To avoid confusion with the name of the entire state, the Island of Hawaii is often called the “Big Island,” and with a total land mass of 4,028 square miles it is nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. The dramatic size and scope of the largest Hawaiian Island creates a microcosm of environments and activities. 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.
The Island of Hawaii is built from five separate shield volcanoes that erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. These include the Kohala (extinct), the Mauna Kea (dormant), the Hualalai (active), the Mauna Loa (active) and the Kilauea (active). As a matter of fact, the Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983. Because Mauna Loa and Kīlauea are active volcanoes, the island of Hawaii is still growing. Between January 1983 and September 2002, lava flows added 543 acres to the island. Lava flowing from Kilauea has destroyed several towns, including Kapoho in 1960, and Kalapana and Kaimu in 1990.
Some accounts indicate that Hawaii was named after Hawaiʻiloa, the legendary Polynesian navigator who first discovered it. The English explorer and navigator Captain James Cook, who discovered the Hawaiian Islands, called them the “Sandwich Islands” after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook was killed on the Big Island at Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779, in a fight which followed the theft of a ship’s boat. The Big Island was also the home island of Paiʻea Kamehameha, later known as King Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha united most of the Hawaiian islands under his rule in 1795 and gave the kingdom and the island chain the name of his native island, Hawaii.
In March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the east coast of Japan (The Tohoku Earthquake) created a tsunami that caused significant damage to Hawaii. The estimated damage to public buildings alone was about three million dollars. In the Kona area the tsunami washed a house into Kealakekua Bay, destroyed a yacht club and tour boat offices in Keauhou Bay, caused extensive damage in Kailua Kona, flooded the ground floor of the King Kamehameha Hotel, and permanently closed the Kona Village Resort.
When you arrive on the Big Island, you will either arrive at the Hilo International Airport (if you are taking Hawaiian or United airlines to the eastern part of the island) or the Kona International Airport (serving most major airlines on the western part of the island.)
Hilo, the county seat of the County of Hawaii is home to dramatic waterfalls, lush rainforests and thriving gardens. The town overlooks Hilo Bay and the majority of its population resides along Hilo Bay stretching up to Waiakea Uka (meaning mountainside). As a matter of fact, that is one way to situate yourself in Hilo, either along the mountain side or the sea side (Makai). Waiakea Uka has many expensive houses, including a Swiss-style chateau, as well as many traditional agricultural Hawaiian-style homes.
Annually following Easter, Hilo hosts the Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long celebration of ancient and modern hula.
Starting off as a busy farming and fishing community, Hilo evolved into a commercial center for the sugar industry in the 1800’s. Downtown Hilo was built around its crescent-shaped bay and became the seat of county government. However, in 1946 and again in 1960 the town was nearly engulfed by a tsunami. The waterfront has since been rebuilt and today Hilo is a vibrant town, home to great museums, art galleries, and unique shops. Hilo is also home to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation, one of the world’s leading producers of macadamia nuts.
A visit to Hilo is definitely worth the trip in order to get a taste of authentic Hawaii.
The Hilton Waikoloa Village offers great accommodations while you are staying on the Big Island. Located in Waikoloa, this resort sits on sixty-two exclusive oceanfront acres of the Kohala Coast. Just twenty minutes north of Kona International Airport, the resort features tropical gardens with waterways, exotic wildlife and a museum walkway with Asian and Polynesian artwork. You can travel around the resort on trams and canal boats or stroll the garden paths. You will also find two championship golf courses, eight tennis courts, three swimming pools, and dolphin encounters at the The Hilton Waikoloa Village resort.
The Kona District stretches for about sixty miles from Kona International Airport to beyond Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii’s lava lined western coast. Along this expansive area, you’ll find everything from coffee farms to historic Hawaiian landmarks.
Kailua-Kona, once the town where King Kamehameha actually spent his final years, today has become a bustling, gathering place in the heart of the district. Home to shops, restaurants and nightlife, it is conveniently situated near Kona’s historic sites too. It is easy to explore places like Hulihee Palace, Mokuaikaua Church and the Ahuena Heiau on foot from Kailua-Kona. Other significant historic landmarks include Kealakekua Bay to the south, where Captain James Cook first set foot on the island in 1778. Nearby is Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a well-restored Hawaiian “place of refuge.” North of Kailua-Kona is the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, a 1160-acre park that lets you explore early temples, fishponds and petroglyphs.
Huliheʻe Palace located in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Aliʻi Drive is the former vacation home of Hawaiian royalty. It was converted into a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii, and showcases furniture and artifacts from Hawaii’s monarchs.
If you are feeling thirsty, stop at the Kona Brewing Company. A small, independent traditional brewery known for producing beers with names like “Big Wave Golden Ale”, Longboard Island Lager”, “Fire Rock Pale Ale” and “Pipeline Porter” it offers visitors a tour of their brewery. One can also visit the Brewpub for an excellent meal paired with one of the company’s traditional brews.
South Kona has calm and clear waters perfect for snorkeling, diving and spotting dolphins and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles). One of Kona’s most popular offerings is a manta ray boat tour where tourists can scuba or snorkel with these gentle, graceful sea creatures. Kona is also famous for its deep-sea fishing, hosting the International Billfish Tournament during the month of August each year.
On Hawaii, you will find everything from extravagant resorts and incredible golf courses to modest local towns and sacred Hawaiian historical sites, from the birthplace of King Kamehameha I to Hawaii’s first missionary church in Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona). With so much to see, it is best to experience the island in small segments. There will be plenty to do yet upon your return.
Photo credits: Monica & Amber Ohkubo