Hawaii's Big Island is astounding in its diversity. Home of a still-active volcano and black-sand beaches, it also has sweeping pastures dotted with grazing cattle, fields of sugarcane and macadamia trees, snow-capped peaks, a historic seaport city, and, of course, the kind of sun-swept beaches for which Hawaii is famous.
The largest of the Hawaiian islands, it totals 4,028 square miles and is formally known as Hawaii, though everyone calls it by its apt nickname, the Big Island. Believed to be the first island discovered and settled by the Polynesians around 750 A.D., the island is the birthplace of King Kamehameha I, the great chief who unified the islands and put an end to civil war. Much of ancient Hawaii can still be seen throughout the island at preserved historic sites and relics.
Most meetings activity takes place in Kailua-Kona (more commonly known as just Kona) and the nearby Kohala Coast, both located on the western shore. The former is a picturesque, well-developed seaside village of boutiques and restaurants along Ali'i Drive, a narrow, winding road that hugs the coast. Interesting historic sites include Moku'aikaua Church, built of coral blocks in 1836; and Hulihe'e Palace, a favorite vacation spot of King Kamehameha and King Kalakaua built of coral, lava rock, and native woods in 1838.
Each October, the town comes alive under the sheer muscle of the hundreds of athletes who come from around the world to compete in the Ironman Triathlon-an event that requires a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26-mile marathon-all in the same day.
South of the city is coffee country, the only place in the U.S. where the crop is grown commercially. You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the fragrant bean at the Kona Coffee Mill Museum, where samples await.
On the other end of the island, the port city of Hilo is surrounded by lavish botanical gardens, cascading waterfalls, and macadamia orchards. Most accommodations in the laid-back city are along picturesque Banyan Drive, named for the imposing trees that line the road. Hilo has fine black-sand beaches and easy access to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but its frequent rainfall makes sunnier areas of the island more suitable for groups.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must on any itinerary to the Big Island. The Kilauea volcano has been erupting on and off since 1983, adding some 500 acres of land to the island. Crater Rim Drive, the park's main thoroughfare, winds past the sites of past eruptions; the ground still steams with escaping gas in many spots. Though much of the park is given over to stark lava fields, there is also a vibrant rain forest and dramatic black-sand beaches. Your group will surely appreciate the chance to explore one of our nation's most unusual national parks. The adjacent 14-acre Volcano Winery is an unexpected pleasure.
Another fascinating spot is Kailua-Kona's Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, whose 1,300 acres include more than 200 archaeological sites, including Hawaiian grave sites, fishing shrines, canoe landings, petroglyphs, and pools. The area was a settlement for native Hawaiians until the 19th century.
Hotel News In Kailua-Kona, Kona Surf Resort & Country Club has 530 rooms and 31,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 9,840-square-foot convention center and 12 breakout rooms. For recreation, there are 36 holes of golf, swimming pools, and three tennis courts.
North of Kailua-Kona is the famed Kohala Coast, where luxury hotels line the craggy coastline. Here the Four Seasons Resort opened in October 1996. The 243-room resort has 11,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and another 16,000 square feet outdoors, including a lava-rock amphitheater, open only to groups, that accommodates up to 390 persons for a reception or dinner. Among the many extras at the low-rise property is the Interpretive Center, which depicts the story of the land and its people through exhibits and hands-on interactive programs.
Also along the Kohala Coast is the Mauna Kea Resort, which includes two distinct neighboring properties: the elegant and recently restored Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (310 rooms) and the gleaming and spacious new Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel (350 rooms). Together, they offer more than 21,000 square feet of meeting/function space-including an 8,500-square-foot ballroom.
In Kamuela, the Hilton Waikoloa Village offers 1,238 guest rooms, more than 45,000 square foot of indoor meeting space (including three ballrooms), and another 45,000 square feet for exhibits in the on-site convention center. The property sprawls over 62,000 acres and has recreational options galore.