The Big Island & Maui

Inside Hawaii

Two islands of this wondrous archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean offer magic and beauty in a place where volcanoes have been treated like gods since the world began.

text & photos: MARÍA VICTORIA ZÚÑIGA B.
       

 

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Malihini was born and raised on the island of Maui. Today, she works at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, and her duties include teaching the Hawaiian language to guests. She sounds out the words with them. The Latinos in the groups of students fare pretty well. Before the words existed, legend says, Hawaiians communicated with sign language, which is why their dance – the hula – has such an emphasis on gestures, the hands and the body’s movement.

The tales have been memorized and passed down through the centuries: stories of creation, love, royalty and myths. In the honi, the traditional Hawaiian salute, the participants touch noses and inhale at the same time, “sharing the breath of life,” Malihini explains.

 

 

In this hotel on one of the best beaches on Maui, the spirit of Hawaii is well preserved. And it goes beyond tourist-friendly zeal, according to the guests who have been coming again and again to the Ka’anapali to enjoy the Monday luau, the hula classes, the Mai Tais and the imu, a pig cooked for an entire day in the earth covered by rocks.

Yet it seems that the Polynesian accent is fading in Hawaii, the last state to join the republic of the United States, and strip malls and colossal resorts are encroaching on its heritage. However, the impressive natural landscapes still dwarf any manmade construction.

Sacred sites like Haleakala are now corrupted by elements like the observatory of the same name, which the people of Hawaii consider an affront to their religious traditions, but this spectacular display of nature still dazzles visitors and residents alike. Haleakala – which means “house of the sun” – is Maui’s highest peak, a 10,023-foot-high volcano in the 30,000-acre national park of the same name. From the peak, you can practically see the whole island.

 

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phOTO: benjamin iglesis

 

Iao Valley State Park is another one of Maui’s natural landmarks and sacred sites. Located three miles from Wailuku, this rainforest is home to the 1,200-foot Iao Needle (much like the Eiffel Tower in terms of size). This rock outcropping served as a lookout point during a decisive battle that was part of King Kamehameha’s successful campaign to unite the islands in the 18th century.

City life is perhaps best enjoyed in Lahaina Town, a charming area with excellent restaurants (such as the Italian eatery Longhi’s) and delightful art galleries. In addition to the classic souvenir stands hawking dancing hula girls, beach wraps and aloha t-shirts, you’ll find specialty shops like Vintage European Posters, run by owner Alan Dicker who collects original posters dating back to 1880, reminders of key moments in world history.

 

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The Big Island

It’s nighttime in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Outside the Thomas Jagger Museum, a group of people waits in silence. In the distance, there are rumbles and red sparks. The main attraction is Kilauea, the most active volcano on the archipelago and one of the most active in the world.

Every year, millions of people visit Hawaii to witness one of planet’s most impressive natural phenomena – land emerging from the depths of the sea – and the diversity offered on the islands’ 520 square miles. These qualities have earned the archipelago World Biosphere and Heritage Site status from UNESCO. In Kilauea’s crater, an eternal feminine presence is honored with the utmost respect. Pele, the goddess of fire and destruction, dominates these volcanic lands, and her legendary passion has included both disasters and astonishing natural phenomena.

The legends are endless. One of the more recent tells the story of a ragged old woman appearing before two girls playing outside their houses, asking them for food. The girls went inside and got her something to eat. Suddenly, the old woman transformed into Pele and warned the girls of the river of lava that would soon reach their neighborhood, promising them that nothing would happen to their home. And that’s exactly what happened.

But the supernatural can also be found in the stunning landscapes. Just drive to the top of Mauna Kea, the highest point on the island of Hawaii, and take in the sunset as it disappears into a sea of clouds and craters. You may as well be on a different planet.

 

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phOTO: benjamin iglesis

 

It’s best to arrive around five in afternoon, so you have enough time to hike up to the summit, which affords the best views. Warm clothes, a hat perhaps, a good camera and a tank full of gasoline are all recommended.

When it’s time to say good-bye to Hawaii, don’t tempt Pele’s curse on those who dare take something from these lands, be it a volcanic rock, a bit of earth or an “unofficial” souvenir. Stick to the floral lei hung around your neck or the necklace of kukui nuts that symbolizes your future return. But don’t mess with the natural forces on these islands: if they were capable of creating a land of such beauty, who knows how powerful they truly are. in

 

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