he Big Island is often called the Orchid Isle for its heavy blankets of fragrant blossoms, but its given its official name to avoid confusion with the other islands of Kauai, Maui and Oahu. In the past, the name Hawaii was used to describe both the chain of islands and the Big Island of Hawaii itself. The Big Island Hawaii is twice as large as the other islands combined and with two volcanoes still active, one which is the most volatile in the world, the island continues growing. Mauna Kea and Kohala are Big Island’s extinct volcanoes while Hualalai is considered dormant. The volcanoes are an integral part of Hawaii and create fascinating landscapes and backdrops that attract thousands each year.
Literally divided in half by a mountain range, the eastern part of the Big Island is hit by southwest trade winds bringing an onslaught of rainy Hawaiian weather. The clouds can’t reach the leeward, or west side until they jettison their rain along the windward coast. This creates a major distinction, and a naturally curious ecosystem as the south is riddled with rain while Kohala and Kona, the most popular destinations on the Big Island of Hawaii, take in less than 10 inches annually. Hilo, a popular stop on a Big Island vacation, is an excellent town to visit on the east coast but not recommended for extended stays.
There are several terrific attractions to visit in and around Hilo along the windward side during a Big Island vacation. Traveling north, you’ll reach Akaka Falls and it’s smaller mate, Kahuna Falls. Further northeast is Mauna Kea, a snow-capped volcanic mountain most popular for incredible star gazing opportunities. Big Island tours to the summit are really popular and with some of the world’s most powerful telescopes, visibility is amazing. Big Island activities at Mauna Kea also include a trip to the visitors center and sunset tours. Liliuokalani Garden is perfect for a relaxing afternoon visit. A stroll around the garden, some people-watching and a picnic caps off an afternoon and slows the pace down.
The Big Island Hawaii is also well known for its fun events and holidays. When in the area on a Big Island vacation don’t miss any current events or you’ll miss a chance to experience the Aloha spirit at its finest. In April Big Island activities include attending the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo. With total emphasis on Hawaiian history and culture, the week-long festival hosts demonstrations, craft fairs, art exhibits, exciting performances, a large parade and a three-day hula competition! Each year in Kona, Big Island Hawaii hosts the Ironman Triathlon World Championships which kicks off in October. Coffee lovers flock to the fun Kona Coffee Festival each year in November to taste world renowned Kona coffee.
There are so many Big Island activities to enjoy that a well-planned trip is the best way to go. Popular tours include snorkeling, whale watching, scuba diving, dolphin sails and helicopter tours. Horseback riding, Hawaii hiking, cycling, and scenic drives are also great ways to see more of the island’s stunning landscape. Volcanoes National Park is a must-see on a list of things to do on the Big Island and can be explored in many ways, for a few hours or a few days. Big Island beaches are unique and display golden, green and black sand. Though smaller in number than the other islands, they exhibit a raw, powerful beauty and many are great for an afternoon of family seaside fun.
An important aspect to know is the Big Island of Hawaii is not easily driven around. The loop encompasses more than 200 miles and stopping to see attractions makes the trip much longer. Visitors can make an adventure of it easily beginning with exploring the Kohala and Kona areas while staying at one of the Big Island resorts or hotels. Hit the north coast next and drive around stopping in Hilo for an overnight stay or two. Leaving Hilo, the next obvious stop is Volcanoes National Park. If there’s time, consider taking a full day or two to explore the fascinating and uniquely beautiful and dramatic terrain. Swing around to the southern coast, stopping as you wish on your way back to Kohala or Kona.
To really see the island, a drive around is the best way. There are plenty of stops for enjoying Big Island activities like golfing, surfing and swimming. If the island journey sounds like an exhaustive journey, stick to the west Kona Kohala Coast and amp up your Big Island of Hawaii trip by opting for various tours in the area like a Circle Island Tour. Take in a Big Island luau, relax on a private lanai at sunset and simply let go of it all as you soak up all that the Big Island has to give.