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Hawaii, Hawaii Travel Guide
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Location: North America
Geography: Island, Beach, Mountains, Jungle/Rainforest
Vacation Type: Family, Romantic, Relaxation, Adventure
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Golfing, Spa & Wellness, Scuba & Snorkeling, Shopping, Hiking, Fishing, Festivals, Ecotourism, Cultural Attractions, Scenery, Historical Sites, Surfing

Facts and Stats:
Nickname: The Big Island
Population: 158,400
Land Area: 4,028 square miles
Government: Constitution-based federal republic
Telephone Area Code: 808
Country Dialing Code: +1
Languages: English, Hawaiian
Electricity: 120v
Time Zone: HST (UTC -10)
Current Time:

Hawai'i, or the "Big Island", is the largest island in the Hawaiian island chain, in fact, it is twice the size of all of the other islands combined. It is known for it's rugged beauty and contrasts incorporating arid desert and waterfalls, sandy beaches and snow capped summits, active volcanoes, and rainforests. The island has 12 distinct climate zones, but in general, the big island is split in 2, the dry west side (Kona) and the tropical east side, (Hilo).

Brief History:
Hawaii is believed to be settled sometime between 500 and 600 AD by the people of the Marqueseas Islands, and later by Tahitian and possibly other Polynesian explorers sometime around 1000 AD. These people became collectively known as the Kanaka Maoli, or the native Hawaiians. They lived in an organized and self-sufficient society with communal land. Sometimes at peace and sometimes at war, they expanded their territory over the 8 main islands. In the 1800's the entire island group was consolidated into one kingdom, The Kingdom of Hawaii, with Kamehameha as the first ruler.

Explorer James Cook arrived here in 1778 and this marked the first of many western explorers to come. They arrived to whale, to harvest sandalwood trees, pineapples, macademia nuts, etc. Missionaries came to "save" the native people and also helped to establish a very lucrative sugarcane industry. As Hawaii's sugarcane industry grew so did the United States' interest in Hawaii, although the interest in the territory was also in part to having a strategic sea location for military operations. A temporary and provisional government was established by the Unites States to regulate the booming sugarcane industry, which brought into place the "Great Mahele"? in 1848. This was an act that divided the land between the King and the people, and permitted private ownership of land. In a very short time, most native Hawaiians no longer had access to land which had previously been communal. The temporary government was also responsible for the overthrow of the royal family and the establishment of Hawaii as an official territory to the United States of America. Hawaii became an official state of the Unites States of America on August 21st, 1959.

The Hawaiian Islands consist of a chain of 132 volcanic islands. They are the northern extension of the Polynesian Islands in the south and central Pacific Ocean. The chain of 132 islands occupies about two thousand miles. There are 8 main inhabited islands: Nihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii. Hawaii is the biggest island of the 8 covering about 4,038 square miles. It is referred to commonly as the Big Island, because it is the biggest, but also in part to make some distinction between the entire chain of islands and the one with the formal name of Hawai'i.

Five volcanoes, two of which are still active, formed The Big Island. Kohala to the north and Hualalai to the west. Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are in the center of the island, and Kilauea is slightly to the east. Mauna Kea is the highest volcano, at 13,796 feet above sea level and also is the highest point in the state. Mauna Loa and Kilauea are still active volcanoes and erupt intermittently.

The 2 biggest cities on Hawaii are Kailua-Kona and Hilo. Kona has a population of about 9,870, and is located on the west side of the island where it is dry. Hilo, the island's capital and largest city, is located on the east side where it is tropical and wet has a population of 49,100. While the Kona side has a number of white sand beaches, the coastline on the Hilo side tends to be rocky.

Hawaii is abundant in natural beauty and has one of the world's most extreme natural playgrounds. There would be little point to traveling to Hawaii without seeing some of its amazing land and seascapes. There are a variety of things to get outside and do, some on your own, some in tours.

Snorkeling and Scuba diving is as easy as renting some gear at a shop and getting in the water (You will need to be certified to dive, though). Shops will usually provide you with a map of good snorkel spots, as well as places to be avoided. You can also do tours if you want extra information, or to go out on a boat to see places not accessible from the beaches. There are a variety of tours that will cater most desires, whether they be seeing turtles and dolphins, locating good dive spots, kayaking, coral reef exploration, etc. Aloha Dive company will take you out on dives along the Kona cast to Pawai bay, a marine reserve where you can see the stunning coral reefs. You can also take tours where you kayak along sea cliffs, cliff jump, and go to lava tubes and hidden grottos. You can also head to Kealakekua Bay Marine Life Conservation District, which is a 315-acre pristine bay. Here you can snorkel and dive, and there are a lot of fish and spinner dolphins. If you would like a more personal encounter with dolphins, there is a pool at The Hilton's Waikoloa Village hosted by Dolphinquest that allows swimming with the dolphins by reservation.

Humpback season begins in December and runs until March. It is not uncommon to see these majestic animals from the shore, but there are also whale-watching tours available to take you out to see them closer. There are several beaches that are home to the endangered Green Sea Turtle, so there are chances to see these gorgeous animals without having to snorkel or dive. Of course, nothing is going to beat seeing these graceful creatures swim underwater.

As mentioned earlier, there are 5 volcanoes on the big island, and because Hawaiian volcano eruptions are comparatively more gentle than others, the edges of active vents often allow for visitor access. This is not something to go and do by yourself without being properly informed. Head to Volcanoes National Park which protects 377 square miles of the island's volcanic wonders. It is open year round, 24/7. You can talk with the rangers to get an update on the current lava flow conditions, as they can change dramatically from day to day. There are lava tubes, craters, steam vents and sulphur banks to go check out. You can hike down to current lava flow at the Kilauea Volcano, which erupted in 1983 and is still erupting. Make absolutely sure you check with the parks visitor center for the updates on the flow.

Did you think we would forget the beaches? There are some gorgeous white sandy beaches on the Hawaii coastline. There arent as many beaches on the Big Island as other islands, however, there are also some beautiful black sand beaches and several very rare green sand beaches. The green hue of the sand comes from crushed Ovaline, a mineral found in volcanic rock. The black sand beaches are crushed lava rock. Both Papakolea beach and Mahana beach are green sand beaches located on the southern tip of the Island. Punaluu beach is a famous black sand beach, as it is home to many rare Green sea turtles. Kehena beach is also a nice black sand beach. It is very secluded so it does attract nudists, and I mean people, not turtles.

In Hilo, the primo surf spot is Honolii beach. It isn't a good swim beach, but it has nice consistent waves for the boarders. In Kona, White Sands beach is the popular surf beach. Mahaiula Beach is a nice beach with good swimming, but the real draw is the great snorkeling. It has underwater tunnels, caves and arches, and if that's not cool enough, there is also a sunken ship. One of the Islands most picturesque beaches is Mauna Kea, a long crescent beach with good chances of turtle sightings too.

If the volcanoes, hiking, kayaking, diving, snorkeling, surfing and beaches aren't enough, there are also several beautiful botanical gardens. The gardens are full of waterfalls, rare and exotic plants, orchids, Hala trees, to stroll through in pure bliss. There is the free of charge Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo, which is located in a tropical rainforest. Highlights include White Bengal Tiger and Pygmy Hippos. There is the Parker Ranch, Hawaii's oldest and largest private cattle farm. There are the Kona coffee plantations, and for exploring, ATV rentals, and Horseback riding.

Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family and it describes the islands perfectly. Everyone is connected and everyone shares. If you run out of food, your neighbors will leave a big pot of Portuguese Bean Soup on your porch. If you have a big yard project to do, neighbors pitch in to help. There is a stereotype that the locals hate the tourists, and while it might be true for some, most locals in Hawaii are very friendly and are very big hearted. However, there is some tension relating to the tourist and the islander that probably should not be ignored. The Hawaiian Islands experience a huge amount of tourism year round, and some people just aren't well behaved. This, in combination with various political grievances, namely a desire expressed by some native Hawaiians to be sovereign apart from the United States, can contribute to a lot of frustration for the native Hawaiians. When you are on vacation in Hawaii, if you are polite and respectful, the islanders will be polite and respectful to you as well. This includes understanding their pace, which is quite laid back compared to what people from larger cities are accustomed to. Schedules are not strict so be prepared to "go with the flow".

The food in Hawaii is a mixed bag, pulling in recipes and ingredients from many different cultures. You might go into a restaurant and find kim chee, saimin, chili and Spam all on the menu. Tasting the local Hawaiian food ("grinds") can be quite a treat. Luau meals are very tasty featuring lau lau (fish and pork wrapped in taro leaves), kalua pig (smoked pork cooked in an underground oven called an imu), lomi lomi salmon (a tomato and onion relish with smoked salmon) and of course, poi (cooked and mashed taro root). Be sure to get a plate lunch complete with two scoops rice and macaroni salad, and your choice of teriyaki beef or chicken. Also good are the kalbi ribs, a Korean style bbq cross rib that is sweet, sticky, and very good. For the sweet tooth, malasadas and shave ice are sure to please.

Restaurants not to miss in Hilo are: Cafe 100 offering authentic local fare, Harrington's on Ice Pond that offers a more upscale dining experience, and Seaside that offers the best and freshest seafood in Hilo. In Kona, don't miss Jameson's by the Sea that has excellent seafood. Also delicious is Cafe Pesto that has locations in Hilo and Kawaihae and has the best pizza around. There are several farmers' markets that bring the fresh produce into Hilo and Kona from the rural areas. Don't miss them!

Nearly everything in Hawaii is expensive. A gallon of milk can cost $5. Be sure to stop at local markets like KTA or Sack and Save (instead of Safeway) to save the most money on groceries. Another tip is to go to Wal-Mart for any souvenirs or gifts for family and friends back home. The prices are dirt-cheap and they offer a large variety of Hawaiian fare for a few bucks.

Getting There and Around:
Obviously, most people get to Hawaii by plane. Most flights land in Honolulu on the island of Oahu from where you will need to take a short flight to the Big Island. There are some direct flights to Hawaii's 2 airports from mainland gateway airports. The western airport is in Kona, (KOA) and the airlines that serve KOA are: Aloha Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Japan Airlines. There is also Hilo International Airport (ITO), which is a little smaller than KOA. The majority of flights to Hilo originate from Honolulu via Hawaiian Airlines, Aloha Airlines, Island Air, or Pacific Wings. ATA does do daily direct service from Oakland, Ca..

Public transportation on the island of Hawaii is minimal, so virtually all visitors rent a car from one of the many rental agencies upon arriving at ITO or KOA. Taxis are also available at the airport, but much more expensive than renting a car. It is a good idea to make car reservations in advance, as special events or active conditions at the Volcanoes National Park can quickly deplete the supply of available vehicles.

There is bus service, but it is very slow. Since there are no actual bus stops around the island (there are some in the bigger cities) you have to just pull the cord to let the driver know you want off.

Island Hopping:
There is a Superferry that will begin service in July of 2007, and will have daily service between Oahu, Maui and Kauai. The schedule is expected to expand and incorporate all the Hawaiian Islands in 2009. More information can be found here.

Local flights are available through Hawaiian Airlines, Aloha Airlines, and Pacific Wings to the two major airports in Kona and Hilo. It is tempting to want to see more than one island on your travels, but unless you can stay for 2 nights, we don't recommend it. Via plane, it just takes too long to get in and out of the airport, return and rent cars, check in and check out. When the superferry is up and running it may be much easier to check out the other islands.

Entry Requirements:
If you are a US citizen, traveling to Hawaii is like traveling between states. You are not required to bring a passport, and the paperwork you will need to fill out is required by the US and Hawaii State Departments of Agriculture to prevent harmful plant pests and diseases from coming into Hawaii. If you are not a US resident, you will be required to have a passport.

The current conditions and averages for Kailua-Kona and Hilo are shown below:

Month Avg High Avg Low Rainfall
January 81 66 1.73"
February 81 66 0.9"
March 82 67 1.13"
April 83 69 0.59"
May 84 70 0.62"
June 85 72 0.46"
July 86 73 0.69"
August 87 73 0.82"
September 86 73 0.75"
October 86 72 0.59"
November 84 70 0.99"
December 82 68 1.86"

Month Avg High Avg Low Rainfall
January 79 64 9.74"
February 79 64 8.86"
March 79 65 14.35"
April 79 66 12.54"
May 81 67 8.07"
June 82 68 7.36"
July 82 69 10.71"
August 83 69 9.78"
September 83 69 9.14"
October 83 69 9.64"
November 81 67 15.58"
December 79 65 10.5"

  • All seasons are great for visiting, though winter is typically wetter than most other seasons. The mountains do occasionally get snow and during these times skiing and sledding may be possible.
  • Humpback whale migration starts at the end of November and early December. Be sure to find a good spot and keep your eyes open for the telltale spout. If you are lucky you might even see them breach out of the water, a most spectacular sight.
  • New Years Eve in Hawaii is a huge celebration that brings together different cultures in a loud, colorful evening. Fireworks are "busted" all day, climaxing at midnight when everyone sets off firecrackers at once. The streets are so bright from the fireworks that the street lamps turn off. Be sure to see the smoke rolling down the streets at 12:01 when it's all done.
  • Beaches are best visited early in the morning or late in the day when most visitors are gone. If you get there early enough you can see the beach before any footprints are on it. A photographers dream.
  • It is considered very impolite to refer to the U.S. mainland as "the States" or to otherwise imply that Hawaii is not part of the U.S. Asking, "Do you accept American money?" or "How do you like the United States?" is probably considered both rude and ignorant.
  • Theft is a minor problem in cities, beaches and parks. Just be smart, don't leave your valuables out in the open on the beach or in your car and you should be okay.
  • Just like anywhere else, it probably isnt a good idea to walk alone (especially women) in unlit areas at night.
  • Hawaii has a reputation for shark attacks, but really this is because there are so many people in the water year round. In fact, given the thousand of people in the water everyday, and given that there is an average of only 2 shark attacks per year, your chances of being attacked are extremely unlikely.. Just be intelligent about your choices. Don't swim alone, be cautious in deep and murky water, and if you are bleeding, get out of the water. For more information on shark attacks see the addditional articles section of this guide.

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