The Big Island – Regions

The island of Hawaii, nicknamed the Big Island, is a place where western influence meets that of “old” Hawaii. The island is predominantly rural with remnants of the past sugar cane plantation era. As the largest island in the Hawaiian Island Chain, the Big Island holds the greatest amount of undeveloped land. This gives the island mass amounts of greenery from pasture lands, farm lands, and Native Hawaiian forests that are home to some of Hawaii’s endangered species.

In its entirety, the Big Island is best described as being rural. There are no freeways and the majority of the highways are only two lanes (one lane going in each direction). The different regions of the island carry its own distinctive features and are one of those islands that you will either fall in love with or dislike. It really depends upon your personality and your expectations for visiting Hawaii.

The main regions of the Big Island include seven areas – Hilo, Puna, Hamakua, Kohala Coast, North Kohala, Kona, and Kau. Each region has its own qualities that make it stand out from the other offering visitors its own special gift. No region is the same. As long as you are open to a “laid back”, “slow-paced” area, the Big Island can be for you.


The region of Hilo is the hub of the Big Island, housing the county, state, and federal offices and government. There is one main airport in Hilo, the Hilo International Airport, which you will land at when you visit the East Side of the Big Island. Hilo is a very wet area that receives most of the island’s rain. There are sunny days that are just absolutely beautiful, but always be prepared with your umbrella as you never know when a rain shower will hit. The rain is what makes this region very green with its lush plants, trees, and Native Hawaiian forests. The waterfalls that can be seen off of Hilo’s main rivers are breathtaking as it not only reminds you of the simple beauty of the island, but of the power of the water. The main port of the island is in Hilo. This is where the island receives its goods and produce that can’t be grown or manufactured on the island. It is home to historical areas and many locally owned businesses. There is nothing artificial about Hilo. Life is simple and that is how the islanders live. Despite its slow development with a few large retail chains, the island and its people have remained true to their Native Hawaiian culture.


The region of Puna is located south of Hilo. It is home to the black sand beaches of the Kalapana town that has changed drastically over the years due to the continuous lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano. This region borders on the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and has been home to much of the destruction of the lava flow. The largest town in this region is Pahoa, where you will find an increase in population due to the vast amount of available land at affordable prices. This town is now home to some chain stores and dining establishments, making it almost similar to downtown Hilo. Despite the lava flows and the increase in housing and businesses, this region still is green with native plants, trees, and exotic flowers amidst the black lava flows of the past and present. This area also grows much of the islands local produce, such as papayas, bananas, and sweet potatoes.


The Hamakua region is often referred to as “the country”. This side of the island was once home to the sugar cane plantations. There are still remnants of this period of time with old factories and plantation style housing. The large amounts of land in this region have been turned into farming areas, which contributes to most of the island’s produce. It is also abundant in botanical gardens, waterfalls, and native Hawaiian forests. From mostly anywhere in this area, you will have a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean. This region is home to the famous Waipio Valley that is accessible by foot or 4-wheel drive vehicles. The valley has a black sand beach and grows much of the kalo (taro) for the island. The tallest mountain in the world lies partly in this region and in Hilo, which is Mauna Kea Mountain. This mountain is famous for its world-wide observatories and snow fall during the winter months. It is also bordered by Mauna Loa Mountain that is still listed as an active volcano.

Kohala Coast

This region is most commonly referred to as “South Kohala” by local residents. This area has the driest climate and experiences mostly sunny and hot weather all year round. It is home to the island most luxurious resorts that all sit along the white sand beaches in this area. The terrain is brown due to the lack of rain, with only patches of greenery that can be seen are from the resorts’ golf courses. You can also see remnants of old lava flows reaching from higher to lower ground. The Kohala Coast is also home of significant Native Hawaiian historical sites and the second main airport on the island, the Kona International Airport.

North Kohala

This region includes the small “cowboy” town of Waimea, as well as the Kohala town, which is at the Big Island’s most northern tip. The entire region is rural with small plantation housing still in existence, pasture lands, and small communities with no large industrialization. This area is significant in Native Hawaiian History, as the town of Kohala was the birth place of King Kamehameha who was in reign during the years that Hawaii was under monarchy rule. It is a quiet region with few local stores and some small franchises providing for the residents’ basic needs. The region provides beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean from its higher elevations in Kohala. The town of Waimea is cooler and wet due to its elevation, and is spread out with pasture land and beautiful Native Hawaiian forests.


The Kona region is mostly sunny with warm weather all year round, except in its higher elevation areas that receive more precipitation. It is bordered by the Mauna Loa Mountain. This area is growing in infrastructures as more business move into the Kailua-Kona town. The beaches in this region are white sand beaches surrounded by Native Hawaiian plants and coconut trees.  The waters are great for swimming and surfing. This area is home to the famous Kealakekua Bay in the South side of Kona where discoverer, Captain Cook, first landed in Hawaii where he was eventually killed. This region is full of other Native Hawaiian historical sites. The main crop grown in this area is coffee, which is not only distributed throughout Hawaii but exported to other places around the world as well. This is the most visited region on the Big Island by visitors to Hawaii.


The Kau region is a rural area with only small stores available for necessities. This area is lush with green pasture lands and thriving Native Hawaiian forests. There are few residential communities, and a small hospital and post office. There is no large industrialization in this region, as it holds strong to the Native Hawaiian culture and simple living. This region has truly remained untouched by the modern world. The main residential communities are Pahala and Naalehu. It is also home to the famous black sand beach, Punaluu where you will often see Hawaiian sea turtles basking in the sun near the ocean’s edge. In addition, this region is also home to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Kilauea Volcano that is very active. The farms in this area are used mostly for growing macadamia nuts and coffee, and the pasture lands are used for raising cattle and sheep.