Why You Should Visit Hawaii’s Big Island
Hawaii’s Big Island has been making newspaper headlines all over the world in recent months. First, there were the eruptions of Kilauea in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park back in May, forcing the park’s closure. Then, just a few months later, the archipelago was hit by Hurricane Lane – a category 4 storm that lashed the state with inches and inches of rain. But now, with the lava gone, the floodwater retreating, and the National Parks Service announcing the reopening of the park, things are looking up. Not to mention business as usual continues on the island – that means there’s snorkelling, kayaking, zip-lining, waterfalls, rainforest and more to be tried and explored. In fact, there’s never been a better time to visit the Island of Hawaii. Here’s why:
The volcanic landscapes have undergone huge changes…
…making Hawaii Volcanoes National Park even more of a must visit. For the first time in over a decade, molten lava has stopped flowing through the park, creating a dramatic change in the topography. The land here has transformed from fiery orange to dusty grey, a real-life representation of the natural violence that took place here, when 80,000 earthquakes shook the ground over four months. It’s compelling to observe – and respect – the dramatic effects of Mother Nature up close.
All the other parks, sites and trails are awesome
While many flock to Big Island for Volcanoes NP, Hawaii’s largest island actually has plenty more to offer. On the coastal trail of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park you can observe native wetland birds and Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu), while the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park – a former place of refuge for fleeing fugitives – promises a tranquil, historic spot, ripe for exploration. At the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site you can visit one of the largest restored temples in the state, and follow in the footsteps of the king who united the Hawaiian Islands. And be sure to explore the sights and sounds of the Alakahakai National Historic Trail too. This 175-mile island-circling trail has long been used by Hawaiians for travelling between coastal settlements, and fuses together history and nature.
It’s a great place for adventure
From dozens of hiking trails – through valleys, up mountains and along the coast – to some of the best scuba sites on the planet, Big Island has it all. For a real adventure, ride through the rolling hills of North Kohala and Waimea on horseback, hike into the lush Pololu Valley, take a helicopter tour over the Kilauea, Maunaloa and Maunakea volcanoes, or take a marine-filled snorkelling tour of the crystal-clear waters of Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, on the island's Kona side. And these experiences barely scratch the surface.
Culture and history is a big deal here
…and it’s easy to get immersed in it. Nature lovers will appreciate the 583,000-square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument – which gives way to the largest marine conservation area on the planet, while also holding great significance for Native Hawaiians. It is a mixed (natural and cultural) UNESCO World Heritage site, with protection efforts in place here since 1903. Or why not gaze skyward at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo? Here, at the summit of the dormant Maunakea volcano, a range of interactive exhibits showcase early Hawaiian studies of the stars, as well as modern day astronomy.
You can tour the Kona Coffee Living History Farm – which has been producing coffee at its homestead since 1900 – and head for the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve to uncover the history of Hawaiian spirituality and everyday life. And if you want to hear tales of Native Hawaiian, immigrant and missionary resident history, head for the Lyman Museum and Mission House. Experience the changing climates of the archipelago, learn about the tools and implements that the Hawaiians once used and discover full-size models of local marine-life: don’t miss the 10ft tiger shark.
It’s a natural wonder
Whether you're discovering the black sands of Punaluu Beach – beloved by the Hawaiian green sea turtles who sunbathe here – or the 80ft Waianuenue (aka Rainbow) Falls, Hawaii’s Big Island is full to the brim with natural wonders.
Exploring by car? Head for the scenic Old Mamalahoa Highway, which winds through rainforests, along rugged coastlines, and over century-old bridges, or consider a waterfall-packed road trip around North Hilo. If you prefer to get about on foot, consider the Hawaii Island Coast to Coast Birding Trail. You can walk one, five, or even all 90 miles of the track but – no matter how little or much you stroll – chances are you’ll see some of the state’s best avifauna.
And for those who want to give something back to the environment here, you can help restore native plant life and forests at the Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project or the non-profit Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative.
The food is delicious
Quirky, fresh and tasty – you just have to try the food in Hawaii. Discover local eats and farm-to-table dining in Waimea or along the Kohala Coast, a selection of brew pubs in Kailua-Kona, and small-town eateries aplenty in Hawi, Honokaa, Pahoa and Volcano Village. When exploring Hilo, the island's biggest town, you can sample everything from multi-ethnic comfort food to fresh poke, mochi and and taquerias. For coffee drinkers, it’s tough to beat the java in the Kona, Kau and Puna coffee-growing districts, while wine lovers simply should sample the varietals at the Volcano Winery. The grapes are plucked from vines grown at the 4,000-foot elevation of Kilauea volcano, bringing a unique character and flavour to the tipple.
Want to cook up your own cuisine? Head for the twice-weekly downtown Hilo Farmers Market or the Saturday morning farmers’ markets in Waimea. You’ll find a raft of fresh, locally sourced food, not to mention a tantalising selection of jellies, jams, marmalades and other small-batch preserves crafted from specialised fruit varieties, such as poha berries and mountain apple.
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