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A Big Island

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With the glow of the holidays fast receding and the polar express reminding you to shovel your way out yet again, no doubt dreams of warmth, escape and relaxation aren't far behind.  So think big. Really big.  Start with a Big Island Getaway from which you can explore the island's many charms. Earthy and elegant this is a private rural retreat with breathtaking views that will leave you wanting more. Designed to harmonize with the land, most homes incorporate local Koa woods and lava rock in appreciation of the unique natural beauty that is found only here.

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Out of all the islands in the remote Hawaiian archipelago, the Big Island is known as the land of King's, Volcano Goddesses and mysterious mythologies and folklore. With the greatest variety of climates, landscape and culture, it is also the only one still growing.  Volcano goddess Pele has been putting on a spectacular show since coming to life back in 1983, simultaneously swallowing land and building it back up. Destruction and rebirth on a colossal scale!

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Exotic, remote and sun drenched, but sometimes reduced to just a romantic or tropical ideal, Hawaii fires our imagination and yearning but can sometimes provoke some goofy stereotypes. (Just wander into most stores for the dopey trinkets and dizzyingly ugly shirts). But the reality, and the experience will, if you're paying attention, draw you in and reveal something you've probably missed.

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Often cited as the place to get hitched, get lost, and get tan, there remains a hidden history of natural wonders and the cultural remnants of multiple attempts to tame and understand this Shangrila. Ancient and recent cultures collide, creating a fascinating medley of architecture, food and traditions. From the five star resorts that would inevitably rise here, to the ancient and sacred Heiau or temple that sits quietly through time just blocks away, Hawaii is a complex and fascinating dichotomy that has something for everyone.

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The road to Hana, Diamond Head, north shore big wave surfing, Kona coffee—- Hawaii is where you'll find the best of the best. With stunning natural beauty everywhere, the complexity and the unexpected are sometimes inadvertently passed over by many travelers rushing to escape, consume and hurry up and relax.

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For the first hearty explorers who found paradise in the middle of the Pacific, this was a garden of Eden, a refuge, an opportunity, and the best layover on your way East or West. It took grit, determination and luck to get here, but once discovered, it became the iconic idealized destination to explore, and a place of exotic cash crops to be cultivated. From sugar cane and pineapple, coffee and coconuts, plumeria and pikake, the flavors and scents of the islands could be found in abundance here. Colonization of course, soon followed.

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A place of industry and geopolitical focus, these islands were also an unfortunate and unexpected player on the global stage during WW2, but remain an enigma. The global impact transformed it's culture to eventually include a potent fusion of Asian, Polynesian and distinctly American populations. (Spam and Poi anyone?) All have left their mark and all have come away ultimately, as Hawaiians.With so many powerful stories and imprints of man's experience on this constantly changing chain of islands, the perhaps not so altruistic colonial past has receded into history but luckily, it's architectural legacy remains.

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There are many architectural gems throughout the island, from the residential plantation style shacks and early homesteads, to almost all of downtown Hilo. History is everywhere. Graceful and elegant, they have become not only uniquely Hawaiian, but American.

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North Kohala retains some of the best examples of early settlements that still resonate with travelers and residents alike and have been preserved and honored. Updated and restored, they are still an active part of Big Island life and identity.

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The birthplace of the island chain's great King Kamehameha, the tiny towns of Hawi and Kapaau in North Kohala are lovingly preserved and haven't really changed much since the founding families settled here. Slow is a virtue here so be prepared to switch gears and just enjoy. 
Wander through town and you’ll find an eclectic mix of plantation and turn of the century rural architecture that that make up this charming stretch of road.

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One of the best examples of careful preservation and stewardship is found in the various structures attributed to some of the first missionaries to settle on the Big Island. The Bond family estate encompasses much of the local civic buildings including the library and the original missionary girl’s school. Virtually unchanged since the 1800’s these buildings and structures live on and are now part of the greater conservation of architectural history on the island.

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Head out to the end of the road (literally!) to Pololu Valley for one of the most breathtaking lookouts and inaccessible sides of the island where locals hunt wild boar and turkey and you can disappear for days, living off the land.

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Home to one of the nation's largest cattle ranches and "Paniolo" cowboy cultures, North Kohala and neighboring Waimea are a throwback to when you'd better have a horse to survive and thrive in this rugged land. Now the early ranch town is a great stopover on your way to Honokaa and the magnificent Waipio Valley in the historic Hamakua district.

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The “Valley of the Kings,” this is the ancient former capitol of the islands and where the first grass palaces were. Breathtaking and sacred, it is to this day a major physical achievement to hike in and out of, but a pilgrimage that should not be missed on your way to Hilo. It’s curved and sheltered black sand beach and valley is a towering natural achievement and is still home to some of the islands’ oldest tribal families.

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Travel back down the arid Queen's Highway coastline past the dazzling five star resorts to old Kona and Captain Cook to discover the provincial turn of the century towns of the not too distant past. The graceful remnants of early American Art Deco and Victorian architecture remain, as do the plantations and coffee processing plants along with the ornate, Florentine inspired Queens Palace (The only official royal residence in the US!).

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Founded by the famous intrepid explorer who was first embraced by the natives but ultimately doomed, the town of Captain Cook in the sacred harbor of Kealekekua Bay was the spot that changed Hawaii's destiny and indigenous makeup forever.

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Loop back around south on the Belt Road and into the treetop rainforests of Volcanoes National Park at Mauna Loa or take the interior Saddle road to reach the rainforests and the lunar sometimes snow covered landscape of Mauna Kea where you truly can ski or snowboard in paradise. There, the famous Keck Observatory houses the largest telescopes on earth, with unobstructed views of space without the light pollution of landmasses. Star gazing indeed!

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Pristine waters, blazing sunsets, snow and lunar deserts, this is an island of contrast and natural wonder. Eleven out of the world's 14 known climates are all here, all coexisting at once on one spectacular rock. Dramatic whale migrations, playful turtles, mama seals splayed out on the sand with their pups, darting colorful marine and bird life found only here, these are the natural ecological bounty that has evolved independently and allowed to thrive here, protected and preserved.

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A spirit of discovery and fierce independence persists here even as more and more people discover it’s charms and try to define it. You can’t. Hawaii can withhold it's secrets if you trek the well worn, beaten path but is best discovered by slowing down, taking the road less traveled and understanding the history of paradise found.

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  • Robert Bruce

    August 15, 2014

    It is like creation exploded on the island, like many tropical locales around the world. A friend of mine is an expat in Costa Rica, and the only thing that he found difficult assimilating there were the gigantic insects, like something out of Jurassic Park. Great post! Robert Bruce; Travel Ambassador http://hotelscheap.org

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