It’s often called the Big Island but it’s technically Hawaii Island and is the largest in the state. It’s so large that all of the other major islands can fit in its footprint. So it’s huge, yet has relatively few people compared to Maui or Oahu, and it’s the only island with an active volcano.
Kilauea Volcano is the most active volcano in the world and has been erupting for decades now. The big draw here is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is about the closest you’ll want to get to an angry volcano.
The Big Island is very different than the other islands, not just in its massive size but also the land itself. Because of the volcanoes and the fact that it is the newest of the islands, you’ll see more black lava rock here than lush green areas. The surface here looks like another planet with endless miles of black lava rock and pockets of green where various resorts have been built.
CHOOSING WHERE TO STAY
The west side is the most visited along the Kailua-Kon and Waikoloa areas. The east side, which is more lush, is home to the town of Hilo, which is still touristy but not nearly as much as the west side.
You will want to rent a car. A drive around the entire island (without stops) can be done in as little as 6-7 hours, so splurge a little on a 4 wheel drive and spend a few days exploring! There are too many must-see spots scattered around — both along the coast and hidden in lush reserves — to stay in one spot the entire duration of your stay.
THINGS TO DO
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Even among Hawaii’s many wonders, this national park stands out. Its two active volcanoes testify to the ongoing birth of the islands: quiet Mauna Loa (13,677ft) sprawling above, its unassuming mass downplaying its height, and young Kilauea (4091ft), one of the world’s most active volcanoes, providing near-continual sources of awe. With luck, you’ll witness the primal power of molten earth boiling into the sea. But the park contains much more: overwhelming lava deserts, steaming craters, lava tubes and ancient rainforests.
Mauna Kea Summit: At 13,796 ft in the air, you are above 40% of the atmosphere and 90% of its water vapor – apparently perfect conditions for growing the giant mushroom-like observatories that have popped up around the summit. The summit hss the greatest collection of telescopes on earth. Sunsets are phenomenal from around the summit. Moon rises can be equally as impressive: the high altitude may make the moon appear squashed and misshapen, or sometimes resemble a brush fire. The public may drive to the summit in the daytime, but you must descend 30 minutes after sunset.
Beaches: There is a wide variety of beaches on the Big Island. Beaches are made out of pitch black sand, crystal green sand, coarse white sand, coral, and even out of newly formed lava rocks! Whatever you are in the mood for, there are many choices! Punalu’u is the most famous black sand beach on the island, It is easily accessible and great for swimming, snorkeling, coastal hikes and seeing turtles. Richardsons is the black sand beach closest to Hilo, and the #1 place to snorkel south of Hilo. There are showers, bathrooms, picnic areas, and a lifeguard. The beach and swimming area are protected by a natural lava rock breakwater. Click here for an in-depth guide to the many beaches on Hawaii.
Snorkeling: One of the best family activities on the island, there are many great spots to go for a snorkel. The top spots to visit are Honaunau Bay, also known as Two Step. Kealakekua Bay is another amazing place to snorkel, and kayak! Kahalu’u Beach Park is also highly recommended for snorkeling.
So who is the Big Island best for? Well, they have mega-resorts to cover families and couples, but it always feels like more of an island for those who want to explore and adventure. It’s a little more on the raw side here. Getting around requires a car and can mean long journeys, so maybe not as much fun for all kids. If you want to see lava then this is the only place you’ll have a shot at that. If you want more open space then this is a good bet. Big Island is also known for a large variety of golf courses.