Different from the other Hawaiian islands, the Big Island, at first glance, does not present you readily with picture-postcard white sand beaches, palm trees, and fancy resorts. On the contrary, when your aircraft first approaches it, a literal moonscape unfolds below you - black lava rock, craggy black cliffs washed by the white surf of the Pacific - even the runway is built of black lava. Discovering the island's diversity and beauty demands a little more 'effort', making it all the more worthwhile.
Hawaii is the youngest of the islands and is still being formed by its active volcano, Kilauea, which periodically sends rivers of lava down towards the ocean, where they flow into the sea in huge plumes of steam, cooling down and adding new land to it. We were privileged to witness this spectacle from the air - for PICTURES of this and all the other sights of the Big Island, click on a button at the bottom of the page - enjoy!
We did a complete circle flight around the island and were amazed at the different topography and the different climates - almost every "corner" we turned was like seeing a new island. The Kona coast is sunny and dotted here and there with beautiful beaches. Along the south-eastern part of the coastline the weather turned nasty, we were flying in the clouds and rain (pretty bumpy ride!), then further north dozens of waterfalls tumbling into the sea; further north still, cattle country, and rolling hills. But everywhere on the island you can see the ancient lava flows, black rivers of rock, where the volcanoes have added to the land over the centuries.
Being avid sailors, we couldn't visit Hawaii without going out on the beautiful dark-blue waters. "Honu" (Hawaiian for 'sea turtle'), a 32 ft. Westsail, was just the ticket. The winds are fabulous and steady, and for over 45 minutes we were accompanied by a pod of dolphins, diving under our bow and just having a good time.
Next, I just HAD to take a trip up to the summit of extinct Mauna Kea (Hawaiian for "White Mountain", for a good reason - lots of snow up there!). At 13,796 feet, this is the perfect venue for some of the world's largest telescopes. (Actually, the mountain is the tallest on the planet if you measure its total height from the ocean floor - 32,000 feet). The trip up is brutal, the "road" is murder on your car's suspension, let alone your own bones! But it's worth it - 40% of the earth's atmosphere is below you, making stargazing a treat. This of course also affects the amount of oxygen available - breathing becomes laboured and the simplest tasks take on a difficulty you'd never dreamed of...At this altitude, the winds are extremely strong and the temperature... let's put it this way, with about 4 layers of clothing plus a thick parka and gloves, I was still shivering!
For a more detailed report on Mauna Kea, click here.
But what an experience, to be standing next to these famous observatories...names I'd known for years and dreamed of seeing - Keck, Subaru, Gemini - their white domes stark against the dark blue sky and the black lava on the ground. We stayed on the summit for the sunset, at which point you can actually see the shadow of the massive mountain itself thrown against the clouds you're looking down on. After sunset, we drove down to the 9,000 foot level for 2 hours of the best stargazing I've ever experienced. The winter Milky Way a band across the sky, millions of stars and galaxies - plus a few shooting stars and satellites thrown in for good measure.
So the adventurous as well as the lazy days passed all too quickly and there is still much more to explore than we had time for. The Big Island has "grabbed" us so fiercely that we've returned every winter since, for several months at a time. I think when you look at the photos, you'll see why! Aloha........
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