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EXPLORE THE BIG ISLAND

THE BIG ISLAND

Formed 800,000 years ago by five volcanoes—Mauna Loa, Maura Kea, Kilauea, Kohala and Hualalai—the Big island sprawls over 4,038-plus square miles and it is still growing. The fire goddess Pele is said to have touched first on Kauai five million years ago, then Oahu and so on down to Hawai’i, the southernmost link in the Hawaiian chain. There, she dug her magic paoa into the mountaintop at Kilauea to form a firepit, where many believe she con­tinues to reside. Since 1983, the ca­pricious goddess has caused lava to spill from rifts on the mountain’s southeast side and to flow across Chain of Craters Road. The magma reaches the sea some 4,077 feet be­low in a vista reminiscent of Dante’s

Inferno at night. An estimated 500 acres of land have been added to the Big Island in the last dozen years.

Kilauea is at the heart of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The energy of this rumbling mountain is felt on hiking trails that wander past bloom­ing red ‘ohia trees, lacy tree fern for­ests, lava tubes, steam pits, glisten­ing yellow sulfur banks and barren black craters. At one edge of the yawning, steaming crater called  Halema’uma’u, the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum features filmstrips of past eruptions and seismograph machines that measure earth tremors as well as the footsteps of any lively children in the vicinity.

Near park headquarters, the his­toric Volcano Art Center, built in 1877 as a mountain lodge, is filled to the brim with the work of local artists. More of their creations can be found down a quiet lane past the Volcano Golf Course, in the gift shop of the Volcano Winery. Here, symphony grapes are grown and wines are blended with tropical fruit juices re­sulting in unique libations such as passion fruit Chablis.

 

Twenty-five miles north and east of Volcano, Hilo, the island’s capital, is a charming blend of old and new. Steeped in a plantation past, Hilo is best known for the abundant rainfall that dampens its modest but well-kept houses and yards almost daily. The town’s normally quiet streets buzz with activity one exciting week every spring, when the state’s top halau gather at the Edith Kanaka’ole Tennis Stadium to compete at the Merrie Monarch Festival, the most prestigious of all of Hawaii’s hula competitions. Every year, tickets to this renowned event sell out months in advance.

One of Hilo’s most entertaining shows is absolutely free—the early morning Suisan Fish Auction, where restaurant chefs bid on the fresh catches of the day. The auction is held at a warehouse near the water­front. It’s hard to imagine that in I960, a massive seismic sea wave destroyed much of this area. Today, several ho­tels, thirty-acre Lili’uokalani Garden and a curving boulevard lined with banyan trees hug Hilo Bay—remind­ers of the remarkable ability man and nature have of rejuvenating them­selves.

 

Dramatic Scenery

Of all the Hawaiian islands, the Big Island boasts the most variety in terms of climate, terrain and scen­ery. Going west out of Hilo, Saddle Road bisects the interior of the is­land and leads to an access road that meanders skyward to the 13,796-foot peak of Mauna Kea, which is often carpeted with snow during the winter months. Here, scientists from around the world convene to peer at the heavens through the most tech­nologically advanced telescopes in existence.

To the north of Hilo, the Hamakua Coast Highway snakes around tow­ering green ramparts and lush val­leys glistening with waterfalls. This road angles off to the sleepy town of Honoka’a, where sugarcane fields have given way to groves of maca-damia nuts in recent years—appro­priate since the first macadamia trees were planted here in 1881 by an Australian named William Purvis. Several second-hand stores carrying interesting Hawaiian memorabilia can be found along Honoka’a’s main street.

The road ends at Waipi’o, nick­named the Valley of Kings because it was a favorite retreat of Hawaiian royalty. Today, Waipi’o is accessible only to four-wheel drive vehicles, hikers and riders on horseback. Neat taro patches thrive beneath 2,000-foot dills, and luscious guava, passion fruit and papaya hang from roadside branches ripe for picking.

Saddle Road and the Hamakua Coast Highway converge in Waimea, a growing cowtown that seems to be moving from denims to diamonds as more and more people discover the allure of the North Kohala country­side. Embracing Waimea are the 210,000 acres that comprise Parker Kamit, which was established in 1847 by John Palmer Parker, an American sailor who married the granddaugh­ter  of  Kamehameha I. Their two sons were raised at Mana, a koa log cabin in the mountains. A reconstructed version of Mana and a later Parker home, Pu’u’opelu, which is filled with art treasures from around the world, are open to visitors today.

From Waimea, the road descends to the coast at Kawaihae, where Pu’ukohola Heiau commands atten­tion. Kamehameha I ordered Pu’u­kohola to be built on the site to honor the war god Kuka’ilimoku, even though the king himself was born at Mo’okini Heiau fourteen miles to the north.

South of Kawaihae, the sunny Kohala Coast is a vast playground with opulent resorts, nature trails, tennis courts and long stretches of white sand beaches. Six well-mani­cured golf courses are emerald oa­ses along desolate fields of ebony lava. This area was also a retreat for the ali’i, and numerous vestiges of the past have been preserved and protected for modern-day travelers to peruse. For example, fish ponds once used to raise food for royalty can be found along the Kohala Coast. Centuries ago, malo-clad runners carried choice fish wrapped in green ti leaves from these coastal ponds to the tables of the ali’i in Kailua-Kona. Portions of the King’s Trail are still visible along the coast, as are fields of intriguing petroglyphs.

Historic Kailua-Kona

Much of the Big Island’s “west side story” is focused on the seaside vil­lage of Kailua-Kona, whose maze of shops, hotels, condominums and eateries are a far cry from the town Mark Twain once called “the sleepi­est, quietest, Sundayest-looking place you can’imagine.” Remnants of Kailua-Kona’s colorful history can be found at the reconstructed Ahu’ena Heiau near Kailua Wharf; Hulihe’e Palace, a favorite vacation spot of King Kamehameha and King Ka-lakaua; and Moku’aikaua Church, built of coral blocks in 1836 on the same site that the missionaries founded the first Christian church in Hawai’i in 1820.

Fishermen still flock to the Big Is­land to charter boats and battle giant marlin on adventure-filled excur­sions. During August, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, held in the waters off Kailua-Kona, draws top anglers from around the world. During the 1993 competition, a 1,166-pound marlin was reeled in, setting a new record for the largest fish ever caught in the tournament.

Usually drowsy Kailua-Kona is also abuzz with activity in October,

when the Ironman Triathlon domi­nates the sport pages of local news­papers. Hundreds of athletes from around the world train year round to compete in this gaieling event, which requires them to complete a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a full twenty-six-mile marathon all in one day.

The mauka corner of Kailua-Kona is coffee country. Acres and acres of fertile soil are planted in shiny-leafed trees that bear bright red berries. Visi­tors are welcomed at many farms, and are encouraged to take a self-guided tour and sample a cup of Kona’s famous brew.

The week-long Kona Coffee Cul­tural Festival, which celebrated its silver anniversary last year, is held every November. Featured are a farm fair, recipe competitions, art exhib­its, a “Miss Kona Coffee” scholarship pageant, parades, musical entertain­ment, coffee tastings and sporting events.

Clinging to the hills above Kailua-Kona are towns with music in their names—the art colony of Holualoa, old-fashioned Kainaliu and quaint Kealakekua, which is remembered with a sad note in history books. It

was at Kealakekua Bay that Captain James Cook, the first Westerner to discover the Big Island of Hawai’i, was killed in 1779 during a skirmish between his crew and a group of Hawaiians.

At Honaunau, the devout still come to worship at one of the pretti­est of the Big Island’s historic churches—Saint Benedict’s Painted Church. Adorned with biblical scenes painted by Father John Berchmans Velghe, a Belgian priest, the chapel is just up the road from an even older sacred refuge called Pu’uhonua o Honaunau. In ancient times, this stone-enclosed sanctuary was a safe haven for defeated warriors or vic­tims of war. Now administered as a 181-acre national park, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau perpetuates many of the precious arts of old Hawai’i, includ­ing kapa pounding, lau hala weav­ing, music and dance.

With the ocean lapping the shore on one side and the slopes of Mauna Loa sweeping skyward on the other, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is a place that both soothes and inspires. That, in fact, is something that could be said for Hawaii’s Big Island as a whole.

 

The Big Island of

Hawaii Important

Phone Numbers

Police, Ambulance, Fire: 911

Coast Guard: (toll free) 1-800-552-6458

ASK-2000 Information & Referral Service: 275

2000

Weather Forecast: Hilo, 935-8555; Island of Hawaii,

961-5582; Marine conditions, 935-9883

Time of Day: 961-0212;

Hospitals:

Hilo Hospital, 969-4111

Kona Hospital, 322-9311

Straub Clinic & Hospital, 329-9211

Hawai’i Visitors and Convention Bureau:

Hilo Office, 961-5797

Kona Office, 329-7787

Governor’s Liaison: East Hawai’i, 974-6262

West Hawoi’i, 329-9377

Mayor’s Office: 961-8211

Bus Schedule Information: 935-8241

Airports:

Keahole-Kona International Airport,

329-3423

Hilo International Airport, 935-1018

Office of Consumer Protection: 974 6230 Volcano Eruption Information: 967-7977

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