Paradise found on Hawaii

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 1997, 12:00am

On Hawaii, or the Big Island, as it is known, the monument to Captain James Cook stands near the bay where he dropped anchor in 1779.

To get there is another matter. Following the coast road by bicycle is recommended. The road creeps along the coast from the town of Kona for about 14 kilometres uphill in Hawaii's sweltering heat.

The journey down is a series of hair-raising, hairpin bends that bring you to Kealakekua Bay, where a small white obelisk marks the captain's death - on the opposite side of the bay, inaccessible by road.

The bay is a marine park, where yellow tangs swarm in the crystal sea and dolphins are a regular feature. For snorkellers or divers, there are numerous boats that make the trip from Kona daily.

Like the rest of the United States, if you want to see the place, hire a car. Of all the Hawaiian islands, from the laid-back city of Honolulu to the magical sights of Maui, the Big Island is the most diverse. You can surf or dive on the shores of Kona, swim with turtles on the black sand beach at Kaimu, or watch molten lava ooze from Kilauea.

As you travel around it a tapestry of its varied climates, landscapes and peoples unfold: plantation towns in Hamakua, giant valleys in North Kohala, cattle ranches in Kamuela, deserts and oasis beaches in South Kohala, coastal resorts and coffee hills in Kona, startling green sand in Ka'u and active volcanoes.

You can circuit the island easily in one day. Setting out about 7 am, the first stop is the 'place of last resort'.

Tall palm trees and spectacular wooden carvings stand alone on a white sand beach surrounded by clear blue water. In ancient times, those breaking the complex set of quasi-religious crimes, or taboo, were hunted down and killed. Here, they could spend a few days atoning for sins and all would be forgiven.

Next stop is the National Park, carpeted with volcanic rock and the site of Kilauea, which erupts almost every year.

For the truly surreal, take a trip to the heights of Mauna Kea, where, from December to about April, you can spend your days skiing, while sun-worshippers baste themselves on the glorious beaches below.

Korea Airlines flies to Honolulu via Seoul, $7,320 (high season, economy class).

China Airlines flies via Taipei to Honolulu, $9,320 (high season, economy class) $4,420 (low season, economy class).

United Airlines flies via Tokyo, $12,710 (high season, economy class) $10,970 (low season, economy class).