The Big Island

Larger than Maui,
the Big Island has similar
geography and climate, influenced
by tall mountains, trade winds,
and the Pacific Ocean.

Hawaiian Heritage

 The Big Island has several restored historic sites, giving us a glimpse of early Hawaiian life.

Of these, the most important and interesting is Pu'uhonua o Honaunau. Situated on the black lava flats of the southern Kona coast, it served several purposes:

  • residences for the ali'i (royal chiefs);
  • pu'uhonua, the place of refuge for defeated warriers and those who had violated the kapu, or sacred laws;
  • temple and mausoleum for the ali'i.

Hale o Keawe: A reconstruction of a temple and mausoleum which housed the bones of 23 ali'i.
Ho'okupu (offerings) were placed on the tower.


 Ki'i (wooden images) stand guard over Hale o Keawe.

The arrival of Christian missionaries in the 19th century brought great change to the old Hawaiian ways. In 1819, Kamehameha II abolished traditional religious practices and many of the old religious sites were destroyed or abandoned. Christian churches were built, many of which remain today. One of the most unusual and beautiful is St. Benedict's Painted Church on the hillside above Kealakekua bay (of Little Grass Shack fame). A self-taught artist, Father John Berchmans Velghe painted the interior walls of the church (c.1900 -1904). Restored in 1985 and 2002, the church interior was returned to its original glory.

St. Benedicts, from the graveyard

The interior that gives the "painted church"
its popular name

Another picturesque church is St. Peter's, along the west coast just south of Kailua-Kona. This tiny chapel, nestled among towering palms, is called the most photographed church in Hawaii.

The interior, decked out for a wedding.


Kilauea - the Active Volcano

One of the biggest attractions on the Big Island is Volcanos National Park. In the words of the Park Service, "The park encompasses diverse environments that range from sea level to the summit of the earth's most massive volcano, Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet. Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, offers scientists insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and visitors views of dramatic volcanic landscapes."

Kilauea is the prime tourist attraction. Unfortunately, in 2005 the active lava flows were several miles from the road and visible mainly at night. There remain, however, numerous interesting areas with steaming craters and fantastic lava flows.

The Kilauea summit caldera.

The Halema'uma'u Crater,
located within the summit caldera.

Fresh lava pouring into the ocean creates a beautiful but dangerous steam cloud.

The fumes contain hydrochloric acid
and volcanic glass

Old lava flows
form a fascinating landscape.



Even on the Big Island, you're never more than a short drive from the expected palm trees and ocean.

Sometimes the perfect lone palm.

Sometimes reflected in a quiet lagoon.

Sometimes against a threatening sky.

At the end of the day, a spectacular sunset through the Norfolk pines.