The Hawaiian islands, once known as the Sandwich Islands, are an island chain (archipelago) located in the center of the Pacific Ocean, 1,860 miles (3,000 km) from the nearest continent, North America. The Hawaiian islands are located roughly halfway between North America and Asia. The Hawaiian islands are part of the region called Polynesia, which makes up many of the islands in the Pacific Ocean. The islands are one of the last regions on Earth to be colonized by humans, having been reached only around 400-500 CE. Prior to this, the islands were uninhabited. Europeans, represented by Captain James Cook, reached the island on 18 January 1778.
Hawaii has a unique geology, location, and wildlife that attracts all sorts of visitors, including celebrities, scientists, laypeople, and many others. Hundreds of thousands of people visit Hawaii every year. The Hawaiian islands, which include eight major islands and over 100 minor islets, are also the most recent state to be admitted to the United States, which occurred in 1959. From east to west, the major Hawaiian islands are Hawaiʻi (also known as the Big Island), Maui, Kahoʻolawe (uninhabited), Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Niʻihau. These are traditional names given to the islands by native Hawaiians.
The Hawaiian islands lie above a volcanic hotspot which has been regularly erupting for 80 million years. It is perhaps the best-known hotspot in the world. As the tectonic plates move over the face of the Earth, the underlying hotspot, likely caused by magma plumes from the mantle below, stays stationary, so the volcanic activity has left a trail of seamounts 3,600 mi (5,800 km) long, called the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain. This chain reveals the motion of the Pacific Plate over time, revealing that it abruptly changed its direction of movement 47 million years ago, from a northward to a more northwesterly direction.
Hawaii's complex culture cannot be summarized in such a short article, but among the most popular elements are the lei, a necklace of tropical flowers, the luau, a traditional feast involving the slow-roasting of a pig using buried hot coals, hula, the traditional Hawaiian dance and singing, and the more recently introduced sport of surfing. Hawaii tries to strike a balance between pleasing tourists and retaining its own unique traditional culture.