The island of Hawaii’s northwest corner is in the rain shadows of Kohala, its oldest volcano, and 13,803-foot Mauna Kea, its tallest. Storms riding the trade winds from the northeast drop most of their rain on the windward side of the island before passing over the volcanoes. Thus, the stark, grassy landscape on the leeward side of the Big Island resembles the dry southeast corner of Idaho more than it does a tropical paradise. The resorts along this coast, however, still deliver quintessential tropical Hawaiian experiences, thanks to meticulous landscaping and modern sprinkler systems.
The Big Island of Hawaii, the archipelago’s youngest island, was literally still under construction when I arrived in November 2017 for the Ragnar Hawaii race. I had flown to the Big Island two days before Marie to see the newest earth on Earth. Lava was still flowing to the ocean from a vent on Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone called Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō (pronounced poo-oo-OH-oh). I parked my rental car amid a bazaar of bike rental outfits. Although the bike rental options were tempting, I stuck to my original plan to hike the four miles to the viewing site.