Big Island currently has an area of a little more than 10,000 square kilometers, but continues to grow steadily. The reason for this is the Kilauea volcano which is located in the National Park, which has been erupting continuously since 1983, creating new land by the nonstop flow of lava. On the other hand, the lave has also caused considerable damage in all those years and has completely destroyed three small towns.
Of these towns, the village of Kaimu serves as a good example for the violent strength of the volcanoes and how relaxed the inhabitants are in the face of constant danger. The town had once been well-known for its palm-lined black sand beaches, until both town and beach were submerged under the Kilauea’s ceaseless lava flow in 1990. Since then, the submerged street has simply been rebuilt on top of the cold lava, a few homes have also been built there and locals planted new palms at the beach, so that future generations will be able to enjoy the same scenery. Apart from the volcanoes, Big Island is also being threatened by other forces. In this regard, earthquakes and tsunamis resulting from these are most important. If anywhere in the Pacific severe earthquakes happen - like the one in Japan in 2011 - the ensuing tsunamis often cause great damage on Hawaii. Actually, Big Island itself has the potential to cause a global catastrophe: A piece of its land mass, the so-called Hilina Slump, slowly inches away from the rest of the island. If this piece of land would one day separate and slide in its entirety, it would cause an extremely violent earthquake and, following that, a mega tsunami which would cause very large destruction in the entire Pacific area.
Rather unimpressed by scenarios like these, there are today some 185,000 people living on the island, of which about 12% are natives, 23% are of Asian heritage and 35% are Whites. The acerage age of the population is 39 years. The main income source of Big Island is tourism, in addition various form of agriculture can be found. Among the agricultural products of Big Island are primarily nuts, tropical fruit and coffee beans. Also, obe of the oldest and largest ranches of the US, Parker Ranch (Mamalahoa Highway) founded in 1847, is located on Big Island. Of the ranch’s historic buildings, a number are open for visitors. The ranch, which is home to some 30,000 livestock, periodically hosts events such as rodeos.
Among further attractions of Big Island are several planetariums and centers for astronomy. Specifically, a whole range of telescopes have been installed on Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest mountain, because the view from here is especially clear and there is almost no light pollution there. Most of the telescopes belong to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (177 Maka’ala Street, open daily from 9 am to 10 pm), which offers visitors the opportunity to take a look at sun and stars for themselves. Furthermore, they organize various events such as guided tours to the mountain top - those require bringing your own all-terrain vehicle though. Another planetarium open to the public is located at the Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawaii in Hilo.
Those more interested in down-to-earth attractions should consider a stop in the small town of Laupahoehoe north of Hilo, where the Train Museum is located (Highway 19 at Mile Marker 25). It is telling the story of the railway on Hawaii, which had ended in 1946 with the complete destruction of all tracks. The small museum, diligently run by dedicated volunteers, is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4:30 pm and from 10 am to 2 pm on the weekend. In Hilo, visitors will find the Lyman House Memorial Museum (276 Haili Street, open Monday-Saturday 10 am-4:30 pm), a small museum about Hawaiian history, located in a building erected in 1838. The museum informs about the Hawaiian natives’ traditions and also takes a look at the changes in the islands’ society following the immigration of people from all over the world. A separate section of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to ancient Chinese art. The historic building itself can be discovered in guided tours. The East Hawaii Cultural Center in Hilo (141 Kalakaua Street) shows alternating art exhibitions and the center, housed in a former police station, also serves as stage for the performing arts. Another insight into the Hawaiian history can be had at the Hulihee Palace in Kailua-Kona (75-5718 Ali’i Drive). Although the word “Palace” evokes other notions than what you see here, it is a building constructed in 1838 that has served the Hawaiian royal family as a vacation home. Today, it is a museum and has been on the list of historic properties since 1973.
Next to the museums, Big Island also features several botanic gardens. Hawaii Tropical Botanical in Papaikou (27-717 Old Mamalahoa Highway, open daily from 9 am to 5 pm) impresses with an especially appealing scenery, because the area is located seaside and boasts creeks and waterfalls. In these scenic surroundings, some 2000 plant species are on display, They can be discovered via a network of walking trails. However, the entrance fee is clearly in the upper category. Only slightly more affordable are tickets for World Botanical Gardens in Hakalau (31-240 Old Mamalahoa Highway, open daily from 9 am to 5:30 pm), opened in 2010, which also feature two spectacular waterfalls with one being 30 meters high. The walkways guide visitors through various sections, among them one showcasing the rainforest and one with a maze for kids. It is also possible to explore the gardens by means of a Segway. In contrast to these, visiting the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden near the small town of Captain Cook (82-6160 Mamalahoa Highway, open Tuesday-Sunday 9 am to 4 pm) is free of charge, donations are encouraged. The focus here lies on a presentation of domestic plant species from the various habitats of Hawaii. In addition, there is the Pua Mau Place in Kawaihae (10 Ala Kahua, open daily from 9 am to 4 pm), located on a hill with a view of the ocean. There are not only plants on display here, but there area also more than 100 bird species living on the grounds. Furthermore, there are a number of sculptures located on the premises. Even more animals can be seen at the island’s zoo, Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo in Hilo (corner of Highway 11 and Mamaki Street, open daily 9 am to 4 pm). The small animal park with its rainforest theme is home to animals from some 60 species. Among these is a white Bengal tiger that has become the zoo’s trademark. Daily in the afternoon, visitors can witness his feeding time.
Of course. Big Island has a lot more nature to offer. In particular, waterfalls are popular tourist attractions. In this regard, the Rainbow Falls (photo) are worth mentioning, which are located in Wailuku River State Park (Waianuenue Avenue). Here, a river with the same name drops over a height of about 24 meters into a cave formed by lava. According to a myth, this cave is the home of a Hawaiian goddess. The waterfalls derive their name from the fact that the morning sun on quite a few days creates a rainbow above the falling waters. Some 25 kilometers outside of Hilo, there are the Umauma Falls, which are especially notably because there are a three waterfalls here in short succession. The best view can be had from yet another botanic garden called Umauma Experience, which is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Here, visitors will find a long suspended bridge leading across a gorge as well as the opportunity to explore the river by canoe. Those prefering to enjoy nature’s spectacles free of charge may want to check out the Akaka Falls, located in a State Park with the same name near the small town of Honomu. With a height of some 129 meters, these waterfalls are the tallest of the island, they drop into a deep gorge. Walking and hiking trails in the State Park will guide visitors to some good viewpoints. A little further down the river, travelers will find the Kolekole Beach Park, where the river flows through a section of rainforest, which is home to many orchids.
Waterfalls are also at hand in the Waipio Valley in the northeastern part of the island, but here they are merely an element of a breathtaking scenery which is a popular photo spot in itself. The valley stretched along the coastline with its lush green vegetation, some 600 meters lower than the background scenery no less covered with colorful flora. An interesting contrast point is the black sand beach at the coastline and also worth seeing is the view from an observation point up on the mountain. The Waipio Valley used to be the location of the grass palaces of the former Hawaiian kings, but KIng Kahekili II ordered the historic places burned down in the 18th century.