Visiting Big Island
What to expect
The Island of Hawai’i is a place of wonder that amazes an stays in one’s memory for years to come, if not forever. Come with an empty mind and explore its beautiful places, meet ever-friendly locals and eat some of the most delicious food on the planet. Let me point out few things we learned when visiting Big Island to help you decide if this island suits your needs and expectations. Also, Please read the twin articles-”Geology of the Hawaiian Islands” and Human history of the Hawaiian Islands” “ to learn in short the history of Hawai’i and its people.
Big Island is, well, big, even for Mainland standards. That means a lot of driving, even if you split your stay into several places (two, one on Hilo side and one on Kona side, is an absolute minimum). Roads, while very well maintained and marked, are mostly two-line with speed limits between 25-45mph. There are two main roadways-Mamalahoa Hwy or Hwy 11 (Hwy 19 in northern part of the island) that encircles the island and is the main way to get to most of Hawai’i attractions. While we were there (may-June) the traffic was non-existent and we actually enjoyed the road, but I don’t know how it looks like in busier seasons (not like traffic in Honolulu, that’s for sure). There are buses between Hilo and Kona, but car is definitely a preferred way of moving around the island
If you’re a party type of person who enjoys crowded beaches, boardwalks lined with fancy restaurants and exceptional nightlife, you may be disappointed- Big Island is a very laid-back place with fewer tourist and even less opportunities to “go crazy”. Sure, there are few resorts and Kona offers some nightclubs and so on, but the overall feel of Hawai’i delivers more to an adventurous types or people who just want to calm down and relax from a busy daily life.
Hawai’i is a land of lava- fields of jet black rocks dominate the landscape in some parts of the island and you can even experience the fierce power of nature first hand. Since Big Island is merely a “newborn baby” in Earth history timeline, it has less sandy beaches than older islands in the archipelago, but the ones it has are phenomenal. There are more black sand beaches than anywhere else in the world, some of them only few years old
Expenses- although Hawai’i is still much cheaper than other Polynesian destination, expect to pay more than in mainland virtually for everything (ok, booze is much cheaper than in New York and a Canadian couple we met said liquor prices are a steal in Hawai’i compared to home). Food is especially pricey, so is gas and activities. That being said, read our“Hawai’i on a budget” guide for rips on how to enjoy Big Island without spending two arms and both legs:)
What to take
Big Island has so many interesting places to explore that you fill your vacation time, guarantee. Assuming that you are a kind of traveler we are (on a budget, with an explorer mindset and no time to waste on laying around doing nothing), there are few things you should take with you to the island of Hawai’i
Hiking gear- some of the trails on Big Island are rough, dirt type treks that can turn in a slippery, muddy mess after rainfall , while other go through knife-sharp lava fields that are no joke for your footwear. Consider getting (if you don’t have already) a good pair of over-the-ankle hiking boots, hiking sandals with closed toe and water shoes for the beach. A pair or two of durable/breathable socks and hiking poles come handy too
Sun protection- a baseball cap or hat, pair of polarizing sunglasses, UV proof clothes and sunscreen are all must-have when visiting any of the Hawaiian Islands.
Good backpack- a sturdy hiking daypack should be enough for all but few hikes on the island (these “few” being multiday backpacker adventures but if you are up to that you definitely know more about hiking gear than us). Make sure it’s comfy and has pockets for extra water as you’ll need to take plenty on most hikes
Rain gear- waterproof hiking shoes and good rain jacket will make your hikes more enjoyable. Hawai’i is a tropical island and it rains a lot here (at least in some areas), but don’t let it discourage you from coming- the rain never lasts long and it’s quite refreshing too
Winter clothes (no, really!)- that might sound ridiculous considering Big Island’s location on the map, but you should take warm jacket, winter cap and gloves if you plan to visit Mauna Kea summit (and you should have it on your to-do list, trust me). The weather conditions around observatories and on trails varies from chilly during the day to freezing cold at night
Swimwear and snorkeling gear- there are many places on the island with amazing snorkeling and wave-riding opportunities so don’t forget to take a swimsuit, mask and fins. You can also rent gear at local dive shops or buy it in Walmart if it doesn’t fit your luggage
Underwater camera- there is as much to see under water as above it, waterproof camera helps memorize the amazing underwater life surrounding Hawai’i
Some extra zip-locks and plastic bags- the state of Hawaii does not allow vendors to stuff sold merchandise into plastic bags, so bring some from home for that wet swimsuit after a day on the beach
First aid kit- some of Big Island’s destinations are quite remote and a bandage or hydrogen peroxide may save the day
http://www.bigislandhikes.com/ -detailed description of the amazing hikes the island of Hawaii has to offer