Navigating the Big Island: Tips for First-Time Visitors

Hawaii Things to do Vacation Rentals

A-Bay Beach

Welcome to the new year, and if visiting the Big Island of Hawaii is on your agenda, congratulations! You’re in for a treat. The Big Island offers a mesmerizing blend of diverse landscapes, activities, and cultural experiences that cater to all kinds of travelers, whether you’re an adventure seeker, nature lover, or culture enthusiast. However, as it differs from the other Hawaiian Islands, some preparation is beneficial. Here are some friendly tips for first-time visitors to ensure you make the most of your Big Island adventure.

Choose the Right Location and Opt for Kona Airport

Selecting the right location for your stay is crucial to ensuring a fulfilling Big Island experience. The Island offers diverse regions, each with its unique charm and climate. Kailua-Kona, located on the west side, is a popular choice with its vibrant atmosphere, bustling shops, and proximity to some of the popular attractions. However, as it is a major population center, traffic can be a problem there. On the other hand, Hilo, situated on the east side, is known for its lush rainforests and access to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, but it rains a lot more on the East side, and there are no white sand beaches.

For a perfect balance of luxury, amenities, and convenience, the South Kohala Coast is the go-to choice, hosting luxurious resorts and the best white sand beaches. It has its own microclimate with the least rain and the best white sand beaches on the Island. The resorts offer great accommodations, luxury amenities, plenty of dining, shopping, and entertainment options, and a convenient hub location for exploring the Island and venturing out on day trips. Research Waikoloa Beach, Mauna Lani, Westing Hapuna Beach, and Mauna Kea Resorts when looking for accommodations. The first two offer the most and are more affordable as well.

When planning your trip, consider flying into Kona International Airport. This airport provides convenient access to the western part of the Island, minimizing travel time to popular attractions such as the Kona Coast and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Renting a car at Kona Airport allows for seamless exploration of the Island, giving you the flexibility to venture into the diverse landscapes of the Big Island. Upon arrival at Kona Airport, the stunning views set the stage for an incredible adventure, making it an ideal starting point for exploring this enchanting Island.

Choose the Right Accommodation

Once you’ve chosen the right location, it’s time to select the right accommodations. When finding the perfect accommodations for your vacation, renting a vacation rental condo or home is the way to go. Here are some of the benefits of choosing a vacation rental:

Space and Privacy
Unlike hotels, vacation rentals offer plenty of space and privacy. With separate bedrooms, living areas, and kitchens, everyone in your party can have their own space and spend quality time together. And when you stay in one of the Kohala Coast luxury resorts, you will still have access to all their amenities.

Home-Like Amenities
Vacation rentals come equipped with all the amenities of a home, including kitchens, laundry facilities, and entertainment systems. This makes it easy to prepare meals, do laundry, and relax in comfort and style.

Vacation rentals are often more cost-effective than hotels, especially for families. With the ability to cook meals at home and do laundry, you will save money on dining out and laundry services. Hawaii is a paradise but not the cheapest place to visit. Eating out three meals a day can quickly become very costly. Having your own kitchen and stocking up on groceries at Costco or local grocery stores like KTA or Foodland Farms makes the most sense.

Local Experience
Staying in a vacation rental allows you to experience life like a local. You’ll be able to shop at local markets, cook with fresh ingredients, and explore neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.

Kohala Coast Properties, Inc. offers a wide range of vacation rental condos and homes to fit every family’s needs and budget. Whether you’re looking for a cozy one-bedroom condo or a spacious four-bedroom house, we have the perfect property for you.

Blue Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with open doors

Rent a Car for Island Exploration

Many first-time visitors ask us if they need a car on the Big Island. The answer is a resounding YES! The Island is quite large, and many of the popular attractions are spread out, so having a car is essential. Most of the time, getting to the beach or grocery store will require a vehicle, so plan for it beforehand.

Additionally, public transportation options are limited on the Big Island, so renting a car provides the flexibility to explore its diverse landscapes at your own pace. From the lush valleys of Waipio to the black sand beaches of Punalu’u, having a vehicle allows you to uncover hidden gems off the beaten path.

When choosing a rental car, consider the size and needs of your party. If you have a large family or plan on doing a lot of outdoor activities, such as hiking or beach outings, a larger SUV or minivan may be the best option. Consider gas mileage and any additional features, such as GPS or car seats, that you may need. Be sure to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.

Plan Ahead for Volcano National Park

One of the most iconic attractions on the Big Island is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Before your trip, check the park’s website for any alerts, closures, or safety information. Planning ahead will ensure you get to witness the awe-inspiring sight of flowing lava, explore unique volcanic landscapes, and enjoy the park’s hiking trails.

Embrace the Diversity of Microclimates

The Big Island boasts an incredible diversity of microclimates, ranging from lush rainforests to barren lava fields. It has 11 of the 13 world climate zones. Pack accordingly by including layers in your wardrobe to accommodate temperature fluctuations. If you plan to explore high-altitude and coastal regions, be prepared for different weather conditions. A light rain jacket and sturdy hiking shoes are essential for your island adventures.

Explore the Water Activities

Surrounded by crystal-clear waters, the Big Island is a haven for water enthusiasts. Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay, diving with manta rays off the Kona Coast, or simply relaxing on the pristine beaches are must-do activities. Invest in quality snorkeling gear, and consider taking a guided tour to ensure you make the most of your underwater experiences. Remember to prioritize reef-safe sunscreen to protect the fragile marine ecosystem.

Immerse Yourself in Hawaiian Culture

Take the time to learn about and appreciate the rich Hawaiian culture. Attend a traditional hula performance, visit a local farmers’ market, or participate in a lei-making workshop. Engaging with the local community will enhance your understanding of the Island’s history and traditions. Respect the ‘aina (land) and follow the principles of malama (to care for) to leave a positive impact on the environment and community.

Sample Local Cuisine

Hawaii’s culinary scene is a delightful fusion of diverse flavors influenced by its multicultural heritage. From traditional Hawaiian dishes like poke and laulau to the various offerings at local food trucks, the Big Island is a paradise for foodies. Take the chance to savor fresh fruits, locally caught seafood, and unique tropical beverages. Venture beyond tourist hotspots to discover hidden gems where locals gather for authentic meals. Try Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea or Roy’s at Waikoloa Beach Resort.

Stargazing at Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea, one of the world’s premier locations for stargazing, is a must-visit for astronomy enthusiasts. Before heading to the summit, acclimate yourself to the altitude and check the weather conditions. Many tour operators offer stargazing experiences, providing telescopes and expert guides to enhance your celestial observations. Witnessing the night sky from this sacred mountain is a truly awe-inspiring experience.

Respect the Environment and Wildlife

The Big Island’s natural beauty is fragile, and respecting the environment and wildlife is crucial. Stay on designated trails, follow Leave No Trace principles, and avoid disturbing native plants and animals. If you encounter sea turtles or other marine life while snorkeling, maintain a respectful distance. By practicing responsible tourism, you contribute to preserving the Island’s unique ecosystems.

Check Out Local Events and Festivals

To immerse yourself in the vibrant local culture, check the calendar for events and festivals happening during your visit. From hula competitions, like Merrie Monarch, which only occurs on the Big Island, to traditional Hawaiian music festivals, these gatherings offer a unique insight into the Island’s community spirit. Engaging with locals at these events can lead to memorable interactions and a deeper appreciation for the Big Island’s cultural richness.

Be Flexible and Embrace the Aloha Spirit

Last but not least, embrace the Aloha spirit – a philosophy of love, peace, and compassion. The pace of life on the Big Island is relaxed, and things may not always go according to plan. Be flexible, go with the flow, and appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Connecting with the locals and adopting the laid-back island mentality will make your visit truly unforgettable.

In conclusion, the Big Island of Hawaii is a captivating destination that promises a memorable experience for first-time visitors. By planning ahead, respecting the environment and local culture, and embracing the diversity of activities, you’ll create lasting memories on this enchanting Island. So pack your bags, embark on your adventure, and let the magic of the Big Island unfold before you. Aloha!


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