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The Big Island of Hawaii   by Kelly Stoneman


About 1,200 years ago, Polynesian voyagers navigated the Pacific Ocean paddling canoes, using the stars as their guide, and arrived on these rocky shores. Bringing with them foods like taro, chickens, pigs, bananas and coconut, fishing skills and knowledge of canoe building, these new settlers thrived. By 1779, when legendary explorer Captain James Cook arrived in the waters of Kealakekua Bay, the population of the island was about 80,000 strong!

Hawaii Island was the home of one of the most prominent figures in the history of the state, King Kamehameha the Great. Born around 1753, Kamehameha is considered one of Hawaii's greatest leaders. By conquering all the islands and bringing them under one rule, it is believed that this great warrior was actually able to end the warring between the islands by uniting them under one rule with laws created to preserve peace. King Kamehameha Day is an annual celebration dedicated to this beloved leader. While celebrated state wide, the Big Island plays is considered the "most special place to pay tribute" to the great King.

The youngest of the Hawaiian island chains, the Big Island is also the largest. Already covering about 4038 square miles, about 2/3 of the land mass of the entire state of Hawaii, the island is growing daily, thanks to the eruptions Hawaii's two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The summit at another of the Big Island's volcanoes, Mauna Kea, reaches a staggering 13,796 feet, and is the tallest mountain in the world.

Hawaii Volcano Tours

Kilauea volcano draws thousands of visitors from around the globe and is probably the biggest attraction on the island. A number of eco-tour and hiking companies offer daily treks into Volcanoes National Park, as Naturalists and Hawaii Certified Guides lead the way on foot and on guided driving tours, allowing visitors to discover extinct craters, ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, lava tubes, steam vents, and the arid desert landscape of Kilauea in relative safety. While not always a guarantee (for safety reasons), this is one of the few places in the world that allows you to walk right up to a flow of molten lava!

Air tours abound on the island, offering a bird's eye view of the awesome power of an erupting volcano. Small planes offer a quieter view from above while helicopter flights for most visitors are considered a must. Departures from Hilo, Waikoloa and Kona allow a variety of options and assure something for every activity level, age and budget. For the photographer, there are doors-off flights and tours including a landing within the park. Have a picnic lunch before exploring this remote area and getting safely close to the lava.

Not to be forgotten, Mauna Kea plays host to snowboarders, skiers and nightly stargazing tours. Most car rental companies prohibit driving on the road to the summit and it can be a bit scary for the novice; luckily, it's not difficult to join a guided group outing.

Big Island Tourism & Leisure

While Kilauea may be the most well known attraction, there is certainly no shortage of things to do. With geographical diversity including vast, arid desert, lush, tropical rainforests, sandy beaches, and even snow-capped mountains, Hawaii Island is an adventure lover's paradise! ATV and horseback tours offer panoramic views, waterfalls and historic trails while leisurely sightseeing tours explore the Hamakua Coast, Paniolo Country, and Waimea.

The island is still relatively young and does not offer a great many sandy beaches but the ones you'll find are stunning. As in most of the state, the best beaches are usually found near resorts and are fairly easy to find; however, if you venture off the beaten path, a little leg work will reveal striking stretches of black sand at Punalu'u Beach and even green sands at Papakolea.

Snorkeling from shore is not the greatest, so visitors would do well to consider a guided snorkel tour. There are a number of boat and kayak tours heading out daily to places like Kealakekua Bay and Pawai Bay Marine Preserve, allowing visitors to experience gorgeous reef areas teeming with tropical fish and Hawaiian sea turtles. There are even a good number of family-owned companies that take small groups out to look for, and swim with Wild Dolphins; talk about connecting with nature!

Resources:

www.hawaiiactive.com, www.nps.gov/havo/, www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko/

About the Author

While writing poetry and short stories in high school, my interest in writing piqued upon entering the University of South Carolina. There I joined a creative writing club and began to have short "essays" published. While I continued to write for pleasure after school, I began writing professionally for a Maritime and Hawaiian Art dealer in 1999. My interest in copy work and web design eventually led me to work for a variety of web sites.

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