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Pele, the temperamental fire goddess, stands at the centre of Hawaiian mythology. She was born as a flame from the union of the Earth-mother, Haumea, and the Sky-father, Wakea. The most beautiful of the goddesses, Pele is often associated with the volcanic origin of the Hawaiian islands.
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The Hawaiian chain of islands comprises over a hundred islands, reefs and shoals stretching 1,523 miles southeast to northwest. The Hawaiian chain is the most isolated group in the world and yet also one of the most accessible to international travellers. A tropical paradise of turquoise bays, white sandy beaches, waving palm trees, lush tropical vegetation and balmy sunshine all year round, this beautiful archipelago of volcanic peaks has 21 of the world's 22 climatic zones.
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Hawaii is full of contrasts and extremes - winter snow lies at the top of Mauna Kea Mountain, it has the world's largest mountain mass, and rainfall that varies hundreds of inches within the space of a few miles.
There are 132 islands, but tourism is restricted to six of the eight most southerly islands, seven of which are inhabited. They are O'ahu, (The Gathering Place) with the city of Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii; Maui (The Valley Isle), second with the world's largest dormant volcano; Kaua'i (The Garden Isle) with magnificent scenery and vegetation; Hawaii (The Big Island) where Captain Cook is buried and the ancestral home of Hawaiian royalty; Moloka'i (The Friendly Isle); Lana'i (The Secluded Island) and Ni'ihau (The Distant Isle).
There are 1.2 million people of mixed races living in the Hawaiian archipelago including Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Caucasian, Filipino and Samoan. Hawaii's religions are as diverse as its cultural heritage. The official language are Hawaiian and English, but most resorts have multi-lingual staff.
The first inhabitants were Polynesians who arrived between 750 and 1,000 AD with plants and animals. Captain James Cook was the first European. He landed in 1778 to find a structured society with chiefs ruling each island.
In 1920, Hawaii became a major tourist destination with the first non-stop flight from the US mainland. In 1959 it became an American state and Honolulu is now the eleventh largest city in the USA.
Home to more than 10,000 plants and animal species found nowhere else on earth, the islands are famous for palms, cactus, coconut palms, kamani, ohia, kukui, and hau trees, glorious tropical flowers (5,000 types of hibiscus) along with various-coloured fruits, coffee and macadamia nuts.
The humpback whale is an annual visitor and there is an exotic collection of birdlife.
On O'hau island, see Pearl Harbour, take a trip on the Historic Waikiki Trolley, and of course, visit famous Waikiki Beach.
Maui's main attraction, Haleakala, is a 10,023 foot dormant volcano.
On Hawaii's Big Island, there's Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Rainbow Falls, and Parker Ranch on 225,000 acres which is the third largest working cattle ranch in the US. There is also a space centre named after Hawaii's first astronaut, Ellison's S. Onizuka.
Kaua'i has Waimea Canyon and magnificent Tropical Botanical Gardens. Ride a mule down Molokai's cliff trail to Kalaupapa. Lana'i island's best dive spot, Cathedrals, has dramatic coral formations creating pinnacles and caverns rising from the seventy-foot depth to the surface.
WHERE TO STAY
There are literally hundreds of hotels and condos in every category from luxury to budget style. Camping is available in National, State Parks, City and County Parks.
Domestic airlines, Hawaiian, Aloha, and Island Air help to maximise sightseeing time. On the ground there are limousines, taxis, rental cars/jeeps, sight-seeing coaches and good public bus services. In addition, Molokai offers mule rides, Hawaii and Kaua'i have bus services, and there is a ferry from Lanai to Maui and Molokai to Maui.
FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT
Experience a traditional Hawaiian feast, Hawaii boasts worldwide cuisine from elegant to casual, fast foods of every kind, and do-it-yourself as most condominiums have cooking facilities.
A full range of activities for all ages includes snorkelling, fishing, tennis, golf, windsurfing, sailing and many other water based activities including magnificent surfing.
Hawaii hula dancers
Hawaii also offers sightseeing tours, bushwalks and trail rides, as well as a range of indoor activities.
Artisans make copies of their ancient instruments made from gourds, stones, seeds, feathers, shells, lumber and bamboo.
Also, for sale are woven leaf hats, leather work in colourful hatbands, capes and bags, hand woven cloth kapa leaves made into sandals, bags and wall ornaments, and beautiful Hawaiian applique quilts, hand made and machine made in island designs.
The Hawaiian chain of islands is the most isolated island group in the world and yet also one of the most accessible to international travellers.
All of the large islands, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i and the Big Island, cater to both scuba and skin divers with an enormous variety of operators from simple snorkel tours to the live-aboard charter boats.
The waters of Hawaii are famous for their clarity, underwater lava tubes and formations, colourful reef fish and the majestic humpback whales. While all of the islands have diving facilities, the main diving drawcards are in Maui and the Kona coast.
The Molokini Marine Conservation District encompasses the extinct Molokini volcanic cone that is a 'must visit' site for both scuba and snorkel divers. Every day various dive boats travel the short distance to the crescent shaped remains of the cone to swim with myriad reef fish, including the beautiful yellow butterfly fish for which Maui is famous, in warm clear waters. Scuba divers can also explore the sloping crater floor, or for the more adventurous, the back side of the cone has sheer walls that plummet 100 metres to the sea bed. Here, harmless white tip reef sharks are more common than at any other site. Sponges, black coral trees, cup corals and deep ledges provide home to many species of fish, all in clear oceanic waters with visibility usually exceeding 30 metres. Due to its oceanic aspect huge whale sharks, manta rays and pelagic fish are often seen here.
South of Kihei on the main island of Maui is Makena with various dive areas allowing novice snorkellers or experienced divers to have face to face encounters with endangered green and loggerhead turtles. Scuba divers can also find cryptic angler fish mimicking a sponge or lump of coral as they wait for inexperienced prey to pass by.
On the Kona coast of the 'Big Island' is a site that is always popular with both snorkel and scuba divers. Each night bright lights are lowered into the sea just off shore over the shallow sea bed. Plankton swarm into the lights which in turn attract manta rays that have come to exploit this artificial concentration of food. These huge harmless rays perform a ballet of loops, rolls, swoops and formations around the amazed divers that would humble any choreographer.
During he months of January to May the lilting songs of singing humpback whales can be heard around all the islands, especially Maui and the Big Island. Since females use the shallows to give birth to their calves it is possible to see these awesome animals underwater. Even if a whale is not seen, their haunting song, which gave credence in earlier years to the legends of mermaids and sirens, can be guaranteed.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Climate: Balmy and mild temperatures ranging from 18 degrees C to 30 degrees C year round.
Clothing: Summer clothes, a few restaurants require jacket and tie. Warmer clothes for mountain hikes.
Electricity: 120 volts, AC/60 cycles.
Time Zone: GMT less 10 hours. AEST less 20 hours.
Currency: US dollars.
Tipping: Tips are 15% in restaurants. Taxis 10%. $1 to $2 per person to tour guides.
Visas & Health: US visa required. Departure tax US$10, $3 customs.
Air New Zealand, Air Nauru, American, Continental, Hawaiian Air, Canadian Airlines, British Airways, China Airlines, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Western and others.
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