Travel insights from Jenna Buege, contributing editor of The Compass

The Travel Agent’s Ultimate Guide to Hawaii Island

Beautiful beaches and lush mountain rainforests make the Island of Hawaii, aka Big Island, the ideal backdrop for exciting family vacations and romantic destination weddings. Here travelers will enjoy the best of authentic Hawaii.

Big Island Basics

  • Getting there – Kona International and Hilo International are the two Big Island airports that accommodate major air traffic. Nautical-loving travelers can also visit the islands via cruise ship where they will dock at one of the area’s cruise or shipping ports.
  • Location – Hawaii Island is the largest of the six islands that make up the U.S. state of Hawaii. The island measures 4,028 square miles and is divided into six major regions: Hamakua Coast, Hilo, Puna, Kau, Kona and Kohala.
  • Climate – This Hawaiian island is slightly warmer than the others with average yearly temperatures in the low-to-mid 80s.
  • Currency – Since Hawaii is part of the United States their currency is the U.S. dollar.
  • Language – Fun fact: Hawaii is the only American state with two official languages: Hawaiian and English. In addition to speaking in two native tongues, many Hawaiians also use a form of slang called Pidgin.

Lodging

The Island of Hawaii has plenty offer when it comes to accommodations. Whether travelers are looking for a private beach bungalow, private bed and breakfast or a five-star resort, Big Island has it. Vacation rentals are another popular and affordable lodging option available in the area.

Food

The options for local cuisine on Big Island are plentiful. Popular choices include Da Poke Shack for authentic poke bowls, Hawaiian Vanilla Company for meals prepared with fresh, from-the-vine vanilla and The Strawberry Patch for upscale fare. Travelers with a sweet tooth will be inclined to visit Big Island Candies Inc., the birthplace of the famous diagonally dipped shortbread cookies. Big Island Candies was founded in 1977 with the mission of creating the best macadamia nut chocolates and cookies in the world and most any local will agree that they succeeded.

Fun

  • Adventure – Home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-see. Park visitors can explore a number of hiking trails and even go for a walk in the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year-old lava cave that leads to a bustling rainforest full of life. After leaving the park, travelers won’t want to miss Punaluu Beach, a majestic black sand beach just south of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Looking for a late night adventure? Travelers can book a moonlit manta ray snorkel tour with Hang Loose Boat Tours for an evening swim not soon to be forgotten. Prefer to stay dry? Visit Manua Kea for a sunset and stargazing tour or ‘Imiloa, the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Astronomy Center, for a chance to watch the night sky with a state of the art telescope.
  • Entertainment – Believe it or not the Big Island is a hot spot for theater. Travelers can catch a show at one of the three biggest theaters in town: Honoka’a People’s Theatre, Kahilu Theatre or Palace Theater. Each theater hosts a wide variety of live shows, music, dance and special events. In addition to live shows, the Island of Hawaii has a plethora of options when it comes to luaus, each of which comes with oceanfront views and traditional Hawaiian-style buffets. Those looking to grab a drink or two must check out Kona Brewing Co. for some “liquid aloha” aka tasty microbrews crafted on-site. Travelers who prefer cocktails will love Rays on the Bay, the only place in town where patrons can watch manta rays in the wild with a fresh beverage in hand.
  • Shopping – The unlikely combination of consumerism and culture can be found at The Shops at Mauna Lani where visitors can enjoy great shops, tasty food and complimentary hula shows and cultural activities twice a week. Situated on 28 acres, Queens’ MarketPlace is another great option for shopping and fun. Here, visitors will find one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries and shops paired with upscale restaurants and entertainment.

History and Culture

  • Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site– Part of the National Park System, this site is the location of the largest heiau, or temple, in Hawaii. This heiau is dedicated to the god of war, Kukailimoku, and was meant to support his efforts in creating a united Hawaiian islands.
  • Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park – Once a sacred refuge for Hawaiians who broke the law, a special ceremony at Puuhonua O Honaunau was the only way to avoid being punished by death. Today, the park is set on a lava rock shore and features a Great Wall, wooden gods and a sacred temple set among ancient fishponds.

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