A study of contrasts in two of Hawaii's major islands
Luau. Check. Pearl Harbor. Check. Diamond Head. Check. Spectacular resorts, golf courses, and beaches. Check, check, check. If you feel like you've been there, done that, and are looking for something different on your next Hawaiian vacation, the two contrasting islands of Oahu and Hawaii Island (aka the Big Island) have a whole country's worth of natural and cultural experiences.
Oahu, the busy home of the capital city Honolulu, is the center of Hawaiian art, culture and history. In addition to major attractions like Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head and the Bishop Museum, there are other spots to marvel at and learn about the past.
Hawaii had royalty up until the end of the 19th century, and there are restored royal palaces you can tour. The Iolani Palace in Honolulu is known for its beautifully restored Victorian-era opulence. It hosts many public lectures, events and performances. Visit iolanipalace.com for more information.
Drive into the countryside, to the lush Nuuanu Valley, and you can visit the Queen Emma Summer Palace. It was the getaway for Queen Emma, King Kamehameha IV and their son, Prince Albert, in the mid- to late-1800s. It features a collection of Queen Emma's belongings as well as royal antiques, furnishings and memorabilia. Visit daughtersofhawaii.org for more information.
American "royalty" such as tobacco heiress Doris Duke — referred to as "the world's richest girl" when she came of age in the 1930s — have long been attracted to Hawaii. After falling in love with Islamic art on her honeymoon to the Middle East and South Asia, Duke spent the next 60 years creating one of the world's largest private collections of 2,500 objects. Her colorful Honolulu estate, Shangri-La, was custom-built in the Islamic style to showcase it. Now called the Shangri-La Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, it is open for exhibitions and tours. Visit shangrilahawaii.org for more information.
Built inside an extinct volcanic crater overlooking Honolulu, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is arguably the world's most dramatic military resting place. Tens of thousands of World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans and their families are buried there. "The Punchbowl," as the cemetery is commonly called, is open to the public. Its lush green lawns contrast with white carved stone memorials and statues covering 116 acres inside the crater. Visit cem.va.gov for more information.
With 11 climate zones spanning rainforest to desert, Hawaii Island, or the Big Island, is bigger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined. It has everything from live volcanoes that spew lava into the ocean to world-renowned observatories for stargazing 14,000 feet above sea level. In between, there is a lot of agri-tourism at farms that grow exotic tropical delicacies.
If you love lava, Hawaii Island is your island. There are three active volcanoes — two on land and one underwater off the coast. You can hike still-smoking lava flows, explore lava tubes, view molten lava from the air via helicopter, and take boat trips to view lava sizzling into the ocean when eruptions occur. The area around the town of Pohoiki¿is where the private lava boat trips embark. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is volcano central. There, you can learn about volcanoes, hike, bike, camp and drive a volcano rim. Visit nps.gov/havo.
Astronomy is an international affair at the 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea. It's the world's largest observatory community with astronomers from 11 countries and 13 telescopes featuring the latest space-age technology. Conditions are excellent for stargazing because of the clear, stable, unpolluted atmosphere. Stop at the Visitor Information Station first (at 9,200 feet) to see if you can or should make the journey to the high altitude of the observatories. If you can't make it, there are telescopes for day and night use at the Information Station, guided tours and stargazing programs. Visit hawaii.edu/info.
The Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawaii in Hilo is another option.
This family-friendly museum and planetarium highlights the intersection¿of astronomy and Hawaiian culture. Visit imiloahawaii.org for more information.
Agri-tourism is big on Hawaii Island, where most of the state's produce is grown. The Hilo Farmers Market is a great place to start. You are guaranteed to find food and flowers you probably won't see at your local supermarket.
Hawaii is known not only for pineapples, but also coffee, Macadamia nuts, vanilla, papaya, mango, jackfruit, ginger root, kava, honey, hearts of palm, and exotic fruits such as lychee and dragon fruit. Cocoa farming is becoming popular, as well as chocolate making. There are even chocolate festivals.
Many farms and factories are open to the public for touring and tasting in the Kailua Kona area, such as the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, and the Kona Old Style at Kuaiwi Farm, an organic farm growing Kona coffee, avocados, Macadamia nuts, pineapples, bananas and more, all available for tasting.
If you think Hawaiian flowers are beautiful, imagine what the honey made from them tastes like. At Big Island Bees in Kealakekua, you don't have to wonder. There is a museum, tasting room and tours, plus a honey shop. Visit bigislandbees.com.