Big Island, Hawaii

Big Island Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is almost twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined. The island offers a myriad of adventures worthy of a continent. And what’s even more amazing is that the island continues to grow. Hawaii’s most active volcano, Kilauea, has been erupting almost nonstop for three decades. Along with red-hot lava, the Big Island offers sub-arctic mountain peaks for stargazing, ancient Hawaiian hidden spots, rugged hikes through forgotten valleys, and a host of hypnotizingly beautiful beaches, from white-sand to green and black cratered, covered in frozen lava rocks.

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How to get there

Flights from the continent and between islands arrive at Copa International Airport ( or Hilo ( . Both airports have a cab service and car rental. Hele-On public buses (Tel: 808-961-8744; run around the island (50c or $1 fare) , but according to a schedule Monday through Sunday and a route designed for local people who ride them to work.


This sun-drenched tourist town where you can sit on outdoor terraces and count the sunburned tourists for fun. But with incredible beaches to the north and south and plenty of water fun, this neighborhood of so many apartment buildings gives reason to explore in more detail.

Attractions and attractions

Not far from Kailua Pier, the beach, Kamakaonu Beach, was once the royal residence of Kamehameha the Great, also home to the restored Ahuena Heiau (; no visitors allowed) , the castle where King Kamehameha died in 1819. Turn south to Ali’i Dr to visit Mokuaikaua Lava Church (; 75-5713 Ali’i Dr; admission free; 8 a.m.-5 p.m.), built in 1837 by Hawaii’s first Christian missionaries. Across the street you can see Hulihe Palace (Tel: 808-329-1877;; 75-5718 Ali’i Dr; adult/children $6/1) , which was closed for restoration after the tsunami at the time of this guidebook’s writing. It served as a vacation residence for the Hawaiian royal family. Its museum contains many relics and historical artifacts. Call and make reservations hours in advance.

A few miles south of town, in Alia Dr., bask in the sun on White Sand Beach’s glistening beaches, but don’t swim in winter when the sand disappears. In Keahoe, Kahalu Park Beach offers amazing snorkeling with sea turtles and stand-up paddling (SUP) . Numerous vendors in Kailua-Kona rent out water equipment and lead guided tours, including great night snorkeling and diving with manta rays staff ( .

The South Coast of Kona

Stay longer on South Kona’s green coast, visiting its fragrant coffee farms, ancient Hawaiian sites and distinctive small towns. To learn more about local life, you can stop by Teshima Restaurant (Tel: 808-322-9140; 79-7251 Mamalahoa Hwy, Honalo; main courses $13-23; 6:30-1345 and 5-9 p.m.) where families and coffee connoisseurs have been ordering Japanese food since the 1940s (cash only) .

If you turn off Highway 11, an adjacent road leads to the sparkling Kealakekua Bay, 1.5 km long. The north end of Kavaloa Bay (where Captain Cook was killed in 1779) is now the best dive site on the Big Island. You can hike here, but it’s more fun to go kayaking. Contact the local Aloha Kayak Company (Tel: 808-322-2868, 877-322-1444;; 79-7248 Mamalahoa Hwy, Honalo; kayak rentals $25-85, tours $90-130) . Diver and snorkel cruises are available at Sea Paradise (Tel: 808-322-2500;; diver cruises adults/children 4-12 years $99/59) in Keauhou.

North Kona and Koala Coast.

The coast, covered in black frozen lava, runs north of Kailua-Kona. It features secluded palm-fringed beaches, ancient Hawaiian sites, and expensive resorts. On the shoreline, if you exit Highway 19, you can find dream beaches. White-sand Kekaha Kai Park (requires an SUV to pass), black-sand Kiholo Bay, windsurfing park beach Anaejo-Omalu, Beach 69 children’s beach and volcanic pools Puako, resort Mauna Key Beach in Kaunaola bagel-shaped bay, and stunning Maui May Beach (treat with respect to locals).

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The Waikaloa resort area features ancient Hawaiian rock art, petroglyphs, and there are two malls that offer a variety of free entertainment every day. Something between a resort and a theme park is the Hilton Waikoloa Village (Tel: 808-886-1234;; 69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr; room from $199) , with pools, lagoons, and activities for all ages, but you have to pay extra for almost everything, even parking ($15) .

The Mauna Lani resort area also has some ancient Hawaiian attractions-fish ponds, lava tubes and more than 3,000 petroglyphs next to the eco-friendly Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows (Tel: 808-885-6622;; 68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr; room $445-965, suite from $995) , a full-service beach resort with giant palms and true Hawaiian flair.

For boogie dancing under the stars, head north to Kawaihae, where you’ll find the Blue Dragon Musiquarium (Tel: 808-882-7771;; 61-3616 Kawaihae Rd; main courses $18-36; 5:30-22 p.m. Thu-Sun, bar until 11 p.m.) which offers an eclectic mix of surf bar and awesome music from local musicians.

Mauna Kea.

Measured from the base beginning underwater, this mountain (4,200m) is the highest on the planet, and its summit is equipped with a world-famous astronomical observatory.

Halfway up the mountain, the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (Tel: 808-961-2180;; admission free; 9 a.m.-22 p.m.) Visitor Information Station (VIS) offers educational performances and delightful stargazing programs when it gets dark.

The sunset hike to the top of the mountain is unforgettable, but you need a car or the strength to hike up the 9.5 km (10 hours round trip), or a guided tour with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (Tel: 808-322-2366, 888-322-2366;; tours $200) .

To get to Onizuka Center, you must first drive 80 km on Saddle Rd (Highway 200), which connects the coasts of Kona and Hilo. Being very scenic, this place is very dangerous and many accidents happen there, so many car rentals forbid to go there. Near the turnoff sign near mile 28, you can drive 9 km uphill to the summit of Mauna Kea and get to the visitor information station.

Kona Coffee Plantations.

Exquisite 100% Kona coffee is grown in southern Kona on small, family-owned plantations. The coffee beans are still harvested by hand, and the region gives the impression that time has stopped, because nothing has visibly changed since immigrants settled here in the 19th century. A place called Captan Cook has a wonderful museum (Kona Coffee Historical Plantation) Copa Coffee Living History Farm (Tel: 808-323-2006;; Hwy 11, Mile 110; adult/children tour 5-12 years $20/5; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon-Fri, admission by 1:15 p.m.) which recreates the rural lifestyle of Japanese immigrants. In November, don’t miss the ten-day Kona Coffee Cultural Festival ( .

The capital of the Big Island is nicknamed “the rainiest city in the U.S.,” and that tarnished reputation drives tourists away. And for good reason, because Hilo, with its working-class coastal neighborhoods and quaint downtown buildings, even has a certain charm about its perpetual bad weather. Ethnically diverse, this city has an authentic Hawaiian atmosphere.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Even though Hawaii’s natural wonders abound, this park (Tel: 808-985-6000;; 7-day car pass $10) stands apart. Two active volcanoes bear witness to the birth of the islands. The magnificent Mauna Loa (4,160 m) appears to be a sleeping giant, while the young Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano, has been erupting continuously since 1983. Fortunately, you can only see the molten lava flowing into the water. But there are other curiosities in the park, including huge lava deserts, steam-emitting craters, lava tubes and ancient rainforests.

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Near the entrance, the Kilauea Visitor Center and Museum (Tel: 808-985-6017; 7:45-17 p.m.) gives a great introduction to visiting: foresters will explain the changes and conditions for hiking, volcanic activity, and offer a guided tour. The nearby Volcano Art Center (Tel: 808-967-7565, 866-967-7565;; 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) is a gallery that hosts special events, Hawaiian culture classes and performances.

Take note that alternating eruptions can trigger sudden closures of railroads and highways. When the 17-kilometer Crater Rim Drive, which wraps around Kilauea Caldera, is open, you can admire the site of the always beautiful volcano goddess Pele. Visit the Jaggar Museum (free; 8:30-20:00) with working seismographs, lava displays and stunning views of Haluma Umau Crater (where there was an active eruption in 2008) . Don’t miss Thurston’s Lava Tubes, a huge cave of frozen lava, or the six-kilometer Chain of Craters Road that leads down to the coast, abruptly clipping where recently flowing lava destroyed it.

Big Island of Hawaii in the United States

Hawaii Big Island Volcano-46

Hawaii is not just the name of a state, it’s also the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and in the United States. There is a lot to see there: volcanoes, beaches with green and black sand, Hawaiian turtles, waterfalls and other interesting places. And we also flew there in a mini Cessna plane with Mokulele Air :)

In our ranking of the islands of Hawaii it is in third place after Kauai and Maui.

In the post there will be a story with photos and reviews, and at the end there will be a map of the Big Island and other Hawaiian Islands with all the sights.


Historical Background

The island of Hawaii was discovered by James Cook in 1778. He named these islands the Sandwich Islands. The name Hawaii comes from the name of the mythological character Havailoa – he discovered the island when it was first inhabited.

In 1779, Cook was killed by natives in an armed conflict on the shore of Kealakekua Bay. There are different versions of exactly what happened then.

The island of Hawaii is also the birthplace of the first Hawaiian King Kameameamea I, who united the islands in 1795. Since then, the entire archipelago has been referred to as the Hawaiian Islands.

Not to be confused with the name of the state, it is simply called the Big Island of Hawaii.

Kona is the western “capital” of the island and Hilo is the eastern.

What to see on the Big Island of Hawaii

The main attractions are volcanoes, beaches and waterfalls.

The black beach of Punaluu (Punaluu) .

Hawaii beaches

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Punaluu beach

. and Hawaiian turtles. Sleeping on the beach is their normal state:

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Hawaiian islands

We stayed here for camping. While we were cooking dinner, we met a family of locals and they treated us to a home cooked meal :) Then a young, blonde Anne from Los Angeles drove up, she had traveled around Hawaii by herself and hiked. One bad thing about this campground – like all beach campgrounds, it was windy.

It was impossible to swim, it was dangerous (but Seryozha was swimming in the company of 3 turtles, which were safely riding the waves):

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Hawaii islands

Green Sand Beach

In the morning together with Anne we went to the green sand beach Green Sand Beach, also known as Papakolea.

It is very easy to find: when you go to the very south of the island on the highway number 11, take the turn to South Point Road and drive to the end.

At the parking lot, you can arrange to drive a pickup truck with the locals for $15 per person round trip, or leave the car for free and walk along the beach 4 km one way.

It is easy and beautiful to walk, the elevation differences are minor, but there is a strong wind, so there is dust and sand in your eyes all the time, and you need to wear sunscreen well and protect your eyes with goggles. On the way you can try to stop off-road vehicles other tourists, we did so on the way back :)

About the car, in the dry weather there is not as important four-wheel drive, as a large ground clearance. That is, you can get stuck in a glamorous parket car with small ground clearance there ;)

Hawaii Big Island Green Sand Beach-5

The sand is really green! This is because of impurities of the mineral olivine.

green sand beach hawaii

Hawaii, green beach

green beach hawaii

The cove is beautiful, but you can’t sit there because of the strong wind. You can swim if you do not mind the waves.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

There are 5 volcanoes on the island:

1. The extinct Kohala (1670 m).

2. Dormant Mauna-Kea (4205 m).

3 Active Hualalai (Hualalai, 2523 m) – has not erupted since 1801.

4. active Mauna-Loa (Mauna-Loa, 4169 m) – the second largest on Earth after the Tamu Massif.

5. Active Kilauea (Kilauea, 1247 m).

The sixth volcano, Loihi, is located under water to the south of the island at a depth of 975 m.

Kilauea and Mauna Loa are in the HawaiiVolqueinos National Park.

In the national park they give a map of volcanoes, it is all clear and there are signs along the way, so it’s hard to get lost :) We went around the park and examined a lot of things.

Art Gallery is actually a souvenir store with the products of local artists. There are interesting things, but not many.

Jaggar Museum is dedicated to volcanology, not much to see there, but it is informative.

The museums and visitor center are open 9-17. The toilets are 24 hours a day.

In Visitor Center a couple of times a day they show good documentaries about volcanoes and hold mini-lectures. There is entertainment for kids (in English, of course). The schedule hangs on the wall.

The national park itself was disappointing: there weren’t any really spectacular views like Kauai or Maui. The craters look like ravines, lots of lava fields that are only interesting for the first few minutes.

We were there a few years after the last eruption, so most of the lava has long since solidified and looked monotonous.

Realistically, if you want to see current lava, you have to plan a trip when the volcano is erupting or has just erupted.

We then got lucky in Antigua, Guatemala – watched the eruption of the Fuego volcano:

Sulfur Banks and Steam Vents (a mini-track from the Visitor Center) – complete nonsense.

Frozen lava and other views in the park:

Hawaii Big Island Volcano-36

Hawaii Big Island Volcano-24

Hawaii volcano

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Hawaii islands

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Hawaii picture

Drove down Chain of Craters Road . Not a lot of cool views either. The best part is the arch at the end of the road.

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Hawaii Big Island Volcano-38

Hawaii Big Island Volcano-33

Crater Rim Drive was almost all blocked off. In fact, they’re really worried about safety and shut down everything they can at the slightest suspicion of toxic fumes, etc.

Mauna Loa Viewpoint – nothing interesting. There are silversword flowers there, but they are hidden in the grass and don’t match those on the island of Maui by any standards. No point in going there.

Hawaii Big Island Volcano-44

Hawaii Big Island Volcano-43

Hilina Pali Overlook is remembered only by a big piggy with little piglets on the road.

Hawaii islands

The Thurston Lava Tube is better to visit early in the morning or later in the evening, as it is crowded and hard to park there in the daytime.

It is a lava tube is about 500 meters long and about 3 meters in diameter, lit by lanterns. It is better to go in a jacket and boots: it drips from the ceiling, there are puddles on the floor. It was interesting, but not exciting.

Hawaii islands

Devastation Trail is an asphalt track on volcano-ravaged land – so-so.

The most popular activity after dark is watching the big crater of Kilauea volcano glow near Jaggar Museum. A crowd gathers there, but all but the most avid photographers quickly make it through the photos, because at 14 degrees in summer and spring clothes, you won’t last long in the wind ;)

Hawaii volcano kilauea

By day it looks like this:

Hawaii islands

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes

Mauna-Kea means “White Mountain” in Hawaiian. The last eruption here was about 4,500 years ago.

In Hawaiian mythology, the peaks of the island of Hawaii are sacred, and Mauna Kea is the most sacred of all. On the other hand, Mauna Kea is a great place for astronomical observations, so they built observatories and telescopes here, thus violating the sacredness of the place.

Wikipedia writes that Mauna Loa Volcano was associated by Hawaiians with one of the sisters of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes and fire. The sisters fight each other, so there are often very strong winds between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

Hawaii Mauna Kea photo

hawaii volcano photo

Photo: Alan L, Chris Favero @ flickr

Waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii

Hilo has two medium-sized waterfalls, Rainbow Falls and Pe’epe’e Falls .

hawaii big island

Akaka Falls is the most beautiful waterfall on the Big Island of Hawaii. Its height is 129 meters.

acaca waterfall hawaii islands

Parking is $5, or on the road outside the gate for free (lots of people park there, and lots of people in general, so it’s safe).

Hawaiian islands

Cape Laupahoehoe.

Overnight stay at Laupahoehoe camping site. You can’t swim in the sea there, because of the strong waves, but the coast is very photogenic.

hawaii islands photo

Hawaii big island

Hawaii picture

Hawaii, Big Island, Punaluu

We even wondered at first why such a beautiful place hasn’t been stolen, but then we read, that there used to be a village here, and in 1946 there was a tsunami that killed 20 people. Some of them survived by dangling in the sea, holding on to some debris, and three schoolchildren survived by spending 27 hours in the sea!

Since then they don’t want to develop the place, they made a park and a camping site, put up a stand with copies of newspaper clippings and a monument to the dead. By the way, more than half of the names on the monument and in the newspapers are Japanese.

Waipio Valley

In the morning sat on the same campsite, processing photos, drying things, reading. Then we went to see Waipio Valley. There’s a big black beach, it’s visible from the observation deck, you can only get down there on foot or by four-wheel drive.

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Beyond this beach begins the 8-mile trail to Waimanu Valley. The hike takes 5-6 hours one way, lots of elevation changes, and at the end of the trek is a beautiful valley and a campground with no drinking water.

And on that beach it is better not to swim because of the waves and currents.

In the village Waipio there is a nice souvenir store (Artworks) with delicious homemade ice cream ;) The souvenirs are good, but very expensive.

4-Miles Scenic Drive

North of Hilo we took the 4-miles Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive. Wellooo, that was another disappointment :( No beautiful views there at all!

Other Beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii

You can only swim in the sea on the west coast of the Big Island. We spent our last night at Hapuna State Park . It was a 5 minute walk to a swimmable beach with white sand, awnings, and other amenities.

We finally got to swim in the sea!

Walking to the beach is free, parking for negaways is as much as $5.

Hawaii Big Island-127

Hawaii Big Island-128

The beaches for swimming are Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach, 49 Black Sand Beach, ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach, Makalawena Beach.

Snorkeling beaches: Kekaha Kai Beach Park, Kealakekua Bay, Ho’okena Beach Park.


What else is there to do on the Big Island of Hawaii? There are more than 250 different excursions:

    – When a volcano erupts and lava flows out, it must be an incredible sight! , ,
  • whales and dolphins,
  • boat trips,
  • hikes and tours to volcanoes,
  • and much more.

A few more photos from different parts of the island

Hawaiian islands

Hawaii vacation

hawaii big island

Hawaii vacation

hawaii big island

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The original “watch out for children” sign:

Hawaiian beaches

Farmer’s Market

On the way from Volcanoes National Park to Hilo in the village of Kee’au near the Shopping Center is a farmer’s market with cheap fruits and vegetables. We bought all kinds of things there :) It is marked on the map as Foodland Kea’au.

Where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii

Hotels, Inns, and Apartments

There’s no definite answer here because the island is big, and it would be far to go to see everything from one location.

Hotels in the southeast and in Hilo ➜ Volcanoes National Park, waterfalls, and Mauna Kea volcano.

Given the prices of food in U.S. restaurants, look for kitchen options.


There’s a separate article about Hawaii campgrounds with a detailed review of the places we stayed overnight, prices, where to book, etc., etc.

By the way, in Hawaii, as well as on the U.S. mainland, it is popular to rent campervans – houses on wheels – and combine comfort with proximity to nature.

How to get there

The Big Island has two international airports. Flights from other Hawaiian islands and some cities on the U.S. mainland fly here.

  • Kona (IATA code: KOA)
  • Hilo (Hilo, IATA code: ITO)

How to find the cheapest airline tickets to Hawaii from any country

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    – unrealistically flexible search, and there is a guarantee of a connection, even if you fly low-cost airlines and the first flight was delayed! – the best ticket prices from Russia and Kazakhstan, and a convenient low-fare calendar.

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