Description - This island is known as 'The Big Island', due to its size, which is nearly double that of the others in the archipelago combined. The Big Island encompasses over 4,000 square miles, including two active volcanoes that continuously add to the acreage of the island. Hawaii is the youngest island and southernmost in the state. The terrain is diverse and elevations range from sea level beaches to the summit of Mauna Kea at 13,796 feet.
Copyright: National Park Service
Eruption at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
- The western and leeward side of the island supports the most attractive sites for tourists and water sports. South Kona is the southwestern region of the island. The area is mainly rural and teeming with Hawaiian historical sites. Coffee is grown in the higher elevations of the region that lie somewhat inland. Many beach parks lie along the coast of this region preserving beaches, bays and inlets for recreational use.
The tourism center of the island lies on the central leeward side along the Kona coast. The largest community on the Kona coast is Kailua, which lies on Kailua Bay. Several state parks preserving natural areas and historic sites line Kailua Bay. The waters around Kailua are well known for deep sea fishing and large Pacific marlin catches.
Like the rest of the leeward coast of the island, the areas north of Kailua-Kona are teeming with sites used by Hawaiian royalty. Often ruins of fishponds, heiaus and palaces lie within natural areas and are open for exploration. Two sites have gained national recognition for their importance in Hawaiian culture: Kaloko-Honoköhau National Historical Park and Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site. Beautiful beaches for snorkeling, swimming and scuba diving abound in this region. Hapuna Beach, Anaehoomalu Beach and Kiholo Beach are three excellent summer recreation areas. During the winter rip currents can be strong and dangerous for anyone less than an expert.
The northwest coast of Hawaii is known as the North Kohala Coast. The northern ridge of the Kohala Range lies in the center of this region, which comes to a point at the base of the mountains. This region can be accessed by the Kohala Mountain Road, which leads through the interior , or the Akoni Pule Highway, which leads along the western coast. The leeward and windward sides of the island meet at Upolo Point, close to one of the oldest heiaus on the island. You can also see the island of Maui from this point.
The Hamakua Coast is the northeastern coast of the island that lies south of the Kohala Forest Reserve. The area is characterized by heavy rainfall, fallow agricultural lands, dense rain forests and scenic waterfalls. It lies on the northern slopes of Mauna Kea and is cut by many streams and gulches en route from the high mountain ridges to the Pacific Ocean. Coastal areas usually have steep pali instead of sandy beaches. Despite this fact, there are a few parks along this coast that provide access to the water. The Hamakua Forest Preserve comprises several small parcels of land along waterways within the region protecting the natural beauty of the foothills.
Following Hawaii Belt Road southward from the Hamakua Coast visitors will reach Hilo, the largest community on the island. This is the political center of the island and it supports a population of 45,000 people. The shoreline near Hilo is made up mostly of lava. The community lies on a large protected bay, where the Waiakea Stream flows into the Pacific Ocean. The surrounding terrain is lush rain forest intermingled with desolate lava flow. West of Hilo are the extensive public lands of the Hilo and Upper Waiakea Forest Reserves. If you don't mind rain you'll find seclusion and plenty of recreation opportunities in this area.
The Saddle Road leads from Hilo westward to Mamalahoa Highway through the diverse and rugged terrain between the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Unfortunately, due to liability and towing costs, most car rental agencies forbid customers from taking this scenic drive. The road is paved, albeit narrow, and leads 50 miles through the interior of the island. (There are no services on Saddle Road.) This is the only way to access the Summit Road, which leads a short, but steep, distance to the Onizuka Visitor Center near the summit of Mauna Kea.
The southern coast of Hawaii is the least populated region of the island. Lava flows from Kilauea's east rift zone dominate the landscape and have covered highways, villages, beaches and forests in the region. Most of the lava flows are slow moving and individuals in the path have time to move their belongings, and often their houses, out of harm's way. Many of the attractions on this easternmost portion of the island were created by the lava fields. Cape Kumukahi lighthouse lies on the eastern tip of the island. It was miraculously spared by a lava flow that split only feet before reaching the structure and spilling into the ocean. Other wonders of lava in the region include Lava Tree State Park, where the forms of an ohia rain forest remain, while the trees were burnt by the fiery flow of lava. Along the coast black beaches and lava-formed tidepools dominate the landscapes of the region. Orchids love the barren lava flows and fields of the flowers can be seen along roadsides.
Volcanoes National Park and the Kau region of the island lie west of Puna on the southern coast of the island. The park contains amazingly diverse terrain, including two active volcanoes, tropical beaches, subalpine tundra and rain forests. This park shouldn't be missed by anyone who visits the island even if a few hours is all the time that can be spent here. It can be accessed from the Hawaii Belt Road. Further west on the coast is Kau, which encompasses the southernmost point on the island. Kau lies along the southern flanks of Mauna Loa. The foothills of the region support macadamia nut plantations and get significantly more rain than the coastal area, which is dry and desert like. Beach front parks line this region, which contains a few Hawaiian historical sites and natural areas. The Kau Forest Reserve preserves a large plot of land in the foothills north of the Hawaii Belt Highway.
Recreation - Most of the water-oriented recreation sites of Hawaii lie on the leeward (Kona) coast. The region's extensive reef system supports a myriad of diving sites. Snorkeling and swimming are popular pursuits in protected bays when waters are calm. Conditions for windsurfing, board surfing and body surfing often are better during the summer when under currents are not as strong. Hiking, backpacking, scenic driving and camping opportunities can be found in all regions of the island.
Climate - The island of Hawaii, like the others in the chain, has a windward and leeward climate. The windward (eastern) side of the island receives a lot of moisture. Hilo's monthly averages are above 8 inches. Winter and spring months receive the most moisture, but count on rain if you're traveling in this region. The leeward side can be almost desert like. The mountains are so large on Hawaii, that they trap the moisture on the windward side. Most of the days are sunny on the western coast of Hawaii and hence the tourists flock to this region.
Temperatures on the island of Hawaii are moderate with year round averages near 74 degrees F. The temperatures differ more with elevation than the seasons. Winter clothing such as gloves, hats and layered clothing is necessary if camping in any of the high elevation campgrounds on the island.
The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest, southernmost and easternmost island
in the Hawaiian archipelago.