Big Island Year in review: 2022 started with tragedy and ended with erupting volcanoes

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2022 is coming to a close. Reflecting on the past 12 months, the Big Island community experienced extreme weather, earthquakes, fires and two erupting volcanoes; mourned tragedies and the death of a revered kumu hula; and witnessed the loss of historic buildings, including the Hōlualoa Theater.

This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic more under control, events and gatherings that had been canceled have returned.

They include a live audience for the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in April at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium in Hilo and thousands of triathletes competing in the Ironman World Championship in Kona. But Ironman created controversy with the addition of a second race during the middle of the workweek, which caused traffic and other problems for the small town.

Here are the Big Island’s top 10 stories of 2022.

#10: 9-year-old girl dies in New Year’s Day crash on Mauna Kea Access Road

The 2022 year kicked off with tragedy on Jan. 1 with a crash on the summit road resulting in the death of a child. Seven people were injured.

Maunakea Access Road has reopened following a December 2022 storm. Photo Courtesy: UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship

# 9: New owner of Uncle Billy’s hotel shares vision to bring downtown Kona back

In March, Sandor Shapery, owner of Shapery Enterprises, said he plans to refurbish the former Uncle Billy’s hotel on Ali‘i Drive in the heart of Kailua-Kona with $25 million in improvements that will transform the deteriorating, vacant structure, but at the same time, retain its unique, old Hawai‘i feel.

“It’s going to be a big refresh on the property,” Shapery said. “Our plan is to bring downtown Kona back.”

But the once iconic Uncle Billy’s hotel in Hilo has another fate. It is slated for demolition in 2023.

#8: Lawmakers discuss resolution for name change of Captain Cook


One of the hot topics during the Hawai‘i State Legislative session in 2022 was a proposed name change of the South Kona community of Captain Cook to its original name, Ka‘awaloa.

However, the resolution stalled. Many people testified in favor of the name change, voicing their disdain for the English explorer Capt. James Cook, for whom the area was renamed. But others said the resolution seemed to be part of a cancel culture social agenda.

#7: Nervous? Residents react after a video shows a possible big cat prowling Captain Cook

The August sighting is pictured on the right, the most recent sighting from Sunday is shown on the left. Screen grab pictures courtesy of KHON2

Public sightings of a large cat, possibly a cougar, were reported over the summer. The animal was seen in Hōlualoa and as far down as Ocean View. Trail cameras were set up by the state. While several videos and photos from the public have surfaced, state officials have yet to capture their own footage of the animal.

#6: Rogue wave crashes Kona wedding party

Image captured from video provided by Isabella Sloan of a large swell hitting Kona Surf and Racquet Club in Keauhou on July 16, 2022.

While Tropical Storm Darby passed the Hawaiian Islands to the east in July, a south swell came through hammering the west coast of the Big Island, resulting in several waves crashing a wedding at Hulihe‘e Palace in downtown Kona on Ali‘i Drive.

A few miles down the road in Keauhou at Kona Surf and Racquet Club, the swell towered over the townhomes crashing over the several-story high building and into the parking lot.

#5: Big Island mourns loss of Kumu Hula Johnny Lum Ho

The hula community lost Renowned kumu hula, musician, composer and recording artist Johnny Lum Ho in April. He was known for his creativity and writing most of the chants and songs performed by his hālau, Hālau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua.

He also crafted the group’s choreography, all of which made them favorites during the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo. Lum Ho was one of the kumu in the first Merrie Monarch competition in 1971 and made his final trip to the festival’s competition stage in 2018.

#4: The Waipi‘o Valley Road controversy

Waipiʻo Valley Road. Photo Credit: Megan Moseley

The Waipi‘o Valley Road has been an ongoing issue as the county has made plans to repair the deteriorating route. There was frustration on the part of Waipi‘o Valley residents on the crowding of the road as well as community members feeling they were being denied access to their beloved beach. The county unveiled a plan in October on its plans to address road repairs.

#3: Teen girl abducted triggering Hawaiʻi’s first MAILE AMBER alert in 17 years

The Big Island community and state were shocked when a 15-year-old girl was abducted from a beach at knife point from Anaeho‘omalu Bay over a weekend in September. For the first time in 17 years, a MAILE AMBER alert was issued in an effort to locate the teen safely. The teen escaped her abductor in Hilo outside Café Pesto the next day and was returned to her family.

#2: Honolulu major selected as new Hawai‘i County Police chief

The Hawai‘i County Police Commission selected Maj. Moszkowicz, a 22-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department, to be the next chief of police earlier this month. He was one of four finalists interviewed by the commission in two public meetings. He is set to be sworn in on Jan. 17. 

After a nearly six-month process, the commission narrowed the candidate field for police chief from a pool of 44 to four finalists. Other applicants who were interviewed for the job were Kaua‘i Police Capt. Paul N. Applegate, retired FBI Senior Resident Agent Edward G. Ignacio and Maj. Sherry D. Bird, the only internal candidate.

#1: Mauna Loa erupts for first time in 38 years

Bird’s-eye view of Mauna Loa erupting on Nov. 30 during Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour. Photo Credit: Cammy Clark/Big Island Now

Mauna Loa, the 13,681-foot volcano on the Big Island, began erupting on Nov. 28, for the first time in 38 years. The eruption began in Moku‘āweoweo, the summit caldera of Mauna Loa, inside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. 

In the first week of the eruption, there were concerns that the flow might take a path toward Ocean View. When it was determined the flow was headed down the Northeast Rift Zone, concerns shifted to the lava crossing Hawai‘i Island’s cross-island thoroughfare, Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road.

It was also the first time in 38 years that Mauna Loa and the Big Islandʻs other active volcano Kīlauea were erupting at the same time.

Luckily, the Mauna Loa flow stalled 1.7 miles away from the highway.

Both volcanoes stopped erupting within days of each other in December.

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