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Leave the Cold Behind
In my last essay about Hawaii, we looked around Oahu. Now, it’s time to look at what is known as the Big Island, or the eponymous Hawaii.
To get there, you can fly into Kona International Airport direct or fly into Honolulu and then it’s just a 45-minute flight over to Kona or Hilo. Looking at prices, flying to Oahu plus the flight to Kona is probably about the same as flying direct to Kona, because airlines track those kinds of things. Look around and I’m sure that the stops and departure times for one flight over the other will make the choice easy.
Kona is on the west coast of the island and once landing at the airport and renting a car, if you feel like stretching your legs after being cooped up for a while on the plane, head north on HI-19 for about twenty-five miles and you’ll come across Mauna Kea and Hapuna Golf Courses. Robert Trent Jones designed Mauna Kea while Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay designed Hapuna. While Mauna Kea is more famous, if you want to save a few bucks, the greens fees at Hapuna for non-guests are only $95, while they run $250 at Mauna Kea. Then again, bragging you’ve played the picturesque third hole at Mauna Kea over the ocean and rocky shoreline might be worth the extra cost. Either way, both are on Frommer’s list for best golf courses on the islands.
After your taste of sun and exercise, continue north on HI-19 and then after it veers east for about ten miles, turn right on Hawaii Belt Road and then left on Saddle Road and you’re on your way to Mauna Kea Observatory. Turning left after about 28 miles onto the Mauna Kea access road will lead you to the Visitor Information Center. It is open every day from 9 am to 10 pm and has solar telescopes to look at the sun during the day and a Stargazing Program every night from 6 pm to 10 pm. Because you’re nine thousand feet above sea level, the humidity is low and the sky is clear 90% of the time, you’re sure to get some great views of stars. If you arrive on a Saturday and have rented a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can tour the telescopes at the summit. Otherwise, just stay below and enjoy a Saturday night program.
Heading back down from the observatory and east for about twenty miles on Saddle Road will lead you into the town of Hilo on the east coast of the island. At this point you’ll probably be anxious to just check into your hotel and relax. If you want a bed and breakfast about 15 minutes out of town, there’s The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls that has rooms for $129 a night and amenities that include its own waterfall and two miles of trails. For something a little cheaper and in town, you could try Dolphin Bay Hotel for $109 a night. Or, you could shop and look on your own for vacation rentals and other choices at the Hawaii Big Island tourist site.
Using Hilo as your base, you can head south and west along HI-11 and go to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Here you can see Kilauea, a very active volcano, and watch lava flows and the volcano vent from the summit. There are also hikes to see petroglyphs and across previous lava flows. If you want to see volcanoes and their effects up close and personal, this is the place to go.
For something a bit more relaxing, head north from Hilo along the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. Along this road, you’ll drive by old sugar plantation towns, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden as well as many views of the ocean, cliffs and waterfalls, including the 442-foot Akaka Falls in the appropriately named Akaka Falls State Park. If golf, volcanoes and waterfalls are making your mouth water, you’ve probably been stuck in winter too long, and need to start making plans to head to the Big Island and enjoy some summer for a short time.