Hawaii, the Big Island, almost seems like several different islands, so varied is its climate and vegetation. A drive around the island reveals tropical jungle on the eastern side, grasslands to the south and near deserts to the west. The majestic mountains that dominate the backdrop display their relatively recent volcanic origins. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are the two tallest peaks in the Pacific, rising to nearly 14,000 feet. In winter, Mauna Kea is snow-covered, providing skiers with their own "local mountain."
Volcanic activity is near constant in recent years-the sight of a ten foot high wall of black rock extending across a highway is eerie, indeed. For those lucky enough to witness a violent eruption, it is a vision straight out of hell; awesomely beautiful and never to be forgotten. Hawaii's major volcano and one of the world's most active is Kilauea, on the back slopes of the still active Mauna Loa.
The Kona Coast, on the western shore, is the popular tourist area, home to many resorts and the exciting town of Kailua, with its clubs and restaurants. The town of Hilo, on the northeast coast, is a quieter place, sitting in a splendid rain forest region where more than 300 species of colorful orchids are grown.
Most of Hawaii's diving is along the Kona Coast, which is protected from the trade winds by Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The lee waters are, for the most part, smooth as glass and provide a great variety of marine species. Visibility consistently runs from 100 to 120 feet and often exceeds 150. There is also excellent diving on the east coast, near Hilo.
Lava formations provide the setting for underwater exploration, habitation for Hawaii's marine life and an arena for close encounters with critters normally only dreamed about. One of the most exciting aspects of Hawaii's diving menu is the opportunity to encounter pelagics that frequent the area. Hawaii borders the abyssal drop-off and is in the path of transiting whales, rays, tuna and the largest of all the fish in the seas-the Whale Shark.
Many dive sites can be easily accessed from shore, but most necessitate a boat and are within 15 to 30 minutes travel time from the harbor or pier. These crossings can come alive with escorts by both Bottlenose and Spinner Dolphins, and rare sightings of False and Pigmy Killer, Melon-headed and Short-finned Pilot Whales.