THE BIG ISLAND
WHY Take a leisurely four-day, 228-mile drive around Hawaii's Big Island, where fresh guavas and pineapples are sold roadside, humpback whales frolic just offshore, and the sound track is the crashing of surf and towering waterfalls. Kilauea has been spewing lava continuously since 1983; the flow of the world's most active volcano can be seen from Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the lava meets the sea. At night, the confluence of 2,100-degree molten rock and 75-degree water sends a seething plume upward, glowing eerily red against the night sky. ITINERARY Kailua-Kona to Hilo on Route 19, Hilo to Kailua-Kona on Route 11. HEAT FACTOR There are no seasons in Hawaii: average highs are about 80, lows are in the mid sixties. MUST-SEE Each winter, some 5,000 humpback whales congregate in the shallow waters around Hawaii, and the northwest Kohala coast is one of the best places to view them (especially from the white sands of the popular Hapuna Beach State Park). PIT STOPS Humble plastic chairs at Keei Café (mile-marker 106, Rte. 11; 808/328-8451; dinner for two $50) belie the flavorful fusion cooking at this hideaway: fresh ahi and ono, Brazilian seafood chowder, red Thai curry. After-dinner Kona coffee comes courtesy of the surrounding plantations. If you want to find out more about the celebrated Big Island bean, drop in at the Kona Blue Sky Coffee Co. (76-973A Hualalai Rd., Holualoa; 877/322-1700; www.konablueskycoffee.com) for a complimentary coffee-tasting and plantation tour. WHERE TO STAY Overlooking Hilo Bay, Shipman House (131 Kaiulani St., Hilo; 800/627-8447 or 808/934-8002; doubles from $154) was once owned by a family of powerful plantation owners; it's now a five-room inn run by family descendant Barbara Ann Andersen and her husband, Gary. ON-LINE INFO www.bigisland.org; www.gohilo.com.