More than 1,500 years ago, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific traveled by outrigger canoes more than 2,000 miles northward to settle on Hawaii’s Big Island, the largest and southernmost in the chain.
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They were guided by the stars at night. What led they to embark on this northward journey remains a mystery.
Migrants from Tahiti followed 500 years later. They brought their social system with them, establishing a Hawaiian culture with a rigid social hierarchy. Conflicts among the ruling chieftains frequently took place.
Captain James Cook arrived in Kauai, the northernmost island, in 1778. He named the archipelago the Sandwich Islands in honour of Britain’s Earl of Sandwich. He died in a fight with the Hawaiians the following year.
Kamehameha the Great
In 1791, King Kamehameha united the island’s various factions, establishing a unitary royal kingdom in 1810. Ten years later, Protestant missionaries arrived from the United States, and Hawaii was soon overrun – not only with missionaries, but with sailors, traders, and whalers.
With them they brought diseases that the native population had no resistance to, and their numbers started to dwindle. The economy came to be dominated by colonialists from the United States. Migrants from the China, Japan, the Philippines, and Portugal arrived to work in the pineapple and sugar care fields.
The Hawaiian language started falling into disuse, replaced by Pidgin English, drawing on elements from the various ethnic groups that settled in the islands.
In 1893, the monarchy was overthrown by American colonialists in a peaceful coup that continues to stir controversy in the islands.
Hawaii became a territory of the United States five years later. It became the 50th state in 1959, one year after Alaska was admitted to the union. Today Hawaii is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations.
Tourists from around the world are attracted by its stunning scenery, excellent climate, melodious music, and friendly people. But there is more to the islands than its legendary beaches.
Here’s brief guide to the state’s eight main islands.
The Gathering Place
Oahu is home to Honolulu, the state’s capital and its most populous city. Chock-a-block with hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops, Waikiki is tourism central. The North Shore – with its enormous winter waves – attracts surfers from around the world. Other attractions include Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on US soil, and the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which was attacked by Japan on 17 December 1941, leading to America’s entry into World War II.
The Valley Island
Many return visitors maintain that Maui – which practically has a cult following – has the archipelago’s finest beaches. A former whaling port, Lahaina has been lovingly restored. Get up early and watch the sun rise over Haleakala Crater. If you schedule your visit during winter, you can also witness humpback whales migrating to warmer climes off the island’s shores.
The Big Island
The archipelago gets its name from Hawaii, its largest island. To prevent confusion, most locals refer to it as the Big Island. Home to Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano, the Big Island has snow-capped mountains, black sand beaches, waterfalls, and tropical rain forests. The fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling along the Kona Coast can’t be beat.
The Garden Island
The northernmost island, Kauai has golden beaches, Waimea Canyon, and soaring cliffs along the Napali Coast. Home to the rainiest spot on earth, it has only one mid-rise hotel. After it was built, zoning laws were passed limiting the height of buildings to four stories. As a result, with this one exception, there are no structures on the island taller than a mature palm tree.
The Friendly Island
If you want to learn more about Hawaiian culture, head to Molokai, the only one of the six main islands with a predominately Hawaiian population.
Sleepier still is Lanai, which doesn’t even have traffic lights. This is about as far off the well beaten tourism track as you can get.
The Forbidden Island
The state’s smallest populated island is also its most fascinating. Privately owned, Ni’ihau is off limits to all but Navy personnel, government officials, invited guests, and a very small number of tourists on supervised tours. There are no telephones or automobiles on the island.
The Target Island
The smallest of the eight main islands, Kahoolawe was used as bombing range by the US military during World War II. It has no permanent residents and no tourist facilities.
Copyright: Michael Taylor
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