The Seven Big Reasons You Should Come to Kona
If you're reading this right now, I'm guessing you're not in Kona. That's because no one who is in Kona in his right mind would be sitting in front of a computer screen blog-slogging when there's so much other great stuff to do. (I suppose you could be on a beach or boat with your wireless laptop, but if that's the case, you have no life and I can't help you. Then again, I'm sitting in front of a computer screen in Kona, so what the hell do I know?)
The point is, you're not here. And you should be. Here are seven reasons why.
Reason #7: The fish you're eating for dinner was swimming a few hours ago.
"Fresh" doesn't communicate how good the fish is here. The stuff is spectacular. However, this does bring up a mystery that's been bothering me.
A few weeks ago I went into a Safeway back home. They were selling ahi for $17.99 a pound. I asked the fish guy why it was so expensive. "Comes all the way from Hawai'i," he informed me proudly. I allowed as how, yes, I suppose the transportation costs could boost the price. "Not only that," he said, "they have to freeze it before shipping it. That costs money, too."
Makes sense. So this morning I went into the Safeway here in Kona and saw ahi on sale for $19.99 a pound. I asked if it was locally caught, and was assured by the fish lady that the fish was taken less than a 7-iron away from this very spot (my words, not hers.) "So how come it's so expensive?" I asked. She said, "It's great fish!" I knew that already, and agreed. "Not only that," she added (proudly), "it's not frozen, either!"
I love this country.
Reason #6: There are no hurricanes here.
Of course, there aren't any tsunamis in New Orleans, either, but that's an acceptable trade-off.
Reason #5: The volcano.
I say "the" volcano despite the fact that there are four (or five) volcanoes on the Big Island. Kailua-Kona itself sits on the flank of Hualalai, a little fella that's considered active because it erupts every few hundred years. (If this is considered "active," then I guess I am, too.)
The misshapen lump above the Kona Coast up which the Ironman bike course goes on the way to the turnaround at Hawi is known as Kohala Mountain. It's dormant, which means it hasn't erupted in a while. Theoretically, it isn't going to anytime soon, either. This is what they said about Mt. St. Helen's. It's also what they said about my wife. In both cases there is room for debate.
The third volcano is Mauna Kea, which was named after a really great golf course. Mauna Kea has the distinction of being the highest mountain in Hawai'i, although it's not much of a winning margin, being only 110 feet higher than Mauna Loa. It's so high that the top is covered with snow in the winter, and it's host to one of the most important astronomical observatories in the world. Mauna Kea is considered "presumably" dormant because it hasn't erupted in 4,500 years. Seems to me it's due.
And then there's Mauna Loa, at the south end of the Big Island. Mauna Loa is the largest mountain in the world in terms of volume, about 19,000 cubic miles. And if you count the part of it that's underwater, it's the tallest, too, more than twice the height of Mt. Everest. It covers half of the Big Island, and by itself is about 85% of all the other Hawaiian islands combined.
Sitting on Mauna Loa like a pimple on a rhino's butt is Kilauea, which is what I refer to as "the" volcano. Many people consider Kilauea to be a separate volcano, but to me it looks like an afterthought. However, it turns out that it has its own separate volcano plumbing system, and not only that, it lies on a curving line of volcanoes that includes Mauna Kea but actually excludes Mauna Loa. So it's like somebody else's pimple on your butt.
What makes Kilauea special, though, is that it's an active volcano. Not "active" like Hualalai, which rumbles awake every couple of centuries, but active like "right now." It's been erupting continuously since 1983. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always something. And it's something to see.
Reason enough to come to Kona.
Reason #4: Visible geography
I remember listening to a lot of geology during high school and college science classes. South America and Africa used to be a single land mass until plate tectonics pulled them apart. The Rocky Mountains were formed when opposing pressure uplifted the earth. Siberia and Alaska were once connected by a land bridge before the Bering Sea was created and submerged it.
Sure. I believe you. Whatever.
I couldn't see any of this stuff, so I had to take people's word for it, and didn't even know what they were talking about most of the time. I knew that Long Island was created by massive glaciers during the last Ice Age, but for most of my adult life I thought a "terminal moraine" was just a hopelessly dumb guy.
One of the things that struck me the first time I came to Kona was that the entire geomorphology (a fancy word meaning "how the land got made") of the Big Island is laid right out there for you to see. I was raised in New York, and as far as I was concerned, the island of Manhattan was created by Nunzio Apparacci, a made mob guy who owned the largest concrete company in Brooklyn. If you've ever been to Manhattan, you know that, evidence wise, this is as good a creation story as anything made up by the Aztecs.
But here in Kona, the creation story is laid out everywhere you look. You can pick any spot on the island and easily follow the line of lava flows that formed it.
And that's just what happened in the past. You know that old line about real estate being such a good investment because land is the one thing they're not making any more of? Doesn't cut it here. You can head down to Kilauea and watch new land being made right before your eyes. Matter of fact, there's a whole new island being made right now, a few miles southwest of Mauna Loa at the site of an undersea volcano. The island even has a name: Lo'ihi.
What an educational opportunity for your kids! Here's what I suggest: Bring them to Kona, plant them on the lanai and let them watch Lo'ihi being formed while you get in a few holes at Waikoloa. According to current estimates, this will keep the kids busy for somewhere between 1,000 and 50,000 years.
Reason #3: [insert photo here]
Reason #2: Ironman World Championship
One hesitates to lapse into cliché, but there really isn't anything else like it on earth,. The air really does buzz and crackle with electricity, but what sets Ironman apart from other spectacles (the Olympics, the World Series, the Michael Jackson trial) is that, with all those others events, no matter how good your seats are, you're still an outsider. They are in the arena, and we are supposed to feel privileged to pay two or three hundred bucks to watch them.
At the Ironman, you don't pay a thing to watch. In fact, there are no seats, unless you bring your own. And ohana, which is a Hawaiian word kind of like "family" only more so, is what everybody becomes a part of just by being here. You hear it over and over again from volunteers: "I stumbled onto the Ironman while here on a cruise in '88, volunteered at an aid station and I've been back every year since."
You will be, too.
And the #1 reason to come to Kona:
It's as far from Washington D.C. as it's possible to get and still pay only 45 cents to tell your congressman to stick it in his ear.