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Big Island Highlights
Volcanoes, Kona coffee and more on the Orchid Isle
Legend has it that two deities — the volcano goddess Pele and the demi-god Kamapua'a (the latter of whom could control the weather) — struck a deal to make the vast Big Island of Hawaii's west side so dry, and its east side so wet. The story's short version is that, after a battle, the pair divided the island in two, with Pele taking the western half and Kamapua'a, the eastern.
Climate & Geography
Even so, the island's weather isn't so cut-and-dried. Twelve distinct climate zones exist here, ranging from East Hawaii's tropical rain forests and Mauna Kea's frozen tundra to Ka'u's arid desert in the south.
Covering 4,028 square miles, the Big Island (or the "Orchid Isle") is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian Islands — twice the size of all the other major Islands combined. And with two of the five volcanoes that created the island still active, it continues to grow: Kilauea Caldera is the longest continuously erupting volcano in the world, its present eruptive phase dating back to 1983; Mauna Loa, meanwhile, last erupted in March of 1984, sending lava to within a few miles of East Hawaii's Hilo town. Of the remaining three volcanoes on the island, Mauna Kea and Kohala are extinct, while Hualalai is considered to be dormant, having last erupted in 1801.
Hawaii is the youngest island in the chain, and it continues to grow: Kilauea Caldera is the longest continuously erupting volcano in the world, its present eruptive phase dating back to 1983. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is just a short drive from Kailua-Kona or Hilo.
Points of Interest
Until recently, upcountry Waimea's Parker Ranch was the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the world, and ranching and agriculture continue to be the Big Island's economic mainstays — particularly beef, Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, fruits and tropical flowers. Resorts and most residential developments are located in coastal areas such as Hilo, Kailua-Kona, and the Kohala Coast, leaving much of island's interior untouched.
Each year the Big Island plays host to a number of world-renowned festivals and sports events, the most notable being the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival (in Hilo each April), the Ironman Triathlon World Championships (in Kona every October) and the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival in November.
What's More ...
• Though the average temperature on the Big Island ranges from 71 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit in the coastal regions (with temperatures in the low 70s October through April), the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are often blanketed with snow.
• Average annual rainfall ranges from 10 inches at Kawaihae (near the west-facing Kohala Coast) to 128 inches at the Hilo Airport.
• Fifteen miles off the island's southeast coast yet another volcano, Lo'ihi, is erupting 3,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. While it will still be several thousand years before this volcano breaks the sea's surface, it has already risen more than 10,000 feet from the sea floor and has a crater that measures three miles across.
• Kamehameha the Great, who unified the Hawaiian Islands under one king for the first time in 1810, is believed to have been born in the Big Island's North Kohala area.
• Captain James Cook, who is widely considered to be the first European to set foot in the Hawaiian Islands, was killed at Kona's Kealakekua Bay in 1779.
• The Big Island's official flower is the lehua 'ohi'a
• The island's official color is red
About the Island of Maui
Land of the sun
The demi-god Maui is a household name from Tonga to the Society Islands, to the Marquesas to Hawaii. Something of a trickster, Maui had a place in his heart for mortals and is celebrated throughout the Pacific for such feats as giving fire to humans (after stealing it from its supernatural guardians) and fishing the islands of the Pacific from out of their watery depths.
So great is his renown, in fact, that Maui is the only deity in Polynesia to currently have a major island named after him. ("Currently," because the Hawaiian island of Kaho'olawe was in earlier times named for the god Kanaloa). Formed by two giant shield volcanoes, when seen from above Maui even looks like the head and torso of a man. West Maui, the head, is the older portion of the island, and at one time the volcano that formed it was probably as large as Haleakala, the 10,023-foot-tall volcano whose flanks form the whole of East Maui's "body."
But time has done its part: Though it's estimated the volcano that formed Maui's head once had a crater some five miles across, eruptions, collapse and stream erosion so changed the landscape that Pu'u Kukui, the highest point in the West Maui mountains, now stands at 5,788 feet. The craggy landscape that replaced this once-massive volcano also helped give rise to Maui's nickname: "The Valley Isle."
Points of Interest
Over the millennia Maui's geography has changed even more drastically. Formed by six different volcanoes, the islands of Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i and Kaho'olawe were once a single landmass known as Maui Nui ("Great Maui"). Rising sea levels eventually separated the islands, though they are still legally linked today — all are part of Maui County.
This varied landscape has led to an equally varied society: The central Maui town of Kahului/Wailuku is the island's business center; West Maui, with the sprawling beaches and upscale hotels of Ka'anapali and the historic whaling town of Lahaina, is one of Maui's major resort areas. South Maui is home to the island's other main resort district, Wailea; and while the tropical north shore of Maui does not offer hotels, visitors can choose from a collection of bed & breakfasts and rental homes.
What's More ...
• The second largest of the populated Hawaiian Islands, Maui also boasts the second-largest population in the state, behind O'ahu (120,785 in 1998).
• Haleakala, whose name translates as "house of the sun," is the largest dormant volcano in the world. Not yet extinct, it is expected to erupt sometime in the next 200 years (it last erupted in 1790).
• The underwater valleys that once connected Maui, Molokai Lanai and Kaho'olawe are shallower than the surrounding ocean, providing shelter for an abundance of marine life — including the humpback whales that migrate to Hawaiian waters during winter months to give birth to their calves.
• Temperatures on Maui range from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, although the slopes of Haleakala Crater often see lows of 40 degrees. The lowest recorded temperature on Haleakala was 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Maui's official flower is the loke lani (pink cottage rose)
• Maui's official color is pink
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