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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
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. A short walk over arid landscape leads from the impressive, recently renovated visitor center to temples Puukohola Heiau and Mailekini Heiau. An even older temple, dedicated to the shark gods, lies submerged just offshore. Bring along your cellular phone to listen to a free audio tour while you visit the site. www.nps.gov/puhe/index.htm. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 7:45-5.
Sort of like a town from the Wild West, this little town even has some wooden boardwalks and rickety buildings—not to mention a reputation as a wild and woolly place where pot growers make up a significant part of the community. Now things are more civilized in town, but there are still plenty of hippies and other colorful characters pursuing alternative lifestyles. The secondhand stores, tie-dye clothing boutiques, and art galleries in quaint old buildings are fun to wander through during the day. 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 towards 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 Mon.-Thurs. 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 place of worship), is so impressive in size 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 to offer sacrifices to please his gods. You can still see the lava slab where hundreds of people were sacrificed, which gives this place a truly haunted feel. 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 mi in the waters northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wall maps depict the northwestern Hawaiian Islands' 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. This center is run by devoted volunteers who are knowledgeable and give daily tours of the exhibits. Interactive programs and short films describe marine life and reef conditions. It's worth a stop just to get an up-close look at the center's huge stuffed albatross, with wings outstretched. 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.
Acres of macadamia trees lead to a giant roasting facility and processing plant with viewing windows and self-guided tours. A videotape depicts the harvesting and preparation of the nuts, and there are free samples and plenty of gift boxes with mac nuts in every conceivable form of presentation to buy in the visitor center. Children can run off their energy on the nature trail. www.maunaloa.com. OPEN: Daily 8:30-5.
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