So…..let’s talk about the name of this island first. We here on the mainland often refer to the Island of Hawaii as “The Big Island,” because that’s been its nickname for years, and also because it’s representative of the geographic nature of the island. In recent years, the residents of this lovely and distinct island have revived its true name in an effort to adhere to their cultural roots. Rather than going along with the pop culture nickname, they have begun to insist on the appropriate title and its meaning to their heritage.
Now that the name business has been resolved, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about the Island of Hawaii. First, many believe that the “Big Island” is where Honolulu and Pearl Harbor are located. While logical, it’s not true (they are located on the island of Oahu). This island got its nickname not because of political importance, but because of its sheer size.
Speaking of size, Hawaii is far larger than any other island in the chain, and for good reason. On its southeastern side, the most active volcano in the world, Kilauea, constantly spews lava from the depths of the earth’s crust, creating new land all the time. Kilauea is just one of many active craters within Volcanoes National Park, all of which hover over an active “hot spot” in the earth’s crust. Over time, the island has sustained steady growth and is largely covered in jagged lava flows.
The terrain of Hawaii is very distinct and widely varied. Most travelers know it for the barren and rocky lava fields and lovely beaches, but there are areas that are quite lush and diversified. The northeastern shore in particular is home to steep mountains, lush meadows where cattle graze, and green river valleys. On the southern side of the island, along the road between Volcanoes National Park and Kona, you’ll find some of the most unique beaches in the world displaying red, black, and even green sand, which are favored by sea turtles as nesting grounds.
This island is most often visited by those who wish to see the active volcanoes, but there are only a few ways to see the fresh flowing lava first-hand. One of the most popular and convenient methods is by helicopter. The skilled pilots can give visitors a full overview of the island and hover above the lava lakes, returning within the span of one or two hours. Another way is by hiking, but this activity requires quite a commitment – the trail is more than 10 miles one-way from the nearest parking area, and even then you’re limited regarding how close you can approach the open vents due to unstable crust formations. The last option is by boat, which is largely dependent on weather conditions and current flow patterns. All said, if seeing the lava flowing is a priority, be sure to do your research before embarking on your adventure.
As I drove around the island (which I did a LOT of – it really is a Big Island!) I was constantly surprised and charmed by its features. From barren windswept lava fields to the snowy heights of Mauna Kea, this island has myriad appeal to both residents and visitors. In many ways, it represents the true essence of Hawaii and holds close to the ancient traditions. As a result, it will also hold a special place in my heart.
Ready to begin planning your Big Island getaway? Set up a consultation with Christine or one of our other Hawaii specialists!