My sister might have been the smartest 18 year old around. When that senior year crunch time rolled around and other students were frantically applying to multiple schools, she had only one on her mind: University of Hawaii. College. In. Hawaii. Some might call it “college.” Yes, she only enjoyed one fantastic year of island life (who can concentrate when you can wear a bikini to class and there’s free wi-fi at the pool instead of the library?), but she did learn a lot about Hawaii Island (the big one) and her home, Hilo. You could say she took up studying the local scene instead of studying the books. And she happens to be an incredible photographer. Here are the results of her research…
An active volcano located about two-and-a-half hours from Kona, Mauna Kea is home to one of the best astronomical observation sites in the world — and it’s one of the few places on the planet where you can go from playing in the snow one minute to tanning in 80 degree weather about 20 minutes later.
Rent a car or take a tour and spend the afternoon almost 14,000 feet above sea level — during the winter months you’ll see snow, the sunset, and the stars all in one trip. From the visitor’s center, only cars with four-wheel drive are allowed to climb the unpaved road to the steep summit. It’s nothing like Colorado, but you’ll find locals sledding and snowboarding down the slope. And you’ll even see some of the 13 telescopes representing 11 countries hidden in the snow.
If you’re without a four-wheel drive vehicle, take a steep hike up from the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station to a look-out point that takes you above the clouds — literally. It’s a view of the whole island and a sunset that’s hard to top. Head back down once the stars begin to shine toward the visitor’s center. With barely any light pollution (there’s an island-wide lighting ordinance), the dark sky gives way for incredibly vibrant stargazing. The guides leading the free nightly stargazing program can point out the once “obvious” constellations like the Big Dipper. When you’re on Mauna Kea, there are just too many stars shining around it to be able to find it yourself. Galaxies are visible with the naked eye. Planets seem within reach.
While Mauna Kea is located inland, Kilauea butts up right to the ocean about 45 away from Hilo. Spend the day hiking around the crater — you can even walk through a lava tube and see lava rock flow into the coast. Capture some great pictures or enjoy a “dangerous” picnic (you’re sitting on an active volcano after all). Only the brave locals go beyond the ropes to hike closer to the center of the steam and fog. The sulfer level is sometimes so high that the active volcano is not always open to visitors so check before you go.
Don’t miss the nearby warm pool at Ahalanui Park, a natural (yet slightly man made) hot tub heated by the volcano itself.
For those feeling adventurous, the Pololu Valley offers can’t-miss sights — for a price, or rather, a hike. The views from the top are breathtaking — you might even see some wild horses. But the view from the bottom is even better. A steep, rocky one-hour hike down (filled with caution signs) leads to a sand-filled forest and finally a secluded beach.
Many camp and surf once reaching the bottom, but look around before plunging into the water as a visitor. If there are any locals nearby, ask if the water is safe for a swim. And remember that surfing on the Big Island is only for those who know what they’re doing — the waves can get big and it’s pretty rocky. Bodyboarding is a popular alternative.
Green Sand Beach
The famed white sands of Hawaii Island’s Hapuna Beach seems like nothing compared to this. Hawaii island is home to mostly black sand beaches. But this one is different. Located near South Point, the southernmost part of Hawaii (and the United States), Green Sand Beach is exactly what it promises — green sand.
Locals sometimes pop up a tent and spend the night spear fishing then head over to South Point the next morning for a cliff jump from a beat-up pirate plank into the sparkling blue ocean.
Jealous? Jealous indeed.
All images copyright 2012 by Ariel Andrus.
This post was sponsored by The Hawaiian Islands, featuring Hawaii, the Big Island, one of six distinctive islands you can explore. Continue exploring at Living in the moment on Hawaii Island.