Photos: Hawaiian paradise

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  1. Waimea Canyon, Kauai

    Kalalau Valley, on Kauai's west side, is more than 3,000 feet deep and provides stunning panoramic views. Waimea is nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (John Borthwick / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Honolulu, Hawaii

    Men row their Hawaiian outrigger canoe towards Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background. Outrigger canoes are now used for recreation purposes and to ride the waves, but in times past they were the main means of transportation between the Hawaiian Islands. (Mike Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The tranquil waters of Oahu

    Hanauma Bay is one of the finest stretches of beach in the world. (Eric L Wheater / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Surfer's paradise

    Australian Luke Egan competes on Oahu's North Shore, one of the best places in Hawaii to ride the big waves. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Water colors

    A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Donald Miralle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wailua Falls

    The beautiful 83-foot tiered Wailua Falls is an easily accessible, must-see waterfall on the island of Kauai. Wailua Falls was first made famous when it was featured in the television show, "Fantasy Island." (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Emerald peaks

    The iconic, towering emerald peaks of the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, stand out in Maui's Iao Valley State Park. (Adina Tovy Amsel / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Historic reminder

    The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marks the resting place of many of the battleship's 1,177 crew members who lost their lives during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Japanese. The memorial is the "ground zero" of World War II. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aloha!

    Hula dancers welcome the sailing crew of a Hokule'a, a canoe, into Kailua Bay. (Ronen Zilberman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The heart of Hawaii

    The sun sets on Honolulu, Oahu's capital and Hawaii's largest, most populous city. (Robert Y. Ono / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Polynesian heat

    Brandon OFueo Maneafaiga, 23, of Waianae, Hawaii balances two flaming knifes during the 13th Annual World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii. (Lucy Pemoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    People watch from a viewing area as an explosion takes place on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Pahoa, Hawaii. Legend says the volcano goddess Pele dug fire pits as she traveled from island to island looking for a home with her brothers and sisters. She finally settled at Kilauea's summit, where she lives at Halemaumau crater. (Leigh Hilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Forces of nature

    The Dragon's Teeth are bizarre lava formations eroded by wind and salt spray at Makalua-puna Point. (Karl Lehmann / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Heaven on Earth

    Astronomy observatories are seen on the peak of the snow-covered, Mauna Kea mountain near Hilo, Hawaii. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. (Tim Wright / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. On the way to Sainthood

    Tourists walk through a cemetery past the grave, left, of Father Damien at Kalawao, Hawaii. After cancer patient Audrey Toguchi prayed to Father Damien, known for helping leprosy patients in Hawaii, to help her, and her cancer went away, Pope Benedict XVI approved the case in July 2008 as Damien's second miracle, opening the way for the 19th century Belgian priest to be declared a saint. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cool colors

    Rainbow eucalyptus (Mindanao Gum) trees grow in Keanae, Maui. Once a year, these magnificent trees shed their bark and take on the colors of the rainbow. (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Magic Sands

    An aerial view of La'aloa Beach Park or Magic Sands beach in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The beach is called Magic Sands because when rough surf hits, all of the sand is emptied off the beach and temporarily moved out to sea. (Brian Powers / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 7/1/2009 1:01:06 PM ET 2009-07-01T17:01:06

One of the seas' best bargain cruises and a daily commuter boat for a small number of island residents was dropping off its last passengers Tuesday, ending a brief golden era for Hawaii water transport.

TheBoat, for $2 or a public bus transfer, offered flying fish, dolphins and whales against a backdrop of Diamond Head and the Honolulu skyline.

Hawaii's short-lived version of the Staten Island Ferry has now gone the way of the interisland Hawaii Superferry and two giant island-hopping cruise liners that have abandoned Hawaii waters.

It's one more sign these islands settled by Polynesian voyagers centuries ago are now more friendly to planes, trains and automobiles.

"We have water, but we can't enjoy it, " said Lieu Morimoto, as she and her husband, Dale, basked in a glimmering sunrise on one of TheBoat's last voyages Tuesday. They're among a handful of regular boat commuters.

For nearly two years, TheBoat has been a little-used leg of Oahu's TheBus system, with three 150-passenger catamarans running six roundtrips daily, sailing out of the picturesque Aloha Tower Marketplace to Kalaeloa Harbor across from the Ko Olina resort on West Oahu.

Top 10 short cruise vacationsAverage ridership has been only a couple of dozen each trip, although passengers lined up Tuesday for the final voyages.

The service proved too expensive for the City Council. One study calculated the round-trip fare would have had to top $120 for the service to make money.

Passengers cite the lack of parking at both ends, early mechanical problems that led to cancellation of many trips, choppy seas during parts of the year that make for a bouncy ride, and military restrictions that prevented use of a much shorter route across the mouth of Pearl Harbor.

TheBoat's departure follows loss of the far more ambitious Hawaii Superferry system, forced by environmental legal challenges to scuttle and send back one 800-passenger, 200-vehicle vessel even before a second one could be delivered. The Superferry was Hawaii's first passenger-car service with plans to serve Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai.

Now, the only interisland passenger service is by air.

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Two giant NCL America cruise ships built especially for the Hawaiian Islands — Pride of Aloha and Pride of Hawaii — have also left in the face of heavy losses. Only Pride of America remains.

Oahu voters narrowly approved another transportation alternative — a rail transit system that will link Waikiki with West Oahu. The first leg is to be running by 2012.

Buses are being added to make up for loss of the water commute, but many boat passengers say they'd rather drive than go back to the bus. The drive ordinarily takes less time than the boat, but a single traffic accident can lead to long delays on an island with only one major transportation corridor.

Besides the spectacular shoreline vistas, the hour-long voyage on TheBoat offered amenities not found on Honolulu's often-crowded bus system: a snack bar, free newspapers, tables for creating a traveling office, high-backed seats, wireless Internet and an attentive crew.

"I feel for the regular riders," said ship's mate Diane Harrison. "They're the ones who have to go back to the bus when this could have been a viable means of ridership." Harrison and other crew-members will be looking for new jobs in a tough market.

Top 10 river cruisesTwo of the boats, the Melissa Ann and the Rachel Marie, are being loaded onto a barge Wednesday for return to Seattle, and the third, the Catalina Adventure, is going back to California.

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he still supports the idea of a city ferry and it could come back when it becomes more viable.

A Web site has been set up for a grassroots campaign to "keep hope alive."

"What I'll always remember is the sense of peace I feel with the ocean breeze in my face — a perfect way to begin and end the day, a feeling no drive home or bus ride could ever match," says the Webmaster, who identifies himself only as Mel, regular commuter and supporter of TheBoat.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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