1.The Big Island is the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s home to three active volcanoes: two that erupted last in the 80s and 90s and Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since 1983. These eruptions mean the island is actually still growing!
2.The Big Island (also called Hawaii island) is, as the name suggests, big! In fact, all of the other Hawaiian islands could fit inside it. So don’t exect to see the hole island without a LOT of driving or staying in two different locations.
3.The island breaks pretty evenly into two halves or “sides.” Kona side and Hilo side. Kona side is the west side and it’s where most visitors stay. It’s dry and sunny and where the majority of the island’s beaches are. Hilo side is the east side of the island and it’s a lush rainforest. It rains more on this side of the island and it’s also where Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located.
4.If you’re only going to stay in one location, stay in Kona and plan daytrips to Hilo. I would plan two day trips: one along the south shore to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with stops at the green and black sand beaches and another one along the north shore to see Hilo and the surrounding areas (a lot of waterfalls).
5.It’s called the “Orchid Isle” and it’s been mostly untouched. While you will find plenty of nice resorts in the Kona/Kohala area, largely the Big Island has been left pretty much undeveloped. It’s great for those wanting to really get away.
6.Don’t come to the Big Island for less than one full week. Unless you’re just jetting over to see the volcano, you need at least a week. Two is preferable.
7.Hawaii was the 50th state added to the United States of America. Despite it being a US state, more than one person has asked me if you need a passport to travel there. You don’t. Also, when referring to the contiguous United States, you don’t call it “the states” like you would when traveling internationally. You refer to it as “the mainland.”
8.It may feel like a different country, but remember, you’re still in the US. Hawaii has a very distinct culture and its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean often makes it feel like a foreign land, so many visitors question how things are done. Here’s the deal, everything works like it does back home, except when it doesn’t : ) Seriously though, your phone service and everything works exactly like it does at home. But you will find yourself subject to the quirks of “island life.” Things move slower so relax and just go with the flow.
9.Hawaii has its quirks. To protect the environment from invasive species, you aren’t allowed to bring in any plant or animal species (including veggies) or soil. You’ll fill out a form when you arrive and all bags will be screened by the Department of Agriculture before you go home. Hawaii also has a ban on plastic shopping bags so bring your own or plan to pay for $0.50 tote bags. Most grocery stores still have paper bags available.
10.The Hawaiian Islands run on the Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone. Hawaii also doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time so they’re 3 hours behind West Coast time (6 hours behind East coast time) when we’re on Daylight savings time, and 2/5 hours when we’re not.
11.Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures. Here’s some terminology for you: “Hawaiian” refers to anyone born with Hawaiian blood. “Local” refers to anyone born in Hawaii (except white people). “Haole” refers to white people and tourists in general. The term “kama’aina” is also thrown around which refers to anyone from or living in Hawaii regardless of their ethnicity.
12.It seems like a world away but Hawaii is actually only a 5 or 6-hour flight from California. It’s 6 hours going to Hawaii, and 5 hours coming back from Hawaii. Kona (KOA) is the airport that you’ll most likely fly into. You can get a direct flight to Kona from Los Angeles (CA), Oakland (CA), Phoenix (AZ), Portland (OR), San Diego (CA), San Jose (SJC), San Francisco (SFO), and Seattle (SEA). There’s also an airport in Hilo which mostly gets flights from Honolulu and Maui, but there’s also one direct flight from Los Angeles.