More commonly known as the Big Island, the island of Hawaii weighs in at more than twice the size of the state’s other islands combined. Five volcanoes created this natural wonder, including Mauna Kea, the largest mountain on Earth (if measured from the ocean floor), and Mauna Loa, the most massive mountain in the world. Also home to the Ironman triathlon and the world-renowned Merrie Monarch hula festival, the Big Island offers up some of the most unique scenery travelers might hope to encounter.
Possibly the most popular attraction on the island, the Kilauea volcano has boasted an active lava flow since 1983. A four-mile hike or bike ride on Kaimu-Chain of Craters Road from Kalapana provides a rare opportunity to see red hot lava flow into the ocean, adding to the Big Island’s coastline daily. Permitted boat tours and helicopter tours also leave from both Kona and Hilo, giving visitors other appealing options for watching this phenomenon unfold.
Speaking of geological marvels, how about a green sand beach? Drive to Ka Lae, the southernmost point in the U.S., and then take a windy but gorgeous 2.5-mile hike to Papakolea, which gets its vibrant color from an abundant supply of olivine, a mineral commonly found in Hawaiian volcanic eruptions. When the ocean is calm, the bay allows for a one-of-a-kind swimming experience surrounded by sparkling green crystal cliffs.
Another Big Island hidden gem, the Waipio Valley, was both the childhood stomping grounds of King Kamehameha the Great and the site of a devastating 1946 tsunami. Now home to fewer than 100 residents, the lush, magical valley, ringed by cliffs up to 2,000 feet in height, showcases the majestic Hiilawe waterfall, the winding Waipio River, terraced taro fields, and a black sand beach. Several tour companies offer the option of loading visitors into a van, driving down them down the extremely steep descent into the valley, and guiding them on a one-of-a-kind horseback adventure.
Whatever your vacation goal, you’re likely to find an opportunity to enjoy it on this extraordinarily diverse island, rich in uncommon beauty and history.