By ROBERT ELIAS DEATON
Nothing on earth quite matches the stunning spectacle of an erupting volcano. All power, heat, and lava- -unleashed in a formidable display of Mother Nature so incredible that even witnessing the act fails to convince the viewer that there is an authority so almighty that it is capable of producing such a show.
Yet here, on the Big Island of Hawaii, it is a daily performance, hurled skyward by Pele, goddess of fire, lightning, and wind, who makes her home in the caldera of the 4,190-foot Kilauea volcano. In a constant state of active eruption since 1983, this Hawaiian hot spot is the most active volcano in the world. Lava leaving the volcano is so hot (calculated to be over 2,000 degrees F) that the Hawaii Volcano National Park has closed previously open access to the active lava flow area.
Currently, the best way to view this unbelievable spectacle of nature is via plane. Big Island Air (808-329-4868) provides an hour-and-a-half tour that leaves from Kona International Airport , five times a day including the incredible sunset tour, when the lava of Kilauea flames brilliance even against the incredible Hawaiian sunset.
While many gravitate to helicopters and Paradise Helicopters (808-969-7392) provides an excellent service, Big Island Air is less expensive, provides first class all-window seats, and a longer tour, so the choice is yours, but do not miss the opportunity to see this wonder of nature.
The Big Island may not be as sophisticated as Maui with its grand homes and lavish golf courses, or as gay intense as Oahu with its clubs, bars and bath houses, but Hawaii’s largest island has its own special charm of undeveloped rain forests, hiking trails, waterfalls, and some of the loveliest beaches in the world.
Hotels on the island range from the ultra-extravagant Four Seasons Resort Hual?lai at Historic Ka‘?p?lehu ( fourseasons.com/hualalai) and Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast ( fairmont.com/orchid) to the budget based Marriott Courtyard King Kamehameha (marriott.com/ hotels/travel/koacy-courtyard-kingkamehamehas- kona-beach-hotel ) on the beach at Kona.
There’s also a variety of bed-and-breakfast accommodations throughout the island, many in off-thegrid exotic locales. Since there is no such thing as avoiding the sun in this cow-paddy of paradise in the Pacific, you might as well head to the most delicious of beaches on the Big Island.
Local sun worshipper and palm expert Donald Sanders (Uncle Don, to you) assures us that Magic Sands Beach Park , a smidge past the Four Mile Marker on Alii Drive in Kona on the West side of the island is a prime spot close to many of the major hotels.
Personally, we’ve always had a fondness for Kua Bay, officially known as Manini’owali Beach Park since they’ve pave the entrance road (directly across the Veteran’s Cemetery at Mile Marker 19) and added paved free parking. The pale blue water luxuriates against the white sand, with lots of muscled boogie boarders to keep you amused and spellbound.
For the more ecological among us, we can’t rave enough about Big Island Eco Adventures (808-889-5111). They operate nine zip lines across the jungle treetops and waterfalls. The cost is currently $176.04, and worth every single penny.
It’s so much fun, you may double dip and go back for more, or try Hawaii Forest and Trail (808-331-8505) with their own zip lines and hiking tours, including an evening volcano summit tour. Next week, we’ll get more tips from Donald Sanders, the ultimate in Big Island savvy, who will talk food and trips to the wet East side.
Check on Donald’s latest book: “ Farrah Fawcett—A Photo Essay ” (mixbook.com/photo-books/ stories/farrah-fawcett-a-photo-essaycopy- 7453041 ). Priceless.
Robert Elias Deaton is a world-traveling epicure who enjoys the finer things in life.