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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
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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