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The “Big Island,” the island of Hawaii, with its 4,028 square miles, comprises more area than all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. It is also the youngest of the Islands, with volcanic activity still increasing its land area. The product of five volcanoes, Hawaii's oldest peaks, the Kohala Mountains, formed only 430,000 years ago. Mauna Kea, rising to 13,796 feet, is the highest point in the Pacific and is dormant, while Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea are all considered active, with stark fields of black lava serving as reminders of their activity over the past several hundred years.

As with the other inhabited Hawaiian Islands, most of the island of Hawaii's development is concentrated near the ocean and on the lower elevations of the mountains. The wetter, windward (east) side of the island was the center of economic activity for the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, thanks to the sugar industry; however, with the ascendancy of the visitor industry since the 1970s, the dry, leeward Kona-Kohala coast has risen to prominence.

The island of Hawaii is the land of Pele, the volcano goddess, as well as such ruling chiefs as Umi and Liloha, and Kamehameha I. Hale Maumau crater, the home of Pele, and its surrounding environs are maintained by the National Park Service, as are Puuhonua O Honaunau, an ancient city of refuge, and Puukohola, a heiau (traditional place of worship) built by Kamehameha I to assure his success in uniting the islands of the Hawaiian chain. The highest concentration of maintained traditional Hawaiian sites may be found on this island, especially along the leeward coast from North Kohala south to Ka Lae in Kau, the southernmost tip of the United States. Among these ruins are Mookini Heiau (North Kohala), constructed by the priest Paau in the twelfth century when he brought a new religion from Tahiti to Hawaii, and the remains of former Hawaiian communities at Lapakahi, now a state historical park (on HI 270, North Kohala), and Honokohau, which is slowly being developed as a national park (Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park; off HI 19). In Kailua-Kona on the grounds of the King Kamehameha Hotel, the residential complex of Kamehameha I has been restored.

It was on Hawaii, at Kealakekua Bay, that British navigator Captain James Cook met his demise in 1779. A twenty-seven-foot-high obelisk erected in 1874 by “some of his fellow countrymen” memorializes that event and the explorer's life. The monument sits on a small piece of land near the spot where he landed, and was granted to British consul James Wodehouse by Princess Miriam Likelike, the sister of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, and her Scottish husband, Archibald Cleghorn.

Two other British seamen, John Young and Isaac Davis, were captured in 1790 by the forces of Kamehameha I and pressed into his service. Their knowledge of foreign weapons assisted the warrior's conquest of the Islands. Both served as trusted members of the king's court, and the stone walls of Young's house, perhaps the earliest foreign-style building in Hawaii, still stand near Kawaihae, although the site is not open to the public. Queen Emma, the wife of Kamehameha IV, was Young's granddaughter.

The leeward coast of the island of Hawaii is also the home of Kona coffee, the primary agricultural product of that more arid side of the island since the early 1900s. The sunny weather of the Kona-Kohala region has also made it the focal point of the island's visitor industry, beginning with the Kona Inn (now a shopping complex; 75-5744 Alii Drive) in 1928, and extending to more recent master-planned resort developments. Mauna Kea (HA74), Mauna Lani (HA75), Waikoloa, and Kaupulehu stand out as lush oases amidst the barren, lava-encrusted landscape.

The east side of the island, the verdant Hilo-Hamakua coast, features some of the state's best examples of plantation communities, with housing, stores, and religious structures characterizing the district. A modest Tiffany window (1902), one of only two in the state, is nestled in St. Columba's Episcopal Church (c. 1960 rebuilt) in Paauilo. Sugar cane dominated the landscape, and the present Mamalahoa Highway traverses much of the Hamakua coast's former railway route.

Hilo, the county seat, includes a wide variety of early-twentieth-century buildings. Vernacular, frame business buildings adjoin Art Deco buildings of terra-cotta and cast stone. The town features several well-designed modern buildings such as the Hawaii County Building (HA27) and a number of more recent offices at the University of Hawaii at Hilo's science and technology park (HA46). The island also offers the largest collection of Japanese-style temples (HA9) in the state, as well as several nineteenth-century frame Christian churches (HA41). These were built at a time when some regarded wood buildings to be more durable than stone because of the volcanic earthquakes that still shake the island.

The building entries for the island commence in Kailua-Kona and its surrounding area, and then head south along the Mamalahoa Highway. The route journeys around the southern tip of the island to Volcano and Keaau, and continues on to Hilo, before moving northwest along the Hamakua coast. From Honokaa it travels inland to Waimea and over the Kohala Mountains to Hawi and Kapaau. From this northern point it moves south along the Queen Kaahumanu Highway visiting several destination resorts before terminating at the airport (HA79) in Keahole, just north of Kailua-Kona.

Writing Credits

Don J. Hibbard

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