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Big Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide

Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii, Maps & More

Updated April 2024 ⋅ Written by Vanessa Howard ⋅ Edited by Laura Schulthies

Big Island Of Hawaii
Big Island Of Hawaii

Welcome to the Big Island Of Hawaii

The Island of Hawaii (Big Island), being both the largest and the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, presents an incredible range of climates and breathtaking landscapes. One can witness the verdant valley of Hilo, the geological wonders at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, the snow-covered peaks of Maunakea Mountain and the awe-inspiring jet black sands of Punaluʻu Beach. To best explore this massive island’s abundant and varied beauty, check out our guide below to the best of the Big Island of Hawaii.

The Island of Hawaii (Big Island), being both the largest and the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, presents an incredible range of climates and breathtaking landscapes. One can witness the verdant valley of Hilo, the geological wonders at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, the snow-covered peaks of Maunakea Mountain and the awe-inspiring jet black sands of Punaluʻu Beach. To best explore this massive island’s abundant and varied beauty, check out our guide below to the best of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Big Island Of Hawaii Map

Big Island Of Hawaii Map

Contents

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide

A Bit Of History

Hawaii is steeped in mystery and legends, and legend has it that the Island of Hawaii was first discovered by Hawai’iloa, a mythical Hawaiian fisherman and navigator. The island was the first to be discovered by explorers from the Polynesian region of the Marquesas Islands. Western culture was introduced when Captain Cook landed in 1778. After a year, the captain was killed at Kealakekua Bay by tribal warriors. Nevertheless, he opened the door for other travelers, explorers, and missionaries who came to the island in the 1700s and 1800s.

The Island of Hawaii is home to well preserved historic sites, including ancient Hawaiian temples, petroglyphs, museums and two national historical parks.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide

Island of Hawaii Today

Today the Island of Hawaii is known for its active volcano, Kilauea, located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The last eruption took place in 2018 and made headlines around the world. The volcanoes on the island have shaped and continue to shape the landscape. The Island of Hawaii is also known for its incredible natural wonders, including waterfalls, sparkling blue waters and pristine beaches.

Where Is the Island of Hawaii?

Big Island Of Hawaii White Map

The Big Island of Hawaii ​​is the southeasternmost of the Hawaiian Islands in the central Pacific Ocean. It is one of the eight main islands of Hawaii and is located to the southeast of the island of Maui. The Island of Hawaii, also known simply as the Big Island, is the largest in the chain of volcanic islands and has 63% of the Hawaiian archipelago’s combined landmass. It is approximately twice the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. The largest city on the Island of Hawaii is Hilo, which is located on the eastern side of the island. However, the main tourist area on the island is located on the western side, particularly in the towns of Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
Big Island Of Hawaii Travel Guide : Things to do on The Big Island of Hawaii

Best Time To Visit Hawaii

The Island of Hawaii is fantastic all year, but if you are looking for the best weather, consider visiting between March and September. This time of year, the island sees the highest temperatures and the lowest amount of rain. The best time of year to visit for a less crowded trip to the Island of Hawaii is between September and October. You will find the best room rates and fewer crowds in these months. The temperatures remain consistently perfect in the low 70s or low 80s year-round.

The Island of Hawaii is fantastic all year, but if you are looking for the best weather, consider visiting between March and September. This time of year, the island sees the highest temperatures and the lowest amount of rain. The best time of year to visit for a less crowded trip to the Island of Hawaii is between September and October. You will find the best room rates and fewer crowds in these months. The temperatures remain consistently perfect in the low 70s or low 80s year-round.

December – March

December marks the start of the whale season on the Island of Hawaii, and you have a chance to spot humpback whales offshore as they migrate to Hawaii’s waters. There won’t be many crowds from December to March, but the temperatures start to climb by the end of March.

April – June

April brings a great blooming of wildflowers and pleasant temperatures to the island, while May brings warmer and calmer waters perfect for swimming. June has the lowest rainfall of the year, but it also means waterfalls won’t be flowing as heavily, and the summer crowds haven’t yet arrived on the island.

July – August

Travelers flock to the Island of Hawaii during the high season of summer. There is a reason the island is a summer hot spot; the surf scene, snorkeling and swimming are all summer favorites. The temperatures remain temperate but are a bit warmer, reaching 87℉ daily.

September – November

September is the insider’s choice for visiting the Island of Hawaii. The combination of pleasant temperatures and calm seas make the underwater visibility excellent, creating an ideal time to explore the reefs and marine life. October is mild, with the possibility of a stray storm, while November tends to be one of the wettest months on the island.

December – March

December marks the start of the whale season on the Island of Hawaii, and you have a chance to spot humpback whales offshore as they migrate to Hawaii’s waters. There won’t be many crowds from December to March, but the temperatures start to climb by the end of March.

April – June

April brings a great blooming of wildflowers and pleasant temperatures to the island, while May brings warmer and calmer waters perfect for swimming. June has the lowest rainfall of the year, but it also means waterfalls won’t be flowing as heavily, and the summer crowds haven’t yet arrived on the island.

July – August

Travelers flock to the Island of Hawaii during the high season of summer. There is a reason the island is a summer hot spot; the surf scene, snorkeling and swimming are all summer favorites. The temperatures remain temperate but are a bit warmer, reaching 87℉ daily.

September – November

September is the insider’s choice for visiting the Island of Hawaii. The combination of pleasant temperatures and calm seas make the underwater visibility excellent, creating an ideal time to explore the reefs and marine life. October is mild, with the possibility of a stray storm, while November tends to be one of the wettest months on the island.

  When Is Hawaii Hurricane Season?

The hurricane season for the Big Island of Hawaii, like in the rest of Hawaii, officially runs from June 1 to November 30 each year. However, the peak of the hurricane season in Hawaii is usually from mid-August to early October. While it’s important to be aware of the potential for hurricanes during this time, it’s worth noting that Hawaii is not typically affected by direct hits from hurricanes, as the islands are small targets in a vast ocean and the mountains of Hawaii can disrupt the flow of storm systems. Be sure to check weather reports ahead of time and we always suggest getting travel insurance during these months just in case.

Hurricane Season
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide

How to Get to the Big Island & Around

Getting to the Big Island of Hawaii is simple, and once you are on the island, travel is a breeze.

Oahu Visitors Guide

Arrival By Air

There are 2 international airports on the Island, Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO). Chances are that you will fly into Kona, and this unique airport will leave an impression. It’s a small, primarily outdoor airport.

Another way to get to the Island of Hawaii is by flying into Oahu first, then taking a quick 30–40-minute flight to the Big Island.

Rental Car

Renting a car on the Island of Hawaii is easy and highly recommended due to the size of the island. There are rental car agencies close to the inter-island flight terminals at both Kona and Hilo, as well as both cruise ports. Rentals usually range from $38 per day during the off season for a standard car to $76 per day for an SUV during peak season.

Pay attention to the speed limits on the Island of Hawaii as they are relatively low compared to those on the mainland, around 45/55 mph. You will want to keep this in mind when trying to get from one place to another.  Even with a rental car, some locations on the Island of Hawaii are challenging to reach. Most rental car agencies forbid you from taking their vehicles to some places, such as the summit of MaunaKea or the Green Sand Beach.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide

Hele-On Bus

The public Hele-On bus service is an excellent alternative if you have plenty of time and want to avoid renting a car. This is the most budget-friendly way to get around the Island of Hawaii. Riding the bus typically costs around $2.00 per ride.

These buses will take you to most places on the island, but keep in mind that transit times are long and connections infrequent. The Hele-On bus is meant to accommodate workers to and from work, and consequently, most bus departure times are early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide

Cruise

Most major cruise lines sail to the Island of Hawaii, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Princess. These cruise lines often make stops at both the Kona and Hilo ports of call.  Hilo, the capital of the Island of Hawaii, is the port where you can see an active volcano in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. While Kona is on the west coast of the island and offers an ideal beach and snorkeling spot.

Oahu Visitors Guide

Taxi

Taxis on the Island of Hawaii are available in and around both Kona and Hilo. However, they are one of the most expensive ways to get around the island, so it’s worth exploring alternatives if you can.

Things To Do in Hawaii

Hawaii's Top Highlights

The Island of Hawaii is a tropical dream. Whether you are looking for nature and outdoor adventure or luxury and relaxation, you won’t find the Big Island lacking in things to do.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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1. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

As one of the United States most geologically interesting national parks, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes, allowing visitors to see the wonder of nature in action. Keep in mind that parts of the park and surrounding areas, including roads, may be closed during periods of volcanic activity.

The park covers a total of 523 square miles, but continues to grow as active lava flows into the ocean and cools into rock. The park is home to both the Kilauea Volcano and the Halema’uma’u crater, the legendary home of the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele. This active volcano and steaming crater make Crater Rim Road a must drive scenic highway.

Hike the Devastation Trail, which showcases the landscape left behind after a 1959 eruption from the Iki crater. Visit the Thurston Lava Tube, a unique place where lava once flowed, cooled, and left a tunnel nearly 500 feet long and 20 feet high.

  Don’t want to tour the park on your own? Check out this Volcanoes National Park Safari.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Relax On The Beautiful Beaches
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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2. Relax on One of The Insanely Beautiful Beaches

The Island of Hawaii boasts a diverse array of pristine beaches, each with its own unique appeal. If you’re seeking a stunning black sand beach, Pololu Valley Beach is a must-visit destination. While swimming may not be ideal, outdoor enthusiasts will relish the abundance of nearby hiking trails.

For an unforgettable beach experience, make your way to Papakolea Green Sand Beach, where you’ll be mesmerized by the beauty of the green sand set against the rugged cliffs. Although the beach is notoriously windy, it provides ideal conditions for windsurfing. Thrill-seekers can also enjoy cliff jumping at a designated section of the beach.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Swim With Manta Rays
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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3. Swim With Manta Rays

One of the most unforgettable experiences you can have in Kona is swimming with manta rays. This adventure is widely considered to be one of the most remarkable dives worldwide, with the opportunity to choose between snorkeling and scuba diving options.

You can select from various tour choices, including day, sunset, and night swimming options. Night swimming with manta rays is the most in-demand option, as the manta rays tend to be more active at night. It is essential to note that this is a highly sought-after activity, and tours fill up quickly.

  This Night Swim With Manta Rays Tour is a great option, as is this Manta Ray Night Snorkel tour.

  ISLAND LIFE TRAVEL TIP : GET TRAVEL INSURANCE

Travel Insurance is a must in our opinion. Standard health insurance likely doesn’t cover you while outside of the country so travel insurance will cover any emergency medical needs as well as trip cancellation, lost or stolen luggage (it happens), flight delays, missed connections and more. You can easily compare the top-rated travel insurance plans here.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Star Gaze on Mauna Kea
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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4. Star Gaze on Mauna Kea

Home to the Mauna Kea Observatory active research facility, Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in Hawaii. A sharp contrast to the tropical paradise below, the temperatures at the summit are cold. Don’t let that stop you from visiting for unparalleled views of the stars above each night.

The summit and the Visitor Information Station each sit at altitudes of 13,800 feet and 9,200 feet and can only be accessed by 4WD vehicles. This is a trip which is prohibited by many of the rental car companies, so make sure to check their policies before making the trip.

  If you don’t want to deal with the rental car hassle, consider taking a tour like this Mauna Kea Summit Sunset and Stars Tour that comes complete with photos that you can pick up in Hilo or Kona.

  Another great option is this Best Mauna Kea Summit Tour.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Akaka Falls State Park and Kahuna Falls
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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5. Akaka Falls State Park and Kahuna Falls

Akaka Falls State Park, near Hilo, is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island, including Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. As the tallest falls on the island, Akaka’s water free falls over 442 feet. Set in a stunning and lush tropical paradise filled with ferns, orchids, and bamboo, Akaka Falls is a can’t miss destination on the Island of Hawaii.

The trail to the falls is easy and conveniently paved, but it is quite steep and includes sections of steps. This loop trail is less than a half-mile long and leads you past Kahuna falls to the top of Akaka Falls. Keep an eye out for the offshoot of the trail, which leads to a viewing spot perfect for getting photos of Akaka.

  If you don’t want to miss any of the stunning beauty while navigating, consider this Big Island Waterfalls Adventure.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Explore The Kona Coffee Living History Farm
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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6. Explore The Kona Coffee Living History Farm

Chances are you’ve heard of the famous Hawaiian Kona Coffee. The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is the nation’s only living history museum dedicated to traditional coffee farming. The farm is operated by the Kona Historical Society and shows visitors what life was like for coffee growers in the 1920s and 30s.

As a living history museum, you will find that costumed interpreters happily converse with you while they go about their daily tasks, from planting and harvesting to cooking.  You can explore the grounds yourself by observing the Kona Nightingale (a breed of donkey) and learning about the methods of roasting and grinding the beans. You can also sample and purchase some of their amazing coffee.

  To find out a little more about Kona Coffee and the surrounding area, check out this Kona Tour: Coffee Plantation, Kealakekua Bay, Kaloko-Honokohau Park, and Bee Farm.

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Waipio Valley Overlook
Big Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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7. Vist The Waipio Valley Overlook

On the northeastern coast of the Island of Hawaii, about 50 miles north of Hilo, you will discover a modern day “Shangri La.” The Waipio Valley seems to be cut off from the outside world completely. It is a difficult spot to reach because of the steep cliffs on the three landward sides.

The valley floor is covered in bananas, papayas, mangoes, avocados, and grapefruit. Colorful orchids, ginger trees and hibiscus decorate the stunningly lush landscape. Where the valley meets the ocean is a long black-sand beach.

Keep in mind this another area that most car rental companies do not allow their vehicles to be driven, particularly down into the valley. However, you can walk the road. While the trek down to the valley floor is easy, remember you do have to trek back up to the top. This gorgeous scenic drive along the Hamakua Coast is the Hamakua Heritage Corridor, which runs from the town of Hilo to the Waipio Valley Overlook is truly an unique experience.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Check Out Pauko Petroglyph Park
Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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8. Check Out Pauko Petroglyph Park

Along the Kohala Coast, you will find the 223-acre Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve. The park boasts more than 3,000 ancient petroglyphs  (kiʻipōhaku). These lava rock carvings are etched into stones that date back to 1200 AD.

Although the true meanings of the petroglyphs remain unknown, it is believed that these carvings are records of significant events in the lives of the people of the island of Hawaii long ago. The captivating petroglyphs of Puakō feature carvings of humans, canoes and turtles, among other things.

This fun family activity is great for kids; they can search for petroglyphs and discover what these ancient symbols mean. Be sure to wear good shoes because the site is unpaved. It also goes through a Kiawe forest with thorns on the ground.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Shop At The Hilo Farmers Market
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9. Shop at The Hilo Farmers Market

The Hilo Farmers Market has become a local institution, and it operates daily year-round now. Open from 7 am to 3 pm every day, with the busiest market days falling on Wednesday and Saturday. You don’t want to miss this.

Over 200 vendors gather in Hilo’s historic downtown and sell locally grown flowers, produce, handmade crafts, and souvenirs. The Farmers Market also hosts special events, including annual festivals and weekly themes like Hilo Hula Tuesdays and Market Music.

Island Of Hawaii Visitors Guide
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Take In A Hawaiian Luau
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10. Take In A Hawaiian Luau

A luau on the island of Hawaii is the perfect way to experience the community and culture of the Hawaiian Islands. While luaus were hardly traditional in ancient Hawaii, today, they are a quintessential part of any trip to the islands.

Most luaus on the Island of Hawaii occur on the Kona side in Waikoloa, Kailua-Kona or South Kona. The Legends of Hawaii Luau takes place every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday in Waikoloa. It features hula and fire dancers, a Hawaiian feast, live music, and handcrafted treasures.

Another popular luau on the Island of Hawaii is the Island Breeze Luau hosted by the King Kamehameha Beach Resort. This royal Hawaiian festivity is held on the former estate grounds of Hawaii’s once great ruler, King Kamehameha. It features Polynesian dancers, a Samoan Fire-Knife Dance, as well as arts and crafts demonstrations.

Where To Stay On The Island Of Hawaii

There are all types of accommodations on the Island of Hawaii. From resorts to boutique hotels and more. Location and amenities are the two top things to look for. For great hotel info and recommendations, check out our Big Island Of Hawaii Hotel Guide.

Big Island of Hawaii Hotels Guide

For hotel recommendations for every budget, check out our Island Of Hawaii Hotel Guide

What To Pack For Your Trip!

Hawaii is an enchanting wonderland of relaxation and adventure. One can easily have the trip of a lifetime here. Packing for such a vacation shouldn’t be hard, so we’ve put together a list to help you pack and included some of our favorites as well. Check out our What To Pack For Your Hawaii Vacation Guide.

Maui Travel Guide: Things to do in Maui Hawaii

Check out our Packing List For Beach Vacation!

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