[photo:1349598961002]Just as much as I love winter months and the holiday season, shortly after the New Year begins I yearn for warm weather, hot sunny days, white sandy beaches and tropical fruit. One of my favourite destinations is the beautiful islands of Hawaii. Hawaii is made up of numerous Islands including Maui, Oahu and the Big Island to name a few. Last Spring Break, I spent two heavenly weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Big Island is considered the less commercial of all the Islands but just as picturesque. My family and I stayed in a holiday timeshare right on the ocean front. Each day we could hear the crashing waves and see surfers and cruise ships go by. Depending on when you are there, turtles are plentiful and can be found sunbathing on the many beaches. There is plenty to do besides hanging out at the beach all day. Armed with a handful of brochures from the tourist information centre, one can plan a very busy and fruitful stay on the Big Island. My family decided to embark on one tourist activity each day followed by one day at the beach. It seemed a happy medium for everyone. Since our holiday time share was situated in Kona, we decided to visit the famous Kona coffee belt. Hawaii is the only State in America that produces coffee. We opted not to join a guided tour. Instead, we chose to drive around in our rented jeep and pull in to any coffee plantation that was open to the public. It is a pleasant drive along a scenic route up in the mountains. We were able to visit three or four coffee plantations to learn about the coffee making process and to sample a variety of coffees. The staff members were informative and fuelled our imaginations with stories of storms that ruined the crop or wild boar that came and ate the coffee beans. More than a few cups of coffee later and after purchasing several bags of the various roasts we headed on the road again to the next plantation. I am not sure any of us slept that night. Fortunately, our next destination required us to be alert as we headed for Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano home to scientists and astronomers from the world over. It is a about a two hour drive from Kona to Mauna Kea which is one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island. Mauna Kea is the world’s largest astronomical observatory and is home to several observatories. The Onizuka Centre for International Astronomy is at the 9,000 foot level and has a visitor centre that provides evening viewing through carefully placed portable telescopes. Visitors can take turns to stare up into the heavens and the many student astronomers and volunteers are happy to point out the constellations and answer any questions. It was a fun evening made doubly so when we were able to spot the Space Station passing through the skies above us the night of our visit. Another family fun activity is body boarding or boogie boarding which is to ride a wave with your body resting on a piece of hydrodynamic board. It sounds easy enough; it just takes a little practice and a few trial runs. Usually the boards are rented and come with a leash which you strap to your wrist to prevent the board from floating away. The idea is to paddle out on your board away from the beach, when you see the waves coming, you turn around, lie on your board and let the waves rush you to shore. Fairly safe, you are in shallow waters most of the time and you are being pushed ashore. No wonder everyone from grandparents to grandchildren were boogie boarding on the beaches. [photo:1349599527503] The sea is warm, the sun is hot and while relaxing on the beach or by the pool one can often spot Humpback Whales, Orcas and Spinner Dolphins out in the ocean. Large Green Turtles are plentiful and can be found on the beach. Conservationists are usually not too far behind to offer friendly advice and information about these gentle giant sea creatures. Touching them or picking them up is frowned upon and even illegal as they are also a threatened species. However, one can wander quite close to them and take a few photos. It really is quite spectacular to see these Green Sea Turtles in their own environment. [photo:1349599728866]Some of the most beautiful tropical flowers can be found in Hawaii. The Hibiscus is the Hawaiian state flower and beautiful lush bushes of Hibiscus are everywhere as well as gorgeous red leafed bougainvilleas. In the market, one can buy fresh flower leis to wear around the shoulders. Apparently, the correct way to wear a Lei is to let it drape gently on the slopes of your shoulders and not hanging from your neck. To be honest, the only people I saw wearing Leis were tourists, myself included! Beautiful carved shell necklaces, coconut shell handbags, shell wind chimes and other local arts and crafts are plentiful for those who want to bring home a little piece of Hawaii. For most visitors to Hawaii, a Luau is the best way to experience Hawaiian culture. It is a traditional feast of singing and dancing and a whole roasted pig on a spit is ceremoniously displayed. The roast pig or Kulua Pork is not actually cooked over a fire but in an earthen pit where the pork is wrapped in leaves and weighed down by rocks. A Luau is a great opportunity to taste local cuisine such as Poi, a paste like substance made from Taro root and lomi-lomi salmon which is a tomato salmon salad. However, I was most fascinated with the dishes serving up tinned Spam. Spam is a Hawaiian institution, they love it and it is used in many local dishes from sushi to stir-fry’s. The Big Island of Hawaii is made up of five volcanoes and one can visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to catch a glimpse of the still active Kilauea Volcano. It is an eerie sight to see fumes spouting out of the Volcano which is home to Pele the Hawaiian Volcano goddess, definitely worth a visit. [photo:1349599911744] There is a friendly and relaxed vibe on the Big Island. The locals are welcoming and aloha which means both hello and goodbye and Mahalo for thank you can be heard often. The abundance and diversity of the flora and fauna, the beautiful waterfalls and the spectacle of live volcanoes surrounded by an ocean filled with marine life, what is there not to like about Hawaii? The temperature is dipping here in Vancouver and I can hear the Ukulele music drifting in my dreams. I feel another visit to Hawaii calling me. Aloha till we meet again.