The Big Island, Hawaii, US: Hawaii's big, spectacular island of fire and black sand beach

It rises, like Mordor, from deep blue seas. Surrounded by black lava – and shrouded with "vog" – Mauna Loa is a sight to behold.

This is the world's tallest mountain if measured from the sea floor to its highest peak.

Our two hobbits are appropriately impressed as the plane lands in the middle of a lava field.

The Big Island is an otherworldly place that confounds the senses.

Driving along the west coast, from Kona Airport to our accommodation, on one side we see sheltered shallow bays, with some of the best snorkelling in Hawaii; on the other, a Jurassic landscape of jagged lava, known as a'a. (I imagine that would be the sound you'd make if you had the misfortune to step on it.

Incredibly, there are trees strong enough to thrive in this molten mess.

Another surreal sight is the black sand beach at Punalu'u.

It sounds like a school chemistry experiment gone wrong: boiling hot lava hits the ocean and shatters like glass.

Dozens of green sea turtles are dozing on the black sand. Others thrust their snake-like heads through the waves. Fortunately, nowadays, they're protected.

"We used to grab onto the back of those turtles and ride them, as kids," our guide, Billy, remembers, shaking his head.

This is part of a small-group, full-day tour to the Volcanoes National Park, with KapohoKine Adventures.

Billy's commentary fills the mini-van with the kind of bloody tales children of a certain age adore.

"Did Captain Cook really die here?" one of our insensitive children asks.

Billy tells the Hawaiian version of the story as we pass Kealakekua Bay, the site of a monument to Cook's passing.

"Well, I hate to tell you this, kids," Billy begins, "but the locals thought Captain Cook was a god, until he started ripping them off.

"He really wasn't trading fairly with them. So they stabbed him to death with knives they got from him, in exchange for pigs. A nasty way to go."

Vengeance simmers beneath the surface of many of the Big Island's myths and legends, including the reason for Mount Kilauea's eruptions.

Pele, the goddess of fire, is said to live in this highly active volcano, which sits on the flank of the mighty Mauna Loa.

If you take her rocks, or show disrespect, fire and lava will rain upon you. (Now that's my kind of woman.)

Counterintuitively, the ascent to the peak feels like a descent into the bowels of hell: lava vents belch across a backdrop of red-hot magma.

Standing above one of the vents, we are showered in its miasma. "Smells like monster farts in here!" Taj announces.

Soon, we're stepping back in time, through a rainforest filled with prehistoric plants: one has moss that feels like thick fur.

This is home to the world's longest, and widest, lava tubes, which are like catacombs. The kids in our group giggle ghoulishly, walking through these natural wonders.

One of the few man-made creations is the Volcano House Hotel. Despite boasting a stunning view, the quality of the food makes me want to throw myself into the caldera. Not a good choice for dinner.

Sun is setting, so we drive to Jaggar Museum for an extreme close-up. It is simply spectacular: steam billows from the caldera, haloed by a magenta glow.

While the museum is straight out of the 1970s – think VHS tapes with scratchy footage of ancient eruptions – there are plenty of hands-on displays to keep the kids amused.

The main attraction is the seismograph, which registers how hard you can jump on a sensor plate under the floor.

We all fall into a deep sleep during the 2½hour drive back, relieved we didn't anger the cranky goddess.

Sure, we didn't find the ring. But a trip to Mordor is a most magnificent adventure.




Hawaiian Airlines flies from Sydney and Brisbane, direct to Honolulu. It's a 45-minute flight from there to Kona, on the Big Island.

See Ph: 1300 669 106


Hilton Waikoloa Village is a 20-minute drive from Kona Airport, at

69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738.


Set on 25 hectares along the Kohala Coast, this sprawling resort has 1200 upscale rooms with balconies, flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi. There are three pools with waterslides, eight tennis courts and two golf courses. You can kayak, paddleboard or snorkel in the natural lagoon, among green sea turtles, tropical fish, and, occasionally, a monk seal. Rooms start from $175 a night. Kids under four eat for free.


Evening Volcano Tour

KapohoKine Adventures



Lagoon Grill and Boat Harbour Cantina

Hilton Waikoloa Village

Island Gourmet Markets (to self-cater)


The writer and her family travelled courtesy of Hawai'i Tourism Oceania and Hilton Hotels & Resorts. The writer flew as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines.