Whatever the charm of the Neighbor Islands may be, the island of Oahu and its city of Honolulu are where the people are and where the action is, now and probably for many more decades to come. The reason intensive development started here, rather than elsewhere, is that Honolulu and contiguous Pearl Harbor are the only safe deep-water ports in all the islands.
In Captain Cook's time ( 1778), the native population of the islands was estimated at 400,000; in 1836 at something short of 200,000; in 1866 at 50,000; it is to-day, per census, 25,000 All intelligent people praise Kamehameha I. and Liholiho for conferring upon the people the great boon of civilization. I would do it myself, but my intelligence is out of repair, now, from overwork.
By 200, the population of Oahu reached 876,151. The 2000 Census indicated 371,657 people in the city of Honolulu itself, growing more slowly than the remainder of the island. Many consider Oahu's development dangerously fast and helterskelter -- a subject to which we will return later -- but the fact is that a fantastic amount of human activity has been crowded into this relatively small island (about 40 miles long and 20 miles wide), with the natural environment still largely intact.
The Honolulu metropolitan concentrate is still largely confined to a comile stretch of Oabu's southern plain, anchored by Pearl Harbor on the west and Koko Head (beyond Diamond Head) on the east. The settlement pokes fingers into the mountains that rim it, but basically the Koolau Range is too massive and craggy to be violated. It may be the very ruggedness of Hawaii's volcanic mountain terrain, in fact, that holds back the worst kind of metropolitan sprawl. (Since statehood, however, subdivisions have filled in the valley at Hawaii-Kai and begun to creep across sections of both Leeward and Windward Oabu.
Pearl Harbor, a reservation of some 100,000 acres (and $1.5 billion value), combines not only the vivid history of December 7, 1941, but the presentday command of U.S. Naval operations to the westernmost reaches of the Pacific. In Pearl's environs, the Commander-in-chief of the Pacific (CINGPAC) has directed the massive American military presence clear across to Asia, including the war zones in Vietnam and Korea. (The Pacific Command presently embraces 94 million square miles, from the West Coast of the U.S. to the Arabian Sea, from the North to the South Pole.) Tucked in beside Pearl Harbor are some of the other necessary but not too glamorous facilities vital to the Islands as they exist today: Hickam Air Force Base, where American Presidents and cabinet officers have arrived rather frequently to plan the Vietnam war; Honolulu International Airport, booming and thriving and cracking at the seams; big Naval shipyards, and far to the west, cement and steel plants humming merrily away and providing a major share of the island's needs in their particular fields.