If you love rain-soaked, lush locales, you’ll find them on Hawaii’s Big Island. If you prefer sunny, black-sand beaches and lava fields, they’re here, too.
As we drove from Hilo up the east coast and wound around to the Kona area, it felt as if we had entered some kind of time warp to experience both climates and terrains within minutes of one another. One moment we were flipping on our windshield wipers and the next we were slipping on our sunglasses.
That’s not surprising when you consider all but two of the world’s climatic zones can be found on Hawaii.
They don’t call it the Big Island for nothing. It covers just over 4,000 square miles and is large enough to fit all of the other Hawaiian islands into its territory almost twofold.
Sheer size isn’t the only reason the Big Island has burned a lasting place in our hearts.
It has the world’s two most active volcanoes, loads of lava- and rainforest-lined trails, beautiful beaches, charming sea turtles, colorful birds, towering waterfalls, lush botanical gardens, succulent tropical fruits and warm, friendly people. What’s not to love?
We were so enamored with last year’s trip to Hawaii, we repeated it this year. As if recently landing on National Geographic Traveler’s best-of-the-world-places-to-visit list isn’t enough inspiration, here are a few more reasons to plan your next trip to the Big Island.
Watch a volcano glow
Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-do while you’re on the island. It’s a living and fire-breathing reminder of the forces behind creating this biodiverse paradise.
Plan ahead and book your stay at the Volcano House in the park. While the accommodations are somewhat rustic but nice, you stay here for the view.
Just simply step outside the hotel for a view of Kilauea. Just hope you catch it on a clear day like this one. Don’t wait to get a photo because you never know when the weather will change.
On a clear night, you’ll see the blood orange flicker of lava churning in the Halema’uma’u Crater of the Kilauea Caldera. You will be wowed at first sight.
Our view from the comfort of the Volcano House
A zoomed in look at the volcano from our trip the previous year.
On one of the nights, a horizon-to-horizon backdrop of stars added to the otherworldly experience. If only I had my camera and tripod to capture that one.
Explore fields of lava
From the Volcano House, you can trek through the rainforest down to the floor of the caldera on the Halema’uma’u Trail. Recent volcano activity and potentially dangerous fumes during our visit prevented us from getting a closer look, but it’s still a thrill walking across the crunchy black lava field. Green signs of life sprouting from the floor are reminders of the powerful hand Mother Nature wields.
Another impressive hike takes you down to another once-molten lake of lava in the Kilauea Iki Crater. The four-mile hike has you peering above what used to be a churning, burning mass of lava when it erupted in 1959. After walking along its rim through a rainforest, the trail takes you down to the crater’s floor, where you can scamper among what looks like huge broken chucks of asphalt.
Before or after the trail, get an insider’s look at a lava highway. A river of red-hot lava used to flow through the Thurston Lava Tube, which was discovered in 1913 by its namesake local newspaper publisher. It’s an easy hike through a prehistoric and slightly spooky cave you won’t want to miss.
Fall for towering falls
We reluctantly left Volcanoes National Park for drier ground near Kona. It’s always hard leaving a unique place in which you know you may never return.
In Hawaii, getting from point A to B is a beautiful experience. The first time we drove from the park to Kona, we took Highway 200 across the center of the island. It had us pulling over every few minutes to capture the scenery.
This time we had an equally impressive drive up Highway 19, where we stopped at Asaka Falls State Park for a quick hike with stunning views of falls measuring 442 and 100 feet. Even more impressive than the falls is the jungle of flora and fauna that envelops you along the walk.
Beach yourself in the sand
We arrived at our destination, the Four Seasons Hualalai, and never left the resort. That was a shame because there are so many more white, black and even green sand beaches to explore on the Big Island.
While I say shame on me, I actually celebrate finding my inner calm in Hawaii and beaching myself in the sand.
The task-master, to-do-list-creating me vacated my body to enjoy the simple things like watching the light reflect on the waves or a sea turtle awkwardly emerge from the ocean to spend a few hours beachside resting in the afternoon sun. I like to think he came ashore to enjoy my company.
Our friend and layout companion, Mr. Turtle
Combining a few nights at Volcano House with the Four Seasons is a winning combination, allowing you to transition from rugged adventure to luxurious pampering.
We really just scratched the surface of what’s available to see, do and eat on the Big Island. Coffee plantations, observatories with high-powered telescopes, hikes to see century-old petroglyphs by native Hawaiians, and live music and markets will have to wait until the next trip.
The Big Island lures you into the “Hawaiian time” mind-set. It’s easy to stop and enjoy the moment, promising yourself that maybe tomorrow you’ll venture out more. Then the beauty of the light on the waves lulls you to sit a little longer, savor a little more.
I guess that’s part of what we love about Hawaii. It’s easy to be in the moment – whether it’s while exploring once-molten lava lakes, swimming with sea turtles or watching a sunset.