What do you think of when you think of Hawaii? I’ll start – I think of surfer dudes. Incessant music from the Beach Boys playing at every corner of the beach city. Coconut bras. Overtanned tourists walking about in ridiculous colourful outfits that are supposed to make them look ‘tropical’ (and coming from a tropical country myself, this is NOT how we dress). Majestic volcanic eruptions. Endless flows of seafood in every restaurant you go to.
Well, some of them are true.
The National Park, a must-go if you're in Big Island
It turns out that a good number of people do not know that ‘Hawaii’ is actually a cluster of islands. That is to say, you’d need to be specific to which island you’re going if you’re going there. Most airlines would go to Oahu, arguably the most famous island of the whole lot. You can take inter-island flights to move to the rest of the islands. Ferries seem like an invalid option.
View at Highway 250
So which island should you go to? In this particular post I would be writing about the Big Island, the largest of the chain of Hawaiian archipelago. It is the Hawai’i. It’s pretty safe to say that a common main reason one would choose this island as opposed to the more popular Honolulu is for the Volcano National Park. The island still has active volcanoes, and the last eruption occurred in May 2018. If you’re dying to see lava flows as far as your eyes could see (and beyond!), this is the place to be.
A different planet? Kalapana Lava Field, last eruption in 2018
There are many spots that you could go to and see volcanic fields (after all, it’s an island made from volcanic eruptions, so the remnants are literally everywhere), but a particular spot worth mentioning would be the Kilauea Lava Field. It’s a large, vast grey space of frozen basaltic flows, and you can spend ages there marvelling at the frozen pillowy structures and the curves of the uneven surface of shiny, hardened magma, that would make you feel as though you’re on a different planet. Is it Earth? Is it Mars? It’s an exhilarating feeling to be right in the middle of it. It would be nice if you could take an aerial shot of the whole deposit using a drone, but it gets very windy around here so be warned.
Waterfalls drape through the uneven structures of volcanic deposits
The Big Island is a properly planned tourist attraction, so there are plenty of routes and trails and stops for you to enjoy the most out of this beautiful volcanic island – Waipio Valley lookout, Palolo Valley lookout, and so many others especially if you’re within the National Park area. However, as always, I’d say that some of the gems are not as loudly advertised as others. For example, the drive along Highway 250 of the island might actually be one of the most scenic drives you would ever have had. You’ll pass volcanic landscapes from a high viewpoint (great for pictures), gorgeous private homes set among the lush greens growing from the fertile soil, sakura trees (yes! Sakura trees) lining the pavement that walks up to a gorgeous old church, rainbows at the edge of fields, and vast green landscapes that spreads out until the sea meets the earth. I’d recommend driving around here in the late evening, when the sunshine is the right colour and the clouds hang low so that you could see the top of Mount Mauna Kea.
So many volcanic craters, Mauna Kea
Sunset At Mauna Kea
Speaking of Mauna Kea, did you know that it snows on the island? Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano, but with its peak at more than 4200 meters (which you can hike up to, by the way), it’s common to snow around the mountain during the colder seasons. That being said, you’d be smart to visit the Big Island with a proper jacket if you plan to visit high elevation sites such as this. Mauna Kea is also considered to be one of the best spots in the world for astronomical evaluation, due to its stable airflow and location. There are about eleven telescopes housed here, and there is even a center owned by NASA where you could go and check out or purchase cool astronomical merchandise which also includes space food that real astronomers consume when in space (alright, fine. I might have bought a bunch to take home. So what? We all know I won’t be going to space any time soon, and I want a taste of it).
Pohoiki Beach, a young beach of 8 months old (formed during lava flow)
Road completely blocked by a recent lava flow
But of course let’s not forget the beaches. This is Hawaii after all. It would be a crime to not speak about the seaside where the volcanic sands meet the Pacific Ocean. It isn’t hard to find a private beach where no one is bothering you, with only the sounds of waves and the wind rustling through the trees. I wouldn’t need to describe this at all – we all know the paradise that is the sandy haven with the sun in your face and the frothy seawater bubbling around your feet. But an interesting beach here would be the youngest one of all. The Pohoiki Beach, formed only 7 months ago today, is a black sand beach, and here you would see how the lava flow completely covered the old beach and formed a new one, at the same time trapping some pools of sea water into little natural swimming pools. At the parking lot of the beach you’ll see something just as fascinating – a lava flow had crossed a large road, and just like that, the road is blocked and no longer in use. In a weird way, it kind of paints the façade that everything on the island is temporary. Forever changing. Forever shifting according to eruptions that are frequent.
Local avo, halved, salted, drizzled with Hawaiian lemon juice (sweeter), enjoyed.
In the spirit of honesty, I wish I could say that dining on the Big Island is a major gastronomic affair. However, it seems like not even a place like Hawaii was able to escape the junk/fast food avalanche that it America. The popular food around the island are mostly the fast food chains, with these spots being jam packed with people during lunch and dinner hours. ‘Local’ food comprises of immigrant food – Chinese takeouts, Mexican taco joints, maseladas (Portuguese donuts) and Italian restaurants. For a country that seemed to be constantly on the verge of immigrant-rights issues, it sure does take a lot from these different cultures to make it its own.
The local produce are, however, wonderful to sample. The island has its own local macadamia farms, and in return macadamia milk is something you should definitely try here. I daresay that it rivals as perhaps the best nut-based milk I’ve ever tasted. If you visit the morning markets you’d see an array of avocados of all shapes and sizes. Enjoy one simply dashed with some salt and a good drizzle of olive oil to really taste its difference from your usual, generic imported avocados in grocery stores.
So is the Big Island more than just a beach paradise? You bet it is. If you’re looking to go, be prepared with more than just your pair of coconut bra and stereotyped Bermuda pants.