The Island of Hawaii is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Because it is almost twice as big as all the other Hawaiian islands combined, it is often called the "Big Island." There is something for everyone on Hawaii Island- the massive volcanoes of Maunakea and Maunaloa, the lava flowing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the lush valleys of the Hamakua Coast, and the black sand beaches in Punaluu. The power of nature is experienced everywhere on this island.
Last Thursday, Kilauea, the island's most active volcano erupted and is causing a lot of harm right now on Hawaii Island. After a series of earthquakes, the ground split and molten lava shot dozens of feet in the air. Residents of several neighborhoods were evacuated because of fire threats and the extremely high levels of sulfur dioxide gas in the air. Since the volcano first erupted on Thursday, the lava has continued to break through and spread. If you haven't seen the pictures online, you should take the time to look. It is truly amazing. Many of the residents are insisting that this fury is caused by Pele, the fire goddess, who has come back to reclaim her land. Some of us might laugh at this, but it is a deep part of Hawaiian culture, especially on Hawaii Island.
Because of the size of the island, it is still safe for tourists to visit and there are plenty of things to do. Here are the parts of the island that you "must see."
Hamakua Coast, just north of Hilo, is one of the most beautiful stretches of scenery on the island. Because it receives nearly 84 inches of rainfall a year, the area is full of beautiful waterfalls, lush tropical rainforests, and tranquil green valleys. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Hamakua Coast was covered with sugar cane. Today, farmers are growing taro, vegetables, and tropical fruit. As you drive along this scenic coast, you will see water carved gulches, exotic plants, and two of the island's most famous waterfalls- Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. While here, don't forget to stop at Waipio Valley for a stunning panoramic view.
Hilo is located on the northeastern side of the island. Because of the abundant rainfall here, you will find dramatic waterfalls, blooming gardens, and fertile rainforests. It's also home to Hilo International Airport and is only 45 minutes away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In early times Hilo was a busy farming and fishing area and a commercial center for the sugar industry. The town was built around a crescent shaped bay and today you will find a charming town full of museums, art galleries, and restaurants. There is plenty of natural beauty too. Liliuokalani Gardens features Japanese style fishponds, pagodas, and rock gardens, while Wailuku River State Park is home to Rainbow Falls and Peepee Falls. It also is home to the nation's only rainforest zoo which includes a collection of exotic plants and animals. Hilo is worth a visit to get a feel for the authentic side of Hawaii Island.
The Puna district and the town of Pahoa lie south of Hilo on the easternmost tip of the Island. Many locals believe that Puna is Pele's " workshop," where the volcano goddess continually creates and recreates the land they live on. This area is covered with lava and black sand beaches created by the volcanoes. Puna is also known for its coastal geothermal baths which are heated below the earth by the Kiluea volcano. There is a 12 mile stretch of beach parks which are great for scenic hikes and snorkeling in shallow tidepools. Another major attraction is Lava Tree State Monument, where a lava flow came through in 1790, leaving otherworldly lava molds in its path. Another interesting destination in Puna is Kalapana. In 1990, lava from Kilauea engulfed this historic town and its beaches. This is the site of today's current lava flow.
Kau is rural, remote, and the place to come to get off the beaten path. It is located in Hawaii Island's southernmost region and is free from hotels, resorts, and golf courses. It's home to one of the most famous beaches in the state- Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Kau is also home to most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Other sights in Kau include Kalae, known as South Point, the southernmost point in the United States, and Kau Desert, which is on southwest edge of Kilauea. Here you’ll find footprints of warriors who were trapped in volcanic ash long ago-a result of one of Kilauea’s rare explosive eruptions. In contrast, on the eastern slopes of Kau, there are macadamia nut orchards, coffee farms, and cattle. Kau is home to not only Hawaiian families who have been here for generations, but also writers, artists, philosophers and others seeking solitude.
The Kona district stretches along almost the entire west side of the island. Along this expansive area, you’ll find everything from coffee farms to historic Hawaiian landmarks. In fact, King Kamehameha actually spent his final years in Kailua-Kona. Home to shops, restaurants and nightlife, you can conveniently take a walking tour of Kona’s history at places like Hulihee Palace, Mokuaikaua Church and the Ahuena Heiau. Other significant historic places include Kealakekua Bay to the south, where Captain James Cook first set foot on the island in 1778 and was eventually killed. North of Kailua-Kona is the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, a 1160-acre park that lets you explore early heiau (temples), fishponds and petroglyphs. Shielded from winds by Maunaloa, south Kona’s calm and clear waters are perfect for snorkeling, diving, sailing and spotting dolphins and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles). One of Kona’s most memorable experiences is going on a nighttime Manta Ray boat tour to scuba or snorkel with these gentle, graceful sea creatures. And while in this area, don't forget to travel to the cooler upland slopes of Holualoa, where you can sample the distinctive flavors of 100% Kona coffee, which is what Kona is famous for!
North of Kona International Airport, you’ll see rugged lava fields surrounding you. You may not see it from Queen Kaahumanu Highway, but the Kohala Coast is where you’ll find some of the island’s finest resorts. Nestled among the black and red lava rock fields, a result of eruptions from the island's volcanos centuries ago, are green oases full of world-class accommodations, fine dining, and some of Hawaii’s best golf courses. The sunny Kohala Coast sees an annual average rainfall of only nine inches, so soak in the sun and relax at Hapuna Beach State Park, one of the area's largest white sand beaches, indulge at local restaurants or relax at a local spa. You’ll discover cultural treasures on the Kohala Coast, too, such as th remarkable Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, the largest restored heiau in Hawaii. Just east of this area, explore the scenic pasturelands of Waimea. In sharp contrast to the lava landscapes along the Kohala Coast, this upcountry town is home to the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy). From Waimea, head north on Kohala Mountain Road to visit Kahua Ranch for a horseback riding tour or ATV drive. Then continue on to the charming town of Hawi. On your way to Kapaau, home of the original Kamehameha Statue, you'll find dramatic Pololu Valley at the end of the road.
Hawaii Island is distinctly different and very proud of its culture. It's a fascinating place to visit!
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Ann Jones, CTC, MCC