Big Island Hawaii Things To Do, A Journey of Beauty and Contrast
The big island Hawaii has a history datable to 1,500 years ago when a small fleet of canoes landed on the island’s shores. Those early sailors traveled from the Marquesas Island for over 2,000 miles to find what we call “Paradise”. However today, all you need to explore the beauty and excitement of the Big Island is a map, a rental car, and the spirit of adventure.
The Geologic History of Hawaii
The creation of the Hawaiian Islands is fascinating and offers something different from the way that many islands form. For example, the Japan archipelago forms because of subduction — an oceanic plate subducts beneath a continental plate. The friction from that process causing lava to well up and volcanoes form and then islands form. Hawaii is very different.
The Hawaiian Islands are not formed because of subduction. Their formation occurs because of a hole in the earth’s crust. In geologic terms, this hole is called a hot spot. If you notice that the islands that make up the Hawaiian chain grow progressively smaller as you move away from the island of Hawaii. It is not that these islands are small, it is that they are eroded. The smallest are the oldest. The Hawaiian chain sits on the Pacific Plate and as the plate moves the island over the single hot spot moves too. Once the island is cut off from the lava from the hot spot, the island stops growing. Eventually, the formation of a new island occurs. Right now, the Island of Hawaii is on top of the hot spot and is still growing.
Hawaii the Volcanic
There are currently just three active volcanoes on the Island of Hawaii — Maunaloa, Kilauea, and Loihi. Maunaloa is famous for its 1984 eruption, though the volcano has remained quiet since. The most active, and dramatic of the volcanoes on Hawaii is Kilauea which is nearly in a state of constant eruptions. Kilauea is the place to go if you want to see a volcano erupt, but be forewarned, the lava on Hawaii is thick which means that it moves fairly slow — usually under 6 MPH. Viscous — thin lava — can move at speeds of 40 MPH.
Map Courtesy of Volcano National Park Hawaii
The Third volcano on Hawaii is Loihi and it is an underwater volcano that you can find off of Hawaii’s southern coast. Many visitors head to the Hawaii Volcano National Park which offers many opportunities to see the lava and the volcanoes. In fact, many tourists that visit Hawaii flock to see the lava flows. If you are interested in the paths less traveled, Hawaii offers many destinations that are beautiful, thrilling, and peaceful.
Mauna Kea — The dead Volcano
Mauna Kea is a shield volcano that erupted some 6-8 thousand years ago. It rises some 13,803 feet into the air. It is listed as the world’s 8th most isolated peak and the world’s second highest ocean island peak and the sixth highest point in the 50 states. It is Hawaii’s highest point.
Mauna Kea is an amazing adventure. It is tall enough to have snow in winter and the remains of glaciers. Glaciers when extinct leave behind a skeleton in much the same way that a mammoth leaves behind bones.
Glaciers are solid rivers and they flow. As they move they carve valleys, grooves, and the pick up treasures that they carry. Rocks, minerals, and other material are pushed along by the glacier and become trapped in the ice. Those piles of treasure remain when glaciers recede. They are called terminal moraines and they mark the farthest extent of a glacier as it flows. When the ice melts, the rocks and bits are freed from the ice and then form a moraine which stays unless eroded away.
Mauna Kea has many such treasure hoards that remain mostly untouched except by the most adventurous of travelers and geologist. This is one of the reasons that Mauna Kea is known as a lonely place. Its elevation is formidable and the terrain is rough. That does not mean you cannot explore this ancient fossil. This is also one of the places that Hawaii offers that is peaceful and serene.
Mauna Kea offers one of the darkest night skies around meaning that you can see many more stars here. There is an observatory which allows you to stargaze. There are night guides that help or you can explore on your own. The height of the volcano offers something else that is unique. It is one of the best places to stand above the clouds and photograph sunsets that are both below you and above you.
Be Forewarned — you can drive to the summit but the road near the top is made of gravel and should only be attempted in a 4×4 or AWD vehicle with outstanding breaks.
Tips for Visiting the Summit
- Make a day of it. You will need to acclimate to the altitude.
- Plan to spend several hours at the mid-level facilities before driving to the summit.
- Spend some time at the summit before heading to the observatory.
- Take something light weight and warm to wear as the temperature drops dramatically at that altitude.
There is plenty to do and see at Mauna Kea.
Note: If you plan to sell your photographs or videos or if you wish to publish your photographs or video electronically, you will need a film permit. More information at the Hawaii Film Office.
The 442 Foot Akaka Falls
The Akaka Falls are found within the Akaka Falls State Park just 11 mile and on the northern side of Hilo. It is easily accessible by car by taking route 220 to its end and then following route 19 which is also known as the Belt Road.
The waterfall is a lovely cascade that cuts through the volcanic rock as it drops into a huge gorge. There are many local legends that surround the falls including the story of Pōhaku a Pele — the rainmaker.
Pōhaku a Pele the Rainmaker
Pōhaku a Pele is a stone that sits in the Kolekole stream some 70 feet above the Akaka Falls. It is said that if it is struck with a branch from the lehua ʻāpane tree that the rainmaker will awaken. As it does, the sky becomes dark a torrent of rain will fall from the sky. The lehua ʻāpane tree is noted for its deep red blooms.
Such legends are interesting because the Akaka Falls area is something special for reasons other than its beautiful cascading stream of water. There is an essence to the park that you can feel. It is a calmness that you breathe into your body and as you do it relaxes your soul. This is a place that heals by relieving stress and resting the mind.
Akaka Falls is a Spiritual Place
The is an old bit of lore that comes from healing places. It goes something like — for healing to occur the mind must focus on something other than one’s concerns. It may be that the Akaka Falls provide such a focus for the plummet of water down into the gorge is a beautiful focal that not only is a feast for your eyes, but it roars into your ears so that you cannot hear the self-doubt or worry.
It is an interesting place, none-the-less. There are two falls here and the trails that lead to them are not difficult. One is not quite half a mile in length.
Getting to the Falls
To get to Akaka Falls follow the loop trail. At the fork, turn left and take your time. The hike is short — less than 10-minutes, but you pass many smaller waterfalls, beautiful vegetation, and if you meander slowly you may feel the weight of the jungle. Like all true forests, there is a feeling that is very perceivable as it presses against you. You find it in deep forests where the forest stops being trees and plants and feels as though it is a single entity. It is an amazing adventure to experience.
If you turn right at the fork you come first to the Kahuna Falls and you also are fortunate to walk through the rainforest. The hike takes 8-10-minutes and another five minutes to reach Akaka Falls. The adventure is short, but the impact is huge. Take your time and enjoy the journey here.
The Pololu Valley — A Northeastern Coastal Vista and Overlook
The Pololu Valley offers beautiful vistas and many photo opportunities of the Kohala coastline. The Pololu Valley Overlook is a flat — tabletop — that allows you to view one of the best places that Hawaii offers. It is a place of opposites with the hard and dark lava rock mountains and bare coastal walls covered in the soft and brilliant green grasses that are pastures for horses and other livestock. There are the rich mixed forests with are themselves a stained glass mosaic of greens set above the black sandy beaches.
The Pololu Valley Overlook is easy to find as it is the end of the road as you travel down the 270 on a northern route. If you are nimble, there is a trail that takes you from the overlook to the black sandy beaches but be forewarned — It is steep and the path is dirt, not paved. The water here is beautiful and the waves roll in with plenty of force. This is a beach where you sit and relax and not for swimming. The currents here are not only strong but treacherous.
Getting To the Pololu Valley Overlook
The drive is simple, but be prepared to enjoy the adventure. Just take route 270 north and it ends at the Pololu Valley Overlook. Along the way expect some spectacular sites that lead up to the finale of the overlook.
The journey here is one of boundaries. You will cross many of them. Some of them are subtle and a few are quite striking. One of the most amazing is the distinct line that where the forest gives way and the coast suddenly appears. It is a moment to savor because the beauty of what occurs shocks the senses.
Tips on Enjoying the Pololu Valley and Its Overlook
- Go early. There are limited parking spaces and they are gone quickly.
- Come prepared to hike as there is much to see from the Overlook and if you are lucky enough to snag a parking spot, hike to the beach.
- There is plenty to do and no outlet here for food or drinks. A picnic is ideal and the beach is inviting.
Hawaii is a place of extremes. Those include the lush tropical forests and the juxtaposition of the barren lava fields. That relationship repeats itself throughout the island and makes one of the most amazing places on Earth. There are the popular places where everyone flocks to and those that are isolated and serene. Throughout your adventure here there will be lots of beautiful places that startle your spirit and places where your brain will wonder if what you see is real.
Hawaii is a spiritual place as well as a place where you can just relax and take in what is essentially “Paradise.”