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From the jet-black sand of Punalu’u Beach to the molten magma of the Mauna Loa Volcano, the island of Hawaii hosts an unbelievable combination of landscapes that offer the perfect backdrop to a wide variety of vacations. Whether you’re an adventure-seeker who wants to spend their time hiking volcanic craters and catching big waves, a leisure lover keen on nothing more than soaking up some rays on beautiful beaches, or a history buff interested to learn more about the island’s vibrant past, there are plenty of things to do to keep you busy. Spread out across its 4,000 square miles (10,360 sq km), you’ll find everything from luxury resorts and elegant beaches to sacred historical sites and untouched rainforests perfectly suited for your dream holiday.
The Big Island is divided up into six primary districts—or moku—each with its own unique history and landscape.
Kohala — Sitting on the north and northwestern shore of Hawaii, Kohala is broken up into two smaller districts of its own—North Kohala and South Kohala. Nestled among the dry lava fields of the latter are green oases home to some of the island’s finest resorts, championship golf courses, and the white-sand expanse of Hapuna Beach. Travel north beyond the resorts and you’ll notice a shift as the rugged atmosphere is replaced with the more lush landscape of North Kohala. Here, find the peaceful haven of Hawi, the flourishing pastures of the Pololu Valley, and some of the most historically significant sites, including Lapakahi State Park and the birthplace of King Kamehameha.
Kona — Stretching for about 60 miles (97 km) down the western coast of Hawaii, the district of Kona is one of the most popular areas for tourists, boasting calm waters for snorkeling, historic parks, and world-famous coffee plantations. Once a sleepy fishing village, the town of Kailua-Kona is now a lively destination full of affordable accommodations, great shopping, mouthwatering culinary options, and island-style nightlife.
Kau — The vast and rural district of Kau—the southernmost region of the island—is largely untouched by civilization save for the small communities of Naalehu and Pahala. Home to the natural wonder of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, here is where you can get close to some of the world’s most active volcanoes. Hike across scalded deserts to catch sight of live lava flows and red, glowing craters. Along the southwestern shore of the region, you can also find the otherworldly algae-green and jet-black sand at Papakolea and Punalu’u beaches.
Puna — On the southeastern tip of the island is the district of Puna, known for its black-sand beaches, freshwater springs, and geothermal pools. Of Puna’s attractions, the most dramatic is the community of Kalapana, where you can literally watch as flowing magma rolls down the cliffs and into the sea. At nearby Lava Tree State Park, wind your way through 17 acres (7 ha) of oddly shaped tree trunks covered in centuries-old lava.
Hilo — Located on Hawaii’s eastern coast, Hilo is a region boasting dramatic waterfalls, fertile rainforests, and blooming gardens—the opposite of the arid South Kohala district on the flip side of the island. Once a farming and fishing area, the town of Hilo evolved into a commercial area for the sugar industry in the 1800s and has since grown into a vibrant city full of art galleries, quirky boutiques, and quaint eateries. Just a few minutes drive out of town is the Wailuku River State Park, where you can look out upon the awe-inspiring colors and cascades of Waianuenue “Rainbow” Falls. The region is also home to the nation’s only rainforest zoo, which houses more than 80 exotic animals including spider monkeys, bengal tigers, and toucans.
Hamakua — Situated on the northeast shore between Kohala and Hilo, Hamakua is a district marked with botanical gardens, water-carved gulches, and thick tropical foliage. Here, stop to soak in the majestic beauty of Akaka Falls—one of the island’s most famous waterfalls—as well as panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean on a hike to Waipio Valley Lookout.
Hawaii is a wealth of wonders for the eyes, but there are three things you must see if visiting for the first time. Hike from Holoholokai Beach on the Kohala Coast for a visit to Puako Petroglyph Park, an archaeological preserve featuring more 3,000 rock carvings made by Native Hawaiians. Marvel at the ancient markings, which include images of children, families, animals, and deities, and are believed to be records of births and other significant events from thousands of years in the past.
From the city of Hilo, head out with a guide for a drive along the Hamakua Coast to spectacular Akaka Falls. Climb through a rainforest of tropical vines and bamboos groves that lead you to the 442-foot (135-m) wonder, where you can feel the spray of the water as it tumbles down amid a canopy of emerald ferns. This tour also includes a stop at perhaps the most must-see site on the entire island—the Kīlauea Volcano. Hike over lunar-like landscapes to watch as one of the world’s most active volcanoes spews its continuous stream of lava and stream.
There’s no end to the outdoor adventure that Hawaii Island has to offer. Go snorkeling in the sanctuary of an underwater state park, learn to surf like a pro in the warm waters of Kona, or sink to the bottom of the ocean on a battery-powered submarine. For the real adrenaline-junkies, a heart-pounding zipline course is not to be missed. Soar over the lush rainforest at heights of more than 200 feet (61 m) at sites like Halawa Gulch and Umauma Falls.
Explore the fascinating history of the island with a visit to Lapakahi State Park on the coast of North Kohala. As you drive between both rugged lava fields and dense green forests, gaze out upon the partially restored settlement for a glimpse at what life was like as a Native Hawaiian. Jump forward in time to the days when Captain Cook arrived on the island as you sail to coast of Kona along the same route he traveled.
Leave with your troubles behind with a spa package that includes massage, body polish, and reflexology for ultimate relaxation. If spas aren’t your speed, unwind outdoors with a fun yet leisurely round of golf at the stunning Big Island Country Club.
From coffee farm tours to dinner at a local ranch, there are plenty of ways to treat your taste buds to the flavors of Hawaii. But for the truly authentic experience, nothing can beat a traditional pig roast accompanied by a show. At the Royal Kona Resort, settle in for a mouthwatering meal of island favorites including kalua pork, soy-braised beef, Hawaiian sweet potatoes, and gooey coconut cake. As you feast, enjoy an incredible evening of music, dance, and Polynesian stories set against the backdrop of the starry night sky.