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Hawaii Island

Home to the world's tallest mountain and the world's most active volcano, Hawaii is an island of extremes and superlatives. Where else can you go skiing on a mountain top in the morning and snorkel in a tropical sea in the afternoon? The so...

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Hawaii Island

Most commonly known as the Big Island, Hawaii Island is also known as the Orchid Isle and the Volcano Isle. Twice as big as all the other islands of the Hawaiian archipelago combined, Hawaii Island's size does not necessarily mean crowded and busy. Most of the island of Hawaii retains a rural flavor, and many residents are grateful to be removed from the urban bustle.

Most visitors to the Big Island congregate on the west side, primarily in sunny Kailua-Kona and along the majestic Kohala coast, but on the east side, in tropical Hilo, you will find a number of attractions and activities of interest as well. The landscape is varied, too, changing from beach to mountain and from dry desert to moist upland rain forest. Eleven of the world's 13 climate zones can be found there.

Visitors determined to see an active volcano will find one of the best bets on the Big Island: The world's most active volcano, Kilauea, has been erupting almost continuously since 1983. (You can watch the flowing lava safely, but the best viewing spots change daily.) You'll also find colorful beaches—golden, green, gray, black and white—and even a beach that disappears seasonally (between Keauhou and Kona, it is claimed temporarily by the tide). The deep-sea fishing and snorkeling are both great, and in some places excellent.

The Big Island also boasts Mauna Kea (the world's tallest mountain, if you count the portion below the surface of the sea); numerous large cattle and horse ranches (the Parker Ranch is the largest ranch in Hawaii); and more gorgeous flowers than you can imagine—most of the orchids for the leis made in the state are grown there. All of this peace and nature means that nightlife and shopping are limited to a few areas. Most visitors, if they go to the Big Island at all, stay for only a few nights, although those captivated by the island's low-key charm could stay much longer.

Must See or Do

Sights—Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden; Hapuna Beach and the black-sand Punalu'u Beach; the iconic Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Museums—The H.N. Greenwell Store Museum gives a look into the daily life of Kona's early settlers.

Memorable Meals—Antelope filet and vistas of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at Kilauea Lodge Restaurant; seafood and a relaxed vibe at Merriman's in Waimea; Hawaiian comfort food at Don's Grill in Hilo.

Late Night—Live music and dancing at Blue Dragon in Waimea.

Walks—A walk through Akaka Falls State Park, with its two striking waterfalls.

Especially for Kids—The Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens; horseback riding at Dahana Ranch.


Hawaii Island's geography runs to extremes. Barren, lava-covered areas, rolling valleys with tropical foliage, spectacular seaside cliffs and lush rain forest all can be found within a few hours of each other. Its lush, green eastern coast catches the wind and rain, but the western coast basks in the sun and offers the best beaches.

The five volcanic mountains that comprise the Big Island—Kohala, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Kilauea—are the highest peaks in the state. They create a natural moisture barrier and some of the most stunning scenery on the island. The volcanoes, of course, are what created the Hawaiian Islands. That process continues today as Kilauea spews out molten lava, adding to the Big Island's expanse. It's the only place in the islands where you can get a close-up view of lava flows and venting steam craters—nature's creative power at work.


The first people to arrive in Hawaii probably came from Tahiti or the Marquesas Islands and landed along the southern shores of the Big Island around AD 500. Later settlers likely arrived from other islands in Polynesia.

Around 1790, Kamehameha the Great, a chief from Kohala on the Big Island and a fierce warrior, defeated his rivals and consolidated his control on the island of Hawaii. During the next few years, his army conquered the islands of Maui, Molokai and Oahu in an attempt to unite the islands, and by 1810, Kamehameha was recognized as king of all Hawaii. This was the founding of the Hawaiian monarchy, which lasted until 1893.

Capt. James Cook, the first Westerner to explore Hawaii, visited the Big Island in 1779. After various altercations between Cook's sailors and the Hawaiians, Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay. Today, a monument on the shores of the bay marks the spot where Capt. Cook died.

After the death of Kamehameha the Great in 1819, the outside world began to take notice of the once isolated islands. Missionaries introduced Christianity at a time when alcohol abuse, Western diseases and the rapid breakdown of the ancient Hawaiian system had created a confused situation for the Hawaiians. The missionaries gained an easy foothold because they aligned themselves with the chiefs against some of these modern evils.

With the growth of the sugarcane industry in the early 1800s, the Big Island became Hawaii's biggest cane grower. Sugar planters turned to immigrant labor for help, bringing thousands of immigrants from China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines to Hawaii to work on the plantations. Over time, sugar planters and American businessmen brought about the annexation of Hawaii by the U.S. in order to provide a guaranteed protected market for their product. Hawaii became a state in 1959.

The sugar industry collapsed in the late 1990s and the mills and plantations closed. Hawaiians varied their crops to stay competitive: Macadamia nuts, tropical flowers, bananas, papaya, coffee and exotic tropical fruits are grown all over the Big Island. In addition, the Mauna Kea Observatory Science Complex and its numerous international telescope facilities have added a unique high-tech edge to the island's economic infrastructure.

Hawaii Island largely relies on tourism. The Kona and Kohala coast resorts continue to grow, and numerous private vacation homes and condominiums have been built by mainland and overseas investors.


The highlight of Hawaii Island is its landscape of mesmerizing beauty and stark contrasts, including dramatic volcanic mountains, lush rain forests, cascading waterfalls, sandy beaches of many colors and beautiful coral reefs.

Visitors who are looking for lively nightlife and high-end shopping will find what they crave on the Kona and Kohala coasts, while those looking for outdoor adventure, whether on land or water, will find no shortage of options.


This island's name is Hawaii, but it is called "the Big Island" so as to avoid confusion with the island state's name.

The Kona coast is the original location for the Kona coffee industry, where its ideal climate still produces the world-famous beans.

The Big Island has a whopping 266 mi/428 km of coastline, although much of it is inaccessible.

Ka Lae, also known as South Cape, is the southernmost point in the U.S. and is the place where the first Polynesian settlers landed.

Hawaii Island is the only Pacific island where it's possible to surf at the beach and snow ski on a mountain all in the same day.

On his 1866 visit to the Big Island, Mark Twain planted a monkeypod tree at the small town of Waiohinu. The original tree was toppled in a storm, but the roots sent up a new shoot. The tree survives as the "Mark Twain Monkeypod Tree."

The Big Island grows a little bit larger each day, thanks to the ongoing production of lava.

Although English is the official language of Hawaii, you may hear locals speaking pidgin English. It evolved from the merging of Hawaii's multiethnic groups. One term you may hear is "Howzit?" Basically, it means "How are you?" or "How is it going?"

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