The Big Island

November 2, 2008 by  
Filed under islands

Only 800,000 years old, the island of Hawaii is the youngest of the Hawaiian isles. It is also, by far, the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago; its 4,028 square miles is more than twice the size of all the other major islands combined.

The “Big Island,” in fact, is still growing. Kilauea volcano has been spewing molten lava since January 1, 1983, continually adding real estate to the island. The Big Island’s other active volcano, 13,679-foot Mauna Loa, last erupted in March 1984. Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano and covers about half of the island. Of the three remaining volcanoes on the island, Mauna Kea and Kohala are extinct, and Hualalai is considered to be dormant (it last erupted in 1801).

Anchoring the eastern end of the island chain, the Big Island is an island offering spectacular contrasts. Twelve distinct climate zones exist here, from tropical rain forests in Hilo and Ka’u’s arid desert to the snow-capped summit of Mauna Kea. Ka’u is the southernmost point in the U.S. A Hawaiian legend tells of two deities, volcano goddess Pele and demi-god Kamapua’a, battling over the island. The two eventually struck a deal, dividing the Big Island in two: the dry west side (Kona) and tropical east side (Hilo).

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located near Hilo. Established in 1916, the 210,000-acre park is a superb setting for hiking, camping and sightseeing. The park’s visitor center offers timely visitor information as well as photographs, videos and other educational displays.

From Hilo, take Highway 200 to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, named for Hawaii’s first astronaut, Ellison S. Onizuka, who perished in the 1986 Challenger explosion. The visitor center conducts stargazing programs as well as free tours to the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea.

The Big Island’s “west side story” includes the spectacular Kohala coast, a favorite resort playground offering spectacular sunsets, golf, horseback riding and some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts in the world. In Waimea, visit Parker Ranch, one of the largest privately owned ranches in the United States. And just south of Kailua-Kona is Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, one of Hawaii’s most sacred cultural attractions.

Steep in both natural beauty and historical significance, the island of Hawaii is Madame Pele’s latest and quite possibly greatest creation.


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