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Visiting The Big Island of Hawaii

 

If you would like to experience some old Hawaiian home cooked meals, than you should be Visiting The Big Island of Hawaii. With friendly warm greetings from the island residents you will feel right at home.

Visiting The Big Island of HawaiiBut before exploring the Big Island, allow me to tell you a little bit about the other islands. Like Kauai, Kauai was a popular vacation spot long before the George Clooney film “The Descendants” focused filmgoers’ attention on Hawaii’s westernmost major island. In fact, its traffic is so clogged during the morning rush hour that plastic cones are placed along the road between the major communities of Kapaa and Lihue.

As for Maui, Hawaii’s other hot spot, the town of Lahaina, often described as a “sleepy former whaling village,” has become a miniature Las Vegas. Another Maui community, Kihei, resembles coastal Orange County so much – condominiums, car dealerships and the like – that one could be excused for looking for signs pointing the way to the 405 Freeway.

Visiting The Big Island of Hawaii

It became fashionable years ago to dismiss Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, as just another big city. It is a big city, but one nonetheless surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth.

Still, that anywhere-but-Oahu philosophy, along with the introduction of nonstop flights from the mainland to Maui and Kauai, contributed to the popularity of the latter two islands. Even in a down economy, Maui had 2.2 million visitors from the mainland last year, and Kauai reported a still-healthy 1.01 million tourists in 2011. Both figures were down slightly from the previous year.

In contrast, there’s Hawaii, the so-called “big island,” appropriately named since its 4,028 square miles make it nearly twice the size of the other islands combined. With 1.3 million visitors in 2011, it isn’t exactly ignored, but keep in mind that’s only about half as many as in Maui, and Hawaii is eight times larger.

That’s a circuitous way of suggesting that a week or more in Hawaii, based in Hilo, the state’s second-largest city, can put visitors close to the volcanoes, black-sand beaches and other attractions for which the island is known.

There are two major airports on the island, Kona International and Hilo International. Kona is on the west coast, and Hilo is on the eastern shore.

Kona has its charm but also suffers from a Lahaina-like T-shirt shop and shell jewelry look. It’s also inconvenient to most of the island’s other attractions.

Hilo may not be as hip as Kauai, Maui and the Kona side of the island, but some might consider that a good thing. With a population of 45,000, it offers the feel of a city, rather than a string of resorts. And, with its shopping centers, theaters and some interesting restaurants, it offers urban niceties some visitors might be longing for after a few days on the islands.

Possibly the most interesting of those is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about a 45-minute drive southeast of Hilo. A National Park Service-run visitors center has displays and short films that outline the history of the area, and rangers and volunteers explain the day’s activities.

Maps that are updated daily show which roads are open and which are closed because of proximity to activity from Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

It began erupting in 1983 and remains active today, along the way destroying forests, villages and beaches in its path. Nearly 200 homes were covered with lava between 1983 and 1991. Several miles of road also have been destroyed, all good reasons to take the warnings seriously.

Driving along Chain of Craters Road, visitors can see where the lava flows have traveled. They can also walk through lava tubes. These occur after a lava flow passes through an area, leaving a tube that resembles a manmade tunnel.

There also are extensive petroglyphs adjacent the same road. Most are within a half-mile of the highway. They were carved into the lava rock by some of the first people to arrive in Hawaii. Some estimates say there are 20,000 to 30,000.

Also near Hilo is the small village of Honomu, just 12 miles northwest on the road to Akaka Falls. Honomu, only a few blocks long, was a sugar plantation town a century ago. Many of the storefronts from that time remain unaltered and now contain boutiques, antique shops and even one store that sells antique bottles. It resembles a ’60s-era town from the Mendocino coast.

Akaka Falls, just a few miles beyond Honomu, is in the middle of a beautiful park filled with tropical vegetation that can only be seen in Hawaii. Some might find the brightly colored flowers more interesting than the waterfall itself.

Not as convenient to Hilo, but certainly well worth seeing, is Punalu’u Beach, with its black sand and giant green turtles.

The sand really is black, not gray-black or almost black. It’s the result of lava flowing into the ocean and eventually being ground into fine granules. The magnificent turtles weigh as much as 300 pounds. People taking photos are asked to keep several feet away from the turtles, which come ashore to rest after long migratory trips.

Punalu’u Beach is about 60 miles south of Hilo.

Downtown Hilo is worth some time, as well. Liliuokalani Gardens, which overlooks Hilo Bay, is a tranquil and natural parkland. It includes one of the more unusual attractions in the city, Banyan Drive.

City officials in the 1930s decided to have local and visiting celebrities plant banyan tree saplings along the horseshoe-shaped street. As a result, signs under the trees – now 30 to 40 feet high – bear the names of former visitors as diverse as Amelia Earhart, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Babe Ruth and Cecil B. DeMille.

Nearby, the historic (1925) Palace Theatre is reminiscent of many of the art deco movie houses of the mainland. The Lyman Museum offers a history lesson on how the islands were settled, and a walk down Kamehameha Avenue will take visitors past several historic buildings, including the beautifully restored S. Hata Building, which was completed in 1912.

Compared to most mainland destinations, all of Hawaii is expensive. It’s 2,500 miles from the mainland, after all, and everything has to come in by ship or by air. But most people find it’s worth it.

Jay Berman is freelance writer based in Manhattan Beach.

If you go

Lodging: Hilo doesn’t have a lot of hotel choices. One property with a good location at a more-or-less budget price (rooms start at $109) is the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, 71 Banyan Drive; 808-935- 9361, http://castleresorts6-px.trvlclick.com/Home/ accommodations/hilo-hawaiian-hotel.

Food: Good Mexican food is scarce on the islands, but Reuben’s, 336 Kamehameha Ave., is comparable to anything in Southern California, especially the excellent chile colorado. 808-961-2552, http://reubensmexican.com.

Good Asian food, on the other hand, is easy to find. One fine Japanese place, adjacent Hilo Bay, is Nihon Restaurant, 123 Lihiwai St.; 808-969-1133, www.nihonrestaurant.com.

Hilo has few “fine dining” places, and one of the best has to be Cafe Pesto, which specializes in seafood, pizza, salads and pasta dishes; 308 Kamehameha Ave., No. 101; 808-969-6640, www.cafepesto.com.

A popular place for locals is Ken’s House of Pancakes, 1730 Kamehameha Ave. It’s not a good choice, however, if you’re watching your weight; 808-935-8711 , http://kenshouseofpancakes- hilohi.com.

Language: The Hawaiian language isn’t just a show they put on for tourists. It’s real, and you’ll hear words like nui (big), ono (delicious), ohana (family), hale (house), kane (man), mahalo (thank you) and wahine (woman). Locals don’t expect haoles (tourists, especially white visitors) to understand, but wouldn’t it be fun to learn a few words and surprise them?

Climate: Due to the tropical climate, Hawaiians seldom dress up. Not surprisingly, the men frequently wear Hawaiian shirts. Khakis, chinos and similar pants are commonly worn, while women may want to pack sundresses. Hats and sunscreen are a must. Hawaii is closer to the equator than California. That means the sun’s effects are stronger.

Visiting The Big Island of Hawaii will keep you very busy, from checking-out the coffee plantations, seeing your very first lava desert, black sand beaches, to enjoying all the wonderful food Hawaii is known for. You will never want to leave, and I don’t blame you!

~~Aloha Nui Loa

 

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