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Native Hawaiian tradition gives the origin of this island’s name in the legend of Hawai’iloa, the Polynesian navigator credited with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. The story goes that he named the island of Maui after his son who in turn was named for the demigod Maui. The Island of Maui is also called the “Valley Isle” for the large isthmus between its northwestern and southeastern volcanoes.
Maui’s wide variety of landscapes resulted from a unique combination of geology, topography, and climate. Each volcanic cone in the chain of the Hawaiian Islands is built of dark, iron-rich/quartz-poor rocks, which poured out of thousands of vents as highly fluid lava, over a period of millions of years. Several of the volcanoes were close enough to each other that lava flows on their flanks overlapped one another, merging into a single island. Maui is such a “volcanic doublet”, formed from two shield volcanoes that overlapped one another to form an isthmus between them.
The older, western volcano has been eroded considerably and is cut by numerous drainages, forming the peaks of the West Maui Mountains (in Hawaiian Mauna Kahalawai). Pu?u Kukui is the highest of the peaks at 5,788 feet (1,764 m). The larger, younger volcano to the east, Haleakal?, rises to more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, but measures 5 miles (8.0 km) from seafloor to summit, making it one of the world’s highest “mountains”.
The eastern flanks of both volcanoes are cut by deeply incised valleys and steep-sided ravines that run downslope to the rocky, windswept shoreline. The valley-like Isthmus of Maui that separates the two volcanic masses was formed by sandy erosional deposits.
Maui’s last eruption (originating in Haleakala’s Southwest Rift Zone) occurred around 1790; two of the resulting lava flows are located (1) at Cape Kana’u between hihi Bay and La Perouse Bay on the southwest shore of East Maui, and (2) at Makaluapuna Point on Honokahua Bay on the northwest shore of West Maui. Although considered to be dormant by volcanologists, Haleakala is certainly capable of further eruptions.
Maui is part of a much larger unit, Maui Nui, which includes the islands of Lana’i, Kaho’olawe, and Moloka’i. During periods of reduced sea level, including as recently as 20,000 years ago, they are joined together as a single island due to the shallowness of the channels between them.
There is no known meaning behind the name of Kaua’i. Native Hawaiian tradition indicates the name’s origin in the legend of Hawaii Loa — the Polynesian navigator attributed with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. The story relates how he named the island of Kaua’i after a favorite son; therefore a possible translation of Kaua’i is “place around the neck”, meaning how a father would carry a favorite child. Another possible translation is “food season.”
Kaua’i was known for its distinct dialect of the Hawaiian Language before it went extinct there. Whereas the standard language today is based on the dialect of Hawaii Island, the Kaua’i dialect was known for pronouncing /k/ as /t/. In effect, Kaua’i dialect retained the old pan-Polynesian /t/, while ‘standard’ Hawai’i dialect has innovated and changed it to the glottal stop. Therefore, the native name for Kaua’i was Taua’i, and the major settlement of Kapa’a would have been called Tapa’a.
Kauai’s origins are volcanic. The highest peak on this mountainous island is Kawaikini at 5,243 feet (1,598 m). The second highest peak is Mount Wai’ale’ale near the center of the island, 5,148 feet (1,569 m) above sea level. One of the wettest spots on earth, with an annual average rainfall of 460 inches (11,700 mm), is located on the east side of Mount Wai?ale?ale. The high annual rainfall has eroded deep valleys in the central mountains, carving out canyons with many scenic waterfalls. On the west side of the island, Waimea town is located at the mouth of the Waimea River, whose flow formed Waimea Canyon, one of the most scenic canyons in the world, and which is part of Waimea Canyon State Park. At 3,000 feet (914 m) deep, Waimea Canyon is often referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.
During the reign of King Kamehameha, the islands of Kaua’i and Ni’ihau were the last Hawaiian Islands to join his Kingdom of Hawai’i. Their ruler, Kaumuali’i, resisted Kamehameha for years. King Kamehameha twice prepared a huge armada of ships and canoes to take the islands by force and twice failed; once due to a storm, and once due to an epidemic. In the face of the threat of a further invasion, however, Kaumuali?i decided to join the kingdom without bloodshed, and became Kamehameha’s vassal in 1810, ceding the island to the Kingdom of Hawai?i upon his death in 1824. In 1815-17, Kaumuali’i led secret negotiations with representatives of the Russian-American Company in an attempt to gain Russia’s military help against Kamehameha; however, the negotiations folded and the Russians were forced to abandon all of their presence in Kaua’i, including Fort Elizabeth, after it was revealed that they did not have the support of Tsar Alexander I.
Often called the Orchid Isle for its heavy blankets of fragrant orchid flowers, the Big Island was given its name to avoid confusion with the other islands of Kauai, Maui and Oahu. In the past, the name Hawaii was used to describe both the chain of islands and the Big Island of Hawaii itself. The Big Island Hawaii is twice as large as the other islands combined and with two volcanoes still active, one which is the most volatile in the world, the island continues growing. Mauna Kea and Kohala are Big Island’s extinct volcanoes while Hualalai is considered dormant. The volcanoes are an integral part of Hawaii and create fascinating landscapes and backdrops that attract thousands each year.
Literally divided in half by a mountain range, the eastern part of the Big Island is hit by southwest trade winds bringing an onslaught of rainy Hawaiian weather. The clouds can’t reach the leeward or west side until they jettison their rain along the windward coast. This creates a major distinction, and a naturally curious ecosystem as the south is riddled with rain while Kohala and Kona, the most popular destinations on the Big Island of Hawaii, take in less than 10 inches annually. Hilo is a popular stop on a Big Island vacation is an excellent town to visit on the east coast but not recommended for extended stays.
There are several terrific attractions to visit in and around Hilo along the windward side during a Big Island vacation. Traveling north, you’ll reach Akaka Falls and its smaller mate, Kahuna Falls. Further northeast is Mauna Kea, a snow-capped volcanic mountain most popular for incredible star gazing opportunities. Tours to the summit are really popular and with some of the world’s most powerful telescopes, visibility is amazing. Big Island activities at Mauna Kea also include a trip to the visitors’ center and sunset tours. Liliuokalani Garden is perfect for a relaxing afternoon visit. A stroll around the garden, some people-watching and a picnic caps off an afternoon and slows the pace down.
The Big Island Hawaii is also well known for its fun events and holidays. When in the area on a Big Island vacation don’t miss any current events or you’ll miss a chance to experience the Aloha spirit at its finest. In April Big Island activities include attending the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo. With total emphasis on Hawaiian history and culture, the week-long festival hosts demonstrations, craft fairs, art exhibits, exciting performances, a large parade and a three-day hula competition! Each year in Kona, Big Island Hawaii hosts the Ironman Triathlon World Championships which kicks off in October. Coffee lovers flock to the fun Kona Coffee Festival each year in November to taste world renowned Kona coffee.
There are so many Big Island activities to enjoy that a well-planned trip is the best way to go. Popular activities include snorkeling, whale watching, scuba diving, dolphin sails, Horseback riding, Hawaii hiking, cycling, as well as scenic drives are also great ways to see more of the island’s stunning landscape.
Volcano National Park is a must-see on a list of things to do on the Big Island and can be explored in many ways, for a few hours or a few days. The beaches are unique and display golden, green and black sand. Though smaller in number than the other islands, they exhibit a raw, powerful beauty and many are great for an afternoon of family seaside fun.
An important aspect to know is the Big Island of Hawaii is not easily driven around. The loop encompasses more than 200 miles and stopping to see attractions makes the trip much longer. Visitors can make an adventure of it easily beginning with exploring the Kohala and Kona areas while staying at one of the Resorts, condos or hotels. Hit the north coast next and drive around stopping in Hilo for an overnight stay or two. Leaving Hilo, the next obvious stop is Volcanoes National Park. If there’s time, consider taking a full day or two to explore the fascinating and uniquely beautiful and dramatic terrain. Swing around to the southern coast, stopping as you wish on your way back to Kohala or Kona.
To really see the island, a drive around is the best way. Most importantly, relax on a lanai at sunset and simply let go of it all as you soak up all that the Big Island has to give.
If you would like to connect to the sacred sites of Hawaii, then please learn more about our retreats.