Honeymoon Guide: Big Island

Continued (page 4 of 5)

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Tel: 808-985-6000

Both literally and figuratively, Kilauea volcano is the Big Island’s biggest attraction. Home of the tempestuous fire goddess Pele, Kilauea has been in a state of eruption almost continuously since 1983. For a volcanic eruption, though, it’s been relatively smooth and nonexplosive. Sometimes you can hike out to the lava flow and stand close enough to singe your eyebrows. At other times the hot lava is too remote to get to by foot. Helicopter tours offer bird’s-eye views of the action year-round. In addition to the park’s scalding steam vents, sulfuric gases, otherworldly landscapes, native rain forest and 150 miles of hiking trails, there’s an 11-mile drive around the main crater’s rim and a walk-through lava tube big enough for a train.

HELICOPTER TOURS

Helicopters tours take you aloft for a cloud's-eye view of the Big Isle’s phenomenally varied landscape, from the towering sea cliffs and deep waterfall valleys in the north to the blackened volcanic badlands in the south. Some tours buzz the 13,677-foot summit of Mauna Loa; others blast across the Alenuihaha Channel to the rugged northeast coast of Maui. A gaggle of tour operators fly out of Hilo, including Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (808-961-5600, 800-745-2583), which has one of the best safety records on the island and the coolest choppers. The windows are extra large in Blue Hawaiian’s extra-quiet American Eurocopter ECO-Stars, the Blackhawks of the heli-tour industry.

MERRIE MONARCH FESTIVAL
Tel: 808-935-9168

Wanna see some real hula? Come to Hilo in the spring for the world’s biggest hula happening. Events kick off on Easter Sunday, and you gotta nail down tickets way ahead of time. Don’t let the dancers’ sweet smiles fool you—competition during the weeklong event is killer. Hula halau (dance troupes) from all over Hawaii, as well as Japan and the mainland, come to show off their skills. Highlights include group Kahiko (ancient dance), 'Auana (modern dance) and the selection of Miss Aloha Hula. If you thought hula was just for women, the chanting, stick-waving, chest-slapping male competitors will set you straight. The festival culminates with the Royal Parade through downtown Hilo.

KEALAKEKUA BAY

At the island's most dramatic snorkeling spot, the reef plunges from the edge of the bay to 100 feet; the water is crystal clear, and colorful coral gardens teem with bright fish. Sometimes the resident dolphins come out to play. (But if they’re keeping their distance, resist the urge to swim into their midst—they’re nocturnal hunters, and they need their daytime sleep.) Check out the monument to Captain James Cook, who was killed nearby in a 1779 skirmish with Hawaiians. Go on a snorkel tour by boat (try Fairwind, 808-322-2788) or rent a kayak for two at Kona Boys (79-7539 Highway 11, Kealakekua; 808-328-1234) and explore on your own.

SOUTH POINT AND GREEN SAND BEACH

The southernmost tip of the Big Island also happens to be the southernmost point in the United States. Remote, wild and windswept, South Point points (literally) across an unbroken expanse of ocean that rolls with the curve of the earth all the way to Antarctica. Nearby there’s an even more remote green-sand beach. That’s right—green sand. The coloring comes from an eroding cinder cone rich in volcanic olivine, a glassy, olive-green mineral. Hiking to the beach requires some effort; a lot of folks celebrate their arrival by doffing their swimsuits and taking a dip—but only when sea conditions aren’t perilous.

KULA KAI CAVERNS AND LAVA TUBES
Tel: 808-929-9725

This braided system of 1,000-year-old caves, which has never been fully explored, boasts colorful mineral deposits, rare insect colonies and—when you turn off your headlamp—the purest inky-black darkness you’ve ever seen. Some sections have 30-foot-high ceilings. Others are so tight you have to crawl through on all fours. As part of Mauna Loa volcano’s vast subterranean plumbing system, these caves were once conduits for rivers of lava—and may yet be again. After things cooled down, the ancient Hawaiians collected water here; the ashes from their torches and the remains of gourds they left under drip points can still be seen. By-appointment-only visits range from quick look-sees to extended tours that go dizzyingly deep.

STARGAZING

The best place on earth to peer into space is from atop Mauna Kea, the highest peak in the Pacific. At 13,796 feet, its summit towers above 40 percent of the earth’s atmosphere; the air is so clear and the stars so bright, you may feel giddy. The sunsets are awesome too. Astronomers from around the world chart the universe from the mountain’s 11 enormous telescopes. The famous W.M. Keck Observatory offers nightly programs and weekend tours (808-961-2180). Commercial tours (such as Hawaii Forest and Trail’s Mauna Kea "Summit and Stars Adventure"; 800-464-1993, 808-331-8505) set up telescopes, haul guests up to the summit and provide dinner and parkas. (It’s cooold up there!) If you pack your own picnic, though, you can find a spot on the mountain all to yourselves. Don’t forget the blankets.

NELHA
Highway 11, just south of Kona International Airport
Tel: 808-329-7341

The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority's new education and outreach center is the place to explore the cutting edge of ocean science and enterprise. Taking advantage of an abundance of sunshine (it’s at the sunniest coastal spot in the United States) and chilly seawater (pumped up from depths of 2,000 to 3,000 feet), the tenants of the technology park raise cold-water creatures (abalone, flounder, Maine lobster); they produce biofuel, as well as amberjack, nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals; and they desalinate seawater, bottle it and sell it in Japan. At impressive prices.

SPAS

Variety is the name of the game in Big Island spas. One top pick is the Mauna Lani Spa (68-1365 Pauoa Rd., Kohala Coast; 808-881-7922), whose treatments utilize the heat of the sun, the fragrance of pikake and ginger and the transformative powers of black volcanic mud, sea salts and chocolate in a sensual oasis surrounded by a 16th-century lava flow.

WAIPIO BY HORSEBACK
Na'alapa Stables
Tel: 808-775-0419

Saddle up and explore the enchanting Valley of Kings, a land rich in history, legend, 1,000-foot waterfalls and supernatural juju. In ancient times Waipio was home to powerful Hawaiian rulers and a good deal of the Big Island’s population. Today just a handful of people live there, and you won’t feel welcome if you go tromping around their taro farms on foot. On horseback you’ll cover more ground, learn more about the place and get warm smiles rather than "stink eye" from the locals. One mile wide and six deep, Waipio is big enough to support a population of semi-wild horses—but don’t worry, they’re not the one’s you’ll be riding.

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