“The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.”
Mark Twain (of the Hawaiian Islands)
If it’s true that paradise is where heaven meets earth, then Hawaii must be paradise . . . paradise or a dream.
It’s easy to describe the setting of this tranquilly isolated archipelago — it is a scene of superlatives. Within the perimeters of this island chain are some of the world’s best surfing waves, highest sea cliffs and most active volcanoes. More than 90 percent of the islands’ plants and animals are found nowhere else on the planet. Coupled with the presence of 21 of earth’s 22 climatic zones, Hawaii becomes a genuine discovery.
A mere toddler by geological standards, this string of islands was formed by volcanic activity, with eruptions continuing to this day. But it is Hawaii’s history, immersed in royal roots, that sets the island state far apart from its mainland sisters.
Hawaii’s background is one of persistent transformation — from a former kingdom, republic and territory — to a state on August 21, 1959. Evidence of its colorful mosaic past is apparent with a mere glimpse of its calendar of events — Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival, Chinese New Year, the Fourth of July, Buddha’s Birthday and an entire day devoted to the aloha symbol, the lei.
When descending the clouds upon air arrival, the first peek of any Hawaiian island is a vision . . . a land mass rimmed by shimmering white halos of finely-sifted sand, the sapphire intensity of the surrounding sea and the emerald hue of verdant vegetation.
And if landing on the Big Island at Kona’s lunar-scaped airport (decorated in moon-like fashion thanks to volcanic activity), it appears incomprehensible that abundant orchids and towering waterfalls are within miles. But this initial impression would be wrong.
The Biggest Island
Hawaii: Nicknamed the Big Island because of sheer size, this 4,000-square-mile island offers the state’s greatest acreage (twice the size of Delaware) and consequently, its most diverse geography. From Mauna Kea’s snow-capped peaks and Kilauea’s volcanic lava beds to the desert of Kau and the rain forest of Hamakua, the Big Island is a study in contrasts. The colors of the beaches themselves are diverse: shades of gold and black, even green and red.
This island is defined by two very different towns, Hilo and Kailua-Kona. Though it is the Big Island’s largest settlement, Hilo serves as a time machine of ark proportion. It is old Hawaii, representing a period when life wasn’t defined by BlackBerrys and Bluetooths. Conversely, Kona is abundant with restaurants, shops, hotels and historical stops mixed with modern tourist sites.
It is no secret that the island’s ultimate tourist attraction gives the rare opportunity to watch nature’s supreme fireworks show. Kilauae, an active volcano situated at the heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, has erupted the past quarter of a century.
But the Big Island’s man-made attractions are additionally addictive.
Featuring 20 courses, the island is called the “Golf Capital of Hawaii,” a notable distinction in a land renowned for the sport. In this setting of lush green fairways, pure white bunkers, jet-black lava flows and turquoise Pacific waters, it’s been said if a golfer hits a bad shot, he can blame it on these tropical distractions — for the views surely justify a mulligan.
LFM Hawaiian Island Personality
Island by Island
Oahu: Home to the state capital, the financial center of Honolulu and world-renowned Waikiki Beach, Oahu is the most visited of the islands — it is the indisputable hub of Hawaii. A days-on-the-beach, nights-on-the-town kind of place, Iolani Palace (the only royal residence on U. S. soil) and Hawaii’s World War II legacies (the USS Arizona, Battleship USS Missouri and the military burial site in the dormant volcano Punch Bowl) are among the island’s most visited attractions, in addition to multitudinous eateries and evening haunts.
Maui: Maui has a colorful past. When Kamehameha I united all the islands in 1802, he made Lahaina the capital. Soon afterward, missionaries and whalers arrived and were followed by Asian workers imported to farm the island’s massive sugar cane plantations. This assortment of settlers set the stage for a unique paradise. Today’s visitors have “made-in-Maui” opportunities — whale watching in winter, golfing where the professionals play and biking from the top of a 10,000-foot mountain crater.
Kauai: From the rugged Na Pali coast to the dramatic 3,000-foot Waimea Canyon (rivaling Arizona’s Grand Canyon), the island’s once-in-a-lifetime wonders have additionally set it apart as a movie location — more than 60 movies have been filmed on Kauai. It’s where Mitzi Gaynor sang “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” in the film “South Pacific” and where dinosaurs roamed in “Jurassic Park.”
Kauai best translates to romance. It is on the Garden Island that flat-bottom boats negotiate Wailua River to reach the Fern Grotto, where the Elvis Presley movie “Blue Hawaii” made it is customary for guests to join hands during the routine rendition of the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”
Mahalo and Aloha
Hawaii is known as the Rainbow State because of its frequency of this natural phenomenon, where rainbows routinely arch over her valleys, cliffs and beaches. Like inviting beacons, they serve as signs of continual welcome.