Heavenly Hawaii (Big Island)
If you like pina coladas, the sight of hips swaying in a grass skirt, Elvis, swimming with turtles, diving among coral reefs or catching the perfect wave, then this could be the place for you. Hawaii’s Big Island is ideal for an inexpensive trip to paradise, where the nearest continent is more than 3,200km (2,000 miles) away.
Otherwise known as the ‘Orchid Isle’ – thanks to the 30,000 species of the exotic flower found on it – the Big Island is more than double the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined! Clearly, the naming committee went for stating the obvious rather than the poetic, but perhaps that was because there’s so much to see and do on the Big Island that it’s almost impossible to favour just one thing.
Experience the thrill of watching glowing magma spew from some of Earth’s largest volcanoes, and wander the eerie lava moonscape to return to white sandy beaches,mountain trails or rainforests – all in a day’s adventure.
Not quite America, not quite Asia, Hawaii unites myriad cultures on a volcanic archipelago in the island scatter that is Polynesia. The urban crux of the state is Honolulu of course, the city that always seems to top the Mercer Global quality of life index in the U.S. From Waikiki to Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, discover the top 10 in the Aloha State capital and city where Barack Obama came of age.
Big Island's Top 10
10. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Of its five volcanoes, two (Mauna Loa and Kilauea) are active. Kilauea has been belching lava continuously for nearly three decades. Gulp!
5. Pine Trees Surfing Break Dudes! This rocky beach is totally rad (no pine trees, though).
9. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park An oceanfront expanse of unforgiving lava rock interspersed with fish ponds, ancient temples, petroglyphs and burial caves.
4. Thurston Lava Tube Ever wanted to walk inside a lava tube? Here’s your chance. Reach it via an ohla forest teaming with native bird.
8. Mo’okini Luakini Heiau A monolithic ancient temple and sacred site where kings and chiefs would pray, fast and make human sacrifices away from prying eyes…
3. Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Over 2,000 drawings have been chiselled into the lava by early Hawaiians, making this the world’s largest petroglyph site.
7. Imiloa Astronomy Centre Offers a glimpse of the creation mythology of two seemingly unrelated groups - native Hawaiians and modern astronomers.
2. Rainbow Falls Houses the ancient cave home of Hina, mother of Maui. The waterfall creates a daily rainbow in the morning sun… like the world beginning all over. Magical!
6. Kahaluu Bay Want to snorkel amongst brightly coloured tropical fish and green sea turtles? This is the place.
1. Coffee Shack Great name, great views, not-so-great coffee… But a beer on the open deck is definitely in order!
- Puuhonua of Honaunau National Historical Park - This historical park is a wonderful place to learn about the history of the island.
- Mookini Heiau State Monument - This temple is over 1,500 years old and was once the site of human sacrifice.
- Puukoholoa Heiau Historical Site - This site is home to one of the largest temples in Hawaii.
- Keauhou - A site of a famous battle on Hawaii Island, this place also contains a famous burial ground.
- Kealakekua Bay - This historical site is where Captain James Cook first landed on the island of Hawaii.
Hawaii Art & Culture
- Waimea - This ranch offers a chance to see how Hawaiian cowboys from the 1800s lived and worked.
- Na Mea Hawaii Hula Kahiko - These traditional dancers perform at various locations on the island.
- Hawaiian Guitar Festival - This November festival features some of the best guitar players in Hawaii.
- Merrie Monarch Festival - This festival kicks off in March and is the best place to see traditional Hawaiian dancing.
- Pacific Tsunami Museum - Travellers can learn about the natural history of this island.
- Keauhou Shopping Center - This open-air plaza features more than 40 shops selling a variety of items.
- King’s Shops - This is one of the largest retail shopping centres on the island.
- Prince Kuhio Plaza - This plaza claims to be the largest indoor shopping experience in Hawaii.
- Hilo Shopping Center - Another of Hawaii’s largest shopping plazas, this is a great place to buy souvenirs.
- Kona Coast Shopping Center - A great place to buy traditional Hawaiian wares and souvenirs.
Gay & Lesbian Hawaii
- Rainbow Handbook Hawai’I - This popular publication offers all the latest information for the gay and lesbian traveller in Hawaii.
- Absolute Paradise B&B - Access to a nude beach makes this a popular spot for gays and lesbians.
- Out in Hawaii - Provides resources for the gay and lesbian traveller while on the big island of Hawaii.
- Hawaii Island Pride - This annual festival brings gays and lesbians from all over the world.
- Mask Bar - The best and oldest gay bar on the island.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - This national park features some of the largest active volcanoes in the world.
- W.M. Keck Observatory - This observatory is found on the summit of Mt Kea and offers great views of Hawaii.
- Volcano Winery - Take a stroll around this famous Hawaiian winery, then stop for a glass of local wine.
- Dolphin Quest - This is a great way to interact with dolphins while staying in Hawaii.
- Atlantis Submarines - Offering a safe way to go more than 100 feet below the surface to see Hawaii’s abundant sea life.
- Start your Hawaiian water adventure at Big Island Water Sports.
- Surf's up at Hawaiian Island Surf and Sport, one of the oldest surf shops on Hawaii.
- Catch a fish and adventure with Big Island Sport Fishing.
- Swim with the sharks with North Shore Shark Adventure in Hawaii.
- Ride a bike around the island of Hawaii with Dirt Mountain Biking Adventure.
Big Islands Events
April brings the Merrie Monarch Festival, which is the world’s biggest hula competition. Sounds slightly tacky, but is fantastic entertainment and goes a long way to preserving and explaining traditional practices.
The Orchid Show in mid-May is a colourful extravaganza of exotic flowers.
July’s Hawaiian Healing Garden and Mango Festival is an all-day festival celebrating… the mango! Tastings, plant sales, grafting and growing demos, art and crafts, music, hula and all manner of mango-themed fun.
The Aloha Festival arrives on the Big Island in September. Fun, fun and more fun!
Most places have Christmas Festivities from mid-November. But only the Big Island can boast that volcano celebrations form part of them!
When To Go
- April/May and September/October are both great times to nab a travel bargain and beat the crowds.
- Mid-December to mid-April is the peak tourist season, and thus more expensive. You’ll need to make reservations early.
- November to March is the rainy season, though the temperature is fairly constant year-round at a balmy 28ºC (82ºF).
- Make use of the free Hele-On Bus service. Check timetables before venturing out.
- Hiring a car is the best way to get around at your own pace.
The Big Island, or Island of Hawaii, is home to some of the most spectacular volcanic scenery in the world. While the tourism fortunes of other destinations in the state rest heavily on beach resorts, the Big Island can always count on Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Liquid magma still spews forth from the former as the result of a 1983 eruption. The Kilauea Visitor Center features wonderful exhibits on the active volcano.
In terms of sheer size, no other volcano on Earth comes close to Mauna Loa. Active for over 700,000 years, the natural wonder is the central element of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. The Big Island is not all lava and volcanic ash of course, although much of the coastline features black sand. Still, this is Hawaii after all and the Big Island contains a slew of world class spots for surfers and beach lovers.
With idyllic weather throughout the year, temperatures on the Big Island of Hawaii remain steady between 18°C and 29°C.