As you read in my previous articles about Maui and Oahu, there are plenty of amazing things to see in Hawaii. But one island by itself concentrates so many attractions that you could easily spend a whole month there and still haven’t seen everything. Welcome to the island of Hawaii, more usually called Big Island to avoid any confusion and because it’s by far the biggest of the archipelago (to give an idea to the French people reading this article, it’s even bigger than Corsica). In order to help you deciding where to go here are five duels between the main spots of Big Island. Will you agree with the winners I chose?
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Kona vs Hilo
Kona and Hilo are the two main cities of Big Island. On the west coast, Kona and its 12,000 inhabitants is famous for the Ironman: this world famous triathlon consists of 3.2kms of swimming, 180kms of cycling… and a marathon (42kms) to finish! I stayed there for a few days a week before it started and it was very impressive to see so many athletes training all day long on the roads around my hostel (and also very entertaining to watch lizards like the one below looking for food on the breakfast table). It’s a very touristic place with lots of hotels and resorts aligned along the shore which doesn’t make the coast so beautiful in this area.
On the other side of the island, Hilo is the capital and main city with 43,000 inhabitants. The climate here is classified as tropical rainforest, which means that it rains a lot, very often. A popular joke in Hilo is that there are two seasons: the rain season, and the wet season. It’s actually not exaggerated as it’s the fourth wettest city in the United States (the 3 first are all found in Alaska). But this huge amount of rain makes the coast particularly green and beautiful, with impressive waterfalls (the Rainbow Fall almost in the center of Hilo – picture on the right) and vegetation. Don’t miss Banyan Drive and its incredible banyan trees!
Winner: the weather was perfect during the three days I spent in Hilo so that’s my winner! My choice might have been different with a lot of rain, but the coast is definitely much nicer there.
Kiholo Bay vs Kealakekua Bay
Kiholo Bay is a nice beach a few kilometers north of Kona. All the other beaches around are surrounded by 5-star resort but this one is the exception: here it’s still wild and quiet, and you’ll have the palm trees and the black sand almost to yourself. A lovely place to watch the sunset!
Kealakekua Bay is located just south of Kona and is famous because this is where Captain Cook arrived for the first time in 1779. Myth or reality, he apparently landed during a ritual ceremony and the native Hawaiians thought that he was one of their gods! But he was killed shortly after when they found out that he wasn’t. There’s a monument in his honour now at the supposed point where he died, accessible via a steep and not easy hike. The bay itself is famous for snorkeling and dolphins are often seen next to the shore here.
Winner: it was my dream to swim with dolphins, but when I hiked to the Captain Cook monument there was not a single one there. All the beautiful fishes I’ve seen aren’t enough against that deception: Kiholo Bay is my winner.
North Shore vs South Point
I didn’t have enough time to explore the North Shore as good as it would have deserved, but I’ve been to the two main lookouts (actually quite similar): Waipi’o Valley and Pololu Valley. Both places can be hiked to but I guess I’ll save that for my next trip to Hawaii…
On the opposite of the Island, South Point offers black lava cliffs and impressive waves: I could have stayed for hours watching them.
Winner: South Point because it’s weird to think that you’re at the southernmost point of the United States, so far away from New York, Texas or California!
Black Sand Beach vs Green Sand Beach
If you’re driving to South Point, turn left in the direction of Green Sand Beach. From the car park at the end of the road, you have 2 options: give 15$ for a short ride in an old and dirty 4×4 to the most unfriendly and dishonest people I’ve ever met, or hike one hour one way in the sand, without any shadow at all. You’ll eventually reach a beautiful olive-green beach with perfect blue water.
A few kilometers further on the South Coast, Black Sand Beach is easily accessible from the main highway via a huge car park. It’s not the only black sand beach in Hawaii, but from where I’ve been it’s probably where the sand was the “blackest”. If you’re lucky you might even see turtles resting on the sand.
Winner: even if it’s a very touristic place, Black Sand Beach is my winner without any hesitation. The hike to and from Green Sand Beach was the worse and hardest thing I’ve done in Hawaii, and I strongly advise you not to encourage the dirty business people are doing there with the 4×4 rides.
Kilauea vs Mauna Kea
Big Island was formed by five volcanoes: one extinct (Kohala), one dormant (Mauna Kea) and three actives (Hualalai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea). Two of them, the Mauna Kea and the Kilauea, are among the most scenic places of the island and there are incredible facts to know about both.
The Kilauea (which means “vomiting” in Hawaiian) is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It’s been erupting without interruption since 1983! The lava solidifying in the contact of the ocean already extended the surface of the island by hundreds of hectares. It’s possible to hike in the middle of ancient lava flows to get to the exact point where you can see the island slowly expand.
Not an easy walk without any shade or protection against the rain and the wind, but you’ll have the weird feeling to be on a different planet with this huge lava field all around you. The sight at the end is unforgettable and apparently even better if you go by night time when the red colour of the lava is easier to see!
In the limits of the great Volcanoes National Park (including the Kilauea and its neighbor the Mauna Loa) you can also walk inside lava tubes, see the earth smoking, stand inside ancient craters and stare at the huge caldera of the volcano which looks like the Mordor from Lord of the Rings… Unbelievable!
With its summit at 4,207m, the Mauna Kea is the highest point of Hawaii. But the biggest part of the mountain is under water and if you start measuring from the oceanic ground it’s over 10,000m meters high, making it the tallest in the world! The incredible purity of the air at the top and Hawaii’s position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without any light pollution make it a perfect site for astronomical observations: 12 of the most powerful telescopes in the world have been built there.
You don’t climb to the top that easily. First you need to stop at least half an hour at the visitor center at 2,800m high to get used to the height. Then you absolutely need a 4×4: due to… a lack of budget (!!!) the last part of the road is unsealed. And once you’re at the summit, avoid running or doing any efforts: just walking will get you out of your breath very quickly. But the view is worth anything! Surrounded by clouds below you, it looks like you just took off from a plane.
The sunset from the summit is stunning, one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life.
And finally a bit later when the night is here the sky is incredibly bright: there’s nowhere else in the world where I’ve seen the milky way like that, and it was even possible to spot the Andromeda Galaxy with my own eyes! I wish I could have stayed there for the whole night.
Winner: it’s impossible for me to decide, both volcanoes were incredible and both so totally different from anywhere else I’ve been before or anything else I’ve seen. So the result of this last duel is a draw!
And you, what are your favourite experiences from Big Island? Tell me if you would have choosen different winners in the comments!
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Have also a look at my article about the island of Oahu!