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Kona, Tender Harbor Dock, Visit the Big Island

Kona, Tender Harbor Dock

Visit the Big Island – Beaches

You can visit the Big Island Beaches of three different types. Traditional sandy beaches are the most common. You can find lots of options around Kona and Waikola. Try hiking in to the beautiful Makalawena Beach or visit Spencer Beach Park near Waikoloa.

Black sand beaches are more common in the southern part of the island. Black sand beaches come from volcanic rock that has been ground by nature into fine sand. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is one of the best. Green sand beaches are also more common on the south coast when you visit the Big Island. The green sand is made up of smoothed glassy olivine crystals. Papakolea Green Sand Beach is a great choice for a green sand beach.

Kilauea Crater 2009, Visit the Big Island

Kilauea Crater 2009

Visit the Big Island – Volcanic Activity

The most popular attraction for tourists who visit the Big Island is volcanic activity. There are three major areas of volcanic activity on the island: Kilaeua Crater, Chain of Craters and Pu’u O’o. Unfortunately the more active each of these areas becomes, the less likely that tourists will be able to get close enough for a view. The Kilaeua Crater used to have a lava pool, but recently it has been caving in as the lava lake leaks out at Pu’u O’o. Check the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park web site for the latest update.

Green Sea Turtle, Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, Visit the Big Island

Green Sea Turtle, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

The Chain of Craters is a bleak moonscape of lava flows. In Chain of Craters, you can walk on lava flows that cover and block the highway. Pu`u `O`o is your best chance to see molten lava but it’s also the hardest area to reach and is often closed for safety reason. Don’t miss the Thurston Lava Tube near Kileau for a chance to walk down a tube that used to be filled with a river of molten lava.

Yellow Tangs, Kealakekua Bay, Visit the Big Island

Yellow Tangs, Kealakekua Bay

Visit the Big Island – Snorkeling

When you visit the Big Island, snorkeling is a great way to spend your time at the beach. The west coast near Kona offers some of the best places for snorkeling. Kealakekua Bay is one of the most popular spots. You can drive a half hour south of Kona to the Captain Cook’s Monument Trail. The trail is about 45 minutes downhill and an hour back up. It leads to great snorkeling at the Captain Cook Monument, where Captain James Cook died from injuries in a scuffle with native Hawaiians. Parking is the big challenge at the trail to Kealakekua Bay.

Kahalu’u Beach Park is 15 minutes south of Kona along Ali’i Drive. The tropical fish start appearing once you get knee deep. See lots convict tangs, friendly raccoon butterflies and other species. The water at the beach can be quite murky, so head off on your own adventure in the protected bay. Turtles are common here too and can sometimes be seen sharing the beach with people sun tanning.

Mauna Kea Observatories, Visit the Big Island

Mauna Kea Observatories

Get to the Big Island

The best way to get to the Big Island is through the Kona International Airport. Some international flights use the airport, especially during the winter tourist season. You can also get to the Big Island from other Hawaiian Islands on Hawaiian Airlines. Once you get to the Big Island, you will need a rental car to see the sights. This is the largest Hawaii island and the attractions are spread out. A trip from Kona to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park will take two hours one way. Towns on the island don’t have centralized tourist areas, so you can’t expect to walk everywhere from your hotel.

Spencer Beach Park Sunset, Visit the Big Island

Spencer Beach Park Sunset

Visit the Big Island – Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano summit that’s about a two hour drive from Kona. If you rent a car to get to Mauna Kea, make sure the rental agreement allows you to drive on the gravel road all the way to the astronomical observatories at 14,000 feet. You can also arrange a tour to take you up and provide a warm ski jacket while you watch the sunset. Be aware of the high risk to some people for high altitude sickness. You might get a severe headache within a half hour of arriving.

Carlsmith Beach Green Sea Turtle, Visit the Big Island

Carlsmith Beach Green Sea Turtle

Visit the Big Island – Sea Turtle

The Big Island is a great place to see a green sea turtle. Turtles are common at a number of beaches on the east and west coast. Popular spots include Spencer Beach Park near Waikoloa, Kahalu’u Beach Park near Kona and Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo. It’s illegal to touch or get in the way of a sea turtle. Sometimes swimmers and sun bathers will find that turtles are curious enough to approach. Just try your best to stay out of their way.

Rainbow Falls near Hilo, Visit the Big Island

Rainbow Falls near Hilo

Visit Hilo

Hilo is a very different area of the Big Island. The high rainfall on the east side of the island produces beautiful waterfalls and thick vegetation. Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls near Hilo are both great choices for a visit. Also, see a macadamia plantation while you are in Hilo. Chocolate macadamias have replaced sugar cane as the major export from Hawaii. And don’t miss Carlsmith Beach Park for a chance to see green sea turtles.

Makalawena Beach, Visit the Big Island

Makalawena Beach

Big Island Weather

The Big Island weather is the driest and most desert like in the Hawaiian chain. Kona is on the drier western side of the Island, while Hilo on the eastern side gets lots of rain. In Kona the summer highs from June – October average 86 F (30 C) and the lows are about 75 F (25 C). Kona has highs in January and February of about 81 F (27 C) and lows are 68 F (20 C). The summer months are dry, while an inch or two of rain can fall in the winter months. January and February are popular months for tourists in Kona and these months are likely the best time to visit the Big Island.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, Visit the Big Island

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Hilo is on the eastern side of the island receives the trade winds. This makes temperatures a couple of degrees cooler than Kona, while precipitation levels are significantly higher throughout the year. Expect Hilo’s monthly summer rainfall to be about 10 inches (250 mm) while winter months can reach 15 inches (400 mm).

Papakolea Green Sand Beach, Visit the Big Island

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Visit the Big Island – Hotels

  • Hilton Waikoloa Village – reasonably priced hotel among the luxury hotels of Waikoloa.
  • Sheraton Keauhou – watch the manta rays feed each night.
  • Royal Kona Resort
  • Outrigger Royal Sea Cliff – great restaurants, snorkeling.

Visit the Big Island – Background

The largest island in the Hawaiian chain of islands is called also Hawaii. To reduce confusion, this island is regularly referred to as the Big Island. This is the most recently created Hawaiian island and in fact there is regular volcanic activity at its southern extremity in Volcanoes National Park. The Big Island has the driest climate of the Hawaiian Islands, so it lacks the lush vegetation of other islands. The more recent volcanic activity also leaves this island with a more barren appearance.

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