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Big Island for Beginners: Exploring Hawaii’s Largest Island

Considering your first trip to the Big Island? Good pick. The Big Island offers a lot of activities, lodging, and experiences for beginners. This guide will help you get the most out of your trip to the Big Island, covering everything you need to know to start planning your adventure below.

Getting to the Big Island

Major airports on the Big Island are Hilo Airport (ITO) and Kona International Airport (KOA). If you are arriving from another Hawaiian island, such as Oahu or Maui, you will find flights to both airports. Most visitors from foreign countries or the mainland will land at Kona Airport (as of this writing, Hilo Airport does not accept any aircraft from outside the Hawaiian Islands). Understanding this will enable you to arrange your travel schedule. Kona and Hilo have roughly 1.5 hours of driving time.

Getting Around on the Big Island

Although the Big Island could be “big” for Hawaiian criteria, in absolute terms, it is really modest. At its broadest, the island only covers 95 miles. However, it is twice the size of all other Hawaiian Islands combined. Renting a car is the only practical way you can get around the Big Island if you wish to be in charge of your own transportation. Should you find yourself without an automobile for whatever reasonable cause, you can make do with the following alternatives:

  • Using public transportation—the bus
  • Using Uber, Lyft, taxi services, and shared rides
  • Alternatively, for sightseeing, use trips.

Island Hopping

Of every ten people (2023 statistics) visiting the Big Island for Beginners, four also visit another island on their journey. Indeed, when possible, many visitors to Hawaii opt to explore multiple islands. Time is the most limiting element here; however, there are many more that could affect your goals. We walk you through your options in our comprehensive guide to island hopping in Hawaii, so you can decide the best course of action. We examine the arguments for and against island hopping and provide some guidance on the ideal travel schedule, including money-saving ideas and a few recommendations on which islands to visit and why.

The natural landscape of Big Island

The Big Island is by far the largest island, as it is larger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. This explains the moniker. It is composed of five volcanoes, two of which are currently active, and has a top elevation of almost 14,000 feet, making it eight of the thirteen climate zones found worldwide. Thus, the natural terrain of the Big Island presents a wealth of diversity and opportunities for exploration, including lava fields, rainforests, high-altitude forests, and, of course, coastal ecosystems.

Where should I stay on the Big Island for Beginners ?

Though there are hotels all across the island, the primary regions include the town of Kailua-Kona, North Kona and the Kohala Coast, South Kona, Hilo, and Volcano. Each of these places has reasons for both staying and not staying, since they all offer something slightly different. One area may make more sense depending on your vacation planning, personal interests, and financial situation. The following is a somewhat reduced list of the kind of visitors we believe might find enjoyment on the Big Island:

  • First-timers, single vacationers, families, active travelers—Kailua-Kona.
  • North Kona and the Kohala Coast: Families and Beach Bumming
  • South Kona: Households
  • Hilo: Families, budget travelers, and active explorers.
  • Volcano: Active Adventurers
  • Holualoa is a regular traveler.
  • Puna: A destination for budget-conscious travelers and adventurous individuals 

See our guide to Big Island Accommodations for a thorough exploration of every one of these areas, providing valid explanations on why (and why not!) to stay there. 

How Long Do People Stay on the Big Island?

Our 7-day plan shows our suggested length of time on the Big Island to fully explore it. You can, of course, travel on a shorter trip, knowing that you won’t have time to thoroughly explore the whole island. Still, given the drive times required, we would advise an absolute minimum stay of four days. This length of time will enable you to see the island in its entirety and enjoy some of the attractions without feeling hurried. Those visiting for a shorter stay should concentrate their interests on one section of the island, perhaps the Kona Coast or Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Big Island’s Notorious Attractions

What should we do on the Big Island for Beginners? Lots! From surfing to stargazing, the Big Island offers a wealth of events to keep you occupied day and night. We present the most popular events and attractions here without any specific order.

Kona Coffee Region: 

Along with macadamia nuts, coffee grows extensively all across the Big Island, but most famously in the Kona Coffee Belt on the highlands above Kona. One of the little farms in this area is open for a tour and taste-test.

Manta Ray Snorkel (and Dive):

 One of the most unusual offers available worldwide, the Kona side of the Big Island is one of the few locations where you can snorkel with enormous manta rays. See further information about the Kona manta ray snorkel.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 
See the east side of the Big Island’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to tour the youngest and most active volcano on the island, Kīlauea.
Kailua-Kona: 

Along with a variety of beachfront restaurants, stores, and bars, this little hamlet on the Kona coast boasts breathtaking ocean views.

From the warm beaches to the often icy top of the Mauna Kea volcano, whose summit is roughly 13,800 feet, At night, visit the Mauna Kea guest center for some of the best stargazing in the world.

Kealakekua Bay: 

In addition to its tremendous historical value as the site of death for renowned western adventurer James Cook, this marine sanctuary offers some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island. See our guide for more information on visiting Kealakekua Bay, including when and how.

Visitor Tips

Here are some pointers on organizing your first visit to the Big Island:

  • Pay for a car rental. You will undoubtedly require a car rental to fully explore the Big Island. Public transportation is inefficient and won’t let you travel outside the norm.
  • Spend your days on the Kona coast. Beautiful blue waves, lots of sea life, and several snorkeling and boating excursions define the Kona side of the island. On the Hilo side of the island, there are few water alternatives; this side usually has more choppy waves.
  • Make an effort to remain on both sides of the island. Staying a few days on the Kona side and a few days on the Hilo side will help you to highlight the significant variations between the two sides of the island and also enable you to get closer to investigate surrounding sites.
  • See the mountains. The two active volcanoes and five total on the Big Island set it apart. One may hike, stargaze, and observe lava.
  • Beach Bumming? Go to the North Kona/Kohala coast. Although The Big Island lacks the same number of beaches as Oʻahu or Maui, its North Kona and Kohala Coasts have some really lovely white-sand beaches. If you plan to become a beach bum, it is imperative that you establish your roots in these locations.

This guide to the Big Island for beginners will ensure you have a memorable trip filled with adventure and relaxation. Happy travels!

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