Big Island – Overview, Visit Planning and Tips


The Big Island (officially named Hawaii) is the largest island in the United States' Hawaiian archipelago in the Central Pacific.

Its diverse terrain spans from tropical sand beaches, large lava rock fields, lush rainforest, rushing rivers and waterfalls, the most active volcano on earth, and snowy cap high mountains at winter.


Unique to the Big Island is the world-famous Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can find 2 active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.


We visited the Big Island at Dec. 2021, during the Covid 19 pandemic, for 6 days.

This was our first visit at Big Island. We enjoy it very much even though we had several rainy days during our stay, especially when we went to visit the east south side of the island.


On top of the “classic” and expected Hawaiian weather and beach’s activities, the Big Island has a lot more to offer for people that like nature, hiking, adventures, and outdoors.

The Big Island offers yellow sand beach for relaxation, coral snorkeling experience with tropical jungles, countless impressive waterfalls, secluded jungle valleys and to visit one the most active volcano in the world.

You can combine a half day trip to a nature destination, or if you like ATV/Zipline adventure with half day relax beach activity, you also have few recommended options to dedicate a full day for nature day-trip.


Link to other Big Islands Blog posts:


Important note:

I do not cover in my blogs aspects like hotel/resorts recommendations, restaurants, touristic places, golf, diving, or shopping.

I also do not cover some tourist attractions like surf schools or surfing locations, diving, ATV, horses, guided tours, boat tours, evening activities and shows, …

I focus mainly on nature, outdoor activity, beaches, hiking and places you can visit.

Few Big Island Facts:

·       located in the state of Hawaii. It is the southeasternmost of the Hawaiian Islands, a chain of volcanic islands in the North Pacific Ocean.

·       With an area of 4,028 square miles (10,430 km2), it has 63% of the Hawaiian archipelago's combined landmass.

·       The Island is large by size but has only 13% of Hawaiʻi's population (just below 200,000 people).

·       At its center, the island is 93 miles (150 km) across.

·       The Big Island has 5 volcano mountains, 2 of them are still active today.

·       Measured from its sea floor base to its highest peak, Mauna Kea 13,803 feet (4,207m) is the world's base-to-summit tallest mountain. It snows on the top of the high mountains.

·       Mauna Loa is the biggest by volume volcano on earth and is south side is protected by Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

·       The Big Island is the “youngest” island in the chain of Hawaii islands and has the fewest major long sandy beaches.

·       The diverse island landscape contains seven ecological zones: coast, lowland, mid-elevation woodland, rain forest, upland forest, subalpine, and alpine as well as lava flows and the most active volcano on earth.





The Big Island has a tropical climate, but this really applies to the coastal regions of low elevation at the east side of the island.

Temperatures at sea level are usually in the 85 – 90°F range during the summer and in the 79 – 83°F range during the winter.

The highest mountain peaks at the Big Island reaches nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. It usually snows on the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa from December to March.

Yor specific elevation above sea level will affect your temperature greatly.


Generally, the Big Island receives most precipitation from October to April, and conditions are typically drier for the rest of the months.

The most important weather phenomenon to understand here is a rain shadow. A rain shadow occurs when clouds arriving from the east and they must rise to pass over the island high mountains. When this happens, the clouds give larger amounts of rain at the east side of the Island, as a result the Hilo side of the island (east) is considerably rainier than the Kona side (west).

The best place to view this rain shadow effect is to drive from Kohala to Hilo. You are starting at a dry landscape with almost no trees and grass, and you are reaching into a lush green rainforest near Hilo.

These weather patterns also explain the nature of beaches on the Big Island. It’s not a coincidence that most of the best beaches on the island are along the Kohala Coast, but not just because it’s nice to be on the beach during a sunny day.


You can describe the Big Island as 5 “sections”: Hilo, Kona, The west Oceanfront from Kona to Waikoloa, Northeast side of the island, and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park at the south side of the island.



This is the largest towns in the Big Island, you can find here many hotels and resorts as also smaller less pricey places.

Hilo location at mouth of a large bay on the east central side of the island, this side receive a lot of rain and it is not considered as the main truistic side of the island.

People may stay at Hilo for few days to visit local attractions, shorter drive daytrip to the nearby Volcano National Park or the northeast coastal attractions. Tourist do not stay here for beaches activities.



The main tourist town and a large business center for this side of the island.

Although Kona town do not have large sandy beaches, most of them are located north of the city, you can find here nice small ocean beaches near town and there are many other tourist attractions and activities.


The Ocean Front from Kona to Waikoloa:

The 30 miles Highway 19 from Kona to Waikoloa is the main area of hotels, resorts, and beaches; you can find here all what you are expecting to see at Hawaii tourist locations, many restaurants, shopping malls and other facilities you may need as a tourist.

Here you will also have the main island airport (Kona International Airport).


North side of the island:

This is the less visited section of the island with only few towns and tourist attractions. You can’t drive around the tip of the island and once you reach the end of the road at Pololū Valley you must drive back.


Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and the south side of the Island:

The large nations park and the two active volcanoes with their relatively recent large lava flows spread on most of the southeastern section of the island.

You can drive to this section of the island both from Hilo and from Kona using Highway 11. On top of visiting the volcanoes and lava related attractions you can find here, at the south side of the island, few others tourist attractions, and beaches. “South Point” is the most southern point of Hawaii archipelago.


The center of the Big Island:

The heart of the Big Island landscape is controlled by 2 large volcano mountains, the Mauna Kea from the north and the much larger in size the Mauna Loa at the south sections.

The mass volcano mountains with the large area of exposed lava fields with relatively less rain and almost no vegetation is completely different landscape from other part of the island.

With Mauna Kea high elevation, dry environment, and stable airflow, Mauna Kea's summit is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. The road leading to it summit sections may be close midway so check before your trip.




It is highly recommended to have a rental car for the duration of your visit. You will need the car to get to your hotel, visiting nearby beaches or even longer day trip to many of the Big Island attractions.

I highly recommend renting a real 4x4 while drive car, this is especially if you are planning to drive to Waipi'o Valley or visit the Green Beach, both can only be reach by 4x4 car or by hiking.


Main Island Roads:

The Big Island shape is like the geometry of rhombus, the main island airport is near Kona at the west center side of the island, the city of Hilo is at the east center side of the island.

At the southwest you can find the Volcanoes National Park, at the northwest the rain forest and Waipi'o Valley.

Most of the island recommended tropical beaches are located at the Northwest side of the island.


Highway 11 circle the island from it south side and Highway 19 circle the island from the west to the north. The cities of Hilo and Kona are connected in the 60 miles wide section of the island by highway 200 the climb the high section of the island.

Be aware that the most northern tip of the island (highway 270) is not connected with any road on it west side (need to drive south the same way you went north).


The roads at the island are mainly located at the edge of the mountains following the ocean coastline. Most of the road in the island are one lane in each direction but they are in good conditions and well-marked.

highway 200 that is connecting Hilo and Kona towns is good and even have two lenses at the uphill sections.

In two-lane road, make sure not to pass cars when it is not allowed or not safe, be patient, overall drives are not very long and 5 more minutes on the road will not change anything…. Accident on the other way will ….



My list of the “Must Do things” at the Big Island:

·       Beaches: Probably the most beautiful beach in the Big Island are Mahai'ula beach and Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.

·       Visit Waipi'o Valley, drive or hike all the way to the ocean beach below.

·       Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and hiking to Hale Ma'uma'u Volcano Crater viewing point.

·       Visit the Rainbow waterfalls at Hilo


Things we did not manage to do and probably should be on the “must do list”:

Punaluʻu Black Beach

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Night Manta-ray adventure.



Our visit activities, in high level:

·       We stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa large complex located less than 30 min drive north of the Kona airport. We arrived late at the afternoon and by the time we arrive to the hotel it was already dark.

·       Waking early before sunrise, short hike at local beaches near the hotel.

·       Beach day at Mahai'ula beach

·       Half day beach activity at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area

·       Day trip to Volcanoes National Park, returning late at night to our hotel.

·       Day trip to Waipiʻo Valley (including driving to the ocean beach) and visiting Akaka Falls State Park.

·       Half a day trip to the north side of the island, visiting Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and hiking to Pololū Valley.

·       ATV adventure tour near Kona (

·       Zipline at Botanical World Adventures (

·       Watch the movie Spiderman

·       Our flight back home was at noon


Stay at one place or move between Kona and Hilo:

As the island name indicate, this is relatively a big island and there are attractions at the west side of the island and on the east side of the island.

Although the island is big you can visit any location with one day trip, additional 2 hours’ drive to a specific location can be long and consume a lot of your visit time.

The beaches and main resorts/hotels are located on the west side of the island, it receives less rain and has more sandy beaches. You probably want to set your main stay at the island at this area.

Staying at the west side of the island allow you to be more flexible with your visit schedule. If there is rain at a specific day it is less preferred to plan for beach activity, rain can be only at the afternoon so you can have warm beach day at the morning.


Another option is to sleep for 2 nights at Hilo and the rest of your visit at the west side.

I wrote below few pro/cons consideration for changing you location. You can do it either way, stay in one place or change location, at the end it is more a matter of preference if you want to change hotel or not. We decided to stay in one hotel and dedicate day trips to the remote locations on the other side of the island.


·       A lot more time at Hilo, explore the town attractions, markets, and gardens.

·       Shorter drive allow you to have more time at your location and not in your car.

·       Have a lot shorter drive to Volcanoes National Park and the south side of the island.

·       Local city drives to nearby waterfalls viewing and cave.

·       Short drive north to Akaka Falls State Park and Waipi'o valley.

·       Not having long day trips drives and you can plan to come back to the hotel before sunset.


·       You are less flexible in your trip schedule. When you are staying at Hilo you “must” visit the nearby attractions, even if this is the only warm sunny days of your week stay.

·       Need to pack your stuff and move between hotels, on top of the hassle of packing and unpacking this move consume time and “energy”.

·       Longer drive to/from the Airport.



Hilton Waikoloa Village Hotel:

At our Dec. 2021 visit to the Big Island, we stayed in the Hilton Waikoloa Village large hotel complex, located at Kona side of the island.

Overall was great experience despite the initial concern that the car is far away from the room, we took what was needed at the beginning of the day and it was OK.


·       Great location in the island, this is the dryer and sunnier section of the Big Island

·       The hotel is 20 min away from the airport, many other beaches in 30 min driving distance.

·       We did few full day trips to the other side of the island.

·       Reasonable rooms (we were 2 adults and 2 children 16, 21 and it was cool, no kitchen in the room).

·       Few Hotel restaurants that are open until 10 at night

·       Nearby you can find large commercial center with many restaurants, Shops and even cinema.

·       The hotel's beach is very suitable for small children,

·       For families with small kids the hotel does have inner lagoon beach, safe and protected from ocean waves.

·       In the hotel there is a dolphin pool

·       The huge central pool is not overcrowded

·       Pool and Jacuzzi are open 24 hours ...


·       This is a very large complex with 3 hotels, a lot of other tourists.

·       You Park your car at a large external parking lot, from our room to the car it was 20-minute walk.

·       The hotel complex is so big so there is a "train" but it is insanely slow, we only used it when we were with the suitcases.

·       The hotel does not have an ocean front sandy beach, for beach activity you probably need to drive to nearby beaches (there are many beaches, even within 5-minute drive).

·       Only few active cafes, long line in the morning


Things we did not have the time to do at this trip:

·       Snorkel at the best beaches.

·       Hawaiian luau feast and entertainment

·       We did not have the time to visit the south section of the island or spend more time at the volcano national park

·       Punaluʻu Black Beach

·       The most southern point of Hawaii and the nearby Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

·       Although this activity was recommended by friends, we did not have the time to have the Night manta ray adventure.

·       Coffee Plantation & Farm

·       Hilo Food market

·       Liliuokalani Gardens at Hilo

·       Kaumana Caves near Hilo

Few Tips:

·       After arriving the Big Island, you will probably have jetlag at the first few days, use it to your advantage:

o   If you are planning to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and you have long drive, better to do it early morning right after your arrival.

o   You can always have your morning hike/jog at sunrise, discover more beaches when they are still empty.

o   Try to see the sunrise in picture worthy locations…

·       This time we did not had kitchen in our hotel room, make sure to have your dinner when restaurants are still open.

·       If your hotel room has a full kitchen and a place to eat in the room, this may simplify you dining options. Not only that this will reduce your overall trip cost (everything in Hawaii is expensive) but also will enable you to be flexible with your dining options.

·       If you are staying at some resort, check if there is an external barbeque (usually near the pool), it is much nicer and faster to prepare your meet over there than inside the room kitchen.

·       You can buy boogie, surfing boards and snorkeling gear at Costco. If not, there are places that are renting such equipment.

·       For most cases, the popular beaches in the Big Island have public access and restrooms, need to look for the right public parking place and find the trail to the beach.

·       Always take your valuables with you and leave the car without any “attractive” items (like bags).

·       The ocean corals are being killed and damaged by sunscreen, please use environmentally safe (mineral based) sunscreens.

·       As in any other place, google map is the way to find and reach your destination. Do remember that in some places you will not have a reception so set your destination and driving instructions before leaving.

·       There are options to have overnight campground at the Big Island, I will not cover this aspect in my blogs.

·       When hiking jungle trails, especially in the rainy sections of the island, wear good shoes as the trail can get muddy after rain and walking with flipflops can be difficult and slippery.

·       No matter what the weather at your hotel is, bring light rain gear with you, it can always rain at the east side of the island.

·       Many are renting jeeps or other 4x4 vehicle; this is needed if you are planning to visit Waipi'o Valley or visit the Green Beach. If you are driving with your roof off be prepared for rain showers, especially at the east side of the island.

·       Bring with you a mosquito repellant for jungle trails.

·       When getting into the see for swimming be careful, in most beaches there is no active lifeguard.

·       Be cautious and maintain alert for choppy seas and breaking waves. Users of kayaks and paddle board must be aware of strong wind and current conditions that can carry you offshore.

·       In many beaches there is no shade at all, so it is highly recommended to bring with you a small beach ambarella.

·       If you are driving up Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, bring warm cloth, especially at winter. It can be very cold and even snowy at the high altitudes.



More Pictures: