Hawaii's Big Island is well named. Larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, it is the same size as Wales and three times bigger than Luxembourg, encompassing 266 miles of coastline. Its true name is actually Hawai‘i, a name given to the whole island chain after its king, Kamehameha I, unified the other Hawaiian islands. The island’s most-visited attraction is the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, which attracts about 2.5 million visitors a year including day trippers from O‘ahu and cruise ship passengers. The park takes nearly three hours to reach from the main resort hotels on he often narrow, twisting roads and merits at least a full day to make the most of your visit and tour.
Famous for the active Kilauea volcano, Hawaii’s Big Island is home to a list of fascinating anomalies. Eleven different climate zones generate everything from lush rain forests to arid deserts, black sand beaches to snow-capped mountaintops. The Big Island is Hawaii’s biggest playground.
A primal lake of lava flows into the steaming sea. An indigo seascape stretches along the golden Kohala coastline. Clouds surround the snow-covered summit of the tallest sea mountain on Earth. Needless to say, a visit to Hawaii’s Big Island can be a humbling experience.
To avoid confusion with the name of the entire state, the island of Hawaii is called “Hawaii’s Big Island,” and what an appropriate name it is. Bigger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, its sheer size can be intimidating. You’ll find 11 of the world's 13 climactic zones within this island’s shores. Home to numerous ancient Hawaiian temples, the birthplace of King Kamehameha I, and the landing spot for the first European missionaries, the Big Island is also an important place to learn about Hawaiian history.
A visit to the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is a journey back to the beginning of creation. The islands that make up the Hawaiian archipelago are the tips of giant mountains pushed up from the seabed by up-welling lava. The Big Island is the youngest of the chain, created by five volcanoes, of which two are still active. And it is still growing. The national park is centred on Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano which has been erupting continuously since 1983. Its name means “much spewing” and is very apt. It is the hottest show on earth. Since the eruption began, Kilauea has created enough molten lava to pave a two-lane road which would encircle the world 50 times. Last year alone it added 550 acres of new land on the island’s southern coast. Visitors should stop at the visitor centre in the park’s headquarters to pick up guide books and maps. Hourly films show some of the most explosive eruptions, while park rangers give updates on volcanic activity and where to see it. Visitors should remember to take warmer clothes and protection against wind and rain. The temperatures are much cooler at this altitude and the summit may be swept by rain or covered in mist while lower levels bask in warm sun.
With so much to see, it’s best to experience the island in small pieces. There’s plenty of room on Hawaii’s Big Island for your return.
©2009 HAWAII VISITORS AND CONVENTION BUREAU