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Kauai (pronounced kawa-ee) is the oldest and fourth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands, having an area of 552.29 square miles. Known also as the "Garden Isle", Kauai lies 105 miles across the Kauai Channel, northwest of Oahu. Of volcanic origin, the highest peak on this mountainous island is Kawaikini at 1,598 m (5,243 ft). The second highest peak is Mount Waialeale near the center of the island, 5,148 feet above sea level. One of the wettest spots on Earth, with an annual average rainfall of 460 inches, is located on the east side of Mount Waialeale. The high annual rainfall has eroded deep valleys in the central mountain, carving out canyons with many scenic waterfalls.
Native Hawaiian tradition indicates the name's origin in the legend of Hawaiiloa, the Polynesian navigator attributed with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. The story relates how he named the island of Kauai after a favorite son; therefore a possible translation of Kauai is "place around the neck", meaning how a father would carry a favorite child. The 2000 census population of Kauai was 58,303.
The city of Lihue, on the island's southeast coast, is the seat of Kauai County and the largest city on the island. Waimea, on the island's southwest side and once the capital of Kauai, was the first place in Hawaii visited by explorer Captain James Cook in 1778. Waimea town is located at the mouth of the Waimea River, whose flow formed one of the most scenic canyons in the world: 3000 feet deep Waimea Canyon.