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The Big Island: heritage renaissance.

1 A PLACE OF REFUGE. Centuries ago, this sacred site lured lawbreakers, defeated warriors, and others who were seeking sanctuary. Today, people come to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park to admire its austere beauty and get in touch with the past. A massive 16th-century lava-stone wall protects the thatched-roof temple, which, with its carved wood images, has been reconstructed. The discovery at this popular park is the 1871 Trail. Meander along it for nearly a mile and duck through a lava tube that opens to a prime ocean overlook. About 3 1/2 miles west of State 11 on State 160; $2; 328-2326.

2 KONA COFFEE COUNTRY. Drive south from Kailua-Kona on State 11 between Kainaliu and Honaunau, roll down the windows, and inhale - you can get a buzz just from the aroma of roasting beans. The Kona Historical Society offers tours of Uchida Coffee Farm (323-3222), where you'll see early farming methods. Shops like the Original Bad Ass Coffee Company (888/422-3277) in Kainaliu blend light humor with serious locally grown and roasted beans. 326-7820 for a free driving guide.

3 SWIMMING WITH SEA TURTLES. Inside the reef line in Kahaluu Bay, calm waters lure both snorkelers and green sea turtles, who often slip in to feed off the reef vegetation. There are strong currents at times, so check posted caution signs. Keep your mask clear and you might see angelfish, parrotfish, and many more reef fish. Kahaluu Beach County Park on Alii Dr. in Kailua-Kona; lifeguards, showers, rest rooms, and picnic tables; 961-8311.

4 KAYAKING THE DITCH. It is pricey and, with a third of the paddling time spent in dark tunnels, isn't for claustrophobics. Still, the hour-long float down 3 miles of historic irrigation canals and flumes through lush forest is sometimes booked days in advance. Guides talk history and prepare paddlers in five-person inflatable kayaks for drenchings. A snack and an hour of jouncing over rough access roads are included. Kohala Mountain Kayak Cruise; $75, $55 ages 5-18; 889-6922.

5 WAIPIO ON HORSEBACK. Stretching beneath one of the island's most sublime end-of-the-road overlooks, Waipio Valley can now be explored on two very different 2 1/2-hour horseback rides. Waipio Naalapa Trail Rides (775-0419) takes in taro farms and waterfalls in the valley; Waipio Ridge Stables (775-1007) rambles through open range along the valley rim. Both cost $75.

6 HIKING KALOPA. The Big Island's biggest secret is Kalopa State Park. Most visitors linger in the tree-canopied picnic area and walk the 3/4-mile Native Forest Nature Trail. Still, the 3-mile loop hike via Robusta Lane, Gulch Rim Trail, Ironwood Trail, and Old Road (this segment is overgrown in patches) beneath specimen eucalyptus, silk oak, and tree fern is stunning. The park is 3 miles from State 19 just south of Honokaa; rustic cabins and camping available; 974-6200.

7 HILO'S BIG SURF. "Hilo is the tsunami capital of the world because of the shape of its bay and its slosh factor," says Donna Saiki at historic downtown Hilo's newest attraction, the Pacific Tsunami Museum. Temporary exhibits in the C. W. Dickey - designed building on the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Kalakaua Street cover the basics, including Hilo's 1946 April Fool's Day disaster. 10-4 Wed-Sat; 935-0926.

8 COOL ART IN A VOLCANIC GALLERY. Built in 1877 as Kilauea's first hotel, the original Volcano House is now a gallery of works from 360 Hawaiian artists - everything from koa-wood bowls to handblown glass vases. The center also hosts hands-on arts and crafts classes, an elderhostel program, drama, music, and traditional hula performances. Near the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Kilauea Visitor Center; 967-7565.

9 SERIOUS BIRDING. For 13 1/2 miles, the Mauna Loa Road (off the Belt Hwy. near the Tree Molds) snakes up into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park before dead-ending at about 6,662 feet. The bird-watching gets better the farther you go on the paved road. Stop at Kipuka Puaulu, called "Bird Park" by the locals, and look for the scarlet flash of the native apapane, the black-and-red wings of the i'iwi, even the brightly plumed male Kalij pheasant. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; 985-6000.

10 HAWAII'S PLYMOUTH ROCK? South Point Road peels off State 11 and rolls about 10 miles downhill to the Big Island's - and the nation's - southernmost edge. Legend has it that these rocks are where Hawaii's original inhabitants landed their canoes (though some archaeologists disagree). A low mound of windswept rocks is the remains of a heiau, but the real payoff from the point's dramatic clifftops is the boundless, edge-of-the-world view. About a two-hour drive from Kailua-Kona; 961-5797.
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Title Annotation:The Hawaii of Your Dreams
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.; Phillips, Jeff; Baker, Andrew
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:Kauai: going natural.
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