HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – A Mental Exercise: How BIG is the Big Island?
By Kelly Moran
Say “island” to most people, and their first thought may well the cartoon cliché of a tiny “desert” island, whose lone palm tree barely shades a hapless castaway. But when we, here, consider the word “island,” we probably think of our hugely bigger home, and have a picture in our minds of how big it is. But the immensity of Hawaii is not easy for visitors or newcomers to visualize. So here’s a mental exercise: pick up each of the other islands and drop them onto Hawaii, and you’ll see how much bigger it really is.
Start by turning Maui about 90 degrees clockwise, and moving it about 50 miles to the southeast, so the larger, eastern part is over Hamakua, and the smaller western part over North Kohala (that is, over Mauna Kea and the Kohala mountains, respectively. Maui being the second-largest island in the chain, it does (pardon the pun) cover a lot of ground. West Maui is pretty much the same size as North Kohala, and with comparable microclimates (wet valleys to windward; dry beaches to leeward). East Maui is about as big as Hamakua from Honokaa to Hilo, including the summit of Mauna Kea. But Maui, being the second-largest island in the chain, is the only one that can fit so snugly over Hawaii.
When you’re in Honolulu or Waikiki, and especially when you drive to the Leeward side or the North Shore, Oahu seems pretty big. But lift Oahu out of the ocean and set it down in Puna, and you’ll still see plenty of Puna sticking out all around. Coincidentally, Oahu has much of the most expensive – and Puna much of the least expensive – real estate in the islands.
Because Kauai is the geologically oldest of the inhabited islands, its landmass is more irregular than that of the others; so, driving around Kauai takes longer than you think it ought to, which leads you to imagine that (like Oahu) it’s bigger than it really is. But try placing Kauai on top of the Ka‘u district of Hawaii, and it will not extend even from Volcano to South Point. Ka‘u would be just about covered if you placed Lanai, Molokai, Kaho‘olawe and Ni‘ihau there as well.
But that would still leave uncovered the entirety of West Hawaii, comprising the districts of South Kohala and North and South Kona, which make up fully half of the Big Island. Thus, you will have proven that, as the guidebooks all attest, Hawaii really is twice as big as all the other islands put together!