Snow joke in tropics
The unexpectedly varied climates on Hawaii’s Big Island provide just one of the highlights of this tropical delight, writes Angela Saurine
WHEN you think of Hawaii certain images come to mind – palm trees, heavenly beaches and blazing orange sunsets.
Snow is not something you would typically associate with the US island state.
Yet there it is – a big patch of the white stuff sitting at the top of Mauna Loa volcano.
Eleven of the world’s 13 climates can be found on Hawaii Island, nicknamed the Big Island because it is by far the largest of Hawaii’s eight islands.
During winter, you can play in the snow on the mountain, then drive through desert or jungle to swim on the coast, where temperatures are still in the 30s.
The volcano is one of five on the Big Island, two of which are still active.Mauna Kea is 4205m – the tallest mountain in the world when measured from its base below sea level to summit.
Flying over the island on a tour with Blue Hawaiian helicopters, we see steam pouring out of cracks in the Earth’s surface and vents and red-hot lava bubbling from the crater of the most active volcano, Kilauea. Hundreds of years ago, native Hawaiians held human sacrifices at the volcano, our pilot Dale says.
Until last year you could do boat tours to see lava pouring over cliffs into the ocean, but the lava changed direction and is now heading slowly towards houses.
After flying over forest being burned by lava we refuel at Hilo, on the east side of the island, before heading north up the Hamakua coast. The landscape changes dramatically, and we soar past two lush valleys between soaring canyons which meet the ocean sharply.
We fly into Waimanu Valley, twisting and turning to see several 850m high waterfalls – the tallest I have seen – getting so close we get water droplets on the windscreen.
After reaching the northernmost point on the island we turn back and continue along the island’s northwest, known as the Kohala Coast, where I am staying at the beachfront Mauna Lani Resort.
Mauna Lani means mountain heaven, so named because you can see five volcanoes from the resort, including one on the neighbouring island Maui just across the way.
Surrounded by fields of black lava, the area was once a place of rest for chiefs who came to fish in natural ponds formed from the lava dotted throughout the property.
The resort’s director of cultural affairs, Danny Akaka, fills me in on the history of the 1300ha property.
Errol Flynn, Babe Ruth and Bob Hope are among the celebrities who stayed there as a guest of previous owner Francis Brown, before he sold it to a Japanese friend in 1972.
The Big Island has one of the biggest cattle ranches in the US – Parker Ranch – as well as dairy farms and coffee plantations.
It is also home to Awapuhi Farm, where Paul Mitchell cofounded his well-known hair