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The Island of Hawaii, or the Big Island of Hawaii as it is also known, is famous for its incredible natural attractions and specifically the volcanoes that have shaped and continue to shape the landscape. There are also a number of beautiful beaches scattered around the island and several interesting historical sites. The main population centers are Kailua Kona, where many tourists end up spending their time, and Hilo, the largest town on the island. Hilo receives considerably more rainfall than the dry Kona Coast.

The picturesque Kona Coast is one of, if not the most popular destination on the Big Island of Hawaii. With beaches ranging from white sand to lava rock, and plenty of fabulous dining facilities and activities to go around, Kona is truly a vacation wonderland. The region is tropical and warm all year long, with much less rain than on the other side of the island. The Big Island of Hawaii, and Kona in particular, is becoming increasingly popular because it is not as touristy as Waikiki, or Honolulu or Oahu. The shopping in Kona is marvelous, and the locals are friendly and helpful.

Anyone who is familiar with Kona knows about their outstanding coffee and terrific fishing. Fishermen take particular note, as Kona offers some of the best fishing in the entire world. The Kona coast is a seventy-mile long stretch of black lava that is breathtakingly beautiful. It is located on the leeward side of the Big Island, and many areas in Kona still remain simple and agricultural in nature. Collections of small fishing and farming communities are scattered throughout the region, and it is not uncommon to see tiny villages that appear to have put a halt to technology and growth a hundred years ago. This is what makes Kona so unique and enjoyable; the fact that along with the tourist attractions, restaurants, and great beaches, there exists a natural, uninterrupted lifestyle that the native Hawaiians are still able to enjoy. The hubbub of city life has not reached many of the people who call Kona home, and this should be applauded, appreciated, and respected by all tourists.
 
Kona is a terrific place for water sports and for seeing many diverse landscapes. Ranging from black coastal desert to lush, fertile plantations, Kona has a wide variety of geography that is ideal for exploration. Enchanting scents of coffee, exotic fruits, and gorgeous flowers fill the air, making your trip to Kona seem more and more like an exercise in taking in all the beauty the coast has to offer. The actual word Kona means leeward or dry side; you know what that means: a bright, sun-filled sky practically every day of the year.
 
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships anchor offshore and tenders take passengers to Kailua Pier. Tenders arrive in the middle of downtown Kailua Village. Shopping shuttles will pick you up at the pier, as will rental car company shuttles. Local tourist representatives set up a small table with brochures and maps and can answer questions.Cruise schedule here http://hidot.hawaii.gov/harbors/passenger-cruise-schedules/,
 
Hanging Around
Just across from the tender pier is the King Kamehameha Hotel, a historic Hawaiian temple and a small beach with water sports rentals. Head right for a quick walk to restaurants and cafes, souvenir shops, the farmers market and a few historic sites; head left and up the hill for more restaurants and shops, as well as the larger stores like Hilo Hattie's and Long's Drugs.
 
Getting Around
On Foot: If you're just going to visit Kailua Village, you can easily do it on foot. It's small and compact.
 
By Bus or Shuttle: Shuttles at the pier will deliver you to Hilo Hattie's, Kmart, Wal-Mart and the Kona International Market. The Keauhou Trolley is a local area shuttle that makes two alternating loops around Kona area attractions for a couple of bucks. It picks up at the pier and does a shorter loop to retail/restaurant areas and a longer one to nearby beaches; service is limited, so make sure you have a copy of the schedule, available from the tourist reps at the pier.
 
Taxis are readily available on the Big Island. To arrange for a taxi to pick you up, contact Kona Airport Taxi (808/329-7779) for more information and rates. There is bus service on the Big Island to transport you from Kona to Hilo and back. The Hele-On Bus (808/961-8744) only charges $1 for carrying on luggage, backpacks, or bicycles; otherwise the service is free! If you want to rent a car while in Kona, contact Alamo (800/327-9633) or Avis (800/321-3712) for more information.
 
Biking and Bike Rentals
Biking on the Big Island is rarely considered by tourists, and commonly thought of as “something only those crazy triathlon types would do”. However, it can be very rewarding to rent a bike during the day and cruise around town and along the shore, or to head into the rainforest on your mountain bike.
 
Watch Out For
Ocean safety is a top concern. The water might look calm and peaceful, but conditions can change quickly. Never turn your back on the ocean and obey all signage or official warnings about beach and water use. If you don't see locals in the water, it might be best to stay on dry land, and don't disobey posted regulations just because someone you meet tells you it's no problem to go swimming.
 
Things to See and Do
For being a relatively small area, there are a tremendous number of must-see places to visit while in Kona. Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center can be found at Kona International Airport (808/329-3441) and even though it is not a large museum, it certainly is large in stature. It was built as a tribute to Ellison Onizuka, the Hawaii-born astronaut who was lost in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion. The displays and exhibits in the museum are impressive, and favorites include the rocket-propulsion exhibit and the space shuttle display, where you take part in a simulated launch. The latter is tremendous fun, as is the gravity well that provides insight into the phenomenon of orbital motion.
 
Hulihee Palace is located at 75-5718 Alii Dr. (808/329-1877) and was constructed in 1838 by John Adams Kuakini, the governor of Hawaii at that time. It overlooks the Kailua-Kona Harbor and is an authentic royal palace that is definitely worth visiting. The tour is filled with plenty of information concerning the heritage and culture of the island. The 19th-century furniture is excellent vintage work. Twelve times a year, the Palace hosts Hawaiian music and hula concerts. They are held on the last Sunday of the month to pay tribute to the Hawaiian monarchs.
 
The Mokuaikaua Church (808/329-1589) is across the street from the Palace and is the oldest Christian church in all of Hawaii (1836). Even though it is constructed of lava stones and coral, the architecture is distinctly New England. Come here to see the highest man-made structure in Kona, the 112-foot steeple.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This is one of the most geologically interesting national parks in all of the United States. It is home to two active volcanoes that allow visitors to see the wonder of nature in action.
 
Waipio Valley and Overlook
This incredibly beautiful valley on the northeastern coast of Big Island, about 50 miles north of Hilo, has often been described as a sort of "Shangri La", almost cut off from the outside world. The valley, about 1 mile wide, dissects the Kohala Mountains and is difficult to reach because of the steep cliffs on the three landward sides. Strong waves make it equally unapproachable from the sea.
 
Bananas, papayas, mangoes, avocados and grapefruit grow on the fertile valley floor and colorful ginger trees, orchids and hibiscus decorate the landscape. Where the valley meets the ocean is a long black sand beach. As many of the local people will tell you, it was in this area that the movie "Waterworld" was filmed.
 
There is a steep and twisting road into the valley which allows access by car or by foot. Most car rental companies do not allow their vehicles to be driven down into the valley so some people choose to walk down the road.
 
Waipio is fed by the Hiilawe Falls, which drops over 1200 ft. This double waterfall is one of the highest in the world but in the dry season has very little water nowadays because it is used to irrigate the land above the valley.
 
Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea is Hawaii's highest mountain and home to the Mauna Kea Observatory. During certain months the snow covered mountain offers downhill skiing. A road, best suited for 4WD vehicles, offers access to the summit which stands at 13,796 ft.
 
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park (Kona Coast)
This park is a great place to learn about island traditions.The present temple site was restored by the national park authorities and is a replica of the original which dates from the end of the 18th century. The palace was a place of refuge, protected by a huge wall measuring 10 ft high and 16 ft wide. This thick wall between the former palace and the sanctuary has been preserved over the centuries, with repair work being carried out in 1902 and 1963-64. Using information gleaned from pictures, replica koa wood carvings of temple gods have been placed in their original positions.
 
Attractions found on the estate include the landing place of the royal canoes ("keone'ele"), the stones on which the royal family played a type of Hawaiian game known as "konane", and the Kuuhumanu Stone, behind which the Queen hid from Kamehameha's henchmen but was discovered when her dog began to bark. Also on site are a royal fishpond known as "he-lei-palalu", the Keoua Stone, supposedly the favorite place of Keoua, King of Kona, burial vaults, rock carvings and models of houses belonging to the priests and inhabitants of the City of Refuge.
 
Parker Ranch (Kona Coast)
Parker Ranch covers a huge area of land and is the largest cattle ranch in the United States. Visitors can take a tour to learn about the history and business, and see the beautiful landscape.
 
Waikoloa Beach Resort and Petroglyph Park
Located on the Kona Coast, Waikoloa Beach is home to a lovely area with a number of petroglyphs. Most visitors come to this area for the Hilton Waikoloa Village. There are few resorts in the world which compare to the care which has gone into creating a magical environment for guests at Hilton Waikoloa Village. While the resort is large, guests can move around the grounds using a sleek transit system or beautifully appointed wood paneled boats which cruise the canals on the grounds.
 
Art galleries here contain millions of dollars of Hawaiian, Oriental and other art. On the grounds are tropical gardens set with sculptures grouped by theme. A variety of species are found throughout the gardens which surround a saltwater lagoon. One highlight of the resort is a dolphin area where guests, especially children, can wade in and interact with the dolphins.
 
Ahu'ena Heiau
This fully restored temple, directly behind the Kamehameha Hotel in Kailua Kona, is possibly the best example of a Hawaiian place of sacrifice. Ahuena Heiau was built by Kamehameha I on Kamakahonu Beach and dedicated to the god Lona.
 
Kamehameha I spent the last years of his life at Ahuena Heiau. According to Hawaiian custom, his bones were removed from his corpse on a stone platform in the temple and taken north, possibly to Wawahiwa Point, where they were left at a secret location.
 
His son and successor, Kamehameha II, grew up here and this area became central to the abolition of the tabus and the destruction of heathen idols and temples during his reign. Further measures to abolish the old religion were then implemented from Lahaina, the seat of government. Restoration of Ahuena Heiau was supervised by the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Official site: http://www.ahuena.net/

Akaka Falls State Park and Kahuna Falls
Akaka Falls State Park near Hilo is home to both Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. The Akaka Falls are the tallest on the island, free falling 442 feet. The setting here is quite stunning with lush surroundings of tropical ferns and palms. A short circular hiking trail, with some elevation changes, leads from the parking lot past both Akaka and the equally scenic Kahuna Falls. The trail is paved, but has many steps.
 
Kailua Kona and Magic Sands Beach
Kailua Kona is the main town on the Kona Coast and a good base for visitors who want to explore this stretch of the Big Island. This is the main shopping center and where many of the snorkeling and boating trips depart from. Magic Sands Beach, sometimes a good snorkeling or swimming area, is located just south of Kailua Kona. The beach is sometimes sand covered and at other times it is void of sand, leaving a rocky shore

Beaches
The beaches of the Kona coast are as fascinating as they are enjoyable. They are the main reason for visiting this area, and a short (or long) stay at each beach area is optimal. White Sands Beach is located four and a half miles south of Kona, and be sure to be on the lookout, because it is extremely small and relatively unpopulated. It is the perfect location for swimming and snorkeling in the summertime and ideal for watching big wave surfers in the winter.
 
White Sands is unique because the Kona coast is typically lava-rock, but this glorious beach is a soft sand paradise. Area locals use the calm summer waves to teach their youngsters how to bodyboard and surf. Hapuna Beach is just south of the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel off Queen Kaahumanu Highway. A premier location any time except the winter, this wonderful destination is usually the best and most preferred beach on the Big Island. In the summer, the ocean is calm but not totally flat, the rip tides and currents are just short of nonexistent, and the spacious white sands are perfect for lounging. During these months there is no better place on Hawaii for snorkeling, swimming, and bodysurfing.
 
The gold sand stretches for nearly half a mile, and the scenery is exquisite. However, like White Sands, beware of Hapuna in the winter. Usually from late November until February, the ocean is not friendly, and you should not let your children in the water. The absence of lifeguards, along with strong currents and rip tides make the ocean quite dangerous during these months. Instead, you can opt to sit on the beach and watch the big wave surfers do their thing. This is guaranteed excitement without the danger.
 
Snorkeling: The west side of Hawaii provides the best snorkeling spots on the island, with several unique species and corals. You can make a day of it without renting a car; take a cab or the Keauhou Trolley to Kahaluu Beach Park, Kahalu'u Beach Park is considered one of the best snorkel beaches.
 
About five miles south of the tender pier on the main oceanfront boulevard (Alii Drive). The black sand beach is protected, and it's an easy walk to the snorkeling spots. The shallow waters make the park a great place for kids; green sea turtles occasionally come up on shore to graze. The park also has picnic tables, equipment rental, lifeguards, shade trees and concession stands for lunch and drinks. Other excellent snorkel spots include Kelakeau Bay by the Captain Cook Monument (accessible only by kayak or catamaran tour) and Honaunau Bay (also called Two Step), located next to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.
 
Puuhonua O Honaunau, City of Refuge: In ancient times, anyone caught violating a kapu, a sacred taboo, was captured and put to death ... unless, that is, he could reach a puuhonua, or place of refuge. There, he could be absolved by the priest and return home safe and forgiven. O Honaunau is the best preserved of the sacred puuhonuas in the islands -- and the most famous. It is a National Historic Park and includes ruins of the king's home,heiau (temples), royal fish ponds and the huge wall that separated the chief's residence from the puuhonua. You may also witness canoe-building, rock bowling or spear-throwing demonstrations. Puuhonua O Honaunau is located about a 35-minute drive south of Kailua-Kona, just beyond the town of Captain Cook.
 
Kona Coffee Plantation:
Kona coffee is one of the most sought-after brews in the world, and this region is the only place in the U.S. where coffee production has been ongoing for 200 years. On a visit to a coffee plantation, you'll probably get a full tour with an explanation of the farm and the family that runs it, an overview of the harvesting, processing and roasting processes, and the opportunity to taste and then buy coffee. There are several great farms to visit, including Pele Plantations, Holualoa Kona Coffee Co., Bay View Farm, Greenwell Farms, Mountain Thunder and Ueshima Coffee Co.
 
Golf:
The Big Island features a variety of world-class golf courses, many of which are attached to the big-name resorts on the Kohala Coast. Mauna Lani Bay Hotel offers two world-renowned courses; built on a lava bed, the North Course is more difficult, while the South Course features a panorama of both mountain and sea. The Waikoloa Beach Resort boasts the Beach and Kings' Courses, also a mix of greenery, sea views and black lava, and the Mauna Kea Golf Course offers a course in a beautiful, coastal spot with palm trees and ocean views. The Kona Country Club, located just south of Kailua Village, features the William Bell-designed par 72 Ocean Course or the William Bell, Nelson and Robin Wright-designed par 72 Mountain Course. Both are due to reopen in spring 2014. If you don't mind a more mountainous course or are looking for cooler climes for golfing, try Makalei Golf Club, set amid lush forest scenery, and Big Island Country Club, located on the slopes of Mauna Kea mountain.
 
Cultural Attractions:
Most resorts will have some sort of historic sites on their premises. These might include lava tubes or ancient fishponds, where grates were set up to allow in smaller fish but keep the bigger fish from getting out. While most visitors don't visit a hotel simply to view the cultural attractions on its grounds, you might wish to take time out of your beach or golf day to look around. Find the resort's cultural director, who can point you to interesting locations or alert you to any cultural performances (like hula dancing) taking place that day.
 
Outrigger Canoe Rides:
Travel the way the ancient Hawaiians traveled, in these hand-crafted wooden canoes. You can book rides at the rental kiosk at Kamakahonu Bay, right by the pier, where you'll get a sense of the history of these vessels before you get in for a ride. Hotel activity desks may also arrange canoe rides.
 
Kona Coffee Tasting
Kona lies in the heart of the “Coffee Country” – A belt at the western side of the Big Island. Coffee can only be called “Kona Coffee”  if it grows on the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes in the north and south Kona district. Almost all environmental conditions here conspire together to make one of the most prized coffee’s of the world.
 
The fertile porous and mineral rich volcanic soil and the weather of sunny mornings, cloud or rain in the afternoon, little wind and mild nights make Kona Coffee a world-renowned (and also one of the most expensive kinds of) coffee.
 
Eco Adventures: Those looking for an adrenaline boost can try zip-lining, ATV rides and nature hiking with Kona Eco Adventures. Tours can be booked by phone or online, and tour pickup is at the Keauhou Shopping Center on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. Another recommended outfit for adventure tours is Hawaii Forest and Trail, offering waterfall, birding and zip-lining tours.
 
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park:
This significant historical site is located next to Honokohau harbor and its fishing boats. Take a self-guided walking tour along the footpaths and view ancient fishponds, heiaus and petroglyphs. You might even see green sea turtles on the beach. (Highway 19, three miles north of Kailua-Kona; visitor center and parking lots open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily)
 
Helicopter Tours:
From Kona, helicopter tours will fly you over the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, as well as Kilauea with its active lava flows. Longer tours will also circle over the island's northern coastline to see waterfalls and other breathtaking sceneries.
Helicopter tours are big business on Hawaii, and there is strong competition between the tour companies. Most companies offer special prices or discounts at least a couple of months each year, and it is certainly worth your time to compare prices. For your convenience we list the biggest four Helicopter Tour Agencies (in random order):
 
Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours
Safari Helicopters
Paradise Helicopters
Sunshine Helicopters
 
Horseback riding
If you like Horseback Riding you are on the right island. There are many horses on the Big Island, especially in and around Waimea. The scenic open landscapes here are great for horsepower powered adventures, and did you know that the island of Hawaii has a rich equestrian history including Hawaiian Cowboys?
 
Several ranches offer the opportunity to ride their (often very large) range as part of a guided tour of the pastures with spectacular views of the coastline and peaks. It is also possible to make it of the range and explore other spectacular parts of the island, such as Waipi’o valley!
 
The biggest ranch on the Island is the Parker Ranch. Their tours can be booked via the Cowboys of Hawaii. Other popular options are Na’alapa Stables and Paniolo Adventures. The Na’alapa stables also offer 2.5 hr excursions on horseback deep into Waipi’o valley.

Been There, Done That
Historic Kailua-Kona: Kailua Village has several historic sites worth checking out. These include Ahuena, King Kamehameha's temple, the grass-thatched structure sitting on a rock that you can see from Kamakahonu Bay (to the front and left from where you get off tender); Mokuaikaua Church, the first Christian church in Hawaii; and Hulihee Palace, once a summer palace for Hawaii's royal family. These sites, as well as others along the seven-mile Alii Drive, are included in the Royal Footsteps Along the Kona Coast free smartphone app, which lets you take a self-guided historic tour of the area.
 
Dining Out
Shops and restaurants can be found along the coast on Alii Drive. Lunch in Kona can be almost anything you want, from extravagant elegance in the hotels around Waikoloa to cheap eats just a few blocks from the tender dock. Fresh fish is a Hawaiian staple; look for mahimahi, opakapaka, opah and ahi. Fresh fruit (including tropical ones like pineapples and coconuts) are also a good bet.
 
One very typical Hawaiian meal is the plate lunch. It consists of two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and one protein: Choose from options such as barbecue chicken, kalbi ribs, hamburger steak, beef stew or the fish of the day. A mixed plate lets you choose two different meats. For a perfect dessert on a hot day, stop in any shave ice shop. Hawaii's version of the snow cone consists of ice shaved off a large block then topped with flavored syrups. You can even order them with a scoop of ice cream in the center.
 
If Hawaiian food isn't your thing, don't worry. Restaurants in Hawaii are quite diverse with ethnic cuisines including standard American, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Mexican and French. Cruise Critic members have been pleased with several of the near-to-pier options, including Splasher's Grill and The Fish Hopper.
 
Kona Inn: Sit on the open terrace for lunch, where the prices are lower, the views of the bay fantastic and the mai tais are potent. It's located on Alii Drive, not far from the pier and attached to a shopping center. The food's good, but the Hawaiian atmosphere, ocean breezes and views make it special. (75-5744 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona; 808-239-4455) For a more casual vibe and sports on the TV, stop at Kona Canoe Club, in the same marketplace. It has a similar menu and prices.
 
Kona Brewing Co.: If you want to try local beer, it's worth the uphill walk to the Kona Brewing Co. to sample their brews -- including ones you can't find in the supermarket. Lunch is typical salads and sandwiches, pizza and pupus (appetizers). It's a bit pricey but typical for Hawaii rates. Get here super-early (before noon) or be prepared to wait for a table. Don't worry -- you can sip a Longboard Island Lager or Pipeline Porter while you wait.
 
Hawaii Calls at Waikoloa Beach Marriott: If you're heading north toward Waikaloa and the Kohalo Coast, this is a fabulous place to have lunch. It's open air, with a koi pond and waterfalls, and serves fresh fish and produce. It's pricier than some of the other recommendations, but it's well worth it. (69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Kohalo Coast; 808-886-8111)
 
Huggo's On the Rocks: Located about a mile south of the tender pier, On the Rocks is the place to eat with your toes in the sand. The casual menu offers up sandwiches, burgers, tacos and fish and chips -- not to mention an array of "exotic tropical potions." In season, you might even spy a few humpback whales diving offshore. (75-5824 Kahakai Road, Kailua-Kona; 808-329-1493; open 11:30 a.m. to midnight daily)
 
Scandinavian Shave Ice: This small downtown shop is in the running for the title of Hawaii's Best Shave Ice. We're no experts, but we loved the choices of sizes, flavors (65!), toppings and ice cream or frozen yogurt centers. A small can easily be shared by two; the larges are enormous. Eat it there or sit on the seawall across the street as you indulge. (75-5699 Alii Drive)
 
 
Shopping
For bargain shopping with an island flair, bypass the T-shirt and trinket shops and head 2 miles south from Kailua Pier to Alii Gardens Marketplace,75–6129 Alii Dr., a friendly, low-key combination farmers market, flea market, and crafts fair, with plenty of parking. The tent-covered stalls don’t have quite as many vendors as before the 2008 economic crash, but you’ll find fun items handmade in Hawaii as well as China’s factories. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, visit the Kona Natural Soap Company stand (www.konanaturalsoapcompany.com) and let Greg Colden explain the all-natural ingredients and fragrances he uses, many grown at his farm and solar-powered factory in Keauhou.
 
In Kailua-Kona’s historic district, pop into Lava Light Galleries, 75-5707 Alii Dr. (www.lavalightgalleries.com; tel. 808/756-0778), to admire C. J. Kale and Nick Selway’s breathtaking nature photography, which includes sunsets, rainbows, and forests, as well as molten rock. Nearby, the funky, family-run Pacific Vibrations (tel. 808/329-4140) has colorful surfwear, in 75-5702 Likana Lane, an alley off Alii Drive just north of Mokuaikaua Church. Across the street, the nonprofit Hulihee Palace Gift Shop (www.daughtersofhawaii.org; tel. 808/329-6558) stocks arts and crafts by local artists, including gorgeous feather lei, silk scarves, art cards, aprons, and woven lauhala hats. Like the palace, it’s closed Sunday.
 
Alapaki's Hawaiian Gifts is located on Alii Drive in the Keauhou Shopping Village (808/322-2007) and is a fabulous place to purchase crafts and gifts. Offering works by over 120 Hawaiian artists, Alapaki's has wonderful jewelry, soaps, and a wide array of other high-quality items. Honolua Surf Company is also located in the Kona Inn Shopping Village on Alii Drive (808/329-1001) and sells every kind of beachwear and clothing. This is a great spot for souvenirs as well as practical items.
 
Keauhou Shopping Center, above Alii Drive at King Kamehameha III Road (www.keauhouvillageshops.com), has more restaurants and services than shops, but do check out Kona Stories (www.konastories.com; tel. 808/324-0350) for thousands of books, especially Hawaiiana and children’s titles. Also in the mall, Jams World (www.jamsworld.com;tel. 808/322-9361) has kicky, comfortable resort wear for men and women, from a Hawaii company founded in 1964.
 
Kona Farmers' Market:
Tired of ABC stores? Hit the Kona Farmers' Market for a more fun and authentic shopping experience. You can ogle local produce and flowers, or pick up hand-crafted gifts and Kona coffee. (Intersection of Alii Drive and Hualalai Road; open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday)



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