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The Big Island (also known as Hawaii) is the largest, most recently formed of the Hawaiian islands, and it has two distinct sides to it. To the east, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park dominates the landscape. Some of the most active volcanoes on Earth rise from swirling lava fields glowing with molten lava and dotted with hissing craters. You can explore on foot with a guide, following set trails. On the island’s western side you’ll find coffee plantations, sandy coves tucked between foliage-draped cliffs (including the bay where Captain Cook died in 1779), and long sweeps of beach washed by clear waters ideal for snorkeling. Meanwhile, at the island’s heart, Mauna Kea is a dormant giant sloping up into the clouds. You can stargaze from its discovery-making observatory.

Mauna Kea ObservatoryAttributing to more than half of the archipelago’s landmass but only 13% of its population, the Big Island is wild and untamed. The focus here is on exploring nature. You can walk through moss-green rainforests to see wispy waterfalls and exotic birds. Drive along its coastline for views over sheer cliffs and turquoise waves. Or venture underwater to swim among kaleidoscopic marine life.

One marine experience that we suggest is snorkeling with manta rays. You head out by boat at dusk; special diving lights lure plankton to the surface, which in turn attracts the manta rays. You can then enter the water and snorkel among rays up to 7 m (23 ft) wide, their movements surprisingly graceful given their size.

It’s hard to ignore the huge dormant volcano that rises up from the middle of the Big Island. The highest peak in the archipelago at 4,207 m (13,802 ft), Mauna Kea is one of the best places on the planet for stargazing. Astronomers based here discovered 11 of Jupiter’s moons from the volcano’s telescopes.

In the evening, you can ascend the winding road to the summit, driven by a local guide. After taking in views of the sun setting over a sea of clouds, you move down to the Visitor Information Station to gaze at constellations through the public telescopes.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii (Big Island)A charcoal-grey, volatile landscape that’s constantly changing, Volcanoes National Park is perhaps the Big Island’s main draw. There aren’t many other places where you can walk past cinder cones, bubbling lava and vents angrily puffing out steam.

We can arrange for you to explore the park with a private local guide, who’ll tailor the day to your interests and tell you about the powerful volcanic forces that helped to create the island. You might drive down Chain of Craters Road to see where flowing lava crossed the road in 2003 or take a walk through rainforest to see a lava tube (formed when the surface of a lava flow cools and hardens and the liquid lava beneath is drained away, leaving a long, cave-like tube).

You also have the option to fly above the park on a one-hour helicopter ride. You’ll pass over lava flows, black-sand beaches, tropical rainforests and Kilauea — the USA’s only constantly erupting volcano.

Best time to visit the Big Island (Hawaii)

Hawaii’s tropical climate means any month of the year is a good time to visit. However, we particularly recommend visiting in June or September to avoid busier periods during school breaks.

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Audley Travel Specialist Kat

Start planning your tailor-made trip to the Big Island (Hawaii) by calling one of our Hawaii specialists on 01993 838 863

Suggested itineraries featuring the Big Island (Hawaii)

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in the Big Island (Hawaii), and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of the Big Island (Hawaii)

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    Ideas for experiencing the Big Island (Hawaii)

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting the Big Island (Hawaii), and which use the best local guides.