Aloha means hello or good morning, good afternoon or good day; it metaphorically resonates with the true Hawaiian spirit of rejoicing. Listen to a local speak and you’ll understand what I mean. Though an island of few words, with only 18 letters , of which five are vowels, a gregarious hearty laughter is reflected in its language at all times. It is the fascinating manifestation of an apostrophe between two consecutive "Is" that causes the hearty ‘hh’ sound. That explains why Hawaii only in Hawaii is spelt as Hawai’i.
So, what makes the Big Island such an experience? Surely it’s more than the language. For one, the Big Island, called Hawaii, is starkly different from most of the others like Oahu or Maui. Being the most recent emergent from the earth’s volatile lava womb, it is characterized by a lot of ecological diversity: mountains, volcanoes, black sand beaches and spectacular scenic views. It is very unlike its sister islands, known worldwide for their gigantic waves and white sand beaches. Owing to its geographic expanse, it is the largest of the Hawaiian islands. It is not uncommon to encounter cool temperatures and even rain on one end and sun on the other.
Sightseeing is as variegated as the island itself, ranging from active volcanoes spewing lava and lush botanical parks to black sand beaches. The Hawaiian Islands archipelago has four historically active volcanoes with only the Kilauea Volcano on the big island currently erupting. Along with Mauna Loa, it is amongst the world’s most active volcanoes, continuing to add land to the island. Kilauea started erupting in 1983, and can be viewed from the Volcano National Park. A four-mile hike, approximately two hours, is all it takes to view the spectacular lave flow: hot, bright orange molten lava flows into the ocean, peeping through a thick cloud of white smoke. The trail to the lava flow is an expanse of solidified lava.
Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re larger than life walking on an immobile black rippling river! It is advisable to wear sturdy walking shoes, carry along a flashlight and loads of drinking water. Some of the other attractions are the Crater Rim Drive where it’s possible to walk into many gigantic volcanic craters; the Steam Vents where one can actually smell and see the sulfur fumes simmer out from inside the earth; the Jaggar Museum and the Thurston Lava Tube, where you can actually walk through a solidified lava tube!
About an hour’s drive from the volcanoes is the Hawaiin Tropical Botanical Garden. It is a rainforest-like area showcasing the island’s rich natural flora and fauna. Over 90 percent of it is endemic and is found nowhere else on earth. The impressive botanical array of the banyan, orchids, hanging lobster claw, and other rare plants is a result of 70 million years of colonization by species of plants and animals at the rate of roughly one every 70,000 years. The island’s beaches and venues for various water sports and activities like snorkeling, sailing, water skiing, whale watching, and so on are located on the west coast.
One of the most visited beaches is the Hapuna Beach. Boogie boating and kayaking are interesting activities on this white sand beach. Also, a drive around the island will provide the option of numerous smaller beaches that are attached to a resort and can be freely visited, as beaches in Hawaii are not a private commodity! The Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Waikoloa Village or at Kona can be extremely exhilarating – watch dolphins jump up into the air and amuse spectators with many other tricks.
The Big Island is a mélange of frolicking waves, abundant nature and a lot of history dating back to the 16th century when the Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands migrated there. After years of isolation, it was only in 1778, that Capt. James Cook arrived and introduced the rest of the world to Hawaii. The Hulihe’e Palace at Kona is a quick and easy way to learn something about the history of the Hawaiian royal family. Another way is through the dazzling and traditional Lu’au. A highly recommended one is at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Inn that starts with a warm shell lei welcome and the Wa Pu ‘ihi ‘Ali’i, the royal torch lighting ceremony signaling the arrival of the Royal Court at the beach front of Kamakahonu Bay. It introduces the various Polynesian arts and crafts like making grass necklaces, and it demonstrates the hula, how to open a coconut: activities akin to the Hawaiian way of life.
The dinner is a huge spread of local Hawaiian cuisine like the kalua pua’a (pork), poi and the Hawaiian sweet potato. The Lu’au entertainment enthralls the audience as performers celebrate their love for Hawaii and Polynesia. Performances include dance forms from Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, the Maori warrior dance and the Siva Afi, or the daring Fire Knife Dance.
Hawaii is also a destination for avid golfers, especially the golf course by the Waikoloa village. Renowned for its coffee, a coffee tour in Kona is a quaint and informative experience. A drive through the scenic mountains peppered with view points, coffee tasting or a cup of freshly brewed coffee become all the more pleasurable.
A helicopter ride above the island or to one of the bigger towns – Hilo is another option, depending on one’s budget. The Farmer’s Market at Kona is a beautiful spectacle displaying some of the indigenous handicrafts, food and other attractions particular to Hawaii. For shopping, the Kings’ Shops at the Waikoloa Village are an interesting place to go to, where one can find the biggest brands in one place: Louis Vuitton, Macy’s, Cartier, to name a few. For all the other major purchases, everything you need, you’ll find at easy-to-use ABC Stores. A smart thing to pick up from here is a souvenir T-shirt, or better still, the famous and typical Hawaiian Macadamia nuts or chocolates to carry for folks back home!
Owing to its vast geographical expanse, the first thing to do to maximize your time in Hawaii is to rent a car. Most rentals are close to the airport and quite affordable. Once checked into your accommodation, settled and refreshed, get on the wheel and venture into the fascinating area. Smattered with scenic spots and routes, the drive is a great opportunity for memorable photographs of the landscape. When you budget your time, keep that in mind.