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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 road between North Kohala and Waimea is one of the most scenic drives in Hawaii, passing Parker Ranch, open pastures, and tree-lined mountains. There are a few places to pull over and take in the view; the lookout at mile marker 8 provides a splendid vista of the Kohala Coast and Kawaihae Harbor far below. On clear days, you can see well beyond the resorts, while other times an eerie, thick mist drifts over the view.
Formerly Flumin' Da Ditch, this 2½-hour guided kayak cruise through an old irrigation ditch reveals a dramatic part of Kohala history. The tour begins with an off-road excursion high in the Kohala mountains, followed by a short hike to the ditch, where you'll paddle along with the guides through 2½ mi of rain forest, tunnels, and water flumes. The valleys beyond provide water for the Kohala Ditch, which once brought water to the area's sugar plantations. The tour costs $129 per person. www.kohaladitchadventures.com. OPEN: Tours Mon.-Sat. at 8:30 and 1.
A statue of Kamehameha the Great, the legendary king who united the Hawaiian islands, stands watch over his descendants in North Kohala. The 8½-foot-tall figure bears the king's sacred feather kihei, mahiole, and kaei (cape, helmet, and sash). This is the original of the statue in front of the Judiciary Building on King Street in Honolulu. Cast in Florence in 1880, it was lost at sea when the German ship transporting it sank near the Falkland Islands. A replica was then commissioned and shipped to Honolulu. Two years after its disappearence, the original statue was found in a junkyard in the Falkland Islands; it was missing an arm, which has since been replaced. This statue was transported to the remote northern tip of the Big Island, Kamehameha's birthplace: it's in front of the old Kohala Courthouse in Kapaau, next to the highway on the way towards Pololu Valley.
Buildings here have been restored to their original 1920s and '30s plantation styles. Although most shopping is along Kamehameha Avenue, the ambience on Keawe Street offers a nostalgic sampling of Hilo as it might have been 80 years ago.
King Kamehameha I spent his last years, from 1812 to 1819, near what is now King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. Part of what was once a 4-acre homestead, complete with several houses and religious sites, has been swallowed by Kailua Pier, but a replica of the temple, Ahuena Heiau, keeps history alive.
Like many of the Big Island's old plantation towns, Kainaliu is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. In addition to a ribbon of funky old stores, a handful of new galleries and shops have sprung up in the last few years. Browse around Oshima's, established in 1926, and Kimura's, established in 1927, to find authentic Japanese goods beyond tourist trinkets, then pop into one of the local cafés for a tasty vegetarian snack. Cross the street to peek into the 1932 Aloha Theatre, where community-theater actors might be practicing a Broadway revue.
Stop here to admire the dark koa interior and the unusual wooden calabashes hanging from the ceiling. Be careful not to walk in while a service is in progress, as the front entry of this church, which was established in 1832 and rebuilt in 1857, is behind the pulpit.
Part Hawaiian cultural center, part astronomy museum, the Imiloa Astronomy Center provides an educational and cultural complement to the research being conducted atop Mauna Kea. Although visitors are welcome at Mauna Kea, its primary function is as a research center—not observatory, museum, or education center. Those roles have been taken on by Imiloa in a big way. With its interactive exhibits, full-dome planetarium shows, and regularly scheduled talks and events, the center is a must-see for anyone interested in the stars, the planets, or Hawaiian culture and history. The center, five minutes from downtown Hilo, also provides an important link between the scientific research being conducted at Mauna Kea and its history as a sacred mountain for the Hawaiian people. Admission includes one planetarium show. The lunch buffet at the adjoining Sky Garden Cafe is popular. www.imiloahawaii.org. COST: $17.50. OPEN: Tues.-Sun. 9-5.
A lovely rambling old stone home surrounded by jewel green grass and sweeping ocean views and fronted by an elaborate wrought-iron gate, Hulihee Palace is one of only three royal palaces in America (the other two are in Honolulu on Oahu). The two-story residence was built by Governor John Adams Kuakini in 1838, a year after he completed Mokuaikaua Church. During the 1880s it served as King David Kalakaua's summer palace. It's constructed of local materials, including lava, coral, koa wood, and ohia timber. The palace is operated by the Daughters of Hawaii, a nonprofit organization focused on maintaining the heritage of the Islands. www.daughtersofhawaii.org. COST: $6 for adults, $4 for seniors, $1 for children under 18. OPEN: Tues.-Sat. 10-3.
Its sugar-plantation past is reflected in the wooden boardwalks and tin-roof buildings of this small community. It's fun to poke through old dusty shops such as Glass from the Past, where you'll find an assortment of old bottles. The Woodshop Gallery/Café showcases local artists.