A star-splashed land of ice and fire

There can be few places on earth where active volcanoes, sea and snow can all be part of your day. On the Big Island of Hawai’i I plunge into the surf before breakfast, get up close to glowing molten lava after lunch and, after a freezing excursion to the summit, I have dinner on the slopes of mighty Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea telescopes – spectacular but icy

From its 14,000ft summit, surrounded by snow and wearing chunky parka, gloves and balaclava for protection against a biting wind, I can just see the Waikoloa beach where I’d basked in warm sunshine earlier in the day.

The Big Island (Hawai’i by its real name) has the most action-packed diversity of all the fair islands in the Hawaiian chain. It’s both the youngest and largest archipelago island and a place where real estate simply, albeit ever so slowly,  keeps on expanding.

Off the Big Island’s south east coast a new island called Lo’ihi is forming below the ocean and is expected to appear above the surface in about 10,000 years.

The Big Island has five  volcanoes, two extinct, one dormant and the other two active. Kilauea has been erupting constantly for more than 20 years and regularly spews molten lava across the island’s south. Mauna Loa is also active but last erupted 28 years ago. It’s the world’s largest volcano.

chopper BI

Not surprisingly the biggest island attraction is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. At certain times you can watch red hot lava plunging directly into the sea, although the steam produced by this primordial spectacle often obscures the view.

A helicopter ride above the lava flows is the perfect way of understanding this extraordinary landscape. Driving through the park is equally fascinating.

As if all these spectacular attractions aren’t enough the Big Island also has superb scuba and snorkelling – and unrivalled stargazing.

volcano BI

Don’t miss seeing the volcanoes from the air

An array of 13 international telescopes populate Mauna Kea’s summit. Two gleaming domes protect the twin 10m Kecks, the world’s biggest optical and infrared telescopes. Another dome houses the Subaru Telescope, the only summit telescope open to the public.

Half way up the mountain is the Onizuka Visitor Centre, named for Hawaiian astronaut Ellison Onizuka who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. It has a couple of telescopes for public viewing. This same day I’m on Mauna Kea a local amateur astronomy group is holding its monthly gathering so I get to peer through a variety of expensive telescopes at heavenly attractions such as the Rings of Saturn, star clusters, nebulae and our nearest galaxy, Andromeda.

# Although I’m never going to summit Mount Everest I enjoy a fractionally smug satisfaction knowing I’ve been to the top of Mauna Kea. It’s more than 33, 000ft (10,000m) when measured from its base on the ocean floor and it’s also bigger in volume than Everest. Mine is a patently feeble boast, but there you have it ….

Click here for a guide to the Hawaiian Islands

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