Chapter 17 – Big Island
When most people think of Hawaii, they are thinking of the Big Island. Its proper name is Hawaii, but it is locally known as the Big Island to help differentiate the individual island from the group of islands that make up the whole state.
The island is 4,028 square miles, making it the largest island in the United States and larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined. There are competing theories as to the origin of the name: Some say it was named after Hawai’iloa, the Polynesian navigator who first discovered it. Others say the name is derived from Hawaiki, the place from which Polynesians are believed to have originated. The Big Island was home to King Kamehameha, who waged years of warfare designed to unite all the islands into one state.
The Big Island was formed from five separate volcanoes that erupted in a very specific order, each creating lava flows that overlapped the other. Today, the island still has active volcanoes and is considered to be growing. In fact, between 1983 and 2002, the island produced enough land (created from lava flows) to increase its size by 543 acres. The island is not terribly populous, with just over 175,000 residents in 2000.
Like the other islands, the Big Island originally built its economy on the back of the sugarcane trade. However, in 1996, the last big plantation closed and the island now makes its money on the tourism trade – although it is also known for its orchid agriculture. Thanks to the orchid industry, the island is unofficially known as the Orchid Isle. The Big Island is also known for being a prime spot for astronomy and you will find many telescopes located at the top of Mauna Kea.
For the Art Connoisseur
The Big Island is teeming with small galleries with small art exhibits of both local and national artists. There are a few places you’ll want to keep an eye on for bigger theatre and musical performances, too.
- Kahilu Theatre Foundation – The Foundation offers a 24-concert performance season, presented in the cozy 490-seat Kahilu Theatre. Past seasons have included the Kamuela Philharmonic and American Bluegrass Masters. There are also free community events, such as a pianola artisans showcase and film showings. www.kahilutheatre.org
- Volcano Art Center – The center is a wonderful community resource, offering classes, workshops, performances and special events throughout the year. A spring art camp, lampworking demos and a native species art hike along Kamehameha Beach are just a few of their offerings. Check their Web site to see what performances are scheduled for the time of your visit, as things change often. www.volcanoartcenter.org
For the Foodie
The Big Island is a haven for foodies, even those who shy away from resort-style dining. There are wonderful eateries to be found in every nook and cranny.
- Kilauea Lodge – Just a mile from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Lodge is a local favorite, being particularly popular for its fantastic breakfasts. In fact, Honolulu Magazine and the Tribune Herald both voted it best bed and breakfast on the island (so think about booking a room here, too). Go for the Sunday brunch, which includes smoked salmon Benedict and the famous volcano loco moco. While you are there, be on the lookout for Meatloaf and Lambchop, the resident cats. www.kilauealodge.com
- Daniel Thiebeaut – Located in the restored century-old Chock In Store, this restaurant features an eclectic décor that includes lots of vintage Hawaiiana – but its best feature is the menu. Entrees include grilled bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin in a Thai red wine sauce with herb spaetzle – and the always fresh daily specials, many of which are vegetarian. www.danielthiebeaut.com
- Monettes – Kobe beef tastings. Winemaking. Whale watching. Benefit events. Monettes has it all, including a new menu each day centered on local ingredients and paired with international items. And let’s not forget the award-winning wine list of over 1,000 labels. www.monetteshawaii.com
- Bamboo Restaurant – Despite its common name and being slightly off-the-beaten path, this restaurant is a favorite among the locals – and gets rave reviews from tourists regularly as well. The menu features fresh, locally caught fish prepared in a variety of ways, and there is local music on Friday and Saturday nights. While you’re there, be sure to order one of their trademark passion fruit margaritas.
For the Nature Lover
Like the other islands, the Big Island is full of natural beauty – and with myriad ways to experience it you’ll never be bored.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – This park houses two of the world’s most active volcanoes, the most famous of which is Kilauea. You can tour the volcanoes, but also make time for the 10.6-mile Crater Rim Drive that traces Kilauea’s caldera. Make sure your time in the park also includes a stop at the Thomas A. Jagger Museum, the Thurston Lava Tube and the Puu O’o vent. nps.gov/havo.
- Pu-uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park – Right on Honaunau Bay in south Kona, this park is a true immersion experience. The park was once a refuge for ancient Hawaiian outlaws. If the lawbreakers could make it to this area, they could undergo a sacred ceremony that would allow them to return to society. Take advantage of the walking tours that include a hike down the black lava shoreline, past ancient carved wooden images of the gods and a sacred temple called Hale Okeawe Helau. nps.gov/puho
- Sadie Seymour Botanical Garden – A relatively small botanical garden, the Sadie Seymour is located on just 1.5 acres on the grounds of the Kona Outdoor Circle Educational Center. The gardens were founded to help beautify the Kona community and feature the plants of Hawaii arranged in 11 tiers according to their geographic origin. The gardens also contain an archeological site called Heiau, once used for the construction and blessing of canoes. Find out more on the Kona Circle Web site, konaoutdoorcircle.org.
- Imiloa Astronomy Center – The Hawaiian islands are well known for being near-perfect places to observe the night sky, with their high peaks and clear, warm weather that allows for year-round observations. The astronomy center explores the origins of the cosmos and Earth’s role in that development, as well as space explorations throughout history. There are daily live presentations on a variety of topics. While you are there, be sure to visit the full-dome planetarium – the surround sound will leave you feeling as though you are floating amongst the stars themselves. www.imiloahawaii.org
For the History Buff
If you prefer to spend a bit of time taking in the history of the Island, there are many museums and historical areas that you might want to explore.
- Lyman Mission House & Museum – The mission house was originally built in 1839 by missionaries from New England, David and Sarah Lyman. In 1931, the property was established as a museum and the home was completely restored. Today it houses exhibits including a collection of fine art artifacts and pieces revolving around the natural history of the area. There are also special exhibits throughout the year that demonstrate life as it was for missionaries 150 years ago. www.lymanmuseum.org
- Hulihe’e Palace – For the latter half of the 19th century, this two-story palace was used by royalty as a vacation home. In 1925, the government purchased the property and today it is maintained and operated by the Daughters of Hawaii as a museum. The home showcases period furniture and historical items and the grounds contain several gardens and fish ponds. Each month, the museum sponsors a public concert dedicated to one of Hawaii’s monarchs. www.huliheepalace.org
- Kona Historical Society – The Kona Historical Society brings history to life on a 19th century coffee plantation. You’ll also visit the H.N. Greenwell store, experiencing a general store as it existed in 1890. Look into the jeep and boat tours of the area and stop in at the stone oven to watch a bread baking demonstration. The society also offers a walking tour of historic Kailua village. www.konahistoricalorg
As you can see, every island in Hawaii has unique experiences to offer. Plan a day trip, a weekend or even a week – no matter which you choose, you’ll experience something fantastic.
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