The Big Island, Hawaii, is the youngest and largest in Hawaii. I love Hawaii; it’s my happy place. I am excited to share my love of our 50th state. I hope to inspire you to fully learn about and enjoy this Pacific paradise.
Hawaii island was formed by five volcanoes: Kohala, Haulalai,and the famous Maunakea, Maunaloa, and Kilauea. As a young volcanic island, the landscapes here are lush and rough. The Big Island is a hub for growing coffee, macadamia nuts, and orchids. There is the wet Windward side and the drier Leeward side, along with lava, craters, black sand beaches, and mountainous terrain.
Big Island Map
Big Island Hilo side
On the Windward side, Hilo is the county seat and the largest town on the Big Island. Hilo, a charming, artsy town, is the home each spring of the Merrie Monarch festival. This festival celebrates the legacy of King David Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch, with a 3-day hula competition, craft fair, parades, and cultural demonstrations. The Lili’uokalani Gardens are right in Hilo, a beautiful, water-filled, 30-acre Japanese-style garden. A short drive out of town is the Wailuku State Park with its Rainbow Falls. A must-go for us in Hilo is the Big Island Candies factory and shop (I love the rocky road chocolate macadamia nut candy and they make wonderful cookies). We really enjoyed driving out to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory and Visitors Center. Driving through the groves of trees is lovely and the factory is set up with outer wall windows and a catwalk so you can watch your favorite candies being made before you partake in the Visitors Center.
Naturally, a visit to the Big Island would not be complete without visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Halema’uma’u crater on Kilauea. On the way, itʻs fun to stop at Atkatsuka Orchid Gardens to take a greenhouse tour. Iʻve never seen such variety of orchids and some of them are fragrant! Next stop, the Jaggar Museum at the crater rim. They have great information displays along with art and books. Then you can go out to the crater overlook. This is a very sacred place and you may want to bring a lei or other tribute for Pele. Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road give you the opportunity to see some amazing landscape and even go in a lava tube. Recently, Kilaueaʻs main activity has been at the Puʻu ʻOʻo vent. You can find out about safe viewing sites when you go.
I’ve talked with tourists who were disappointed by visiting the volcano. Read up about it ahead of time and decide if you want to prepare to hike to where the most lava action is, possibly 10 miles or more. The landscape is constantly changing and the lava flowing from the vent can change direction. Be sure to check current conditions as you make your plans and remember to respect the natural state of things.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park current conditions
- Big Island Video News carries video of eruption news
Big Island Kona side
Kailua-Kona is a seaside town on the Leeward side. Get educated about Hawaiian history at the Hulihe’e Palace (built in 1838, a favorite vacation spot for King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani) and the 1820 Mokualikaua Church, the oldest Christian church in Hawaii. Since 1981, Kona has been the site of the Ironman World Championship. There are lots of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife in Kona.
Near Kailua-Kona you can drive out to see the coffee farms. There are several places you can stop and taste and buy Kona coffee. One is the Royal Kona visitor center. I love the historic photo display that includes the Miss Kona beauty queens.
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park has two very significant historical sites. Captain Cook landed here and died here during a fight with the Hawaiians. You have to visit his monument by boat. Also on the bay is the sacred site of Hikiau heiau.
I love to visit Puʻuhonua o Honaunau or The Place of Refuge. This ocean-side national historical park has great cultural significance for the Hawaiian people. You can see the Great Wall, the wooden images of gods, the sacred temple, and the workhouse for building canoes.
A trip to the Kona-side should include a visit at St. Benedict Catholic Church, near Honaunau. Also known as the Painted Church, the interior is covered with paintings Father John Velghe made between 1899 and 1904 and used to teach his parishioners.
My friend K likes to go on a Mauna Kea tour for stargazing. J&J enjoy watching the whales and other sealife from their balcony in Kona. Time on the Big Island should include a visit to Pu’ukohola Heiau, Punalu’u black sand beach and the monument to Kauila (turtle guardian of children), Waimea in paniolo country, and Akaka Falls State Park.
Letʻs talk story
One of my all time favorite Hawaiian songs is Hiʻilawe. Iʻve heard it was the first slack key guitar recording, by Gabby Pahinui. The song is about a love affair at the great falls in the Waipiʻo Valley. There are many recordings of this love song. Listen and dream of the Big Island.
What is your favorite thing to do on the Big Island? Are you Hilo or Kona? Are you planning a trip?
Affiliate links: if you make a purchase using these links, I’ll receive a small compensation towards maintaining this blog, at no extra cost to you.
Thank you for sharing. I would love to visit Hawaii someday. I bet it is beautiful there.
Hey Denise, Thanks for visiting. I hope you get to visit Hawaii soon. Each island has something to love!
The stars have to be beautiful in this state.
Hey Marilyn, The mountains are so high you can get above the clouds. And on the Big Island, there’s not a lot of urban light pollution!
I hope to visit Hawaii one day Lord willing. I would love to see their observatory to look at the stars.
Hey HBRW, thanks for visiting. I hope you can get to the Big Island. You’ll have to sign up for a Mauna Kea tour to go up and see the stars.
I have never been to the big island, but it is on mu bucket list!
Hey Christina, I hope you get to go soon. Use my blog (or me) as a planning resource!
Regarding Volcanoes: there is lava bubbling in the Kilauea crater. The best time to see it is after sunset from the deck at the Jagger museum. It is stunning and draws crowds every night, so be prepared to share the view with a hundred of your closest friends.
Hilo – Hilo Bay Cafe (great sushi), Cafe Pesto (good pizza), Pineapples (POW – pineapple/orange/watermelon smoothie in a pineapple is a meal to itself)
Kona – Island Lava Java for 100% Kona coffee and good breakfast, Foster’s Kitchen for good farm to table dining
Waimea – Merryman’s
Kona is lovely for warmth, sunshine, gorgeous sunsets, good mai tais (especially at the bar at Royal Kona resort), and whale watching in the winter, but I’m a Hilo gal – it feels more authentically Hawaiian to me and has more rainbows 🙂
If you drive from Kona to Hilo (or vice versa) you can now travel by the Saddle Rd highway to save time, but we always take the Hamakua coast highway. It’s beautiful to observe the changing landscape. Tex’s in Honoka’a is a must for malasadas (jelly filled donuts done Portuguese style) along the way. And about 20 minutes out of Hilo is Waipio Falls – a magnificent view (you can hike down to the beach if you have the leg muscles to get back up but riptides are common there, so I advise you not to swim).
Also, in Hilo be sure to visit Imiloa – a museum and observatory that does a good job of linking Hawaiian story to astronomy (there’s also a very good Chinese lunch there).
If you can, drive up the Kona coast into Kohala, through Hawi to the end of the road. Lovely views and in winter there may be whales. In Hawi there is a statue of Kamehameha (selfie opp). On your way back stop at Mo’okini Heiau. This one, run by the NPS, is not the original site (you can’t get to that one except by invitation unless you sneak in by the old airport road that parallels the ocean – that’s kapu but people seem to do it anyway). The original site was the place of human sacrifice and the story there and energy are profound. It’s unfortunate that it is not open to the public, but you know how that would end up….
Most of all: don’t be a tourist. Learn the Hawaiian story. The ka’amaina don’t all agree about being the 50th state. Get to know the people. Learn the true meaning of aloha. Take up your kuleana for recovering the language, story and traditions of the Hawaiian people.
Mahalo nui loa.
Lisa @ Casa Bouquet
Aloha Jan, thanks for these expert insights and tips!
Thoughts from K: Wherever you find yourself, be sure to star gaze. Your dreams will be more vivid if you do…and they may even come true. The sunset above the clouds on Mauna Kea is like no other, and if you’re lucky enough, your sunset will be accompanied by an equally spectacular full moon rising. Timing is everything.
Star gazing on Mauna Kea! Sounds divine!