Big Island map

Although it is located within the tropics, the Big Island is one of the world’s most climatically diverse spots. All but two of the earth’s climate zones are found here (no arctic or tundra, if you must know). But the general rule of thumb is that the eastern side of the Big Island (the Hamakua Coast) tends to be wetter and more tropical while the western side (the Kona Coast) tends to be drier and sunnier.

Hamakua Coast: The wetter eastern slope of Mauna Kea stretching from Waipio Valley to Hilo, the Hamakua Coast is home to waterfalls, lush valleys, abandoned sugar mills and sleepy plantation towns.

Hilo: The second most populous city in the state and the center of Big Island government. Also, the rainiest city in the U.S.

Kailua-Kona:  Locals call it Kona (video). This former sleepy fishing village, now the population center of West Hawaii, is the starting point of the Ironman Triathlon and home to the annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.

Kamuela (Waimea): Cowboy country and the home of the Parker Ranch, Kamuela is also known as Waimea, which means ‘red water’ in Hawaiian (video).

Kau: (pronounced cow-OO) comprises the vast southern portion of the island and is home to the world’s most active volcano.

Kilauea: This centerpiece of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been erupting since 1983. Click here for the latest information about eruptions within the crater.

Kohala Coast:  The dry northwest coast of the Big Island that is home to luxurious resort hotels and the island’s best and most scenic beaches. It is also the birthplace of Hawaii’s first monarch and home to the most haunting (and perhaps haunted) heiau in the state.

Mauna Kea:  Hawaiian for ‘White Mountain’; It is skiable most winters (sorry, no chair lifts). When measured from its base on the ocean floor, it stands nearly four thousand feet taller than Mt. Everest.

Mauna Loa:  Means ‘long mountain’ in Hawaiian. The mass of this gigantic shield volcano makes up 85% of the Big Island.

Puna: The area south of Hilo and east of Kau has untouched rainforests, black sand beaches (including the island’s only informal ‘clothing optional’ beach), geothermally heated ocean pools, orchid farms, and the world’s most active volcano.

South Point:  The southernmost point of the United States (yes, Hawaii is the 50th state, although it may seem like a foreign country at times). South Point is home to wind turbines, green sand beaches, and powerful ocean currents. Plan ahead. There are no comfort facilities at South Point.

Waipio Valley:   Incredible natural beauty is contained within the valley’s sheer walls. View the valley from the overlook (bring your binoculars) or reserve a valley tour at a nearby gallery or at the entrance to the valley.

Get to Know the Big Island (videos)

Big Island Trivia

  1. The Big Island is the most distant island in the world. No other island is as far away from a major land mass.

  1. At less than one-half million years old, The Big Island is the youngest Hawaiian Island.

  2. Measuring more than 33,000 feet from its undersea base to its top, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth.

  1. With a volume of more than 18,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on earth.

  1. Encompassing 4,028 square miles, the Big Island’s land area equals 62 percent of the total land area of the Hawaiian Islands.

  1. Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano. It has been erupting continuously since 1983. (I saw it the night it started.) Click here for tour information.

  1. Totaling nearly 150,000 acres, the Parker Ranch, centered in the town of Waimea (Kamuela) is one of the nation’s largest. Click here to learn how to go horseback riding on the Big Island..

  1. Kamuela is named for a former postmaster named Samuel (Kamuela, in Hawaiian). The town’s real name is Waimea, which means ‘red water’. During a part of the year the stream that flows through town takes on a rusty color caused by decaying hapu ferns - or the blood of fallen warriors. Your choice.

  1. Every Hawaiian island has a town named Waimea, which is why our Waimea is also called Kamuela (pronounced Kam-uh- WELL-uh).

  1. The Big Island is the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great, the first king of Hawaii. He lived out his sunset years in what is now Kailua-Kona. He could have lived on any island, but chose this one. Need we say more?

  1. All of the other major Hawaiian islands could fit on the Big Island...twice (with a little overlap).

  1. The written Hawaiian language is comprised of 12 letters - the five vowels and these seven consonants: h, k, l, m, n, p, w. (although the `okina, or golttal stop in words such as pu`u is considered a consonant by some).

  1. In the Hawaiian language, Mauna Kea means ‘White Mountain’. Its summit is usually snow capped during the Hawaiian winter.

  1. Boy with Telescope
    Because it is above 40 percent of Earth’s atmosphere and 90 percent of its water vapor, the summit of Mauna Kea is an ideal site for astronomy. A dozen major telescopes are located there. Click here for tour information.

  1. All street lights on the island are yellow, as a way to reduce light pollution for astronomers atop Mauna Kea.

  1. Humpback whales spend part of the fall and winter in Big Island waters. According to biologists, they do not feed while they are here.

  1. The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is not really green on the outside. Because of the algae it eats, its fat is green.

  1. Residents of Hawaii consume more SPAM® (an average of 5.6 cans each per year) than residents in any other state. Even fast food restaurants in Hawaii feature SPAM® on their menus.

  1. Hawaii is one of the 50 United States. Vacationers sometimes refer to the mainland U.S. as the “States” (“We have something like that back in the states.”) Locals and savvy visitors refer to the contiguous 48 states as ‘The Mainland’.,-hi-6.html,_Hawaii,-hi-6.html


Useful Information

Time Zone

Hawaii Standard Time. Hawaii does not observe Daylight Savings time, so the time in Hawaii is either 5 or 6 hours behind US Eastern time and 2 or 3 hours behind Pacific time.


English, Hawaiian, and Pidgin (a local slang).


Hawaii is one of the 50 United States. The U.S. Dollar is gratefully accepted along with most credit cards. ATM machines are are widely available.

Average Temperature

75º to 88º daytime.

65º to 75º nighttime.

Winter days and nights are 3 - 5 degrees cooler than summer.


The area code for all of Hawaii is (808).  A phone call to anywhere on the island is considered a local call. Cell phone coverage is widely available. Check your service plan for details. Internet access is widely available. Click here for a list of free WiFi locations on the Big Island.


  1. Bus service is available island-wide. Click here for information.

  1. Rental cars are available at both airports. Hawaii has the highest gasoline prices in the US. You may want to consider that when renting a vehicle.

  2. The least expensive gasoline is sold at Costco in Kona, near the Kona airport. Only a Costco approved credit card or Costco gasoline card is accepted for payment.

  1. Sun Protection

Take it from a local: the tropical sun can be brutal to unprotected flesh. You wouldn’t want to spoil your vacation on the first day, so we advise that you wear waterproof sunblock (SPF 50 is appropriate for most activities) and protective headgear if you are out and about during the day.

Be sure to sunblock the tops of your feet If you are wearing sandals as well as the tops of your ears. And remember that your t-shirt has only an SPF of 7 or 8.


There is probably no better way to get an overview of The Big Island than from the air.

Click here to reserve a memorable helicopter tour.