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About the Island

About the Island

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The Island:

The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest and the southeastern-most of the Hawaiian Islands. With an area of 4,028 square miles (10,430 km), it is larger than all of the other islands in the state of Hawaii combined and is the largest island in the United States of America. However, it only has 13% of Hawaii's people.

The real name of the island is Hawaii, but it is often referred to as the Island of Hawaii, the Big Island, or Hawaii Island to distinguish it from the state. Administratively, the whole island is encompassed by Hawaii County. 

The Kona (west) coast has famous stretches of sunny beaches. The (Hilo) east coast is very rainy, but is home to active volcanoes and hot springs. The Big Island is raw, lava filled, and not touristy like Oahu and Maui.  It may not be quite as lush as the other islands but there is enough to do here to keep anyone occupied for weeks.

There are 2 commercial airports, KOA for the Kona side and ITO for the Hilo side of the island. They are 2 hours apart via Saddle Road.

All prices including food are higher in Hawaii, due to the fact that all goods are shipped in from the mainland. 

Kosher traveler info:

Chabad of The Big Island is located on the Kona side. Currently there is no permanent Chabad presence in Hilo, but Chabad arranges classes and Holiday services/meals in Hilo.

There is no daily Minyan but we do get a Minyan Shabbos and Yom Tov night and day roughly 90% of the time. You can join communal meals on Holidays, Friday night and Shabbos day, reservations should be made beforehand.

For Kosher food, please check out our Kosher food section 

Hotels:

Almost all hotels are located on the sunnier and warmer Kona side, though the very rainy Hilo side has more to do.

If you have the time it’s definitely ideal to spend some nights on the Kona side and some nights on the Hilo side as it’s quite far to keep driving back and forth.

If you’re traveling with a family in Hawaii it’s definitely worth looking into renting a private home or condo from sites like VRBO, Home Away, or Airbnb.

Cars: 

You’ll definitely want a car on any island to explore its beauty. On the Big Island you’ll definitely want something with Four Wheel Drive, more on that below.

Chabad of Hawaii has passed on a corporate rate for rentals at Enterprise or National in Hawaii that provides better rates, waives underage fees, and waives different location drop-off fees. 

The company name is Hawaii Kosher Weddings. The contract number is XZ36016 and the pin is HAW 

You can also bid for car rentals on Hotwire or Priceline that can save you a fortune!

Buy gas at Costco where’s it’s a lot cheaper than at most stations on the island.

Activities:

-See the current eruption. You can do this in the evening on the coast of Kalapana at the end of highway 130. You can also view eruptions at the Jaggar Museum overlook in the Volcanoes national park which are also better at night. 

Helicopter tours can show you eruptions from the sky. Or find a bootleg guide to take you on foot to the real eruption sights, but you’ll have to search online or locally to find someone like that.

-In the national park you can also walk and crawl through lava tubes and go on incredible hikes like the Kilauea Iki hike. Start at the Kilauea Iki Overlook to go through beautiful forest and then into the crater where lava devastated the lush forest. You can even have a picnic in the crater! Roads like Hilina Pali Road, off of Chain or Craters road in the park, will offer spectacular lookouts. 

-Waipio Valley is like stepping into another world. But only a 4WD vehicle can make it down the steep grade to the paradise of lush valleys and waterfalls that meander on forever. Otherwise it will take a brutal walk to get there and back. You can also hire a tour guide with 4WD from the top of the mountain. You can also take a horseback tour through the valley though you will be on their schedule and you won’t have time to explore waterfalls and peer into the valley. Beware that there are homeless people who live in the valley and they’re best left undisturbed. There’s no cell phone service down in the valley either. 

-Hot springs around Hilo are volcanically heated and are awesome. The ones that can be easily accessed, like Ahalanui will be more crowded than ones like Champagne Pond that require a 4WD drive to get to. 

-Hilo’s farmers market offers exotic fruit and local wares. Wednesday is the big market day there. Although the listed prices are high, just remember that you can definitely bargain here! The fruit in Hawaii is just amazing, don’t leave without trying locally grown Maui Gold Pineapple, passion fruit, papaya, mango, lychee, mangosteen, rambutan, etc. They just taste so much better in Hawaii and they’re much cheaper at farmers markets. Beware that you can’t bring any fruit home with you besides for Pineapple or Coconut.

-Don’t be scared to drive Saddle Road connecting the Kona side with the Hilo side with the road up to Mauna Kea in the middle. It used to be bad but now it’s a fine drive.

-Mauna Kea offers the most stunning sunsets you’ll ever see. The volcano is taller than Everest from its base and you can drive up to the top and watch the sun set on the clouds below you. Bring a sweater, there will be snow at the top! 

This drive can be done with a regular car, but a 4WD will probably make things easier as the top half past the visitors center isn’t paved. Not for the faint of heart or those with respiratory issues. In fact those with respiratory issues should probably avoid the Big Island altogether. It's also not recommended to bring small children, due to the dangers of high altitudes.

Stay until after sunset and then watch the star show at the visitors center where you’re sure to see more stars than ever before.

Again, you can do this drive without 4WD, just take it nice and slow and use a low gear going down so that you don’t ride your breaks out. If you do have a 4WD there are some other cool roads up here that you can drive on-see The Big Island Revealed for maps and details.

Snorkeling by Captain Cook is among the best in the state. There are tons of other water activities on the Kona side. 

Diving options are plentiful, including diving with Manta Rays at night!

-South Island sites like South Point where you can see people (or join them) diving off a 40 foot cliff into waters that don’t hit landmass until Antarctica. If you have a 4WD you can drive from there to green sand beach or take the road to the sea to a private black sand beach.

-Whale watching boatride.

-Place of Refuge was where you went if you broke the Hawaiian law and were subject to execution. This place was a safe haven and if you made it here your life would be spared. Similar to the commandment to establish Arei Miklat 

-Kona Coffee is world famous and there are plantations like Greenwell and Bayview that offer tours and tastings. 

 

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