The Island of Hawaii (called the Big Island or Hawaii Island) in the U.S. state of Hawaii is a volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. Only 800,000 years old, the island of Hawaii is the youngest of the Hawaiian isles. It is also, by far, the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago; its 4,028 square miles is more than twice the size of all the other major islands combined.
The Big Island is famous for its volcanoes, in fact, it is still growing. Kilauea, the most active volcano has been spewing molten lava since January 1, 1983, continually adding real estate to the island. At the coast where the lava meets the ocean, one can sometimes see billows of white steam rising from off the shoreline. At night, the lava lights up the steam to give an orange glow. When the molten lava makes contact with the ocean, the sea water turns into steam, and the sudden cooling of the lava causes the newly formed lava rocks to explode and crack into small pieces. The broken up lava is further ground into black sands along the shore by the ocean waves. Black sand beaches are common on the Big Island.
Anchoring the eastern end of the island chain, the Big Island is an island offering spectacular contrasts. Twelve distinct climate zones exist here, from tropical rain forests in Hilo and Ka‘u’s arid desert to the snow-capped summit of Mauna Kea. Ka‘u is the southernmost point in the U.S. A Hawaiian legend tells of two deities, volcano goddess Pele and demi-god Kamapua‘a, battling over the island. The two eventually struck a deal, dividing the Big Island in two: the dry west side (Kona) and tropical east side (Hilo).
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located near Hilo. Established in 1916, the 210,000-acre park is a superb setting for hiking, camping and sightseeing. The park’s visitor center offers timely visitor information as well as photographs, videos and other educational displays.
From Hilo, take Highway 200 to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, named for Hawaii’s first astronaut, Ellison S. Onizuka, who perished in the 1986 Challenger explosion. The visitor center conducts stargazing programs as well as free tours to the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea.
The Big Island’s "west side story" includes the spectacular Kohala coast, a favorite resort playground offering spectacular sunsets, golf, horseback riding and some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts in the world. In Waimea, visit Parker Ranch, one of the largest privately owned ranches in the United States. And just south of Kailua-Kona is Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, one of Hawaii’s most sacred cultural attractions.
Steep in both natural beauty and historical significance, the island of Hawai‘i is Madame Pele’s latest—and quite possibly greatest—creation.