Kailua-Kona, also known as ‘Kailua,’ ‘Kona Town’ and sometimes just ‘Town,’ is a love-it-or-leave-it kind of place. On the main drag of Aliʻi Dr, along the shoreline, Kailua works hard to evoke the nonchalance of a sun-drenched tropical getaway, but in an injection-molded, bargain-priced way. But we like it.
Kohala & Waimea
Kohala is a study in contrasts. South Kohala is the archetypal sun-and-sea resort mecca, while North Kohala proudly remains rural with nary a high-rise in sight. Waimea, a long-standing ranch town in between, is a central stop for cross-island travelers. From Waikoloa to Kawaihae, Hawaiian history is evident in ancient trails, heiau (temples), fishponds and petroglyphs.
Kailua-Kona may host more visitors, but Hilo is the beating heart of the Big Island. Hidden beneath its daily drizzle lies deep soil and soul, from which sprouts the unique, natural, holistic, organic, local, personal and artistic. The result is the social version of a botanic garden, where the endless color, variety and quirkiness of all forms never ceases to amaze.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park & Around
If each Hawaiian island has a representative element, the Big Island, people will tell you, is defined by fire. Fire, after all, creates and destroys and, most of all, is active. For all that it can be as laid back as its archipelagic siblings, the Big Island is an active, energetic place, where creation's drama is played out against the stunning backdrop of a micro-continent.
The Queen Kaʻahumanu Hwy (Hwy 19) cuts through stark fields of lava. But a series of sumptuous resorts have created tropical oases along the water's edge, some containing the island's best beaches, some building their own. Meet the Gold Coast. In contrast to the very modern world of the resorts, South Kohala also contains numerous ancient Hawaiian sights.
The Hamakua Coast is wildly fertile and beautiful. Thunderous waterfalls shoot mist and rainbows across mossy chasms, and green sugarcane grows wild on bluffs between deep-blue sky and still bluer sea. Here, in green valleys, suspended in time, farmers still grow taro and pound it into poi, while the melodious notes of a ukulele drift toward dusk, inviting the night marchers.
The Polynesian word ‘mana’ is tough to translate. ‘Life force,’ ‘energy’ and other terms are usually bandied about. But if you really want to learn mana’s meaning, come to Puna, because everyone on this island agrees it is overflowing with the stuff. Here, at Hawaiʻi’s eastern tip, the primal soul of the island manifests in an unrestrained display of eco-bravado.
The misty rolling pastureland surrounding Waimea is perhaps Hawaiʻi's most unexpected face. This is paniolo (cowboy) country, and nearly all of it, including Waimea itself, is controlled by Parker Ranch, the fifth-largest cow-calf ranch in the USA. But don’t leap to any conclusions: this is no company town.
North Kona Coast
If you thought the Big Island was all jungle mountains and white sand beaches, the severe North Kona Coast and its beige deserts and black-and-rust lava fields will come as a shock. Yet always, at the edge of your eyesight, is the bright blue Pacific, while bits of green are sprinkled like jade flecks amid the dry.
Kaʻu, the southernmost district in Hawaiʻi (the island), Hawaii (the state), and the United States as a whole, has a palpable end-of-the-world feel. The black, lava-laced soil of the highlands supports lush forests which, as they descend in elevation, give way to plains of thorny brush, then windswept grasslands that smooth themselves into arid lava fields.