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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
The name means "forever beautiful" in Hawaiian, and that's a good description of this 20-acre botanical garden filled with several varieties of fruit trees and hundreds of varieties of ginger, orchids, anthuriums, and other exotic plants. Guided tours by tram are available for groups. There is also a restaurant with a lunch buffet. www.nanimaugardens.com. COST: $10. OPEN: Daily 9:30--4.
This dry, upland forest spreads across several lava flows. A rugged trail follows a 2-mi loop past a pit crater and winds around ancient trees such as hau and kukui. It's an okay spot to get out of the car and stretch your legs—you can wander through the well-maintained arboretum, snap a few photos of the eerie forest, and let the kids scramble around trees so large they can't get their arms around them. However, we don't recommend spending too much time here, especially if you're planning on driving all the way down to South Point. The pathways are not well maintained, but restrooms and picnic areas are available. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 7--7.
This is a coastal park located on rocky shoreline cliffs in a breezy, cool ironwood grove. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and a tent-camping area; bring your own drinking water. The park is significant for the restored section of the old "King's Highway" trail system, which circled the coast in the era before Hawaii was discovered by the Western world. In those days, regional chiefs used these trails to connect the coastal villages, allowing them to collect taxes and maintain control over the people. There are views of rugged coast, rocky beach, and coastal dry forest.
Designed to honor Hawaii's first Japanese immigrants, Liliuokalani Gardens' 30 acres of fish-filled ponds, stone lanterns, half-moon bridges, elegant pagodas, and a ceremonial teahouse make it a favorite Sunday destination. The surrounding area, once a busy residential neighborhood, was destroyed by a 1960 tsunami that caused widespread devastation and killed 61 people.
Tree molds that rise like blackened smokestacks formed here in 1790 when a lava flow swept through the ohia forest. Some reach as high as 12 feet. The meandering trail provides close-up looks at some of Hawaii's tropical plants and trees. There are restrooms and a couple of picnic pavilions and tables. Mosquitoes live here in abundance, so be sure to bring repellent. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 8--4:30.
Come here to watch the surf pound the jagged black rocks at the base of the stunning point. This is not a safe place for swimming, however. Still vivid in the minds of longtime area residents is the 1946 tragedy in which 21 schoolchildren and three teachers were swept to sea by a tidal wave. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 7am--10 pm.
A self-guided, 1-mi walking tour leads through the ruins of the once-prosperous fishing village Koaie, which dates as far back as the 15th century. Displays illustrate early Hawaiian fishing and farming techniques, salt gathering, games and legends. Because the shoreline near the state park is an officially designated Marine Life Conservation District (and part of the site itself is considered sacred), swimming is discouraged. www.hawaiistateparks.org. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 8--4.
Strap on a headlamp and gloves and get ready to explore the underbelly of the world's most active volcano. Tours through these fascinating caves and lava tubes underneath the volcano must be arranged in advance, but are well worth a little extra planning. Located off Highway 11 between Hilo and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Kazamura Lava Tube system is comprised of four main tubes, each 500-700 years old and filled with bizarre lava formations and mind-blowing colors. It's the largest lava tube system in the world—40 miles long, 80 feet wide, and 80 feet tall. Tours are customized to your group's interest and skill level. Equipment included. Call for directions. www.kilaueacavernsoffire.com. COST: $29 for walking tour, $79 for adventure tour. OPEN: By appointment only.
Thanks to Hilo's abundant rainfall, this relatively new lava tube is lush with plant life. Concrete stairs lead down to the 2½-mi-long tube. Bring a flashlight and explore as far as you dare to go. There are restrooms and a covered picnic table at the cave, and parking across the street. COST: Free.
The coastal trails at this sheltered 1,160-acre coastal park near Honokohau Harbor, just north of Kailua-Kona town, are popular among walkers and hikers. The park is a good place to see Hawaiian archaeological history and ruins intact; you can visit a heiau (an ancient Hawaiian place of worship), house platforms, fishponds, petroglyph rock etchings, and more. The park's wetlands provide refuge to a number of waterbirds, including the endemic Hawaiian stilt and coot. There are two beaches here that are good for swimming, walking, and sea turtle spotting—Aiopio, a few yards north of the harbor, is a small beach with calm, protected swimming areas (good for kids) near the archaeological site of Hale o Mono, while Honokohau Beach, a ¾-mi stretch with ruins of ancient fishponds, is also north of the harbor. There are three entrances to the park; the middle entrance provides access to park headquarters, where the rangers are very helpful. www.nps.gov/kaho/index.htm. OPEN: Kaloko Road gate 8--5.
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