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The Big Island

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Although the Big Island of Hawaii could hold all the other islands with room to spare, it has the population of a medium-sized town, with just 176,000 people (half what it was in Captain Cook’s day). Visitation remains lower than Oahu and Maui; despite its fair share of restaurants, bars and facilities, this is basically a rural community, where sleepy old towns have remained unchanged for a century. The few resorts are built on the barren lava flows of the Kona coast to catch maximum sunshine.

Thanks to the Kilauea volcano, which has destroyed roads and even towns, and spews out pristine beaches of jet-black sand, the Big Island is still growing, its southern shore inching ever further out to sea. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which includes Mauna Loa as well as Kilauea (though not Mauna Kea, further to the north and higher than either), is absolutely compelling; you can explore steaming craters and cinder cones, venture into the rainforest, and at times approach within feet of the eruption itself.

As befits the birthplace of King Kamehameha, more of the ancient Hawaii survives on the Big Island than anywhere else. Puuhonua O Honaunau preserves a “place of refuge” for defeated warriors and those who ran afoul of society’s rules, and there are further temples along the island’s northwest coastline, while Waipio Valley, where Kamehameha spent his youth, remains as lush and green as ever.

Flights to the Big Island arrive both near Kailua on the west coast and at Hilo on the rainy east. Public transportation is all but nonexistent.

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