Hawaii is renowned for its hospitality, so I thought it would be rude to cross the Pacific Ocean without stopping by for a brief visit. I’m glad I did. The two weeks I stayed there was packed with awesome, and I’d like to share it with you in this Hawaii guide! Aloha!
Small print: These experiences are perfectly personal. Your perceived levels of awesome may vary. If they drop beneath fun, then you have only your boring self to blame as Hawaii offers everyone equal opportunity for awesome.
The Varied Nature of the Big Island
I spent my two weeks in Hawaii on the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands, ingeniously names ‘The Big Island’. It is actually the tip of a huge mountain, starting from the bottom of the sea and rises 4200 metres above sea level.
The island is divided into the wet east, which gets all the rain, and the dry west, which gets little to no rain. The temperature varies from a tropical heat at the beaches to a freezing snowy cold at the mountaintop. These two gradients give rise to an astounding variation of climates. In fact, the Big Island has eleven of the thirteen climate zones on Earth, only missing the Arctic and Saharan.
The Big Island is breathtakingly beautiful. The endless blue ocean is visible from almost everywhere. Rolling waves crash against black lava stone cliffs or rolls in over sandy beaches, many so private that you can strip off naked and walk around with the sun stroking ever part of your skin. The tropical jungle calls out to you from the throats of a thousand frogs, chirping as brightly as birds. Hike through shaded forest paths and discover the many waterfalls. If nature is your thing, ignore the crowded tourist beaches of Honolulu and go to the Big Island!
From a geological time perspective, Hawaii is one huge explosion. Mother Earth is in the middle of giving birth to a new island, and one of the coolest things you can do is walk to the trembling edge of her dilated vagina and see it happen!
It starts with a two-hour hike across a moon landscape of black lava stone. Amazing patterns of swirls, ripples and waves are frozen into crisp rock as the lava cooled here not long ago.
You then reach the part where the lava seeps out of the ground. There is something spiritual about seeing the new earth be born right in front of your eyes. The relatively cool black rock heaves upwards under the enormous pressure from deep within the earth and turns brighter and brighter, forming a bubble of hot magma. When it bursts, bright hot lava flows forth in a slow-moving stream, twisting into the strange shapes you walked across to get there.
It is spiritual, but not sacred, so while you are there, grab a long stick, find one of the fresh lava bubbles and poke it until it bursts! The heat when the magma comes ‘rushing’ towards you is incredible. If you can keep at it for long enough without burning off your eyebrows, you can get some of the lava stuck on your stick before pulling out, and make yourself a lava-rock souvenir!
The other thing you have to do is run across baby-lava. If you have a crazy guide (I did) have them point out lava that is about an hour old. It is then cool enough that you can run across it. You can’t walk as it is still so hot it will melt your boots, and for god’s sake, don’t fall!
The second ‘must-do’ thing in Hawaii is visiting the top of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in Hawaii. You can drive all the way up there with a four-wheel drive, so you can safely leave your hiking and climbing gear at home. Just don’t rock up with flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt; at 4200m, it is bloody cold up there!
This is where the famous Hawaii observatories are located. These huge white domes, like silent sentinels looking out into space, add to the beauty of this amazing view. Time your visit right so you don’t miss the splendid sunset from this mountain top, the red light blazing off the white observatories.
A short way down from the top lies the visitor centre. They put out telescopes after nightfall for the public. The view from here is supposedly amazing. Unfortunately, it was a full-moon night when I was there, so I didn’t really see that many stars.
Volcanoes and Lava Tubes
If running over hot lava is too much for you, then you can make a safe trip to the Volcano National Park. This is the sacred site of a huge volcano crater. Hidden in the centre is a roiling magma pit, but you won’t get anywhere near that. Still, it is a nice view.
The lava doesn’t flow over ground from the volcano to the sea. Instead, it flows through underground lava tubes. The lava tube remains once the magma runs out. It looks like something left behind the sandworms of Arrakis. Some of them are lit and open to the public, and they are well worth exploring!