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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Where else but Hawaii can you surf, snorkel, and snow ski on the same day? In winter, the 13,796-foot Mauna Kea (Hawaiian for "white mountain") usually has snow at higher elevations—and along with that, skiing. No lifts, no manicured slopes, no faux-Alpine lodges, no après-ski nightlife, but the chance to ski some of the most remote (and let's face it, unlikely) runs on Earth. Some people have even been known to use body boards as sleds, but we don't recommend it. As long as you're up there, fill your cooler with the white stuff for a snowball fight on the beach with local kids.
With its paniolo (cowboy) heritage and the ranches it spawned, the Big Island is a great place for equestrians. Riders can gallop through green pastures, or saunter through Waipio Valley for a taste of old Hawaii.
Meteorologists classify the world's weather into 13 climates. Ten are here on the Big Island, and you can experience them all by foot on the many trails that lace the island. The ancient Hawaiians cut trails across the lava plains, through the rain forests, and up along the mountain heights. Many of these paths can still be used today. Part of the King's Trail at Anaehoomalu winds through a field of lava rocks covered with prehistoric carvings called petroglyphs. Many other trails, historic and modern, criss-cross the huge Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other parts of the island. Plus, the serenity of remote beaches, such as Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach), is accessible only to hikers.
For golfers, the Big Island is a big deal—starting with the Mauna Kea Golf Course, which opened in 1964 and remains one of the state's top courses. Black lava and deep blue sea are the predominant themes on the island. In the roughly 40 mi from the Kona Country Club out to the Mauna Kea Resort, nine courses are carved into sunny seaside lava plains, with four more in the hills above. Indeed, most of the Big Island's best courses are concentrated along the Kona Coast, statistically the sunniest spot in Hawaii. Vertically speaking, although the majority of courses are seaside or at least near sea level, three are located above 2,000 feet, another one at 4,200 feet. This is significant because in Hawaii temperatures drop by three degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gained.
The Big Island's biking trails and road routes range from easy to moderate coastal rides to rugged backcountry wilderness treks that will challenge the most serious bikers. En route, bikers can soak up the island's storied scenic vistas and varied geography—from tropical rain forest to rolling ranch country, from high country mountain meadows to dry lava deserts. It's dry, windy, and hot on Kona's and Kohala's coastal trails and cool, wet, and muddy in the upcountry Waimea and Volcano areas, as well as in lower Puna. There are long distances between towns and few services available in the Kau, Puna, South Kona, and Kohala Coast areas, so bikers need to plan accordingly for weather, water, food, and lodging before setting out.
A different way to experience the Big Island's rugged coastline and wild ranch lands is through an off-road adventure—a real backcountry experience. At higher elevations, weather can be nippy and rainy, but views can be awesome. Protective gear is provided. Generally, you have to be 16 or older to ride your own ATV, though some outfitters allow children seven and older to be passengers.
Just off the highway, this garden park is on more than 300 acres of former sugarcane land. With wide views of the countryside and the ocean, this is the place to see the beautiful Kamaee waterfalls. You can also follow a walking trail with old-growth tropical gardens including orchids, palm trees, ginger, hibiscus, and heliconia; visit the 10-acre arboretum, which includes a maze made of orange shrubs; explore the river walk; ride the zipline; and take the only off-road Segway adventure on the island. The $13 admission (not including zipline and Segway) into the gardens is good for seven days, but if you skip the zipline, you can see it all in a few hours. www.wbgi.com. COST: $13. OPEN: Daily 9--5:30.
Bounded by 2,000-foot cliffs, the "Valley of the Kings" was once a favorite retreat of Hawaiian royalty. Waterfalls drop 1,200 feet from the Kohala Mountains to the valley floor, and the sheer cliff faces make access difficult. Though completely off the grid today, Waipio was once a center of Hawaiian life; somewhere between 4,000 and 20,000 people made it their home between the 13th and 17th centuries.
This 420-acre National Historical Park is the best preserved puuhonua in the state. Providing a safe haven for noncombatants, kapu (taboo) breakers, defeated warriors and others—a puuhonua offered redemption and protection for anyone who could reach its boundaries. The oceanfront 960-foot stone wall still stands today and is one of the park's most prominent features. A number of ceremonial temples, including the restored Hale o Keawe Heiau ( circa 1700) have served as royal burial chambers. An "aura" of ancient sacredness still embues the place to this day. www.nps.gov/puho. COST: $5 per vehicle. OPEN: Park daily 7 am--sunset; visitor center daily 8 am--4:30 pm.
Billed as "the only natural tropical rain-forest zoo in the United States," this sweet zoo is the home of white Bengal tiger, Namaste. You'll see variety of native Hawaiian species, such as Hawaii's state bird, the nene goose, the io (hawk), as well as lots of other rare birds, monkeys, and lemurs. Namaste's daily 3:30 feeding is quite the sight. Donations welcome. www.hilozoo.com. COST: Free but donations encouraged. OPEN: Daily 9--4, except Christmas.
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