5 Reasons to Explore Both Sides of the Big Island

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

Whether you’re staying on the tropical eastern Hilo side or the sunny western Kona side during your Big Island vacation, there are plenty of reasons explore both sides of the big island. Aside from the cultural differences between the two major cities, Kailua-Kona and Hilo, both sides of the island have their own must see attractions for a memorable vacation and you won’t have the full experience unless you venture to both.

Kona Has the Beaches. Hilo Has the Waterfalls.
The sunny Kona and Kohala coast are known their world-famous beaches. Two-Step, Hapuna, Kua Bay, Mauna Kea, White Sands…the list goes on. And while Hilo certainly has some impressive beaches if you can get a sunny day on the rainiest coast in the United States. However, lava rocks are more present and the beachfronts are often too dangerous to swim or surf. But that doesn’t mean Hilo isn’t one for sightseeing. In fact, some of the most iconic waterfalls in the world reside along a short stretch of road just north of Hilo. Make sure you stop by Rainbow Falls and the nearby Banyan Tree, Akaka Falls, and Waiale Falls. You can also book a waterfall tour that takes you from either Hilo or the resort areas in Kailua-Kona and provides greater access to waterfalls on private land than a self-guided tour will allow.

There’s Plenty to Explore on the Way Over
Improvements to Saddle Road (Highway 200) in recent years have made traveling over the valley between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa a much more pleasant and safe experience. But there’s always the option to venture north and visit the sleepy mountain towns of the Hamakua Coast on your way to either side. Great food, excellent historic sites, and winding drives through dense tropical rainforests await travelers who take that path. The third option is to head south to visit the sparse and beautiful Kau region which will take you right by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You Get a Perfect Opportunity to See the Volcanoes Up Close
Depending on the current lava flow activity, you may be able to travel along the southern edge of the Big Island and pass through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on your way to either the western or the eastern side of the island. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see brand-new land masses being formed up close and stop off for a lava flow hike if time allows. It is easier to access the hike in area from Hilo and Puna on the Eastern side of the Big Island and you save yourself a long night time drive back to Kona.

The visitors center provides free tours through the park’s massive volcanic craters before taking you to one of the most easily accessible lava tubes known to man. The Thurston Lava Tube, also known as Nahuku, lets tourists see just how lava flows below ground and the resulting geography thereafter. With standing-height ceilings and well-lit interiors, it’s an unforgettable photo op at the very least.

Hilo is More Affordable to Eat, Stay, and Drink
If you’re a visitor on a budget, you’ll want to spend at least a few nights in Hilo. Quieter and less tourist-heavy than the island’s western side, a trip to Hilo offers cultural and historical exposure as well as some of the best food the Hawaiian islands have to offer. Plus, the lower cost of meals, lodging, and nightlife should attract more budget-conscious guests and the university presence on the Hilo side makes it a no-brainer for young people visiting the island.

You Get to See How Locals Live in Two Very Different Places
Aforementioned are the differences between the two sides of the island for tourists, but if you’re interested in how life is for current Hawaiians, you’ll want to explore off the beaten path. Because the Kona side is more expensive, many locals live somewhere between Hilo and Kona, though Hilo’s native population is higher than elsewhere on the island. The largest city by population, Hilo is less developed and more traditionally colonial Hawaii than its Kona counterpart. If you’re looking to experience what life is really like on the Big Island, a visit to Hilo would be well worth your time.

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