“Hele mai” — “Come with us” on a scenic tour of the island of Hawaii, Hawaii, commonly called the Big Island. You’ll be surprised at the varied terrain, plant life, fauna, geology, and climate variations. Each region also has a unique feel and different mixture of towns, businesses, recreational activities, churches, and schools.
Hawaii is the largest, the southernmost, and geologically the youngest of the Hawaiian islands. In fact, a volcanic eruption on the southeast that has continued for over 15 years is adding land. The island is dominated by Mauna Loa (13,667 feet) and Mauna Kea (13,796 feet), and the smaller shield volcanoes Kilauea, Kohala, and Hualalai contribute to the fascinating, varied terrain. Kilauea and Mauna Loa are still active, believed to be the home of goddess Pele. The island’s large size and range of elevations contribute to the most diverse ecosystems and microclimates.
Here is a quick rundown of tours available for each region.
- The Hilo district is comprised of Hilo town and the outlying areas.
- Hamakua spans the northeast coast from just north of Hilo to Waipio Valley.
- Kohala includes the uplands of Waimea/Kamuela, rural North Kohala, and the resort area of South Kohala.
- The Kona region is comprised of Kailua-Kona and the towns just north and south.
- The Ka’u / Volcanoes area includes Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as well as the small towns south of the Kilauea Crater, down to South Point.
Hilo is the island’s largest city, bordering a pretty bay and cooled by Tradewind showers. The business center has undergone architectural restoration and houses long-established family restaurants, boutiques, and other stores. The farmers’ market, held twice weekly, offers superb fresh produce and exotic tropical flowers. Hilo hosts the Olympic competition of hula, the Merrie Monarch Festival every April. At dawn, fishermen bring tuna and other fish to Suisan Fish Market, where chefs and retailers bid for them. Plant nurseries grow and export anthuriums and orchids in incredible colors, shapes and sizes in the areas north of Hilo town.
North and west of Hilo stretches the Hamakua coast. Rain and snow from the northern flanks of Mauna Kea flow down in countless streams, creating waterfalls and spectacular valleys. The streams cascade over the coastline’s cliffs. The high plateau was covered with sugar cane until a few years ago. Timber crops are being cultivated to develop into a new industry. Honokaa and other towns hope to survive as living plantation heritage centers. The main road ends at the entrance to Waipio Valley, once a thriving native Hawaiian community, and full of spiritual and historic significance.
The Kohala districts include the Kohala Mountains, the north tip of the island, and the south Kohala coast on the west side. Sugar plantations closed decades ago, but cattle ranches including Parker Ranch have dominated the Kohala plains for generations. Waimea town is full of cowboys, Western wear stores, rodeos, and other events and displays of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) life. Kamehameha the Great was born in north Kohala, and there are several historic heiau in the area. Kawaihae Harbor, midway on the Kohala Coast, is a deepwater port used for imports and exports. The south Kohala coast is now referred to as the gold coast because of the luxury resorts carved into old lava flows.
Driving from Waimea toward Kona, you can sometimes see the snow-covered top of Mauna Kea, with shining white observatory domes, and follow the slopes for miles down to the hot, sunny coast.
The leeward Kona coast is the Big Island’s resort area, blessed by warm, sunny weather much of the time. The quaint town of Kailua-Kona is hospitable and leisurely. Kailua Bay is the starting point for the Iron Man Triathlon swimming leg. Boats pick up passengers for diving trips, parasailing, and dinner cruises at the Kailua pier, and an international billfishing tournament draws hundreds of anglers. Further south are numerous vacation condominiums and resorts. The hills above Kona are where Kona coffee is grown; macadamia nuts are also grown and processed nearby. Kealakekua Bay is where Captain Cook was killed. A Hawaiian city of refuge, where fugitives were absolved and protected, is at Honaunau.
Our Ka’u/Volcanoes tour encompasses a lot of area and some of Hawaii’s most unique features. Ka’u, the southeast district of the island, includes the southernmost point in the U.S., agricultural communities that proudly produce sweet Ka’u gold oranges, and the Ka’u Desert on the edges of Kilauea volcano. Kilauea is within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a complex of roads and trails, and visitor centers where rangers and displays reveal the fascinating dynamics of Hawaiian volcanoes. The beauty, power and danger of this area are endlessly fascinating. Destruction and regeneration of life take unique forms.