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Hawaii's big island

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The euphemistically-named Ginger Blossom Lane cuts through a great swath of crusty, black hillside sparsely dotted with tired looking homes. There are no ginger blossoms. Marginal plant life tenaciously clings to the bleak landscape but the most prominent feature of HOVE, or Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, is bristling piles of rough, ebony-coloured stone. Looking west, one can just make out the line of the sparkling Pacific, for the 11,000 acre development is just close enough to claim ocean view status but not close enough to see it dance.

Dreaming of a warmer clime? Cheap real estate? Land on a tropical isle where the standard of living is high and the water is good to drink? Hawaii has more facets to her personality than many take the time to discover. And if one opts to live in the shadow of an active volcano, life in paradise can be very cheap indeed!

It all began some 70 million years ago on the floor of the Pacific when a rupture beneath the earth's crust allowed liquid magma to burst through the Pacific plate. The lava hardened and gradually grew as more sub-oceanic eruptions piled lava on lava, forming a mound, an undersea mountain and, finally, an island. There was no life at first for fresh, hardened lava is inhospitable stuff. But plants are tenacious beings, and as seeds were carried in on the wind and in the bellies of birds, life did take hold on these islands.  Coral reefs formed. Birds began to take refuge in what slowly became a tropical oasis rising unexpectedly from a vast Pacific. And finally, sometime in the middle part of the first millennium, humans arrived.

Just as violent, undersea eruptions formed the Hawaiian islands, the elements endeavour to take them away. Indeed, some of the oldest islands, like Kaua'i and Ni'ihau, are in their death throes, as their volcanoes died some 1 million years ago. As the mighty sea pounds at their beaches gradually breaking down ancient, volcanic stone into fine sand and finally carrying it away, rivers carve their way through lush and eroded rainforest, slowly carrying the very soil that forms the islands back to the sea from which they came. In time, great, unimaginable stretches of time, they will disappear completely.

Maui and Oahu could still be considered teenagers; no longer growing but still young. Maui's Haleakala last erupted sometime in the late 1700s. The island of Hawaii, informally known as The Big Island, however, is still experiencing the growing pains of a geological newborn. Born only one million years ago, The Big Island is still being actively created. Home of the aptly named Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the island is made up of five major volcanoes, one of which, Kilauea, is thought to be the most productive on earth. She has, in fact, since the '80s, oozed from her flanks the equivalent of two million dump truck loads of fresh lava creating almost 600 acres of new coastline, burying about eight miles of state highway and destroying almost 200 homes. Evidently, the growth of an island comes at some cost!

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