could be mentioned but where do you start and stop. My post was more about the fact that when purchasing you should consider the elevation as a part of your decision and not necessarily poitning out all the higher elevation areas as they all have their own unique traits and charm.

  2. Dave

    This was just the information I sought! If it’s elevation one seeks, it looks like the Kona area is about as high as you can get. I mean there are ranches and nature preserves that are higher, but how does one buy into that?? The east end of Schofield Barracks gets about 1200′ high but I don’t know if one can live there if not in the military.

    The burning question in my mind is if lots/homes in the 1500′ elevation range are more pricey than equivalent residences further down the hill? Or do people generally favor the warmer drier locations closer to the ocean?

    1. Calling Kona Home

      Great questions! “Kona” is a very broad area with elevation ranging from 0′ to 2500′. Waimea, as an example, is at about 2600′ if that’s where you would prefer to live. Homes at a particular elevation do not specifically mean that you will pay a higher price. There are many variables including home type, home condition, home size, ocean view, privacy, conveniences, etc. Location is largely dependent on preference. Some like condos near the ocean to have an ocean view, convenience to the beach, warmer weather and low maintenance (because the condo handles that). Others, like us, prefer higher elevations with a view, a bit more privacy and about 10 degrees cooler than at sea level. I hope that helps? If not, let me know. And if you need help with finding the right location & home for you we can connect you with someone we trust.

  3. Carl

    What level does the mildew problem begin?

    1. Calling Kona Home

      Elevation may play a role in mildew but it is more about moisture levels. This could happen if you are right at sea level but on the ocean or up at 2000′ where you get a lot of rain. I would say mildew is a potential problem no matter which elevation you are at here in Hawaii.

  4. Kim Carroll

    Thank you for a great article!

    1. Calling Kona Home

      You’re welcome. Thanks for reading.

  5. RENE WALDER

    Excellent info. I see this as a big concern. I only think that if living along the slope of a volcano, it could add a different concern. But I want privacy, more rain, not as much humidity and cooler temps.

    1. Calling Kona Home

      We live on the side of a volcano (Hualalai), have privacy, some rain and cooler temps, just like you are looking for and we are at 1300 elevation. It might be too much rain though…it rains almost every day for about 30-60 minutes but keeps things cool. And the bonus is you don’t have to spend as much on water for irrigation.

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