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Experiencing
The Big Island of Hawaii

by Meeta Gajjar Parker

Photo credits: Francis X. Parker, Jr.


I’d like to begin by saying that there is something about the living spirit of this Island that starts to grow inside of you once you set foot upon it. The Big Island is the youngest, largest and most diverse of the Hawaiian Islands. Whether you find yourself on the dry side of the island exploring the fields of lava rocks that will one day become rich fertile soil or on the wet side of the Island exploring the lush vegetation and tropical landscape, you will be thrilled. 

If the Garden of Eden exists on earth, it would surely be the Waipio Valley which in English means “The Valley of the Kings.” It is located on the northeastern coast, and is a very fertile valley. It stretches one mile across and over five-miles deep, and is surrounded by cliffs up to 2000-feet high.  We were stopped by a policeman stationed at the Waipio Lookout. He was trying to deter tourists such as ourselves from driving down into the valley since there have been many accidents from inexperienced drivers. Since this was our third visit, Frank, my husband confidently told the officer that we had done this drive several times before and understood the terrain.  He told us to go ahead at our own risk. I shuddered a bit because of the steep incline as we began our descent down into this magnificent valley.

We drove through shallow rivers and creeks down in the valley, where they take the horseback tours.  Private property and people’s homes prevented us from being able to drive all the way back to the Hiilawe Falls, the Big Island's tallest waterfall. It cascades down 1,300 feet in the back of Waipio.  Down here people actually live off the grid. It was an awe inspiring feeling to stand between the two majestic mountains deep within the valley. Here we found a black sand beach that was adequately pummeled by huge waves which were enjoyed by the local surfers. Tourists had also walked all the way down from the lookout point, and families were bathing in small pools formed by the river, which flows into the ocean, at the mouth of the valley.



We discovered Pele’s Sacred Garden, a new treasure for us, which was hidden and magical.  It is a local hot spring a mile from the public one, and was situated nicely under the shade of palm trees in a wooded area.  We walked down a path through a vine covered jungle to find it. Nestled in the earth, like a small shallow crater, surrounded by a huge palm tree, roots, and green vegetation we couldn’t help but be mesmerized by its beauty. It was like being in paradise. We removed our sandals and got in. It was about the same temperature as the geothermal pool only this was more private and natural. There was a captivating Hawaiian spiritual elder bathing in the pool and singing some kind of ancient chant which added mysticism to our experience while soaking in the spring. 


The Mauna Kea summit is 13,796 feet high and at the top you’ll find the world's largest observatory for optical, infrared, and sub-millimeter astronomy. It is also the tallest sea mountain on Earth because the base of the volcano extends 17,000 feet below the surface of the ocean making it even taller than Mount Everest. We experienced the ethereal essence of being in the mountains above the clouds as we made our way up to the visitor’s center, at 10,000 feet above sea level. There we spent 30 minutes acclimating to the higher altitude. There happened to be a star gazing group who come together one night a week.  In the pitch black darkness of the night, they find their way over to one of the specialized telescopes by using a flashlight, and look for different galaxies. I opted to stay with the star gazers as the summit was just a little too high for me, but Frank went all the way up to watch the sunset above the clouds. 


There is so much to see in the Volcanoes National Park. One of the highlights is always driving down “Chain of Craters Road” to where the lava overflowed the road during the 1969-1974 eruption, and remained that way. Brave souls are allowed to walk across the hardened lava here at their own risk to get close to the molten lava. The best way to view lava is by boat or by helicopter, which is what we did. Timing is everything when it comes to viewing lava here on the Big Island. Your chances are as good as any with the help of good old fashioned luck.

We visited the Volcano Winery where wines are made with true Hawaiian spirit. Once you leave the Islands, your chances of ever tasting them again diminish greatly. They specialize in very unique, exotic wines such as the Honey Macadamia and Guava wine. When we go home we will dream about its flavor and reminisce about the sweet taste of these wines.



We were in a small boat at dusk moving quickly through the sea toward a plume of smoke rising up into the air. It was the erupting volcano known as Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Our boat stopped fifty feet from where the lava was pouring into the sea and the earth was being formed. To stand and witness earth being spontaneously created like this was something we had only imagined, and was an awesome dream to actually fulfill. As the day turned into night, the color of the lava illuminated brightly with a magnificent display of orange and red liquid fire. We reached down into the water to feel the heat generated by the lava with our bare hands. We could feel the steam coming off the sea as beads of sweat began to appear on our foreheads. 

The wonderful Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is where the giant sea turtles lie in the sand waiting for you to return to Hawaii. We never miss a chance to come here and visit them, and they never disappoint.  If we don’t see them, we know that we need to look harder and in the right places. They can often be found along the edge of the water as these turtles, though large, can actually become camouflaged against the black sand and rocks. We’ve watched many tourists walk right by them, never knowing they’ve missed the best part of visiting this beach, getting up close and personal with the turtles.


As hot spring enthusiasts we felt compelled to go to the Geothermal Pool (Ahalanui Warm Spring).  We drove down a narrow, one lane road through a canopy of trees until we reached the ocean. The Geothermal Pool is a unique man-made pool, constructed out of lava rocks. It features natural hot vents that release warm water throughout the natural pool to heat it. There is also an opening toward the ocean which allows cool salt water into one end of the pool. We felt like we were swimming in warm bath water.  We sought out the hot vents and noticed even more of them as we moved to different areas of the pool. As we looked up from inside the pool we could only see the fringes of palm trees, blue sky and fluffy white clouds. We love this place. There was a retro feeling surrounding the pool, as if we had stepped back into the 1960’s. There were lots of tie dye, hippies and old Volkswagen buses, but the locals made us feel at home.

 To leave the Big Island without visiting the pristine Green Sand Beach would be a sin. So we drove our four-wheel drive through the treacherous terrain navigating the steep lava rock hills, rutted out dirt paths and deep sand. After 45 minutes of baha fun, we arrived at the only olivine crystal sand beach in the entire world. This beach is so lovely that people walk two or three miles with sunburned and wind beaten faces just to experience the golden, sparkling, dark green sand and all that surrounds it. We climbed down the rocks to immerse ourselves in this heavenly place and have it exclusively for a few minutes before the next wave of tourists arrived to invade this relatively small precious haven. The turquoise blue water looked so stunning against the color of the beach.  However, the water here is unmistakably rough. Frank once made his way in for a swim, but I have never gotten in. The water was so rough it knocked me down a few times. I decided it was preferable to stand back and admire it from a distance. If the color of the sand and water weren’t enough, the sci-fi looking carved out cove that surrounds it makes you feel like you are on another planet.


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