For the Endless Offerings: Hawaii, The Big Island
If you can’t decide if you prefer the beach to the jungle, the snowy peaks to an active volcano, Hawaii (a.k.a. The Big Island) is the one for you. It encompasses the stark landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the barren serenity of 13,803-foot Mauna Kea’s often snow-capped summit, the green pastures of upcountry Waimea and the waterfall-studded rainforest of the island’s windward side near Hilo. And at 4,028 square miles, the Big Island lives up to its name — it takes nearly a full day to circumnavigate it.
Photo courtesy of The Four Seasons
The Island Vibe
One of the top experiences here is watching lava flow from Kilauea Volcano’s Pu’u Oo vent. You can walk across vast shiny grey-brown lava fields of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or for another vantage point, hop on an evening cruise from which you can witness the fiery red magma as it flows into the sea. Other post-sunset adventures: a night dive with Jack’s Diving Locker in the waters off Kona with giant manta rays gliding through the water, sucking in plankton and inciting awe, and sunset and stargazing from atop Mauna Kea (which at 33,000 feet from the ocean floor to its summit is the world’s tallest peak) with its sky-high per- spective high above the clouds. You can also horseback ride across acres of ranchland with paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys), kayak through the 17-mile Kohala Ditch System and soar above lava fields and the Kilauea crater in a helicopter.
Where to Stay
The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay is newly renovated, offers a great value, and has a fun restaurant overlooking the bay where giant mantas congregate (room rates start at $169 a night; sheratonkona.com). The 1,240-room Hilton Waikoloa Village is an adventure itself, set on 62 acres with a dolphin swim program, a saltwater lagoon, golf, tennis, three pools and 10 restaurants (room rates start at $269 a night; hiltonwaikoloavillage.com). The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel is set atop one of the world’s best beaches and offers sweeping views of the sparkling sands (room rates start at $235 a night; princeresortshawaii.com). And the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is luxury personified, with a stunning Kona coast setting, four restaurants, three pools and a snorkel lagoon and a spa (room rates start at $595 a night; fourseasons.com).