Nicknamed the "Garden Isle", Kaua`i is a beautiful oasis of lush tropical forest and white sand beaches. It's the fourth largest Hawaiian island, its circular shape comprising about 552 square miles. Although the island itself is fairly mountainous, about half of its shoreline is made up of sparkling beaches, making it a popular place for visitors who want to enjoy beautiful scenery while lounging on the sand. Kaua`i is the oldest island in the Hawaiian island archipelago, as it was formed as a result of volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean that occurred about six million years ago. Some of the original volcanoes that formed the island remain visible today, including the tallest peak on the island, Kawaikini (5,243 feet tall) and the second tallest, Mt. Wailale (5,148 feet tall). The main industry on Kaua`i is tourism, and the island welcomes an average of about 1.2 million visitors each year. Sugar cane cultivation was also another one of the island's most profitable industries, but today only one plantation is still in operation, and much of the rest of the island's fertile land has been transformed into ranches.
It is believed that the first people (known as Marquesans) settled on Kaua`i around 200 to 600 A.D., after sailing to the island from their home in Polynesia. Much of their history was collected and recorded through songs, legends, and chants, so their story is still relatively shrouded in mystery. The Marquesans lived along the Na`Pali coast for hundreds of years, but around 1000 A.D. they were overtaken by Tahitians who settled the island by force and established the kingdom under their own religion and culture. During the early 1700s, King Kamehameha I tried twice to conquer Kaua`i to add it to his other islands and create a unified Hawaiian kingdom, but his efforts were thwarted both times. Finally, in 1810, Kaua`i's Chief Kaumuali`i peacefully handed over the island to King Kamehameha the Great to avoid another invasion and further bloodshed.
The first documented European explorer on the island was Captain James Cook, who landed in Kaua`i's Waimea Bay in 1778. He and his men explored the island and learned much about the culture and lifestyle of the locals who lived there. They traded goods and food and named the Hawaiian Islands "Sandwich Islands" after the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Eventually, missionaries, merchants, and other explorers came to settle on the islands, destroying much of the native culture and creating a unique European-island fusion that still perpetuates today and can be seen in many aspects of the Kaua`i's culture and lifestyle.