Int. Travel:
Sand, sea and fire

With an active volcano, a rich cultural heritage and some of the world's best stargazing, Hawaii's Big Island is more than just a beach lover's paradise. Dan Grunebaum sets out for the Orchid Isle.

Frequent lava flows can be viewed in relative safety at Kilauea, the world's only shield volcano

"Stay behind the rope," cautions the park ranger at Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park, home to Kilauea, the world's most active volcano. We've gotten lucky; for on this day, the lava has broken out of its tubes and is bubbling out of the earth hot enough to incinerate a marshmallow.
Along with a gaggle of like-minded lava seekers, we've hiked out a mile or so from the end of the famous Chain of Craters road to gape at the spectacle of the oozing lava meeting the sea in a steamy embrace—one of the many spectacles awaiting those who travel to the Big Island of Hawaii.

In addition to a live volcano, the Big Island boasts 4,000-meter-high peaks offering the world's finest stargazing, whale-watching, rafting and hiking in rainforests, in addition to the usual tropical getaway pleasures of sun, sand and surf. These attractions, and a rich cultural tapestry reaching from descendents of the first Polynesian explorers to Chinese and Filipino plantation workers, to latter-day mainland refugee yuppies and hippies, make the Big Island a land of endless fascination.

Waipo Valley was once a sanctuary for Hawaiian royalty, but now houses New Agers and hippies

Hot stuff
Our trip begins in Puna, the sleepy, rain-shrouded district near the island capital, Hilo, in the east corner of the roughly triangular island. Not a regular stop on the tourist trail, Puna nonetheless makes the ideal stepping-off point to Volcanoes National Park, just a 30-minute drive away.

We have booked ourselves a room at the Kia'i Kai, one of a number of bed-and-breakfasts in Hawaii that offer a cozy and affordable alternative to the state's many and massive resort hotels. Run by a former US Navy officer, the Kia'i Kai is situated on top of an old lava flow—one of the many that dominate the island's coastline—and offers a view of the Pacific Ocean where whales cavort in the winter months. Like other houses in the area, the Kia'i Kai must subsist off the rainwater it gathers from the regular drenchings that feed one of the world's wettest microclimates.

On the day we're to move to our next destination in the north of the island, we get our lucky break. After three days of fruitless waiting in hopes of a chance to view fresh-flowing lava, the national park's volcano hotline announces a breakout. Rushing to the park, we clamber out toward the molten lava and our wait is rewarded. The lava's fiery tentacles—the evidence of whose destruction is visible all over the island—make it easy to understand why Pele, the Earth goddess, is viewed as an easily angered, jealous lover.

Exhilarated by our lava encounter, we slip into our rental sedan and make the two-hour drive to the sleepy former plantation town of Honokaa, near the mystical Waipio Valley, once home to the kings of Hawaii and forbidden to commoners. We've reserved a room at another bed-and-breakfast, the Log Cabin at the Kamuela Inn, which occupies the former home of one of Hawaii's many macadamia-nut planters. Sadly, with globalization, macadamia nuts as well as most of the state's once-proud agricultural crops have fallen victim to cheaper production in the Third World.

The next day, we book ourselves into one of the Waipio Valley tours. Our tour guide is a native Hawaiian who, with his Konishiki-like appearance and demeanor, perfectly fits the image of a rotund, jolly islander. Once sacred land, the Waipio Valley is now home to a motley assortment of unreconstructed hippies, New Agers, and farmers of Hawaii's traditional crop, taro.

Packing our bags and setting out for our next destination, bustling Kailua-Kona, we prepare to re-enter civilization: Kailua-Kona is home to all of the Big Island's big resorts and the only place on the island with the hustle and bustle of a world-class tourist destination.

Avoiding the hulking Hyatts and Princes, we check into the Holualoa Inn, situated in a coffee grove high above Kona. A former getaway of the family that owns the Honolulu Advertiser, the Holualoa Inn commands magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean below, and the white-sand beaches to be found only on this side of the island.

In the stars
But our real reason for coming here is not the beaches, but its easy access to a stargazing tour up Mauna Kea, home to the world's most famous collection of astronomical observatories.
Cramming into a Mauna Kea Summit Adventures van with a dozen or so similarly starstruck individuals, we set off on the three-hour drive to the peak, ascending out of tropical plains into a high altitude desert. Our driver, a refugee from Silicon Valley and budding amateur astronomer, regales us with tales of the corruption that suffuses Hawaii's political machine.
Hawaii's decade-long recession—an aftereffect of the collapse of Japan's bubble economy—has severely strained the state's resources and pushed up unemployment. But the silver lining behind the recession and the final blow delivered by September 11 is better-than-ever deals for tourists.

Culminating our week on the Big Island with a trip to the top of Mauna Kea—the world's largest mountain from base to summit—seems somehow fitting. As the sun sets and the stars begin to twinkle with alarming brightness—clear as we are from atmospheric pollution—the awesome scale of the Big Island is brought home. To urbanites like us, a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, where nature's dominance is unquestioned, serves as a humbling reminder of man's position in the universe.

Getting there
A number of Japanese and American airlines serve Hawaii's main airport, Honolulu International Airport, with connecting flights to Big Island airports in Hilo and Kailua-Kona available on Hawaiian or Aloha airlines. JAL also offers daily service to Keahole-Kona International Airport. Car rentals on the Big Island are essential and easy to arrange at either airport.

Where to stay
Contact information for the three bed-and-breakfasts mentioned in this story are as follows:
Kia'i Kai Bed & Breakfast: Tel: 1-808-982-9256, email:; Kamuela Inn: Tel: 1-808-885-4243, email:; Holualoa Inn: Tel:1-808-324-1121, email: More bed-and-breakfast listings can be found at The Big Island also boasts a number of resort hotels and fine campgrounds. See the vacation planning section on or

More information
The Internet and travel agencies have a wealth of information on what to do and where to go on the Big Island. See the addresses listed above or contact the local office of the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau at 03-3201-0430 (in Marunouchi). Stargazing information is available from Mauna Kea Summit Adventures on 1-808-322-2366 or

Photo: Dan Grunebaum, Courtesy of Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau



B u y  i t  o n l i n e !
Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan

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HIS Experience Japan is offering tourists and residents of Japan a chance to experience “real Japanese culture,” in addition to the usual tourist spots. The company has nearly a dozen programs that allow participants to learn directly from professionals. Activities include sushi-making, yuzen silk-dying, calligraphy, karate and ninja lessons, taiko drumming and lantern-making, among others. Guides who speak English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish are available, and reservations can be made online at Further info is available in English by calling 03-5322-8988.

From August 26 through September 13 (excluding September 7-9), Tokyo Dome Hotel is offering a late summer accommodation promotion, in which rooms will be discounted by up to 45 percent. During the period, the rate is ¥14,000 for a single room, ¥18,500 for a twin or double and ¥21,000 for a triple. Fifty rooms will be available per day. A variety of events are being held at Tokyo Dome City during this period, including the 78th Intercity Baseball Tournament (August 24-September 4) and the popular children’s program The Jukensentai Geki Ranger Show will be performing on stage at Sky Theater until September 2. For reservations, call 03-5805-2222 or visit CB

677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   

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