10 Things You Never Knew About Oahu

06/15/2015 08:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

Ten Things you never knew about Oahu
The island of Oahu is one of the world's most popular visitor destination.

When The Moana Surfrider opened for business back in 1901, it was the first hotel to open its doors along the sands of Waikiki Beach. Today, the island of Oahu is one of the world's most popular visitor destinations, where beaches, shopping, waves and waterfalls draw millions of visitors each year. With that said, even though Oahu is one of the world's more desirable places to vacation, there is still a lot about this tropical island that visitors might not know. For a bit more insight on the "Gathering Place," as the island is commonly known, here are ten things you never knew about Oahu to get you prepped for your next trip to paradise.

It has the only Royal Palace in the United States

Not everybody who visits Hawaii is aware it was once its own country. For the first few decades of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Royal Capital was in the town of Lahaina on the neighboring island of Maui. In 1845, however, the capital was moved to Honolulu and a palace was built for the kings. The original structure was made from coral and known as "Hale Ali'i," before the name was changed to 'Iolani Palace' in 1863. When the palace fell into disrepair, an ornate new palace was built on the grounds in American Florentine style. Unlike any other building ever built in Hawaii, 'Iolani Palace had electricity and telephones before the White House in Washington, D.C. It's the site where the monarchy was overthrown and the Kingdom of Hawaii would end, and taking a tour of 'Iolani Palace is a fascinating look at one of the world's most sophisticated royal monarchies.

It has the second worst traffic in the U.S.

For all of its tropical beauty and allure, not everything on Oahu is sunsets, smiles, Mai Tais and rainbows: For the nearly 1 million people who live on the island (and visitors trying to get to a luau), the island has areas with choking traffic that ranks behind only L.A. Granted, most of this traffic is confined to the freeways surrounding Honolulu, and on the country roads of the North Shore, traffic only becomes an issue when the Triple Crown of Surfing is in town.

It has a higher population than six U.S. states

According to census estimates for 2013, the island of Oahu has 983,429 people living on the island. According to statistics for the same year, that officially means Oahu is more populous than Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota and Delaware.

Western Oahu is over a million years older than eastern Oahu

The island of Oahu is comprised of two mountain ranges that run from north to south. The Waianae Range is in West Oahu and rises to 4,000 feet, whereas the Ko'olau Mountains in East Oahu top out at 3,150 feet. Of the eight major Hawaiian islands, only Ni'ihau and Lana'i have highest points which are lower than that of Oahu. Despite the fact they're similar in height, the two Oahu mountain ranges are very different in age. All of the islands in the Hawaiian chain were formed over a stationary hot spot, and as the Pacific plate shifts to the northwest, the islands become older, shorter and more eroded as they drift away from their source. Today, the active hot spot is where Kilauea volcano is erupting on the Big Island of Hawaii, and as you work your way northwards up the Hawaiian chain, the Big Island and Maui are younger than Oahu, and Kauai is a fair amount older. According to geologists, the Waianae Range in West Oahu is 3.9 million years old, while the rugged Ko'olau Range that rises behind Honolulu is 1.2 million years younger.

It has the most dangerous beach in Hawaii

There are over 125 beaches on the island of Oahu where visitors can soak up some rays, but at one beach on the southeastern shore, visitors should seriously avoid the water unless they're exceptional swimmers. Sandy Beach Park is one of the best places on Oahu to watch surfing in the summer, but venturing into the shore break means tangling with waves that are known for their spine-altering power. According to official incident reports, more injuries are reported at "Sandy's" than any other beach in Hawaii, and it's even rumored that an ambulance is stationed permanently in the adjoining parking lot.

Waikiki used to be a swamp

It's hard to believe that famous Waikiki was once a marshy swampland, but until the construction of the Ala Wai Canal in 1928, this oceanfront plain housed traditional taro fields and well-irrigated rice paddies. The shoreline area was a popular vacation spot for Hawaiian nobility and royalty, many of whom had private residences in the area surrounding Diamond Head. When the Ala Wai Canal was constructed, however, it drained much of the surrounding plain of the mosquito-infested marsh, and quickly became the urban playground that's so popular with visitors today.

Honolulu's record low temperature is 52 degrees

There's a reason why Oahu is popular with visitors -- particularly during the winter. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Honolulu is 52 degrees, which took place on Jan. 20, 1969. On average, the low temperature in Honolulu is somewhere in the mid to lower 60s, with winter highs often reaching around 80 degrees.

It's bad luck to take pork over the Pali

Pali Lookout Oahu
Make sure to not take any pork over the pali.

The "pali," as it's known, is a road that leads over the Ko'olau mountain range between Honolulu and Kailua. Pali in Hawaiian is a word that means "cliffs," and the steep cliffs that the road navigates were also the site of a famous battle where Kamehameha conquered Oahu. Today, according to legend, it's highly taboo to carry pork over the pali since it reminds Pele -- the Hawaiian volcano goddess -- of Kamapua'a -- the Hawaiian pig god she once broke up with. Anyone who foolishly brings pork over the pali will be met with car trouble until they dispose of the pork, which is only taboo if it's raw.

Surfers have ridden waves as high as 85 feet

Everyone knows that the North Shore of Oahu is a global mecca for surfers, and you could make the argument that the sport of surfing was born right here on Oahu. In 1998, North Shore surfer Ken Bradshaw created more Oahu lore, when he famously rode an 85 feet wave at the surf spot "Outer Log Cabins." Bradshaw was aided by the use of a Jet Ski to help tow him into the wave, and while larger waves have recently been ridden off the stormy coast of Portugal, Bradshaw's wave was regarded for years as the largest wave ever surfed. While you definitely won't be surfing the 80-footers, if you'd like to try your hand at surfing on your next trip to the islands, you can find surf lessons on Oahu at many south shore beaches.

Oahu has more tourists than every neighbor island combined

Finally, while each of the different Hawaiian islands has their own attractions and charm, there's no denying that the island of Oahu is the most popular island with visitors. According to statistics from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 2013 saw over 5.1 million visitors travel to Oahu. By comparison, Maui had approximately 2.3 million visitors in 2013, and the Big Island of Hawaii officially clocked in with 1.4 million visitors. The island of Kauai, with 1.1 million visitors, was the least visited of the major islands, and when all of the neighbor islands are combined, they still don't match the number of people enjoying the Oahu sun.

-Contributed by Kyle Ellison

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