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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 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.
As local ingredients continue to play a more prominent role on Big Island menus, chefs and farmers are working together to support a burgeoning agritourism industry in Hawaii. Several local farms have cropped up over the past few years to make specialty items that cater to the island's gourmet restaurants. The Hawaii Island Goat Dairy produces specialty cheese; lone beekeeper Richard Spiegel of Volcano Island Honey Co. produces a rare and delicious honey now available not only in local restaurants but on the shelves of high-end stores like Neiman Marcus; and the Hamakua Heritage Farm has turned mowed-down koa forests into a safe haven for gourmet mushrooms. While a handful of farms—like Mountain Thunder, which produces 100% organic Kona coffee, and Hawaiian Vanilla Vineyards, which is cultivating vanilla from orchids growing wild on the Hamakua Coast—are open to the public and offer free tours, others have opted instead to offer limited tours through group operators. The Big Island Farm Bureau has also tried to encourage local farming and agritourism through the creation of Hawaii AgVentures, an organization that schedules farm visits (to either single or multiple farms) for interested parties www.hawaiiagventures.com.
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. To preserve this pristine part of the island, commercial-transportation permits are limited—only five outfitters offer organized valley trips and they're not allowed to take visitors to the beach: environmental laws protect the swath of black sand. And on Sunday the valley rests. A road leads down from the Waipio Valley Overlook, but only four-wheel-drive vehicles should attempt the very steep road. There are no roads on the valley floor, and the going is often muddy. The walk down into the valley is less than a mile from the lookout point—just keep in mind the climb back up is strenuous.
This 180-acre National Historic Park was once a safe haven for women in times of war as well as for kapu (taboo) breakers, criminals, and prisoners of war—anyone who could get inside the 1,000-foot-long wall, which was 10 feet high and 17 feet thick, could avoid punishment. Hale-o-Keawe Heiau, built in 1650 as the burial place of King Kamehameha I's ancestor Keawe, has been restored. If this place doesn't give you "chicken skin" (goose bumps), nothing will. www.nps.gov/puho. COST: $5 per vehicle. OPEN: Park daily 7 am-8 pm; visitor center daily 8 am-5:30 pm.
Advertised as "the only natural tropical rain forest zoo in the United States," this is the home of white Bengal tiger, Namaste. There is a variety of native Hawaiian species, such as the state bird, the nene (Hawaiian goose), as well as a small petting zoo every Saturday 1:30-2:30. Come in the afternoon and watch Namaste's feeding at 3:30 daily. www.hilozoo.com. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 9-4.
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.