The first Hawaiian Islands were born of violent volcanic eruptions that took place deep beneath the ocean's surface, about 70 million years ago -- more than 200 million years after the major continental landmasses had been formed. As soon as the islands emerged, Mother Nature's fury began to carve beauty from barren rock. Untiring volcanoes spewed forth rivers of fire that cooled into stone. Severe tropical storms, some with hurricane-force winds, battered and blasted the cooling lava rock into a series of shapes. Ferocious earthquakes flattened, shattered, and reshaped the islands into precipitous valleys, jagged cliffs, and recumbent flatlands. Monstrous surf and gigantic tidal waves rearranged and polished the lands above and below the reaches of the tide.

It took millions of years for nature to shape the craggy cliffs and lush valleys of the Na Pali Coast, the white-sand beaches of Poipu, and the carved valleys of Waimea Canyon. The result is an island like no other -- a tropical landscape rich in unique flora and fauna, surrounded by a vibrant underwater world.

Kauai's Landscape

This compact island, 25 miles long by 33 miles wide, has Mount Waialeale, the island's highest point at nearly 5,000 feet and the Earth's wettest spot, with more than 400 inches of rain annually. Just west of Mount Waialeale is the barren landscape of Waimea Canyon, dubbed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific" -- the result of the once 10,000-foot-tall Olokele shield volcano, which collapsed and formed a caldera (crater) some 3,600 feet deep and 14 miles across. Peaks and craters aren't Kauai's only distinctive landscape features, though: Miles of white-sand beaches rim most of the island, with majestic 2,700-foot cliffs -- the spectacular Na Pali Coast -- completing the circle. Lush tropical jungle inhabits the north side of the island, while balmy, palm tree-lined beaches are located in the south.

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