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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 walls, columns, and ceiling of this Roman Catholic church depict colorful biblical scenes through the paintbrush of Belgian-born priest Father Velghe. Mass is still held every weekend. The view of Kealakekua Bay from the entrance is amazing. www.thepaintedchurch.org.
Erected as a general store in 1912 by Sadanosuke Hata and his family, this historic structure now houses galleries, a restaurant, and the Mokupapapa Discovery Center. During World War II Hata family members were interned and the building was confiscated by the U.S. government. When the war was over, a daughter repurchased it for $100,000. A beautiful example of Renaissance-revival architecture, it won an award from the state for the authenticity of its restoration.
In 1790 a prophet told King Kamehameha to build a heiau on top of Puukohola (Hill of the Whale) and dedicate it to the war god Kukailimoku by sacrificing his principal rival, Keoua Kuahuula. By doing so the king would achieve his goal of conquering the Hawaiian Islands. The prophecy came true in 1810. This oceanfront historic site is very impressive. A short walk over arid landscape leads from the recently renovated visitor center to temples Puukohola Heiau and Mailekini Heiau. An even older temple, dedicated to the shark gods, lies submerged just offshore. Visitors can enjoy seasonal whale-watching and year-round shark-viewing at the bay. Special events happen throughout the year so check the calendar. Bring along your phone to listen to a free audio tour while you visit the site. www.nps.gov/puhe/index.htm. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 7:45--4:45.
A fun place for a stroll, this little town is reminiscent of the Wild West, with its wooden boardwalks and vintage buildings—not to mention a reputation as a pot-growers' haven. A throwback to the '60s, it attracts plenty of hippies and other colorful characters pursuing alternative lifestyles. The secondhand stores, tie-dye clothing boutiques, and art galleries add to the "trippy" experience. Pahoa's main street boasts a handful of island eateries, the best of which is Luquin's Mexican Restaurant.
About 16 mi east of Naalehu, beyond Punaluu Beach Park, Highway 11 sidesteps this little town. You'll miss it if you blink. Pahala is a perfect example of a sugar-plantation town. Behind it, along a wide cane road, you enter Wood Valley, once a prosperous community, now just a road heavily scented by eucalyptus trees, coffee blossoms, and night-blooming jasmine.
Driving south from the Kona International Airport toward Kailua-Kona, you'll spot a large mysterious group of buildings with an equally large and mysterious photovoltaic (solar) panel installation just inside its gate. Although it looks like some sort of top-secret military station, this is the site of the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii, NELHA for short, where scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs are developing and marketing everything from new uses for solar power to energy-efficient air-conditioning systems and environmentally friendly aquaculture techniques. Visitors are welcome at the lab, and there are 1½-hour tours for those interested in learning more about the experiments being conducted. www.friendsofnelha.org. COST: $8 donation for tours. OPEN: Tours weekdays at 10 am.
These two huge, oblong stones are legendary. The Pinao stone is purportedly an entrance pillar of an ancient temple built near the Wailuku River. King Kamehameha is said to have moved the 5,000-pound Naha stone when he was still in his teens. Legend decreed that he who did so would become king of all the islands. They're in front of the Hilo Public Library.
This National Historic Landmark, an isolated heiau (an ancient temple), is so impressive in size and atmosphere it may give you what locals call "chicken skin" (goose bumps)—especially after you learn its history. The heiau's foundations date to about AD 480, but the high priest Paao from Tahiti expanded it several centuries later and it continued to be used by Hawaiian religious leaders. You can still see the lava slab where hundreds of people were sacrificed, giving this place a truly haunted feel. Nearby is Kamehameha Akahi Aina Hanau, the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great. The road is unpaved, and even with four-wheel-drive you could easily get stuck in the mud. Then it is a half-mile hike to the site.
Visitors to this small but informative center will learn about the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which encompasses about 140,000 square miles in the waters northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Giant graphics, murals, and maps depict the monument's extensive coral reefs and the more than 7,000 marine species that live there, one in four of which are found only in the Hawaiian archipelago. Knowledgeable staff or volunteers give daily tours of the exhibits. Interactive programs and short films describe marine life and environmental conditions. (It's worth a stop just to get an up-close look at the center's huge stuffed albatross, with wings outstretched.) www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/education/center.html. COST: Free. OPEN: Tues.--Sat. 9--4.
A thatch hut, erected on this site by missionaries in 1820, served as the first Christian church on the Islands. A more permanent structure was built in 1836 with black stone from an abandoned heiau. The stone was mortared with white coral and topped by an impressive steeple. Inside, behind a panel of gleaming koa wood, is a model of the brig Thaddeus.mokuaikaua.org.
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