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The Big Island

2005-04-29 4 min read Travel marco

{moszoomimglink:Waipi’o – tiny Hi’ilawe falls} I am writing this fresh from a one week vacation to Kona, spent mostly exploring and marveling at the miracles of this biggest of the Hawaiian islands. It is so big, indeed, that it would easily fit all other islands combined.

{moszoomimglink:All of Mauna Loa} Like all other islands in the chain, Hawai’i is formed by volcanoes that rise up all the way from the bottom of the sea. While underwater, the lava cools very quickly, generating a mountain that is very steep. Once the ocean surface is passed, the lava turns out to be very fluid, so that the aerial part of the islands is quite flat. Don’t expect the volcanoes to look like Mount St. Helens or Vesuvius: they are gentle in slope, and the only really steep grade is where erosion has eaten away a chunk of mountain.

{moszoomimglink:Kohala} The five volanoes that comprise the island are very different in nature. Kohala, the oldest, is weathered and looks already a little like Kauai: deep valleys on the windward side, dry shrubland on the leeward side. Mauna Kea, the next oldest and highest point in the state of Hawai’i, is the steepest of them all, looking on a clear day like a dome. Hualalai, which dominates Kona’s skyline, is not really very remarkable. Mauna Loa, just a hundred feet shorter than Mauna Kea, is so huge in mass, you barely notice it has a slope at all, looking at it from a distance.

{moszoomimglink:It was really flowing} The fifth volcano is the reason most people want to visit the island: Kilauea is the most active volcano on Earth, and on a good day you can actually see the lava flowing almost under your feet!

As for my personal impressions: Hawai’i is evidently the poorest of the main islands. Some areas (such as East of Hilo, in the Puna district) are so depressed you can barely tell the cars from the volcanic soil that turns rust red after a few millennia. And when you talk with people, they all tell you they’d rather live in Kauai, Oahu, or Maui, but – alas – can’t afford those places.

Now, being poor in Hawai’i is still better than being poor anywhere else, and I love how genuinely happy everybody seems. There is no fake smile for tourists, but I have seen none of the ‘stink eye’ that so many guides mention. And I have seen it all, having toured the island four times in nine days.

{moszoomimglink:Lava black, rest in the sun} Highlights? If you visit, you MUST go to the volcano. If you come back and tell me you haven’t seen it, I’ll ship you right back via FedEx. You just can’t imagine how it feels when you look into a crater whose floor is a frozen lake of lava that still steams. What was a downside to me my be an advantage for you: I found it all too manicured and perfect, with trails that had signs at every crossing, and roads that must be the envy of any San Franciscan (or New Yorker).

{moszoomimglink:The bottom is paradise} Second, pick one of Pololu or Waipi’o valleys to get a glimpse at what a lush tropical valley looks like. Most books favor Waipi’o, but I find Pololu to be more accessible, just as beautiful, and much less crowded. Wouldn’t you want to hike down a trail that passes a guava forest, and a jungle on the way to the next valley?

{moszoomimglink:It is turning dark} Finally, if you have even the slightest interest in Hawaiian culture, history and art, you have to see the Puuhonua o Honaunau, an ancient temple complex South of Kona. You have to go, and you have to walk on the lava shelf and bathe in one of the pools formed by the tides.

{moszoomimglink:Sunday triathlon 02 start} Of course, the biking situation was a big hit for me. And I found dozens of bikers and triathletes on the Kona side – from the pros to the amateur. The town of Kona is full of souvenir shops, the promenade in front of my hotel was crowded in the morning with two dozen triathletes meeting for a training ride, and Queen K, the highway to Waimea, was at all times of the day frequented by a few riders. Nothing like Foothill Expressway, of course, but good enough to keep me interested. Unfortunately (for me, not for the triathletes) the island is fairly flat and the roads barely make a nudge to the up or down.