“Hawaii The Big Island Revealed,” by Andrew Doughty, book review

Hawaii book

A series of these guide books covers the major Hawaiian Islands.

Published Jan. 28, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Hawaii travel guidebook won’t disappoint.”

2015 Update: Look for the books in the series for all the Hawaiian Islands and the latest updates at http://www.hawaiirevealed.com. “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed” is on its 7th edition.

By Barb Gorges

Hawaii The Big Island Revealed, by Andrew Doughty, 5th edition, 2008, Wizard Publications, Inc., 307 pages, $16.95.

I found the third edition of this guide at the Laramie County Public Library. My husband, Mark, and I found it so entertaining and packed with so much information that we ordered the latest edition to plan our trip to visit our son in Hawaii.

There’s also a lot of free information and updates available at the publisher’s Web site, www.wizardpub.com. If you aren’t going to the island of Hawaii, Wizard Publications also has guides for the islands of Oahu, Maui and Kauai.

I was a little worried that our vacation experience wouldn’t match up to the beautiful photography in the guidebook, but it did.

I also worried that “ground-truthing” the guidebook would show it full of over simplifications and generous ratings, but it wasn’t. In one case, it had more accurately drawn hiking trails than a government publication.

The author (and whomever he refers to as “we”) has investigated every trail, resort, restaurant and attraction anonymously and takes no advertisements or freebies.

He is enthusiastic about good experiences and good return for money spent. He points the way to less crowded, as well as spectacular beaches.

This guidebook is well-regarded by locals I talked to and we used it extensively to plan day trips from our base in Hilo in October.

The top five destinations we visited on Hawaii, in no particular order, were:

  1. Mauna Kea – home to world famous telescopes.
  2. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – see flowing lava if you’re lucky.
  3. Waipi’o Valley –a remote valley beloved by Hawaiian kings.
  4. Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden – was spectacular even though the height of flowering was in June.
  5. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park – features ancient Hawaiian structures.

My top five things to do on the Big Island next time are:

  1. Find flowing lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
  2. See Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in June.
  3. Go whale-watching during the December – March season.
  4. Take a submarine tour of the reef in Kailua Bay.
  5. Check out the Lyman Museum in Hilo.
  6. Check out additional beaches—there are no entrance fees!
  7. Hike into more birding hotspots in spring.
  8. Hike into Waipi’o Valley again and continue into the more remote Waimanu Valley.
  9. Oops, that’s more than five, isn’t it? What about a tour of a Kona coffee farm? Or the macademia nut factory? Or the famous Parker Ranch? Or taking out a kayak?

Luckily, “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed” has advice on finding the cheapest plane fare for our next visit.

Birding the Big Island of Hawaii


The endangered Nene is completely unafraid of quiet people on a trail passing by it. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published Dec. 9, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Visiting Hawaii helps bird lover add birds and endangered species to life lists.”

2014 Update: Type “Hawaii” in the search box, then click your Enter key to find the accompanying story that was published in November 2008, and also the story from our 2012 trip that included Kauai.

By Barb Gorges

Zebra doves calling and Japanese white-eyes twittering as they flit through the hibiscus—who would have thought a year ago I’d be waking up on the Big Island?

When our older son, Bryan, accepted a job in Hilo, Hawaii, nearly a year ago, Mark and I knew it would be an opportunity to travel.

With copies of “Hawaii’s Birds” from the Hawaii Audubon Society and “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed” guidebook, plus what Bryan had learned, we were able to add birds to our life lists, including endangered species.

The Hawaiian Islands are a mid-ocean crossroads. Volcanoes built them 70 million years ago. A small amount of flora and fauna was able to make it by water or wind and establish itself.

However, no terrestrial mammals, amphibians or reptiles made it so surviving species evolved without the ability to evade those kinds of predators. Also, adaptive radiation occurred.

For instance, from one species of honeycreeper, several species evolved, each particularly suited for one of the various habitats within the islands.

Far flying bird species still accidentally find Hawaii, but none seem to establish breeding populations now.

wild chickens

The Polynesians brought chickens to Hawaii and many run wild. Photo by Mark Gorges.

About 1,600 years ago the Polynesians found the Hawaiian Islands and colonized them, bringing pigs, chickens, dogs and rats as well food crops like taro. It appears as many as 35 bird species and subspecies became extinct as a result.

Following Captain Cook’s visit in 1778 was a flood of introduced alien species with unfortunate results for the natives. Even today, illegally released parrots may increase and spread, threatening commercial crops.

Still, the Audubon field guide lists 71 species and subspecies that are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. Of those, 30 are on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species List.

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park efforts are being made to restore the landscape by fencing out wild pigs and controlling mongoose and feral cat populations. We saw one endangered species there, the Nene, the Hawaiian goose.

Following a trail at the park in a deserted walk-in campground, we looked for a picnic table in the shade. No such thing in a lava field with scrubby vegetation. But we spotted the goose grazing on berries. We stopped and watched as its route brought it closer. Then we walked away.

After lunch the goose was alongside the return path and we had to step around it. No wonder there were so many signs warning against feeding them and caution signs on the road picturing them. They are too trusting for their own good.

These days there’s only one hawk species on Hawaii, the ‘Io. As Mark and I took a break in our labors hiking up out of the Waipi’o Valley, we saw two soaring on the thermals.

This was fitting since the valley has always been considered the Hawaiian kings’ favorite place and the ‘Io is a symbol of royalty in Hawaiian legends.

At Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park we plodded along the beach, stepped around a napping, endangered green sea turtle and arrived at a birding hotspot, ‘Aimakapa Fishpond, to find several Hawaiian coots, also endangered. They look like ours except the hard white material of their beaks extends up over their foreheads.


Cardinal in Hawaii

Cardinals were introduced to Hawaii. Photo by Jeffrey Gorges

We saw familiar birds: wild turkeys introduced from North America in 1815 and now at home in the grasslands on the slopes of Mauna Kea, house sparrows introduced via New Zealand (1871), cardinals from eastern North America (1929) and cattle egrets from Florida (1959).

We even saw a black-crowned night-heron, a bird that nests in Cheyenne parks. Apparently this species made it to Hawaii on its own some time ago.

The ‘Apapane, a small red bird which works ohi’a blossoms for insects and nectar is one endemic forest bird that is fairly common. I identified one only because the field guide had a photo of what it looks like when it is perched high overhead.

We needed to start on our world bird lists after finding an Erckel’s francolin (Africa 1957), junglefowl (original Polynesian settlers), zebra doves (Asia), mynas (India) and yellow-billed cardinals and saffron finches (South America).

We weren’t visiting at the right location or time of year for the marine birds. The visiting shorebirds were difficult to i.d., as usual. I’m sure of only one, the Pacific golden plover. It breeds in Alaska, with many wintering in Hawaii and others migrating south another 2,500 miles.

Some say the golden plover was the bird that intrigued the ancient Polynesians who lived on islands south of Hawaii. It made them wonder where the birds went when they left for the summer, if it was to land farther north. It caused them to load up their double-hulled canoes to find out.

How was the golden plover to know so many of us would follow?

Hawaii: Hilo-side

Hilo sunrise

Sunrises are fantastic Hilo-side, the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Nov. 18, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Hawaii: Hilo-side. The sand is black instead of white. And you can’t see the sunset…but the sunrise is amazing. Local family experiences “other side” of Hawaii’s Big Island.”

2014 Update: The column about birding Hawaii was published in December 2008 and will be uploaded in December. Our B&B hosts have moved to the mainland. Our son married the marine biologist.

By Barb Gorges

Hawaii: Visions of honeymooners on a white sand beach at sunset at a swanky resort, right? Yes, if you are recalling a travel poster for Waikiki Beach.

If you know my husband, Mark, and me, you know we had a completely different, but wonderful experience during our nine-day stay in late October on Hawaii, the Big Island.

First, we aren’t honeymooners. Jeffrey, our younger son on fall college break, joined us in visiting our older son Bryan, who moved to Hilo for a job last January, hired by a University of Wyoming alum.

Bryan’s girlfriend was able to join us often. She’s a third-year marine biology major at the University of Hawaii-Hilo so we had a personal guide at beaches and tide pools who hails from Greeley, Colo.

Second, the beaches Hilo-side are black, made from eroding lava. The more popular white beaches Kona-side, the west side of the island, are tiny bits of bleached coral.

Kona gets the sunsets. Hilo gets magnificent sunrises but you have to be up at 6 a.m. to see them.

Hilo isn’t as popular or sunny as Kailua-Kona and since we were visiting before the height of the season which is late November through March, we found a great place for $65 per night.

Since no other guests were staying at the Na’ali’i Plantation Bed & Breakfast, we had our own complete household. Every morning we had a hot breakfast with fresh, ripe papaya and apple bananas served on the lanai (porch) overlooking the forest. Birds twittered everywhere. On clear days we could see Hilo Bay, a 15-minute drive away.


Anthurium plantations were wide-spread on the Big Island at one time. This remnant grew at our B & B. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There are still anthurium blooming under rows of tree ferns, since at one time the plantation was a commercial operation. Our hostess, Annie Maguire (cousin to Cheyenne resident Helen Hart), has filled her two-acre garden with local specialties such as papaya, guava, avocado, coffee, ginger and orchids.

We didn’t spend time sunbathing on beaches. Both Mark and I have had skin cancer scares. But we did pack fleece jackets and mittens for a trip up Mauna Kea, the White Mountain, which gets snow in winter.

Vacationers prefer Kona-side where popular resorts are in a sunny, 10-inch annual precipitation zone. Hilo is the wettest place in the U.S., rated at 140 inches, but it is in a drought right now. For us, from the 15-inch precipitation zone, the rain is a novelty we can enjoy since it comes warm, without lightning and wind, usually, or hail and snow. The locals mostly wear “rubbah slippahs” (flip-flops) and carry umbrellas.

We ate out almost every lunch and dinner at whatever establishment was recommended or handy or still open, including Ken’s House of Pancakes, a 24-hour family restaurant beloved by locals. We tried Korean, Thai, natural food and roadside cafes, even a hotdog stand at the beach and the Friday night seafood buffet at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. It was at the Mongolian BBQ where we heard live Hawaiian music.

Hawaii is a mid-ocean crossroads with no ethnic majority. However, all street signs are in Hawaiian which has only 12 letters from the English alphabet: a, e, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, u, and w. It’s hard to differentiate names. Our son lives at the corner of Haile and Halai.

We didn’t spend much time in museums or shopping or on traditional beach activities except snorkeling. With advice from Bryan’s friends and our guidebook, “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed,” we didn’t need to sign up for tours.

Instead, we hiked to the top of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea and hiked 900 feet down into the Waipi’o Valley. One day we hiked through a lava tube and another day across a lava field. One day the endangered Hawaiian goose, the nene, nearly tripped over us and another day we nearly tripped over a napping green sea turtle, another endangered species.

There were myriad flowers blooming in gardens and along roadsides and so many sights unlike home. We filled our cameras and our memories. At the Hilo airport departure lounge, two hula dancers wished us farewell.

Mark Twain, after his 1866 visit, always hoped to return but never could. Isabella Bird, a visitor in 1873, wrote fondly of her magnificent adventures in “Six Months in the Sandwich Islands,” which remains in print. More than 130 years later, the islands still are spell-binding, no matter what color of sand you step upon.

Mauna Kea telescopes

There are about a dozen telescopes on the top of Mauna Kea, elevation over 13,000 feet. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mauna Kea

Bryan’s job as software engineer with the Joint Astronomy Centre allowed him to give us the inside tour of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, two of the group dotting the top of the 13,13,796-foot mountain, just 43 miles from Hilo. The University of Hawaii offers tours of its telescope.

The visitor center at 9000 feet elevation is worth stopping at, for information as well as a chance to acclimate. Tour companies will take you from Kona-side up the steep gravel road for the sunset and provide warm coats. On the way down the visitor center has regular telescopes set up.

Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park

The park entrance is only 28 miles from Hilo, but at an elevation of 4000 feet. The quickest way to check the status of the eruption and lava flows is to go to links at www.wizardpub.com.

Bryan’s friends took us on the Bird Park trail loop. It wasn’t very birdy in October, so it became a botany tour instead.

The next day we drove out to the Hilini Pali (“pali” means cliff) Overlook and encountered no one else except the endangered nene. At the Thurston Lava Tube the parking lot was full so we pulled in at the Kilauea Iki Overlook and walked back along part of the Kilauea Iki trail. The crater views were great and the tree ferns were magnificent.

Some roads in the park have been closed due to geologic cracks or lava flowing over them. Sometimes “vog,” sulphurous fumes from the eruption that can be deadly if concentrated, will temporarily close a section of the park.

Waipi'o Valley

The only way to get into the Waipi’o Valley is by water or by following a very steep road. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Waipi’o Valley

Only 50 miles north of Hilo, steep-sided and flat bottomed, opening onto the ocean, the valley was well-populated by farmers until the 1946 tsunami wiped them out. A few inhabitants remain, but the only way out is a steep trail requiring four-wheel-drive.

Tour company vans will take you in, but it is only a strenuous mile hike each way, with the advantage of being able to stop and enjoy the scenery…. frequently.

The valley is sacred to Hawaiians and so a representative of the Waipi’o Circle Association will meet you at the top and give you a brochure on the history, proper etiquette and safety rules for enjoying your visit.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

The northeast side of the Big Island is fringed with gulches growing impenetrable vegetation. Imagine one which has been landscaped and planted with amazing blooming tropical plants from all over the world, with paved paths leading from the visitor center down to Onomea Bay.


Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Members of my family enjoy the visit to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden, 8 miles from Hilo, charges $15 per person but it is worth it for the two or more hours it will take to enjoy every vista.


Even if you aren’t interested in reading every identification tag, the juxtaposition of color, texture, waterfalls and ocean views is blissful to the eyes.

Having seen tropical plants only in conservatories, I kept expecting glimpses of glass between distant branches, but the only glint was from the water.


For a former sugar capitol, population 40,000, Hilo is interesting in its own right. It’s also conveniently close to beaches and a few tide pools you’ll want to explore, besides having three excellent museums to visit on rainy days: the Pacific Tsunami Museum, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and the Lyman Museum, which features Hawaiian history.

The extensive Farmers’ Market is held Wednesdays and Saturdays under awnings and has beautiful flowers cheap and interesting produce you won’t see back home any time.