The big island of Hawaii is the state’s youngest island, and also its largest (duh). And like any (very) young thing, it continues to grow, edges creeping out in a live, molten lava flow that causes the island to gain ground a little bit each year. It is certainly not the state’s most well-known island- not like Maui, Oahu, or Kaui- and it does not conjure up the images we know from vintage film posters, postcards, and pop culture. The big island is vast, mountainous, and authentic, and it’s worth visiting for anyone who likes to explore.
Here, you’ll find miles and miles of rocky, black lava, mysterious green sand beaches, misty forests, and quiet, foreboding valleys with epic views and equally epic treacherous inroads. The island is made up of numerous microclimates: desert, snow, jungle, and forest—all of which you can hit in less than 24 hours. More than any other island, this is Hawaii—since, in fact the big island’s technical name is “Hawaii”—thought to be based on the native word for “homeland”.
Since some of my closest family members have taken up residence there, I’ve come to know and love the big island well. LA is bright, exciting, innovative—and sometimes a but overwhelming with its never-ending cascade of commercial enterprising. When I land on the big island, I instantly feel the peace. It feels empty, pure, and quiet, in the best possible way. It’s rich, but in a different way: here you must discover, explore, and seek out beautiful beaches, deep valleys, and historical sites. They don’t scream at you. If you do visit, find your own favorite spots. Here, a few of my own:
The lookout at Pololu Valley is both stunning and somewhat foreboding, marking the end of a long, winding road in the North Kohala district. You can hike down into the valley fairly easily, but if you’re especially adventurous, there is a trail that leads further in. You’ll find a black sand beach at the bottom, but I wouldn’t recommend diving in the water. Above, see the treacherous blue jellies we spotted lining the rocky beach—don’t bright colors indicate poison?
Wailea Beach is divided into small sub-sections of yellow sand beach by thick, shady trees. It’s not large, open, and crowded like nearby Hapuna Beach (also beautiful), but it’s a spot to explore, mark your spot, and spend the day afloat in the near perfect swimming conditions, or if you’re more adventurous, surf the break a little farther out. I spent this past Christmas here, glorying in warm December waters and exploring the rocky outcropping at the end of the beach.
Hale Halawai O Holualoa
A tiny, historic church in Kona, with an incredible location and view. The drive there itself is worth it; watch the waves roll in along the coastline, and take in the colorful sights (both people and places) along Ali’i drive. After going visiting here for their church services for Sunday evening services (Living Stones)- timed to meet right at sunset- I seriously considered picking up and moving to Kona for good.
There’s something about Waipio Valley that feels totally untouched, spiritual- like there are secrets buried in the marshy, grassy valley, underneath the riverbed, and along the rocky shorebreak. And this intuition is probably accurate; the Waipio Valley was once the location of the “grass palaces” of ancient Hawaiian royalty, so the history is rich, I’m sure in untold stories and spiritual legends. There are still residents here, Taro farmers, and others- but you most likely won’t meet any unless you wander into the valley. If you can make it down the truly treacherous entrance road (4-wheel drive is necessary), stay for the day and revel in the solitude.
A final word of advice for the big island: take advantage of the silence. Explore. Notice the details. (See below, a jam-eating gecko I noticed during breakfast at the Coffee Shack). Smile at the locals, gaze at the stars until you see one fly across the sky, and don’t worry about seeing it all. There’s always next time.