An awfully big adventure

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye Holland explores Hawaii’s Big Island and discovers that this Pacific Ocean outpost has many dimensions beyond the beach

Hawaii is often written off as little more than beach and tiki bar destination – albeit a brilliant one of course – but there’s more to this exotic island chain than merely sun and sand. Here’s something you might not know…. these palm fringed islands are home to a 1,500 mile string of volcanoes, the lion’s share of which can be found on Hawaii Island –  the largest (it’s bigger than all the other islands combined) and one of the least populated (less than 200,000 people live there) of the Hawaiian island chain.

Make no mistake the Big Island, which is relaxed even by the standards of the other islands, is all about the lava. Much like Gary Barlow, the Big Island has waited patiently for its moment of glory and that time is now: the Big Island (also called the Island of Hawaii) is this year celebrating the 100th birthday of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kailua-Kona – where King Kamehameha, the revered Hawaiian leader who united all the islands, was born and lived out his life and Hilo, the island’s commercial harbour, are the two gateways to the Big Island. I touched down in the former – well if it was good enough for Hawaiian royalty – and a short drive later checked into Hilton Waikoloa Village, where holiday harmony is guaranteed.


The vibe at Hilton Waikoloa is a home from home – provided your home is very deluxe that is. This is where service was invented – staff remember your kona coffee (excellent coffee cultivated on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts of the Big Island) order, even if you’re only there – as I was – for two days. There’s just something in the Hawaiian spirit that is gracious and welcoming and considerate…

The resort is full of fab restaurants and shops (although admittedly it helps if you have a trust fund to raid) but the setting (think 62 oceanfront acres full of tropical gardens and wildlife) is so fine, chances are you’ll want to laze about and do nothing.



Although my first day had hardly been strenuous , consisting as it did of basking in the rays on Hapuna Beach – world famous for its magnificent half-mile stretch of white powder sand – while sipping a Mai Tai and cooling off from the 30+ degree sun with a swim, I opted for a Lomi lomi massage at Waikola Village’s Kohala spa.

This Hawaiian treatment which means to rub, press, squeeze and work your way around a body as though with the claws of a satisfied cat, might not sound in the slightest bit relaxing, but surprisingly it is and left me feeling relaxed, re-balanced and already planning my return.

Make no mistake: once you have settled in at Hilton Waikola you won’t have an easy time leaving but do because Hawaii Island’s biggest draw by far is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a wonderland ruled by Pele – the female goddess of fire.

Founded on 1 August 1916, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP) is older than the National Park Service by 24 days and predates Hawaiian statehood (August 1959). Honoured as both an International Biosphere Reserve (1980) and a World Heritage Site (1987), HVNO hosted nearly 1.7 million visitors in 2014 and boasts two active volcanoes: here’s looking at Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

The latter is the younger sibling and the earth’s youngest and most active volcano. Since 1983 Kilauea’s East Rift Zone has been erupting almost nonstop – adding well over 500 acres of new land to the Big Island – and providing visitors with a front row seat to one of the world’s greatest shows: every evening the crater glows pomegranate red.


The modest 1983 eruption of Kilauea covered 30,000 acres with lava, created 180 acres of new land off shore and resulted in US$62 million dollars of property damage. But this is nothing compared to the geological forces these volcanoes can unleash.

The largest recorded earthquake in Hawaiian island history is Mauna Loa which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale in 1868 and whose aftershocks continue to the present date.


All of which means that, if you want to properly explore this fascinating park full of active volcanism, biological diversity, and Hawaiian culture, past and present, you need a guide – this is no place to get lost. Plus, travelling all that way, you will to see as much as possible and only an experienced and trained guide – I can vouch for David at Hawaii Forest & Trail – can truly take you into a world before time, across ancient landscapes and hidden moonscapes.

It’s not often that a 4.30am wake up call feels worth it but my Twilight Volcano adventure was one of those occasions, when it was totally was.

Our exploration of the park’s 333,000 acres offered a unique opportunity to see science in action. In an instant, as our group peered into a glowing lava lake while watching piles of gas and ash waft skyward, the early start was forgotten.



Descending through a lush rainforest filled with birdsong to the floor of the solidified but still steaming Kilauea Iki Crater, walking through an ancient lava tube and marvelling at how ferns and endemic ohi’a trees thrive amid a lava pumice landscape created during a 1959 eruption were just a few of the many, many standouts of our tour.


The real highlight for me, however, was evening stargazing atop Mauna Kea – Hawaii’s highest peak and one of the holiest places in Hawaiian spirituality – which afforded the opportunity to browse the the night skies in all their glory.  Make no mistake: the view from Mauna Kea volcano is unmatched in clarity – you’ll be able to see whole of Hawaii beneath.


It can be cold (layers and long trousers are necessary) but trust me when I say that you won’t be sorry you left the beach unless, of course, your forget your camera. (You’ll want to text friends, take pictures and post to FB and Instagram for this is an extraordinary place, a feast for the eyes, whose hyperbole is more than justified).


Staring at the stars – all of which have a story to tell – you’ll feel a long way from the office. If you can’t a little perspective on life here, there’s something wrong.

Or  in the words of writer and author Paul Theroux, who splits his time between Cape Cod and Hawaii:

“And I thought at last, I am where I want to be.
People elsewhere said how distant I was and off the map but no – they were far away, still groping onward. I was at last where I wanted to be. I had provided what I had always suspected that even the crookedest journey is the way home.”

 Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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