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  WINDY CITY TIMES

TRAVEL Hawaii: Big island, big fun
Special to the online edition of Windy City Time
by Jeff Guaracino
2014-02-25

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Hawaii is the biggest—and the youngest—of the Hawaiian Islands. The climate on this island ranges from lush rain forests to volcanic deserts to snow capped mountains to stunning black sand beaches. You will need many days on this island to get the full experience, so don't rush and don't stay too long in the hotel.

You can choose to fly into two sides of the island: the sunny Kona district accessible from Kona International Airport to Kealakekua Bay. On this side of the island, you will find coffee farms, historic Hawaiian landmarks and several gay-friendly hotels and businesses. There are no active volcanoes on this side of the island.

To see a great eruption, go to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the rainy side of the island ( which is an easy drive from Kona ) or fly directly into Hilo International Airport. Hilo is the home of Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. It is the most popular visitor attraction in Hawaii and a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.

Here are some must-dos on a visit to the surprisingly fun, astonishing beautiful and totally gay-friendly Big Island:

Chill out on the beach at the gay-owned Lava Lava Beach Club. Life and business partners Eric Von Platen Luder and Scott Dodd have created one of the most scenic restaurants on earth. Here, half the fun is in the drink menu that includes Gilligan's Girl ( a ginger drink ), Lotsa Booze ( need I say more? ), and the Huggos Mai Tai.

Stay in what might be the sexiest cottages in the Big Island with the biggest views are the beach cottages located next door to Lava Lava Beach Club. There are only four and they are luxury and hard to come by. The outdoor showers, the right-on-the-beach views and the special surprise at Happy Hour is well worth the expense. It's a real treat to stay in this rustic-luxury retreat along the ocean is pure luxury all the modern amenities. Check out www.lavalavabeachclub.com

For those looking for luxury amenities that come with a full-service hotel, stay at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa. Located on the Keauhou Bay, which means "the new era" or "new beginnings. Looking for traditional Hawaiian culture? Most mornings there is a complimentary Historical Keauhou Land and Sea culture tour led by native Hawaiians. Departing from the Sheraton is the Kini Kini Hawaiian Sailing Canoe. It is a one-hour tour on the water on an authentic Hawaiian canoe. The Sheraton's Rays on the Bay restaurant overlooks Keauhou Bay, where manta rays descend each evening. Visit www.sheratonkona.com .

Visit Historic Kailua Village. Once a fishing village and home to Hawaiian royalty, this seaside shopping and dining destination is a treat for your eyes and your senses. Here you will find many locally owned shops ( no big store chains here ).

Dine at Huggos fine dining in Historic Kailua Village, an open air restaurant suspended high over the ocean. Opened in 1969 as a casual dining spot for locals, today, Huggos is the premiere island restaurant with fresh caught seafood ( I mean like that morning ) and live music at night. It is entirely possible that you will find owner Hugo Von Platen Luder ( yes, Eric's dad ) on property. Be sure to try a traditional Hawaiian Pupu ( appetizer ) of fresh sushi and sashimi.

Tour with Hawaii Forest & Trail that specializes in small group tours on Hawaii's most special natural wonders. The full and half-day tours are worth every penny and based on conversation, education and culture-based activities. The tours range from volcanoes, to astronomy on the mountain summit to tropical forests and waterfalls and hikes. The Kohala Zipline Kohala Canopy Adventure is not for the faint of heart and not your everyday zip line tour. The tours feature suspension bridges through the treetop and up to eight zip lines that take you through breathtaking views.

The interpretative guide staffs take you onto private lands exclusive to Hawaii Forest & Trail that include easy hikes to natural waterfalls and an education in plant life along the way. Be ready to take lots of photos as you will see natural beauty on ancient protected lands that can only be described as magical. Hawaii Forest & Trail includes everything you need for your trip from sunscreen to water and tours with lunches. Because each tour is for a small-group or individual, reservations are a must. Small groups also mean you can cover lots of activities more quickly. It is best to plan two tours to experience the many varied activities during your trip. Hawaii Forest & Trail expert guides are locals and very gay-friendly. Be sure to try a locally grown beef burger too. Visit www.hawaii-forest.com

Jeff Guaracino is the author of Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing.


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