Big Island - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Big Island

Big Island

The youngest and largest of the Hawaiian Islands, the island of Hawaii (known as Big Island to avoid confusion) is one of the few places on earth where visitors can go from snowboarding to snorkelling in a single day! Local legend has it that the volcano goddess Pele and the demi-god Kamapua'a, who could control the weather, battled for the island and eventually decided to divide it: Pele took the hot, dry western half and Kamapua'a ended up with the wet, tropical east.

Big Island, however, actually has twelve distinct climatic zones ranging from tropical rain forests in the east to the frozen tundra atop Mauna Kea and the arid desert of Ka'u in the south. This diversity makes Hawaii's Big Island an unrivalled pleasure ground for active holidaymakers, the island's resorts offering every type of outdoor activity imaginable. To add to the thrill there is the attraction of two active volcanoes on this island - the Kilauea Caldera is the longest continuously erupting volcano in the world, its present eruptive phase dating back to 1983; Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. Of the three other volcanoes on the island two, Mauna Kea and Kohala, are extinct, while Hualalai is considered to be dormant. All this volcanic action has meant that holidaymakers can decide on their preferred beach sand tones ranging from white to red, black and even green.

Together with the diverse ecosystems of Big Island is the rich Polynesian Hawaiian culture, a culture that has absorbed some interesting elements from both Asia and Europe, creating a colourful mix. On the coast you can dance the hula at an authentic luau feast, while upcountry you will find a blend of Portuguese and Mexican culture combined with Hawaiian tradition among the 'Paniolos' (cowboys) on the giant cattle ranches.

Information & Facts

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

Visitors passing through the Kona International Airport will not be able to miss the clearly marked space centre that is dedicated to the memory of Big Island born astronaut, Ellison Onizuka. The astronaut died in the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, and the educational centre not only commemorates this event, but also contains displays about other manned space flight programmes, an interactive rocket propulsion exhibit, a moon rock, astronaut suit and models of spacecraft.

*Hulihe'e Palace suffered damaged in the wake of the tsunami of March 11, 2011, and is currently closed to visitors.*The stately mansion of Hulihe'e is situated on Alii Drive in Kailua Kona on the west coast of Hawaii's Big Island. It was built in 1883 and served as the holiday home of Hawaiian royalty until 1925 when it was turned into a museum; it now houses a collection of ancient Hawaiian artefacts and personal memorabilia of the Hawaiian royal family. The bust of King Kalakaua's presides over the entrance hall, while the beautiful Koa dining table carved from a single log of wood graces the Kuhio Room. Little touches like Princess Ruth's hatbox made from the trunk of a coconut tree and the cradle of Prince Albert, son of King Kamehameha IV, bring alive a sense of history in the house. The highlight of the collection is the impressive wardrobe in the Kawanakoa Room, which is made of koa wood and trimmed with the King's crest and carvings of classic Greek muses. The palace suffered significant damage from an earthquake in October 2006 and attempts are being made to restore it to its former glory.

For a taste of the coffee industry that flourished in the early 20th century on the Big Island visitors can tour the Uchida Coffee Farm, south of Kealakekua town on the Kona Coast. Tour guides in period costumes show off the original farmhouse, bathhouse, coffee mill and drying platforms. Only a few miles away is the Kona Historical Society Museum, housed in the old Greenwell family store, where photographs, ranching and coffee farming exhibits are on display. The store was built by Henry Greenwell in 1875.

Forget about the Wild West, Hawaii gave birth to the original cowboys about 40 years before they took over Texas. The history of the Hawaiian Paniolo (cowboy) culture, going back 200 years, is captured in the Parker Ranch Museum and Visitor Centre in Waimea. Here visitors can experience paniolo herding, cutting, roping, branding and cattle-sorting on a wagon-ride that also takes in some ancient Hawaiian artefacts and historic corrals in the hill country, over and above the working cowboy station. The Parker Ranch is the third largest privately owned ranch in the United States. The Museum contains antique ranching tools, historic photographs and furnishings and is complemented by two historic homes on the site, which are open to visitors. The Mana Hale saltbox house, built of koa wood by Parker Ranch founder, John Palmer Parker, dates from the mid-1800s. The large Victorian home Puuopelo houses an art gallery containing some original works by Renoir, Degas, Dufy, Corot and Pissarro. Professional and amateur rodeo competitions are held regularly at the arena.

*Most areas of the park are currently closed, due to damage suffered during the tsunami of 11 March, 2011.*This important Hawaiian cultural and historical site on the black-lava Kona Coast of the Big Island contains some forbidding-looking giant idols, although it was in fact built as a refuge for ancient Hawaiians who had violated kapu (social taboo) or as a sanctuary for defeated warriors. The surrounding area outside the huge enclosing wall was home to several generations of powerful chiefs. The 182-acre park also boasts other archaeological sites including some temple platforms, royal fishponds and the ruins of ancient villages. The Hale o Keawe temple, which contains the mortal remains of 23 Hawaiian chiefs, and some thatched buildings have been reconstructed.

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