Hawaii (Big Island)

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Map of Hawaii highlighting Hawaii (island).svg

, also called the Island of Hawaiʻi, the Big Island, or
Hawaiʻi Island is the largest and the southeastern-most of the Hawaiian islands in the North Pacific Ocean. 

Highest Elevation: 13,803 ft (4,207.2m).   Highest Point: Mauna Kea

 1020px Kohala Coast And Three Volcanoes

A view of the Kohala Coast and adjacent volcanoes, from left to right, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai, taken from the slopes of Kohala Mountains about six miles northwest of Kawaihae.
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).



Other Destinations

Getting there:

By plane

There are two major airports if you are flying into the Big Island, Kona International Airport  and Hilo International Airport . 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 or Island Air 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  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

Although several cruise ship lines operate in Hawaii, there is currently no dedicated inter-island boat service. Hawaii Superferry 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

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 or Hilo are fully booked, you can still hope to find a  car by contacting HARPER RENTAL in Hilo or Kona, as well as AIONA CAR SALES, who also rent cars. 

If you only plan to stay around Kailua-Kona, you can also rent a moped or bike. 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 . There are some bus companies offering excursions from Hilo to destinations like Volcano, but they require reservations.

If you are trying to go all the way to the top of Mauna Kea you will need to renta a Four Wheel Drive.  Most car rental companies offer Jeeps and other 4-wheel drive vehicles.  Harper rentals also offers 4 wheel drive. 

SADDLE ROAD between Hilo and Kona is now fully paved and a beautiful wide road.  The road to Mauna Kea is paved till the visitor center and then changes to dirt road, and near the top it will change to pavement again.


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.


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View of Mauna Kea
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.



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.


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  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.

220px JKB             Photo of coastline with 10 people standing or walking on the beach and palm trees in background                220px BI Beach
James Kealoha Beach  in Hilo                    Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park                   Big Island Beach 


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

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.

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Hiking Destinations

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Guided Tours

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.  For FREE brochures for local activities, adventures , and tours, please go to our FREE BROCHURE section of this website where you also can find email, website, and social media links for a variety of activity and tour providers .  You can book directly with the owners of these companies, ensuring best price and best possible customer support. 


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.





The Big Island has several hotels and resorts featuring hotels and condo/townhome rentals. There are also great Bed and Breakfast type places, vacation rental homes and small operator hotels too. The Big Island is the only county in Hawaii that has no restrictions on the operation of vacation rentals. Before making reservations it's best to review a map of the island and plan ahead. Think about the activities and sightseeing you'll want to do.

Stay safe

Note that even solidified lava flows can still be very dangerous, as there are hidden flows of molten lava with only an overlying thin crust of rock in many places between Pu'u O'o and the shoreline. And of course there's the threat of methane explosions and lava bench collapses, so do not walk to the edge of the lava bench unless the rangers say it is safe to do so.

The usual disclaimers about the more active things to do apply. If you have a tour guide, they often have insurance premiums to be beholden to and as such make them more aware of safety issues. But otherwise the island is mostly remote and help can be far away. Know your physical limits.

Also, adjust your clothing to the area you are visiting! The Big Island contains 8 out of 13 of the Earths climate zones within its boundary, so you will visit many different areas. For example, you may wear flip flops and swimwear in Kona, but you would want a full coat, boots, long pants and a perhaps even a hat while visiting the summit of Mauna Kea.

Hawaii National Parks Map


* above information courtesy of Wikipedia.org Travel .  Edited for Content.