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Hawaii (aka Big Island), Hawaii

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Did You Know … ?

  • Hawaii’s macadamia nuts, mostly produced on the Big Island, originated in Australia.
  • Kilauea’s eruptions since 1983 have added around 500 new acres to the Big Island.
  • Hawaii’s state fish is the humuhumunukunukuapuaa.
  • Kilauea emits enough lava daily to resurface a 20-mile, two-lane road.
  • Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano, with a summit about 56,000 feet above its base in the ocean.

The goddess is at home

Hawaii’s largest island is, confusingly, also named Hawaii. But, because it is markedly larger than other Hawaiian islands — larger than all others combined — it is popularly dubbed the Big Island.

It could as easily be called Volcano Island because that’s what it is, or, more precisely, it’s five volcanoes. Three are considered active; they include Kilauea, which has spewed lava steadily since 1983, making it a central attraction for tourists. It’s the only place in Hawaii where visitors can get a close look at lava flows and venting steam craters. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses Kilauea and Mauna Loa (last eruption: 1984). Park rangers advise where it’s safe to view the Kilauea action on any given day.

The dormant Mauna Kea, by contrast, gets enough snow in winter that residents sometimes ski there. It also is the site of an international astronomical observatory complex where visitors can do some stargazing of their own.

The mountains provide a weather barrier, which explains some of the island’s drastic variations in climate, with the rain forests on the eastern Hilo side and the sunny Kohala and Kona coasts to the west. Tourists generally favor the sunny side, with Kailua Village at the center of touristic activities.

Besides, the two coasts, Kohala on the northwest and Kona on the southwest, offer more hot spots for snorkeling and diving, Kohala attracts humpback whales at birthing time in spring and Kona waters are best for deep-sea fishing.

Finally, there is the history. It is believed that Polynesian settlers arrived on the Big Island about 1,500 years ago. King Kamehameha I, who united the islands into a single kingdom, was born here (1758).

Today, tourists can see traditional Hawaiian temples (some reconstructed), residences, sacred burial sites and petroglyphs. Two national historical parks and a national historic site bring many of these elements into focus. And, the Hulihee Palace, a former royal vacation site, is a museum.

Traditional culture still lives in local art, the slack-key guitar and the hula. Besides, tradition holds that the ancient volcano goddess, Pele, shows her power by keeping Kilauea constantly active.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Dive for views of Hawaii’s colorful underwater action. The best diving sites are on the island’s west side between South Kona and North Kohala. It is recommended to dive with a local guide who can read changing weather conditions.
  • Join a guided stargazing tour to the astronomical observatory complex on top of Mauna Kea. Or, those with four-wheel-drive vehicles can drive up on their own. The high altitude (13,796 feet) can be dangerous for some.
  • Cycle the 112-mile bike route utilized each year when the island hosts the Ironman World Championship.
  • Learn to lasso and try branding during an educational visit to the Kahua Ranch. If the timing works, attend the Parker Ranch July 4th Rodeo And Horse Races, which will display ranching traditions Hawaiian style.
  • Walk through an active volcano: Follow the 11-mile Crater Rim Trail, a challenging hike, which encircles Kilauea’s summit caldera. Extend your stay in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park by registering to camp and hike in its backcountry.
  • At the volcano park, take the ranger-led Puapoo Lava Tube Tour. This involves descending a 15-foot ladder, scrambling over rough, loose terrain in semidarkness, crawling in parts of the tube and climbing boulders to exit. You must book a week ahead.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Fish for the Pacific Blue marlin; the big game fish is found off the Kona Coast all year.
  • Attend a luau. After watching the hula performers, try your own hula skills. Better yet, come for the Merrie Monarch Festival, the world’s top hula event, staged in Hilo each spring. The island hosts another hula festival in the autumn.
  • Snorkel in the protected waters of Kealakekua Bay.
  • Paddle a kayak in Hilo Bay or any of several other coves on the Kohala Coast. Or, with a team, paddling a six-person canoe. (To see a paddling spectacle, attend the Queen Liliuokalani Canoe Races over Labor Day.)
  • Set aside time for the island’s history, starting with the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park and the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park for immersion into the cultural aspects. Both sites have petroglyphs.
  • In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, travel the Chain of Craters Road, which descends 3,700 feet in 20 miles ending where a 2003 lava flow crossed the road. A couple of moderately difficult hiking trails originate around this road.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Go to the beach. Choose a different beach every day, some with lifeguards daily, some with weekend guards. And, play golf at any of the island’s 18 courses.
  • Take in the multifaceted attractions of Kailua Village, once a retreat for Hawaiian kings. Attractions range from Hulihee Palace and Hawaii’s first Christian church to the dining and shopping options appropriate to a 21st century seaside town on the sunny Kona Coast.
  • Take a cruise for lunch, to watch whales or to admire the sunset. Wear an orchid-laden lei.
  • Browse, and maybe make purchases, at any of numerous art galleries. Local artists create paintings, sculptures, hand-blown glass, jewelry and hand-carved wooden bowls and furniture.
  • Visit the farms or mills to see where macadamia nuts are raised and where coffee beans are milled. Sample the nuts and coffees; buy more to carry or ship home. Come for one of the island’s coffee festivals, in the spring or fall.
  • Drive the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive, which encircles the Kilauea summit caldera and includes well-marked scenic stops and short walks. At one marked stop, you can take the short walk through the Thurston Lava Tube.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau at www.gohawaii.com and click on the Hawaii Island button.