The island of Hawaii not only covers 63 percent of the state's entire land area but is still growing through volcanic activity. I cannot recall any other place where the elemental forces of earth-building are so clear to see. Volcanic fumes leak out from a thousand orifices, and along great sweeps of the coastline one sees immense flows of hardened lava from outbreaks of the last few decades. One flow in 1960 added some 500 acres to the eastern coast. Mauna Loa (13,677 feet above sea level) is the world's most active present-day volcano. This mountain's volcanic activity has been going on over so many eons of time that its land mass of 2,000 square miles above the ocean make it the largest single mountain in the world. Its now dormant neighbor, snow-clad Mauna Kea (elevation 13,784), is believed to be the world's largest mountain in height, assuming one counts the rise both below and above the sealine.
While most of the volcanic eruptions pose little immediate danger to human life, they have wiped out villages in recent times, and there are continual fears that the prosperous city of Hilo on Hawaii's east coast could one day be damaged or wiped out by rifts from Mauna Loa's flank. There is little the city can do in defense or prevention. In the meantime, Hilo thrives as a sugar-loading port, county seat, and tourist center. It is a reflection of Honolulu's dominance that this little city is actually second largest in the entire state.
In the prevailing pattern of the archipelago, the Big Island has a verdant, moist northeastern side where the trade winds deposit the burden of clouds blown in over thousands of miles of open sea. The southwestern flank, by contrast, is dry and hot. Within a few miles, one can find tropical rain forest and prime agricultural land, misty plateaus and true desert. Sugar cane and cattle ranching are the traditional and still important farm industries, but Hawaii has long been America's leading orchid center and is unique in the U.S. for coffee growing along its eastern Kona coast. Now there is also a prosperous business in macadamia nut growing. Hawaii may make a lot of money over the long run from harvesting of its vast hardwood forests.
The Big Island's two big economic advances of recent years, however, have sprung from tourism. The first was the opening of Laurance Rockefeller's Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and golf course on the and South Kobola Coast. Land for the resort was sliced from the Parker Ranch, outranked in size only by the King spread in Texas. Travel writers who have had the time and money to go there report that the resort may be the most lavish on earth. Mauna Kea's setback architecture blends with rather than dominates the terrain, and the building contains a collection of fine Asian art. The guest is offered "rest, quiet, excellent food and absolute seclusion," and the diversions for the more adventurous range from golf on breathtaking occanside courses to "women, surfing, skin diving, tennis, wild boar hunting, pheasant shooting, or the great deep-sea fishing only lo miles away." With my time limited, I chose to visit volcanos and little seashore towns instead; perhaps it was a poor decision.
The Big Island's second big boost came from the start of direct jet flights between Hilo and the West Coast. A tour pattern developed in which Hilo became a popular exit gateway for tourists on their way back to the mainland, beginning the first major challenge to Oahu's monopoly on tourist days and dollars. Adverse reaction to the overcrowding of Honolulu has also contributed to interest in the numerous resort and land developments on Hawaii and other Neighbor Islands.