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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Designed to honor Hawaii's first Japanese immigrants, Liliuokalani's 30 acres of fish-filled ponds, stone lanterns, half-moon bridges, elegant pagodas, and ceremonial teahouse make it a favorite Sunday destination. The surrounding area used to be a busy residential neighborhood until a tsunami in 1960 swept the buildings away, taking the lives of 60 people in the process.
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. Since 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 miner's hat and gloves and get ready to explore the underbelly of the world's largest 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 Volcanoes National Park, the caverns are comprised of four main tubes, each 500-700 years old and full of stalactites, stalagmites, and a variety of different-colored flowstone. The largest lava tube in the world is here—40 mi long, it has 80-foot ceilings and is 80 feet wide. Tours can range from safe and easy (safe enough for children five years old and up) to long and adventurous. 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.
Past the old plantation town of Paauilo, at a cool elevation of 2,000 feet, lies this 100-acre state park. There's a lush forested area with picnic tables and restrooms, and an easy ¾-mi loop trail with additional paths in the adjacent forest reserve. Small signs identify some of the plants. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 7am-8 pm.
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. OPEN: Park road gate 8-4.
King Kalakaua, who revived the hula, was the inspiration for Hilo's Merrie Monarch Festival. A bronze statue, erected in 1988, depicts the king with a taro leaf in his left hand to signify the Hawaiian peoples' bond with the land. The park also has a huge spreading banyan tree and small fishponds, but no picnic or recreation facilities. In a local tradition, families that have had recent funerals often leave leftover floral displays and funeral wreaths along the fishpond walkway as a way of honoring and celebrating their loved ones.
Windswept Ka Lae is the southernmost point of land in the United States. It's thought that the first Polynesians came ashore here. Check out the old canoe-mooring holes that are carved through the rocks, possibly by settlers from Tahiti as early as AD 750. Some artifacts, thought to have been left by early voyagers who never settled here, date to AD 300. Driving down to the point, you pass rows of giant electricity-producing windmills powered by the nearly constant winds sweeping across this coastal plain. Continue down the road (parts at the end are unpaved, but driveable), bear left when the road forks and park in the lot at the end; walk past the boat hoists toward the little lighthouse. South Point is just past the lighthouse at the southernmost cliff. Don't leave anything of value in your car, and know that you don't have to pay for parking. It's a free, public park, so anyone trying to charge you is likely running some sort of scam.