Big Island of Hawaii: Untamed Nature, Untamed Passion

Tranquil blue sea of Hawaii's Big Island  (PhotoDisc)

If nature in its wildest form—fiery lava fields, untrammeled black-sand beaches, verdant foliage—is your passion, then Hawaii's Big Island is tailor-made for you and your loved one. Without the high-density, high-rise development of O'ahu, the Big Island offers an amazing variety of natural environments to explore. You can sleep in a tree house, stargaze from the towering slopes of Mauna Loa or Mauna Ke'a, scuba and snorkel along the coral reefs of Kona, and savor fresh seafood.

At the Kalani Oceanside Eco-Resort (137 Pahoa Beach Rd., Pahoa) along the southeastern coast, the food is organic and the mood relaxed. Instead of televisions and data ports, this retreat offers yoga classes, massage, wellness workshops, and a mellow, back-to-nature vibe. After all, who needs reruns of Friends when you're lounging in your very own ocean-view treetop room, nestled in the branches of an enormous monkeypod tree and surrounded by coconut palms and mahogany trees. Swim in the outdoor pool, steam in the sauna, soak in the hot tub, or walk a few blocks to a nearby black-sand beach to swim, sunbathe, or (if you're lucky) frolic with a school of friendly dolphins.

Once you've had enough beach time, go pay tribute to Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (808.985.6000, www.nps.gov/havo). True to her fiery nature, the park's said to be especially fond of red things, especially bright-red tropical flowers. Covering 505 square miles, including the active Kilauea Volcano, the park's landscapes veer from lush clusters of tropical ferns and orchids to lunar-looking craters and lava formations.

Heading back out to the beaches along the western coast, you'll find abundant scuba and snorkeling opportunities in Kona and Kohala. The sugar-white sands and blue waters of Kealakekua Bay and Hapuna and Kauna'oa beaches make the perfect spots to wile away an afternoon, especially if you're staying at the spacious Mauna Ke'a Beach Hotel (62-100 Mauna Ke'a Beach Dr., Kohala Coast) or at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel (68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr., Kohala Coast)—the latter offers ocean-view rooms, charming private bungalows, the well-regarded Canoe House restaurant (808.881.7911), and an onsite spa.

But real adventure awaits with a venture into the Waipio Valley near the Hamakua Coast on the eastern, rainforested side of the island. Formed by erosion, this valley is an unimaginably verdant slash filled with lush greenery and cascading waterfalls tucked between enormously steep hillsides. Best explored by four-wheel-drive or on horseback, the area is tranquil and remote, with breathtaking vistas and a mile-long black-sand beach. The airy, pleasant Waipio Wayside Inn (Highway 240, Honokaa) makes a good base for exploring the area; it's also popular as a wedding site. Or try the quirky Hamakua Hideaway Tree House tucked in a corner of Waipio Valley, complete with kitchenette, king-sized bed, and whirlpool tub. Open your door to morning swims, waterfall hikes, and unforgettable sunrises.

Published: 24 Jun 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Big Island

$329
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Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows
$389
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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
$139-$379
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Holua Resort at Mauna Loa Village
$244
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Castle Halii Kai At Waikoloa

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