Archipelago Hawaiian Islands


ar-chi-pel-a-go / n., pl. -goes’ or -gos’
[ < Gr archi-, chief + pelagos, sea ] 1 a group of many islands 2 a sea with many islands The Hawaiian Islands are absolutely unique. No other place on Earth compares geologically, geographically or biologically. The 132 islands, reefs and shoals of the State of Hawaii extend for over 1500 miles across the North Pacific Ocean. They represent the tops of some of the planet’s largest mountains. These dots of land are Earth’s most isolated islands, being some 2400 miles from both the nearest continental land mass, North America, and the islands of Polynesia in the South Pacific. As a result of the processes of selective migration and evolution on these severely isolated islands, the native plant and animal species of Hawaii are over 90% endemic (i.e., found no where else in the world). These islands also were one of the last places on earth discovered, occupied and modified by humans. The mountain-islands and seamounts (i.e., submarine mountains) of the Hawaiian Archipelago, and its extension to the Emperor Seamounts, represent one of Earth’s amazing geological stories. The 3200 mile long volcanic mountain chain has been produced over the past 70-75 million years from a stationary magmatic “hot spot” that injected molten lava through the thin rigid crust of the Pacific tectonic plate as it has moved north and northwestward at rates of 3 to 4 inches a year. As the lava piled up on the surface of the oceanic crust the largest mountains on Earth were produced. Subsequently they then began successively to subside, fall apart, undergo erosion and eventually become surrounded and covered by coral/algal reefs as their tops changed from magnificent high islands to low islands and atolls and ultimately to submerged seamounts. All of that happened as they moved away from the Hawaiian Hot Spot over a period of time ranging from 20 to 30 million years. The main eight high islands of Hawaii that lie at the southeastern end of the archipelago represent only some five million years of that cycle. Perhaps the most “natural”, least disturbed and most easily accessible of these high islands are those that lie at either end, the “Big Island” of Hawaii and the “Garden Island” of Kauai. The Big Island is like a big baby with its oldest rocks dating to only about 430,000 years and its youngest volcano, Kilauea, still spewing out molten lava. Mauna Loa, with its base at 18,000 feet below sea level and top at nearly 14,000 feet above the ocean surface comprises over half of the Big Island and is the Earth's largest mountain. Some 350 miles to the northwest the beautiful “Garden Island” of Kauai displays mountain top bogs and rain forests, deep canyons, lush valleys, coral/algal reefs, and sandy beaches. Such features are the result of over five million years of interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. We at Kauai Nature Tours and TEOK Investigations take advantage of the natural attributes of these two islands, along with their ease of access and relatively low levels of urbanization, to offer a suite of vacations that stimulate all of your senses and technical programs that make learning fun.