Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Big Island 101"

I started writing about my vacation last week on the Big Island of Hawaii. I've become so fascinated with the island that I've ended up with a lot of information in addition to my photos. This post has become like "The Big Island 101". I hope you will come along with me.

These are the Hawaiian Islands. As you can see, the Big Island is the largest of the islands and the farthest south. In fact, the southernmost point of the United States is on the Island of Hawaii. It is also the youngest of the islands, formed entirely of lava from the five volcanoes located there.

This map shows the five volcanoes that make up the Big Island: Kohala, Hualulai, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Kiluaea.

Kohala, the farthest north is an extinct volcano. It really isn't a volcano any more but it once was. Now it's a beautiful mountain with a breathtaking coastline. The Kohala area is where we spend most of our time (more about it later).

Hualalai is a dormant volcano. It hasn't erupted since the 1700s, but experts say it could erupt again in the next 100 years. It doesn't look like a volcano anymore either; there is just a lot of lava around the area. The Kona International Airport is located there. When you land at the airport and drive north, you will see lots of lava along the road, black lava with messages written in white stones. The airport is small, charming and very Hawaiian. There are no jetways.

Kona International Airport.

Mauna Kea is also a dormant volcano. It was active 4,500 years ago. It's the highest mountain in the world if you measure from the sea bottom. It snows on Mauna Kea fairly often, and you can see the white mountain top from a great distance. But that's not the most amazing thing about Mauna Kea. On the summit is the world's largest astronomical observatory with an array of telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. The power of these telescopes is fifteen times greater than the Palomar telescope in California and sixty times greater than the Hubble Space telescope. Here are some photos of this incredible place:

As you drive around the island you can often see the sun reflecting off these giants on top of the mountain. This is one of the best places on earth to observe stars, because of its altitude and distance from everything else. Once I awoke at 4:00 am and stepped outside to look at the stars. I actually gasped; I had never seen anything like it!

The other two volcanoes are the most active on the island, and are the biggest tourist attraction on the island. There are visitor centers and viewing sites at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side of the island.

Mauna Loa makes up about half of the island's area. Up until 1950 it erupted regularly once a decade. Since then it has erupted in 1950, 1975 and 1984. It's expected to erupt again.

Kiluaea lies just to the east of Mauna Loa. Currently it is the most active volcano in the world. It has been erupting continuously since 1983. Its lava flow has created over 500 acres of new land to the island. In the process it has destroyed an entire town and close to 200 homes, which are now buried in 30 to 50 feet of lava. In 1986 the town of Kalapana was destroyed by fire and lava flow. It reminds me of a modern day Pompeii. It is still happening. These photos show lava flow on Route 130.

On this map you can see the location of the two airports and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Kona International Airport is where we come to the island, then we head north on Route 19 to the Kohala District. It also shows the town of Waimea, one of the places I like to visit. North of Waimea is the gorgeous North Kohala District. On our first visit to the island, we drove from the Kohala Coast across the island to Hilo, on Route 200, also known as Saddle Road. It's an interesting drive, at the foot of Mauna Kea and through several "microclimates". The west side was sunny and warm and the east side was cool and drizzly.

There are nine districts on the island. We have visited seven of the nine, driving along gorgeous coastlines in Kohala, Hamakua and Hilo and halfway up Mauna Kea. We love to drive from Waimea north on Kohala Mountain Road.

This map shows Route 250, also known as Kohala Mountain Road. I highly recommend this drive if you love beautiful scenery. It begins in Waimea, a nice little town with a great coffee shop. According an Ironman blogger, the climb goes from 600 feet elevation to 3000 feet in nine miles. For a minute or two you will be in the clouds, then it clears and you see down to the coast. You drive through green, rolling pastures with cattle on the hillsides and horses on the ranches.

Here is the town of Waimea in the valley between Kohala Mountain and Mauna Kea.

At the end of Highway 250 you come to a spectacular vista... the Pololu Valley Lookout.

We have always stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. It's on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, half a mile long and 200 feet wide. It's the only hotel on the beach so it's not crowded at all. The beach is shared by a state park.

This photo shows the beach with the hotel in the background. The hotel is designed so that every room faces the ocean.

All the hallways are open to the outdoors, so you have the outdoors on both sides of the room.

The pool is beautiful and it's never crowded. They will set up chairs and umbrellas for you either by the pool or on the beach. There is a convenient beach bar for lunch and drinks.

But my favorite place, as always, is the beach! I can spend the whole day at the beach... it's just so beautiful. We were playing in the water one day and a big green sea turtle swam by us! The next day it was there too, just swimming around among the people in the water.

The interior spaces are simple but beautiful:

An interior courtyard:

Surrounded by Hawaiian quilts on the walls:

And a meeting space with an ocean view:

There are friendly cats who live on the grounds of the hotel. I noticed that most of them had their left ears clipped, which means they have been neutered. I asked some of the staff about them. They told me there is a woman from a ranch on Kohala who comes and traps the cats and takes them to a clinic in Waimea to be neutered. This one is named "Morris" and he posed for me.

We can't afford to stay at the Four Seasons, but we like to have dinner there once every visit. It's a beautiful place with an outdoor restaurant that's perfect for sunset watching.

The Four Seasons Hualalai:

The perfect place to watch a sunset:

We have visited the Big Island four times now. Every time we return we find something new. It's a fascinating place.



rachel said...

I really enjoyed that tour, Judy! I would have loved to see the observatory. My own memories of the islands are rather mixed, due to a traumatic incident (being trapped in a hotel fire!) before we arrived there, but I remember Maui as particularly lovely.

judy in ky said...

Maui is beautiful! We love going there as well. It seems more crowded unless you go to the Hana side.

Bearette said...

beautiful photos.

Pam said...

Wow Judy - your post is much appreciated. I would love to go to Hawaii one day, but for now your wonderful photos capture the feeling of such an interesting place. I am amazed at the activity of the volcanoe Kilvaea...and I thought Hawaii was one island! - so informative this post!

judy in ky said...

I hope you do go some day, Pam. I just keep going back because it's so beautiful and so interesting. Every time I go back, I learn more.