Thursday, May 26, 2011

Paradise Found: The Big Island

I seriously got the impression that, if I walked around the streets of Honolulu at certain times, I could likely end up getting clubbed in the head. What the island of Oahu isn’t, the Big Island is – beautiful, natural, spacious and unequivocally Hawaii. Even the Kona airport is cool; no huge terminal or metal concourse. One steps off the plane directly into the warm tropical sun.

The Big Island is fascinating. Standing in one spot your eyes travel from the rocky coast all the way up to the summit of 13,700 summit of Mauna Kea. The west side is warm dry desert, the east is lush tropical forest – and the south coast is an active volcano. We always encourage first time visitors to make the trip to the southeastern coast to visit the lava flows of the petulantly active Kilauea volcano. During this trip the lava had stopped flowing; but this is usually a temporary situation. On previous visits we have seen the bright red ooze to the surface and walked on recently hardened, but still hot, flows.

This was our fifth visit to the Big Island, we come to escape the wet Oregon winters and to snorkel at one of the most remarkable places on the island, Kahalu'u Beach Park. Our daughter and her husband and kids joined us on this leg of the trip. My primary mission was to teach my 8 year-old granddaughter to snorkel. Kahalu’u is a fairly shallow bay and protected from the surf by a partial breakwater, making it ideal for amateur snorkel enthusiasts. The warm shallow water is home to a large variety of colorful fish and the likely experience of finding yourself within a few feet of a giant sea turtle. Second only to the reefs we have snorkeled in Belize, Kahalu’u bay is practically like swimming in the tank of a tropical fish store. Granddaughter took to the water immediately and soon it was all I could do to keep up with her. If you don’t own your own snorkel gear, equipment can be purchased or rented nearby. Seriously, if you visit the Big Island and don’t snorkel, you will miss half the wildlife adventure of the island.

I find the history of the Hawaiian culture fascinating. Native Hawaiians hold tightly to their cultural history and remnants of their presence everywhere. The early inhabitants built trails, left petroglyphs and rock structures throughout the island. I find it strange, though, that in such a lovely part of the earth, the ancient Hawaiians were quite a brutal lot. King Kamehameha, for example, decided to unite the assorted islands under single rule. So he invited another island king (his brother) to a sumptuous luau – after which he clubbed him to death, then set out to conquer the remaining islands.

The first westerner, Captain Cook visited the Big Island in 1779 and was hailed as a king by the inhabitants. Unfortunately, Cook soon returned wherein he and a few of his crew, after a brief skirmish, were clubbed to death. Today a monument maintained by the British government stands on the shore of Kealakekua Bay (another fantastic snorkeling location as well).

As brutal as the ancient Hawaiians were, they entertained some strange contradictory customs. One interesting spot is the Place of Refuge, now maintained by the National Park Service. The ancient Hawaiians lived under a feudal system of bizarre laws and taboos. For example, it was an offense punishable by death (yep, by clubbing) to step on the shadow of the king. Expect to be clubbed for eating fish during spawning time or for women to commit the offense of eating bananas as well. However, if the perpetrator of said taboo was able to make a successful run, arriving at the Place of Refuge, after a few days, all transgression would be forgiven and the offender could return home unscathed. Even warriors on the losing side of a battle, were they able to reach the Place of Refuge (before being clubbed to death), they were wholly reprieved.

There is far more to say about the Big Island; although several 5-star resorts have popped up in several areas, this island retains much of it’s rural and rustic charm. Some of the best beaches remain isolated, accessible only via rough trails hewn through the lava; marked only by a small grouping of parked cars along the highway.

If you haven’t yet visited our 50th state, I recommend you skip Maui and Honolulu and instead opt for the Big Island. It is the closest, in my opinion, to the truly Hawaiian experience.

22 comments:

KleinsteMotte said...

I agree that to snorkel enables you to see sea life. Scuba diving is another great way to explore. Our girls have tried both. The club ritual has me interested in reading more as soon as this vision thing is better. Glad this was another good trip for you and the family.

Wow, that was awkward said...

I have only been to Hawaii once, ten years ago, and it was on the Big Island. One of the best vactations I ever had. We kayaked to Kealakekua Bay with picnic lunches, snorkel gear and diving gear. It was awesome.

Kay Dennison said...

Haven't been there and my chances of getting there fall between the range slim and non-existent. However, I really appreciate taking me along on your adventure!

Robert the Skeptic said...

KleinsteMotte Scuba takes so much equipment and training versus snorkeling which is simply put your face in the water and swim. Many of the most beautiful fish are in the shallow water. I don't do this enough so keeping it simple and inexpensive is the most fun.

Awkward Kealakekua is awesome and a favorite place for snorkel "tours" to anchor. Likely you know kayak is the easiest way to get to the Cook Monument versus climbing down a cliff. You probably saw the Spinner Dolphins in the bay as well, we see them almost every time. Great place!

Kay Well you never know, sometimes travel agents have "deals" including flight and accommodation. We would never have been able to visit so often had we not bought a vacation time share years ago. We put all our expenses on our credit card as well rather than pay them from our checking account, so we earn "points" which we have translated into airline tickets. We have to pay those monthly bills anyway, so why not put them on the credit card and earn miles?

billy pilgrim said...

an excellent adventure.

did you see any see any sea turtles whilst snorkeling?

Rain said...

My daughter and her family were there a few years ago on a veterinarian conference. She said the same thing about how much she loved the island of Hawaii.

Nance said...

I've never been, but what a beautiful recommendation you make!

On the historical oddities and brutality of the Hawaiian natives, my favorite author, Patrick O'Brian, has a marvelous novel in the Aubrey/Maturin series that takes place in these islands in the nineteenth century. I travel vicariously at the best of times.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy Indeed we did see sea turtles, we could reach out and touch them (though the authorities prohibit such harassment). But you can get fairly close to them as they are unafraid of humans.

Rain It is a lovely place. Nancy, being an avid birder, took several photographs of the colorful species of birds.

Antares Cryptos said...

Enjoyed reading this. Paradise indeed.

Stinkypaw said...

So very true. The Big Island is true a beautiful island, as well as Kauai. It is sad that many (too many) people think of Hawaii as Honolulu and/or Waikiki, it is so not that. Even O'ahu has hidden beauty to offer, we just have to look for it a little more....

TechnoBabe said...

Kauai was where I snorkled and I like the naturalness of that island. I agree with you about skipping Mauai. My kids like Mauai but Kauai is my favorite. So glad you have a beautiful setting to teach your granddaughter to snorkel. Enjoy your time with your family.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos Indeed, though this is not a travel log blog. More science and controversy coming up soon.

Stinkypaw I have not been to Kauai though some friends have and tell me it is lush and beautiful. Much smaller, though. Yes, O'ahu has it's lovely spots as well if one gets out of Honolulu which we unfortunately didn't.

TechnoBabe Likewise what I said to Stinkypaw, I would like to visit Kauai as well. It was fun traveling with family; the last time we took our other three adult kids and their partners to Cancun'.

Cognitive Dissenter said...

This brings back so many memories. Makes me want to go back soon. We almost stepped on a green sea turtle at a black sand beach on the Big Island. It was basking in the sun and looked a heck of a lot like a large rock.

One thing I remember about snorkeling -- we had been in the water for probably an hour before we saw the hundreds of skinny long fish at the surface that had been around the entire time. What a gorgeous place.

GutsyWriter said...

Robert, my husband and got married in Kauai and I have to say, I am much prefer the Caribbean with its warmer waters and whiter sandy beaches. Our family has had the best vacations when our kids were younger at the Crown Paradise All Inclusive resort in Cancun, where they have entertainment for the kids as well as the adults. Plus you can go on tours. The kids can eat whenever they are hungry, (one set price for 6 restaurants) and the beaches are so white and sandy! Now Belize, where we lived was fabulous. We snorkeled outside out house and had a wreck in 30 feet of water about 1/4 mile in front of our house where there were amazing fish. You can tell I'm a fan of Belize and the Caribbean, plus it's cheaper than Hawaii, and the locals are friendlier than what my husband and I experienced in Kauai. Sorry, but I just had to express my own thoughts. It sounds like you've found your paradise on the Big Island.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dissenter I've been to the black sand beach, the turtle do blend in there and look like the rocks. I recall seeing those long skinny fish, kind of pipefish that would hover just under the surface where the index of refraction would make those few inches of water silver... the fish would blend in with that effect.

Gutsy I haven't been to Kauai but hear it is beautiful. I believe I mentioned in my post that the Hawaii snorkeling was second only to our experience snorkeling in Belize; the reef we snorkeled there was the best ever!

We visit Cancun often (four times now) through our plan with Fiesta Americana. The last trip we brought the other three adult kids and their partners and stayed in a three bedroom right on the beach front. Indeed the Caribbean is much less expensive than Hawaii for sure. However, the increasing violence in Mexico has been giving us pause about returning there in the near future. We are eying Portugal for our next trip.

adrielleroyale said...

Good advice! If I ever make it there (and I sincerely hope I do), I hope to take all these suggestions and run with them :)

Antares Cryptos said...

Even if it turned into one, I'd still be reading it.:)
You've just been through a traumatic experience and got to experience paradise. I'm just saying...

Robert the Skeptic said...

adrielle Do so if you can, Hawaii is a jewel in the Pacific.

Cryptos Indeed, one could make the case that I have gone from Hell to Heaven in two short months - both places of which I firmly believe exist wholly on Earth.

Jerry said...

I have not had the opportunity to visit, but your tour was indeed fascinating.

Paul said...

I like Maui and Moloka'i

The Mother said...

The Big Island is by far my favorite--far less commercial and truly beautiful.

Marylinn Kelly said...

While I have not been there, though my son has, I know something of Molokai for my oldest friend has lived there for decades. Called the most Hawaiian of the islands, it has not sprouted tourist magnets. There is a quiet about the place...when we talk on the phone, we joke about paradise, but it is not untrue. Your account of the Big Island goes a long way to introducing us to the real Hawaii. Most enjoyable.