Island fever may happen elsewhere, but it’s almost unheard of on Hawai’i. The aptly named Big Island is fantastically diverse, with miles of highways and – better yet – byways to explore. From age-old fishing villages to modern mega resorts, from snow-capped peaks to sandy beaches, you’ll experience tropical splendor backed by an epic history. Hawai’i is twice as big as the other Hawaiian islands combined, and its dramatic terrain will surprise you and take you to extremes.

Where to start? Try these 10 can’t miss Big Island experiences:

 

1. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

The eerie glow of a lava lake, secluded palm-fringed beaches, ancient petroglyphs pecked into hardened lava, and miles of hiking trails through smoking craters, rainforest and desert – what’s not to love about Hawai’i’s number one site? For a singular experience, try and snag one of the 12 coveted spots on the weekly Secret Lava Tube Tour. This is one of the island’s top places to experience Hawaiian culture including hula on the crater rim, annual festivals and lecture series. All this and more found in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

 

volcano pic

 

 2. Mauna Kea star party

It is breathless and breath-taking in the rarefied air of Mauna Kea, Hawaiʻi’s most sacred location. Once the sun goes down, the stars come out, and with them telescopes for your viewing pleasure.  The world’s clearest stargazing is here – what you see through those telescopes, you won’t soon forget. For a real trophy experience, head here for both the sun- and moonrise.

 

Mauna Kea star party

 

3. Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay

It’s all true – from the teeming, Technicolor fish in knee-deep water, to the spinner dolphins lazily circling your kayak or catamaran. Tourist brochures hype Kealakekua Bay as the best snorkelling in the state and, in this case, you can believe it. Even new rules regulating kayak use can’t tarnish the luster of this must-see spot. If kayaking doesn’t float your boat, hike down to this historically significant and naturally brilliant bay. Hard-core environmentalists might consider other less-trafficked bays – this one is almost too popular for its own good.

 

4. Waipi’o Valley

Legends begin here, where the road ends overlooking this magical valley. You can linger at the scenic viewpoint however; the waterfalls, wild horses and wilder black-sand beach tend to beckon explorers. Choose from hiking, horseback or even a mule-drawn wagon to get you there. The very experienced can kayak in – when conditions are just right. The most spectacular views, of course, are from the most grueling switchbacks of the Muliwai Trail – head up, up and up some more for the money shot.

 

Waipi'o Valley

 

5. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Dotted with ancient temples, and hangouts watched by menacing teeth-baring idols, a visit to this Pu’uhonua O Honaunau known as the Place of Refuge, makes a memorable introduction to traditional Hawaiian culture. In fact, there’s no better place to gain an understanding of the kapu system that governed ancient Hawaii. Look for heads of honu (sea turtles) bobbing in the bay; foreshadowing the underwater wonders to come at the nearby snorkelling haven of Two-Step.

 

6. Lava chasing

If you’re lucky (lava is fickle, don’t you know?) you may get the chance to see live lava flowing over and under the land within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park; ending with a magnificent plunge into the sea, sending a steam plume over a mile skyward, as hot lava is mixed with roiling surf. Feel the heat, on a walking, or boat tour out of Puna. Kids love the latter – even willful teens will ooh and aah audibly during the volcano’s full sensory show. However you experience lava here, make a point of it.

7. Hapuna Beach

Rock up to this half-mile of powdery white-sand beach with a rented umbrella and boogie board, and one of Hawaii’s most iconic beaches becomes your playground. Whether you are armed with a surfboard, lounge chair or water wings – this beach has something for the whole family. While the basic A-frame cabins here are not for the finicky, the island’s best beach is your front yard – pretty hallucinatory.

 

Harpuna beach

 

 

8. Merrie Monarch Festival

What did you see at the luau? That’s to hula what Velveeta is to cheese. If you really want to see how a hula, halau (school) invokes the gods and legends through chant and dance you need to make time visit this state-wide hula competition. Book early; people fly in from all over the globe for this one. Unless you’re an intense hula fan, you are likely to enjoy the inaugural invitational more than the structured head-to-head competitions of subsequent days.

 

9. Manta ray night dive

Diving at night is a thrill in itself, but once you turn on your lights and attract a corps de ballet of Pacific manta rays, with wing spans of 10ft or more and tails like javelins, your life becomes segmented: before diving with mantas and after. Snorkelling with them can be even better because you’re closer, but it’s so popular don’t be surprised when you get head-whacked by someone’s fins. Bring your own dive light and swim into center stage with these graceful animals.

 

10. ‘Akaka Falls State Park

This 420ft waterfall crashing through the rainforest choked with fragrant ginger and giant philodendrons is no less spectacular for its easy access. Drive up, stroll a half mile through what feels like Hollywood Hawaii and there you are. Like all waterfalls on this part of the coast, ‘Akaka Falls are most impressive during seasonal rains, when they spill violently over the verdant cliffs. Don’t miss poking around the little town of Honomu once you’re done ogling these towering falls.

 

Waterfall

 

 

 

 

Information for this post taken from lonelyplanet.com; article written by Lucy Yamamoto

 

mushroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mushroom ready for sauteing at Hamakua Mushrooms on the Hamakua Coast. Agricultural tours on the Big Island of Hawaii, Dec. 1-6, 2013.

 

Winter is on its way to Oregon, which must mean it’s time to plan a trip to Hawaii.

Little tops boarding an airplane in Portland and landing five hours later in the Islands.

Watch out, though, because that Hawaiian sun can be brutal to someone escaping cabin fever on the Mainland. To mix it up a bit, following are some indoor diversions offered by farms and other types of living product producers on the Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island.

The island’s western Kona and Kohala coasts are the sunniest locations in the 50th state, so it’s nice to have places to go indoors, where you can meet people who raise unusual products and also to taste those products.  Because of its tropical location, the Big Island is the only place in the United States where some commodities grow, among them chocolate (from the cacao bean) and vanilla.

Here are some agricultural tours to enjoy while visiting the Big Island:

Big Island Abalone

The tasting sample alone is worth the visit to Big Island Abalone. At the end of a tour (available for $12 at noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday), samples are usually waiting.

One taste and you realize why many consider abalone to be the best of the shellfish. It stays tender even when cooked, unlike most clams.

The abalone factory is part of the Hawaii Natural Energy Lab, just north of Kailua-Kona. The lab didn’t live up to its name, but did spawn a number of interesting businesses. (The lab itself also offers a tour, where you will learn that wine grapes can be grown with cold seawater: it’s in pipes and causes freshwater condensation, but that’s another story.)

The farm’s 700,000 abalone (which come from a brood stock of 4 million larvae) won’t eat just any seaweed. The Hawaii stuff is not to their liking (due to the warm water), so their diet is imported from Puget Sound. The water the abalone grow in is cold, the temperature needed for abalone, because it is pumped from deep out in the nearby Pacific Ocean.

The abalone sit in a nursery for seven months, then get transferred to tanks where they attach to shelves and grow in rows. It takes another six to seven months to reach three inches, or nearly two years to max out at four inches. The brood stock comes from Japan.

Live abalone is flown by FedEx on ice to many mainland restaurants. It is also served in 50 Hawaiian restaurants after it is processed. Look for it at Huggo’s on the Rocks, a well-known oceanfront institution in downtown Kailua-Kona, or take some home in a can.

Big Island Abalone, Hawaii Natural Energy Lab, 73-357 Makako Drive, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; 808-334-0034 (call for visiting information), bigislandabalone.com.

Hamakua Mushrooms

It’s amazing what good non-native eucalyptus trees can be put to in Hawaii. Chop them down, grind them into sawdust and you can grow the best mushrooms you will ever taste.

At least that’s what the Hamakua Mushroom company does, on its farm with an ocean view on the northeast side of the Big Island. The farm also mixes wheat bran and ground corn cob into the sawdust, before they fill jars and plant mushroom spores.

They grow four kinds of mushrooms, but don’t look for the exact same thing in the wild. The process was invented in Japan and is used with a proprietary license on the Big Island. If you can’t take the mushroom tour, ask for them by name (Hamakua) at local grocery stores, fine restaurants or the island Costco.

Tours cost $20 and are available at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. But call and make a reservation, because one bus load of island visitors can take up all the space.

And they come by the bus load to taste these mushrooms: pioppini, ali’i, abalone and oyster. Chop them up and add them to pizza, or as a side dish to a steak. You can buy them as flavoring in potato chips, peanut butter or lattes at the farm store.

These mushrooms grow so cleanly that they don’t need to be washed. Eight days after a couple of teaspoons of spore are added to the jar (which is kept in a dark refrigerated room), the mushrooms start to grow. Before long they are growing out the top of the jar and are ready for harvesting _ and eating.

Hamakua Mushrooms, Hamakua Coast, 36-221 Manowaiopae Homestead Road, Laupahoehoe, Hawaii; 808-962-0017 (call for visiting information),hamakumamushrooms.com.

Hawaiian Vanilla Company

You’ll never look at ice cream the same way again after visiting the Hawaiian Vanilla Co. on the Hamakua Coast, which is on the northeast side of the Big Island near the mushroom farm.

According to tour guide Ian Reddekopp, son of the farm founder, most grocery store brands of vanilla ice cream aren’t flavored with vanilla at all. Rather, the flavoring is the creation by chemistry to mimic the qualities of vanilla.

True vanilla is too expensive to use in mass produced products, though you do get it in the ice cream sold on the farm. Reddekopp says vanilla is the world’s second most expensive legally grown commercial crop, behind only saffron. At least it is expensive when it is processed in the best way, which is air dried (as in Madagascar), not oven dried (as in Indonesia), or chemically dried (as in Mexico).

The Hawaii farm air dries its vanilla because that process makes it the best it can be, with 900 flavor compounds. The farm started as a hobby in the late 1980s, went commercial in 1998 and has since spawned a few other vanilla growers on the Big Island, the only place in the United States with suitable climate.

Vanilla is an air feeder, taking the nutrients it needs out of the humidity. It’s roots are in redwood bark and coconut husks and it grows vertically up a metal pole. When it reaches maturity, it produces a bloom that lasts only four hours (if you’re asleep, you miss it), then produces the long beans that contain the flavorful seeds.

A tremendous amount of hand labor goes into producing the bloom and the subsequent beans. Tours are available, around lunch or tea, in the Vanilla Shoppe.

Hawaiian Vanilla Co., Hamakua Coast, P.O. Box 383, Paauilo, Hawaii; 808-776-1771 (call for visiting information), hawaiianvanilla.com.

 

More to follow in a future blog.  Information for this post taken from Terry Richard – The Oregonian Real Estate Section

waialea beach1

Waialea beach is one of the more popular white sand beaches on the big island,  especially during the summer months because of the sun, shade and good snorkeling. Waialea beach is also known as “69 beach” because of the number 69 utility pole close to the parking area of this beach.

Waialea beach fronts a small residential area. The white sand of Waialea beach erodes during the winter due to strong surf, but is pristine during the summer. There is plenty of tree cover providing shade and privacy.

In the bay itself you can find a rich diversity of marine life, which makes it a popular site for snorkel and scuba activities. The best reefs can be found on the southern side of the bay, but there is also plenty of coral to be found around the rocky prominence inside the bay. Humpback whales are often seen outside the bay during winter months.

There is no life guard on duty, but there are showers and restrooms.

Ala KahaKai Trail

There is also a moderate difficulty hiking trail crossing Waialea beach that follows the coastline over ancient fishermen`s trails and Hawaiian Kingdom roads. The Ala Kahakai trail provides access to some of the most pristine shoreline remaining in Hawaii, as well as numerous anachialine ponds.

This trail forms a 15.4 mile loop along the coastline, and Waialea beach is about halfway the loop.

Directions to Waialea Beach

The easiest way to reach Waialea beach from Kona is to take highway 19 north about 23 miles past the Waikoloa resorts, and to turn to the left on the next exit of the highway, onto Puako Beach Drive. You have gone too far if you see the exit to Hapuna Beach.

Once you are on the Puako beach drive, take the first right onto the Old puako road and watch the numbers on the telephone poles. Turn left between poles 69 and 70 (about half a mile). Payed parking is available near the beach.

Information in this blog provided by Love Big Island.