While listening to a few visitors on Oahu discuss why they don’t want to visit the Big Island during their Hawaiian vacation, I realized that the Big Island can sometimes be revered as less than desirable compared to other islands. The lush, green, raw island is sometimes referred to as rainy, boring, rocky and empty. While it’s true that Hawaii’s youngest island doesn’t have much nightlife, it’s quite laid back, development is less than other islands, and it has a much lower population than Oahu, the island is a gorgeous place to visit.
I grew up there, so as a teenager and in my early 20s there was definitely times I felt that I was missing out on something in life. Now that I’ve been living on oh so crowded Oahu for four years, I appreciate the Big Island in a way I never have before. When it’s described at boring, that really means relaxed, peaceful, and calm. Rainy can be a literal term, but on the Big Island you can enjoy the rain in steam vents, swim in geothermally heated hot ponds, and and usually escape it if you’d like by heading south or west.
The Big Island certainly is rocky. It’s true that its coastline consists more of black lava rock than endless white sand like older islands in the chain. But, on the Big Island you can drive out to a very green sand beach and spend the day, you can laze on black sand in sacred valleys like Waipio or Pololu, and you can still find sufficient white sand at beautiful, long, secluded west side beaches. What may be the best thing about the rocky island, is that you can view rocks before they become, well, rocky. A trip out to the flowing lava, watching bright red flowing lava pour into the ocean from the sea or on land is an experience like no other. It’s lava that leads us to the next adjective, empty.
Yes, the Big Island is relatively empty compared to the other main islands. Thanks to Madame Pele’s occupancy of the island, it is quite lacking in development. A rather short strip of big hotels call Kona home and there are a few pretty small ones in Hilo. Actually, buildings here don’t get very tall in general. When it comes to buildings and homes, there all pretty much confined to a few main areas, leaving much of the island uninhabited.
Hilo is the islands biggest town. Here you will find farmers markets, shops, boutiques, a lot of restaurants, big box stores like Walmart and Target, and many offices and stores that meet resident’s daily need. Southeast and near the coast from Hilo is Keaau and Pahoa where homes are huddled into various neighborhoods. This is the area typically referred to as the boonies. Ever since the beach and surfing town Kalapana was taken by lava about 20 years ago, lower Puna has consisted of residents living pretty simple lives somewhat cut off from the rest of the world. Here, the jungle is lush, the coast is raw and rocky, and residents can still see the orange glow of the lava at night over Kalapana. Hilo and Puna make up the wet side of the island.
Kona is an expansive area of dry, rocky land blessed with a coastline of beautiful white sand beaches. Kona has expanded in recent years, and although it’s populated with life long residents, it’s a little more “touristy” than the east side. It has it’s share of restaurants, boutiques, activities, and daily life need for residents, but also has more hotels, golf courses, and condos.
Perhaps what may be the best description for the big island is unique. The island is home to the majority of the climates found around the world. Here, you can snowboard on a volcano and surf in the same day. You can camp and swim in sacred valleys, relax on green sand made of olivine, swim in a giant lake resting in an old volcano crater, and float in warm salt water pools. The best thing about the big island is the feeling of peace and tranquility offered to residents and visitors alike. Driving is mellow, people are relaxed, and the abundance of open land offers an escape from reality that may be what you came to Hawaii looking for.