Big Island 101: All you need to know about the volcanic island of Hawaii

Well known as the only island in Hawaii which an active volcano, the Big Island has quickly become one of the more popular destinations along the chain of Hawaiian islands. With a variety of landscapes, scenic spots, activities, and tours, it is no wonder that visitors have begun to flock this unique island for their holiday getaways.

Current Big Island Information as of September 12, 2019

Due to various circumstances, the two top tourist destinations on the Big Island, Mauna Kea and the Kilauea Volcano, are either inaccessible or no longer as popular as they once were.

Mauna Kea: Due to road closures, tours up to the summit are currently suspended. You can find up to date information at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station website.

Volcanoes National Park: Although the lava flow is not visible, most of this National Park is open to visitors. Currently the main closure is the Chain of Craters Road and the Jagger Museum. You can find up to date information at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website.

Major Areas of the Big Island

Kailua-Kona: As the main major city, and also the location of the international airport, Kona is a popular choice for first-time and repeat visitors. Located on the west side of the Big Island, Kona boasts some of the finest snorkeling in Hawaii. With a number of snorkel spots accessible by both the beach and by boat, this is a fantastic location for any ocean enthusiast.

Waikoloa: Located in the northern area of the Big Island, Waikoloa is home to a number of historic sites that feature petroglyphs and ancient fishponds. The area also boasts a number of luxury resorts, and has blossomed over the last decade. Since it is nestled further north of Kona, it is also closer to popular areas such as Kohala, Waimea and and Honoka’a, which offer a number of outdoor activities such as ATV tours, horseback rides, and more.

Hilo: This once sleepy town on the east side of the island has become quite the bustling city as guests come from far and near to witness the majesty that is the Volcanoes National Park. Located approximately two hours or more from Kona (depending on the route taken), most visitors to the island who are staying on the west side will normally only make the trek once while on the Big Island. There are also smaller hotels available for those wanting to split their trip between the east and west side of the Big Island.

Popular Big Island Activities & Scenic Spots

Waipio Valley: Also called the “Valley of the Kings,” this lush gorge located near the northern tip of the island offers some of the most exquisite views on the Big Island. Once home to the kings of Hawaii and their subjects, the area is now a dense and rugged wilderness dotted with taro fields and just a handful of residents. The river and the waterfall in the Waipio Valley offer picture perfect serenity that must be seen in person to fully appreciate it.

Ways to experience this area include off-road tours, horseback rides, and even a mule-drawn wagon so no matter your age of physical ability, there is a way for everyone to visit Waikoloa.

Note: Although accessible by a few hiking trails, the hikes are incredible strenuous and only recommended for highly experienced hikers.

Kealakekua Bay: This Marine Life Conservation District is located a convenient 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona, and with its crystal clear waters, it is the perfect location for snorkeling, scuba and kayaking. The bay is filled with thriving coral formations and abundant marine life which stays pristine due to the state’s conservation efforts. It is also a historic landmark, and the area where Captain Cook first arrived on the Big Island, and a white obelisk marks this location.

Note: The bay is only really accessibly kayak or boat, and getting down to the rocky beach area by foot is not recommended.

North Kohala & Kohala Coast: A lush and green oasis tucked within the black and red lava rock fields, the sunny Kohala Coast sees an annual average rainfall of only nine inches and has become a popular destination for visitors to the Big Island. The rugged landscape has become a booming spot for outdoor adventures and activities that run the gambit from waterfall swims to horseback rides.

Note: There are many different activities available in Kohala that will suit all backgrounds, interests, and physical ability.

Pro Tips & Big Island Information

  • There are two airports available on the island, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO), and most guests will be flying into KOA for the most convenience.
  • It takes approximately two hours to drive across the island from Kona to Hilo, and around six hours to circle the island.
  • Due to the lack of reliable public transportation, having your clients rent a car is highly recommended. If a car rental is not viable, many tours and activities provide pick-up services, and taxi/ride share companies are also available.

With so many tour options on the Big Island, it can often be difficult to find the perfect recommendation for your clients, so do not hesitate to speak with any of our Hawaii Tours & Activity Specialist at or +1 (808) 690-9900, and they will help you pick the best option for your clients!

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