The Big Island of Hawaii – Kilauea Volcano and 5 Other Things You Need to Know

Last updated: January 8, 2020

Hawaii is a destination on many people’s bucket list and with 4 major islands to visit, it can be difficult to choose one. Over the years, we’ve visited all 4 major islands and we have learned to appreciate them for different reasons; the Big Island has historically been our least favorite if only because of how big it is and how sparsely located things are but it has grown to become our favorite. In this post, we will share some information about the Big Island and factors to consider when planning to visit.

Lounge chairs at the Lava Lava Beach Club
Lounge chairs at the Lava Lava Beach Club

1. The Kilauea Volcano:

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to Kilauea Volcano, one of the most active volcanos in the world. This volcano has drawn numerous tourists from around the world to the island throughout the years. In May 2018, the volcano erupted and spewed lava and volcanic ash into the atmosphere, which has understandably made tourists fearful about visiting. These fears have been amplified by media sensationalizing and misleading posts by social media influencers. Some homes and roads were destroyed due to lava and the ongoing eruption is only affecting an area measuring 10 square miles radius on an island that has 4,028 square miles. Despite the minimal impact to the island, people still expressed concerns and strong opinions about our decision to travel there.

A swimming cove off the Ala Kahakai Trail
A swimming cove off the Ala Kahakai Trail

First of all, we were not planning on doing any volcano related activities which meant we would not be disappointed by those activities being closed. Secondly, the hotel we stayed at was about 100 miles away from the volcano on the opposite side of the island. There are some risks in visiting the Big Island such as an increase in seismic activity and air quality but they affect different parts of the island to varying degrees and we categorize them as “low risk”. We do recommend that visitors monitor the conditions specific to where they will be. The Westin Hapuna Beach resort has a very informative webpage with links to resources for the public:

View of Hapuna Beach
View of Hapuna Beach

Finally, anyone visiting the Big Island of Hawaii and other Hawaiian island should be aware of seismic activity, tsunami warnings, and even typhoons at some times of the year. For us, we did not feel traveling to the Big island of Hawaii in July 2018 was any riskier than other times and surprisingly, the weather was a lot better.

2. The Weather:

With 10 of the world’s 14/15 climate zones on the island, it’s very diverse and sometimes unpredictable. There are rainforests, lava fields, deserts, and beaches and the temperature in Kailua-Kona could be 95 degrees , up in Captain Cook it will be 77 degrees, and a cold 55 degrees near Mauna Kea. Once, we were in Waikoloa and a storm rolled in within 15 minutes, bringing cold wind, rain, and hail before disappearing 30 minutes later. On our most recent trip, we had sunny and +30 weather most days by Hapuna Beach. Generally, the east side of the island gets more rain so you may want to stay on the West side for a higher probability of warm sunny weather.

"Jay Ok" in the storm near Waikoloa
“Jay Ok” in the storm near Waikoloa
View from near Waimea

3. The Location:

With an area of 10,432 km² and a population under 200,000, the Big Island is really big and has low population density. The commercial hub is most definitely Kailua-Kona where there are big box stores like Costco and Target and numerous restaurants, but the rest of things/places are sparsely located. While it’s a great place to drive due to the scenery, it can feel like you’re always driving if you plan on exploring. For example, it took us about 45 minutes each way to drive to Kona and back from Hapuna Beach and when we stayed at the Sheraton, it took close to 2 hours to drive to Hilo each way.

Up in the hills near Captain Cook
Up in the hills near Captain Cook
View of the Waipio Valley just down the road from the Waipio Cookhouse
View of the Waipio Valley just down the road from the Waipio Cookhouse
Hiking through lava fields
The Polulu Valley hike

4. The Beaches:

Compared to other islands, it may appear there are less beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. Most swimmable beaches are also located on the west coast of the island but there are a few near Hilo on the east coast if you are staying there. This may or may not be the case, but it does feel like you have to drive a lot to find the beaches which can be an inconvenience for those who want easy access to things.

Ala Kahakai Trail sign
Ala Kahakai Trail

On our first visit, we stayed at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay near Kailua-Kona and ended up driving to Mahai’ula Beach in the Kekaha State Park and to Hapuna Beach State Park to swim since there was no beach on-site and these beach excursions were time-consuming. On our most recent visit, we really enjoyed having access to Hapuna and Mauna Kea beaches from our hotel. The Waikoloa beach resort area does have a beach and it’s a calm bay but it’s not that stunning postcard beach you might be looking for. If you truly want to get the best experience and appreciate the Big Island, you have to be prepared to drive and hike to find the best beaches and it is worth it, trust us; you will not find spectacular uncrowded beaches like this anywhere else on the Hawaiian islands.

Mahai'ula Beach just north of Kona Airport
Mahai’ula Beach just north of Kona Airport
A swimming cove good for snorkeling
A swimming cove good for snorkeling by the Westin Hapuna
Max swimming in Kua Bay with Lucy
Great beach for snorkeling in Kekaha State Park; worth the hike to have it to ourselves
Anaehoomalu Bay
Max swimming in an achiliane pool. Can’t believe we had this all to ourselves; worth the hike!
A black sand beach

5. The Food and Beverage:

On the island, you’ll have a wide-range of options, from small local chains to large chains and we recommend supporting local businesses when possible. That being said, it can be hard to support local businesses due to their limited operating hours sometimes; many places are closed on Saturdays and Sundays for those who will be there on weekends.

Poke from Da Poke Shack and salad from Island Naturals
Poke from Da Poke Shack and salad from Island Naturals

If you’re staying in a condo-style accommodation with a kitchen, it’s pretty easy to buy things to make meals due to all the great produce on the island available at larger grocery stores, smaller local markets, and farm stands/markets.

Exotic fruit at the South Kona Fruit Stand
Exotic fruit at the South Kona Fruit Stand

As for beverage, there are lots of options for unique and standard non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, from kombuchas to craft beer to wine to coffee and tea, you’ll be find something new to try or find a familiar favorite.

Ola Brew tasting room
Ola Brew tasting room
Poke nachos at Kuleana Rum Shack
Poke nachos at Kuleana Rum Shack
Fresh produce at the Maku'u Farmers Market
Fresh produce at the Maku’u Farmers Market
Poke counter at Da Fish House
Poke counter at Da Fish House

As mentioned before, things can seem far and Kona has the most options. When we were staying at The Westin Hapuna, we drove into Kona to shop at Island Naturals Market which is a mini-whole foods, to Puako to shop the Puako General Store, to Kawaihae for poke and burgers, to Waimea for the farmer’s market, and to Mauna Lani to shop at the Foodland Farms. Find our more about our favorite places to eat in our blog post.

What is your favorite island? Have you ever been to the Big Island of Hawaii? If so, do you have any tips or anything to add to this post?

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9 thoughts on “The Big Island of Hawaii – Kilauea Volcano and 5 Other Things You Need to Know

  1. We went to the Big Island last January and totally loved it. We stayed a couple nights near Volcano town (fortunately before any of the massive volcanic eruptions). It was amazing to see. Then we did a few nights near Kona-Kailua for some beach time. I love how different each part of the Big Island is, and that while there are a lot of activities, restaurants and hotels, it doesn’t seem as touristy as somewhere like Maui. But definitely agree with you that it is so spread out, you can end up driving a lot there!


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