The Big Island of Hawaii

The largest among the Hawaiian islands,Big Island of Hawaii is born as an island of fire(Mauna Loa) and ice (Mauna Kea) where land and sea are in constant conflict.The island was discovered by British explorer James Cook in 1778 and was murdered by native Hawaiians later on.With the help of European military, King Kamehameha I conquered and unified all the Hawaiian islands and established the kingdom of Hawaii.The native population of Hawaii succumbed to few thousands due to diseases brought by the immigrants.Hawaii has always been significant to world powers because of its strategic location in Pacific Ocean.Finally in 1959, Government of Hawaii agreed to become 50th state of United States.

Being a geological diverse island with massive volcanoes,rain forests,coffee plantations,lava fields,beautiful beaches and one of the biggest astronomical research center in the world, it also plays a  pivotal role in Hawaiian history as King Kamehameha I was born here.Below are few of my favorites from the trip.

1) Coffee/Macadamia Nut Plantation

The Kona side of the island has a perfect soil and weather to grow premium coffee beans and Kona coffee is one of the most expensive coffees in the world.There are numerous plantations near Kona-Kailua region which are operational and provides coffee tasting and plantation tour.During the great depression of 1929,coffee prices fell down drastically and the farmers were forced to diversify their farms, so they started growing other crops like macadamia nut.After visiting the plantation, I realized that coffee is a very labor intensive work.The entire process of growing coffee beans,drying and fermenting them and ultimately selling them is a very tedious process for farmers family including their children. Back in the days, kids had coffee vacation in school during which they had to help their family in picking up the coffee beans from the ground.Can you imagine that?

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Kona Snow – Coffee flowers are rare and when they bloom they look like snow piled up on branches
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Coffee beans are dried for 7-10 days and then send to mills for grinding.The beans are very hard and cannot be chewed

2) Volcano National Park

Probably the only national park where the forces of nature are still at work and are beyond human control.The park takes you in the past and displays the immense destruction caused by volcanic eruptions but there is beauty in destruction too.

Take a 4 mile hike to the bottom of Kīlauea Iki Crater which was erupted in 1959 or drive through Chain of Crater road or walk through the steam vents or sulphur trails, its destruction everywhere.There is a weird smell of sulphur especially near the earth cracks.The view of lava oozing out from Halema’uma’u crater from Jaggar museum is phenomenal especially after sunset.There are interesting lava structures everywhere as the lava has taken the shape of almost everything which has crossed its path.

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Kilauea Caldera – Eruption from Jagger Museum
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Sulphur Banks – Place smells like rotten eggs due to volcanic gases seeping out of the ground
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At the bottom of Kilauea Iki Crater – Volcano erupted in 1959 and left a huge crater behind 
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Lava Tube – A cave formed by flowing lava
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Chain Of Craters Road – Finally lava field meets Ocean

3) Sunset and StarGazing On Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and is a tallest mountain on Earth.Yes, its taller than Mt Everest but it’s not considered tallest because 2/3rd of the mountain is under water.You can drive up to Visitor Center which is at 9200 feet but the road all the way to summit is really bad and dangerous.NASA uses the road to test the equipments for future space exploration like Mars Rover and Robots.Once you reach at the top of the summit, you will find one of the world’s largest telescope facility where NASA and other countries have installed their telescopes to get live feed of the night sky.Mauna Kea is considered to be one of the ideal place for astronomical purposes because of its altitude,isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and no light pollution.The sunset at the summit above the cloud is mesmerizing but it is very cold out there and altitude sickness is very common as you gain the altitude in less than 2 hours and body doesn’t get time to adjust.After sunset,rangers set up telescopes for star-gazing but it gets really crowded.The star gazing tour is impressive and informative.Though you can drive up to summit to see sunset and attend the free star gazing program organized by rangers,I will highly recommend to get a Sunset and StarGazing tour from an authorized company as it saves you lot of hassle to drive during the night on a really bad road and you get personalized star-gazing program from the tour which is more informative and peaceful.We saw various constellations,red giant stars,multiple satellites orbiting the earth and galaxies like Andromeda and Milky Way during the tour.Most importantly, car rental companies do not allow you to drive beyond visitor center unless you are driving all wheel drive.

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Telescope on Mauna Kea Summit
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Sunset at Mauna Kea Summit

4) Kaloko-Honokohau Historical Park

The park contains temple ruins,fish ponds,fish traps,ruins of homes and structures and various petroglyphs. It is supposed to be the sacred land now and is being watched by the Hawaiian gods.

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Guardians Of the Ocean

5) South Point and Green Sand Beach

South Point is well-known point for cliff jumping in the island.Green sand beach is little inaccessible as you need to take a 6 mile hike or need to drive on lava fields(most rental car companies do not allow) to reach the beach.The color of the sand was not green, it was more like olive-green which is a deposit from Big Island lava called olivine.

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South Point – Southern most point of land in United States
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Green Sand Beach
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Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

6) Hilo and its relationship with Tsunami

This part of island is so vulnerable that it is affected by earthquakes from Chile and Aleutian islands in Alaska which are thousands of miles away from the island in Pacific.Hilo has been hit by numerous tsunamis over the period of time and its history is well represented in Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo downtown.Its a very unique museum with stories of tsunami survivors all around the world and has amazing exhibits on how tsunami shaped Hilo over the period of time.There are only 3 such tsunami museums in the world which are set to spread the awareness of tsunami among people.

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Saying from one of the Indian Ocean Tsunami survivor

7) WaterFalls Near Hilo

Because of rainforests, the region around Hilo has numerous waterfalls such as Akaka,Rainbow,UmaUma,PeePee falls to name a few.You can easily spend half a day to see all the falls.

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Akaka and Rainbow Falls

8) Puukohola Heiau Historic Site

The temple was built by Kamehameha I to fulfill a prophecy and was dedicated to the war-god to unite the Hawaiian kingdom.This was the last ancient structure built by Hawaiians before western influence.The site has lookouts for whale and shark viewing.

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Temple of War built by Kamehameha I

9) Waipio Valley

The valley was densely populated during the era of ancient kings but now it is mostly known for Taro fields.

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Waipio Valley Lookout

10) Volcanic Vegetation

The very first vegetation that grows on lava field is Ohia tree.

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Plant varieties
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Chilli plant,Banana flower,Ohia flower to name some

11) Know about legends of Pele and Poli’ahu from a local

Pele and Poli’ahu are sisters and it is said that Pele(goddess of fire) lives on Mauna Loa and Poli’ahu(goddess of snow) on Mauna Kea. Pele’s curse says that visitors who take the lava rock away from the Hawaii island will suffer bad luck until it is returned back to the island.Every year many visitors send the packages full of lava rock back to Hawaii in effort to get rid of Pele’s curse.Some believe that the stories are told to discourage the visitors from taking away the elements from island because of its rich geographical and archeological significance.There are many interesting stories behind everything on the island – beaches,scenic lookouts,waterfalls and ancient god rivalries.

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Learn stories about Lava Rock from a local

 

Route Map

Big Island Circle tour and highlights.Starts from Kailua-Kona.

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4 thoughts on “The Big Island of Hawaii

  1. Sounds like a really exciting trip! How did you feel when you walked through the lava caves? Was it dark? Could you feel the heat from nearby lava? Did it smell at all? What was your most memorable moment from the trip? I would love to go there…

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    1. It was really exciting to follow the footsteps of lava.The cave itself was very dark but there were artificial lights inside the cave.I couldn’t experience the lave up close as the lava flow was slow and not reaching the terrain at most hiking places.There is a 6 mile hike near Kalapana area outside Volcano National park where you can see hot lava flowing in the ocean and there is another 12 mile hike inside the national park which takes you to the mountain from where the lava oozes out.Both hikes are on lava fields and have no marked trails.Volcano National park smelled weird like sulphur especially near earth cracks and steam vents.The most memorable moment was stargazing at Mauna Kea.

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