Hawaii is a magical place, one of the best (if not the best) beach/tropical destinations in the U.S. Visitors flock to Honolulu, the capital, on Oahu, but if you’re looking for a quieter visit, consider the Big Island.
Before you visit Hawaii, read this article. It talks about the true history of Hawaii and how to travel responsibly. At the least, it reminds us how to travel responsibly anywhere – to respect the land, culture, and people.
This post will give you the details to plan your trip!
Which Hawaiian Island to Visit?
If you’re beginning your Hawaii planning, you might be wondering if Hawai’i (Big Island) is the island you should visit. Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular islands, listed from most developed and touristy to least:
- Oahu: Gathering Place – big city attractions, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, North Shore surfing heaven
- Maui: Valley Isle – landscape variety, beautiful scenery
- Hawai’i: Big Island – astronomy, active volcanoes, diving
- Kaua’i: Garden Isle – lush greenery, quiet
With a week to visit, we decided to maximize our time on one island and skip the travel between islands. We picked Hawai’i because it is known for its diving and the year-round manta dive. The Big Island also has the most biodiversity on its reefs.
Quick Tips for Big Island Hawaii
- Language: English and Hawaiian are spoken here.
- Currency: U.S. Dollar
- You’ll need to rent a car to get around. For a week’s rental, it was about $1,150.
- Bring reef-safe sunscreen and put sunscreen on daily.
- Bring a reusable water bottle.
- Bring a raincoat or light jacket if you’re planning to travel around the island. Hilo (east side) gets rain often.
- For Mauna Kea, you’ll need to bring winter clothes, especially if you don’t join a tour, which will have a parka for you.
When to Visit Big Island Hawaii
The weather and temperature are great year-round in Hawaii. The dry season is from April to October and the wet season is from November to March. The most expensive time to travel is when kids don’t have school, especially June through August and December. We went in September, which was perfect for the weather and fewer crowds.
How to Get to Hawaii Island
You’ll fly into Kona International Airport (KOA). Kona is the most developed and busiest part of the island. A roundtrip ticket from Austin to Kona is about $400-600 and the trip is about 10 hours at the shortest. The travel time can be brutal!
How to Get Around Hawaii Big Island
You’ll need to rent a car. Most hotels and vacation rentals will include parking in the reservation and all roads are paved. From the airport, there are shuttles to rental lots nearby. You’ll save a bit of money if you reserve your rental ahead of time. We used Discount Hawaii Car Rental and the rental came from Dollar Rent a Car. For a week’s rental, it was about $1,150.
Here are some time/distances you might need to plan travel around the island:
- Kona to Hilo: 1.5 hrs
- Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 2 hrs
- Kona to Waimea: 1 hr
- Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 45 mins
- Hilo to Waimea: 1 hr and 15 mins
Where to Stay on Big Island
Where should you stay when you visit the Big Island? We split our time between Kona and Hilo. No matter where you stay, you’ll likely travel to different parts of the island. If you drove around the island at one time, it would take about eight hours.
Here’s a little more about each city and some recommended places to stay:
Westside of the island. This is where you’ll fly in and where the biggest concentration of rentals and restaurants are located. Most of the beaches are on this side of the island also. We stayed at the Royal Kona for a night and this rental studio for a few nights.
This area is south of Kona, about 30 minutes away. It’s a good area to be near Kona but not in Kona.
Eastside of the island. The largest city yet more spread out than Kona, Hilo is the capital of the Big Island. This is also the wettest part of the island, so you’ll see more abundant vegetation.
South part of the island. If you want to spend extended time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you’ll likely stay in Volcano, Mountain View (20 minutes away), Keaau (35 minutes away), or Hilo (one hour away). We stayed in this wonderful rental in Keaau. It was a tinier living space but had a huge outdoor space with lots of interesting plants.
- 2-bedroom rental for 6
- Off-Grid Tiny House
- Lava Field Tiny Home
- Adventure Treehouse
- Tiny Tropical Treehouse
- Dreamy Tropical Treehouse
North part of the island. This beautiful area is at an elevation near 3,000 feet.
What to Eat on Big Island
Be sure to try traditional Hawaiian food! Dishes like slow-cooked pork and desserts like haupia pie were some of my favorites. My top three favorite restaurants we tried were: Kaaloa Super J’s, Umekes Fish Market, and Foster’s Kitchen. Check out this post to learn more about Hawaiian cuisine and to get restaurant recommendations.
What to Do on Big Island
My top three recommendations of things to do are scuba diving, the Mauna Kea summit, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are also beaches, waterfalls, coffee tours, and more! You could easily go to a different beach every day.
See these blog posts for details:
- 10 Best Things to Do in Big Island, Hawaii
- Stargazing on the Mauna Kea Summit on Hawaii Big Island is a Must-Do!
- Diving with Manta Rays in Hawaii + Big Island Dive Guide
Big Island Hawaii Itinerary
Here’s an action-packed itinerary for you! It’ll have you staying in Kona and Hilo and you’ll drive around the whole island during your trip.
- Day 1: Arrive in Kona
- Day 2: Explore Kona and West Coast (Recommendation: scuba dive day)
- Day 3: Explore Kona and West Coast (Recommendation: Greenwell Coffee Tour, Pu’uhonua National Historical Park, beaches)
- Day 4: Drive towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, stay night in Hilo
- Day 5: Spend more time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or explore the Hilo area
- Day 6: Drive towards the north part of the island, stop at lookout points like Laupahoehoe Beach Park or Waipi’o Valley, stay night in Kona
- Day 7: Spend morning at beaches, Mauna Kea Summit Tour starts around 2-3 p.m.
- Day 8: Last few hours of activities, departure in the afternoon
What a beautiful trip to a magical place! It’s easy to see how people are drawn to live in Hawaii. I hope you get the chance to experience it!
P.S. Want more travel recommendations? See all my travel guides here!