The Pacific is a big ocean: it covers more than one-third of the earth’s surface and more area than all of its land. It stretches more than 10,000 miles from Panama to the Philippines and almost as far from the Bering Sea to Antarctica.
The Pacific is the mother of oceans, the setting of romantic and moonlit isles, the hunting ground of explorers, buccaneers, and traders, the battleground where an empire bent upon world conquest was vanquished by a nation determined to preserve its cherished freedoms, and the home of the Polynesians, a hardy breed of people whose beginnings are obscure and full of conjecture.
Three distinct regions – Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia – make up the Pacific world.
Largest among these regions is Polynesia; the designation Polynesia is derived from the Greek nesos, an island, and poli, many.
Polynesia forms an almost perfect equilateral triangle with Easter Island at the apex, Hawaii at the left corner of the base line, and New Zealand at the right. The distance between each point of the triangle is between four and five thousand miles.
The islands of the Pacific number into the thousands and range from shoals and atolls to mighty land masses. They are commonly identified as continental or oceanic islands, depending on the geological story they tell.
Continental islands are geologically parts of the continental platforms, for their rock types and structures are similar to those of the continental land masses; oceanic islands, generally the product of volcanism, are far removed from the continents and differ in geological structure with the continental land masses.
Stretching from northwest to southeast for a distance of 1,500 miles across the Pacific lie the Hawaiian Islands, where Nature blended a forerunner to paradise.
The archipelago was built by sustained and prodigious volcanic activity that probably began some sixty million years ago through a series of fissures in the ocean floor.
The islands represent the tops of an enormous submarine mountain range. Wind, rain, surf, and other agents have eroded some of the islands into small remnants that project only a few feet above the surface of the ocean.
The Hawaiian Archipelago consists of islands, reefs, shoals, atolls, and pinnacles varying in size from 4,030 square miles to a few acres.
Largest in the group is the Island of Hawaii, which boasts two of the world’s most consistently active volcanoes, the highest insular mountain, and the largest single mountain mass. Smallest of the lot is Gardner Pinnacle, a stack of volcanic rock of three acres.
The timeless buildup of the islands continues, and if one could have a glimpse into the future he would probably see new islands thrusting their tops above the ocean to the southeast.
Plant spores and seeds borne by currents, winds, and migratory birds eventually found their way to these once barren islands and mantled them with a carpet of vegetation.
The native birds were probably blown in by strong winds; the Hawaiian bat and seal, the only native mammals, probably came in under their own power; and the pig, dog, and other animals and plants were introduced by the first settlers. The coconut may have been brought by the early voyagers or it may have been carried by ocean currents.
Into these isolated and far-flung islands came the hardy Polynesians, who had ventured into the unknown fastnesses of the vast Pacific in search of a homeland.
Their conquest of the Great Ocean and its far reaches is one of the most remarkable achievements in the pageant of life, but little is known about it.
In Hawaii, the Polynesians found an extravaganza of color – a land at once gentle and harsh, a land of freshness, primitive and untouched, of deep canyons and lofty mountains and fertile valleys and abundant forests. Nature had given generously of her best in creating such a masterpiece.
The uplands provided logs for their canoes and stone for their primitive tools; in the waters surrounding the islands they found an abundance of food, in the valleys, rich and productive lands for their agriculture.
And on the summit of a volcano they found Halemaumau – the abode of their goddess Pele.
Of it some made a shrine, a place of pilgrimage and prayer. While the homage paid to Pele was inspired essentially by fear, it was nonetheless worship, and they immortalized her in song and dance and in legend and tradition.
Hundreds of years later, a wise government set aside a part of her land as a national park, to be preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of all people for all time. (All here is copied from Hawaii Nature Notes, Hawaii National Park, November 1953)
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