Big Island of Hawaii Vacations
The 7 'Must See' Big Island Locations
The Big Island, also known as Hawai’i is unlike any other place on earth and unlike any of the other Hawaiian Islands. It is indeed the Big Island for a reason, with a landmass of over 4,000 square miles, it’s bigger than all the other islands combined and is also the largest island in the United States. Island fever is a rare malady here, given the sheer diversity of its climate and geological splendor. From black sand beaches to snowcapped volcanic peaks; from rural fishing villages to strings of all-inclusive tropical resorts, there’s something for every traveler on Hawaii’s most recently formed island paradise.
When you land on the island, you arrive in Kona (on the western side) or Hilo (in the east). Kona, known the world over for the coffee produced on coffee plantations surrounding the quirky town, is a relaxed and friendly home base from which to explore the entire island. For travelers on a budget, you’ll want to rent a car at the airport, drive along the stretch of eery volcanic rock until you arrive in Kona town.
Drive up into the mountains just five minutes outside of town until you reach the tiny village of Holulaloa and the infamous Inaba’s Kona Hotel, a quirky pink building from the 1920’s. Staying here is a cultural treat in itself, owned by a warm Japanese family, you’ll share bathrooms and Monday night family meals, and your stay will only set you back $40 per night. The art and coffee town of Holualoa boasts a string of art galleries, coffee farms, a nice restaurant and beautiful vistas of Kona and the great Pacific below. If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, there are plenty of hotels to choose from in Kona or along the Kohala Coast. Just be sure to make a day trip up to Holualoa to take in the quaint, artistic enclave in the heart of coffee country.
From Holualoa, drive north and inland twenty minutes or so and you’ll land in Waimea and wonder if you’re in Hawaii or back on the mainland. Waimea is Hawaiian cowboy country, with an average temperature of 65 degrees. Waimea has a lively farmer’s market, an upscale farm-to-table restaurant, a working sheep and cattle ranch, and green, rolling pastures that will surprise you again and again. The Big Island is truly diverse.
From Waimea, drive north to the small town of Paauilo, on the northern coast of the Big Island. This rural town is home to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, a family-operated vanilla plantation and the first commercial growers of vanilla in the United States. Check out the “Vanilla Luncheon Experience,” or the “Vanilla Presentation and Tasting,” “Upcountry Tea,” and a lovely little shop where you can purchase hand-crafted vanilla treasures from one of the husband and wife team’s young children, usually working the register. The Hawaii Vanilla Company is one of the Big Island’s quiet gems.
Another quiet gem of a town lies just a few miles away. Hawi, the northernmost town on the Big Island is a charming place of art galleries, cafes and restaurants. It’s also known as the bicycle turnaround of the annual Ironman competition. From Hawi you can head west to the mega-resorts of the sunny Kohala coast and on to Kona or turn east for a scenic drive along the gorgeous Hamakua coast to Hilo. You choose!
Hilo, the rainiest town in the United States, where rainfall averages 126 inches per year, is also the Island’s largest, with a diverse population of over 42,000 people - (the entire island has approximately 185,000). There’s a lovely farmer’s market in Hilo as well as museums, restaurants and a university. If you drove in along the Hamakua Coast, make a stop at Akaka Falls State Park, where you’ll hike to a 420 ft. waterfall, cascading through a tropical rain forest teeming with giant philodendrons, fragrant ginger and harmonious birdsong.
From Hilo, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a forty-five minute drive south. Here you meet Madame Pele. As legend goes, she lives in the magnificent and very active Kilauea volcano. The energy here is palpable, as the primal process of creation and destruction live side by side. Take a tour or explore the park on your own. It’s an unforgettable place.
As you drive around the island in the direction of Kona, you’ll want to make a morning (or afternoon) of snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, the spot where Captain Cook claimed his territory and later lost his life. The bay is home to an authentic Hawaiian neighborhood, with its residential Manini Beach. From here you can walk right into the water to swim or snorkel among yellow tang and sea turtles. Kayak rental spots on the main drag will rent you a kayak and locals will help you into the water for a fee. If you’re lucky, you’ll kayak out into the bay where Spinner Dolphins will swim beside your boat. The precious animals swim in the bay daily. If you have the pleasure of meeting them along your journey, you’ll have stories to tell for the rest of your life.
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