Hawai’i Island is the biggest island in Hawaii – about ninety three miles long and roughly 75 miles across.
Here you will find active volcanos, lava flows, steam vents, ranches and farms as well as all the fishing, hunting, golf, hiking and other water sports including scuba diving, kayaking, snorkelling manta ray tours and swimming. This is also the home of Kona Coffee and great food and hotels to enjoy. Welcome to the island of Hawai’i!
THERE are two airports – Kona International Airport on the west side of the island and Hilo International Airport on the east side, and both are about a 40 minute flight away from Honolulu. Most of the big hotels are in Kailua-Kona, north at Waikoloa and Kamuela, or at Hilo on the east coast, but there are also smaller places to stay too including B&B’s, lodges and other places.
One of the main reasons that travellers come to the island is to see an active volcano, but this is just one of the many attractions on the island. If you or any of your group or family members suffer asthma or are allergic to sulphur – you need to double check to make sure that they will not be affected by the hot steam or smell of the volcano.
The island is amazing – and is has everything from coral reefs, coastal beaches, cattle ranches, macadamia nut and papaya farms, rainforest, waterfalls, even snow-capped mountains and of course the active Volcano, lava flows, lava tubes all to see- and of course great hotels, restaurants and resorts.
According to the National Park Service there are seven ecological zones – “ seacoast, lowland, mid-elevation woodland, upland forest, sub-alpine and alpine” and each of these zones have “distinct plant and animal communities” and they’re all here on the Big Island of Hawaii.
If you are looking to see the reef and snorkel – then stay in Kailua-Kona which is on Kailua Bay and close to Kealakekua Bay to the south and the Kohala Coast to the north, where you can also stay at Waikoloa or further north inland at Kamuela (Waimea) closer to the Kohaia Mountains and Waipio Valley. On the east coast there is also the historic town of Hilo. The Hawaii Volcanos National Park is south of Hilo, about ¾ hour drive away, or from Kailua-Kona (more usually referred to simply as Kona), the Volcano Park is about 2 ½ hours drive away heading south.
Roads run around the island mostly following the coastline or a little way inland, and there is also a road that runs across the island from west to east to Hilo, referred to as “The Saddle” as it runs between the two big mountains – Mauna Kea on the northern side and Mauna Loa on the southern side. The islands roads can be quite narrow too – and there may be restrictions as to where your hire car can be driven.
Things to do and see –
Kailua-Kona – has many of the big hotels and resorts, so a lot of tours also head out from here too. Here you will also be able to see the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, just south of the airport where there are old temples, petroglyph Rock drawings, and traditional fish ponds, small walls built in the ocean using lava to trap fish when the tide changes. The beach here has white sand that contrasts with the black lava rocks of the coast.
The town’s main street is Alii Drive and many of the shops and restaurants are located here. There is a long seawall that runs beside the road with a walkway beside it that leads from the Pier and runs along beside the ocean. In town you will also find McDonalds and also a Wal-Mart too.
Helicopter Flights – It is not every day that you can take a helicopter trip up over the mountains and see an active Volcano from the air, looking directly down into the hot flowing lava, then later see the Volcano from the ground. Now that you are here on the island, this is something to definitely think about doing.
Diving and Snorkeling – the reef is just offshore – and you can take a boat trip out to the reef from Kailua-Kona, and even travel on a submarine to see it too. The submarine takes you to a depth of 100 feet out on the reef and holds 48 passengers (See atlantisadventures.com ). There are also night tours to feed manta rays too – which is also something quite special to do too. These are some of the companies that organise this – www.alohakayak.com, www.blueseacruises.com, www.bigislanddivers.com , www.mantarayshawaii.com, www.mantaraydiveshawaii.com , www.fair-wind.com
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park – is 12 miles south of Kailua-Kola – where the memorial to Captain James Cook is located. He was speared and died here in 1779. The Bay is also a place to scuba dive and snorkel, and on one side of the Bay is the Hikiau heiau Sacred Temple dedicated to the Hawaiian God, Lono.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park – is where you will be able to see an active volcano and molten lava. The Hawaiian Islands were created through volcanic activity, and nowhere is this more apparent than here – where you can actually see a Volcano and lava flows creating new land masses. Hawai’i Island has five volcanos of which two are considered active volcanoes – Mauna Loa which last erupted in 1984 rises to 56,000 feet (17,000 metres) from the floor of the ocean and 13680 feet above sea level, making it the world’s biggest mountain, rising 27,000 feet (8230 Metres) higher than Mt Everest in the Himalayas, and Kilauea Mountain Volcano which has been continually erupting since 1983, with its lava flowing into the ocean on the eastern side of the island.
To see Kilauea and Mauna Loa, the drive from Hilo is about ¾ of an hour, and from Kailua-Kona about two and a half hours. You could drive or take a tour. The main crater rim road runs around most of the caldera of the main Kiluaea crater with stops to see steam vents and if you stop at the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum there is a great view of Halema’uma’u Crater and also lots of information, photographs and displays on the crater and its history. Also see nearby the Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuhu) a cave created by a lava flow 500 years ago. The Chain of Craters Road, which may or may not be open depending on lava flows leads to the coastline about 18 miles down a steep winding road to where you will be able to see the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs (ancient rock drawings), and to the 90 foot high Holei Sea Arch – a stone archway that hangs out over the ocean below it. Here you may be able to steam rising from the ocean and at night maybe the red glow of the lava as it flows to the ocean too.
The road to Mauna Loa is around 13 ½ miles to get there and there is a weather observatory station there, with a road leading up the mountain to it. Mauna Loa is a shield volcano some 60 miles long by 30 miles wide – so it almost appears as a long flat mountain, but make no mistake it is very high and if you were to hike up the mountain you would need to be fully prepared for cold, wind and altitude sickness too.
The road from Kilauea to Mauna Loa also leads past Kipuka Puaulu – where there is a trek that will take you past old Ohia Trees and fern forest, where you might also spot a Khalij and other birds.
When you think of Volcanos, you generally think of ancient lands or mountains created 1000’s of years ago. What you are witnessing with lava flows are the birth of new lands being created.
Volcano Village – is located not far away on the Road to Hilo. It is a small town with a population of just over 2000 people and has B&B and other accommodation. If you want to spend more time seeing the Volcanic action, this is a good place to stay close to it.
Hilo – is a historic town on the east coast of the island, and in 1946 and 1960 a Tsunami hit the town and almost wiped it out. Here you can get more of an understanding of Tsunamis by visiting the Pacific Tsunami Museum. Also in Hilo there are the historic waterfront buildings, the 1839 Lyman Mission House and museum, as well as the Mokupapapa Discovery Center at 76 Kamahameha Avenue, with many interesting displays. There are also bed and breakfast places to stay, and small lodges, such as Arnotts Lodge, which also organise hiking adventures too (See arnottslodge.com ). In Hilo there is also a Rainforest Zoo (See www.hilozoo.com).
About 5 miles south of Hilo is the Mauna Loa Macadamia Visitor Center. If you like nuts and chocolate you will find it at 16-701 Macadamia Road off Highway 11. Love waterfalls? Then look for Rainbow Falls in the Wailuku River State Park and PeePee Falls just west of Hilo and heading north along the Hamakua Coastline look for the Akaka Falls. This road passes by old sugar plantations and green valley’s leading north to the Waipio Valley.
Gardens – In Hilo and close to Hilo there are a number of gardens to visit. In Hilo itself off Banyan Drive on Hilo Bay is Liliuokalani Gardens – a Japanese Garden with lakes, stone bridges, pagodas all set on 30 acres of ground. The Nani Mau Gardens are just out of Hilo too at 421 Makalika Street, and further north of Hilo about 8 ½ miles is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (htbg.com) with over 2000 species of plants to see spread out across 40 acres with walking trails, waterfalls and great views over the coastline. Further north about 16 miles from Hilo is Botanical World Adventures at mile marker 16 on Highway 19 (See www.botanicalworld.com ). Here you can ride a Segway through the rainforest gardens, or zipline across the tree tops, see an 80 yard long Orchid wall of flowers, get lost in a maze and learn all about many of the tropical fruits that grow here. There is also the Kamae’e waterfall to see with great views of Mauna Kea Volcano.
Kona Coffee – there are around 600 coffee plantations on the island, most of these located to the east of Kailua-Kona on the red volcanic soils on the slopes of the Mauna Loa Volcano Mountain. Book a tour to see or visit some of the farms, most of the plantations being located near Holualoa and Kealakekua. Just one of these is greenwellfarms.com Tel: (808) 323 2295 located at 81-6581 Mamalahoa Highway. Also see Kau Coffee Mill (www.kaucoffeemill.com ); www.mountainthunder.com ; www.hilocoffeemill.com
Farm Tours – the island’s rich volcanic soils and climate are ideal for growing many tropical fruits and other produce – and if you get a chance to visit or stay on a farm, it is something to enjoy. To see some of the different tours and farm options – See farmtoursnorthkohala.com
Waipio Valley – (on the north east coast) this is called the ‘Valley of the Kings’ and is said to be one of the most beautiful valleys in Hawaii, due to its history, greenery, high cliff sides and the Waipio River that flows through the valley, with the Hi’ilawe Waterfall also here. You need a 4WD to travel up the valley but the more interesting and fun way to experience it is to take a horse ride or even a wagon tour up the valley. The valley was also hit by the Tsunamis in 1946 and 1960.
Akaka Falls State Park – is located about 4 miles south west of Homomu on the Hamakua East Coast at the end of the Akaka Falls Road /Highway 220. Here you have walkways that take you through the rainforest to the Kahuna Falls and the very high Akaka Falls.
Climbing Mount Mauna Kea – Mauna Kea in the north of the island is 110 feet higher than Mauna Loa and at 13803 feet above sea level with snow on top, and temperatures sometimes at freezing and also winds – it can be a dangerous climb to the top. If you have ever experienced altitude sickness – the headaches and fatigue when every step forward seems to be harder to do than the last one, then you know what to expect. The climb can take around 10 hours or more and you will be trekking above the tree line –so you need to be well prepared and register with the Maunakea Visitor Information Station before setting out. Mauna Kea is also where 11 telescopes point to the night sky, and at 9200 feet there is the Visitor Information Station where at 6pm they show a short film about the Mountain and the Observatory (the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy ), before letting you see through telescopes set up to see stars, planets, galaxies and the heavens above. You can drive to the Observatory from Hilo on the Mauna Kea Access Road, and remember to wear really warm clothes too. One some weekends they also run a 4WD tour to the top of the mountain – but you need your own approved 4WD vehicle to do it. Again, check with the Visitor Center for details. The Center is open from 9am to 10pm every day, and you can check the road conditions by phoning (808) 935 6268.
As you can see from the above list of places and things to do there are many interesting places to see on Hawaii Island. What really makes a great holiday is meeting interesting people along the way, so we hope you find those people.
We also hope you have a great holiday on the island too and take lots of photographs and memories away with you.