I used to be fascinated with the islands of the south pacific (and barely north pacific like the Marshall Islands and others).
One really interesting group of islands is one that you might not have known about...or maybe you have. The Leeward Hawaiian Islands. I'm not talking about the major islands of hawaii that you see in brochures, nor Niihau, I'm talking about the little spits of land the stretch on for over 1,000 miles northwest of Kauai...the remains of once-large islands, now eroded away and subsided back into the sea.
The first of these is actually Kaula, just south of Niihau, little more than a crater poking above the water.
Next is Nihoa, a very small but rocky island with ancient lava still exposed, to the northeast of Kauai.
Next is Necker Island, older and lower-lying than Nihoa, and also rocky and uninhabitable.
Beyond that is a large atoll called the French Frigate Shoals, but it too contains just a little bit of exposed basalt...in the form of the La Perouse Pinnacle, in the middle and western side of the atoll. There is a landing strip here that was constructed in WWII, made of coral, and there is a scientific station with about 20 oceanographers who study the reef sharks and other aquatic life in the area. They are temporary residents.
Northeast of that lie the very last islands with exposed basalt/lava, those are the Gardner Pinnacles. Little more than the size of a couple tennis courts wide. They are all that remains of what was once an island of hawaii much like the inhabited ones today. The most ancient rock in the hawaiian chain is exposed here.
Beyond that, there is Maro Reef. Once an island, it has sunk far beneath the waves. Coral reef has built on the underwater plateau of the ancient volcano, and little spits of coral sand surface during low tide here, but the sand constantly shifts and there is no real, permanent part of the reef that stays above the waves.
Next, Laysan Island. Also a coral island, no exposed rock. It's an O-shaped island with a small lagoon in the middle. Laysan is uninhabited but the sands that form the island do stay above the tide. Terns make their home here. Laysan's reef is rather small.
Lisianski Island is much the same. Uninhabited, an island formed of coral sand, with a large reef and lagoon.
Next, Pearl and Hermes atoll. No large area of land here, just several small spits that mostly stay above the tide but do shift over the years. Uninhabited, uninhabitable.
Most famous of the Leeward Islands. Used to be a military installation, though most of that has been removed. It has an airport and until a few years ago was serviced by Aloha Airlines charters from Honolulu. The islands, like the rest of the Leeward chain, is a national wildlife refuge. The birds are protected here and many beaches humans are not allowed to go on because of these restrictions. People still live on Midway, but not as many as in the past.
The tour operator that used to bring people from Honolulu to Midway via Aloha went out of business. Unless another one gets approval to start up, no commercial flights will resume to Midway. Private aircraft and military aircraft routinely stop there, fuel is sometimes an issue. Midway is also an alternate landing site for transpacific aircraft. Recently, the government was threatening to pull funding for the island's airport, which would have meant that no airliners could use midway as an emergency landing site. However the government continued funding, so the airport is still operational. Last I heard, at least.
Midway Airport has one useable runway. The other runway has been pretty much abandoned and instead is used as a taxiway.
There are two major islands on Midway...Sand Island and Eastern Island. Sand Island is where the population of Midway lives, although small...and Eastern Island is the site where the old WWII airbase used to be. The runways are still there. Though mostly abandoned.
Finally, comes Kure Atoll. Kure is the last of the major leeward islands, and it does have one major island, Green Island, which does have a small runway for the Coast Guard station there. It's part of the wildlife refuge as well.
Beyond Kure Atoll, the Emperor Seamounts, underwater remains of former atolls, continue on for further thousands of miles. They have sunk too far into the ocean for coral to grow.
All of the atolls and islands of the Leeward Hawaiian Islands are still subsiding into the sea. A combination of weather and waves are eroding what's left on the surface, but below the surface, the old volcanoes are sinking under their own massive weight.
Were we to drain away the waters of the Pacific, these small spits of land and coral reef would actually be impressive mountains, and the Emperor Seamounts would continue the chain all the way up to near the Aleutians. Over time these massive mountains crack and break and underwater lava tubes and fragile shelfs give way, sinking the island even lower, while the ocean itself erodes them further still.
All the hawaiian islands will eventually end up like that. Underwater mountains, barely a shadow of what they once were.
Leeward Hawaii was one of the most fascinating parts of the pacific islands that I ever got into. Check out some info on them, it's pretty interesting, plus if you're a history buff their role in WWII is a story in itself.
Further, for other pacific islands, I strongly recommend this book. It's fantastic and full of info, if you want to learn about tons of different, tiny island nations and territories throughout the pacific. It's called:
Blue Horizons: Paradise Isles of the Pacific
, P 1985.
Read up on the internet about these pacific nations and islands:
Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island)
Pitcairn Island (that's the one mentioned above regarding the Bounty)
Wallis and Futuna
Solomon Islands (fascinating for any WWII buff)
Papua New Guinea
Federated States of Micronesia
Northern Mariana Islands
And while you're at it, check out the Coral Sea Islands Territory of Australia, and the US-owned islands of Palmyra, Jarvis, Howland, Baker, Wake, and others.
[Edited 2005-03-16 11:22:27]