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Hawaii Island, or the Big Island, is (as the name correctly suggest) the biggest island of Hawaii. Unlike Oahu, where Honolulu is located and Maui, it sees far less tourists and is far more attractive and impressive regarding nature and landscapes as well. It is home to three of the most famous and prominent mountains of the state: the ever-active Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the largest mountain in the world in volume (Mauna Loa) and the tallest mountain in the world as measured from its base on the sea floor to its peak (Mauna Kea). If you're not into climbing peaks, the lush rainforest on the windward side, the black sand coast at its leeward side, or the saddle road connecting both sides of the island are the unique features of the island worth visiting.
In greatest dimension, the island is 150 kilometres across and has a land area of 10,430 km2 comprising 62% of the Hawaiian Islands' land area. Measured from its sea floor base to its highest peak, Mauna Kea is the world's tallest mountain, taller than Mount Everest is above sea level.
The Island of Hawaiʻi is built from five separate shield volcanoes that erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. Because Mauna Loa and Kīlauea are active volcanoes, the island of Hawaii is still growing. Between January 1983 and September 2002, lava flows added 543 acres to the island. Lava flowing from Kīlauea has destroyed several towns, including Kapoho in 1960, and Kalapana and Kaimu in 1990. In 1987 lava filled in Queen's Bath, a large, L-shaped, freshwater pool in the Kalapana area. The southmost point in the 50 States of the United States, Ka Lae, is on Hawaii. The nearest landfall to the south is in the Line Islands. To the north of the Island of Hawaii is the Island of Maui, whose Haleakala volcano is visible from Hawaii across the Alenuihaha Channel.
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Mauna Kea is by some measures the tallest mountain in the world. When measured from the base of the mountain on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, it rises 10,203 metres to its peak, taller than Mount Everest if using the same measurement. It is a dormant volcano, with its last eruption dating back to about 2,500 BC. In the Hawaiian language, Mauna Kea means "white mountain", so named because its summit is regularly covered with snow in winter. The mountain's summit is one of the best astronomical sites in the world and several leading observatories can be found there as a result.
In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can see the only active volcano in North America. Here are steaming vents and gleaming black rocks, the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution - processes that thrust a bare land from the sea and clothed it with unique, exotic, tropical ecosystems and a distinct human culture. The park highlights two of the world's most active volcanoes, and offers insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands as well as world-famous views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. An experience visiting the volcano on the Big Island has two parts. There is the steaming Kilauea crater at nearly 4,000 metres high as well as the long slope near Kalapana where the molten lava goes into the ocean. Watching earth being created is an experience you will never forget and is best done near sunset. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is only one of several astounding natural features on the Big Island of Hawai'i. You can also find Mauna Kea, the world's tallest peak as measured from base to summit, sacred Waipi'o Valley with its lush flora and black sand beach, and eleven of the world's thirteen climate zones in one area of the island or another.
Cultural and Spiritual Journeys can now be enjoyed on the Big Island to some of the most sacred places in Hawaii, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, alongside indigenous kahuna. There is a long history of the Hawaiian people being separated from the engine of tourism that drives economy of Hawai'i and that originates in the land. Other attractions include the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a fascinating site for those interested in ancient Hawaiian history. This place served as a sanctuary for those broke taboos if they could make it here. Cultural demonstrations are regularly scheduled and sea turtles can frequently be seen offshore.
The Big Island has 10 of the 15 types of the world’s climate. Hilo is the wettest city in the US, receiving more than 3,250mm of rain per year. That being said, there are many areas on the Island where it might be sunny, especially in the east and northeast, while Hilo might get drenched. Also take into account that because of the high altitude of much of the central parts of the Island, temperatures are much lower over there and snow is common during the winter months on top of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
This website gives a fantastic summary with climate charts and maps of the 4 main islands, which show the differences on each Island, ranging from pretty dry on the main popular coastal areas, to extremely wet on the other side of the islands and even more so on some of the mountain ranges.
Kona International Airport (KOA) is the major airport on the western side of the Big Island. There are direct flights to the Big Island with United Airlines from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. US Airways has flights from Phoenix. American Airlines and Delta Airlines also serve the airport from Los Angeles. Some other cities with direct flights include Vancouver (seasonal), Seattle, Oakland and Tokyo.
Hilo International Airport currently only serves Los Angeles, Honolulu and Kahului.
Although several cruise ship lines operate in Hawaii, there is currently no dedicated inter-island boat service. Hawaii Superferry used to run high-capacity catamaran ferry services between O‘ahu and Maui, with intention to open a route between Maui and the Big Island, but the company has since declared bankruptcy.
On Big Island, you need a car in order to get to most of the interesting beaches, parks or other attractions, or to travel from the Kona coast to the Hilo coast. Places like the green or black sand beaches, or the Mauna Kea summit and astronomical observatories are only accessible by four-wheel drive. Note that car rentals tend to book months in advance, depending on the season.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
Getting around by local bus, bikes, or on foot work well if you're staying in one area. Many budget travelers are unpleasantly surprised by the extremely limited public transport on the Big Island. The county's Hele-On bus is inexpensive ($2 fare as of 2013), but the schedules are mainly intended for commuting. There are some bus companies offering excursions from Hilo to destinations like Volcano, but they require reservations.
The Big Island is the only county in Hawaii that has no restrictions on the operation of vacation rentals. Before making reservations, it's best to review a map of the island and plan ahead, thinking about the activities and sightseeing you'll want to do. For those that don't have the budget for large hotels and resorts, there are many less expensive options that are still enjoyable, such as local bed and breakfasts, small hotels, and hostels where you can stay for as little as $35 a night. Camping is also readily available all over the island.
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