Why It’s Called the Big Island
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN HAWAII
WHEN people think of the Hawaiian Islands, what comes to their mind? Perhaps white sandy beaches, pristine waters, swaying coconut palm trees, and warm nights on lanais lit by romantic tiki torches. Throw in a Polynesian luau replete with fresh pineapple, poi, lomilomi salmon and, of course, kalua pig, and the picture is nearly complete. Who could want more?
Well, on Hawaii many enjoy more than that, much more! To begin with, the island of Hawaii is called the Big Island because you could take the other major islands of the Hawaiian Islands—Oahu, Maui, and Kauai—and easily fit them all into the Big Island! This amazing island covers over 4,028 square miles [10,432 km2] and is still growing. But more about that later.
Location and Climate
Since it is the most southerly island, the Big Island enjoys a mild climate. The average daytime temperatures in the coastal resort areas vary from the mid-80’s in the summer (May to October) to the low 70’s in the winter (November to April), and nighttime lows of between 59 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit [15-18 degrees Celsius] are the norm. Usually, the Kona district, on the leeward side of the island, is more sunny, and the Hilo area, on the windward side, is much more rainy.
The tropical climate and rich volcanic soil allow for the growth of an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Delicious mangoes, papayas, lychees, and other exotic fruits abound, along with beautiful orchids and anthuriums. Macadamia nut trees and coffee plants flourish. Kona coffee is world famous. Coffee distributors from all over flock to the annual Kona Coffee Festival to taste it and to place orders.
The Big Island has a wide variety of climatic zones, including rain forest, desert, and tundra. The rain forests are located on the eastern, rainy part of the island. Many exotic birds are found there, along with tree ferns and various species of wild orchids. Rainfall averages from about 10 inches [25 cm] annually in the Kona-Kohala district to more than 100 inches [250 cm] annually in the Hilo area.
Kilauea—An Active yet Tame Volcano
There are five distinct volcanoes on the island—Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Kilauea, Kohala, and Hualalai. The name Kilauea literally means “Much Spewing.” In 1979, Kilauea reawakened in a spectacular eruption. Since 1983 its red-hot lava flow has been almost continuous. It has devastated three coastal towns but has created hundreds of acres of new land.
When the lava reaches the ocean with a mighty roar and hiss, it creates huge plumes of steam and smoke as well as clouds and new black-sand beaches. Kilauea can usually be viewed close-up with safety, so it has sometimes been referred to as the world’s only “drive-in volcano.”
The dormant volcano Mauna Kea, at 13,796 feet [4,205 m], is the island’s tallest mountain, just topping Mauna Loa, which rises 13,679 feet [4,169 m]. However, if measured from its base on the seabed, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, rising over 30,000 feet [9,000 m] from the ocean floor. On the other hand, Mauna Loa enjoys the distinction of being the most massive mountain in the world, with a mass of some 10,000 cubic miles [40,000 km3]!
A Variety of Attractions
During winter, snow often falls on Mauna Kea, so it lives up to its nickname the White Mountain. Some residents ski there, although the rocky slopes make that activity precarious. At present, 13 of the most powerful telescopes in the world, representing some 11 different countries, are clustered at the summit in the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.
Along the coastal areas of the Big Island, recreational activities abound. Water sports can be enjoyed all year long because the air and ocean temperatures remain warm. The beaches range from the highly rated white sands of resort areas to secluded beaches, often accessible only to hikers or four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The Big Island is truly blessed in a variety of ways—size, location, climate, and geography. You will find that the people there are friendly and caring and that they delight in exhibiting warm Hawaiian hospitality.
[Map on page 16]
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[Picture on page 16, 17]
Mauna Kea in the background
[Picture Credit Line on page 17]
U.S. Geological Survey/Photo by T.J. Takahashi