Hawaii (sometimes pronounced ha-VAI-ee by locals) is the 50th state of the United States of America. Situated nearly at the center of the north Pacific Ocean, Hawaii marks the northeast corner of Polynesia. While it was once a major hub for the whaling, sugar and pineapple industries, it is now economically dependent on tourism and the U.S. military. The natural beauty of the islands continues to be one of Hawaii's greatest assets. Honolulu is the state's capital, largest city, and cultural hub.
Hawai'i is an archipelago of over nineteen distinct volcanic islands located over a geological "hot spot" in the Central Pacific. The Pacific plate on which the islands ride moves to the northwest, so in general the islands are older and smaller (due to erosion) as you move from southeast to northwest. There are eight major islands, six of which are open to tourism.
* Hawaii, the "Big Island," is the largest of the islands.
* Oahu, nicknamed "the Gathering Place," is the most populous and developed island. Its southern shore is home to the city of Honolulu; four out of every five Hawaii residents call it home. It is the governmental and commercial center of the state, and Waikiki Beach is arguably the best known tourist destination in Hawaii. Outside the city are pineapple fields, and the North Shore of Oahu, which is known each winter as the home of some of the largest waves in the world. The USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor is also very popular visitor destination.
* Maui is the second largest island in the chain and is home to 10,023 foot (3,055 m) tall volcanic mountain crater of Haleakala. It is nicknamed "the Valley Isle" for the narrow plain between Haleakala and the West Maui mountains. On the west side of the island are the resort areas of Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua, While the south side is home to Kihei, and Wailea. On the east side is the tiny village of Hana, reached by one of the most winding and beautiful roads in the world.
* Kauai, the "Garden Isle," is home to several natural wonders, such as the Wailua River, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali Coast. Mount Waialeale is known as one of the rainiest spots in the world.
* Molokai, the "Friendly Isle," is one of the least developed islands in the chain. It is home to Kalaupapa, the leper colony on Molokai's north shore that was the home of Father Damien.
* Lanai was at one time completely owned by Dole Foods and was the largest pineapple plantation in the world; it is now home to several exclusive resorts.
* Niihau is a privately owned island with an entirely Native Hawaiian population. Until very recently, the island was off limits to all but family members and invited guests of the owners. Tourism to the island is limited to Helicopter, ATV, and hunting excursions originating on Kauai.
* Kahoolawe, which was once a former US Navy bombing range, remains uninhabited. Efforts are being made to rehabilitate the island, but cleanup efforts continue.
Where tourism is concerned, Hawaii has something for everyone. The island of Oahu, the most populous and home to the state capital and largest city of Honolulu, is great for people who wish to experience the islands and still keep the conveniences of a large city. Rainforests and hiking trails are located just minutes from Waikiki Beach, one of the world's best tourist destinations. In the winter, large waves on Oahu's north shore turn the normally sleepy area into the surfing capital of the world.
On the other hand, those who wish to experience Hawaii at a slower pace would do well to visit one of the Neighbor Islands (the other, less populated islands around Oahu). All the neighbor islands offer opportunities to relax and enjoy the sun and scenery. Many of the natural wonders of the Islands are located on the Neighbor Islands, from Waimea Canyon on Kauai, to Haleakala on Maui, to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Numerous waterfalls and rainforests evoke memories of what the islands might have looked like before major corporations set their sights on Hawaii. The road to Hana is one of the most scenic on Maui, as you manipulate many turns overlooking the Eastern coast of the island. It leads you over bridges and past beautiful waterfalls. Ultimately, you can end up at the Seven Sacred Pools, where the hiking is quite the experience.