Hawaii Island Information
To avoid confusion with the name of the entire state, Hawaii Island is often called the “Big Island,” and what an appropriate name it is. Nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, its sheer size can be intimidating. You’ll find all but two of the world's climate zones within this island’s shores. The dramatic size and scope of the largest Hawaiian Island create a microcosm of environments and activities. On this island’s vast tableau, you’ll find everything from extravagant resorts and incredible golf courses to modest local towns and sacred Hawaiian historical sites.
Hawaii Island is best known for the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (one of the world’s most active volcanoes), the waterfalls and gardens in Hilo and along the Hamakua Coast, stargazing on Maunakea’s summit, Kona Coffee, golf in the resorts of the Kohala Coast, and manta ray night diving.
Travel to Hawaii Island:
Travel to Kona International Airport (KOA) in Kona to the west, or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in Hilo to the east. Most visitors arrive in Kona. There is also the option of flying into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu first and then taking a short, 35-40 minute flight to Hawaii Island.
Because the island is so big, consider arriving on one side of the island and departing from the other. For example, you might fly into Kona, explore that side of the island awhile, then drive to the Hilo side (roughly 2 hrs, 30 min) and explore for a while longer before flying out from the Hilo Airport, or vice-versa. (Be sure to ask car rental companies about drop off charges.)
Geography of Hawaii Island:
Hawaii Island is so big the other Hawaiian Islands could fit on it nearly twice. The youngest island in the Hawaiian chain (a mere 800,000 years old) is also home to Maunakea, the tallest sea mountain in the world. The summit of Maunakea stands 13,796 feet above sea level and rises over 32,000 feet from its base on the ocean floor, making it taller than Mt. Everest. Neighboring Maunaloa is the most massive mountain in the world, covering half the island. But Hawaii Island is most famous for Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupting continuously since 1983.
The lush east-side town of Hilo gets more than 130 inches of rain annually, while the Kohala Coast near Kawaihae usually gets no more than eight inches a year. Ranging from the fern forests of Puna and the cool breezes of Waimea, to the sunny lava plains of Kona and the dry heat of Kau, Hawaii Island is a place of stunningly distinct environments.
Brief History of Hawaii Island
Believed to be the first Hawaiian Island discovered and settled by Polynesians, perhaps as early as the fifth century, Hawaii Island has been the scene of many of the state’s historic events. The birthplace of King Kamehameha I, Hawaii Island was the one from which he launched forays to unify the islands. For a time, it was the capital of the kingdom. Hawaii Island was also the scene of King Kamehameha I’s death, and with it the end of the kapu system, abolished by his successor (and son) Kamehameha II in 1819. Kealakekua Bay, Captain Cook’s first Hawaii Island landfall in 1779, and the scene of his death, is the site where the first Christian service (a seaman’s burial) was performed on Hawaii’s shores. Today, much of ancient Hawaii can still be seen throughout the island, where historical sites have been preserved.
Weather on Hawaii Island:
Hawaii Island is an incredible collection of diverse microenvironments, each with its own weather. There are as many different climate zones here as there are along the entire coast from Alaska to Costa Rica, a result of the shielding effect and elevations of the massive volcanoes Maunakea and Maunaloa. Experience this for yourself as you explore Hawaii Island by car or helicopter. See the tropical rainforests on the Hamakua Coast, the cool uplands of Waimea, the volcanic deserts of Kau and the sunny beaches of Kona and the Kohala Coast, all within the span of a day’s drive.
There are really only two seasons: the summer months that extend from May to October and the winter months that run from November to April. The average daytime summer temperature at sea level is 85 degrees F. (29.4 C), while the average daytime winter temperature is 78 degrees (25.6 C). Temperatures at night are approximately 10 degrees F. lower. However, at higher elevations, temperatures can drop dramatically.