Hawai'i. The name sounds like a sweet song and my inner eye sees gorgeous girls in hula-skirts moving slowly to tinkling ukuleles. I think about pristine beaches lined with endless rows of palm trees, daredevil surfers waiting for the perfect wave and the heroes of the Ironman Triathlons. But of course there is much more to the Aloha State.
A tiny road winds up and down through green meadows. In the distance a snowcapped mountain's summit is higher than 13,000 feet, and right before me I see grazing cattle framed by pine forests and crystal-clear creeks. I really have to force myself to realize where I am. Just an hour ago I was riding along the Pacific coastline, right beneath palm and banana trees, and now there is scenery that looks like Wyoming. Our guidebook explains that the Big Island possesses 10 of the 15 different climatic zones on earth, from tropical rain forest to arctic tundra, and the latter is the day's destination on the Saddle Road up to Mauna Kea. At 13,796 feet, it is the tallest peak on the islands of Hawaii. With its base almost 20,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, it is the loftiest mountain in the world, when measured from base to peak. However, this is not going to last forever, as the sea floor is slowly being depressed by the volcano's enormous mass, and sometime in the next few million years the whole island will sink into the ocean.