- Travel Guide
- Big Island
Big Island Experiences
Big Island, also known as Hawaii Island, is the youngest and largest island in the Hawaiian chain, but it’s remarkable for more than just its size. Picture yourself visiting Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, or talk story with a cultural demonstrator at Puuhonua o Honaunau, a historic park that was once a place of refuge. Whether you’re walking on a black sand beach, snorkeling with manta rays, and horseback riding in Waimea or sailing along the Kona Coast, Hawaii, the Big Island is your island for adventure.
About Big Island
It’s easy to feel awed on Hawaii Island. From the molten magma flowing from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the snow-capped heights of Maunakea; from the green rainforests of the Hamakua Coast to the jet-black sands of Punaluu Beach; Hawaii Island is an unrivaled expression of the power of nature.
To avoid confusion with the name of the entire state, the Island of Hawaii is often called the “Big Island,” and what an appropriate name it is. Nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, its sheer size can be inspiring. You’ll find all but two of the world's climatic zones within this island’s shores.
Big Island Geography & Maps
The Big Island is the largest island in the Hawaiian chain with climatic contrasts across its 7 main regions: Kona, Hilo, Kohala Coast, North Kohala, the Hamakua Coast, Puna and Kau.
Big Island is 4,028 sq. miles, so big in fact, the other Hawaiian Islands could fit on it nearly twice. Yet Hawaii Island is the youngest in the Hawaiian chain, a mere 800,000 years old. This is also home to Maunakea which is the tallest sea mountain in the world, with a summit that stands 13,796 feet above sea level, and rises over 32,000 feet from its base on the ocean floor, making it taller than Mt. Everest. Maunaloa is the most massive mountain in the world, covering half the island. But Hawaii Island is most famous for Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupting continuously since 1983.
Big Island FAQs
●Where is the main airport on Big Island?Travel to Kona International Airport (KOA) in Kona to the west or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in Hilo to the east. Most visitors arrive in Kona. There is also the option of flying into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) first and then taking a short, 35-40 minute flight to Big Island.
●Do I need a car to get around Big Island?We recommend a rental car for flexibility and ease, and we strongly suggest booking before you arrive. All the major rental companies are found on Big Island. There are also guided tours of every type from bus tours and taxis to private limos.
●Where are the major hotel and resort areas on Big Island?Major resort destinations on Big Island include the Kohala Coast, Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) and Keauhou, both in Kona. There are hotels and accommodations in Hilo and Puna on the east side closer to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
●When is a good time to visit Big Island?Anytime of year is a good time to visit Hawaii Island. At sea level, the average summer temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit, 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Trade winds keep things comfortable year-round. Whale watching season runs from December through May, with peak whale watching months between January and early April.
●How far is it from Kona International Airport (KOA) to:
- Hapuna Beach Park: 30 minutes
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 3 hours, 15 minutes
- Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona): 15 minutes
- Keauhou: 25 minutes
- Kealakekua Bay: 45 minutes
- Waimea: 45 minutes
●How far is it from Hilo International Airport (ITO) to:
- Hapuna Beach Park: 1 hour, 45 minutes
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 45 minutes
- Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona): 2 hours, 30 minutes
- Waimea: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Big Island Weather
Weather on all of the Hawaiian Islands is consistent, offering only minor changes in temperature throughout the year. There are really only two seasons: the summer months that extend from May to October and the winter months that run from November to April. The average daytime summer temperature at sea level is 85 degrees F. (29.4 C), while the average daytime winter temperature is 78 degrees (25.6 C). Temperatures at night are approximately 10 degrees F. lower. However, at higher elevations, temperatures can drop dramatically.
Hawaii Island is an incredible collection of many diverse micro-environments, each with its own weather. You can travel through all but two of the world’s different climate zones on Hawaii ranging from Wet Tropical to Polar Tundra, a result of the shielding effect and elevations of the massive volcanoes Maunakea and Maunaloa.
Big Island History
The youngest island in the archipelago, Big Island was believed to be the first island Polynesian voyagers from the Marquesas Islands set foot on 1,500 years ago at Ka Lae (South Point). You can explore early Hawaiian culture today at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park. This last place of refuge for kapu (taboo) breakers on the Kona Coast, is a 180-acre, completely restored compound offering an authentic look at Native Hawaiian temple ruins, royal grounds, fish ponds, sacred burial spots and petroglyphs from before western contact.
In 1778, Captain Cook arrived on Kauai, opening the door to an influx of westerners. Only a year later on Big Island, warriors at Kealakekua Bay killed Cook after a contentious chain of events. Today, a monument stands in this marine life preserve in honor of Captain Cook.
During this time of discovery, Big Island was divided into separate chiefdoms and war between factions was common. In 1790-1791, Kamehameha built the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site in North Kohala as a tribute to the war god Kukailimoku to help in his efforts to unite the Hawaiian Islands. This was the last major religious heiau (religious temple) built by early Hawaiians and the largest restored heiau in Hawaii. Soon after completion, the Kohala-born Kamehameha conquered Hawaii Island and went on to unify the Hawaiian Kingdom.
In 1820, the first missionaries arrived in Kailua-Kona. Mokuaikaua Church on Alii Drive in Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) still stands and is in use today. Other westerners followed, introducing cattle to the island. Sugar plantations also bloomed on the Hilo side in the 20th century.
Today, Big Island remains a vital touchstone for Hawaiian culture. Throughout its modernization, one ancient Hawaiian god is believed to be alive and well here. Pele, the volcano goddess, has settled in Kilauea Volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park after moving south along the island chain. She continues to display her power today, keeping Kilauea in a constant state of eruption since 1983.