The largest of the Hawaiian Islands is the original home of King Kamehameha, the landing spot of the first Portuguese explorers and the island for which the chain is named. You could call it the island that started everything. (Just don’t call it the Big Island.)
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Marco Garcia
DESPITE BEING the most geologically raucous member of its archipelago, with two still-erupting volcanoes, the island of Hawaii is remarkably peaceful. Its 4,028 square miles are home to a population of just 185,000 (compare that with 953,000 for the much smaller Oahu), and its nights are so dark that the world’s foremost land-based observatory is located on one of its mountains. Even evidence of the erstwhile wrath of the island’s five original volcanoes is mostly blanketed in the kind of greenery that compels people to pull over to the side of the road to stare, dumbfounded.
It’s enough to make you wonder how the native Hawaiians ever got anything done — one lingering glance at a riot of pastel wild ginger flowers suspended above the fog of Rainbow Falls, and a fishing canoe might go unmanned for days. Over afternoon beers at a bar in Hilo, an expatriate French painter fully entranced by Hawaii (residents much prefer the original name to the “Big Island,” the handle favored by mainlanders) put it this way: “This is a place for forgetting. It is so beautiful that it pushes all other thoughts from your head. The other islands, maybe you go for shopping or nightlife. But anything you might want to forget” — he waves a hand at the view of a sprawling banyan tree — “you can forget here.”