The Big Island of Hawaii
The largest island in the Hawaiian Islands is now being referred to as Hawaii Island but is still commonly known to most local residents as the Big Island, because it is just that. Using the term the “Big Island” helps to avoid confusion because the island shares the same name as the State. Noted for its varied landscapes, white, black and green beaches, volcanoes and national parks and monuments, the Big Island of Hawaii is an alluring place of unique beauty and mystery.
Big Island History and Fun Facts
The Big Island has unique green sand beaches made of olivine crystals formed from volcanic eruptions on Mauna Loa thousands of years ago and is a popular attraction for vacationers traveling to the Big Island.
Unknown to many, there is snow on the Big island of Hawaii. The almost 14,000-foot Mauna Kea is occasionally snow-capped in the colder months of the year. Star-gazing at Mauna Kea is a popular activity for couples on honeymoon or adventurous families who enjoy an astronomical experience.
The Big Island has one of the oldest and largest cattle ranches in the US, the Parker Ranch. As it was the Spanish vaqueros that taught Parker Ranch ranch hands the art of horse riding and cattle handing in the early 1800s, it is said that Hawaii had a cowboy tradition well before it was established in the American West.
The island of Hawaii was home to King Kamehameha, the monarch who unified the Hawaiian Islands under one sovereign rule.
The Big Island is the only island in Hawaii with two major commercial airports, with one in the town of Hilo and the other in Kailua-Kona.
The town of Kailua-Kona, located on the west side of the island, plays host to a world famous Ironman World Championship event every year during the month of September.
The Big Island is both the youngest and most expansive of all the Hawaiian Islands, measuring 4,038 square miles.
Kilauea is reputed to be the world’s most active volcano and has been erupting continuously for over 30 years, expelling between 250,000 to 650,000 cubic yards of lava per day. The effects of this long-enduring eruption have added around 500 new acres of land to the Big Island. That kind of lava mass is enough to coat the entire island of Oahu with almost 10 feet of lava. The island is well-named as the “Big Island” in that it keeps on growing from the ongoing eruptions from Kilauea. Traveling to Hawaii would be incomplete without witnessing some of fiery expansion that occurs on the Big Island daily.
The Hawaiian Islands are part of an underwater mountain range called the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain. The highest peak on this chain is Mauna Kea on the Big Island, which if measured from the base of the sea bed, would be the highest mountain in the world surpassing even Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. Visitors can even eexplore the what Big Island’s underwater environment looks like on the Atlantis Submarine Tour off the Kona Coast.
There is a new volcanic island in the process of being formed off the southeastern coast of the Big Island, called Loihi. Loihi is expected to rise above the surface of the ocean somewhere within 10,000 to 100,000 years from today.
Must-see Big Island Attractions
You can see a number of stunningly beautiful waterfalls on the east side of the island. Rainbow Falls is popular attraction and is an easy waterfall to find near the town of Hilo. Driving north of Hilo along the Hamakua Coast, you can find Akaka Falls on short hike on a paved trail. There are also a number of tall and steep waterfalls in mysterious and secluded Waipio Valley; but you can only drive there by taking an SUV because the road down to the valley may be the steepest in the world.
There are five different mountains of volcanic origin on the island. Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano, and because of this, is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the Big Island. Kilauea is part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which is open 24 hours a day, year round. At the Kilauea Visitor Center, tours are arranged for anyone wanting a closer look at the active volcano. For those who prefer to keep a safe distance, they may visit the Volcano Art Gallery near the visitor center. For the daring, helicopter tours may the best way to see the volcano and its active lava flows.
The Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, near Kealakekua Bay on the western side of the Big Island, covers over 400 acres of land. The park includes beautiful white beaches, noteworthy cultural sites and artifacts saturated in Hawaiian history.
Snorkeling or scuba diving in Kona provides stunning visibility though which can often see a honu, the Hawaiian green sea turtle.
Papakōlea Beach, though often windy with rough currents, is still one of the most unique beaches for vacationer to visit on the Big Island. The remarkable olivine mineral green sand beach sparkles in the sunlight and provides the perfect resting point after a rigorous hike. This emerald beauty of a bay is something you don’t want to miss.
Manta ray tours and night swims have been designated by the Travel Channel as one of the top ten things to do in a lifetime. The Big Island of Hawaii offers a number of nighttime tours where you can see manta rays ranging up to 1,500 pounds with wingspans of up to 16 feet. Visitors can book a guided boat tour, some of which allow swimming with the manta rays, or you can also arrange to watch them feed near shore at The Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay.
A Taste of the Big Island
You haven’t enjoyed Hawaii fully unless you have eaten some fresh local macadamia nuts. These are a famous and delicious Hawaiian treat. In addition to growing the nuts, many Big Island macadamia plantation operators also make the very popular macadamia nut candy as well as the macadamia nut cookie. Some macadamia nut candies are even covered in chocolate made from cacao grown locally in the Big Island’s rich volcanic soil. Macadamia nuts, candies and cookies have always been a favorite treat of locals and tourists alike and certainly are good gifts to bring back to friends and relatives back home. Going to the famous Farmer’s Market at Hilo, as advised on our Culinary Tours page, will allow you to meet local farmers and try the choicest of Hawaiian produce fresh off the farm.
Kona coffee is one of the most expensive kinds of coffee on earth and the Big Island is a great place for coffee lovers to delve into the island’s style of harvesting and roasting beans. Because of the hilly terrain, the growing and cultivating of Kona coffee beans are often all done by hand. A few of the remarkable plantations are: Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation and Greenwell Farms.
Hawaii also has some native breweries for those who like to try local beer. Some popular brands like Big Island Brewhaus, Kona Brewing Company and Mehana Brewing Company sell their products at both bars and markets state-wide.
Panda Travel ® offers affordable packages for an ideal trip to Hawaii. Let us help you make all the arrangements, with all-inclusive travel packages and activities, including your flight and hotel. We can even give you ideas of fun local things to do in Hawaii, wherever you are staying. Start with our Hawaii Travel Tips page to make sure you are prepared for your journey to paradise; we want your vacation to be as memorable and stress-free as possible. To make any inquiries, please contact us toll-free at (800) 303-6702.