The Big Island of Hawaii -- the island that lends its name to the entire 1,500-mile-long Hawaiian archipelago -- is where Mother Nature pulled out all the stops. Simply put, it's spectacular.
The Big Island has it all: fiery volcanoes and sparkling waterfalls, black-lava deserts and snowcapped mountain peaks, tropical rainforests and alpine meadows, a glacial lake and miles of golden, black, and even green-sand beaches. The Big Island has an unmatched diversity of terrain and climate. A 50-mile drive will take you from snowy winter to sultry summer, passing through spring or fall along the way. The island looks like the inside of a barbecue pit on one side and a lush jungle on the other.
The Big Island is the largest island in the Hawaiian chain (4,038 sq. miles -- about the size of Connecticut), the youngest (800,000 years), and the least populated (with 30 people per sq. mile). It has the highest peaks in the Pacific, the most volcanoes of any Hawaiian island, and the newest land on earth.
Five volcanoes -- one still erupting -- have created this continental island, which is growing bigger daily. At its heart is snowcapped Mauna Kea, the world's tallest sea mountain (measured from the ocean floor), complete with its own glacial lake. Mauna Kea's nearest neighbor is Mauna Loa (or "Long Mountain"), creator of one-sixth of the island; it's the largest volcano on earth, rising 30,000 feet out of the ocean floor (of course, you can see only the 13,796 ft. that are above sea level). Kilauea's eruptions make the Big Island bigger every day -- and, if you're lucky, you can stand just a few feet away and watch it do its work.
Steeped in tradition and shrouded in the primal mist of creation, the Big Island radiates what the Hawaiians call mana, a sense of spirituality that's still apparent in the acres of petroglyphs etched in the black lava, the numerous heiau (temples), burial caves scattered in the cliffs, sacred shrines both on land and in the sea, and even the sound the wind makes as it blows across the desolate lava fields.
The Big Island is not for everyone, however. It refuses to fit the stereotype of a tropical island. Some tourists are taken aback at the sight of stark fields of lava or black-sand beaches. You must remember that it's big (expect to do lots of driving). And you may have to go out of your way if you're looking for traditional tropical beauty, such as a quintessential white-sand beach.
On the other hand, if you're into watersports, this is paradise. The two tall volcanoes mean the water on the leeward side is calm 350 days a year. The underwater landscape of caves, cliffs, and tunnels attracts a stunning array of colorful marine life. The island's west coast is one of the best destinations in the world for big-game fishing. And its miles of remote coastline are a kayaker's dream of caves, secluded coves, and crescent-shaped beaches reachable only by sea.
On land, hikers, bikers, and horseback riders can head up and down a volcano, across beaches, into remote valleys, and through rainforests without seeing another soul. Bird-watchers are rewarded with sightings of the rare, rapidly dwindling native birds of Hawaii. Golfers can find nirvana on a wide variety of courses.
This is the least-explored island in the Hawaiian chain, but if you're looking to get away from it all and back to nature in its most primal state, that might be the best thing about it. Where else can you witness fiery creation and swim with dolphins, ponder the stars from the world's tallest mountain and catch a blue marlin, downhill-ski and surf the waves in a single day? You can do all this and more on only one island in the world: the Big Island of Hawaii.