My earliest memories of the Big Island are of playing in tide pools on a black sand beach that was later lost to an eruption of the volcano Kilauea. Back then, the island was considered the middle of nowhere in a state that's in the middle of nowhere. Now, though the towns of Kona and Hilo have spread out, Hawaii remains open and unspoiled.
Again we stayed at the Four Seasons, this one called Hualalai, which boasts a cultural center, where you can take free ukulele lessons, and a salt-water swimming pool filled with 3,000 fish. At night, as we sat under a sky lit by more stars than we'd ever seen, we thought we were in heaven.
The beauty of the Big Island is in its diversity. Here, on a single trip, you could ski the snow-covered slopes of a volcano, ride horses through one of the biggest working ranches in the world, explore a cloud forest, golf a championship course, and fish for fat silver-blue sailfish.
My first choice, though, was to spend a day in the "ditch." Actually a sort of irrigation canal left over from the island's plantation past, its rushing waters wind their way into caves, under waterfalls, and through rainforests so dense, you get an idea of what the color green would smell like. Years ago, you'd have to sneak onto private property to go fluming. But now you can pay a sum, jump in a kayak, and spend a day in the flumes in legal comfort and safety, a perfect activity for anyone over the age of 5.
A world away is the eerie, sunbaked City of Refuge. Composed of three bone-filled burial mounds and countless glowering tikis, it gives a stark and gripping glimpse into the island's past. Back in ancient Hawaii, criminals and disgraced warriors had two choices: make it to the City of Refuge, where one could gain absolution, or die. The choice would seem obvious except for the fact that the only way to get to the city was to swim across a shark-infested bay. Its real name is a mouthful -- Pu'uhonua o Honaunau -- but forget about pronouncing it and just go.
For the ultimate sightseeing splurge, there's nothing like an aerial tour. Despite my fear of flying, I left Stewart and Bella and hopped a copter because I knew that it would allow me to see one of my islands more clearly and intimately than I ever had before. I was not disappointed. For two hours, our craft gingerly dropped into a roiling crater, raced over the grasslands of Paniolo (cowboy) country, and flitted into the backs of valleys on the Hamakua Coast, where humans may never have trod and waterfalls rained down on pools hundreds of feet below.
Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the November 2001 issue of Child magazine.