At less than a million years old, the Big Island of Hawaii is, geologically speaking, a youngster. And with the help of lava flowing from Kilauea volcano, it's still growing. So, unlike the other islands in the Hawaiian chain, the Big Island hasn't had time to develop many sandy beaches along its shores. Although they are few in number, the beaches of the Kona and Kohala coasts (especially the bright white strand at Hapuna Beach State Parks) are beautiful, and the black-sand beach at Punaluu is otherworldly.
What the Big Island does have in spades is big-game fishing (particularly at Kona, the self-proclaimed "Marlin Capital of the Pacific"), golf (on about 20 championship courses), vast ranchlands (including the 225,000-acre Parker Ranch, which dates to the early 19th century), incredible hiking (150 miles of trails in Volcanoes National Park alone), and great natural beauty (the 400-foot cascade of Akaka Falls, for example. At 4,038 square miles, it's a huge island, and since resort development is concentrated along the Kona-Kohala coast, there's a lot left to explore, from lava deserts to steaming rain forests.
Driving around the Big Island, you may come across petroglyphs and ancient Polynesian stone temples called heiau. Stop at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, also known as The City of Refuge, where a reconstructed temple stands on the lava-lined west coast. The refuge served as a sanctuary for Hawaiians who were cast out of their clans or had received death sentences for breaking sacred tabus. The park's exhibits will help you understand the island's history and its powerful chief, Kamehameha, who became the first to rule over all the Hawaiian islands.
The Kona coast has been cultivating some of the planet's most prized beans for some 175 years.
Get your caffeinated buzz on during the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Nov. 3-12, with coffee tastings, bean-picking contests, a pageant and more. www.konacoffeefest.com
Kona Festival DetailsThis nine-day celebration of the area's coffee-harvest traditions spans a range of activities from concerts to parades to pageants in the towns and on the coffee farms of Kailua Kona, Keauhou and Holualoa.
On November 4, locally-made items and Kona coffee harvested at nearby farms will be sold in the quaint village of Holualoa. The annual Kona Coffee Picking Contest will be held November 5 at the Ueshima Coffee Company's farm. And the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition & Art Exhibit will take place November 8 and 9 at the Outrigger Keauhou Beach Hotel. In this blind taste-test competition, judges will crown one cup of a local Kona coffee farm's brew the champion, based on the categories of fragrance, aroma, taste, nose, aftertaste and body.
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
The Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort sits on 10 acres interspersed with sacred Hawaiian sites right next to an ocean tide pool that shelters sea turtles. Rates from $139, www.outrigger.com. Sleep in the heart of Kona coffee country in Cedar House Bed & Breakfast in the town of Captain Cook. The four rooms are nestled among over 2,500 coffee, banana, papaya and pineapple trees. Rates from $110, www.cedarhouse-hawaii.com. On a working macadamia nut/coffee farm in South Kona, the Pomaikai ("lucky") Farm Bed & Breakfast gives you a night's rest in a restored farmhouse, greenhouse or coffee barn. Rates from $70 (two-night minimum), including breakfast. www.luckyfarm.com
A chance at a marlin hat trick (blue, black, and striped marlin) is just one reason the calmer waters off Kona's leeward coast are among the most hallowed grounds of deep-sea fishing. (It's the only place in the world where 1,000-pound marlins are caught year-round.) Abundant yellowfin tuna and mahimahi draw anglers from around the world to these waters, especially for the International Billfish Tournament in August.
Make a birdie at Mauna Kea's No. 3 - a classic hole that begins with a tee shot over ocean to the green - and you'll remember it forever. Celebrate with a starting time at the Francis H. I'i Brown South Course at nearby Mauna Lani, a green masterpiece sculpted from dramatic black lava.
Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile circuit around the summit of the Kilauea caldera, offers car travelers views of steam vents, cinder cones, lava tubes, and craters. (Hikers get even closer looks.) Take time to walk the one-third-mile-long Devastation Trail. A lunar-like landscape after being buried by ash in a 1959 eruption, the area now shows signs of rejuvenation. It's the perfect prelude to a drive to the coast via Chain of Craters Road. At road's end you can hike out to watch lava flow into the sea.