Soak Up the Island of Hawaii

May 19, 2021 Updated: May 19, 2021

Some vacationers soak up sun on beaches with white or black sand. Not far away, divers suit up for a deep dive to get up close and personal with a variety of denizens of the deep. Other people check out a surreal moonscape of hardened pitch-black lava, then hike through a lush tropical rainforest.    

If this sounds like a continent-wide choice of activities, that’s because the island of Hawaii in ways resembles a miniature continent. It’s almost twice the size of the other Hawaiian Islands combined.

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Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park take in the view. (Courtesy of Victor Block)

Visitors find a miniature world that encompasses virtually every kind of landscape. Dry cactus-dotted desert lies near lush rainforests. Barren lava fields contrast with waterfalls plunging into verdant valleys.

People in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park come face to face with the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, and the largest active subaerial volcano, Mauna Loa. It has erupted a total of 33 times in the past 75 years, most recently in 1984.    

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Lava from the Kilauea volcano flows into the sea on Hawaii’s Big Island. (Courtesy of Alohaisland/Dreamstime.com)

In recent times, Kilauea erupted from 1983 to 2018, and last December, there was a new eruption at its summit. During the 2018 blow, lava flows added more than 875 acres to the island and created a black sand and pebble beach. Visitors can view the newest eruption’s billowing plume of gas and steam by day and bask in the reflection of glowing lava deep within the crater after dark.

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New ferns grow amidst an old lava pattern in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii. (George Burba/Shutterstock)

Hawaii Island’s massive mountains also have another claim to fame. From its base on the ocean floor to the summit at more than 13,800 feet, Mauna Kea is taller than Mount Everest. Because of their heights, the peaks of both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are blanketed by snow at times during winter.

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The entrance to Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

Several attractions greet people taking the Crater Rim Drive through the national park. The Kilauea Overlook provides awe-inspiring views of the Kilauea caldera—the collapsed center of the volcano—and the Halemaumau Crater. Ha’akulamanu is a thermal area where volcanic gasses deposit colorful sulfur crystals and other minerals. The aptly named Devastation Trail leads through an area that was buried beneath a covering of cinders during a volcanic eruption in 1959.

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A couple of hikers on the Kilauea Iki crater trail. (Maridav/Shutterstock)

Visitors driving in the park are cautioned to be on the lookout for the nene, which is designated as the state bird of Hawaii. This is the rarest species of geese in the world, found only in Hawaii and designated as threatened.

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Hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Pung/Shutterstock)

Along with volcanoes and the usual sun-and-sand vacation activities, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Hawaii Island. For fishermen, waters off its Kona Coast are known as the best in the world for catching giant blue marlin. An annual International Billfish Tournament attracts anglers from around the world.

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Hot lava flows into the ocean. (Peter Zurek/Shutterstock)

Much bigger sea life drops by during whale-watching season, from December through May. While humpbacks have top billing, it’s also possible to spot sperm and melon-headed whales.

Those who prefer to keep their feet on firm ground find a wide choice of hiking opportunities, ranging from easy nature walks to advanced treks. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park alone offers 150 miles of trails.   

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The Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcano National Park on the Big Island. (Nickolay Stanev/Shutterstock)

For history buffs, the story of the island’s past is as intriguing as what greets visitors today. The earliest settlements were established by Polynesians who arrived after a long and treacherous ocean voyage in large double-hulled canoes. Estimated dates of their arrival span hundreds of years, from the fourth to the eighth centuries.

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A close-up look at lava flow. (Robert Crow/Shutterstock)

Clues to the lifestyle of the ancient Hawaiian civilization abound. They include remnants of villages, temples, agricultural mounds, and other archeological structures. Some relics, such as royal fish ponds constructed to satisfy noble palates, and petroglyph lava rock carvings have been preserved and incorporated into the grounds of hotels. The etched images depict humans, birds, and other recognizable forms as well as undecipherable lines and dots. Their precise meanings are unknown, but scientists believe they record births, deaths, and other major events and perhaps include astronomical symbols.

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Red hot lava enters the ocean on the Big island, Hawaii. (Juancat/Shutterstock)

One of the more intriguing sites is the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, a reconstructed royal compound. Known as the “Place of Refuge,” it served as a sanctuary for people who broke the sacred law. Transgressors who were able to reach this sacred place could seek refuge and forgiveness. The compound encompasses temples, sacred burial places, petroglyphs, and other reminders of ancient times.

Another chapter of island history comes alive in the Waipi’o Valley, a 6-mile by 1-mile gash in the land rimmed by 2,000-foot-high cliffs over which numerous waterfalls cascade. The meandering river they create gave the valley its name, which means “curved waters.” Also known as the “Valley of the Kings,” it once was home to many rulers of Hawaii and contains remains of important temples. Visitors can view the valley from a small overlook.   

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An ancient Hawaiian village at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park. (Pung/Shutterstock)

In contrast with the panoramic view over a deep valley is the opportunity for a look at the stars as few people have seen them. Because of the clear skies and without impairment of city lights, the stars resemble sparkling glitter that has been scattered overhead. Tour operators offer star-gazing opportunities from a 9,200-foot elevation on Maunakea with warm parkas and snacks—just one of Hawaii Island’s many attractions.

When You Go

For more information: GoHawaii.com

Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Creators.com