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Who Owns Hawaii | Island By Island

Of the more than 4 million acres that comprise the Hawaiian Islands, just a small number of corporations, people, and governments own most of the land. The Great Māhele was the Hawaiian land redistribution proposed by King Kamehameha III, to which virtually all of Hawaii can be traced. Read further for more about that.

This topic came up recently when your editors went on the Mountain Tubing Adventure on Kauai and realized we were on land owned by Grove Farm. Then a week later we took a helicopter tour that landed at the Jurassic Park Falls, which is on Robinson- owned land. Also at the Saturday Puhi Farmers Market, it occurred to us we were also on Grove Farm land, which is also the land on which most if no all of those farmers grow their produce. In other words, you could be standing on private land without realizing it.

The largest landowner in Hawaii is the state of Hawaii, with 1.6 million acres.

On every island, the state owns vast amounts of property. That includes more than 1m acres on the Big Island, and 121k acres on Niihau. That includes nearly 200k acres associated with The Dept. of Hawaiian Homelands, which was created by Prince Kuhio, to provide homesteading opportunities for Native Hawaiians.

The 2nd largest landowner is the U.S. Government with 531k acres.

When the U.S. overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, both the state of Hawaii and the federal government divided much of the land. Nearly one-third million acres are for national parks in Hawaii and for the military. That includes 400k acres of Volcanoes National Park on the BI, 30k acres for Maui’s Haleakala Ntional Park, and more than 60k acres for Oahu’s military locations.

The 3rd largest landowner is Kamehameha Schools with 362k acres.

On the Big Island, the Kamehameha Schools own 300k acres on Hawaii Island, while on Oahu it has 50k acres. It emanated from Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s gift to the land for educational purposes for Hawaiians. While about 1000 acres are used for school campuses, most of the rest remains undeveloped for either agricultural or conservation purposes. Additional land is commercial, which includes two Oahu Malls, the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and Hotel, and the Kakaako neighborhood, among others.

Parker Ranch. 106k acres.

The Big Island’s Parker Ranch represents six generations starting in the late 1700s, when cattle were first introduced. The ranch once had more than 500k acres.

Robinson Family. 101k acres.

Robinson’s property consists of more than 55k acres on Kauai and 46k acres on neighboring Niihau. On Niihau (the “forbidden isle”), that represents a vast majority of all property.

Larry Ellison/Pulama Lanai. 89k acres.

Back in 2012, you may recall that Oracle’s Larry Ellison acquired nearly 90k acres of of the island. He created Pulama Lanai “to manage, preserve and protect the precious land and natural resources.” What was once home to Dole’s largest pineapple plantation in the world, has become a resort destination resort. The island is home to about 3k residents.

Also read Billionaires Bezos, Zuckerberg, Oprah and Ellison Pony Up Big In Hawaii.

Alexander & Baldwin. 87k acres.

A&B, as it is known here, has 21k acres on Kauai and 65k acres on Maui. The two original owners started acquiring acreage in the 1840’s, when they were just in their 20s and 30s. They later acquired the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, and a railroad on Maui, the Kahului Railroad, among other things.

Molokai Ranch. 54k acres.

The ranch is located primary on the west side of Molokai, and comprises nearly 1/3 of the island’s acreage. Once owned by Kamehameha V, it later was passed down to Bernice Pauahi Bishop, from whom  it was later purchased. After that, Cooke bought it for agricultural purposes that included leases to familiar brands Del Monte and Libby, among others. The land was sold to a Singaporian company in the 1980’s, who have been trying to sell it for many years. The current asking price is $260m, and there are major issues.

Local county governments. 38k acres.

Of these, the largest is Honolulu, wherein the city/county government owns 18k acres. The Big Island county owns 10k acres, the County of Maui owns 9k acres on Maui, Molokai and Lanai, and the County of Kauai owns just under 1k acres.

Steve Case/Grove Farm. 31k acres.

Grove Farm on Kauai is associated with the Wilcox family, which owned it for more than a century. The property was previously Crown Lands that were expanded to include irrigation systems, cattle ranching, and of course sugar cane.

AOL founder Steve Case purchased the land in 2000. It’s still active in farming, and many Kauai farmers market farmers grow on Grove Farm land. There are also industrial, commercial and residential developments, as well as tourism enterprises.

Kauai’s landowners.

The state of Hawaii is number one, and Robinson and Grove Farm are the second and third largest land owners.

Maui’s landowners.

The state has 154k acres, while Alexander & Baldwin comes second with 65k acres, and the federal government follows with 33k acres.

Oahu’s landowners.

After the state of Hawaii’s 94k acres, the federal government comes in second with 61k acres, and Kamehameha is next with 47k acres.

Big Island’s landowners.

Again, the state of Hawaii comes first with 1.1m acres. The federal government is second with 432k acres, and Kamehameha Schools is third with 297k acres.

The Great Mahele.

When missionaries and other entrepreneurs followed Captain Cook here in the late 1700s, they brought with them foreign ways which included private property ownership.

Starting in 1845, the awarding of land began which resulted in the Great Mahele, or land division, which occurred in 1848. The Great Mahele is considered the biggest change to take place to land title in Hawaii. It abolished the prior system and created private land ownership.

Later, when the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown, Crown Lands were confiscated and became part of the government’s ownership. The Crown Lands consisted of approximately one million acres, about a fourth of Hawaii, that King Kamehameha III retained in the Great Mahele.

To this day, title to all of the land in the Hawaiian Islands is said to be traceable to land divisions associated with the Great Mahele.

52 thoughts on “Who Owns Hawaii | Island By Island”

  1. Really enjoyed this article on who owns land on the various HI Islands. Great history lesson as well. I love learning about the history of places we visit. We recently visited the 4 major islands in late March 28-April 16. We celebrated our 30th Wedding Anniversary. We had a wonderful time! We will be back!
    * one typo to mention in the last paragraph, second sentence: “…said go be traceable…” should be “…said to be traceable…”

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