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?
Travel
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reception Manager

    £18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

    Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

    £Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence