Note: Big Island Guide is part of the Hawaii in 7 Days series. Read till the end of Big Island Guide for more information.
The Big Island, or the Island of Hawai’i, is the largest, youngest, and namesake of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s known for the tallest mountain in the world (yep, it’s not Everest) measured from the seafloor, Mauna Kea, the active volcanoes visible in Volcanoes National Park, abundant animal + plant life, along with all the features of a tropical paradise that make it a Hawaiian Island. However, it’s overshadowed by its popular cousins of Oahu and Maui. Its more atypical landscape, size, and the prospect of volcanoes can often scare tourists away. However, if you’re willing to give the Island of Hawaii a chance, we’ve got you covered with a guide to the Big Island of Hawaii!
Read Big Island Guide for information on the island! Big Island Guide also contains other helpful links that may help with planning your stay.
Overview of the Island
Big Island Guide: Food
Hawaii is abundant with unique food to try, and the Big Island is no exception. There are many food options throughout the island; most notably, bakeries/coffeehouses, Hawaiian indigenous cuisine, and Japanese food. Of course, seafood is always on the menu, and cannot be missed in Hawaii. Big Island Guide only spotlights a few of the endless options!
One of my most fond food experiences on the Big Island are the fresh fruits available. One thing to look out for are fruit stands spread across the island. These are self-paid and stocked by locals, with tropical options such as guavas, passionfruit, breadfruit, indigenous plants, and more! Another thing to enjoy are the fruits you see on the side of the road. We picked plenty of delicious guavas and papayas from the heavily forested areas of the Big Island.
Big Island Guide: Transportation
This is quite simple; given the Big Island’s huge size, a car is a must. Pick up a rental car from the airport as soon as you get off. Preferably a 4×4 (4WD), as much of the island is sloped and precipitous. It’s also required on mountain ascents like Mauna Kea.
Big Island Guide: Accessibility
The entire Island is encompassed by 1 road, made up of Highways 11 and 19. While the highways are for sure in good shape, the condition of the rest of the roads that criscross the Island cannot be confirmed. You may be subject to gravel, dirt, and even volcanic rock as roads! Once again, all the more reason to rent out a 4×4 for your travel.
Another (literal) roadblock are the road closures that tourists are subject to. Sometimes they may be closed by lava flow, other times they are written off as private property or for “local use only.” Whatever the case, have a backup plan ready for any POIs that become inaccessible.
Given Hawaii’s biodiversity, a good percentage of the island is also covered in natural reserves. Though their sights may be great, most of it is inaccessible to the public. A quick search on Google Maps will find you with many reserves on the Big Island, but empty-handed on details.
Note: A token few places are not at all accessible by car, in which case one must use a helicopter, UTVs, or horseback riding (all of which are great experiences!)
Big Island Guide: Stay
There are many different types of accommodations on every part of the island, allowing you to pick and choose based on location, price, and features. On the Big Island, there are:
- High-end beachfront resorts that provide the typical taste of paradise, mostly in the big cities
- Family-owned bed and breakfasts for a cozy, homely experience
- “Villages” in smaller towns that offer rooms at a more affordable rate
- Avant-garde hostels that provide experiencess offered by no other (see Open Gate Hostel for an expample)
The majority of people (I would estimate ~75%) choose to stay in one hotel, in one place for their entire stay. DO NOT DO THIS! This severely limits your options to explore the whole island, especially as it will take the whole day just to drive to further locations. As you’ll come to know, the size of the island will be a roadblock to you on your pursuit of fun should you stick to popular locations like Kona.
In general, housing on the Big Island is not too expensive, as long as you book ahead of time.
Big Island Guide: Activities
There are experiences for everyone in Hawaii; activities range from the typical island paradise to ones that you can get almost nowhere else in the world.
Imagine ziplining over any one of these beautiful waterfalls!
Here are some of the activities one can do:
- driving and sightseeing
- snorkeling and scuba diving
- animal tours/experiences (dolphins, turtles, octopuses, etc.)
- sailing/sea kayaking/rafting
- cultural events (ex. luaus, museums)
- coffee tours (farm + tasting experience)
- chopper tours
Whatever type of trip you want to create, the Big Island has got you covered!
Big Island Guide: General Thoughts on the Island
On my time on the Big Island, I’ve noticed some trends across the Big Island, such as:
- It offers what other islands can’t. Although each island has its own specialties and unique environment, there’s none quite like our Island of Hawaii. Here, we have tall mountains, an active volcano, altitude and climate diversity, black, white, and green sand beaches (one of only FOUR green beaches in the world), and wildlife above and below water like Manta Rays.
- The Big Island has a different vibe than its sister Islands of Maui and Oahu. From my experience, the latter two have the busy, bustling Hawaiian experience; whether it be the beaches or the resorts. The Island of Hawai’i, on the other hand, is more laid-back and quiet. It seems less designed for tourists and more focused towards the average Hawaiian resident. However, that doesn’t in any way detract from the experience you will have. You get an opportunity to explore authentic sights and tastes just like a true Hawaiian, and revel in their activities. But at the same time, you can get the same Maui/Oahu experience in places like Kailua-Kona.
- The environment is very diverse here; both natural and human. On the island, there are forests, grasslands, lava fields, mountains, rocky and sandy beaches, jungles, grasslands, deserts, and everything in between. Simply more things to see! As for civilization, the Big Island has cities and resorts to quaint villages to odd hippie spots to ghost towns; once again, something for everyone.
- It’s huge. Well, it’s in the name, isn’t it? Yes, but significantly so. It’s nearly 8 times as large as Oahu, with a wide range of terrain in terms of traversability. You would be hard-pressed to complete this Island in less than a week, much less a “Big Island in 1 Day” experience. Expect to have to plan more and spend more time to get the complete adventure.
Big Island Guide: The Plan
This is the end of Big Island Guide. Now that you’ve gotten a proper look into Hawaii’s Big Island through Big Island Guide, it’s time to get to exploring! Come join us on a 7-day adventure as we circle and cross the entire Island to discover America’s hidden paradise! Your trip will look like this:
- 2 Days in Waikoloa + Waimea
- 1 Day on the Road to Hilo
- 1 Day in Volcanoes National Park
- 1 Day in Puna and Ascending Mauna Kea
- 1 Day in Ka’u (South Big Island)
- 1 Day in Kailua-Kona
It’s about to be the ride of your life. We’ll see you on the road!
Big Island Guide and the Hawaiian Collection is written by Adi L
Big Island Guide is part of the Big Island of Hawaii Collection. Other articles in this series include:
- Mahana Beach Green Sand Beach In Hawaii (Papakolea)
- Hawaiian Food: Things You Need to Try on the Big Island
- Seeing a Live Volcano in Volcanoes National Park!
- Manta Ray Night Dive: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
- Best Beaches on the Big Island
- First Time Ziplining? This Article is for You