The Island of Hawai'i is the furthest south of any in the island chain, and it's larger than all the other islands put together. It's also the home of the world's highest mountain (Mauna Kea) though much of the base is submerged. Nearby Kiluaea is the most active volcano in the world, and is also the most popular visitor attraction in a state that's full of visitor attractions. The Big Island, as it's called, is the only place where one can ski in the daytime and walk barefoot in a warm sea at sundown.
This spread-out district stretches from South Kona, the location of Honaunau Bay, to the vast
Central Kailua-Kona has a half-dozen attractions, including
The name translates to "Gold Coast." At first, it's hard to understand why this place deserves its name; the terrain is harsh, barren and almost spooky.
That is, until one reaches the resort districts.
The first one is Ka'upulehu, home of the
Further along you'll find Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea. Each resort district has a few four-star hotels, a few luxury condomium complexes and a dozen gourmet restaurants. Stop by the secluded beach park on the Mauna Lani property where the fabulous
If there is one thing that brings people from around the world to the Kohala Coast, it is the golf. Most area courses rank among the top 100 in the United States.
After Mauna Kea, things change. Beach parks dot the coastline, and little settlements crop up alongside the highway. The pace of life slows down to correspond with the speed limit. North Kohala is ranch land and coffee country. Buy coffee at
Inland from Waikoloa is the town of Waimea. It's small and out-of-the-way, but it has an abundance of personality. Businesses here are usually family-owned, and many of them feature island-made products.
Below the Hamakua Coast, in a fertile little pocket that gets more rain than just about any other place in the world, is Hilo. This is a booming town by Hawaiian standards. Of course, it knows how it appears to mainland visitors: cute, quaint and stuck in a time warp. It plays up that image, offering historic tours and a daily fish market.
Downtown Hilo is located on the waterfront. Sightseers can start at either Banyan Drive or the new
South of Hilo on Highway 11 is the most famous spot in the islands. Officially titled
South and Central Regions
Between Volcano on the east side and Kona on the west, the island is a vast expanse of untouched volcanic overflow. The majority of it is part of
The southern tip of the island, which is also the southernmost point in the U.S., has barely been touched by civilization. There are a few hotels and a few B&Bs. Travelers to the south shore usually visit the semi-famous
The Big Island really lives up to its nickname. You can drive for hours and see nothing at all. Then, suddenly, you'll stumble on a patch of land so developed that it resembles a strip mall in suburban Nevada. The Kona Coast is a desert. Hilo is a rainforest. There are palm trees growing out of lava rock on the Kohala Coast. There is skiing on Mauna Kea. Tens of thousands of feet below the snow-capped peak, sea turtles and dolphins play in an ocean as warm as bathwater.
While the oldest Hawaiian island (Kaua'i) was formed some 5.1 million years ago, the Big Island is the newest addition, and is still growing. There were once five active volcanoes contributing to the island's growth: Mauna Kea, Kohala, Hualalai, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Hualalai last erupted in 1801, while Kilauea and Mauna Loa are still considered active.
By the time Westerners discovered Hawai'i (in the late 18th century), Polynesians from the Marquesas, Tahiti and the Cook Islands had lived on the islands for more than 1,200 years. These island people had traveled over 3,500 miles by sea, bringing with them the plant life and animals necessary for their survival. They had established a way of life based around agriculture and a government based around ali'I (chiefs) and kahuna (priests). The system of kapu dictated the rules of society. The Hawaiian people were, for the most part, peaceful. Because there were only a limited number of able-bodied warriors, a fighting lifestyle was not practical. Pre-contact life on the Big Island was quite prosperous. As one of the primary taro producers in the island chain, it managed to maintain a relatively high standard of living through inter-island trade.
The ancient Hawaiians were a highly religious people; many gods and goddesses affected their behavior in everyday life. On the Big Island, the most powerful of these was the Volcano Goddess, Pele. Big Islanders believed that Pele's wrath showed itself in the form of the molten lava that frequently ran down the mountainside and (less frequently) destroyed villages and killed their inhabitants.
January 17, 1779 was the date of Captain James Cook's arrival into Kealakekua Bay. Coincidentally, the British ships sailed into the bay during a celebration known as Makahiki. More than 10,000 Hawaiians had flocked to the area to honor the god Lono. According to Hawaiian legend, Lono was a 'white god' accompanied by white banners-a remarkably similar description to that of Cook, who arrived by sea with his white flags flying. The Big Islanders greeted this British navigator as though he were in fact a god. He was treated with complete deference during the remaining two weeks of Makahiki: entertained, honored and plied with gifts. In return, Cook presented the Hawaiians with gifts and with British-style entertainment (fireworks).
Apparently, the initial goodwill was not enough to maintain peaceable relations between the British and the Islanders. Cook sailed out of Kealakekua, only to turn back due to ship damage. At that point, Makahiki had ended and a kapu (rule) that forbade entrance to the bay was being enforced. In respect for this kapu, the Hawaiians confiscated the British shore boat. The British responded by attempting to kidnap the Hawaiian chief Kalaniopu'u. They planned to use the chief as hostage until their boat was returned. This attempt was Cook's fatal mistake: he was killed by a group of Hawaiians as soon as he reached the shore.
After Cook's death in 1779, a young Big Island ali'i named Kamehameha was inspired to seize a British ship. With the cannon and guns on the ship, he was able to obtain control of the entire Hawaiian Island chain. Under Kamehameha's rule, Hawaii became an organized sovereignty for the first time, and was recognized by the world as such. The king built his court on the Big Island and established a system of trade and taxation. As the islands were forced to become more and more involved with trade in the western world, it became increasingly difficult to preserve Hawaiian culture. Kamehameha managed to maintain the delicate balance until his death in 1819.
The island population had been fairly small to begin with, numbering about 300,000. After the arrival of the westerners, disease ran rampant on the islands, killing off all but about 50,000 people by the year 1880. As the population diminished, so did the strength of the Hawaiian nation.
In the 1840s, an attempt was made by the British Consul to seize control of the Hawaiian Island chain. Although British government changed their position, thereby rendering the attempt unsuccessful, this event raised the issue of land ownership on the Islands. Foreigners decided that the time had come to claim their piece of paradise. Up until that time, the Hawaiians had measured land in terms of its resources. In order to qualify as an ahupua'a (the Hawaiian unit of measurement), the land had to contain timber, fresh water, farmland and water for fishing. This concept was beyond European understanding, and they set about divvying up the land as they saw fit.
In 1845, an event later known as the Great Mahele occurred. This event surrendered all lands for redistribution: a third was to go to royalty, another third to the government, and the last third was to be divided amongst the people. By 1850, land ownership rights were given to any foreigner who cared to purchase them. The majority of the land held by the island people passed into the hands of the foreigners in the course of just a few decades.
Once the Hawaiians began to lose control of the land, it was a slippery slope downward to the total decline of their island culture. The last queen, Liliuokalani, was forced to relinquish power into the hands of the businessmen who had won control of the sugar industry. Annexation followed shortly thereafter: on August 12, 1898, Hawai'i became a territory of the United States. On July 27, 1959, Hawai'i became the 50th of the United States, with the Big Island constituting one of its four counties.
While much of the Big Island's culture was lost through the course of the past 200 years, recent times have seen a resurgence of interest in Hawaiiana. The dance, song and legend of ancient Hawaii have not yet been lost, although they no longer represent the beliefs of a nation. Perhaps more amazing than the perseverance of the Hawaiian people is the fact that, today, so many races live harmoniously in what was once a land of conflict.
Tour One: Explore Hawaii
The Island of Hawaii is a land of contrasts. It is so large and so full of micro climates that visitors to one part of it may never even experience—-or even hear about—-other parts. With more than a dozen national and state parks, thousands of acres of untamed land and countless beaches, Hawaii offers a myriad of adventures for outdoor enthusiasts. However, unlike Molokai and Lanai, this island also has plenty of places to shop, dine and drink. Locals are quick to point out the island's inferiority to Maui in this regard, but visitors may be pleasantly surprised by what the Big Island has to offer.
Tour Two: Kilauea/Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The first-—and often the only-—formal tour that many visitors "do" when visiting the Big Island is "the volcano." The questions of which volcano should be "done" and what the doing entails seem self-explanatory to most tourists, but in fact, it is not quite that simple. There are actually four volcanoes on the island, two of them still active. Of the two volcanoes contained within Volcanoes National Park, the one that most people go to see is mighty Kilauea, one of the most volatile volcanoes in the world.
As to the question of what one should actually do in the park, well, that's entirely dependent on personal taste. Many people choose to take a guided or self-guided tour up to one of the viewing areas. Call the park at +1 808 985 6000 to find out about conditions beforehand. It's often possible to view lava spewing from the volcano. Sundown is the best time to view this; bring a flashlight and binoculars. People who want to see more of the lava action usually choose to book a heli-tour, which allows for a birds-eye view. There are several respected helicopter companies, including Blue Hawaiian, Mauna Loa Helicopters and Safari Helicopters.
Hikers and mountain bikers will want to spend a bit more time in the park, exploring the many trails that are on site. Budding geologists and naturalists will want to visit the Jaggar Museum or the Kilauea Visitor Center to study the many exhibits and informational displays relating to the park.
The works of local artists can always be seen at the art center and its gallery, located in Kilauea Lodge. Volcano Village is a great place to wander and browse. Take a quick side trip to nearby Volcano Winery, where local vintages are available to taste.
Tour Three: Kohala Coast
This tour is best started in Kona, although it's possible to drive from Hilo to Waimea and down the coast.
Starting from Kailua-Kona, take the main highway north. It's a quick, 15-minute drive up the highway to the Kona Coast State Park just past the airport. The terrain is fascinating; an endless expanse of black lava rock, oddly tattooed with cryptic messages formed of white stones. The ocean is visible in the distance, although there are only a few points that have beach access. A few minutes past the main park entrance is the Ka'upulehu area, where the Kona Village Resort and the Four Seasons are located. Chances are, by the time you see it, you'll already have passed it. Keep going.
The spot to really keep an eye out for is 20 minutes farther down the road. It's the lovely Waikoloa Beach Resort, home to an upscale shopping mall, a couple of beaches, world-class golf courses, a half-dozen fine hotels and a dolphin habitat. Perhaps the best place to stop is the Hilton Waikoloa because it is here that the dolphin habitat is located. Kings' Shops, Waikoloa's best shopping mall, is nearby.
Many people find the journey from Kailua to Waikoloa to be interesting enough to fill an entire day. If you want to push onward, however, you'll reach the two most exclusive resort districts on the island. The first is Mauna Loa. The second is Mauna Kea. Upon glimpsing either resort, you'll immediately understand why this area is named the Gold Coast. The resorts are like magical oases, seemingly created by fairies or genies in the middle of a vast expanse of unforgiving black lava rock. After ambling through the Mauna Lani Bay Resort, the Orchid at Mauna Lani or the Westin Hotels at Mauna Kea, enjoy award-winning cuisine at one of the many fine restaurants.
Tour Four: Hamakua Coast
Scenic and secluded, the North-eastern coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i is a great place to explore by car. Starting from Hilo Town, the first attraction you'll reach is Wailuku River State Park, home of Boiling Pots and Rainbow Falls. These picturesque falls, famed for the mist that gathers prisms around the base, are only a short distance from the main road. Further along the highway is the turnoff for Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. The drive to the garden is four miles, but it's a twisty, slow road that not everyone chooses to follow.
Just a few more miles down this famed scenic highway, you'll find the turn-off that leads to ‘Akaka Falls State Park. This is a path to follow. The stunning 420-foot cascade is among the best (and most easily accessible) major waterfalls in the state. If you missed the botanical gardens, there is another chance to see blooms en masse at the World Gardens, located a few miles north of ‘Akaka Falls.
There are dozens of other enjoyable ways to spend a day on this island. Shop Kailua, snorkel in the marine preserve at Kealakekua, take a historic tour of Hilo Town or ride the trails at one of the many ranches. Don't forget the most popular nighttime attraction: stargazing atop Mauna Kea.
If you want to get a complete picture of the activities available on the Big Island, stock up on pamphlets at the airport tourism desk, talk to the Big Island Visitor's Bureau. For private tours around the Big Island, try Native Guide Hawaii (+1 808 982 7575 / http://www.nativeguidehawaii.com/).
Jungle tours, lava flows, humpback whales, stargazing, Kona coffee—the Big Island is a smorgasbord of sensory delights. Give yourself plenty of time to explore Waipio Valley or to hike the trails of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Take in a sunset over cocktails or a sunrise over fresh island juice. Enjoy traditional Hawaiian-style entertainment at a luau. Experience the best of Hawaii: eco-adventures, art culture and genuine Aloha spirit.
Explore The Island
Helicopter touring is one of the most popular ways to see the Big Island. Among the more notable helicopter companies are Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours, Safari Helicopters and Mauna Loa Helicopters. Airplane tours are also available; try Island Hoppers or Mokulele Flight Service.
Prefer to stay a little closer to the ground? Try a tour by horseback. Ride along the open range of the Kohala Mountains, through a tropical rainforest, or get a little firsthand paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) experience. Some stables are situated on private ranchland, while others conduct tours along the trails of Kealakekua Bay and Waipio Valley. For more information, contact Kohala Na'alapa Stables, Waipio Ridge Stables or any of the numerous stables listed in activity directories.
For something entirely different, go to a star party. Constellations are the main event here, and you won't be distracted by any loud music. Held at the summit of Mauna Kea, stargazing events offer unparalleled views and a unique glimpse at Hawaii's natural history. Contact Paradise Safaris or Hawaii Forest and Trail.
Popular cruise operators include Dream Cruises and Captain Beans' Cruises. These tours usually include food, drinks and all necessary equipment. Less cozy, but far more “up-close-and-personal,” are the rafting and kayaking tours available through companies such as Aloha Kayak Co. and King Nalu Kayak Tours. For those who prefer to see the underwater world without getting wet, submarine tours are available through such companies as Atlantis Submarines.
Notable surfing beaches include Kahalu'u Beach Park, Honoli'i Point and Hilo Bayfront. Scuba schools abound. Contact Torpedo Tours, Dolphin Discoveries or Ocean Eco Tours. More involved than snorkeling (but less involved than scuba) is thy hybrid sport known as ‘snuba' (call SNUBA Big Island, Inc for more information.) To rent a Jet Ski, call Aloha Jet Ski.
The Big Island offers some of the best golf conditions anywhere. It boasts18 courses, ranging from championship oceanfront courses (Mauna Kea Beach Golf Club) to isolated, upcountry courses (Makalei Hawaii Country Club.) The courses of Kohala Coast, for example Francis H. I'i Brown Golf Courses and Waikoloa Village Golf Club, boast spectacular scenery, challenging play and excellent facilities.
Charter your own fishing boat or go on a fishing cruise, as the options abound. You'll find world-class marlin fishing, among other things. Contact Hapa Laka or Enterprise Sportfishing. Many fishing boats dock at Honokohau Marina on the West Side of the island.
Kona coffee is world-famous, and the farms that produce it are usually open to tourists. Visit Holualoa Kona Coffee Company or Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Also worth a visit is the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, home of Hawaii's favorite nuts.
Less known than its coffee are the Big Island's microbreweries and tropical wineries. Located in Volcanoes National Park is the Volcano Winery, serving exotic wines such as Macadamia Nut Honey Wine and Lehua Blossom Honey Wine. The Mehana Brewing Company can be found in Hilo, and offers locally brewed ales and lagers. Kona Brewing Co. on the West Side is a popular daytime attraction and nighttime hangout spot.
Visit Kings' Shops in Waikoloa for an upscale shopping experience. Kona Inn Shopping Village is a popular Kailua mall housed in a former hotel in Kailua-Kona. In the upcountry village of Holualoa, you'll find the highest concentration of galleries on the island. Don't miss Ululani or Holualoa Gallery. Other funky upcountry shopping centers include Waimea Center and the Kawaihae Shopping Center. The downtown areas of Volcano Village and Hilo afford hours of browsing and shopping enjoyment.
Hawaii may not be known as a nighttime hotspot, but it certainly has its share of entertainment venues. Take in a movie at the Kona Marketplace Cinemas, Keahou Theatres (also in Kona), or (if you're staying on the Hilo side), at Prince Kuhio Theatres or Palace Theatres. If live performance is what you have in mind, the Akebono Theater in Pahoa is a safe bet.
Music and Nightlife
Popular live music venues on the Kona side include Huggo's and Lulu's; Pahoa Lounge specializes in local acts performing Hawaiian music. Lulu's also features club nights most weekends. Croonie's (in Hilo) is a sports bar, frequented by a younger, local crowd. The Hard Rock Cafe provides a reliably fun, upbeat atmosphere, as well as sponsoring the occasional club night. If you're looking for something that caters a bit more to alternative lifestyles, check out The Mask (in Kona).
Aside from their entertainment value (which is high,) luau also offer a taste of traditional Hawaiian cuisine. The flavors of Polynesia make these cultural events even more of an enticement. The popular Island Breeze Luau takes place on an idyllic strip of oceanfront property. Other luau include the Royal Kona Luau and Luau at the Outrigger.
However you choose to spend your days (and nights) on the Big Island—commando-hiking through the jungle, sunning by the hotel pool, visiting an active volcano, hanging out at a local bar&mdashyou're pretty much guaranteed an interesting time. All the necessary elements of a perfect vacation are within reach, so make your time in Hawaii exactly what you want it to be.