The island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island, to avoid confusion with the state name, is nearly twice the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. With climates ranging from tropical to subarctic, the island’s geographical variety resembles a mini continent. Landscapes include one of just about everything: desolate lava flows, lush coastal valleys, high sea cliffs, rolling pastures, deserts, and rainforests.
Geologically, the big island is the youngest Hawaiian island and the only one still growing. Kilauea, the most active volcano on earth, has added 550 acres of coastal land to the island since its latest series of eruptions began in 1983. The Big Island is home to Madame Pele, Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, and Ku, god of war.
All the other Hawaiian Islands could fit within the Big Island’s 4,038 square miles twice. It is 93 miles long and 76 miles wide. The Big Island is the farthest east of the Hawaiian Islands. Its southern tip, called South Point or “Ka Lae,” is the southernmost point in the United States.
By and large, the history of the Big Island is the history of Hawaii. Here, the first Polynesian settlers alighted between AD 500 and AD 700. This is also the birthplace of the first “luakini” or temple of human sacrifice and the “kapu” system of strict taboos regulating all aspects of daily life.
Rainfall and temperatures vary more with location than with the seasons. The “kona” (leeward) coast of the Big Island is the driest region in the state. On the windward side of Mauna Kea, near the 2,500 ft elevation, around 300 inches of rain fall annually. So much rain is squeezed out of the clouds as they rise up Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa that only about 15 inches of precipitation reaches the summits, much of it as snow. Heavy subtropical winter rainstorms in Hilo occasionally bring blizzards to the mountains as low as the 9000 ft level.
In many ways, contemporary culture in Hawaii resembles contemporary culture in the rest of the USA. The wonderful thing about Hawaii, however, is that the mainland influences largely stand beside, rather than engulf the culture of the islands. Not only is the traditional Hawaiian culture an integral part of the social fabric but so are the customs of the ethnically diverse immigrants who have made Hawaii their home.
RECREATION & ATTRACTIONS
Of all the Hawaiian Islands, only the Big Island boasts snowboarding in winter, the Ironman Triathlon in fall, the world’s clearest stargazing almost every night, and live lava flows every day.
The vast majority of recreational activities take place on the west coast. Among these are swimming, surfing, windsurfing, diving, snorkelling, kayaking, fishing, hiking, cycling & mountain biking, horseback riding, tennis, golf, and skiing & snowboarding.
The most popular helicopter tours fly over Kilauea Caldera and the live lava flows of the East Rift Zone. Exhilarating sunrise hot air balloon tours soar over Mauna Kea, Waimea and the beautiful escarpments of the Kohala Coast.
The season for humpback whale watching starts around January and runs to March or April. Sperm, false killer, dolphin, and melon-headed whales – and five dolphin species – can be found in Kona waters year-round.
Kona coffee and macadamia nuts are the Big Island’s most popular souvenirs. “Lauhala,” the leaves of the pandamus tree, were once woven into sleeping mats and any manner of household items by ancient Hawaiians. Today, master weavers make them into purses, place mats, hats, and baskets. Several local potters are influenced by Japanese styles and aesthetics, and produce fine raku pottery. The Volcano Arts Centre in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the handful of galleries in the hillside village of Holualoa sell a variety of local arts and crafts. Drums, nose flutes, ground rattles, as well as other traditional hula instruments are sold in music stores island-wide.
CUISINE & NIGHTLIFE
In resort restaurants along the Kohala Coast, upscale eateries in Waimea, and elsewhere, cutting-edge chefs cook with the freshest local produce, fish, and herbs, creating intriguing blends of flavours that reflect the island’s varied ethnic background. Events such as the Winter Wine Escape at the Mauna Ke’a Beach Resort and Cuisines of the Sun at Mauni Lani Bay Hotel draw hundreds of guests to starlit open-air dinners celebrating the bounty of the Isle’s land and waters.
Nightlife on the Big Island is somewhat subdued. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t come alive until after dark, you may be pretty lonely here. Blame it on the plantation heritage. People did their sugarcane-raising in the morning.
Lava wasteland? Flying into Kona Airport can be a shock if you’re expecting to see tropical greenery and waving palm trees. Instead, the view from the airplane looks more like a black lava wasteland, as if the island had been paved over in asphalt. Don’t panic! This is but one face of the Big Island – and even here, if you look closer, you can catch a glimpse of some fine secluded white-sand beaches squeezed between the lava and the turquoise waters.
The Island of Hawaii is more than sun and sand. It is a meeting place of East and West. It is a place where contrast describes both landscapes and culture, in a manner that brings out the best of many worlds. Call your Tripzter Travel consultant today and go Big!
Life’s a trip. Take one. Live one…on the mini continent, the Big Island of big options.
Here’s to the vagabond in each of us!
(To learn more about all of the Hawaiian Islands, go to www.gohawaii.com.)