Experience the Real Hawaii Island
Hawaii Island is a place of superlatives: the biggest island and southernmost point in the U.S., the world’s most ecologically diverse spot for its size, the home of both the world’s tallest and most voluminous mountains, and the planet’s newest land – the Kilauea volcano added 875 acres of new coast last summer. Even beyond these record-breaking natural wonders, there’s so much to see on Hawaii (just don’t call it the “Big Island,” a moniker that’s falling out of favor as recognition and respect for traditional Hawaiian culture grows) that you’d need at least a month to scratch its lava-crusted surface.
“People love Hawaii; they’re very excited to go back,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Rob Karp. “It’s a dramatic mix of beauty and ruggedness – lush greenery, barren volcanic rock, and white-, gold-, and black-sand beaches. You have all this on one powerful island.”
And the island is ever-changing, as Kilauea demonstrated when it sent rivers of lava flowing into the ocean last spring. The event ended an eruptive phase that started in 1983, and all is quiet on Hawaii Island again – at least geologically. Travelers will find that Hawaii is as dynamic and exciting as ever, and these five experiences give them opportunities to venture beyond Kona’s manicured resorts and discover the magnetic, surprising, wild – and, yes, superlative – place that it’s always been.
Honor Pele, Hawaii’s Fire Goddess
One Saturday morning each month, the Volcano Art Center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hosts hula kahiko (hula in the ancient style) at Kilauea, where various halau hula (hula troupes) dance close to the volcano’s edge on a sacred pa hula (dance platform) while facing Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. This is no sinuous resort hula, but rather, a powerful and ancient form of dance that tells moving (literally) stories of Hawaii’s people, places, traditions, and deities – including Pele, whose recent “work” is clearly visible at Halemaʻumaʻu. The hula platform is still intact, though, and as the dancers reenact the stories of old, you can feel the mana (spiritual power) of the volcano, which continues to provide new life for the island and its people.
Swim with Sea Monsters
If your idea of a good time is motoring out three miles offshore in the middle of the night, then dropping 60 feet down to float with nothing but 3,000 feet of abyss below, the Kona “black water dive” is for you. Every night, creatures of the deep migrate to the Pacific Ocean’s surface to feed and breed. Most divers jump at the chance to glimpse these astonishing animals they’d never otherwise see: rainbow-colored ctenophores, siphonophores that look like they’re from outer space, and glittering squid preying on their bounty. If drifting in the black makes you feel too much like bait (don’t worry; it’s mainly the squid that hunt at night), not-so-intrepid divers can opt for the less unnerving but still amazing manta ray night dive, where a visit from some of Kona’s resident rays is almost always guaranteed. It’s shallow enough that snorkelers can also join, bobbing at the surface as the mantas perform their underwater acrobatics mere inches from the divers below. Virtuoso travel advisors can arrange these wondrous experiences with several Kona-based dive operators.