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Hawai‘i Island

Both East and West Hawai‘i Island provide good bases for touring. Hilo is well situated for excursions to the Hāmākua Coast, Mauna Kea, the Puna district, and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park – a highlight on any visitor’s itinerary, with Kīlauea Caldera and its active lava rifts. Hilo itself is charming but very rainy, averaging 130 inches per year. Travelers who prefer their days bone dry head for Kailua-Kona on the island’s burgeoning west side. From here there is access to the South Kohala resorts to the north, the Parker Ranch country of Waimea, Kona coffee country to the south, and many well-preserved ancient sites, including Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau.

POINTS OF INTEREST

KAILUA-KONA

Referred to locally as “Kona”, this town is the center of the island’s “Gold Coast”. Within a two-block span along oceanfront Ali‘i Drive are sites that played a role in some of the most important moments in Hawai‘i’s history, from the unification of the islands to the advent of Christianity. Kailua-Kona’s tourist strip does little to obscure these vivid reminders of Hawaiian history. Built out into Kailua Bay is Ahu‘ena Heiau, an ancient temple dedicated to the god Lono. It was restored by Kamehameha the Great, whose residence was next to the temple.

In 1820, the first party of missionaries landed at Kailua- Kona. They built the original Moku‘aikaua Church on Ali‘i Drive. The present lofty, granite church dates from 1837. A modest museum at the rear offers a scale model of the missionaries’ brig, Thaddeus. Across the street, Hulihe‘e Palace was built at the same time of similar rough-stone construction. In 1885, King Kalākaua beautified the little building, which now serves as a museum. It takes a candid look at the lifestyle of the monarchy in its heyday. Kailua-Kona, so named to distinguish it from Kailua on O‘ahu, is synonymous with sportfishing. Charter boats offer year-round opportunities to fish for marlin and other ocean giants. In October, the town is overrun by endurance athletes who compete in the grueling Ironman Triathlon. The sunny coastline is dotted with small beaches good for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Kahalu‘u Beach, 4.5 miles (7 km) south of Kailua, provides snorkelers with the island’s finest natural aquarium.

HŌLUALOA

A 15-minute drive up the winding and scenic Hualalai Road from Highway 19, on the slopes of Mount Hualalai, lies Hōlualoa. Set in the heart of the Kona coffee belt, coffee is its main focus, as attested by the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. Artists also add their flavor to the town. Long before tourism took hold, many immigrants settled here to work on the coffee plantations and vegetable farms and Hōlualoa was a thriving town full of hotels, restaurants, and general stores to provide for their needs. Some of these stores still operate today. Kimura Lauhala Shop began as a general store in 1915 but became famous for its lauhala hats woven from the leaves of the pandanus tree. The Kimura family still runs the store. Hōlualoa’s main street is lined with galleries that present works by many of the island’s most well-known artists.

KEALAKEKUA BAY

In 1778, Captain Cook sailed into this deep, protected bay, “discovering” Hawai‘i. He was honored as the returning Hawaiian god Lono, but less than a month later was killed here. Hikiau Heiau, where Cook was honored, is at the road’s end. A monument marks where he died. The bay, a State Marine Life Preserve with an abundance of fish, sea turtles, and spinner dolphins, offers excellent diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.

HO‘OKENA

In 1889, when author Robert Louis Stevenson asked to see a classic Hawaiian village, King Kalākaua sent him to Ho‘okena. In those days, the town could boast churches, a school, a court-house, and a pier from which cattle were shipped to market in Honolulu. Today, besides weatherbeaten houses and beach shacks, only lava walls and the ruined pier survive as reminders of its more prosperous past.

The center of life, then as now, is beautiful Kauhakō Bay, with its gray-sand beach backed dramatically by long cliffs. The water teems with sea life, and there is excellent snorkeling and diving. However, the surf can be rough, and wearing foot protection is recommended.

KEKAHA KAI STATE PARK

North of Kailua, the road runs through barren lava fields, the aftermath of an 1801 eruption of Mount Hualālai. In places, road and landscape are distinguishable only by their relative smoothness. The state park, with its picnic shelters and sinuous beach of salt-and-pepper sand, is an oasis in this distorted wasteland. It is an excellent spot for swimming, snorkeling, diving, and, when the conditions are right, surfing. Just before the park entrance, a dirt road on the right leads 1.5 miles (2.5 km) to isolated Makalawena, a beautiful beach with dunes and coves for snorkeling. Turtles, dolphins, and seals frequent these waters, as well as whales.

WAIKOLOA COAST

Waikoloa Beach Resort has built itself around one of this coast’s best family recreational areas, coconut-rimmed ‘Anaeho’omalu Bay. The beach at “A-Bay” is calm, with a gradual, sandy bottom. Water sports equipment, including kayaks and sailboats, can be rented from the beach hut, and lessons in windsurfing and scuba diving are offered. Boat dives and cruises are also available. From the beach, coastal trails lead to fish ponds, caves, and natural pools in which salt and fresh water mix to form unique ecosystems. A short walk north of the beach is Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort, a 62-acre fantasy resort built in 1988 at a cost of $360 million. Silent monorails and canal boats provide transportation around the resort. Visitors can view the impressive art collection and explore the artificial beach, lagoon, and waterfall. At the dolphin pool, both guests and visitors can swim with the resort’s trained dolphins. Also within the resort, the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort fronts ancient fishponds along A-Bay and is a short walk from a restored heiau (temple).

MAUNA LANI

The vast resort at Mauna Lani includes two luxury hotels, a couple of award-winning golf courses, several tennis courts, and small, white-sand beaches. It also encloses sites of cultural importance. Kalāhuipua‘a Trail – a 20-minute hike, usually through blazing sunshine – winds past petroglyphs, lava tubes, and ancient habitation sites, ending at several ancient fish ponds. A coastal trail from here leads about a mile (1.5 km) south to Honoka‘ope Bay, a sheltered swimming and snorkeling spot. At the northern end of the resort, a shorter shady trail leads to the Puakō Petroglyphs. These are an expanse of crusty red lava plates that were engraved with more than 3,000 symbols between AD 1000 and 1800. Wear sturdy shoes.

WAIMEA

Waimea’s setting amid sprawling pasture land at a cool elevation of 2,700 ft (820 m) is a startling contrast to Hilo’s rainforest and the Kona Coast’s lava flats. By Hawai‘i Island standards, Waimea is a large, modern town. On the edge of town is the Keck Observatory Center, with the world’s most powerful telescopes. In the middle of town, the Parker Ranch Visitor Center offers a short video and an eloquent collection of artifacts that tells the history of paniolo (cowboy) culture and provides an insight into the tempestuous and influential Parker family. The Historic Parker Ranch Homes include Puopelu, a ranch house with a Regency interior and a respectable collection of European art, and Mānā Hale, the Parkers’ original home, which has a display of family photographs.

PU‘UHONUA O HŌNAUNAU NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK

From the 11th century on, social interactions were regulated by the kapu (taboo) system. Violent death was the consequence of infractions, which ranged from stepping on a chief’s shadow to women eating bananas. Lawbreakers could escape punishment, however, by reaching a pu‘uhonua (place of refuge). The greatest of these was at Hōnaunau, a six-acre temple compound dating from the 16th century that offered absolution to all who managed to run or swim past the chief’s warriors. The sanctuary was stripped of power in 1819, after the fall of the kapu system. Partially restored, it now provides a glimpse into pre-contact Hawai‘i.

HĀPUNA BAY

An expanse of white sand, both broad and deep, makes Hāpuna Bay the most popular beach on Hawai‘i Island. With its clean, sandy bottom, the bay offers excellent swimming, snorkeling, and diving conditions. When the waves are active, surfers and body-boarders flock here, and it is generally a good spot for beginners to acquire some wave-riding skills. The water should be approached with caution, however; strong currents have resulted in several drownings. On the beach, there are places to rent snorkel sets and boogie boards, and posts staffed by lifeguards throughout the day. Hāpuna Beach State Recreation Area, which surrounds the beach, provides cabins for overnight stays, as well as a snack bar and picnic tables at which visitors can enjoy their own food. About 1 mile (1.5 km) north of the bay, accessed via the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, is the lovely, crescent-shaped Kauna‘oa Beach, with fine conditions for swimming and snorkeling most of the year. One of the most photographed beaches on the island, this stretch of sand was once the playground of ali‘i (Hawaiian royalty).

PU‘UKOHOLĀ HEIAU NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

In 1790, Kamehameha I had reached an impasse in his drive to unify the island chain. On the advice of an oracle, he undertook the construction of Pu‘ukoholā Heiau, dedicated to Kūkā‘ilimoku, his family war god, which was destined to become the last such temple ever built. For the dedication ceremonies, the crafty king invited his rival Keoua, the chief of Ka‘ū. As Keoua stepped out of his canoe, he was slaughtered and carried to the new altar to serve as its first sacrifice. Today, the massive monument stands undamaged on a hilltop overlooking Kawaihae Bay. Below it are the ruins of Mailekini Heiau, built for Kamehameha’s ancestors. A third heiau, Haleokapuni, dedicated to shark gods, is believed to lie submerged in the waters below. Sacrifices left here would soon have become shark fodder. An easy trail runs down past the first two heiau from the visitor center. Immediately south of the heiau is Spencer Beach County Park, a popular spot for camping, snorkeling, and diving. The clean beach and calm waters make it a great area for children. Operated by the National Park Service, it includes a visitor center where park rangers provide information and you can pick up a map of points of interest.

LAPAKAHI STATE HISTORICAL PARK

The ruins of this large settlement provide a glimpse into the daily life of an old Hawaiian fishing village. Established in the 14th century, the village was inhabited for 500 years – until a falling water table and changing economic conditions caused the natives to abandon their homes. Some thatched walls and roofs are gone; others have been restored to their original appearance. The lava foundations, hālau (canoe sheds), kū‘ula ko‘a (fishing shrines), and a kōnane stone board – game remain undamaged.

HĀWĪ

The town of Hāwī had its heyday during the era of “King Cane,” when five sugar plantations brought prosperity to Kohala, the island’s northern district. After the mills closed in 1975, Hāwī was left to dwindle to its present size. These days it is a pleasant town to wander through, with its wooden sidewalks and brightly painted storefronts. Hāwī’s grassy, windswept surroundings and relaxed charm now attract a new breed of citizen – the town currently offers a health-food store and a handful of trendy eateries.

KAPA‘AU

The small town of Kapa‘au contains the original statue of Kamehameha the Great, a much-photographed replica of which stands in front of Ali‘iōlani Hale in Honolulu. King Kalakaua commissioned the bronze sculpture in 1878. Cast in Paris, France, the statue was thought lost when the ship carrying it to Hawai‘i sank. A new statue was commissioned and cast and this is the one that now stands in Honolulu. However, the original statue was found and arrived in the islands a few weeks after the first was installed on O‘ahu. So it was brought to Kapa‘au, historically known as the birthplace of Kamehameha I. A large boulder labeled Kamehameha Rock can be found on the roadside heading east of town. Legend has it that the big chief once carried it to prove his strength; whole road crews have failed to move it since! Nearby, the intricately painted Tong Wo Society building is the last of its kind on Hawai‘i Island. Immigrant Chinese communities once relied on clubs like this to provide social cohesion.

KOHALA MOUNTAIN ROAD

The 20-mile (32-km) drive from Hāwī to Waimea follows the western ridge of low, worn Kohala Mountain. It is a beautiful, cool and breezy drive. This narrow, twisting, tree-lined road provides breathtaking vistas and constantly changing scenery. The landscapes range from lush green hills and rolling pastures to black lava rock and distant beaches. A good place to stop and enjoy the dramatic panoramic views of the entire North Kohala coastline is at the Kohala Mountain Road lookout, which gives a sense of the awesome size of Hawai‘i island. This is ranch land, and the scenic drive gives views of elegant ranch houses, cattle and horses grazing in deep grass, and occasional vistas of the north Kohala Coast. Parker Ranch is the largest operation in this area, and, in fact, the largest privately-owned cattle ranch in the United States. Its origins date right back to the early years of Western discovery and a young American adventurer named John Palmer Parker. In 1809, Parker befriended Kamehameha I and eventually married one of the king’s granddaughters. He established a small dynasty that shaped the history of the Kohala district. Today, the ranch covers a tenth of the island and supports 35,000 head of cattle.

WAIPI‘O VALLEY

If any particular spot could be designated the spiritual heartland of ancient Hawai‘i, it would have to be Waipi‘o, or the “Valley of the Kings.” The largest of seven enormous amphitheater valleys that punctuate this windward stretch of coast, Waipi‘o measures 1 mile (1.5 km) wide at the sea and extends nearly 6 miles (10 km) inland. Its steep walls, laced with waterfalls, including the stupendous Hi‘ilawe cascade, rise as high as 2,000 ft (600 m). Waipi‘o Stream slices the lush valley floor, courses through fertile taro fields, and empties into the rough sea across a wide black-sand beach. The road from the stunning lookout at the end of Highway 240 down to the valley floor is only a mile (1.5 km) long, but its steepness limits access to four-wheel-drive vehicles; on foot, the trip takes about 30 minutes. Shuttle tours, even one in a mule-drawn surrey, are available at the tiny village of Kukuihaele, and nearby stables offer horseback trips. In pre-contact days, Waipi‘o supported a population of over 10,000. A sacred place, the valley contained important heiau, including a pu‘uhonua (place of refuge) equal to that at Hōnaunau. The valley was Kamehameha the Great’s boyhood playground. It was here that he received the sponsorship of his terrifying war god Kūkā‘ilimoku, and that he defeated his cousin and rival Keoua. Today, Waipi‘o’s few inhabitants cultivate taro, lotus, avocado, breadfruit, and citrus, and earnestly protect Hawai‘i’s ancient spirit.

HONOKA’A

A 15-mile (24-km) drive from Waipi‘o Valley, this quaint rural town is actually one of the largest on the Hāmākua Coast. It has one hotel, bed and breakfast accommodations, shops, boutiques, and restaurants. The town also boasts art galleries, antique stores, a macadamia nut factory, a movie theater, and a nine-hole golf course. This small community is home to the Honoka‘a People’s Theater. Built in 1930 on the town’s main thoroughfare, Mamane Street, the renovated theater now shows movies on a big screen and also hosts the Hawai‘i International Film Festival and the Hāmākua Music Festival. Held each fall, the music festival features renowned Jazz, Classical, and Hawaiian folk musicians such as Eric Marienthal, Gene Harris, Ray Brown, and Kenny Burrell.

HĀMĀKUA COAST

The verdant cliffs lining the island’s windward coast are stunning on the drive along the Hawai‘i Belt Road (Hwy 19). With dozens of side roads begging investigation, you can easily spend a day traveling the 55 miles (89 km) between Waimea and Hilo. This stretch has been designated the Hilo-Hāmākua Heritage Coast due to the area’s historic and cultural significance. Look out for brown-and-white signs on the Hawai‘i Belt Road as these indicate specific points of interest situated along the way. High in the hills south of Honoka‘a is Kalōpā State Recreation Area. This has a native forest nature trail and a small arboretum of Hawaiian and introduced plants. Twelve miles (19 km) farther on is Laupāhoehoe Point, a lush lava outcrop that juts into the pounding sea, providing stupendous views along the coast. A sizable village once existed here but was destroyed by the 1946 tsunami. At Kolekole Beach County Park, south of mile marker 15, a delightful stream tumbles into the ocean, making this a popular picnic and swimming spot.

WORLD BOTANICAL GARDENS

World Botanical Gardens, just north of Hilo on an expanse of former sugarcane fields, is Hawai‘i’s largest botanical garden. Featuring 5,000 species, it includes the spectacular three-tiered 300-ft (90-m) Umauma Falls. The viewing area for Umauma Falls is reached by a short walk through the rainforest along a flower-lined path that follows a stream. Although only in development since 1995, the site is abundant with fruits, flowers, trees, medicinal plants, and lush greenery. There is also a large children’s maze.

SADDLE ROAD

To drive the 55-mile (89-km) Saddle Road linking Hilo and Waimea is to drive along the shoulders of giants. The jumbled peaks of Mauna Kea rise to the north, while broad Mauna Loa looms to the south, the road following the trough where the two mountains collide. Some car rental companies ban drivers from taking the Saddle Road, an “unimproved” two-lane highway, but the road is better than they make out. As long as you drive at a reasonable speed, and in daylight, this is not a hazardous trip. Drivers get a close-up look at the ecological forces at work on the island’s interior – the cool rainforests of Hilo district, dominated by ‘ōhi‘a trees, koa, and huge ferns; the subalpine lava fields at the road’s 6,500-ft (2,000-m) summit; and the vast, parched grasslands on the Waimea side. Much of the traffic is generated by two sizable military installations. The highest vantage point from which to view the imposing terrain is a weather station situated 11,000 ft (3,350 m) above sea level. It is reached along a narrow paved road that begins near the summit of Saddle Road and climbs for 17 miles (27 km) up Mauna Loa. The 45-minute drive is hard work (loosening the gas tank cap helps to prevent vapor lock at this altitude), but the reward is the spectacular view across Saddle Road to Mauna Kea. Starting at the weather station, an extremely rugged trail – a four- to six-hour hike – leads to the crater on the summit of Mauna Loa, at 13,677 ft (4,169 m).

MAUNA KEA

Midway between Hilo and Waimea, an unmarked but well-paved road climbs up Mauna Kea, winding through a native māmane forest that has been severely damaged by the predations of wild goats and sheep. The road rises so steeply that most cars crawl up the 15-minute drive to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. Here, a small visitor center, named after the Konaborn astronaut who died in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, offers the solace of shelter with refreshments. It also has informative displays about the ecology of Mauna Kea and a video about its observatories. There are impressive views, too, but the panorama is better still from the summit. Driving to the very top of Mauna Kea is impossible, however, without a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The alternative is to go on foot. The 4,600-ft (1,400-m) climb is a tough 6-mile (10-km) hike. The route to the summit takes in several remarkable sites: the Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve, with a quarry where the ancient Hawaiians obtained the rock used for making their axlike tools, or adzes; Moon Valley, where Apollo astronauts practiced driving their lunar rover in the 1960s; Lake Waiau, the third-highest lake in the US; and Pu‘u Poli‘ahu, the legendary abode of Pele’s sister Poli‘ahu, the goddess of snow. Mauna Kea is crowned with a cluster of astronomical domes, including the W.M. Keck Observatory. Research teams from the US, Canada, France, and the UK are based here, collecting new information about the cosmos.

‘AKAKA FALLS STATE PARK

Two of the state’s most hypnotic waterfalls have been packaged for easy viewing at ‘Akaka Falls State Park, in the hills above the Hāmākua Coast. A loop trail, taking less than half an hour, links the 400-ft (120-m) Kahūnā Falls to ‘Akaka Falls, an unbroken cascade of 420 ft (130 m). At the main lookout, the roar of water almost drowns out the incessant clicking of cameras. At the edge of the path, you can see the entire length of the falls from top to bottom, including the pool below, yet not get wet from the spray. The waterfalls apart, the breezy 66-acre park alone is worth the visit. Paths wind through a rich blend of trees, vines, bamboo, ginger, orchids, and other exotic plants, accompanied by the cooling sounds of rushing streams. The access road veers off Highway 19 at the welcoming old sugar town of Honomū, which has dwindled from its 1930s population of 3,000 to just over 500 today. The residents have kept the small main street alive, with the Ishigo General Store and Bakery (established 1910) and several other weathered wooden buildings serving as cafés and gift shops. The Honomū Henjoji Mission, a temple of the Buddhist Shingon Esoteric sect, was founded in the 1920s and has a sanctuary richly ornamented in black lacquer and gold. The signs inviting visitors to come in are sincerely meant.

PEPE‘EKEO SCENIC DRIVE

This 4-mile (6.5-km) scenic detour off the Hawai‘i Belt Road plunges into tropical growth, crossing waterfall-fed streams and shaded by vine-draped palms and mango, banana, and hala trees. Halfway along the drive, at beautiful Onomea Bay, the Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden has trails meandering through a patch of rainforest that includes a lily pond and a vast array of tropical plants.

MAUNA LOA

Mauna Loa, or “Long Mountain”, is the largest volcano on earth and one of the most active. One of five volcanoes that form Hawai‘i Island, it covers the entire southern half of the island. It is 60 miles (95 km) long and 30 miles (50 km) wide and rises to 13,677 ft (4,169 m) above sea level. Mauna Loa’s summit is protected as part of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Since its first documented eruption in 1843, Mauna Loa has erupted more than 33 times, most recently in 1984. It is a shield volcano, with gently sloping inclines that have been created from successive lava flows oozing from the earth’s crust. The caldera at the summit, Moku‘aweoweo, is more than 3 miles (5 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.5 km) wide, with 600-ft (180-m) walls. Kilauea, an extremely active volcano with areas of continually moving lava, lies on Mauna Loa’s southeast flank.

HILO

With 43,000 residents, significant shipping and fishing industries out of its large bay, and a campus of the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo rightfully deserves its designation as the state’s second city. In spirit, though, “rainy old Hilo” couldn’t be more different from sunny, urban Honolulu. The downtown buildings, many of them beautifully restored, were mostly constructed in the early 1900s; the streets are quiet, the pace is slow, and the atmosphere is low-key. Local attractions include gardens, waterfalls, beach parks, and fish ponds.

Many of the brightly colored, restored buildings of the old business district, clustered next to the Wailuku River, are listed with the National Register of Historic Places. Look out for the Hawaiian Telephone Company building, which combines aspects of the traditional Hawaiian house (hale) and Californian mission architecture; its designer, C.W. Dickey, is credited with developing Hawaiian Regional Architecture. Hilo Downtown Improvement Association offers visitor information.

PĀHOA

The main strip of Pāhoa, the central town of the Puna district, offers a double surprise – “Wild West”-style buildings with raised boardwalks and low awnings that have been reinterpreted along psychedelic themes. Shops sell hemp products, espresso coffee, and New Age books. The popular Akebono Theater (built in 1917) has been kept alive to host a busy schedule of rock and reggae concerts. Three miles (5 km) southeast of Pāhoa, a state-sponsored geothermal energy project has attempted to derive electricity from the heat of the world’s most active volcano. However, a public outcry over environmental damage has embroiled the project in legal controversy.

KAPOHO

In 1960, the town of Kapoho was destroyed by lava that spewed from a fire fountain 2,600 ft (795 m) wide. Today, the eerie devastation can be crossed on a 2-mile (3-km) cinder road leading to Cape Kumukahi, where a light-tower was inexplicably spared when the flow parted. Volcanic activity in Kapoho is a source of local legends: one tells of a local chief who challenged a beautiful young woman to a sled race down Kapoho Crater and found to his shock that he was competing with the volcano goddess, Pele, riding on a wave of lava. In 1790, one such wave surged through a nearby forest, leaving ‘ōhi‘a trunks sheathed in black stone. Today, only the hollowed-out casts, or “lava trees,” remain, but new trees have grown back. Together they make up the Lava Tree State Monument, a shady park with a trail around the casts. This serene spot will be best enjoyed if you bring your mosquito repellent.

PUNA LAVA FLOWS

Narrow highway 137 traces the Puna coastline along the base of Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone. Here, the dense foliage occasionally breaks into solidified lava flows, mute reminders that Puna residents live by the grace of Madam Pele’s fury. At Ahalanui Beach Park, a natural thermal spring in a coconut grove has been adapted into a 60-ft (18-m) wide seaside swimming pool. With a sandy bottom and waves crashing against the pool’s edge, this is the best place to swim in the district. Isaac Hale Beach Park features camping, a small boat ramp, and a rugged beach with a respectable surf break. MacKenzie State Recreation Area, a clifftop campsite set in an ironwood forest, gives access to an old Hawaiian coastal trail and a long lava tube. Southwest of here the Puna coastal road ends with shocking abruptness where the roadway, and indeed the entire countryside, has been obliterated by congealed piles of lava. In 1990, this flow erased the town of Kalapana and a much-loved black-sand beach called Kaimū.

VOLCANO VILLAGE

Cut into the ‘ōhi‘a rainforest of Mauna Loa’s high windward slopes, this village lies just a mile (1.5 km) outside the entrance to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. The village has a general store and a gas station (the only one in the area) and makes a good provisioning stop before entering the park.

KA‘Ū DISTRICT

The long southern arc of the Hawai‘i Belt Road (Hwy 11) between Volcano Village and Kailua- Kona traverses the vast and sparsely populated Ka‘ū district. Three very small towns are located here. Agricultural Pāhala, where macadamia nuts, sugar cane, and oranges are grown, is a quiet place where the only commotion might be the occasional crowing of roosters. Nā‘ālehu, the most southerly town in the United States, is Ka‘ū’s largest town, with a few small shops. Tiny Wai‘ōhinu is known for a monkeypod tree that Mark Twain planted in 1866. The original tree fell in a storm in 1957 but has since grown again from shoots. The gem of the south coast is Punalu’u Beach Park, where a pure black-sand beach is crowded with coconut trees. Visitors may camp here and at Whittington Beach Park, 5 miles (8 km) farther south.

KA LAE

Also known as South Point, Ka Lae is as far south as you can travel in the United States. Constant fierce winds drive against a battered grassland that gives way finally to a rocky shoreline. Halfway along the 11-mile (18-km) access road, three rows of enormous, propeller-driven electricity generators emit a repetitive music of almost maddening whistles. It all feels suitably like the ends of the earth. Although the powerful waves are daunting, these have long been prime fishing grounds. The mooring holes that ancient Hawaiians drilled into the coastal rocks so that they could keep their canoes safe while they went fishing are still visible – providing some of the earliest recorded evidence of Polynesian settlement. A four-wheel-drive road runs 2.5 miles (4 km) northeast, to Green Sands Beach, which is composed of olivine sand.

HAWAI‘I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

The national park encompasses about a quarter of a million acres, including the 13,677-ft (4,169-m) summit of Mauna Loa, 150 miles (240 km) of hiking trails, and vast tracts of wilderness that preserve some of the world’s rarest species of flora and fauna. But it is Kīlauea Caldera and the lava flows of its furious East Rift Zone that draw most visitors. Two roads – Crater Rim Drive, which loops around the caldera, and Chain of Craters Road, which descends through the recent outpourings – form a gigantic drive-through museum. The present eruption started in 1983. Check for viewing conditions before you visit; since lava flow, sulfur dioxide gas, and other hazards may restrict access. You should also stay out of closed areas. It is unknown how long the flow will continue or when it will next erupt.