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Like a giant green comet blazing across the blue Pacific, the 132 tropical islands, reefs, and shoals of Hawaii form a graceful archipelago spanningmore than 1,500 miles, yet they are so remote that even the ubiquitous gull is unable to traverse the 2,400 miles from the nearest continent. Moving northwest on the back of a lithospheric plate at a rate of four inches per year, the island chain is in a continual state of eruption and erosion, as vast amounts of molten earth emanate upward toward the surface from a stationary "hot spot" on the ocean floor, only to be beaten back down by the merciless elements. After 42 million years of this, just eight major islands--the Big Island, Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau--remain and serve not only as home to 1.2 million people but also as one of the world's most treasured vacation destinations--Hawaii.
The beautiful, enchanting tropical paradise that is Hawaii has inspired writers from Mark Twain to James Michener; volumes have been written on the majestic volcanoes, golden beaches, captivating sunsets, and lush rain forests. Hawaii continues to enthrall millions of tourists each year with its numerous rainbows, magnificent waterfalls, astonishing lava flows, endless summer days, and warm starry nights. It's the unstaged backdrop for such movie classics as Blue Hawaii and South Pacific, the birthplace of regal humpback whales and playful spinner dolphins, and the home of such world-famous surfing sites as Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and the Banzai Pipeline. It's a playground for golfers, scuba divers, hikers, mountain bikers,windsurfers, snorkelers, swimmers, deep-sea anglers, and sun worshipers of all shapes and sizes. In short, Hawaii has something for everyone, whether you choose to sip a cool mai tai under a palm tree or dive into the depths of the turquoise sea. Perhaps most importantly, the slow, mellow pace that characterizes the Hawaiian lifestyle tends to ease stress and anxiety, allowing each visitor to return home with something far more valuable than any postcard or souvenir--peace of mind.
Hawaii is not without its faults. In an already overcrowded island state where indigenous Hawaiians are becoming increasingly rare (pure-blooded Hawaiians make up less than .005 percent of the population), the expanding number of immigrants from the US mainland and abroad has spurred a rise in racial bitterness, occasionally culminating in violence and, more often, targeted theft. This, combined with a huge foreign investment in precious real estate and a recent surge in ethnic Hawaiian pride, has done little to alleviate the interracial resentment that has existed since Captain James Cook set foot on Hawaii in 1778.
A new age is beginning for Hawaii. After more than 200 years of pursuing things new, the people of Hawaii are reassessing the value of things old. AHawaiian renaissance of sorts is emerging, with renewed interest in ancient crafts, rituals, and dances, and a rekindled passion for the values of traditional island culture, including native art and the Hawaiian language. This renaissance is a necessity, because for Hawaii to prosper in the next century, it must learn from past mistakes. As former Governor John Waihee sagaciously observed, "We need to ask ourselves how our ancestors did so much with so little, and why we are able to do so little with so much."
Arguably the closest thing we have to heaven on earth , Hawaii is a priceless resource worth preserving. It reminds us not only how beautiful the world can be, but also how much of that beauty can be found in life's simpler things. Gaze down a mountainside, stroll barefoot along the beach, or just watch the sky change colors as the sun disappears behind the sea--it's not hard to find splendor here.Access Hawaii 8e. Copyright � by Richard Saul Wurman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.