Culture and History

The Big Island of Hawaii Has Something for Everyone

Bigger than all of the other islands combined, the Big Island is large enough to hold 11 of the world’s 13 climactic zones - from sandy beaches, molten lava flows, the arid Ka’u desert, the tropical rainforests of the Hamakua Coast, barren lava fields, to the snowcapped mountains of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. You’ll find everything from extravagant resorts and astonishing golf courses to sleepy, local towns, and sacred Hawaiian historical sites.


The size can be surprising for those who are used to the size of the Neighbor Islands, but it’s still manageable. 


The Big Island offers the most diverse Hawaii experience at the cost of increased driving times. This makes it all the more important to take a vacation longer than one week if possible, because it’s difficult to see the highlights of the Big Island in a short time. But no matter how much of the island you see, you’ll leave with a deeper reverence for the beauty, power, and history of the Big Island of Hawaii. 


Most Big Island visitors stay on the Kona-Kohala Coast with its great weather, many shopping and dining options and wide array of accommodations. 


The waters off the Kona coast tend to be very clear and great for diving and snorkeling. The Kohala region to the north of Kona offers spectacular beaches, including the wide sandy beaches of Spencer Beach and Hapuna Beach State Park.  You’ll find brilliant weather, luxury hotels, and fine dining and shopping in the King’s Shops and the Queen’s Marketplace. Take a boat trip to Kealakekua Bay for an amazing snorkeling experience in a historic place. Set up a tee-time at a spectacular golf course on the Kohala Coast. 


Enjoy a luau with great Hawaiian food and exciting Polynesian dancing. 

If you haven't attended a Luau, you should! Yes, they are a bit old-fashioned, but they are good entertainment. The food and drinks are great, and the Polynesian dancing can be quite spectacular and beautiful. Have a Mai Tai & take in the show!


Visit tropical waterfalls, rainforests, and botanical gardens in Hilo. 

The Puna region is a good base to explore the Hilo area and launch expeditions into Volcanoes National Park. This area of the island receives a lot of rain and is very green. Visit the Botanical Gardens at Onomea Bay and see more tropical plants and orchids than you ever imagined. Visit the beautiful black sand beach at Punaluu.  Take a road trip along the Hamakua Coast then wander the historic streets of downtown Hilo and discover the laid-back way of life, Hilo-style.  


View Kilauea, the world's most active volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

If you’re planning on visiting the Volcanoes National Park, the first thing you should do is to forget anything you may have heard or seen about the volcano – the problem being one of impossible expectations, set by the media and the National Park itself to attract visitors. If you have any appreciation for geology and nature you will thoroughly enjoy the park. Just remember that there is no guarantee of seeing an active lava flow as the flows are often in remote areas and under ground. You can check at the Park Headquarters to see if there are any accessible active lava flows that can be hiked to, but these hikes can be difficult if you’re not an athletic individual, and they are often over very rough terrain. Despite being the most active volcano in the world, this is not the type of volcano that erupts like Mt. St. Helens. New eruptions are fairly predictable in that they announce themselves ahead of time (in the form of small earthquakes ). However, if you are unable to outrun lava flows that top speeds of 0.05 miles per hour you may want to stay away. Exploring the park takes at least a full day, more if you want to do some hiking. People with breathing difficulties, like asthma or emphysema can have problems when the winds blow the volcano smog (VOG) across the island.


Hawaiian Culture

The Merrie Monarch is the world’s premier hula event and it happens every year in Hilo. This week-long celebration of the ancient art of the hula happens every Easter but hula halau (hula schools) from every island and the mainland practice year-round for the event. This moving expression of music, dance, and storytelling is part of a local renaissance perpetuating the culture of the Hawaiian people. The Merrie Monarch Festival is just one example of how the people of Hawaii’s Big Island live comfortably in the present but with great respect for the past. 


Visit the Place of Refuge - Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park and learn about the history and culture of the Hawaiian people. The mana (spiritual power) is strong at places like Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, so you’ll find locals have a deep respect for history and nature. Today, with an active volcano still shaping the land, the people of Hawaii’s Big Island continue to forge their own history.

Home of Hawaiian Royalty

The Kona coast was once the home of Hawaiian royalty. In fact, King Kamehameha himself spent his later years in Kailua-Kona. Significant historic places like Puuhonua o Honaunau, Hulihee Palace, and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park let you explore Hawaii’s past first-hand.


Pu'uhonua O Honaunau or "Place of Refuge" National Historical Park is one of the most beautiful Hawaiian locations you can imagine. This National Historic Site is one of the best locations for learning about ancient Hawaiian life. Demonstrations of local skills are often happening here.


Historic Hulihee Palace and the Mokuaikaua Church are located right on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. Later in life, King Kamehameha lived near the current site of King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel until his passing in 1819. The Ahuena Heiau also resides at the hotel, a reconstructed temple rebuilt by Kamehameha himself. This sacred site is on the register of National Historic Landmarks and is just one of the significant places on the Kona coast.