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The Hawaiian Islands exist because of a hot spot beneath the earth’s slow-moving Pacific Plate, which has been spewing lava and creating islands for 70 million years. Today, the state of Hawaii contains eight main islands, only six of which are populated.

Measure for measure, the Hawaiian islands are as diverse as it gets. Their flora and fauna are a textbook case of Darwinian evolution. Time and time again, single migratory species blossomed into dozens of variations, as isolated individuals adapted to arid coastal deserts, rain forests and snow-capped subarctic mountaintops. As a result, the majority of Hawaiian plants and animals are endemic, and nearly as often, endangered.

All the islands have similar climates: southwestern coasts are sunny, dry and lined with sandy beaches, while the northeastern sides have lush rain forests, cascading waterfalls and pounding surf. Hawaii enjoys warm weather year-round, with coastal temperatures averaging a high of 83°F (28°C) and a low of 68°F (20°C). Summer and fall are the driest seasons, winter the wettest.