BIG ISLAND, HAWAII, USA
Indulge your spirit of adventure on the biggest Hawaiian island. It’s still a vast frontier, full of unexpected wonders.
We doubt that it’s possible to get ‘island fever’ on Hawaiʻi. The aptly named Big Island is fantastically diverse, with miles of highways – and, better yet, byways – to explore. Eight of the world’s 13 climate zones exist here, adding sensory variety as you circumnavigate the island. Gaze at vivid emerald cliffs, swaths of black-, white- and even green-sand beaches, majestic volcanic mountains (possibly snowcapped!), stark lava desert, rolling pastureland and misty valleys, weathered by rain, waves and time. Hawaiʻi is twice as big as the other Hawaiian Islands combined, and its dramatic terrain is ever fascinating.
Ancient History & Modern Multiculturalism
Ancient history looms large on Hawaiʻi, a place of powerful mana (spiritual essence). The first Polynesians landed at Ka Lae, the windswept southern tip, still raw and undeveloped today. Kamehameha the Great, who unified the Hawaiian Islands, was born in Kohala and died in Kailua-Kona. Hula and oli (chant) are deep-rooted here, and Miloli‘i on the Kona Coast is perhaps the last Hawaiian fishing village. During the sugarcane era, traditional ways became intertwined with those of immigrant cultures: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese and more. This legacy is palpable in the mix of languages, foods and festivals. The most striking element of this multiculturalism is the pidgin vernacular.
Roads Less Traveled
Thanks to its sheer size, Hawaiʻi has lots of legroom. Enjoy the delicious freedom of the open road, where the journey becomes the main attraction. From east to west, the island has multiple personalities, and it’s worthwhile experiencing them all. While the ‘Gold Coast’ – South Kohala to Kailua-Kona – caters to travelers en masse, most island towns are rural and exist primarily for residents. Even the capital seat, Hilo, is a former plantation town that’s still slow-paced and populated by kamaʻaina (people born and raised here). Ultimately this down-home localness marks the real Hawai‘i. Don’t miss it.
Less than a million years old, Hawaiʻi is a baby in geological terms. Here you’ll find the Hawaiian Islands’ tallest, largest and only active volcanic mountains. Kilauea, on the eastern side, is the world’s most active volcano, spewing molten lava continuously since 1983. If you see glowing, red-hot lava, you are witnessing Earth in the making, a thrilling and humbling experience. At 33,000ft tall when measured from the ocean floor, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain, and its significance cannot be overstated – as a sacred place to Hawaiians and a top astronomical site to scientists.
It’s easy to see why Hawaii has become synonymous with paradise. Just look at these sugary beaches, Technicolor coral reefs and volcanoes beckoning adventurous spirits.
Floating all by itself in the middle of the Pacific, Hawaii proudly maintains its own distinct identity apart from the US mainland. Spam, shave ice, surfing, ukulele and slack key guitar music, hula, pidgin, aloha shirts, ‘rubbah slippah’ (flip-flops) – these are just some of the touchstones of everyday life, island style. Pretty much everything here feels easygoing, low-key and casual, bursting with genuine aloha and fun. You’ll be equally welcome whether you’re a globe-trotting surf bum, a beaming couple of fresh-faced honeymooners or a big, multigenerational family with rambunctious kids.
Hawaii is as proud of its multicultural heritage as it is of former US President Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu on Oʻahu. On these Hawaiian Islands, the descendants of ancient Polynesians, European explorers, American missionaries and Asian plantation immigrants mix and mingle. What’s remarkable about contemporary Hawaii is that harmonious multiculturalism is the rule, not the exception. Boisterous arts and cultural festivals keep diverse community traditions alive, from Hawaiian outrigger canoe races to Japanese taiko drumming. Come here to see what the future of the USA could be.
Just as in days of old, life in Hawaii is lived outdoors. Whether it’s surfing, swimming, fishing or picnicking with the ʻohana (extended family and friends), encounters with nature are infused with the traditional Hawaiian value of aloha ʻaina – love and respect for the land.
Go hiking across ancient lava flows and down fluted pali (sea cliffs). Learn to surf, the ancient Hawaiian sport of ‘wave sliding,’ and then snorkel or dive with giant manta rays and sea turtles. Kayak to a deserted offshore island or hop aboard a whale-watching cruise. Back on land, ride horseback with paniolo, Hawaii’s cowboys.
Snapshots of these islands scattered in the cobalt blue Pacific Ocean are heavenly, without the need for any embellishment by tourist brochures. Sunrises and sunsets are so spectacular that they’re cause for celebration all by themselves, such as atop Haleakalā volcano on Maui. As tropical getaways go, Hawaii couldn’t be easier or more worth the trip, though be aware that visiting these Polynesian isles isn’t always cheap. But whether you’re dreaming of swimming in crystal waterfall pools or lazing on golden-sand beaches, you can find what you’re looking for here.