Tourist Information Big Island Hawaii
Hawaii Travel Guide: Everything you need to know about the Big Island
Of Hawaii’s many islands, the Big Island, or “Big I” for short, is the largest and the most diverse. Its dramatic natural beauty and convenient amenities make it a perfect base for a relaxing vacation in Hawaii.
1. Getting In and Around Hawaii
Most visitors to the Big Island arrive at one of the island’s two international airports: Kona in the west, or Hilo in the east. Many US and international airlines fly direct, and you can also make a short stopover in nearby Honolulu.
Once you arrive on the Big Island, there is a fairly comprehensive bus network called the Hele-On bus, but if you want more flexibility then a car is recommended. There are many car hire companies available on the island, but it’s best to book ahead, especially in peak season.
For travelling short distances, cycling is ideal – although it can be a little hilly! You’ll find lots of bicycle hire places around, especially in tourist hubs such as Kona. Prices at the ever-popular Bikeworks in Kona start from $55 USD per day.
2. What to do on the Big Island of Hawaii
There is no shortage of things to do in Hawaii – it’s an outdoor lover’s playground that’s enticing for the whole family.
The best beaches to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii
Hawaii is synonymous with the beach and there are huge swathes of sandy beaches flanked by the sparkling ocean. You could visit a new one every day of your trip, and still not see them all!
The best beach to visit largely depends on what you’re looking for. Hapuna Beach in South Kohala has consistently been named by Conde Naste as one of the best beaches in the USA, while nearby the calm waters of Spencer Beach make it perfect for young families.
As well as the popular beaches, the Big Island also has many hidden jewels that are tucked away in the unspoiled landscape. Makalawena Beach in North Kona takes some getting to, but is well worth the effort, while Green Sand Papakola Beach is flanked by a dramatic coastline.
3. Surfing on the Big Island of Hawaii
While simply lazing by the beach is an ideal way to pass the time, there are also plenty of watersports on offer if you’re looking to get a bit more active.
Surfing is an obvious (and fantastic) choice, with a plethora of surfing beaches and surf academies around the island. Kahalu’u near Kona is a great beach for surfing, with two great surf schools nearby: Kahalu’u Surf and Sea, and Surfer Bear.
On the other side of the island, Honoli’i is a much loved local spot that’s suitable for more advanced surfers.
It’s not just surfing on offer in Hawaii. Snorkelling, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding and even diving are other popular choices.
4. The best free things to do on Hawaii
Hiking in Hawaii
The landscapes of the Big Island are absolutely beautiful, and there are many great hiking trails to lead you through them.
From family-friendly hike to more intensive treks, there are many options to spot natural wonders including waterfalls, jungles and volcanoes. Many trails are safe to hike alone, although you may like to hire a local guide. Hawaiian culture has many myths and legends about the landscape, and learning about them can add a lot to your hiking experience.
One of our favourite hikes is through Lava Tree State Park. This once forest was blanketed with lava and the resulting landscape is incredible. Natural sculptures of petrified forest border the pathways of this easy hike of 0.7 miles. This is hike selfie heaven!
Ka Lae South Point is the southernmost point on the Big Island and in the US. You can almost drive all the way to the point, but we prefer to park further away, and hike the rest of the trail. The winds here are strong, and the waves come crashing up the cliffs (care must be taken), but it’s worth it to take in the spectacular views.
Visit the hot ponds and hot springs
Bathing in the famous hot ponds and springs on Hawaii has always been a favourite activity when visiting the Big Island. Unfortunately two of the most popular springs – Ahalanui Beach Park and the Kapoho Tide Pools – were overrun by lava in 2018, however, you can still visit the Pohoiki Warm Springs in Puna, at the Pohoiki Beach Park. The LERZ eruption of 2018 turned the sand black here and created four natural thermal ocean ponds. Definitely worth a visit, but you must take care and enter the ponds with caution.
Pana’ewa Rainforest and Zoo Gardens
It’s completely free to visit the wonderful Pana’ewa Rainforest and Zoo Gardens, although they do accept and appreciate donations. There are over 80 animal species here, a petting zoo, 100 palm tree varieties, and a beautiful orchid collection. Believe it or not this is the only tropical rainforest zoo in the US, and it’s free. A perfect family-friendly day trip in Hawaii.
Kohala Historical Sites State Monument
Head to the town of Hawi, at the northern tip of Hawaii to visit the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument. The historical sites of Mo’okini Heiau State Monument and the King Kamehameha I Birthsite are both located here. The sacred sites are shrines to the islands’ ancient history. A respect for the age and reverence of these sites is expected during your visit. No touching the stones and monuments.
5. The best places to eat on the Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island offers many great restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes.
Restaurants in Kona
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill is a much-loved option just off the main strip in Kona, with the seafood being a particular highlight. Another scrumptious option is Kenichi Pacific, known for its delightfully fresh and delicious sushi and sashimi.
For a more relaxed bite, Island Lava Java does amazing breakfasts in full view of the dazzling sea, although Big Island Grill is another solid choice for an indulgent meal to start the day.
Restaurants elsewhere on the Big Island
Away from Kona, there are still plenty of great options for a luxurious or laidback bite to eat. In the south of the island, Hana Hou Restaurant is a friendly 50s style diner, or near Hilo in the east, some highlights include the Asian-fusion restaurant Moon and Turtle, as well as the Hilo version of Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill.
For a scrumptious breakfast, try Ken’s House of Pancakes, or for a healthy and delicious lunch, here’s Puka Puka Kitchen, which also does takeaway lunch boxes that are perfect for a day at the beach or afternoon hiking.
6. The best shopping on the Big Island of Hawaii
Whether you want to indulge in a little retail therapy or perhaps take home some beautiful souvenirs of your vacation, there is plenty of excellent shopping on Hawaii.
For brand names, the Prince Kuhio Shopping Plaza in Hilo features a Sears and Macy’s along with other well-known high-end and affordable brands, while the open-air Kings’ Shops is Kona’s largest shopping complex.
For smaller gifts and trinkets, the markets are the place to go! There are many all over the island but some highlights include Coconut Grove and Kona Marketplace, both in Kona, while there are many cute boutiques scattered around Hilo and Waimea.