Descending into the Kona Airport, one might think they made an unusual choice. Often referred to as the moonscape, the Big Island takes just a short bit of time and an open mind to discover.

Upon arrival on the Big Island of Hawai’i, many visitors beeline to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the summit of Mauna Kea (the tallest mountain in the world!), whale watching, top-notch golf courses, helicopter rides, zip lines, etc. All great things to do, yet beyond the beaten path lies so much more!


Background: 

My mom grew up in Hawai’i, and I still have family living on Oahu. Having a home on the Big Island and spending time there the past fifty+ years (sometimes for a couple of months a year), I have some favorite sites, restaurants, beaches and more to share!


Island Orientation:

The Island of Hawai’i is over 4,000 square miles – the other seven Hawaiian islands would fit inside its land area – and a trip around the island is 222 miles long. It’s called the Big Island for a reason! It has many different types of climate zones, from tropical to polar tundra, and you can have many different experiences during a visit. You may even see snow on the tops of two of the volcanoes while you are floating in the warm, tropical waters.


Orientation:

The main airport (KOA) is near Kona, where all mainland flights fly. The general areas of the island can be seen on the map below.

Most visitors spend their time in and around the beaches on the western part of the island, especially along the Kona/Kohala coast. Other areas are great to explore (or stay) as well. I’ll try to give a VERY general description of the main attractions in each of the primary areas of the island….

South Kona: Kealakekua Bay, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

North Kona: Kona town with many hotels in the area.

South Kohala: Puako, Waikoloa Village (shopping), Waimea (smaller town with restaurants and local shops), Kawaihae (small town with a few restaurants and stores). Lots of resorts along the coast.

North Kohala: Hawi (small old-Hawai’i town with restaurants and shops).

Ka’u: Within Ka’u is the southernmost point in the US. Papakolea (Green Sand) Beach and Punalu’u (Black Sand) Beach Park are two of the most unique beaches in the state.

Puna: Area to visit the volcano. Puna is known as Pele’s Workshop…it is a lava flow hazard zone. If Kilauea is erupting, it’s worth a trip to see, especially at night when the lava flow is brilliant.

Hilo: The geographic flipside of the Kona Coast, Hilo is the Big Island’s biggest town – tropical with rainforests, waterfalls and natural beauty.

Hamakua Coast: Tropical and beautiful coastline. Mostly cliffs and very few beach areas. Waipio Valley is stunning.

I am based just south of Kawaihae on the South Kohala part of the island. My favorite routine is to begin my day at the Waimea Coffee Shop in Kamuela/Waimea with a Kona peaberry latte. It’s a drive, yet well worth it. Take time to poke around the shops (don’t mind the hens and roosters…it’s part of the experience). Walk across the street to look at local art in the gallery (Isaacs) and grab any groceries nearby as well (KTA or Foodland).

If you’re up for it, continue driving to Honoka’a for a malasada at Tex Drive-In (might as well buy a dozen…similar to a donut, yet with no “puka”…so good!). Their plate lunch and loco mocos are “da kine” and will fortify you for a good part of the day.

In another direction, consider hiking down to Pololu Valley, followed by lunch or dinner at Bamboos in Hawi (if you’re lucky, you may see an impromptu hula show). The gift shop and other local shops in Hawi are gems. There’s also a Waimea Coffee Shop in Hawi…equally as good as the one in Kamuela/Waimea.

 


Restaurants by Area:

Kohala Coast


Waimea


Honoka’a


Hawi


Hilo:


Kona Town:


Hikes

Exploring:

Hotels/Resorts:

Hotel/resort options are immense.  The town of Kona is packed with hotels, while the Kona Coast has plenty of resorts.  Perhaps the nicest accommodations are at the Hualalai Four Seasons.  Within the Waikoloa property there are a number of resorts (Hilton/Marriott/etc.).  The Mauna Lani Auberge is newly remodeled and towards the end of the highway you will find the Hapuna and Mauna Kea resorts (best beaches on the island).


Car Rental:

Turo is the simplest and most convenient way to rent a car at the KOA airport. Select your car from a variety of options. There also is a large selection of car rental agencies.

Book Recommendations:


 

Without a doubt, the very best place to be on all the island is watching the sunset (preferably with a Mai Tai in hand!). When the sun is setting, leave whatever you are doing and watch. It’s a miracle, every time!

 

Heading to the Big Island? Check out all of our Travel Items suggestions, as well as our Resort Wear blog.

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