The Ultimate Guide To The Island Of Hawaii
The Island of Hawaii, the largest island in the US and the Hawaiian archipelago, is also popularly known as "The Big Island! "
The Island of Hawaii, featuring a truly diverse landscape ranging from steaming lava fields to tropical rainforests, is one of the must-see Hawaiian islands!
The Island of Hawaii, the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago, shares the same name as the state and archipelago, and so to avoid confusion, it’s referred to as the “The Island of Hawaii,” or “The Big Island” and not just “Hawaii.” The Island of Hawaii, the largest island of the eight Hawaiian islands – The Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, & Kahoolawe, is also the youngest and most volcanically active island in Hawaii. The Big Island of Hawaii is home to a world of unfathomably beautiful nature popularly known for its Kilauea volcano – one of the most active volcanos in the world, hardened & steaming lava fields, lava tubes, black sandy beaches, breathtaking coastal views, rainforests, towering waterfalls, and several historical & cultural sites preserving and showcasing the rich Hawaiian culture & history!
The Island of Hawaii is composed of five volcanoes – the extinct Kohala volcano, two dormant volcanoes – Mauna Kea & Hualalai, and two active volcanoes – Mauna Loa & Kilauea. The Big Island of Hawaii, initially discovered by the Polynesians, followed by British explorers led by Captain Cook, was ruled by the king of Hawaiian islands, Kamehameha the Great, who was born on the Island of Hawaii and named his kingdom after his native island, “Hawaii.” Sugarcane plantations were the island’s primary industry until the 20th century when most sugar mills were closed due to increased tariffs and labor costs. However, the Big Island’s natural beauty and charisma soon led to the expansion of the tourism industry, which is now the primary industry of the Island of Hawaii, hosting several million tourists each year!
The Island of Hawaii has primarily two distinct regions – the western / Kona side – gorgeous beaches, water sports, and resort towns, and the eastern / Hilo side – wild lava beds, volcanoes, and rainforests!
The Island of Hawaii is relatively larger in area than the other islands of Hawaii and is often divided into six different regions – (1) Kohala, the northwest section home historic sites and spectacular coastal vistas, (2) Kona, the southwest section featuring several gorgeous beaches, historical parks & landmarks, (3) Kau, southern region, home to Ka Lae – the southernmost point of the US, South Point Park, and Papakolea Green Sand Beach, (4) Puna & (5) Hilo, constitutes the southeast section of the Big Island of Hawaii, featuring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, gorgeous waterfalls, and beaches, (6) Hamakua Coast, the northeast section, features a four-mile scenic coastal drive, Akaka Falls State Park, and Botanical gardens.
Here is my ultimate guide to The Island Of Hawaii, featuring essential trip-planning information, major attractions, The Island Of Hawaii attractions map, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii!
Planning Your Trip To The Island of Hawaii
Flying directly into the Island of Hawaii or taking an inter-island flight from Honolulu, staying in the Kailua-Kona area on the west side, renting a car, and using a couple sightseeing tours is the best way to get the most out of your trip to the Big Island!
Best Time To Visit The Island of Hawaii: The Island of Hawaii, with warm weather throughout the year, is a year-round destination! However, there are two peak seasons in the Island of Hawaii – (1) Summer, especially June through August, when the weather is perfect and dry, and schools are on break (2) Early Winter, particularly December, during the holidays when most of the country is covered in snow, you can still enjoy warm weather, beach, and watersports in the Big Island of Hawaii. The shoulder seasons, January through May and September through November, have a wet climate but are the best time to beat the crowds at the Island of Hawaii.
Time Required At The Island of Hawaii: With several things to see and do, I recommend spending a minimum of three days on the Island of Hawaii, which should give you enough time to cover all significant attractions of the Island of Hawaii, including Volcanoes National Park, Hamakua Coast, on the eastern side, and gorgeous sandy beaches, historical & cultural sites, and the southernmost point of the US on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. If you have more time, you could spend a couple of weeks on the Island of Hawaii and still not run out of places to see and things to do on the Big Island.
Getting To The Island of Hawaii: While you could directly fly into one of the two major airports on the Island of Hawaii – Kona International Airport (KOA), located on the west side of the Big Island, and Hilo International Airport (ITO) on the east side of the Island of Hawaii, another popular way to get to the Island of Hawaii is by flying into Honolulu International Airport / Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) and then taking a short inter-island flight to the Big Island. I also highly recommend Norwegian’s Seven Day Hawaii Roundtrip Cruise to all first-time visitors to Hawaii. This cruise departs from Honolulu, Oahu, travels to all major Hawaiian islands, including the Island of Hawaii, and then brings you back to Honolulu.
Rental Cars, Parking & Public Transportation On The Island of Hawaii: Most hotels and attractions on the Island of Hawaii offer onsite parking, and the Big Island also provides bus services on the island – Hele-On Bus, which’s a convenient and economical way to traverse the Big Island, but you would have to plan your day around the schedule of the bus services. I, however, highly recommend renting a car when visiting the Island of Hawaii, as the island is easy to navigate and has proper roads, and most importantly, you will be able to do things at your own pace.
Sightseeing Tours On The Island of Hawaii: While the Island of Hawaii is easy to navigate and is best explored by renting a car and then driving around the different regions of the island, there are a couple of guided sightseeing tours I recommend on the Island of Hawaii – (1) Kilauea Volcano tours offered by Adventure In Hawaii, an exceptional tour to see the most active volcano on the planet, conditions permitting, (2) Manta Ray Night Snorkel Trips, offered by Manta Adventures, is a lifetime experience of swimming along with the Manta rays or you could also stay dry and remain on the boat as an observer and still be able to enjoy the Manta show!
Lodging & Dining On The Island of Hawaii: While most resorts and luxury hotels are found on the west side of the Big Island in the Kailua-Kona area, there are several other locally owned bread & breakfasts and vacation rentals throughout the Island of Hawaii! The Big Island has several excellent dining options, including charming local eateries, fine dining restaurants, and seafood shacks, but you shouldn’t miss a few Hawaiian dishes and experiences, including Poke, Acai Bowls, furikake chicken, luau, and of course, authentic Kona Coffee, when visiting the Island of Hawaii. I have reviewed the lodging and dining options on the Island of Hawaii in detail in the later section of this post.
Things To Do On The Island of Hawaii
The Island of Hawaii Attractions Map
The Island of Hawaii, measuring approximately 4000 square miles, is a big island featuring nearly 260 miles of remarkable coastline with several beaches and can be logically divided into six distinct regions, each featuring a unique landscape, landmarks, and beautiful nature! (1) Kohala Coast, the northwest section of the Big Island, is home to many historical sites, gorgeous beaches, hiking trails, and spectacular coastal and valley vistas, (2) Kona, the southwest section of the Big Island featuring several gorgeous beaches, landmarks, and two historical parks, (3) Kau, the southern region of the Island of Hawaii, is home to Ka Lae – the southernmost point of the US, South Point Park, Papakolea Green Sand Beach, and Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, (4) Puna & (5) Hilo, constitutes the southeast section of the Big Island of Hawaii, featuring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, gorgeous waterfalls, and beaches, and (6) Hamakua Coast, the northeast section, features a four-mile scenic coastal drive, Akaka Falls State Park, and Botanical gardens.
Every region of the Island of Hawaii is equally fascinating and unique, and it’s challenging to pick one over the other, so I recommend spending a minimum of three days on the Big Island, which should give you enough time to explore the most popular regions of the Island of Hawaii. However, if you’re pressed for time and have to pick one over the other, this is what I suggest – (1) One day trip to the Big Island – stick to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the northeast section of the island, (2) Two-day trip to the Island of Hawaii – Spend Day 1 at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Day 2 exploring Kona Coast on the west side of the Big Island, which is home to two great historical parks and several landmarks.
Here’re the must-see places on a trip to the Island of Hawaii, starting with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side of the island and then traversing the Big Island in an anti-clockwise direction!
Puna & Hilo / Southeast
Puna & Hilo / Southeast
The southeast region of the Big Island, comprised of the town of Puna & Hilo, features the famous Rainbow Falls, Isaac Hale Park, & Haena Beach. However, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the most popular attraction of the southeast, featuring steam vents, hardened lava fields, lava tubes, & two of the most active volcanoes on the planet – Kilauea & Mauna Loa.
Hamakua / Northeast
Hamakua Coast, the northeast region of the Island of Hawaii just a few miles north of the town of Hilo, features a four-mile scenic coastal drive, the famous Akaka Falls & Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden, and Waipio Valley featuring the Hiilawe Waterfall, one of the tallest waterfalls on the Island of Hawaii, and several hiking trails.
Kohala / Northwest
Kohala, the northwest region of the Big Island of Hawaii, is home to Pololu Valley, the northmost section of the island featuring lush green valley vistas & hiking trails, Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, which preserves the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian temple & other historic sites, & several beaches – Hapuna Beach, Makalawena Beach, & Maniniowali Beach.
Kona / Southwest
Kona, the southwest section of the Island of Hawaii, features gorgeous beaches, coastal views, oceanfront resorts, and a few very famous landmarks & historical parks – Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, St. Benedict Catholic Church – popularly known as the Painted Church, and Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park – where Captain Cook landed on the Big Island.
Kau / South
Kau, the southern region of the Big Island, is home to some of the most surreal beaches of Hawaii – Papakolea Beach, a green sand beach, and Punalu’u Beach, a gorgeous black sand beach and a great place to see Hawaiian sea turtles. The Kau region is also home to South Point Park, featuring Ka Lae, the southernmost point of the Hawaiian Islands & the US.
Lodging & Dining On The Island of Hawaii
Split your stay between the West / Kona and East / Hilo sides of the Island of Hawaii, which will give you easy access to the attractions on both sides of the Big Island!
Hotels On The Island of Hawaii: While most resorts and luxury hotels are found on the west side of the Big Island in the Kailua-Kona area, I highly recommend splitting your stay between the East / Kailua-Kona area and the West / Hilo Coast of the Big Island, so that you don’t have to drive long distances between the East & West Coast attractions. The Island of Hawaii features several resorts, hotels, locally owned bread & breakfasts, and vacation rentals throughout the Island of Hawaii! Here’re my top picks for hotels and resorts on the Big Island of Hawaii –
- Hilton Waikoloa Village: Located on the west side of the island in Waikoloa Village, the Hilton Waikoloa Village is a sprawling resort featuring luxurious suites and rooms overlooking the coast, ocean-fed lagoons, several pools, and several excellent dining options, including Legends of Hawaii Luau.
- The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort: Located in Waimea along the Kohala Coast on the west side of the Island of Hawaii, the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is a luxury oceanfront resort offering a golf course, spa services, several pools, manicured gardens, and easy access to several attractions in the area.
- Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel: Located in downtown Kona, west region of the Big Island, the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is a luxury oceanfront hotel featuring white-sand beaches, access to several water sports right within the hotel, private cabanas with ocean views, and great dining options.
- Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo: The Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo is a DoubleTree by Hilton on the east side of the Big Island in the town of Hilo, featuring a golf course, water sports, beach access, and most importantly, easy access to several attractions on the east side of the Island of Hawaii.
- Hilo Hawaiian Hotel: Located in the town of Hilo, the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is a modern hotel featuring contemporary decor, state-of-the-art amenities, easy access to Hilo airport, and easy access to several attractions.
Restaurants On The Island of Hawaii: While you will find several restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii, especially on the western side, Kailua-Kona region, ranging from fine dining to seafood shacks, there’re a few Hawaiian delicacies that you must not miss on a trip to the Big Island or any island in Hawaii – (1) Luau, a traditional Hawaiian buffet with music and dance, at Island Breeze Luau, Kona (2) Poke, seasoned cubed fish, available in most restaurants and grocery stores, (3) Acai Bowls, thick smoothie bowls made of fruits and juices loaded with fresh toppings, Sweet Cane Cafe, Hilo, (4) Furikake chicken, deep fried chicken seasoned with Japanese seasoning, at Broke Da Mouth Grindz, Kona, (5) Kona Coffee, taste authentic Kona coffee at Kona Coffee & Tea in Kona, (6) Shaved Ice at Scandinavian Shave Ice, Kailua-Kona (7) Malasadas, deep-fried, soft, yummy donut balls dusted with sugar, at Punalu’u Bake Shop, Naalehu, and (8) Loco Moco, a plate of rice topped with a hamburger patty, egg, gravy, available in restaurants serving Hawaiin food.
Other Hawaii Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To The Island Of Hawaii, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. You can find other Hawaii attractions in my Hawaii Travel Guide.
Happy feeding your soul!
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