Hawaiin Island . 1,500 years ago: Polynesians arrive in Hawaii after navigating the ocean using only the stars to guide them. 1778: Captain James Cook lands at Waimea Bay on the island of Kauai, becoming the first European to make contact with the Hawaiian Islands. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States. That year also saw the arrival of the first jet airliners, which brought 250,000 tourists to the state. … Year after year, the Hawaiian Islands continue to be ranked among the top visitor destinations in the world.