Hawaii beyond the beach
From a driving tour of Hawaii's Big Island to surfing lessons and even fine dining, there's plenty to do besides just lolling on the sand
March 31, 1999
Web posted at: 1:40 p.m. EST (1840 GMT)
Story and photos by Sherry Rauh
Hilo, HAWAII (CNN) -- If beaches bore you and sunbathing leaves you cold, why would you ever want to go to Hawaii? How about to hike across a field of volcanic rock to the spot where lava flows into the sea? Or to crawl into caves that are natural saunas, where the earth continuously vents steam? The island of Hawaii -- fondly called the "Big Island" -- has enough natural splendor to keep beach-loathers busy without setting foot in the sand.
Living up to its name, the island is big by Hawaiian standards. It
takes a good six hours to drive all the way around -- much longer if you
include stops for waterfalls, volcanoes and other adventures. Here are some
Starting in the city of Hilo, there's a special "aloha" for fans of
the spectrum. Just minutes from the airport, "Rainbow Falls" makes a
nice first stop. When the sun is shining, you can almost always spot a
rainbow or two arching through the small, pretty cascades.
Explore rustic Puna
Residents call this southeastern region the island's best kept
secret. Far less touristy than Kona on the west coast, here you get a feel
for genuine Hawaiian lifestyle. Take a trip along the "red road" for a look
at life in several quiet villages. Stop at MacKenzie State Park for an
impressive view of seaside cliffs. Then continue on for a dip in hot
springs few tourists know about. At a nearby beach, you might catch surfers
Further inland, don't miss the charming town of Pahoa, which seems
stuck in a time warp with its genuine Old West buildings and laid-back
inhabitants. The town claims to have several of the island's best
restaurants along its tiny main street. Paulo's Bistro comes highly recommended. Paulo greets his diners personally and serves delicious
homemade pasta and seafood dishes.
Near Pahoa are the steam caves. Big Islanders claim the steam will
lift "the mainland" right out of you. Puna is also full of other surprises
-- in some spots, recent lava flows block the highway.
Confront a volcano
Learn firsthand about one of the world's most active volcanoes at
Volcanoes National Park. The Kilauea Visitor Center has a video showing
recent eruptions, and offers information about hiking trails and current
volcanic activity. Walk through an old lava tube or hike directly into a
volcanic crater. The drive down Chain of Craters Road is especially
worthwhile. The unearthly black lavascape is the virtual opposite of the
postcard stereotype of lush Hawaii. At the road's end, you may see steam
rising from the spot where lava pours into the ocean. Nighttime visitors
may be lucky enough to witness a dramatic red glow or sparks as the molten
rock mixes with cool seawater.
Commune with sea turtles
Even the beach-resistant will want to make the trip to Punaluu,
because humans aren't the only sunbathers at this small black sand beach.
Amid the rows of tan people lying on the shore are strange lumps of green --
napping sea turtles upon closer inspection. Some crawl onto shore to warm
themselves in the afternoon sun, while others wave at you from the water.
The sheer number of turtles in this small bay is incredible.
Swim with dolphins
Kealakekua Bay is a favorite play-spot of spinner dolphins and the
occasional birthplace of whales. Spend any time here, and residents say you
are bound to see one or the other. You can swim with the dolphins, though
the law requires you to keep a respectful distance. Even on days when the
mammals aren't around, snorkeling in the bay can be fabulous. For those who
prefer a drier adventure, kayaking is also an option.
Glimpse the past
The "Place of Refuge," officially called Puuhonua o Honaunau
National Historic Park, is considered an ancient sacred site, so
sunbathing and picnicking are not allowed. Instead, you can learn about the
island's history and see displays of Hawaiian artifacts. On the west coast
and graced with rows of perfect palms, the Place of Refuge is an ideal spot
to watch the sunset.
Discover distant galaxies
Once the sun is down, you'll discover another of Hawaii's wonders --
not its nightlife, but its night sky. With an ocean separating the islands
from any major metropolis, light pollution is significantly reduced. On a clear night, the number of stars visible can be mind-numbing
for city folk.
For a closer look, the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy on
Mauna Kea offers a Stargazing Program for the public Thursday through Sunday
evenings. Located at 9,300 feet (2,790 meters), the center is higher than most of the planet's major telescopes and usually enjoys clear, dry, very dark skies. With a powerful telescope, visitors can spot the moon, planets, supernovas and distant galaxies.
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