Hawaii's 4 (or 5) Counties

Counties are another collectable that certain hams covet. There is a regular net in the evening out of Australia that is just for county hunters and a major network of county hunters in the USA. A primary net frequency for county hunters is 14.336 USB in the mainland US, and there is also county hunting on CW.

They are usually not too excited about Honolulu County, but the other three counties are considerably harder to get. There are four official counties in Hawaii: Honolulu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii.

It is sometimes said that each of the five major islands of Hawaii are counties. This is not true. Kauai is Kauai county. The Big Island [Hawaii] is Hawaii county. Oahu is Honolulu County. But both Molokai and Maui are Maui county.

French Frigate Shoals through Kure Island [KH7K], but minus Midway Island [KH4], are part of the County of Honolulu. Talk about a BIG county! Hawaii County and the Island of Hawaii is such a large island it has been used as a "miniature continent" to test computerized weather modeling programs.

The inhabited islands relate to counties as follows:

So Maui County reaches out and encompasses its neighbor island to the West, Molokai. It is on the very special island of Molokai, on a tiny peninsula of land, isolated on three sides by Pacific Ocean and on the South by an imposing cliff, virtually another island, that we search for county number five.

Most of this inaccessable land is just above sea level and located in Grid BL11me. It is bounded roughly by 157 degrees west to 156 degrees 55 minutes west; and 21 degrees 11 minutes north to about 21 degrees 12.5 minutes north. Its only major town is centered on 156 degrees 59 minutes west and 21 degrees 11.5 minutes north.

So are there Four or Five Counties?

A mythical(?) fifth Hawaii county has been the subject of ham radio folk lore for some time, allegedly one of the rarest of the 3076 counties in the United States for county hunters, hams who collect contacts with US Counties. In fact, a fifth Hawaii county certainly did exist at one time.

The Rarest of the Rare, or Not There?

NOTE: The following is from an interview with Dr. Joseph R. Morgan of the Geography Department of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. You can be assured any mistakes are mine, as he is an expert on the subject of political geography in Hawaii:

Called Kalawao County, Hawaii's fifth county included the peninsula of Kalaupapa on the north side of the island of Molokai and a portion of the steep cliff face overlooking this area, and perhaps a bit of the land near the top of East end of the cliffs. The district/county lines continue to the east through very rough country and eventually back down to the Pacific.

This area was set aside very early on, in the 1880's, as a colony for sufferers of Hansen's Disease, Leprosy. It is where Father Damien (now Blessed Damien) worked. It was created as a county along with the other four Hawaii counties in 1905. It unusual in that it was administered as a separate County by the Department of Health. Thus it has had special status from its creation. Molokai

Several decades ago the old county lines became district lines, and this political area was absorbed into Maui county as one of its new judicial districts. An authoritative map published in 1983 already clearly shows the old county lines as district lines and as part of Maui County. So this fifth county does not seem to exist today, at least not in terms of political geography.

Prior to its conversion to a judicial district in Maui county, it was perhaps the rarest county in the United States for county hunters. Population in that area had dwindled to few hundred at most. The area at the top of the cliffs was pasture land. The district line scims along just below the edge of the cliff. Older maps the UHM library map collection show the county clearly and seem to confirm that the older county lines are exactly the same as the modern district lines.

Population of Counties and Islands -- Hawaii: 1900-1990

County   1990  1980  1970  1960  1950  1940  1930  1920  1910  1900

Kalawao   130   144   172   279   340   446   605   667   785 1,177

Inhabited Islands

Island  1990   1980  1970  1960  1950  1940  1930  1920  1910  1900

Molokai 6,717 6,049 5,261 5,023 5,280 5,340 5,032 1,784 1,791 2,504

This would appear to close the book on Kalawao as a modern day county. But nothing is quite as settled as it seems. The county hunters still count Kalawao County as a sought after prize and perhaps with considerable justification as the following Email demonstrates:


From: Larry Cahoon [wd3p@juno.com]

Looks like Kalawao has special arrangements from the very beginning. The other four were set up as true counties. The Department of Health ran Kalawao County with the only officer being the sheriff.

I couldn't find anything that directly confirmed that Kalawao was not still a county. I tried to find information that indicated that the people of Kalawao voted in the Maui elections, but the info was not clear enough with the geography to make any conclusions. It was clear that Kalawao does not have most of the powers of the other four counties.

What I did find is that the biggest problem causing confusion may be the terminology the state uses. I came across three distinct references that show that in spite of whatever it's special situation, the state still calls Kalawao a county.

So I ended up with a bottom line that in most of its functions Kalawao is not like the other counties, but that the state still insists on calling it a county - that might be for lack of an alternative terminology. With that problem, it is hard for me to go to the county hunter groups and say "hey this is not a county" when the state still insists on calling it a county in it's documents.


   Recent Population of Maui County and
Subdivisions Molokai and Kalawao District
County 1980 1990 1995
Maui County 70,991 100,504 115,163
Molokai 5,905 6,587 6,745
Kalawao 144 130 93
Extracted from the Description of the Hawaii State Department of Health:
Board of Health

The Board of Health, established under section 26-13, Hawaii Revised Statutes, serves as an advisory panel to the Director of Health. The Board consists of eleven members, appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, and the Director of Human Services as an ex officio nonvoting member. The appointed members include at least one resident of each county, including the county of Kalawao.

County of Kalawao

The County of Kalawao consists of that portion of the island of Molokai known as Kalaupapa, Kalawao, and Waikolu, commonly known as the Kalaupapa Settlement. As a county it has only the powers especially conferred by sections 326-34 to 326-38, Hawaii Revised Statutes. None of the provisions of the Hawaii Revised Statutes regarding counties is deemed to be applicable to Kalawao. The County of Kalawao is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health. It is governed by the laws and rules relating to the Department and the care and treatment of persons with Hansen's disease.

Sheriff. The Sheriff is the only county officer of Kalawao. The Sheriff is generally a resident of the county appointed by the Department of Health.


NOTE: Good maps of Molokai include "Map of Molokai and Lanai, fourth edition, by James A. Bier" published by the University of Hawaii Press and available at the UH Bookstore; and USGS Maps: Molokai 1:62,500 and East Molokai 1:25,000 and West Molokai 1:25,000. Both of these latter two show the Kalawao district lines and great topo detail of the area. Most of Kalaupapa is on the East Molokai 1:25,000 map.

There are day tours of Kalaupapa, but stay overnight is restricted and requires special permissions. Flights into the area are available from Island Air which has flights from Molokai and from Honolulu once or twice a day.

Here is one of the main reference web sites of the county hunters:

A County Hunter Web Page

Final Note: Perhaps the most important fact is County Hunters consider Kalawao a county and list five counties for Hawaii.

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