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Big Island, simple pleasures.

Byline: Lynne Klaft

The Big Island of Hawaii - grand hotels on the beach or secluded bed-and-breakfasts, gourmet meals or local treats, grand vistas or hidden pockets of beauty, guided bus tours or hiking trails - has it all, a mix-and-match vacation just waiting to happen.

The diversity of climates is amazing. You can see snow in February on the mountaintops, walk on the desert-like lava fields of Kau or travel through tropical rain forests on the eastern side of the island. You can swim with dolphins in the open ocean or visit an erupting volcano that is continually adding to the land.The Big Island of Hawaii - grand hotels on the beach or secluded bed-and-breakfasts, gourmet meals or local treats, grand vistas or hidden pockets of beauty, guided bus tours or hiking trails - has it all, a mix-and-match vacation just waiting to happen.

The diversity of climates is amazing. You can see snow in February on the mountaintops, walk on the desert-like lava fields of Kau or travel through tropical rain forests on the eastern side of the island. You can swim with dolphins in the open ocean or visit an erupting volcano that is continually adding to the land.

Or imagine this - sitting on your lanai in Kona, watching the sun go down, favorite beverage in hand, no phones, no deadlines, serenity and soft island trade winds.

The Big Island can be traversed from end to end in a matter of a few hours. This time we took less-traveled routes and stopped to see the sights along the way, savoring local-style foods and treats.

New England connections

For the traveling history buff, Hawaii has a unique Massachusetts connection. The first group of missionaries allowed to settle on the island left Long Wharf in Boston on Oct. 23, 1819, sailed around Cape Horn, and arrived in Kailua Bay on April 4, 1820.

The Pioneer Company of the Sandwich Islands Mission was made up of 14 adults and five children, including the Rev. Asa and Lucy Thurston of Fitchburg and Marlboro, Mercy Partridge Whitney of Pittsfield, Jerusha Burnap Chamberlain of Hopkinton, Daniel Chamberlain of Westboro and Sibyl Moseley Bingham of Westfield.

At the time, King Kamehameha II was interested in learning to read and write, so he decreed that the missionaries could stay in Kailua for one year. Their stay lasted indefinitely.

The missionaries built the Moku'aikaua Congregational Church, a New England- style building with a 112-foot-high steeple with bells, using local materials including lava rock, crushed coral and sand. The church is across the street from Hulihee Palace, a Victorian-style summer residence of the Hawaiian royal family on the waterfront of Kailua-Kona Bay.

Foodies

The history of the island's settlement is part and parcel of why Hawaiian cuisine is as exotic as it is today.

Pineapple and sugar cane plantation workers immigrated from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Korea and the Philippines from the mid-1800s to early 1900s. The mix of cultures has made for interesting menus.

Hilo is home of the Loco Moco, a dish that combines rice, a burger (meat or a variation), fried egg and gravy; and the Goody-Goody, a sherbet-like

ice treat.

Honokaa's Tex Drive-In specializes in malasadas, a pastry doughnut that's hot and fresh all day; and Kona and Kau feature the state's gourmet coffee plantations.

The "bento" or "plate lunch" that local people enjoy is a reflection of the multicultural society that is Hawaii. Bento or obento is a Japanese tradition of a portable meal in a box. Today's bento is packaged in a see-through plastic container with rice and various sides, including pickles and beef, chicken or pork.

The plate lunch widens the variety of cuisine and includes such choices as Japanese teriyaki, Portuguese-style stews, hot and spicy Korean dishes, Hawaiian style Huli Huli chicken, Chinese sweet and sour and more. Ono-licious, as the locals say, yum! E'kai ka kou - Bon appetit!

Sun worshippers

The island offers a choice of getting the perfect tan on white, black or green sand beaches - beachwear is not a requirement in some of the locations.

The western half of the island is white sand country. The eastern and southern parts of the island have black sand beaches, a byproduct of the geologic formation of the island via its active volcano system. The island was formed by five volcanoes, two which are still active today, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

The unique green sand beach on Ka Lae in the southern Kau District (the southernmost point of the United States) is reachable by a four-wheel-drive vehicle and a hike, an adventure for only the most determined and hardy.

Flowers and plants

Exotic plants and flowers grow everywhere - coconut, mango, guava, avocado, orange, tangerine and mountain apple trees can be seen in gardens and growing wild by the roadside.

Orchids of all varieties grow abundantly and with abandon.

"They will grow everywhere with the proper care. It's all about creating an environment for the plant; you can put them in a kitchen or bathroom, someplace with high humidity," said Anna Guenther, a resident of Volcano Town and a sales representative of Akatsuka Orchid Gardens.

Farmers markets, which are held in dozens of locations, all days of the week, are a fascinating way to see, sample and purchase local fruits and vegetables, plants, hand-dyed sarongs, Hawaiian applique quilts, a plate lunch, jams and jellies, homemade breads and - at the Hilo Farmers Market - consult a lawyer or get the stress and tension massaged out of your system.

Cheryllynn and Ben Alvarado of Keaau were selling helliconias, anthuriums, gingers, dahlias, dendrobiums and ung choi, a Chinese vegetable for stir fry, and warabi fern shoots in Hilo last July.

"We used to have 11 acres of anthuriums when I was a little girl, which we sold, but we've been coming to this market for 20 years now. It's mostly local people, but we get the visitors, too," Mrs. Alvarado said.

Alternative accommodations

Akiko's Buddhist Bed and Breakfast, situated in an old plantation town on the Hamakua coast, is one of dozens of alternative stops on the trail of a nontraditional Hawaiian vacation.

"I found this place on the Internet," said guest Henrike Aust, a German science teacher who was staying in Akiko Masuda's old-fashioned but comfortable plantation-style home in the heart of Wailea, Hakalau.

"I wanted to see an alternative Hawaii, and I wanted a quiet, peaceful place to meet people, get involved with the community. I don't want to leave now! Everyone is so nice. We do yoga every morning with Miss Akiko," Ms. Aust said. She breakfasts on fresh pineapple and papaya from Akiko's gardens, goes on island day trips, or just helps out with the weeding and pruning ... there are no schedules to keep.

"I have visited the Hawaii Botanical Gardens, Mauna Kea and Akaka Falls; I do want to see the petroglyphs in Kona. I feel at home here; everything fits me, the weather, the people. I don't feel like a tourist. This feels like home and I just signed up for three more weeks," Ms. Aust said.

Whether you take the high road or the lesser-traveled ones, the Big Island is a place where visitors return time after time.

E komo mai Hawaii: Welcome!

For more ideas on where to stay and things to do, visit www.Alternative-Hawaii.com, www.GoHawaii.com/big_island, www.BigIsland.org and www.hvcb.org

The Naupaka flower legend:

A Hawaiian princess fell in love with a handsome commoner. The volcano goddess Pele found him desirable, too, but the couple remained true to each other. Angered, Pele chased the young man to the mountains, throwing lava at him, but Pele's sisters interceded and magically changed him into the Mountain Naupaka. Her anger not diminished, Pele went after the princess, who fled to the sea. Pele's sisters once again hid the princess as a Seaside Naupaka. The mountain and seaside Naupaka plants have half flowers that are mirror images of each other; the seaside flower on the lower half, the mountain flower on the upper half. Legend says when the flowers are reunited, the couple will come back to life.

A dozen Big Island freebies

Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, at the end of Highway 130 in the Puna District, affords a dazzling vantage point to see molten lava pouring into the sea. Open 5-10 p.m. daily, but no cars are allowed into the parking area after 8 p.m. www.lavainfo.us

Pana`ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens is a 12-acre zoo south of Hilo on Mamaki Street. Namaste, its white Bengal tiger, gets fed daily at 3:30 p.m. The beautiful botanical gardens have more than 100 varieties of palm trees and other plants. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. www.hilozoo.com

`Akaka Falls State Park, 13 miles north of Hilo above Honomu, has an easy footpath loop that provides views of two beautiful waterfalls. It's one of the Big Island's most-visited spots.

Mokupapapa Discovery Center showcases the marine life of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands at 308 Kamehameha Ave. in Hilo, near the Hilo Farmers Market. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays. papahanaumokuakea.gov/education/center.html

Kalopa State Recreation Area is off Highway 19 at the end of Kalopa Road, southeast of Honoka`a. Situated at 2,000 feet, the park has picnic areas, an easy nature hike in a native `ohi`a forest, and additional trails in the adjoining forest reserve.

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument, off Highway 270 near `Upolu Airport, includes Mo`okini Heiau, the most famous ancient sacrificial heiau (temple) in the state, and Kamehameha's Birthplace, a memorial to the 18th-century chief who united the islands under one rule.

Lapakahi State Historical Park, off Highway 270, 12.4 miles north of Kawaihae, is the partially restored remains of an ancient

settlement. Daily cultural demonstrations and storytelling.

Puako Petroglyph Preserve, off Highway 19 north of the entrance to the Fairmont Orchid, offers a short hike that leads to more than 3,000 petroglyphs.

Kona Historical Society's traditional Portuguese bread-baking, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every Thursday. Bread is large, wood-fired "fornos" (stone ovens). Sample some, too! (808) 323-3222

Ka Lae, the remote southernmost part of the island, is where Polynesians first arrived and settled. Now a National Historical Landmark district.

Lava Tree State Monument, off Pahoa-Pohoiki Road, 2.7 miles southeast of Pahoa, is a forest of "lava trees," formed by a lava flow that swept through the area and left behind lava molds of tree trunks.

Mauna Kea, above the clouds at 9,300 feet, the Visitors Information Station offers displays about the mountain's astronomical observatories; and every evening its volunteer astronomy buffs roll out telescopes for an outstanding - and free - stargazing program.

Source: Big Island Visitors Bureau

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) The rugged Hamkua coast shore at Kolekole Beach Park. (2) Cheryllynn and Ben Alvarado sell flowers, Chinese vegetables and fern shoots in Hilo. (3) Below, children play at Panuluu black sand beach. (4) The Moku'aikaua Congregational Church in Kona was built by missionaries with a Massachusetts connection. (5) A footpath passes by waterfalls at 'Akaka Falls State Park near Honomu.

PHOTOG: (1, 2, 3) PHOTOGRAPHY/LYNNE KLAFT (4, 5) PHOTOGRAPHY/HAWAII TOURISM AUTHORITY
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 24, 2010
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