Big Island of Hawaii things to do and things to know. Aloha and welcome to the 'Orchid Isle' or simply 'The Big Island.' We call it the 'Big Island' because many people are easily confused that the Big Island of Hawaii actually has the same name as the state itself - Hawaii. For that reason, we always refer to the island as 'The Big Island' to help avoid confusion. The Big Island of Hawaii is an island of incredible diversity and being larger than all the other islands in the chain twice over, the Big Island really is just that, Big! The beauty of the island and its eclectic nature are only surpassed by the fact that this island is actually still growing by the day, adding some 500+ new acres to its landmass since 1983. Kilauea on the southeastern coast remains one of the worlds most active volcanoes, erupting continuously since 1984.
Things to Know
The Big Island of Hawai'i seems determined to break the norm, the stereotype of the average tropical island that is. Here you'll find the ongoing battle between green forests, black lava fields, the ocean, and the rain almost incomprehensible, the diversity is simply stunning. You may find yourself wondering, is this an ancient landscape or a future one? On the Big Island it's always best to expect the unexpected. Even the beaches don't follow the rules here. It's almost easier to find a black sand beach than a white one, and if you're adventurous enough, you can even sink your toes into one of the world's few green sand beaches.
For travelers looking for activities to partake in on the island, the Big Island won't disappoint. Tours are plentiful from AV riding to horseback tours, from snorkeling to hiking adventures. Golfers will also be pleased with the fact that the Big Island is loaded with a variety of golf courses - making it the best island in the state to play a round or two. The island is also home to the largest privately owned ranch in the United States - Parker Ranch. You'll also have an abundant selection of accommodations available, form multimillion dollar resorts along the Gold Kohala coast to quaint Inn's in Volcano town. No matter what you're looking for on your trip or vacation, you're sure to find it somewhere on the Big Island of Hawaii; the islands diversity and beauty are unmatched in the islands.
Here are a few numbers that may surprise you. The Big Island of Hawaii actually contains 11 of the worlds 13 climate zones, all on an island that's just a tad over 4,000 square miles (and growing). The Big Island of Hawaii, composed of five major volcanoes, makes up an incredible 60+% of the state's total landmass. While it may be a balmy 78 on the coast during the winter, you can often find snow upon the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa; making the Big Island one of the only places in the world you can surf and snowboard in the same day. Considered the most ecologically diverse of all the major islands, the Big Island of Hawaii contains an incredibly vast range of natural environments just waiting to be explored.
Weather on the Big Island also changes dramatically depending on your location. Temperatures usually range from the mid-70's to mid-80's in winter and summer respectively. As you head mauka (inland) and to higher elevations the temperature can become much colder very quickly. Even the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at around 4,000ft can be quite nippy some mornings. Atop Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa freezing temperatures are not uncommon. Hilo is the wettest city in the entire United States, while Kailua-Kona, on the opposite side of the island, is one of the driest. Be prepared for the diversity in weather when you visit the island. Read more about the Big Island of Hawaii Weather.
Top Things to Do
As we previously noted, the island was sculpted from five major volcanoes - Kohala, Hualalai, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. Each is worth exploring during your vacation or trip. Mauna Loa is the worlds most massive mountain, and Mauna Kea is the tallest in the Pacific; plus it's actually the tallest in the world from base to summit. Kilauea, as noted, is considered by many to be the world's most active volcano. Each volcano tells a story of the geologic history of the island, and they are all worth exploring as time allows. It's a million year journey in the making, and the story is ongoing. A few miles offshore is what many believe to be the newest part of the Big Island in another 50,000 years or so - the Lo`ihi sea mount. In time it may become the sixth peak of the Big Island.
With over 260 linear miles of coastline, you simply can't miss some of the 100+ beautiful beaches that make up the Big Island's coastline. Ironically, finding a typical Hawaiian white sand beach might be a challenge here. You're more likely to find one of the common salt and pepper or black sand beaches (like Punaluu Beach) on the Big Island. If you know where to look, you can also discover the remarkable Papakolea Green Sand Beach along the south shore, where sand is made up of olivine crystals from the cinder cone that backs the beach. And hidden along the coastline north of Kailua-Kona you'll discover the rarer soft white sand beaches like Makalawena beach.
The town of Hilo on the east coast is definitely worth a visit; and it has an incredible market that is held here each Saturday and Wednesday from dawn 'till it's gone, year round. Hilo is the wettest city in the country averaging over 100 inches annually. Hilo emits a more local and tropical vibe than Kailua-Kona on the west side of the island. Be sure to make time to visit the Liliuokalani Gardens and Wailuku River State Park (including Rainbow Falls and Pe`epe`e Falls) for more incredible scenery.
Located on the northwest shore, Kohala has the official claim of being the sunniest spot on the island - if not the state. Averaging just a few meager inches of rain a year, the area is filled with luxury resorts. The area also has a rich cultural history including one of the state's largest heiau at Puukohola. Kohala also has some of the islands best beaches, like Hapuna Beach.
On the other side of Kohala is the incredible Waipio Valley. For the Hawaiian people, Waipi'o is more than just a beautiful place, it holds deep spiritual significance. Often called the "Valley of the Kings," Waipio was home to many ali'i (ruling class). King Kamehameha received a statue of his war god, Ku, here and was told he would one day rule the islands (which he went on to do). Because of its fertility, Waipio has become a rich farming area, producing abundant taro and bananas, even to present day. Along the north Kohala coast is the Pololu Valley, and while not as big as Waipio, it's also worth exploring.
Along the southwest coast, below Kailua-Kona town, you'll definitely want to check out Puuhonua o Honaunau Historical Park, or 'Place of Refuge.' Right next to the park is one of the best snorkeling locations on the island at Two Step.
For more tips on which places you absolutely must see, be sure to view our Best Big Island Vacation Activities article.