Hawaii Big Island, Oahu, Maui, Kauai

The 2000 population count of the Big Island was 148,677, just over 20 percent of Oahu's. Should the island begin to play a larger role in Hawaii in the next decades, it would only be a return to historic times. This was the island believed to be first inhabited by the Polynesians, perhaps around 750 A.D. The first European sea captain to set his foot in Hawaii, Captain James Cook, met his death at Hawaii's Kealakekua Bay in 1779. And the first American missionaries landed at Kona, which is the site of the first Christian church in the islands. A few miles to the south of Kailua the Painted Church perches on a flower-decked ocean hillside. The early padres had colorful murals painted on the interior walls to give the native congregation the unconfined, out-of-doors feeling to which they were accustomed. Within the tiny church, a century of history suddenly falls away and one is again at the tender and difficult early juncture point of the Hawaiian and western cultures.

Between the Big Island and Oahu is Maui, the second largest island in the chain, and its three small neighbors -- Molokai, Lanai, and Kaboolawe. The county of Maui, which includes all four, noted a 2000 population of 117,644, all but 15 percent on Maui itself.

Maui is called the Valley Isle, for the simple reason that it consists of two volcanic mountains separated by a low isthmus. One of the peaks, West Maui, is ancient in geologic time, but not so Haleakala, the "House of the Sun," a 10,023-foot volcano which last erupted sometime around 1790. Today it is the world's largest dormant (but still very explodable) volcano, with a 33-square-mile crater that the National Geographic says could swallow Manhattan Island and all its skyscrapers. Within it are smaller crater cones, caverns, a desert plain, forest niches, green meadows, and rare plants. Haleakala is a national park, and with good reason, for its slopes are also wonders in themselves. Its southern slopes, away from the trade winds, are and reminders of the mainland Southwest. But on the east side, some 300 inches of rain in a year pound thick forest and dense underbrush. Nurtured by the rainfall, giant tree ferns and ghostly epiphytes enlace towering ohia trees. Ponds and grottos mirror Iobelia plants crowned by horizontal sprays of 30 to 60 blossoms. Colorful and sometimes rare native birds feed among the flowers, and wild pigs and goats, which may have been introduced by early Polynesian migrants, root in the upper reaches of the forest. In the late 1960s, a 4,300acre strip of this land, descending all the way from the crater to the Pacific Ocean, was added to the park by the Nature Conservancy and Laurance Rockefeller.

Maui also offers some 33 miles of beaches, some of black volcanic origin, others of golden sand, many among the most beautiful in all the Islands. The island, it has been reported, still lives on "Hawaiian time," meaning that a relaxed, leisurely, and nonurban pace of life still endures.

Only the past decades have brought major tourist developments, the first big undertaking financed by one of Hawaii's oldest companies, American Factors (now Amfac, Inc.) on the beach at Kaanapali on the leeward west coast. Bigger things are coming with an $850 million development jointly sponsored by Alexander and Baldwin, another old Hawaii company, together with the Grosvenor Estate of Britain. It will be a "City of Flowers," built on a horizontal plan along the slopes of Haleakala with a two-mile ocean frontage.

A "wry little jollity" concerning Maui, Robert Sutton reports, is calling Kahului (pop. 20,146) and its five-mile-distant neighbor Wailuku (12,296) "the twin cities of Maui." Kahului is new and progressive with a large shopping center; Wailuku, its arch rival, is the county seat with official buildings dressed in the architectural dignity of a bygone age, sprinkled in pleasant disarray over the town's hilly and tree-shaded streets.

Maui's neighbor, Molokai, with 261 square miles, is commonly depicted as the Friendly Isle because its inhabitants are thought of as the most affable of all Hawaiians. In times past, Molokai was known principally to mainlanders -- and many other Hawaiians -- as the locale of the leper colony on the Kalaupapa peninsula, celebrated in stories like Jack London's tale of Koolau the Leper or James Michener's Hawaii. Still revered and honored is Father Damien, the Belgian who arrived at Kalaupapa in 1873 as one of the first white men to work among the patients there. He died there of leprosy some 16 years later. The state's Hansen's Disease Treatment Center (reflecting the more enlightened modern name for the disease) continues on the Kalaupapa peninsula, to which many thousands were exiled to die before the discovery of sulfone drugs brought the dread disease under control in the 1940s. There are still some oldtimers, whose bodies were terribly afflicted by the disease before discovery of the drug, living at the facility. When the last of them die, the center will probably be closed.

Molokai's age-old problem has been water. Its eastern end has rain forests, but the west is dry and barren. Now one of Hawaii's first nation's most unique water diversion schemes has been constructed, the project brought to fruition by a resourceful contractor, David F. Wisdom of Wisdom Rubber Industries. A 104-acre reservoir has been built to collect and hold the runoff from the rain forest in the eastern highlands, its bottom covered with a unique nylon-reinforced butyl rubber lining that is cheaper than concrete. The water is then conveyed by a concrete tunnel through volcanic rock to central and western Molokai, thus preserving pineapple fields and providing the supply for big resorts like those now being considered or built by big developers on the western tip of the island.

The island of Lanai, just west of Maui and south of Molokai, is the perfect company town. The island was bought in 1922 by James D. Dole, founder of the company which bears his name. In a model of soil conservation, the Dole engineers laid out the central plateau in contours, planted thousands of Norfolk pines to prevent hillside erosion, sowed grass seeds, and developed wells. In 1985, Lanai passed into the control of David H. Murdock, as a result of his purchase of Castle & Cooke. Today the island is a picture of productivity.

All the Neighbor Islands we have spoken of so far are east of Oahu. There is one major island farther west, some 95 miles out toward Midway. It is Kauai, 551 square miles of lush and tropical beauty, so much the personification of the idyllic South Sea isle that Hollywood has chosen it as the location for South Pacific and many other films of like theme.

Kauai was the first of the Hawaiian chain to emerge from the sea, and has been without volcanic activity longer than any of its neighbors. This has permitted the lavas to erode into rich black and red soil that is carved by constant rains into colorful canyons and deep valleys covered with wondrous plants and floral exuberance. Green-carpeted canefields, deserted white beaches lined with clusters of coconut palms, frowning cliffs, swamps and abysmal crevices, areas of utter remoteness, and a central volcanic peak almost eternally surrounded by clouds -- these are the hallmarks of Kauai, well named the Garden Island. Mount Waialeale, according to Herman V. von Holt, a leading Hawaiian businessman who helped install a rain gauge there in 1910, has an incredible average of more than 50 feet of rain every year, making it the wettest spot on earth. Only a few miles away, by contrast, there is a place where less than one foot a year is recorded.

The 58,303 people who live on Kauai make their living first from agriculture (22 percent of Hawaii's sugar cane, plus pineapple and livestock), second from tourism (with new resort hotels opened in the 1960s), and third from scientific-military installations. All this modernity contrasts with a long history. This was the island Captain James Cook first discovered in 1778; the Russians once built a fort there and withdrew only after warnings from Great Britain; and Kauai was the last independent kingdom of the Islands.

Off the coast of Kauai lies Niihau, the "forbidden island," the private property of the Robinson family ever since King Kamehameha IV sold it to a familial ancestor for $10,000 in 1864. The Robinsons were Scots whose idea was to preserve on the island the gentle life of the native Hawaiians they found there.

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