Deciding which Hawaiian Island can be a somewhat daunting task and you might be leaning towards the Big Island. But maybe there are little stings in your gut questioning whether that is the right decision or not. We have ventured on three of the Islands of Hawaii and can help quell that uncertainty.
The name Big Island, is not only a nickname (the island is formally named the Island of Hawai’i) it is also an incredibly accurate description. Compared to its older sisters, the island is BIG. The Big Island is the youngest of the Islands, which plays an important role in its size and landscape, more on this in a bit.
The largest Hawaiian Island
Let’s talk about size. The Big Island is so large that it can fit every island of Hawai’i inside plus some. To put this in more perspective – Maui is 727 square miles, the Big Island is 4,028 square miles. The Big Island can fit 5.5 Mauis and still have room to spare. It is nearly twice the size of Delaware, which comes in at 2,491 square miles (but I am guessing it’s a little more interesting, sorry Delaware!). This is incredibly important to know before you go because, unlike the other Islands, a spur of the moment trip to the other side of the island is not just a day trip. It’s a multi-day trip. You may be wondering why it’s so much larger than the other islands. And this, my friends, has a lot to do with its age and location.
The older islands lay west of the Big Island, which is in the Southeast. The Southeast is home to the only active volcanos in the Hawaiian islands. The Big Island is still growing due to volcanic activity, and new islands are forming to the Southeast of it as I type this. Anyway, enough with the nerdy facts. What this means is that if you are staying on the Kona side of the island, a day trip to Hilo or Volcanoes National Park is not advised. You’ll be doing the majority of your driving on narrow, windy roads in the dark. And if the weather conditions are ideal that still means you’ll be driving through some drizzle and fog. No bueno. It’s dangerous and ill advised to drive cross-island at night.
The most diverse Hawaiian Island
Now that size is adequately (I hope) explained, let’s talk about landscape. Remember how I said that the island’s age plays a role? That’s because much of the island is new land. At times, lava rivers run into the ocean adding to the size of the island. But you know what that means? That new land is barren. Not much can survive other than some hearty plants and elusive Nene. These hearty plants lay the groundwork for other life to follow. The land evolves in layers over centuries. The area North of Kona is a huge lava field. which means that the tropical breezes don’t flow through the fronds of a palm trees, but rather they caress the luscious locks of the resident goats hiding in the black fields of lava rock. Some may even say that the Kona side is much like a burnt potato chip with a beautiful ocean nearby. Don’t let this deter you, there are amazing beaches along the Kona side and beautiful hikes to the North that are much more lush. The Hilo side of the island receives much more rain and is emerald green because of this. The reason for the rain? Mauna Kea. Which leads me to my next point about the landscape. It is diverse.
The Big Island has it all, well not all, but most of the climates in the world. In fact, it has 11 of the 13 climates of the world. In the span of a just a couple hours you can go from laying on a sunny beach on the leeward side (Kona) to the snow capped top of Mauna Kea at 14,000 feet. There are times when you can snowboard there. Not something you normally associate with the tropical islands of Hawai’i.
Aside from size and age, the Big Island has much of the outdoor opportunities that Maui and Kauai provide and even more. You can hike in the enigmatic lands of Volcanoes National Park, encounter wild horses in the Valley of the Kings, and stargaze at one of the clearest skies you can on Mauna Kea. There is no shortage of amazing snorkeling. The Big Island is also rich in culture. It is believed that it is the first island Polynesians set foot on more than 1,500 years ago and left ancient petroglyphs that you can still see today.
The least tropical Hawaiian Island
You won’t get bored on the Big Island, that’s for sure. I do want to point out that many people’s impression of the Hawaiian Islands is that of unending lush green mountains and tropical beaches, which can be found on the Big Island. But due to the sized landscape, I think that a lot of first-time visitors to the Hawaiian islands may want to go to Maui or Kauai or come to the Big Island with the understanding and expectation that once the wheels touch down in Kona (the drier side of the island), you aren’t going to be whisked into a green paradise that beckons you to island life, but rather a rugged terrain that is begging to be challenged. It is not the typical tropical island that so many people associate with Hawai’i. But offers an unbounded opportunity for adventure that I haven’t felt anywhere else.
If you need help deciding between the Big Island and Maui or Kauai, visit our post Which Hawaiian Island? Maui Vs Kauai which has a detailed comparison of the two islands.