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Have some big-time fun on the Big Island

by Katie Pebley, People & Places editor


Whoever invented the fall semester forgot something important: fall break. For those who can’t wait until Christmas vacation to escape O‘ahu and schoolwork, maybe a weekend getaway to the Big Island is in order.

With exploding volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, black-sand beaches, and waterfalls everywhere you look, the Big Island is by far

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the most diverse in the Hawaiian chain. It is so large that all the other islands combined could fit inside it. With the lava still flowing, now is a great time to explore the island, especially if you’ve never been there before.

Airfare to the Big Island is $130 roundtrip on Aloha or Hawaiian with the two main airports being Hilo and Keahole (near Kailua-Kona). Make sure to check the travel section of the paper for weekly specials though, as many packages offer air, room, and car for only $25 more than a plane ticket by itself. Having a rental car is necessary to see the island, but be prepared to pay an extra $20 a day if you’re under 25. Gas prices are higher than O‘ahu, with the Kona Coast being $.15 more a gallon than Hilo.Seeing both sides of the Big Island is mandatory, but be sure to gas up appropriately.

The best way to see the Big Island is to start at one side and make a complete circle around. It’s impossible to see everything in one day though, so if you start early in Hilo, try spending the night in Kona (or vice versa). The following are some must-see stopping points for your weekend adventure.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes Park
Less than 30 miles south of Hilo, Hawai‘i Volcanoes Park is home to Kilauea and its most recent lava flows. Make sure to bring water and walking shoes. The entrance fee, $10 per car, is well worth it. Once inside, the 40-mile roundtrip drive takes you past sulphur banks, steam vents, Halema‘uma‘u Crater Overlook, the Thurston Lava Tube, the 1982 Lava Flow, and much more.

The drive ends where lava blocked the road in 1995. From there, a 30-minute walk will take you to flowing lava. Breathing conditions are poor with “vog” (a local term for volcanic fog), and water is not available. Join the crowd and make the pilgrimage towards the newest lava; park guides will be there to point you in the right direction. Make sure to wear your shoes, since the old lava you will be walking on is still very hot. Contrary from popular belief, you won’t get to see the lava falling into the ocean. If this is something you must do, though, there are helicopter tours available from the Hilo airport that will fly you right over the lava; get ready to empty out your wallet for that adventure.

Black Sand Beach
Seeing a black sand beach is, for many people, the best part of the trip to the Big Island. Made out of volcanic rocks, the black and green sands of Punalu‘u Beach are worth the drive. Located about two hours away from both Hilo and Kona, the beach offers campsites, snorkeling, swimming, and bodyboarding.

Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park
One of the neatest things about the Big Island is its sense of history. Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, located on Kona’s southern coast, is an ancient place of refuge definitely worth seeing. Old wooden tiki carvings and heiau buildings surround the beach, and turtles sunbathe on the shoreline rocks. It’s a beautiful place to stop and watch the sunset, known to be gorgeous on the Kona coast. On-site interpreters are available to give you insight on the role of pu‘uhonua in ancient days. This sanctuary is the best preserved and most important in the islands because it is linked to the Kamehameha dynasty.

White Sands Beach Park
Located just a few miles south of Kailua-Kona, this beach is absolutely gorgeous. The water is crystal clear, and the waves are perfect for a little afternoon body surfing. During the winter, bigger waves come in and suck away the sand, giving the beach the nickname of “Disappearing Sands.” The beach looks like a postcard, complete with swaying palm trees and a sand volleyball court. The island’s only annual bodysurfing contest is held here; stop by and you’ll see why.

If you want to drink and party the night away, Kailua-Kona is the place to do it. “Waterfront Row” on Ali’i Drive is home to a wide selection of bars lining both sides of the street with Pancho Leftys, Bubba Gump’s, Hard Rock Café, and many more Kona originals. With a party atmosphere much like that of Front Street in Lahaina, this a great place to hit a few watering holes with your buddies. Be sure to “shop around” the bars for drink specials, or a night out on the town will set you back a pretty penny. Don’t be discouraged, because nearly every bar offers a decent drink special. My favorite spot for example, Dirty Jakes, offers any two bottles of beer for $5.50. If you’re a real college tightwad and would prefer not to pay for beer at all, head over to the Kona Brewery, where tour visitors drink for free. Although the volume of complimentary drink is not staggering and might not satisfy all tastes, it is tough to argue with free. Don’t forget to bring valid proof of age because the brewery will absolutely not serve beer to those without identification.


Waikaloa Resort
Located approximately 35-40 minutes north of Kailua-Kona, the Hilton Waikaloa is quite possibly Hawai‘i’s finest vacation destination. The resort has an array of art and sculpture from many different cultures that impresses art lovers and passers-by alike. If it is not a cultural experience you are after, don’t fear: this great resort offers ample opportunities for relaxation.

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With several lagoons, waterfalls, and numerous pools and waterslides, you can surely find a quiet place to calm your fall-term blues. An especially great place to wind down is in the hammocks stung up between the palm trees throughout the resort. Most students, myself included, do not have the financial means needed to stay at this resort, since room rates start at $209 a night. However, the resort is so big and sprawling it is literally impossible to distinguish between hotel guests and visitors. So, act like you’re supposed to be there, and live the life of a grown up on a college budget. While you’re enjoying yourself, have a beer served to you poolside – it will only set you back $5.

For those that think the largest privately held cattle ranch is in Texas, your guess, simply put, is all bull. The largest cattle ranch in the United States is on the Big Island. Encompassing over 220,000 acres and 50,000 heads of cattle, Parker Ranch is the place to come for fresh air and wide-open space. This is the home of the paniolos, otherwise known as Hawaiian cowboys. Waimea is a great location to take in and marvel at the wonders of a real live rodeo. Everything from calf roping to bull riding is included in the show, much like it was 100 years ago. For those uninterested in the life of a cowboy, Waimea is still a quaint town that is worth checking out. With several mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, it provides an opportunity to escape western tourism and take a step back in time. If you’re hungry, try a piece of local beef at the Paniolo Country Inn, located in the heart of town.


Akaka Falls
Twenty miles north of Hilo is the majestic 442-foot Akaka Falls. Nearly every waterfall on O‘ahu requires at least a 30-minute hike to reach. This waterfall location is designed especially for those who are lazy or do not enjoy hiking. In three to five minutes you can be taking in its asplendid precense.

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Far superior to any on O‘ahu in terms of height and water flow, it is a must see for waterfall lovers. Another five-minute walk down the way leads to Kahuna Falls, another magnificent sight. Keep in mind this is a tourist attraction and likely you will not be the only person there. The one draw back of this waterfall location is that there is no swimming or wading in the pool, as it is impossible to reach by foot.

Hilo is, more or less, a place to land, to pick up your rental car, and to be on your way. With little to do here, staying more than one day would not maximize your Big Island experience. If you do however become hungry in your passing through Hilo, stop in to “Ken’s 24-hour Pancake House,” the only 24-hour restaurant on the island, or at KK’s Place, reviewed by Playboy magazine. Worth mentioning, though, is the nearby Rainbow Falls and Kaumana Caves. Many times, rainbows will appear through the mist of the falling water, giving the falls its nickname. The Kaumana Caves, just a two-mile drive past Rainbow Falls, take only a few minutes to check out. The caves were formed between two lava tubes by an 1881 lava flow. Bring a flashlight and some good walking shoes – with the amount of rain Hilo gets, the caves can be a bit slippery.

Mauna Kea
The thought of snowboarding in Hawai‘i seems too good to be true. But here on the Big Island, anything is possible. Mauna Kea reaches 13,796 feet and at that height, it snows no matter where in the world you are. Although there currently isn’t any fresh powder, some will be coming in the approaching winter months. To get to the snow, you’re going to need a car with 4-wheel-drive. And since there are no lifts, be prepared to either hike or take turns driving down to pick up your friends The road to Mauna Kea is a gorgeous stretch known as Saddle Road. Although most rental car companies forbid taking their cars on this road, what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Before even beginning the mountain climb, the road takes you to about 7,000 feet, where the air is already below 60 degrees. Along the way expect to pass grasslands, lava flows, and desert-like open space. Keep your eyes open for nene; Hawai‘i’s state bird loves this part of the island.

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