The BIG picture of the BIG island

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- Let's go to Hawaii.

- okay, which island do you have on your mind?

- how many islands are there?

- Let me Google. Eight!

We were making plans to go to Hawaii for our first real vacation of 2020. I realized then that the Hawaiian archipelago has so many islands. After hours of research and deliberation, we decided to go to the “island of Hawaii.” I know, it's a bit confusing – the island of Hawaii in the Hawaiian Islands – kind of a tongue twister! The Hawaiian Islands refer to all those eight islands. The island of Hawaii is one of the eight. Each has a nickname – it is "the big island" for the island of Hawaii. As the name suggests, it is the biggest one in the Hawaiian archipelago with a surface area of roughly 4000 square miles (the next largest island is Maui, which is 5 times smaller). It is also the home to the highest mountain in the Hawaiian Islands, Mauna Kea (14000 ft).

Parker ranch: pastoral countryside of Waimea

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What to expect:

The big island is an ecologically diverse place. Eight of the thirteen climate zones of the world can be found here – humid tropical climate (tropical dry, monsoon, continuously wet), arid and semi-arid climate (steppe, desert), temperate climate (temperate dry, continually wet), and polar climate (tundra). Sounds remarkable since the island is only 4000 square miles long! Due to such a diverse environment, big island is blessed with a varied landscape, flora, and fauna.

The western side of the island has dry weather, and the east coast is the wet part of the island. Kailua-Kona is the biggest town on the west side and is home to Kona international airport. Hilo, the biggest town on the island, is located on the east coast. Hilo also has an airport, mostly serves inter-island flights.

Packing the wardrobe for the trip was a bit tricky for us. Packing summer clothing was a no-brainer, I mean – its Hawaii ;-) During our visit in November, on the west coast of the island, the temperature often soared to 90-degree F. Turned out that winter clothing is equally essential- temperature around Mauna Kea dipped to less than 50-degree F. Luckily, we also packed rainwear as we had plans to stay on the east coast. It constantly rained for 4 days at Hilo during our visit.

Waikoloa Village

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Travel itinerary:

My suggestion would be to stay 2-3 days each on the east, west, north, and south sides of the island if you have enough days. If you are short on days, try to spend at least a few days on the islands' eastern and western sides.

Due to the arid climate of Kohala Bay on the west coast, this is the most popular destination among tourists. The stunning white sand beaches of the Kohala coast defines the perfect Hawaiian paradise. Most big resorts are located in this area. It is also very close to Kona airport – only 30-minutes' drive. The northern tip of the island is relatively remote, and there are very few places to stay. The town of Waimea on the north coast is a must-see- a totally different landscape with lush green valleys. We felt like we were in the mountains of Wyoming or Montana! The rugged Hamakua coast on the northeastern side of the island is one-of-a-kind. Waipio Valley and Pololu valley are two main attractions here. Hilo on the east side gets a lot of rainfall. We loved the vibrant green scenery of Hilo, quite a contrast to the west coast. Hawaii volcanoes national park is located on the south side. Currently, there is no active lava flow, but the park is not to be missed.

Hawaii belt road connects the entire island. It takes 5-6 hours to make the round trip. Another main highway on the island is Saddle road. It goes across the island connecting Hilo and Kona; significantly reduces travel times between the two main towns.

Northern tip of the big island

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Car rental:

If you have plans to explore rugged, remote spots on the island, my recommendation is to get a high-clearance vehicle. All main highways on the island are paved, though. Therefore, if your plan is to just relax in a resort setting, any car will do.

Pololū Valley

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Where to stay:

Kailua-Kona, Hilo, and Volcano have a variety of hotels with a wide range of prices. Big resorts are located in the northern Kona and in Kohala districts. There are some fantastic Bed and breakfasts and Airbnb across the island. I personally loved them more as they offered a more authentic organic experience.

Waipio Valley

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Tours and activities:

The big island offers some jaw-droppingly beautiful beaches. It is the only place in the world where you will find such an eclectic variety of beaches - white sand, black sand, and green sand! It is also a hiking paradise. Most of the popular hikes are day hikes and are moderately strenuous.

Since we were traveling during COVID, we stayed away from big tours. In regular times, the most popular tours are – snorkeling tours, Helicopter Tours, and Mauna Kea sunset and stargazing tours. To avoid large group activity, we took a few private tours – coffee farm tour (Kona farm-direct coffee), chocolate farm tour (Lavaloha farms), and a stargazing tour (Epic tours). All were a lot of fun and highly recommended!

Captain cook: Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

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Traveling during COVID:

Hawaii has strict travel restrictions. Please follow the guidelines listed on their department of health website.

We took our test at CVS pharmacy 72 hours before the flight. 48 hours after taking the test, we received our negative test result. Upon landing at the Kona airport, the department of health administered a mandatory rapid antigen test free of cost. Within 15 minutes, we got our negative results back. Subsequently, we were allowed to proceed to the baggage claim area. Please carry your negative test results all the time. In hotels and many dine-in restaurants, they asked us to show the test results.


Southern tip of the big island

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