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  • Overview

    The youngest and largest of the Hawaiian Islands, the island of Hawaii (known as Big Island to avoid confusion) is one of the few places on earth where visitors can go from snowboarding to snorkelling in a single day! Local legend has it that the volcano goddess Pele and the demi-god Kamapua'a, who could control the weather, battled for the island and eventually decided to divide it: Pele took the hot, dry western half and Kamapua'a ended up with the wet, tropical east.

    Big Island, however, actually has twelve distinct climatic zones ranging from tropical rain forests in the east to the frozen tundra atop Mauna Kea and the arid desert of Ka'u in the south. This diversity makes Hawaii's Big Island an unrivalled pleasure ground for active holidaymakers, the island's resorts offering every type of outdoor activity imaginable. To add to the thrill there is the attraction of two active volcanoes on this island - the Kilauea Caldera is the longest continuously erupting volcano in the world, its present eruptive phase dating back to 1983; Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. Of the three other volcanoes on the island two, Mauna Kea and Kohala, are extinct, while Hualalai is considered to be dormant. All this volcanic action has meant that holidaymakers can decide on their preferred beach sand tones ranging from white to red, black and even green.

    Together with the diverse ecosystems of Big Island is the rich Polynesian Hawaiian culture, a culture that has absorbed some interesting elements from both Asia and Europe, creating a colourful mix. On the coast you can dance the hula at an authentic luau feast, while upcountry you will find a blend of Portuguese and Mexican culture combined with Hawaiian tradition among the 'Paniolos' (cowboys) on the giant cattle ranches.

    Hilo

    Hula down to Hilo, which has been dubbed 'Hawaii's forgotten city' on the coast of the Big Island, for a dose of old-time Hawaii. The city may be the second largest in the State, but Hilo has a small-town feel. Overlooking beautiful Hilo Bay, and dominated by two volcanoes (the active Mauna Loa and dormant Mauna Kea), the city was a trading centre for native Hawaiians in ancient times, then became an important port once the westerners had discovered that the area was ideal for growing sugar cane.

    More modern times have seen Hilo bear the brunt of two tsunamis, one in 1946 and another in 1960, but the hardy citizens of Hilo cleaned up their city after each affliction and now the high-water marks of these devastating events are a tourist attraction, along with the Pacific Tsunami Museum on the corner of Front and Kalakaua Streets.

    Although reminders of the past are everywhere, in the architecture and attractions, Hilo is a young, happening city, home to the University of Hawaii and the Merrie Monarch Festival, celebrating hula dancing, held annually in the week after Easter.

    Another of the hottest happenings in Hilo is the Farmers' Market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays along Front Street, when more than 100 vendors set up their stalls selling everything from fresh produce to Portuguese pastries and native crafts.

    The downtown area of Hilo contains Hawaii's largest collection of historic buildings, dating back to the turn of the century. There are plenty of restaurants, museums, a rainforest zoo and the beautiful Nani Mau Gardens to explore. Beyond the city itself the countryside is photogenically beautiful, with waterfalls plunging down the hillsides, forming rainbows that light up the lush vegetation. It rains a lot, but mostly in the late afternoons, ensuring that the area stays vividly green. The volcanic beaches in the area are covered in jet-black sand, offsetting the brilliant white spray and blue, glassy waters. Hilo is a colourful kaleidoscope of Hawaii, filled with friendly, smiling people waiting to welcome visitors.

    Four-mile beach, Hilo Four-mile beach, Hilo AlaskaDave
    Hulihee Palace

    The stately mansion of Hulihe'e is situated on Alii Drive in Kailua Kona on the west coast of Hawaii's Big Island. It was built in 1883 and served as the holiday home of Hawaiian royalty until 1925 when it was turned into a museum; it now houses a collection of ancient Hawaiian artefacts and personal memorabilia of the Hawaiian royal family. The bust of King Kalakaua's presides over the entrance hall, while the beautiful Koa dining table carved from a single log of wood graces the Kuhio Room.

    Little touches like Princess Ruth's hatbox made from the trunk of a coconut tree and the cradle of Prince Albert, son of King Kamehameha IV, bring alive a sense of history in the house. The highlight of the collection is the impressive wardrobe in the Kawanakoa Room, which is made of koa wood and trimmed with the King's crest and carvings of classic Greek muses.

    Address: Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona
    Opening time: Monday to Saturday 9am-4pm; Sunday 10am-3pm.
    Huliheʻe Palace Huliheʻe Palace Calbear22
    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

    In the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park surrounding the earth's most massive volcano, Mauna Loa, visitors can actually watch lava flow into the sea from Kilauea, the still active on-site volcano. Park rangers direct visitors to the daily eruption activity on a dramatic burnt landscape, which transforms the landscape with the ongoing eruption. The park is located 30 miles (48km) southwest of Hilo on Highway 11, on the south-east coast of Big Island. Inside the park the Thomas A Jaggar Museum provides a fascinating insight into the geology of a volcano, as well as the cultural aspect of Hawaii's legendary volcano goddess, Pele. Visitors can view seismograph readings, study earth science displays and enjoy photographs of volcanic eruptions.

    Address: Hawaii Belt Road, Volcano, HI
    Opening time: 24 hours a day, all year round. Kilauea Visitor Center is open daily 9am-5pm, and Jaggar Museum is open daily from 10am-8pm.
    Pu'u 'O'o Pu'u 'O'o G.E. Ulrich
    Pacific Tsunami Museum

    Hilo has been destroyed several times by tsunamis. The first-hand oral testimony of tsunami survivors is now preserved along with some other fascinating information in the Pacific Tsunami Museum, located on Kamehameha Avenue in the town. The museum features a series of permanent exhibits that interpret the tsunami phenomena, the Pacific Tsunami Warning system, the history of tsunami in the Pacific Basin, tsunami of the future, myths and legends about tsunami and public safety measures for tsunami disasters.

    Address: 130 Kamehameha Avenue
    Opening time: Monday to Saturday 10am-4pm.
    Website: www.tsunami.org
    Pacific Tsunami Museum Pacific Tsunami Museum Mark Goebel
    Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

    This important Hawaiian cultural and historical site on the black-lava Kona Coast of the Big Island contains some forbidding-looking giant idols, although it was in fact built as a refuge for ancient Hawaiians who had violated kapu (social taboo) or as a sanctuary for defeated warriors. The surrounding area outside the huge enclosing wall was home to several generations of powerful chiefs.

    The 182-acre park also boasts other archaeological sites including some temple platforms, royal fishponds and the ruins of ancient villages. The Hale o Keawe temple, which contains the mortal remains of 23 Hawaiian chiefs, and some thatched buildings have been reconstructed.

    Address: Captain Cook, HI
    Opening time: Park: 7am to sunset daily. Visitor centre: 8:30am-4:30pm daily.
    Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical
Park Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park Gillfoto
    Kona Coffee Museum and Farm

    For a taste of the coffee industry that flourished in the early 20th century on the Big Island visitors can tour the Uchida Coffee Farm, south of Kealakekua town on the Kona Coast. Tour guides in period costumes show off the original farmhouse, bathhouse, coffee mill and drying platforms. Only a few miles away is the Kona Historical Society Museum, housed in the old Greenwell family store, where photographs, ranching and coffee farming exhibits are on display. The store was built by Henry Greenwell in 1875.

    Address: 82-6199 Mamalahoa Hwy, Captain Cook
    Opening time: Monday to Friday 10am-2pm; Closed Saturday and Sunday. Living History Farm Tours operate from Monday to Thursday, on the hour.
    Kona Coffee Living History Farm Kona Coffee Living History Farm Kona Historical Society

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    There's always plenty to see and do on Hawaii's biggest island. With no shortage of natural beauty, many holidaymakers spend the weekend to explore the breath-taking scenery in Volcanoes National Park, Waipi`o Valley, Akaka Falls, and the slopes of Mauna Kea. There are also several beautiful botanical gardens around Hilo.

    The beaches of Big Island, while not as famous as Waikiki, are also worth seeing, as they are made up of more unusual black and green sand. Kua Bay is also a stunning white sand beach with good facilities.

    Visitors who want to get up close and personal with nature can go on dolphin and whale-watching trips, and The Hilton Waikoloa Village offers a swimming with dolphins experience.

    For a glimpse into life on Big Island, several coffee farms offer tours, as well as the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, the only vanilla farm in the US.

    Lapakahi State Historical Park offers another perspective as a partially-restored fishing village dating back 600 years. Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is also a must-visit to learn about Hawaiian heritage, though it is often crowded with tourists.

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