Big Island

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The island of Hawai'i comprises over half of the area of the state of Hawaii in the United States of America. To avoid confusion with the state, it is almost universally called the Big Island. It has the most active volcano in the world, located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, as well as the largest mountain in the world in volume (Mauna Loa) and the tallest mountain in the world as measured from its base on the sea floor to its peak (Mauna Kea).


View of Mauna Kea
  • East Hawaii - Generally referred to as just Hilo, as that is the major city. This Windward side of the island has so much more precipitation than the Kona side, that as you travel across the terrain goes from black with dry brown patches to open fields grazed by horses and donkeys to planted eucalyptus forest to lush tropical vegetation and rainforest. Here you can see many waterfalls, walk through rainforest and enjoy the land.
  • West Hawaii - or (Kailua) Kona, Leeward side of the island, warm with much less precipitation, more ocean based attractions. However, you will not find large beaches on this island, or massive waves. Good for beginner surfing, snorkelling, paddling, ocean swimming, Hawai'ian outrigger canoe trips and scuba diving, as well as whale and dolphin watching!
  • Kohala - the Northwest Part of the Island, is a vast green area artificially landscaped and including gorgeous golf clubs and resorts that most of us only dream of. There are many options for hotels, resorts and rental properties here that are convenient to the attractions nearby in Kona and Kailua Kona. The contrast between the green, watered at night with sprinklers, and the black volcanic surface of this area is a sight to behold.
  • Hamakua - East side of the island North of Hilo is covered with gently rolling hills, spotted with smooth-old volcano tops, and terminates rather majestically in gallant cliffs over which spill dozens of tall thin waterfalls. These are seen best from the water which is quite rough, so a helicopter ride is the best way to see this awe inspiring sight. The Waipi'o Valley overlook and the valley itself are truly special. If you are able, a day hike into the valley on foot or on horseback to see the amazing black beach are highly recommended!
  • Puna - East side of the island South of Hilo, where the volcano is currently erupting (2013). You can walk on the black crust of newly volcano-formed earth and if you walk long enough you can see it pouring into the sea as a red-hot falls steaming on contact with the ever-rolling waves. (Absolutely incredible, but a challenging hike)
  • Ka'u - the South part of the Island is much less visited, but progress on this has been rapid in the last years, as after the demise of sugar and coffee, tourism is the biggest part of their economy.


  • Hilo -- On the east coast, Hilo is the capital and largest city of the Big Island. Home base for trips to the Amazing Botanical Gardens and several impressive waterfalls. The town is also surprisingly diverse with cute old architecture.
  • Kailua-Kona -- The main town on the west coast, more of a continuous strip of tourist-providers: eateries, fancy shops and hotels.
  • Honokaa
  • Holualoa
  • Naalehu - the southernmost town in the United States, beating Key West by a mere 91 miles.
  • Pahoa
  • Volcano Village - At the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Waikoloa - Resort area of South Kohala district, artificially landscaped, on top of black volcanic ground, and fully contained with shopping centers and golf courses included.
  • Waimea - Ranch town in the north part of the Island. Home to the Parker Ranch.

Other Destinations[edit]


The 50th state, Hawaii has a rich, diverse origin with many contributors to their history. Hawaii’s cultural expression is developed from input by the Philippines, Polynesia, China, Japan, Europe and North America. Currently, its population has an Asian majority, with smaller populations of Native Hawaiians and Caucasian locals.


Visitors to the Big Island can explore and interact with the 1,500 years of history of the Hawaiian people — a history that all began on the Big Island. Despite being the youngest island to emerge from the ocean, the Big Island was the first place that Polynesian explorers settled after they traveled across the ocean. Many of the historical parks and museums have ruins, petroglyphs, temples, and artifacts from before the appearance of Westerners on the archipelago.

Varying accounts describe the origin of the islands' name. One theory says the islands are named for the Polynesian navigator who discovered the islands, Hawai’iloa. Another says that the islands are named for Hawaiki; also known as the Origin Place, the realm of the gods and goddesses and the afterlife of the Polynesian people.

It wasn’t until the arrival of Westerners in 1778 that the islands fractured and the divided chiefdoms began warring with each other. Captain Cook was the first Westerner to discover the islands, landing on Kauai and forging the path for a flood of Westerners arriving on the islands. Cook would be killed the following year in a Big Island harbor following a fracas involving the theft of a ship. It wouldn’t be until the following century that missionaries would make their way to the islands and soon after followed cattle and the sugarcane industry.

Considered the greatest king of the Hawaiian people, King Kamehameha was born sometime between 1736 and 1740. Much of his personal history is uncertain, passed down through an oral history that relates several different versions. Undisputed is his role in unifying the warring factions of the islands. By 1810, he created the sovereign nation of the Kingdom of Hawaii and forged alliances with Pacific colonial powers in order to maintain Hawaii’s independence. During his life, Kamehameha moved the royal court to Oahu, but the Big Island remained in his heart and he eventually returned to live out his life in Kailua-Kona. Following Hawaiian custom, the final resting place of the King is secret, to protect his life force or mana. There’s no exact count of how many wives or children Kamehameha had, different accounts list the number as anywhere between 21 and 30 who ultimately bore him approximately 35 children.

In the second half of the 19th century the Hawaiian population was decimated by Western diseases. Labor shortages occurred across the islands, most heavily affecting the sugarcane industry. This lead to the massive immigration that’s still apparent in the Hawaiian population today. Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and Portuguese immigrants all came to the islands to work in the sugarcane fields. To this day, a majority of the population is Asian, with indigenous Hawaiians a minority.

It was also during the 19th century that Pearl Harbor was initially scouted as a location for a Naval Base by the Americans. In 1898 the islands became a territory of the United States, but it wouldn’t be until later, on August 21, 1959 that Hawaii would officially become the 50th state."


No matter the time of year that tourists visit Hawaii, they can expect remarkably mild weather.

The tropical location and presence of trade winds combine to make the Big Island a temperate year-round travel destination. However, the weather conditions can change dramatically depending on altitude. Traveling from the shore up to the peaks of the Big Island, you may experience significant drops in temperature and increase in precipitation.

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are nearly twin peaks. Reaching 13,796 feet and 13,678 feet, respectively, there is remarkable elevation across the scant 75-mile width of the island. Tourists should keep this in mind when they venture to the interior of the island. Layers are recommended, including long pants and sturdy boots for any activities away from the beach.

Travelers who plan their trip from October through April may experience more precipitation, but the resorts located on the leeward side (western side) of the island, away from the trade winds, tend to be drier. The warmer temperatures in the summer months can increase the risk of tropical cyclones, but severe storms in Hawaii are very rare. The last category 4 hurricane was Hurricane Iniki in September of 1992.

Temperature forecasts are only given for the areas of the island at sea level, and will decline sharply as elevation increases. Temperature averages are as follows:

  • Summer averages 85-90 degrees during the day. Nighttime 70-75 degrees.
  • Winter averages 79-83 during the day and 64-68 at night.

Thanks to the trade winds and ocean breezes, the days are rarely uncomfortable and nights are mild and pleasant. For tourists who are interested in inland activities on the Big Island, it’s advisable to travel in the summer, for warmer and drier conditions even at higher elevations.

All travelers should pack a poncho with them whenever they’re heading out for the day, just in case.


Native Hawaiians are those who can trace their heritage back to the original Polynesian settlers of the islands. In the ancient history of the island, some accounts credit the Tahitians as following and ultimately conquering the original Polynesian inhabitants of the island. The opposing theory is that newly arrived Tahitians simply pushed the existing Polynesian people into the interiors of the islands, rather than completely eliminating them. It’s likely a combination of these Pacific peoples that created the Hawaiian population present when the islands were found by Westerners.

At the time of Captain Cook’s arrival on the island, there were anywhere between 250,000 and 800,000 indigenous people. Westerners brought with them diseases that the Hawaiians had no defense against, such as smallpox, measles and influenza. With the arrival of Westerners and disease, the population of the islands was crippled, and would never achieve its previous density of indigenous peoples. At the census in 2000, there were approximately 150,000 individuals in a population of over one million who considered themselves exclusively Hawaiian, and 400,000 who were Hawaiian combined with another race.

In present day, the citizens of Hawaii are predominately Asian and White with smaller populations of Black, Latino, American Indian and mixed race individuals. Hawaiians are known for having a lot of national pride, and that includes the addition of many cultures who immigrated to the islands through their history. Everything from the food on the Big Island to art, religion and philosophy highlight the contributions of many different cultural histories coming together.

The ‘’’Aloha Spirit’’’ is prevalent through the entire archipelago. Mainlanders may use or interpret ‘’Aloha’’ to mean hello/goodbye but islanders use it to express a great deal more. The word means compassion, sympathy, kindness and grace which is how the Hawaiians approach their daily life. On a smaller scale, Hawaiians are very focused on the family. Extended families frequently live together, or even close friends of the family will be adopted into a nuclear family.

Since the 1970s, there have been conservation efforts in place to preserve the Hawaiian language. English is now widely spoken on the Big Island, and visitors likely won’t encounter the native language beyond ‘’aloha’’ and ‘’mahalo’’ (thank you). However, there is a pidgin dialect of Creole composed mostly of slang. For tourists who want to connect with the locals or maybe even blend in, they can sprinkle a few pidgin words through their interaction. Tourists will probably find themselves ‘’grinding’’ (eating) ‘’pupu’’ (appetizers) and ‘’kau kau’’ (food). ‘’Broke da mouth’’ means delicious, when a meal just can’t be beat. When tourists make a connection with a local, they may greet him with ‘’brah’’, which means brother or a close guy friend.


Hawaii conjures images of tropical paradise and the easy life. It’s also exceptional for its remote location, vibrant culture and expansive history. There’s also a natural tension between the wealthy tourist industry and the locals who are part of the lower class. Many Hawaiian authors are informed by their own experiences and explore societal conflict. Both mainlander and Hawaiian authors set their novels in Hawaii to take advantage of the unique setting. The following books are set in Hawaii, or written by Hawaiian authors. They also make great beach reading:

  • ‘’Still Life with Woodpecker’’ by Tom Robbins is a postmodern fever dream of possibility. The whirlwind romance between an environmental warrior and an outlaw begins in Hawaii. The story carries the characters through explorations of individualism, bizarre settings and metaphysical outlawism. The novel has had an impact on the cultural consciousness, making appearances in several musical genres and movies.
  • Michael Crichton left ‘’Micro’’ unfinished after his passing. The book’s plot is enriched by the vibrant flora and fauna of Hawaii as it launches into a wild sci-fi ride. Crichton described the novel as a Jurassic Park-esque informative adventure. In 2015 the novel was optioned to become a movie, in development by Steven Spielberg.
  • Jessica Fletcher writes unparalleled beach reading in her ‘’Murder She Wrote’’ series with ‘’Aloha Betrayal’’ that lets tourists get truly immersed in the vacation experience.
  • Chris McKinney is a Hawaiian author who sets his hard-edged fiction in Hawaii. His novels often feature the struggles of the underprivileged classes experiencing societal change. ‘’The Red-Headed Hawaiian’’ is his most recent novel, written for a younger audience. It’s written with a more optimistic tone, encouraging readers to dream for lives better than their parents had.
  • If you're interested in the societal repercussions of Hawaii’s history, you may enjoy ‘’Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawaii’’. The author, Carol A. MacLennan, is an anthropologist who explores the long lasting consequences of the sugar industry in Hawaii. The implications include the native’s relationship with property ownership.
  • Active tourists who head out to tackle the Diamond Head landmark would do well to read Denby Fawcett’s ‘’Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide’’. The slim volume is easy to read and is half hiking guide, half history of the temples, crater and the U.S. military’s relationship with the island. The author is a local television and newspaper journalist born in California who has lived in Honolulu since she was eight.
  • ’’The Hawaiian Survival Handbook’’ is essential pre-vacation reading. Written by Brother Noland, an acclaimed musician in Hawaii, it covers any kind of mishap the adventurous tourist may encounter on the island. Wild pigs, native plants and navigating in the forest are all covered.
  • Or for those that love to delight (or annoy) their travel companions with facts and trivia, ‘’The Hawaii Bathroom Book’’ is over 300 pages of delightful historical anecdotes. From the origins of popular traditions to easily memorized facts, the author John Richard Stephens has compiled beach reading that’s easy to fit in between naps. "


Hawaii is the most recent addition to the United States, becoming the 50th state in 1959. Despite strong Hawaiian national pride, the people are all largely supportive of membership in the United States. Congress is typically dominated by democrats, with less than a handful of Republicans elected to congress since becoming a state. The state capital is in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

There are two major airports if you are flying into the Big Island, Kona International Airport [1] and Hilo International Airport [2]. There are a few non-stop flights from the mainland, mostly from California and Seattle, but it is more common to arrive via Honolulu or Kahului. You should try to get a flight non-stop from the mainland to Kona to save time waiting (and walking) around the Honolulu airport.

If you can't find a non-stop flight, consider that Kona's airport is by far busier and requires a lot of time to pass all checkpoints. Hilo's airport has fewer flights, is smaller, so the time between rental drop-off and boarding is much shorter. There used to be no non-stop flights to Hilo from the mainland, but United/Continental Airlines will begin services to Hilo from Los Angeles and San Francisco starting June 26, 2011.

Inter-island "hoppers" arrive from all the other islands several times a day. Local flights are available through three main airlines, Hawaiian [3], Island Air [4], and go! [5] to the two major airports. These airlines provide frequent service between the islands, largely connecting through Honolulu, although there are some non-stop flights from Kona and Hilo to Kahului Maui. Daily round-trip service is also available between Hilo and Kona. Pacific Wings [6] provides fun flights in small prop planes between Hilo, Kona and Kamuela. Keep in mind that an inter-island flight could use up almost an entire day, due to the fact that you must pack, check out of hotel, get to the airport, return rental car, go through all the airport procedures, fly, wait for luggage, get rental car, check in, unpack. It's tempting to try and see as many of the islands as you can on one trip, but it's best to spend no less than three nights on an island. In the case of the Big Island, think of the two sides of the island as separate. It takes about 2 hours 15 minutes to drive from Kailua-Kona to Hilo, and about six hours to circle the island.

By boat[edit]

Although several cruise ship lines operate in Hawaii, there is currently no dedicated inter-island boat service. Hawaii Superferry[7] used to run high-capacity catamaran ferry services between O‘ahu and Maui, with intention to open a route between Maui and the Big Island, but the company has since declared bankruptcy.

Get around[edit]

On Big Island, you need a car in order to get to most of the interesting beaches, parks or other attractions, or to travel from the Kona coast to the Hilo coast. Places like the green or black sand beaches, or the Mauna Kea summit and astronomical observatories are only accessible by four-wheel drive. Note that car rentals tend to book months in advance, depending on the season. If the major rental companies in Kona[8] or Hilo[9] are fully booked, you can still hope to find a used car to rent via Craigslist. These are older cars, most with dings or other cosmetic blemishes, but they don't make you look like a tourist.

If you only plan to stay around one town, you can also rent a moped[10] or bike[11]. See Hawaii for moped/scooter regulations.

Getting around by local bus, bikes, or on foot work well if you're staying in one area. Many budget travelers are unpleasantly surprised by the extremely limited public transport on the Big Island. The county's Hele-On bus is free, but the schedules are mainly intended for commuting [12]. There are some bus companies offering excursions from Hilo to destinations like Volcano, but they require reservations.

Hitchhiking is extremely easy & convenient on the Big Island. As most places are near the Mamalahoa Highway, you're never too far from a good hitching spot. As traffic generally flows from the Hilo side to resorts of Waikoloa Resorts in the morning, you can easily make it to the beaches without waking up at by 5:45 to catch the Hele-On bus. As a large amount of locals take the spirit of Aloha seriously, hitching is the best way to travel for free throughout the Island. It's not just the usual crowd of young people picking up hitchers either, I've been picked up by families, grandmas, and even the mayor of Honoka'a! As a note, the district of Kau in the south of the island is very sparsely populated with low traffic levels, so hitching isn't near as good here as it is on the northern half of island.

If you're thinking about renting a Jeep, Alamo doesn't disable the four wheel drive option in their Jeeps as some other rental agencies do. However, keep in mind that you are violating the rental contract by driving on "unpaved roads" (let alone some of the four wheel drive only roads). As long as you are careful and sensible about it though, you'll be fine. Just keep in mind that you are "on your own" if you get in trouble while violating the rental agreement. If you're going to violate the rental contract by driving on unpaved roads, you have less of a chance of getting stuck if you have the ability to shift to four wheel drive.

Harper Rentals [13] has four wheel drive vehicles that are allowed by contract to drive on unpaved roads. You will pay more for that right.


Locals refer to elders as "Auntie" or "Uncle" instead of "sir" or "ma'am." Flip-flops are called "slippers", but people in Hawai'i are very friendly and always looking forward to talking about their island, their history and its culture.

See[edit][add listing]


Kailua-Kona was the seat of the Hawaiian royal court for hundreds of years, as well as the permanent resting spot of its greatest king, King Kamehameha. Many of the notable landmarks on the Big Island are related to Kamehameha and the eventual unification he brought to the islands.

  • Visitors interested in the time period surrounding the unification may enjoy seeing one of the largest temples in all of Hawaii, as well as one of the last temples constructed by Kamehameha.


Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa are the two areas where visitors can find most of the Big Island’s resorts. Historic Kailua Village is located at the heart of Kona and has plenty of shopping and dining for tourists taking a break from the numerous historic sites. Hilo on the other side of the island is much more of a locals scene and has a number of seaside hotels. If you're interested in seeing the volcanoes, you may consider spending a night in Hilo to avoid long hours on the road. Downtown Hilo is a historic town great for walking around and exploring shops, art galleries and restaurants.


With close to 1500 years of history and culture, the Big Island has no shortage of museums and historical sites for culture enthusiasts. No matter where you stay, you're likely to be within walking distance of museums devoted to all aspects of Hawaiian culture and history.

  • If staying at Kailua-Kona resorts, visitors are close to Hulihee Palace, which used to be a favorite retreat of the royal court and is filled with personal artifacts from the royal family from years past.


Fabled to be the home of the Hawaiian goddess, Pele, volcanoes are another big component of Hawaii’s magical allure. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a World Heritage Site that contains the world’s largest and most active volcanoes. It’s located on the southeastern side of the island, a nine-hour round trip from Kailua-Kona, so an overnight trek for tourists staying in the resorts on the island is highly recommended. There are three kinds of beaches on the Big Island — black, green and white sand. The black sand beaches are unique, formed from the lava rock collapsing into the ocean. The two main black sand beaches that attract tourists are located in the Puna and Ka’u districts. The Big Island also has a number of botanical gardens that highlight the luscious flora to be found in Hawaii, no matter where visitors are staying on the island there’s likely a botanic garden within a short driving distance. "

  • Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to both the world's largest volcano, Mauna Loa (13,677 feet / 4169 m tall), and the world's most active, Kilauea (continuously erupting since 1983). Drive around Crater Rim drive to see the massive two mile diameter Kilauea crater and steam vents, and down the Chain of Craters road to see the fresh lava flow covering the highway and the active lava flowing into the ocean. Also tour the Thurston lava tube. Be advised that the total time for the trip from the Kona side of the island to the Volcano and back will take at least nine hours. You should leave enough time to exit the park before sunset to avoid driving after dark. In the park, be careful not to hit any nenes, the endangered Hawaiian goose on the roads.
  • Mauna Kea, 28 mi (45 km) W of Hilo on Hawaii 20, then N on the access road to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, +1 808-961-2180, [14]. OCIA, named in memory of U.S. astronaut Ellison Onizuka, 9AM-10PM daily. Mauna Kea (13,796 feet / 4205 m), the largest mountain in the world (measured from its base) is a dormant volcano which has become an international center for astronomy. Several astronomical observatories are located on its summit. The austere Mars-like landscape dotted with technological marvels is worth a look; if it is clear you might also get a look out to Maui. The elevation is high, and there are few tourist support facilities so hiking and exploring are discouraged. Also keep an eye out for the nene. No admission charge.
Four wheel drive vehicles are strongly recommended above the OCIA. Several tour companies offer tours to the summit and observatories of Mauna Kea for a fee ($150-200 per person). Observatory facilities are normally closed to the public. Most rental car companies prohibit travel on Hawaii Route 200 (Saddle Road) - although Thrifty will allow you to drive on Saddle Road and drive up to the Visitor's Center at ~9,000 feet with a two-wheel drive car. To drive beyond that up to the summit at ~14,000 feet, you will need a 4WD vehicle. Note: The road to the top IS passable with front wheel drive vehicles if you are a decent driver. The hardest part is coming back down without losing your brakes. Drive smart and drive safe. If you are up for the challenge, come on up! Both the Ford Fusion and the Chevy Malibu had no problems making it up and down. Use the transmission to aid in descending.

Botanical Gardens[edit]

  • Hawaiʻi Tropical Botanical Garden[15] off Route 19 in Pāpa'ikou.
  • Pua Mau Place Arboretum and Botanical Garden an early-stage, nonprofit facility in Kawaihae, on the dry slopes of the Kohala Mountain Range.
  • Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens at Kona Outdoor Circle Educational Center.
  • University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Botanical Gardens in Hilo.
  • World Botanical Gardens, commercial gardens in Umauma, north of Hilo.
  • Nani Mau Gardens in Hilo.


  • Akaka Falls A waterfall eleven miles north of Hilo boasts a tremendous sight as the water tumbles 440 feet to its base. The trip from the parking lot around to see Akaka and the smaller Kahuna Falls is about 20 minutes and is suitable for children and anyone who can navigate steps, though the trail only takes you to a lookout that is still a distance away from the waterfall. Akaka is the most spectacular of several waterfalls along the northeast coast of the island on the highway from Wiameia to Hilo. $5 parking fee.
  • Coffee Farms In the highlands above Kona the coffee plants come right down to the road's edge. Greenwell Historical Farms is a good plantation to tour.
  • Black sand beaches formed by volcanic sand. There are currently two well-known and many less known black sand beaches. The former are Kehena Beach in the Puna district, and Punalu`u Beach in Ka`u district.
  • Green sand beach at South Point. There is a parking lot and a shack which has been designated as a "visitor's center." If you park in this lot, there is a chance that someone will emerge with a clipboard and ask you to pay for parking. Several guide books make the point that this is public land and that you are allowed to park without paying any fee. While this may be true, some travelers have been harassed or even threatened for asserting their rights to park. A more promising alternative is to park at the boat launch, adding half a mile to your hike. To drive all the way to the beach definitely requires a 4WD vehicle, though there are a few local guys who will drive you out there for a donation. Keep in mind that with the drive from the highway and the one hour hike from the parking lot to the beach, it is a three hour round trip minimum from the highway.
  • Kehaka Kai white sand beach [also called Kua Bay] is absolutely beautiful and a local secret until recently. Just north of Kona on Hwy 19. Coming from Kona, go past mile marker 89 and turn left towards the water at the sign for the Veteran's Cemetery. Theoretically, the beach is closed on Wednesdays but not in practice. The beach is excellent for swimming and snorkeling. Newly paved road (ok for 2WD) all the way to beach. Beach has bathrooms, fresh water fountains and showers.
  • Dolphin and whale watching - seasonal.
  • Dolphin Quest Hawaii - The Hilton Waikoloa Village [16] offers the opportunity to swim with their group of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in their lagoon, with the dolphins dancing and jumping as the group communicates with them through hand signs. Visitors are not allowed to hold on to their fins while they swim, though. Be prepared to spend between $150 and $200 per adult for a memorable thirty minute experience.
  • Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park Puuhonua o Honaunau is a great place to visit if you're interested in learning about Hawaiian heritage. Breakers of kapu (taboos) who could make it to this place and performed a series of rituals were granted sanctuary. Tours, traditional craft demos, simulations of the Hukilau (fishing with ti leaf ropes) and other activities can be seen here (schedules vary). Honu (turtles) can frequently be observed swimming in the royal fishpond. May be crowded with other tourists. The 1871 Trail follows the old paths between fishing villages and offers great views of coves.
  • Waipi`o Valley, a large, verdant valley in the North of the islands. This valley was inhabited for a millennium, until a tsunami washed away all dwellings. Left for good by the native population, it then became the green paradise of counterculture types. Van and horseback trips are available from the scenic crest down to the gorgeous valley floor.
  • Hawaiian Vanilla Company a nice look at the only vanilla farm in the US. [17]
  • Lapakahi State Historical Park a partially-restored fishing village dating back 600 years but abandoned in the 1800s. The self-guided tour around the two 0.5 mile loops is pretty good. Located in Kohala, north of Kona, on Highway 270. Free. [18]

Do[edit][add listing]

The Big Island has the usual array of sub-tropical island activities. While the Kona side has a number of white sand beaches, the coastline on the Hilo side tends to be rocky. This is due to the relative age of the coastline.


Due to its altitude, latitude, and the lack of interference from city lights, Mauna Kea provides among the best sites on earth for telescopes. You may notice the strange orange and pink hues put out by street lights on the Big Island. They are sodium lights used to ensure that the views from Mauna Kea are unpolluted.

Stop at the Visitor Information Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. They set up several telescopes nightly for the public to enjoy. Volunteers provide programs daily at 6PM, and will answer any questions you have as you look at the unbelievable number of visible stars. Remember to bring your jacket, as the elevation is over 9200 feet at the Visitor Center. Also, check the phase of the moon; if the moon is full, you will not be able to see any stars or planets, but only the moon, in the telescopes.


The beaches of the Big Island, especially on the Kona side, have been consistently voted amongst the best beaches in the world. Some (like Mauna Kea Beach) front hotel resorts, while others (like Makalawena) remained unencumbered by modern tourism. Hapuna Beach is reputed to be one of the best, consistent with the picture many outsiders have in their head of what a Hawaiian beach should be.

The island has one of the few green sand beaches in the world (see above), and several black sand beaches.


The Big Island has some fantastic snorkeling. Go to Kona Boys [19] to get your gear and some guidance on the best places to jump in. The Kona side has most of the best snorkeling, but Puna also has some excellent sites. Go in the morning on the Kona side, and in the afternoon in Puna, for clear and calm conditions.

  • Two Step, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge). Great for beginners and experts alike. Teeming with fish and turtles.  edit
  • Ho'okena Beach Park, south of Honaunau. Not as spectacular, but getting in and out of the water is incredibly easy: just walk. Then enter at the left side of the beach for the best snorkeling. Go during the week, if you can (save the weekends for the locals).  edit
  • Kapoho Tide Pools, southern Puna coast. Not to be missed. This is some of the calmest snorkeling you will ever see, and the fish will come right up to you. The pools are spring-fed, and some are volcanically heated. There are no dive shops anywhere near here, so bring your gear with you (although a local may take pity on you and loan you theirs). Again, go during the week if you can. Marine scientists frequent this spot, and are usually happy to share their knowledge to make your visit to the tide pools more fulfilling.  edit
  • Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay. Considered to be the best snorkeling on the Big Island. Rent a kayak from Dexter across from Captain Cook's monument. Starting February 2010, you will need a vessel landing permit [20] if you want to kayak there.  edit


Hilo Surfboard Company: Is the Big Island's most ‘authentic’ surf shop. People travel all the way from Kona to check out boards as they REALLY DO have the largest selection of boards. And unless you want a Hilo Surfboard Company T Shirt or shirts from a couple ‘locals. Like Moku Nui or KRU, better go to the mall. This is a real core surf shop! Owner Scott Murray will be stoked to see you and talk story! 84 Ponahawai St. Hilo. 808.934.0925

Hiking and camping[edit]

If you would like to hike on the Big Island you have abundant choices for the novice to the expert. Some of the most popular hikes are the Waipio Valley hike, the Pololu Valley hike, the Greens Sands Beach hike, the Volcano National Park Kilauea Iki hike, and Akaka Falls paved trail hike. See below for a list of some of the guided tours you can do, which take you to these destinations as well as more remote or less known hikes.

Camping on the Big Island is NOT very convenient since bringing camping equipment on a plane is difficult and permits must be purchased ahead of time. However, if you make the proper arrangements to bring all necassary camping gear and to buy your permit ahead of time, it is entirely possible: the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources requires that "you...purchase and print a copy of your permit in advance and have it in your possession while camping or lodging within any park. It is not possible to purchase a permit at any park. All permits require a fee – there is no free camping in Hawaii State Parks or Forest Reserves."[21]

Hiking Destinations[edit]

  • Waipi’o Valley - Awe-inspiring volcanic valleys and gorges filled with rain forest vegetation. It's possible to do an ATV tour of the Waipio Valley rim.

Guided Tours[edit]

The Big Island has a tour company for every possible tourist endeavor. If you don't see it covered here, search for it. Chances are there will be a tour guide for what you want to do.

  • Helicopter tours Helicopter tours are the best way to see the entire island as much of it is inaccessible by foot. They depart from Hilo and Kona and overfly the volcanoes, waterfalls, valleys, and more. Paradise Helicopters [22] is the only tour operator to offer doors off tours over the volcano, tours to the southern coast of the island and combination zipline and hiking tours.
  • Helicopter tours over the Kilauea volcano (the only erupting volcano in Hawaii). Because Kona is twice as far from the volcano as Hilo, tours that leave from Kona are generally 2 hours long and accordingly more expensive. You may choose to drive 2 1/4-hr to Hilo if money is a consideration. Morning helicopter flights tend to have the least cloud cover, but also book first. If taking photos, wear dark clothing to avoid reflections from windows.
    • "Doors off" helicopter tours let you smell the lava and feel the heat from 500 feet above.
  • Cave Tour, +1 808-929-9725, [23]. Kula Kai Caverns offers lava tube cave tours for all ages with various levels of capabilities, ranging from a short walk that's OK for claustroph[obics up to full-day personal guided adventures. Located in Ka'u on t]he south side of the Big Island, between Kona and Volcano. Reservations are required and well worth planning ahead for.  edit
  • Mule/Horseback tours There are a few companies on the Big Island that provide horseback tours along the rim of Waipio Valley.
  • Scuba diving. Kona has some great diving opportunities during the daytime, but the real thing to do here is the Manta Rays Night Dive. All the dive operators in town do a night dive to see the giant mantas, and this is the best and most reliable place in the world to see them. The manta rays of Kona can be up to 16 feet wide and weigh almost 2000 lbs! On any given night there are 1-20 rays feeding at the dive site, and by bringing lights in the water, plankton (their food) is attracted to feed them. Divers sit in sand on the bottom about 30 feet deep and watch these huge but harmless fishes swim inches from their faces. A must do! Though it's at night, there is so much light in the water and it's so shallow that this is an easy dive for novice divers, as well as a very rewarding dive for even the most seasoned divers. Snorkelers can also get a great up close view of the mantas at the same time. All you have to do is float on the water and hold a light, it's very easy. You must be certified to do the night dive, but if you aren't you can do a snorkel night tour (sometimes called "dive" as well), which offers comparable views and excitement. Well-reviewed popular companies that do Manta Ray Night dives include: Big Island Divers[24], Jack's Diving Locker[25], Kona Diving Company (formerly Bottom Time Hawaii)[26], Fair Wind[27], Kona Honu[28], Pacific Rim Divers[29].
  • Snorkeling Hawaii Outdoor Guides [30] offers the only guided land-based Snorkel tour on the Big Island. If you are at all hesitant about snorkeling a guided tour is the way to go. They provide top quality gear, transportation to three great spots, and snacks and instruction.
  • Recreational Saltwater Angling. All recreational saltwater fishing is conducted on the leeward (west) side of the island. There are no charter operators on the windward (east) side, the seas are generally too rough. Kona is the hub of charter activity on The Big Island, and Honokohau Marina slips the majority of the fishing fleet. The marina is a few miles north of Kailua-Kona just off State Route 19. Prices vary considerably. A shared charter, six people conceivably unknown to one another, may be $90-100 per person for half day, while an exclusive, eight-hour trip, for up to six anglers, could run $800 or higher. The higher figures are for the boat, not per person. Fishing aboard a charter boat requires no license. Do not be fooled by the island's long-standing public relations effort. It is hard, if not impossible, to plan a trip which would perfectly coincide with sure-fire. There are times when Kona fishing is not "drop a line, catch a marlin". The point here is set up a charter with your eyes wide open. Be prepared for possible disappointment. After all, as they say, they call it "fishing and not catching" for a reason.
  • Biking. The Big Island hosts the Iron Man competition every year, so there is a lot of touring-style cycling. Most of that is done on Highway 19 between Kona and Kawaihae. But there are also big trucks on that road, so be careful. Mountain biking is good around Waipi'o valley and in the Volcano park. But it can be technical. Mana road is also good for off-road cycling, but it is very long (65-70 mi). You will need support or legs of iron to do it in a day.
  • Big Island Aina Tours, +1 808-315-3097, [31]. Land Tours of Volcano and Falls as well as hiking tours. Small groups tours. Private tours also available  edit
  • Hiking There is a ton of guided hiking tour companies on the Big Island for just about any place you could want to go. The companies range from the very large to very small (1-4 guests). A few are listed below.
  • Hawaii Outdoor Guides, (toll free: +1-800-886-7060), [32]. Guided volcano hiking tours, and hiking tours at beaches, waterfalls and in the rain forest. If you are looking for a smaller more personalized tour experience consider Hawai'i Outdoor Guides in Kailua-Kona. They offer a variety of hiking and snorkeling adventures as well as camping trips around the Big Island. Their tours are unique and affordable. They go to Volcano, Akaka and Rainbow Falls, South Point, Black Sands and Mauna Loa, of which they offer an exclusive shuttle service for. $59-179.  edit
  • Hawaii Forest & Trail, [33]. Guided volcano hiking tours, and hiking tours on private grounds with waterfalls and forests. They also do the Mauna Kea summit 7-8 hour trip. $125 - $179.  edit

  • Camping Only one tour company on the Big Island offers extreme camping tours for small to medium size groups.


Dance, culture, and traditional crafts classes are available for long or short term students. Many resorts offer 1-3 day classes in hula or lei making.


Hawaii's unemployment rates are among the highest in the nation, and thus it is impressive that the Big Island boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. While tourism, military, and agriculture have typically been the largest employers, recent new job growth has resulted primarily from a residential building boom. The astronomical observatories are another important group of employers.

Buy[edit][add listing]

The thriving tourist industry on the Big Island means there’s plenty of shopping opportunities. Travelers can find Hawaiian shirts and leis almost everywhere, but there are also luxury storefronts, resort retailers, shopping malls and boutiques. You can eat your fill of the many delicacies Hawaii has to offer. Macadamia nuts, Kona coffee and jams made from local tropical fruits can be found in specialty stores, so you can take home a taste of Hawaii. National pride is present even in the many outdoor shopping malls on the Big Island, so alongside swimwear and sunglasses, tourists can catch a quick ukulele lesson or make-your-own-lei workshop.

In Kailua-Kona the Historic Kailua Village there are shopping opportunities mixed in with monuments to Hawaii’s history. The Historic Kailua Village is small and walkable, but comfortable shoes are still recommended for a day outing to explore the town. Parking lots are plentiful in most areas. Chocolate shops, flavored ice and juice stands and restaurants with ocean views are also sprinkled through the town center. Once shoppers fuel up, they can browse jewelers, luxury goods and handcrafted keepsakes in the Kailua-Kona district.

On the other side of the island, the city of Hilo was developed into a center of commerce during the 19th century when the sugarcane industry was booming. Visitors can easily walk from historical landmarks and museums to uniquely Hawaiian shopping experiences. Hilo is known for its more local feel (as opposed to the resort experience on the other side of the island). From treats featuring the macadamia nut to jewelry and fashion designs using the flora and fauna of the islands, shoppers can find eye catching souvenirs and gifts that are truly Hawaiian. Visitors who want to feel like a local can stop by the Wal-Mart in Hilo, which is popular with residents for late-night hangouts, and a good place to pick up essentials that didn’t make it into the suitcase.

For unparalleled resort shopping, Waikoloa has multiple shopping centers featuring national chains, luxury goods, souvenir shops and boutiques. Because shopping is a favorite pastime for locals and tourists alike, the outdoor malls cover acres that are beautifully designed with landscaping, monuments to local history and regularly scheduled community events. Visitors can shop and then catch an outdoor movie, cultural classes and live music. Both upscale and casual dining are available alongside the shops, and ice cream shops and outdoor cafes can easily be found for a quick pick-me-up. In the evenings, visitors can catch the fireworks displays that light up some of the shopping centers.

Farmers markets are available all year round in the major tourist districts and, in addition to fresh seasonal produce, they usually have local food, handcrafted goods and live music. If you take experiences as souvenirs, there’s plenty of culture to absorb in both the markets and shopping centers.

Eat[edit][add listing]

Every meal on the Big Island is an opportunity to take advantage of the year-long growing season for produce, the diverse surrounding ocean life and multicultural culinary influences. Most restaurants are located in the major cities on the Big Island, like Kona and Waikoloa on the leeward side and Hilo on the windward side of the island.

The traditional foods of Hawaii exemplify heavy Asian influence, tropical climate, and island life. Big Island restaurants have plenty of opportunities to try foods in their traditional form as well as contemporary takes on them.

If you want to taste Big Island culture, you should keep an eye out for traditional Hawaiian foods on the menu. ’’’Poke’’’ is Hawaii’s answer to Japan’s sushi. Raw fish is chunked into bite size cubes instead of thinly sliced as it is for sushi. The fish used is either ahi or yellowfin tuna. These days poke commonly appears in a bowl with rice, salad and dressing. Traditionally, the fish is dressed simply with sea salt, soy sauce, sweet onions and seaweed.

The ’’’taro plant’’’ is native to Hawaii and is found throughout the Big Island. The plant plays an important part in the Hawaiian creation story and is considered sacred. Two traditional foods come from taro — ’’’poi’’’ from its roots and ’’’laulau’’’ from its leaves.

Poi is made by mashing the cooked taro root. The result is a consistency like pudding, with a root-vegetable starch taste. Traditional laulau is pork wrapped in taro leaves and slow cooked underground for a supple smoky meat. Now, laulau can be chicken, fish or pork with the cooked leaves served alongside.

Luaus are a frequent tourist attraction in Kona and Waikoloa. In addition to Hawaiian song, dance and storytelling, visitors can experience a traditional ’’’imu’’’ (underground oven) for cooking ’’’kalua pig’’’. The tender meat from the slow-cooked, wood-smoked pork dish can be found at restaurants all over the island.

The farmers markets in either Kona or Hilo have the best in-season produce and a lot of fruits that don’t make it into mainland grocery stores. Ka’u oranges, poha berries, dragonfruit, lychee and papaya may all make appearances depending on the season. Markets also frequently have “plate lunches” that offer homemade ethnic foods like Portuguese malasadas (donuts), kim-chee (Korean pickled cabbage), Korean bbq, coconut pastries and dried fish. You can find an up-to-date list of farmers markets on the Big Island e.g. at [34] and (including map) at [35].

Pineapple plantations are limited to Oahu and Maui, but the Big Island has macadamia nut, sugar cane and coffee farms that offer tours and sampling. The infamous Kona coffee is strictly regulated, quite pricey and is best enjoyed while on the Big Island. Off-island it’s much harder to find a 100% Kona cup as the cherished beans are more frequently mixed with up to 90% other origin coffee."

Drink[edit][add listing]

From the scenic views at resort bars to sunset cruises and locals’ favorites, there’s plenty to keep tourists busy after sunset.

Kailua Pier is considered a favorite place to watch the sunset and start the evening. A dinner cruise launches from this site as well so visitors can experience the expansive night sky from the water. Located in Historic Kailua Village, which was once popular with Hawaiian royalty, now the bumping seaside town offers visitors plenty of bars with live music and ocean breezes.

  • ’’’Kona Brewing Company Pub’’’ is located nearby in Kona. Mainlanders familiar with KBC can experience their beers on draft, as well as a full menu of new and traditional Hawaiian foods. They are open everyday from 11 am to 10 pm. Visitors also have the opportunity to tour the on-site brewery where they produce 12,000 barrels of beer annually.

Kailua-Kona is among the most reliable places to find a variety of nighttime activities. ’’’Huggo’s on the Rocks’’’ is a favorite with locals as well as tourists and offers live music featuring jazz, classic-rock and island options. Close enough to the water, patrons are frequently seen dancing on the sand. They are also open until midnight on the weekends so night owls can get in plenty of nightlife before retiring for the evening.

Tourists can also find nightlife activity in Hilo and the resort area in Waikoloa Village. The ’’’Hilo Town Tavern’’’ has a great mix of patrons. Tourists can rub elbows with locals into the late hours, enjoying live music, the outdoor patio, pool table and game room. Locals who take a liking to visitors may divulge great local dive bars or hidden gems, but resorts remain the most reliable place to relax with a cocktail in the evening.

The sleepy, relaxed atmosphere of the Big Island is slowly transforming to offer more party spots. Among the freshman class of these spots is the ’’’Blue Dragon Restaurant and Musiquarium’’’. They still close before midnight but have live music and a dance platform for the tourists whose aren’t truly on vacation until they’re breaking out moves on the dancefloor.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

The Big Island resorts are mainly located in three regions of the island: the Kohala Coast (consisting of Mauna Lani and Waikoloa Beach), the Historic Kailua Village (in Kailua-Kona) and Keauhou. The resorts are mainly located on the east side of the island near the Kona International Airport. On the other side of the island, in Hilo and Puna visitors can find hotel accommodations, although not the same resort experience as in other regions. Hilo and Puna are, however, closer to the volcano activity and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

When choosing a resort, there’s much more to consider than simply the room features. Available activities are a big part of the Big Island experience. Resorts may offer — or be able to get guests discounted tickets to — a variety of unique Hawaiian experiences. Guests have access to golf courses, swimming pools, spas, fitness centers, lounges, restaurants and more depending on the resort. The resorts are all beachfront and offer activities like surf lessons, paddle boarding, ocean kayaking and horseback riding.

The Big Island only takes about 3 ½ hours to traverse by car, but resorts may offer transportation to popular activities off-resort. Many are within walking distance of shopping markets, town centers and city and national parks. Concierges can sometimes get their guests discounted access to things like scuba diving, snorkeling, shark cage and dolphin adventures.

For those who aren’t attracted to the resort experience, there are bed and breakfasts, vacation home rentals, cottages and condos.

Bed and breakfasts provide more personal, intimate service but without the expansive luxury features. Run by locals, visitors who want a more authentic Big Island experience can get insider information about where the locals go and avoid the tourist crowds. They are also typically at a lower price point then resort rooms, for travelers who are sticking to a budget.

Those who are traveling with a group to the Big Island can take advantage of the booming vacation home business. Working with a vacation realtor may be the easiest way to find accommodations that fit visitors’ needs in the region they want, at the right cost. Vacation homes can offer features like swimming pools, private beaches, multiple bedrooms, ocean views and lush surroundings.

Travelers who don't want to spend a lot for a place to lay their head at night, or who enjoy meeting others while traveling, may prefer a hostel. Kona, Hilo and Kohala all offer hostels. Many provide a variety of accommodations, from private/semi-private rooms to communal co-ed and women only dorms. Shared kitchens are common, but many also provide private lockers for storing belongings, free wi-fi, coin laundry and bicycle and surfboard storage. Run by locals, travelers can also get the heads up on off-the-beaten-path attractions, local favorites and other sites. "

Stay safe[edit]

The Big Island offers up some unusual risks to travelers. There aren't many places where lava flow from volcanoes has to be taken into consideration when planning the day. The Big Island interior provides some amazing hiking opportunities as well, but because much of the island is remote, you should be aware of your own physical limitations before beginning activities.

The lava flow is a must-see, but tourists get hurt or killed every year. Proper attire is the first step towards safely navigating lava. The right footwear is essential. Leave the flip flops at the beach, instead, don durable hiking boots that come over the ankle without metal components that can overheat. A stitched sole is also an added layer of protection, as the glue in glued soles can easily melt and leave the sole behind while walking. Long durable pants like jeans are also required. Any kind of shirt is likely acceptable, as long as it’s not flammable and you use plenty of sunscreen.

When visiting an area with active lava flow, visitors should listen to park rangers, heed posted signs and follow all rules. Areas where lava is entering the ocean carry with them a new set of dangers. Alternating flowing and cooling lava can create majestic but unstable lava shelves. These shelves frequently collapse, sending up to a hundred feet of cooled lava into the ocean below. Any water near lava flow is superheated, and when a shelf collapses it sends a wave onto surrounding beaches capable of dragging tourists out to sea and causing severe burns.

Aside from the lava flow, there are many spectacles of nature to witness on the Big Island. The island has 8 out of the 13 climate zones on Earth, so dressing in layers is essential. Sandals and swimsuits for the beach, but for exploring Mauna Kea, it’s sturdy footwear, long pants, and a coat.

Besides nature, tourists should be aware and plan for the threats from other people. Like any resort town, property crimes are a reality. Most of the crimes occur when a visitor has a moment of carelessness. Soft top jeep and convertibles are a target because they are easy to cut through in order to reach valuables inside. Travelers with soft top rentals are better off keeping their possession out off the car and leaving the top down to avoid damage.

Ground floor rental condos are also frequently targeted. Many can’t resist the temptation of opening up doors to let the ocean breeze inside, but open doors also let in the criminal element. By practicing basic precautions — like making sure doors are locked both in cars and rental properties — you can protect against becoming a target. Visitors to the Big Island should also keep a close eye on their wallets, cell phones and cameras while on the beach, and take advantage of available lockers while participating in island activities.

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