Perhaps whoever named the Hawaiian island "The Big Island", was void of imagination due to being overwhelmed by its 11 distinct climate zones. From deserts to rainforests, frozen tundra juxtaposed against tropical reefs, and warm ocean looking up to mountains with snow, it is quite something to take in.
Officially the name of the largest island in the US state of Hawaii is Hawaii, but that became a bit confusing, so here we are.
It is both the biggest and the youngest island in the Hawaiian group. It is so big that if measured from the seafloor, it would be the largest mountain in the world, a mile higher than Everest.
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It is the youngest and still growing, because it is made up of a group of very active volcanoes, Mt Kilauea chuffing up another 700 acres as recently as 2018.
Life is a double-edged sword for locals; something that now has a familiar echo for New Zealanders. But though destructive eruptions still occur, occasionally destroying roads and homes, the volcanoes are the islands' number one tourist activity. There is a dramatic spike in visitors every time an increase in activity occurs, some innate urge driving people to witness a bit of raw danger up close - humans, huh? My sightseeing helicopter pilot described it as; 'The price you pay for living in paradise.'
Thankfully these eruptions and lava flows are well forecast and slow-moving. They are also a safe distance from the main tourist areas on the Kona coast.
As a kid with my head stuck in fishing magazines and angling books, I knew all about the Kona coast and its infamy for big game fishing - in particular its spectacular big blue marlin fishery. It remains one of the only places in the world where you can catch 1000-pounders in every month of the year.
The wharves jostle with textbook big game launches and character-perfect American charter skippers with names like Billy, Chuck, and Mack. I spent the day out fishing with "Top Shape Kona" in a launch kept in such immaculate condition, that the glare from its pure white decks had me squinting in sunglasses. The attention to detail was so precise it even had its own water-purifying unit on the jetty, to wash the boat down without leaving a single watermark.
It was from this same wharf that I embarked on what I would have to list as one of my top scuba-dives of all time - night diving with manta rays.
Just off the coast here is a population of resident mantas, drawn to the underwater lights that dive companies set up in crates on the sandy bottom, or from paddleboards shining down from above for the benefit of evening snorkellers. The lights attract all sorts of plankton that swarm in.
Then in, from out of the pitch-black perimeter, they swoop. Mobula alfredi mantas, the second-largest manta rays in the world.
To see them in daylight would be enough to get excessive bubbles free-flowing out of dive regulators, but to have them swish in from the dark is . . . well, I can only describe it as reminding me of that iconic scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That point where contact is being established with aliens through musical notes and flashing lights.
On the bottom the bright underwater LEDS sparkle up, their beams swarming with microscopic life creating an illusory halo effect; that is then suddenly disrupted by a creature that seems to defy any of Darwin's wildest daydreams.
At up to five metres across with huge cylindrical mouths sieving out the lit-up clouds of protein, you'd expect them to be clumsy and slow to turn. Yet these colossal creatures have the grace and spatial awareness of your cat at dusk when its eyes go black.
At one stage I was forced to lie flat on the bottom as the mantas breezed maybe 10cm above me. On my first dive with just three, it was easily manageable. However on the second, with an incredible 12 of them cartwheeling and pivoting in overhead, completely blocking everything else from view, it became one of those moments you can spend a lifetime chasing, or in Kiwi speak, "It was buzzy as, bro".