The Enchanted, Wild Wonders of the Island of Hawaii

By Laura Goldstein

If taking a helicopter ride over the active Kilauea Volcano is still on your bucket list (don’t be deterred by recent eruptions;) diving with manta rays or re-tracing some of Indiana Jones’ jungle exploits, the mystical Island of Hawaii will leave you mesmerized.

As the largest and youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands created from five volcanoes, (hence the moniker, “The Big Island,”) the Island of Hawaii is a place of untamed geographical contrasts from which mystical creation legends  have evolved. Divided into six regions: Hamakua Coast, Hilo, Puna, Kau, Kona and Kohala, it’s home to 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones – from Wet Tropical to Polar Tundra. For that reason, the Island of Hawaii boasts a breath-taking array of wild natural wonders to explore.

“ We want all our guests and visitors to know that the Fairmont Orchid, located on the west side of the island, is 90 miles away from the erupting Kilauea Volcano. The volcano is in an isolated, cordoned-off area on the east side now closed to the general public unless by air (we don’t advocate boat trips at this time,)” affirms Joan Harvey, Director Sales and Marketing for Fairmont Orchid. “So it’s business as usual here,” she says. “In fact, our award-winning Concierge, Gerald Farm, has put together some fantastic itineraries that incorporate the amazing wild landscapes and activities throughout the island.”

Floating Yoga

Begin slowly at a contemplative pace at the Fairmont Orchid’s floating yoga class. “Flo-Yo, in which guests practice yoga on paddleboards with our in-house instructor just as the sun is rising, is a wonderful way to start your day of busy Island adventures,” suggests Joan Harvey.

Visiting the Volcano Goddess by Air Over Kau

Concierge, Gerald Farm, born and raised on the Island of Hawaii, makes it a personal goal to experience as many expeditions himself so that he can better advise Fairmont Orchid guests and that includes the fully enclosed, air-conditioned helicopter rides narrated by the pilot over the erupting Kilauea Volcano located in an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site. “The general public may not know that Kilauea began erupting in 1983 – I actually remember that growing up, and erupting has occurred in cycles ever since,” says Farm.

“Flying over Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was an absolutely thrilling experience to watch molten lava pour out through fissures and is an extremely popular request from our guests,” Farm relates. “The summit also contains a lava lake known as Halema’uma’u, that Hawaiians believe to be the home of the volcano goddess, “Pele.” ”

“We use three helicopter companies but Sunshine Helicopters is the only one that has a reserved first class seating option, fantastic for avid photographers. All the companies make daily checks with authorities regarding weather conditions, air quality and safety is always their first concern as is ours at the Fairmont Orchid,” adds Farm. “While in the Park, helicopters also fly over Mauna Loa, an active volcano that covers half the Island of Hawaii. It’s also the world’s highest volcano at 13,677 feet. ”

Realm of the Gods North of Hilo

If you’re star struck (in the celestial way,) the Onizuka Center For International Astronomy located on Mauna Kea 14,000 feet above sea level, offers visitors a fascinating exploration of our galaxy. Mauna Kea is the tallest sea mountain in the world at 32,000 feet from its base on the ocean floor, surpassing even Mt. Everest!  The clarity and darkness of the skies over the Island of Hawaii provide the ultimate observational  base for 13 of earth’s most powerful telescopes operated by astronomers from 11 countries. In fact, their combined light-producing power is 60 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope.

If you choose to arrive to experience the heavenly sunsets, you’ll also be amazed at the silver, spiky vegetation with soaring appendages on the Mauna Kea slopes known as “Silversword” that resemble futuristic life forms. And don’t forget to bring a heavy jacket – it’s cold at the summit.

“Culturally for Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is considered a sacred place, the “Realm of the Gods,” Gerald Farm explains. “In ancient times, trekking to the summit was only allowed for royalty and high priests who worshipped “Poli’ahu,” the goddess of ice and snow.”

Today, the Center offers the public fascinating stargazing programs from its Observatory but visitors are urged to check the website before arriving as many events are weather permitting.

Manta by Moonlight

As the sun sinks down along the Kona Coast, snorkel or scuba dive through crystal clear waters as manta rays perform an underwater ballet. You’ll be mesmerized by these gentle giants (mantas don’t have stingers like sting rays or eagle rays) as they glide gracefully by to feed on microscopic plankton in the illuminated waters.

For a memorable experience, book a late night manta swim with Kona Ocean Adventures. The moonlight peeking out over Hualalai will illuminate your path to the hot spots where mantas gather in the evening to feed. You’ll marvel as they perform somersaults and spins all around you.

“Indiana Jones” On the Hamakua Coast

Fans of “Indiana Jones” (aka Harrison Ford,) can follow the trails in his well-worn hiking boots along the Island of Hawaii’s Hamakua Coast.

Standing in for the jungles of Peru with its lush tropical rain forests and jaw-dropping waterfalls like the 442-foot Akaka Falls, it was the perfect location for the shooting of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.

Bring along your bathing suit because between scenic lookouts are picturesque black lava sand beaches that becken a refreshing ocean plunge. During winter months, humpback whales can be spotted during their annual migration.

Driving the Hamakua Heritage Corridor from Hilo to the sacred Waipio Valley Lookout, the latter the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I, the terrain is surrounded by majestic cliffs up to 2,000-feet in height. Stop at the World Botanical Gardens where you can zipline your way above the spectacular triple-tiered Umauma Falls.

Sacred Puako Petroglyphs, Kohala Coast

And speaking of “Indiana Jones” you don’t have to be an archeologist to be fascinated by the mysterious 3,000 lava rock carvings of abstract turtles, canoes and people dating back to 1200 AD in the  Puako Petroglyph Archeological Preserve. It’s the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the entire Pacific region. A marked petroglyph trail assists hikers and guided tours are also available.

Winding Down in Luxury

After a jam-packed day of exploring the Island, you’ll luxuriate in the healing treatments based upon ancient therapeutic techniques at the Fairmont Orchid’s “Spa Without Walls” Nestled between lush gardens and koi ponds, guests receive treatments in private “hales” (huts) actually positioned over a waterfall and facing the ocean.

The “lomilomi” uses long, rhythmic strokes of the forearm for a deep muscle massage used in ancient Hawaii to prepare dancers for ceremonial and religious occasions.

The Spa’s signature treatment is the “Kona Coffee Exfoliation” with an aromatic scrub made exclusively on-island for the “Spa Without Walls.” It uses crushed organic Kona coffee beans mixed with local Ka’u orange crème lotion to exfoliate and soften the skin. It’s followed by a 25-minute massage with fragrant vanilla lotion.

Ahhhhh, what better way to relax and reminisce about your day’s adventures uncovering the enchanted, wild wonders on the Island of Hawaii