My Rough Guide: A mixed-up world where hello means goodbye

Best Discovery

The astonishing jet-black beach at Kaunoamoa was created in 1990, when several million shiny shards of volcanic glass were washed ashore into a coconut grove after a major lava flow hit the ocean. It was destroyed by another eruption in 1992, but I was lucky enough to see it in 1991. Though I walked gingerly down to where the towering white waves were crashing against the black rocks, the sheer blackness completely defeated my attempts to photograph its beauty.

Bizarre Meeting

When I visited 92-year-old Albert Solomon's tiny "museum" in Waimea, he was motionless, apparently asleep, in the corner. Only when I stepped within a few feet of him did he suddenly snap his eyes open, and start to "talk story", as the Hawaiians say. I didn't get a word in for over two hours, I didn't even manage to change my body posture, as he reeled off an endless stream of tales, flourishing Franklin Roosevelt's slippers as he described riding in the President's motorcycle escort during a visit to Honolulu in 1934, and producing mysterious magical artefacts that he'd found when he stumbled upon ancient Hawaiian mummies, guarded by poisoned booby-traps, in nearby caves.

Favourite Hotel

The Kona Village Resort is among Hawaii's oldest luxury hotels, but it perfectly encapsulates every fantasy of a South Seas hideaway. Each "room" is a separate, lavishly-appointed thatched hut, all arranged around a pristine lagoon that's home to giant sea turtles and manta rays. There are no phones, TVs or radios, but there are two superb restaurants, and you even get a coffee-making alarm clock that wakes you up by grinding the beans.

Biggest Disappointment

That surfing isn't as easy as the locals make it look. I've twice had lessons, which consist of lying on a surfboard the size of a door while your teacher pushes through the waves, and then leaping to your feet for a few seconds of transcendent bliss. When I've tried to go it alone, however, catching a wave turns out to be a very different story.

Best Meal

It took me a while to succumb to the sentimental charms of Hawaiian music, and I must admit I tried to hide from an obligation to eat in Uncle Billy's restaurant in Hilo, where the owner's extended family provides. "Polynesian Entertainment" as you dine. Once caught, however, and seated next to the elderly Uncle Billy himself in front of a vast pile of fresh seafood, I had the time of my life, and soon joined him in sobbing my heart out to the strains of the "Hawaiian Wedding Song".

Biggest Mistake

The first time I saw Kilauea - the world's most active volcano - erupt, I was so excited that I stayed out on the lava field after sunset. Picking my way back across the jagged wasteland of razor-sharp rock - even touching fresh lava to steady yourself is like grabbing sandpaper - was nightmarish. Every now and then the ground shook beneath my feet, and a ball of molten lava shot into the air to illuminate the pitch darkness. Knowing it was somewhere above me, but not daring to take my eyes off my unsteady feet, I just had to hope it was going to miss me.

Essential Phrase

On any Hawaiian island, there are only two directions that count - makai, towards the ocean, and mauka, towards the volcano. Until you've got those two Hawaiian words sorted out, you won't be able to find anything. Aloha, which means "Hello, I love you", and "goodbye", covers most other situations you'll require.

fact file

Getting There

The only airline to fly direct to the Big Island is United (tel: 0181 990 9900), which offers daily services to Kona from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The timings make it impossible to get all the way from London in a single day, though on United and several other carriers you can get as far as Honolulu on the day you set off, and fly on the next morning. Typical return fares on either route range from around pounds 450 between January and March up to perhaps pounds 650 in July and August. Car rental on the Big Island is relatively cheap, at around pounds 100 per week; public transport is all but non-existent.

Where to stay

The Kona Village Resort is on Queen Kaahumanu Ilwy, Kailua-Kona 111 96745. (tel: 808/325 5555). Rooms start at $425 per night. Uncle Billy's is in the Hilo Bay Hotel, 87 Banyan Drie, Hilo HI 96720 (tel: 808/961 5818). A full meal costs around $20, the entertainment is free, and a room for the night is about $60.

Greg Ward wrote `The Rough Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter `Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'