The Big Island Adventure | Motorcycle Travel

Spirit of Aloha

Aloha. Each of us has several key elements that not only define us, but provide a context in which we experience our lives and the things around us. As a photographer, I process with visual metaphors and crave experiences that offer maximum levels of color, saturation, and contrast. In choosing the ideal vacation destination, I want one that has these three metaphorical qualities—a visually captivating and colorful setting; an atmosphere that enhances every experience with wallow-in-it awareness and intensity; and an available range of activity that spans adrenaline pumping, life-on-the-edge adventure to decadent, laid-back, soul-cleansing peace and blissful tranquility. No place, in my familiarity, provides this better than the Big Island of Hawaii.

Spectacular fields of lava provided much of the material for the grippy road surfaces on The Big Island. (Click image to enlarge)

Here, the “Spirit of Aloha” thrives and is much more than a catchy slogan in tourist brochures. It is the law of the land as codified by the legislature. Hawaii Revised Statutes, section 5-7.5 states that the Aloha Spirit was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii. More than a simple word, Aloha encompasses five key elements: Akahai, kindness expressed with tenderness; Lôkahi, unity expressed with harmony; ‘Olu’olu, agreeable, expressed with pleasantness; Ha’aha’a, humility expressed with modesty; and Ahonui, patience expressed with perseverance and tolerance. It is about being aware of and reveling in the experience of life. It is why Hawaiians use “aloha” both in welcome and goodbye; something given and accepted on arrival; cherished and taken along on departure. “Aloha,” said the pretty, smiling girl with the black hair and dark eyes, as she placed the fragrant flower lei around my neck and gently kissed me on both cheeks. Aloha, indeed.

Immediately upon stepping onto the Kona Airport tarmac, the lush smell and rich colors saturate your awareness. The stark black of the lava flow on which you landed, merged with the rich green foliage, is the first of many striking contrasts that make up your Big Island trip. You discover that green is not a single color, but an entire palette of subtle shades and textures.

The Hawaiian Islands are all entirely volcanic in origin, birthed by a stationary sub-sea hotspot, continuously feeding lava up through the ocean floor and onto the Pacific tectonic plate rotating slowly above. Eventually, this building lava, layer upon layer, breaks the surface of the blue Pacific and a new Hawaiian island is formed. The Pacific plate rotating to the northwest eventually severs the volcanic connection and that island stops growing, begins to age and weathers the erosion of wind, rain, surf, and temperature change, while a new island builds a bit to the south. Big Island is the most southeasterly and, therefore, the youngest, most rugged, and varied of the Hawaiian islands. Composed of the lavas from five separate volcanoes—Mauna Loa, the largest; Mauna Kea, the tallest; and Kilaeua, the most active in the world. Big Island is, as its name implies, the largest—more than twice the area of all the others combined—yet it is also the least-densely populated.

The plan for the trip was to sample all the attractions the Big Island offers—food, adventure, nature, water sports, beaches, mountains, staggering scenery, and various accommodations—all in a frenzy of activity covering the first week; then, settling in the last few days to enjoy the quiet, good life at one of the world’s most luxurious resorts. Determined to do the Big Island right, daylight on the first day had us at Kona Harley-Davidson where our rentals were waiting for us—two identical Electra Glide Classics—big, black and chrome Harley dressers with plenty of comfort and camera storage. This island simply demands to be explored on two wheels.

We put in 100 miles or so the first day, riding up the fabulous Kohala Coast on the island’s northwest shore. The coastline north from Kona lies in the rain shadow of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, the two towering volcanoes that dominate the inland view and provide reliably dry and sunny skies. Directions on Big Island are easy—almost everything is either mauka (toward the mountains) or makai (toward the sea). The ride to Hawi was delightful, with the road smooth, yet grippy, due to the use of crushed lava rock in the asphalt. We discovered an old friend at Sushi Rocks, a quaint, trendy but fabulous sushi café in the heart of downtown Hawi (population 938). A local stand provided dessert—an lilikoi (passion fruit) shave ice, which is a snow cone elevated one full order of magnitude.
By late afternoon we parked the bikes and headed to the top of the world with Hawaii Forest and Trail on a 4WD Mauna Kea Summit sunset and stargazing adventure. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, as the base of the mountain lies almost 20,000 feet underwater, making it over 3,000 feet taller than Mt. Everest. It is also home to the darkest skies in the world and, at its peak, stargazers look through less than half of the distorting atmosphere. With the normal cloud layer far below, this unique set of geological and meteorological features make Mauna Kea summit the site of choice for astronomical observatories, and a great place to witness some of the world’s finest, reddest, and most vivid sunsets as well. The summit offers a rare 360-degree view, brilliant sunset to the west and the pyramidal shadow of the world’s tallest mountain projected on the cloud layer below. Occasional high clouds add even more color to the dramatic sunsets, while absolutely clear skies offer a good chance to witness one of nature’s most elusive sights—the rare Green Flash that can occur as the sun sets into the ocean. Later, stargazing with telescopes and a tour guide to the heavens at the Ellison

Add some altitude, and you can leave Hawaii’s famed tropical paradise behind. (Click image to enlarge)

Onizuka Visitors Center—named for the Hawaiian astronaut who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986—gave us glimpses of the brightest and most

colorful stars. It seems a fitting place to view with such splendor, the heavens that Lt. Col. Onizuka gave his life to reach.

Sunrise dragged me out to the beach and fishponds at Anaeho’omalu Bay. The virtually empty beach and fringing palms simply glowed in the golden, first morning light. Early Hawaiians were among the first practitioners of aquaculture, raising ocean fish in excavated tidal ponds contained by small dikes and dams. Wildlife thrives in and around the well-maintained ponds and picture perfect beach.

Gently, but insistently, the bikes and the road beckoned. We fired up and headed out for a day of fine riding to Waimea and across Parker Ranch—the second-largest cattle ranch in the world. The range of topography here is beyond easy comprehension. There are only 13 defined climatic zones on Earth, and Big Island has 11 of them—from desert lavascapes to tropical rainforests, from coastal grasslands and high prairies with cacti, to alpine meadows and snow covered mountain peaks. The Big Island packs it all in easy reach of a day ride. Our route took us over lush tropical terrain, periodically paved over by stark, black lava flows, hundreds of yards wide, slashing down the mountain slopes across the flats, and out to the distant coast. The curves, tight and well-engineered, hid ever-changing landscapes from view until, at the very last moment, they reveal surprises around each bend. Each tiny village had its own charm and attractions—old inns, coffee shops serving the treasured local Kona blends, and country stores—each providing a tempting place to stop for a drink, a meal or a cigar.

 (Click image to enlarge)

We rode up to the fabulous lobby entry of the Hilton Waikoloa Village and grabbed our bathing suits from the bike. A quick change and short walk led us to Dolphin Quest for a dolphin experience. These bottlenose dolphins are wonderful animals, scarily smart, individually personable, fast, strong, and beautiful. It is hard not to attribute a full range of human characteristics to them. This huge facility does dolphin research, education and awareness classes, and personal in-water experiences with the animals—a definite highlight.

Sitting on the bikes watching the sunset, a late dinner, and a moonlit walk on the beach ended each day, punctuating it, as it flowed wonderfully into the next. The adventures and activities were like shells on a necklace, spaced and threaded on the wonderful roads and rides of the Big Island. We would ride awhile each day, have an adventure, and ride on.
The Big Island is the newest land on Earth. Kilauea Volcano is adding acreage to the island every day. The world’s most active volcano is the home of Pele’, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, and is best seen from the air. Sunshine Helicopter’s Black Beauties took us on a two-hour tour of the island that surpassed all expectation. We dipped low into the flaming and fuming maw of fiery creation and followed the silvery black and red lava flows down the slope to the inevitable conflict of lava with ocean, creation and erosion. Leaving behind this brand new and changing-by-the-moment landscape, we were in minutes whisked off to lush, primordial, tropical valleys with thousand-foot waterfalls and ancient rainforests that looked as if they were inhabited by dinosaurs. What a contrast! One can imagine, the sight of a 20-foot tall lava flow inexorably rolling across roads, erasing a town, and filling in craters and ponds. All this should serve as reminder to the truth of the quotation (attributed to various authors, but most often to Will Durant): “Civilization exists by geological consent. Subject to change without notice.”

With all the high altitude adventures behind us, it was now safe to get in some time below sea level

Jack’s Diving Locker allows you to access an other-worldly view of the Kona Coast. (Click image to enlarge)

by reacquainting ourselves with old friends at Jack’s Diving Locker in Kona. Kona’s world class diving is especially unique for its consistent ability to deliver sea turtles and manta rays, two of the ocean’s most wonderful residents. Evening and night dives with the delta-winged mantas, some of them 15 feet across, rank among the most memorable and magical experiences of my life. They emerge from the dark depths, sparkling in the lights, effortlessly soaring among divers below and snorkelers above, cavorting and barrel-rolling as they feed on microscopic plankton attracted by the dive lights. The mostly shallow depth allows for lengthy bottom-times.

The Kona Coast is also famous for its world-class big game fishing. The Pamela, a 38-foot Bertram, showed us some nice wahoo fishing, but without a record bill-fish. The skipper presented us with the world’s freshest sashimi (still looking at us) and then I prepared some local poke’ with lime juice, seaweed, kukui nut, soy sauce, and hot chilis brought along for the occasion.

(Click image to enlarge)

On the Kona/Kohala Coast we tried an assortment of resorts—the newly remodeled and wonderful Waikoloa Marriott on Anaeho’omalu Bay; the sprawling Disneyland-like but luxuriously appointed Hilton Waikoloa Village, complete with trams and boats; the venerable and totally charming Mauna Kea Beach resort with the most gorgeous beach on the island; and the ultimate luxury of the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort and Spa, where they pampered us on the beach with cold mint towels, stopping each hour to spritz us with mineral water and clean our sunglasses. Each place, like the entire Hawaiian experience, was wonderful and exquisite in the differences, but all radiated the Aloha Spirit. Sigh…Aloha. 


Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort

Hilton Waikoloa Village

Mauna Kea Beach Resort

Four Seasons Hualalai Resort

Sunshine Helicopters

Jack’s Diving Locker

Pamela Big Game Fishing

CanoeHouse Restaurant at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows

Kohala Coast Resort Association

Dolphin Quest
808.886.1234 ext. 2875


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.