Skip to main content /transcript


Exploring Hawaii's Big Island

Aired May 12, 2001 - 06:30   ET


GAIL O'NEILL, HOST: TRAVEL NOW to one of the most magnificent islands in the Pacific, the Big Island of Hawaii.


ROB PACHECO, HAWAII FOREST & TRAIL: I like to tell people that, you know, you don't need to really go to any other island. Just come to the Big Island because we've got everything else all the other islands have.


O'NEILL: And then some. From high above, we'll view the Big Island's dramatic coastline and lively volcanoes. On the water, we'll enjoy the grace and elegance of the ocean as we try to land the big one.


JEREMIAH TAYLOR, BITE ME SPORTFISHING: If you've never done it and you hook a big marlin, it's going to be one of the most exciting, thrilling things you've ever seen in your life.


O'NEILL: On land, we'll trek into the back country on mule back and experience an agricultural wonder that's one of the Big Island's newest, wettest and most unusual attractions. Plus, where to stay, from the upscale to the down home, comfortable lodging to rejuvenate after a day's adventures.

Hi, I'm Gail O'Neill. Welcome to CNN TRAVEL NOW and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Long known for its sand and surf, today, visitors are also finding there are a host of adventures off the beach.


O'NEILL (voice-over): Blue water, black lava, the colors make a striking first impression. But it's green that draws duffers like these to the Big Island.

STEVEN HOOKANO, HEAD GOLF PRO, MAUNA LANI RESORT: When you come and play golf here, look at it. I mean it's beautiful. It's gorgeous. The aesthetics is unbelievable and people just love to be here.

O'NEILL: And with near perfect weather conditions year round, the western or Kona side of the big island, has become a golfing mecca. What started as an adult playground had evolved over the past decade.

HOOKANO: I would say they're catering more to families. Why it makes it easier for them is they can come on and golf and do their things and at the same time their families can do other things that would take their time and not stay at the hotel room.

O'NEILL: The hard part is choosing what to do.

(on camera): There's a lot of ground to cover on the Big Island and one of the most breathtaking ways to get an overview of it all is from above in what some locals refer to as a state bird.

(voice-over): Most helicopter tours take off from the Kona side, where nearly all of the islands major resorts are located. The Big Island is so named because it's the largest of the Hawaiian islands. In fact, it's almost twice as large as all the others put together. It's also the youngest. Volcanoes gave rise to Hawaii and the Big Island has three active ones in the central and southern areas.

DAVID GRIFFIN, BLUE HAWAIIAN HELICOPTERS: And that's where the volcano has been erupting since 1983. So it's one of the most awe inspiring things most people ever see in their entire lives. It changes all the time. We'll have the lava flows entering the ocean. It's a pretty amazing sight.

O'NEILL: Over time, the lava becomes rich, fertile soil and because the eastern or Hilo side gets most of the island's rain, agriculture is a key industry. But the ground can't absorb all the moisture, so dozens of rivers and waterfalls punctuate the coastline as the tour moves north.

PACHECO: If you want to come and you want to really see what Hawaii is about and understand its nature and get out, this is the island to do it. And it's just all these wonderful lessons of life that are just laid out, you know, before you, these lava flows and these lush, erosional valleys. And what really makes the Big Island different is just its diversity.

O'NEILL: And these differences extend to the island's culture as well. The northern region is known for its cowboys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Climb aboard there.

O'NEILL (on camera): Most people don't know it, but cattle ranching is actually a big industry in Hawaii. While these pastures were once sugar cane plantations, all that's changed. And there's no better way to see this country than on mule back.

WALLY CHING, HAWAII FOREST & TRAIL: This is all farmland for the Hawaiians when they live here. Then 1900s, the sugar plantation came in. They planted all this cane. As far as you can see, all into the forest, there's all cane fields. OK, now they use it for raising cattle.

My great grandfather came from China just a shirt on his back and a few seeds in his pocket, pumpkins seeds, squash seeds. So when he came to the islands here he could live, you know? He'd plant those seeds, he would have food.

O'NEILL: We picked guava, another import, delicious but pesky. This fast growing fruit threatens native plants.

O'NEILL: Very good. High in vitamin C, right?

CHING: High in vitamin C. OK, everybody, lean forward now.

O'NEILL (voice-over): Because mules are sturdy and sure-footed, they helped open up the Big Island's treacherous back country.

(on camera): What's the benefit of riding a mule around as opposed to a horse?

CHING: A mule, for one thing, is smarter than a horse.

O'NEILL: Are they really?

CHING: Oh, yeah. You teach a mule how to do something and he won't forget it, not like a horse. He forgets. You've got to constantly train him.

O'NEILL: You're strong, J.J.

CHING: Yeah, you can feel the power of the mule right now.

PACHECO: So now people get to get on these mules and do something that's been going on up here for over a hundred years.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: To be real honest with you, it's kind of I've always been a little afraid of horses and mules and I've gotten over that part of it today. So it's fun. And it's beautiful country and this is a lot of fun on the mules.

O'NEILL: To the tourist who comes and says look, Wally, I've got two weeks a year, I'm spending a lot of money to stay in a fabulous resort, I don't want to leave the grounds, what do you say?

CHING: Come up on our mule ride and see all of this beauty and hopefully, you know, after the mule ride I can teach them a little about the land and they might appreciate it a little bit more.

O'NEILL (voice-over): But not all Big Island fun happens on shore. The name says it all. We're going fishing.

TAYLOR: Today we're going to be going out for Pacific blue marlin, striped marlin, spear fish and we use a number of different lures. This type of lure here is, you're basically for your big blue marlin. The buoys remain lower because of the sound of the motors, the prop wash, they think it's a school of fish feeding and they come up into the pattern and they see the lures and start attacking.

CAPTAIN BRIAN WARGO, BITE ME SPORTFISHING: Well, Kona is the Pacific blue marlin capital of the world. There's been 58 marlin here caught over 1,000 pounds. So there's some monster fish and in this business, this is the mecca of it all. It's where it all happens and that's why we're here.

O'NEILL: It doesn't take long for our first animal sighting or, rather, splashing of a humpback whale.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: I've never seen anything like that.


O'NEILL: Not to worry, we're told our fishing lures aren't enticing to whales. And these dolphins won't bite, either. The ocean seems to teem with life. Soon we encounter a school of pilot whales. Still, no bite yet. But when it happens, we'll be ready.

TAYLOR: So basically the key word in fishing is tight line, OK? You can never crank too fast and you're going to forget 80 percent of what I just told you. And it's not a race. It's not a sumo match. It's a chess game, OK? You don't have to be a real strong person to catch a big fish. Just pace yourself and take your time, OK?


TAYLOR: Big giant fish are going to come in when they're ready.

O'NEILL: But on this day the fish aren't ready. As the captain searches, we wait. And after six hours on the water, we head back to shore with good memories, but no catch, just a determination to try our luck another time.


O'NEILL: Coming up, if at first you don't succeed, head back to sea. When we return, a new day brings a casting call for our elusive fish. And we flume the ditch as our Big Island adventure continues.


UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: It was just peaceful and fun and different, something we've never done before.



O'NEILL (voice-over): Our next adventure started with a four wheel drive in the northern part of the Big Island of Hawaii. Soon, we arrived at a landing site and climbed aboard kayaks for a guided ride called flum in da ditch.


UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: It's wet. The trees are beautiful going through the rainforest. It's amazing. It's beautifully crafted. For this to survive almost a century now is incredible.

O'NEILL: The leisurely hour and a half tour is relaxing, historic, even inspiring. For three and a half miles, visitors cruise down the central part of the 22 mile irrigation network.

NAUNGAYAN: Watch your heads, low bridge.

O'NEILL: This engineering marvel was built in the early 1900s.

NAUNGAYAN: And we go through a series of 10 tunnels, six open ditches and five flumes. There were 600 Japanese workers that were brought here to help create this irrigation system.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: And how much were they paid?

NAUNGAYAN: Oh they were paid just about a dollar a day.

O'NEILL: Seventeen of the men lost their lives on the project from premature dynamite blasts and falls from the steep trails. Despite the human toll, the system brought the Big Island's sugar cane industry to life.

(on camera): These waterways served another purpose, when on hot summer days local kids would grab anything that could float and take a ride.

NAUNGAYAN: My first experience was through my cousins. It was like an initiation kind of thing and I was crying all the way down. When I was doing this, if you got caught doing it, when you got home you got a good old spanking. But today, nowadays we've introduced a $1,000 fine and/or 30 days in jail because of liability.

O'NEILL: Times changed for the ditch in other ways, too. In 1975, the last sugar cane plantation shut down in this area. But water still flows in the ditch thanks to such industries as ranching, fish farming and tourism.

NAUNGAYAN: There's another flume that we're going to go under right here. This should transport the water over the canal so it wouldn't flood it.

Everybody that works for our company, their parents and grandparents also worked for the sugar plantation. So it made it really important for us to, you know, have this here.

O'NEILL: After a restful time on inland waters, it's time to settle a score at sea.

(on camera): Last time we came out here, we got junked, which is a fisherman's term for not catching anything. But we're feeling lucky today so we're going to give it another shot.

WARGO: Every day is different, you know? And every day is a fresh start.

O'NEILL (voice-over): Our lures are ready to hit the water a short distance from the coast. Access is another reason sport fishing is big on this island.

TAYLOR: Well, as you can see in Kona, the shoreline and everything is very close. So the currents bring the fish in very close to shore.

O'NEILL: Which, in turn, attract fish eaters like dolphin. Today, they put on quite a show.


O'NEILL: Working to free parasitic fish attached to their bodies. And then, the real fun begins.

TAYLOR: Oh, come on, baby. OK, there he is! Ah!

O'NEILL: I'm ready.

TAYLOR: This isn't your first party, is it?

O'NEILL: It isn't.

TAYLOR: That a girl. Don't let it come slack, darling. Don't let it come slack.


TAYLOR: Just keep cranking out. Don't even bother pumping, just crank.

O'NEILL: Our catch? Not a marlin, but a 40 pound short-nosed spear fish, an impressive consolation regardless.

TAYLOR: It's a gilled spear fish. We do a lot of catch and release. If the fish is in good condition, we definitely do. That way we'll have them for another day for our kids.


O'NEILL: After a hearty adventure, having a comfortable place to rest is essential. Up next, Big Island accommodations with something for everyone, from luxurious resorts and quaint bed and breakfasts, to a retreat for body and spirit.


RICHARD KOOB, KALANI OCEANSIDE ECO-RESORT: Kalani really is about embracing nature, health and culture. But we were most attracted to this area because it's so alive and raw and wild.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'NEILL: Say Hawaii and images of palm tress, beautiful sandy beaches and incredible resorts come to mind. But as times have changed, so has the lodging industry. And these days, you can find accommodations to fit any taste and budget.


O'NEILL (voice-over): The Four Seasons Resort on the western or Kona Coast of the Big Island is a slice of paradise carved from a 19th century lava flow.

KELLI BROWN, FOUR SEASONS RESORT: There are a lot of places that have beautiful surf, sea and sand and great cuisine. But people are beginning to recognize that it's really about the Hawaiian culture and that's what makes this place special.

O'NEILL: Guest rooms are a study in clean lines with a Polynesian cast, rattan furniture, dark and light woods, slate floors and cream colored bedding. And just a stone's throw from all this grown up elegance lies The Four Seasons biggest attraction for children of all ages, King's Pond.

BROWN: I think what King's Pond represents is a real safe haven, particularly for youth and for, you know, kids who want to go snorkeling and swimming but don't want to have to deal with the "treacherous" conditions out in the ocean.

When you touch them, they feel real soft and velvety. It feels real nice.

O'NEILL: And even land lovers can get a glimpse of local marine life thanks to a live coral reef aquarium, one of many exhibits at the onsite cultural center. Ten miles north of The Four Seasons Resort is The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel. Like The Four Seasons, this property takes its design cues from local influences. The salt water streams and ponds meander through an open air atrium. And instead of art work, you'll find an abundance of plants, streaming sunlight and rippling pools of water alive with sharks, stingrays and other fish. Most guest rooms come with a view of the ocean, a vital link to this region's past.

DANIEL AKAKA, JR., HISTORIAN, MAUNA LANI BAY HOTEL: But roughly 800 years ago, Hawaiian people settled this area and found this area an ideal place for aquaculture, for fish farming used to supply the ruling chiefs. In fact, these ponds were so sacred that in those early days if anyone was caught taking fish without permission, they were normally put to death for doing such.

O'NEILL: No such penalty stands today. But the Mauna Lani does offer two championship golf courses with views to die for. And the scenery from the beach will leave you breathless. Still, there's more than one way to experience heaven on earth.

(on camera): If small and cozy is your idea of the ideal vacation getaway, the Big Island has many bed and breakfast inns to choose from. (voice-over): A two hour drive southeast of the Kona Coast will take you to Carson's Volcano Cottages in the Puna Rainforest. Here, guest quarters nestle into the forest and the constant soundtrack of chirping birds is muffled only slightly by the density of tropical plants. Interior design is eclectic, spanning a variety of styles from historical Hawaiian to Asian.

But as cosy as the bedrooms are, you will eagerly leave them behind for the breakfast.

BARBARA CAMPBELL, HAWAII'S BEST BED & BREAKFASTS: The whole experience of the Big Island, it can best be experienced by staying at a bed and breakfast because then you're in the community and you can have the feeling of actually living in a place that you're visiting.

O'NEILL: From the island's interior, we journey to the southeast coast, where the Kalani Eco-Resort has been attracting visitors for 25 years.

KOOB: Kalani is not about having Mai Tai on the beach. It's more adventure oriented and it's more, I think, growth, personal growth oriented in terms of things like yoga and maybe massage.

O'NEILL: Neighboring the Big Island's famous black sand beaches and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the resort has been a haven to travelers seeking to broaden their horizons while gaining perspective on island customs.

KOOB: Kalani really is about embracing nature, health and culture and from the beginning we've had that as a focus.

O'NEILL: Giving travelers a chance to refocus on all that really matters in life during a Hawaiian vacation, Big Island style.


O'NEILL: Stay tuned. Coming up, we'll tell you how to get more information on all of the accommodations and activities featured on today's program.


ANNOUNCER: If you'd like to view the Big Island from above, log onto the Web site of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters for precise and flight times. Hawaii Forest and Trail Adventures and Outfitting can help you plan a back country mule trip. Check out The Plume and the Ditch Web page for information on cruising the Big Island's irrigation canals. Surf to the Bite Me sport fishing site to get details on planning your own deep sea fishing trip. And Hawaii's best bed and breakfast can help you book a cozy Big Island B&B cottage, small inn, vacation home or condo.

A round up of our adventures can be found on the travel section of, including a helicopter tour and a virtual ride down the ditch. As always, head to for all of these links, plus this week, a look at the accommodations featured in today's program.

O'NEILL: No matter what your taste for adventure, you're bound to have at least one thing in common with just about anyone who's visited the Big Island, an appreciation for this spectacular coastline. From Punaluhu Beach (ph), I'm Gail O'Neill. Thanks for watching. That's CNN TRAVEL NOW.

Next week, our Big Island adventure continues. You've seen hot lava from up high, how's this for a closer look?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the one main thing, we tell people to keep their senses alive and if they happen to smell burning rubber, they can guess what it is. It's probably their shoes.


O'NEILL: Day time treks and nighttime views as we walk on an active volcano. We'll also go for a ride, this time on horseback as we delve deeper into the legacy of the Big Island's cowboys.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of Hawaiians know that that's how their ancestors in the cowboy life were. It wasn't a job, it was their life.


O'NEILL: And discovering the riches of Hawaiian culture through song. The melodies keeping the aloha spirit alive and flourishing next time on CNN TRAVEL NOW.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top