Roughly twice the size of the rest of Hawaii’s islands combined, the Big Island cultivates a loyal following of repeat visitors while delighting first-timers with its eye-popping scenery and welcoming, laid-back personality. Home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, the state’s highest mountain (13,800-foot Mauna Kea), a wealth of both ritzy resorts and economical inns and B&Bs (quite a few of them gay-owned), some of Hawaii’s most secluded beaches and spectacular waterfalls, and miles of scenic roads, the Big Island – officially called the Island of Hawaii – is truly a land of superlatives.
You’ll hardly be alone if you spend most of a visit to the Big Island (gohawaii.com/big-island) by anchoring yourself at one of the larger resorts and – it’s fairly tempting to while away your days lazing by the pool, swimming in the sea, enjoying a round of golf or some spa treatments, and eating and drinking, especially when some properties abound with cushy amenities. But do try to visit whichever side of the island you’re not staying on, either by car, or by booking a helicopter tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or over the amazing 1,200-foot waterfalls of the remote Waipio Valley. If you’re visiting the Big Island for the first time, plan to spend at least four full days here – you could easily stay two weeks without running out of things to see and do.
Most visitors stay on the island’s west coast, either around the town of Kona, which is also home to the largest airport, or a little farther north along the Kohala Coast, which is renowned for its swank resorts and arid, beautifully desolate terrain, characterized by massive black fields of lava rock. There’s far less tourism development on the verdant but also quite rainy eastern side of the island, but on this side you will find the small, historic city of Hilo, fascinating Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the funky Puna Coast – there are many gay-owned B&Bs in these latter two areas.
Other areas that see fewer visitors but offer incredible scenery and all sorts of hidden charms include North Kohala, at the northwest tip of the island, which includes the historic plantation villages of Hawi and Kapaau, and access to the magnificent black-sand beach at Pololu Valley, which is situated at the very end of Hwy. 270 and then reached by a steep trail (it’s about a 30-minute hike).