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The Hawaiian Islands are a breathtaking archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, made up of eight major islands. The largest of these islands by far is Hawai’i Island, often called ‘The Big Island’ to differentiate it from the state itself.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The big island in Hawaii is called Hawai’i Island.

In this comprehensive guide, we will refer to the island as Hawai’i Island and explore everything you need to know about this magnificent place. We’ll cover key details about the island such as its history, geography, climate, attractions, and so much more.

History and Naming of Hawai’i Island

Original Hawaiian Name

The original Hawaiian name for the Big Island is Hawai’i. According to Hawaiian legends, the island was named after Hawai’iloa, an ancient Polynesian chief who led his family on voyages between Hawaii and Tahiti. The name Hawai’i means “place of Hawai’iloa”.

How it Got the Nickname ‘The Big Island’

Compared to the other Hawaiian islands, Hawai’i is by far the largest, covering over 4,000 square miles. This massive size compared to islands like Oahu and Maui led to it being called “The Big Island” by visitors and locals alike.

The nickname stuck and now the island is almost exclusively referred to as the Big Island, even in official contexts.

Some fun facts about the sheer size of the Big Island:

  • It’s larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined
  • 11 out of the world’s 13 climate zones exist on the Big Island due to its vast terrain
  • At over 13,000 feet tall, Mauna Kea volcano is the tallest mountain in the Pacific

So while its original Hawaiian name describes its legendary discoverer, the Big Island’s more modern nickname stuck thanks to its absolutely massive size compared to Hawaii’s other islands!

Geography and Climate

Size and Regions

The Big Island, also known as Hawai’i Island, is the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, spanning an area of 4,028 square miles. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly double the combined land area of the rest of the major Hawaiian islands.

The island is divided into various geographic regions like the dry Kohala Coast to the north, the lush and rainy east side dominated by Mt. Kilauea volcano, and the Kona coast along the leeward side with postcard views of volcanic landscapes.

Volcanic Landscape

The Big Island’s landscape is dominated by volcanoes due to its location over a hot spot in Earth’s crust. The island has five major volcanoes, including Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Hualālai and Kīlauea which still remains active. In fact, Kilauea volcano has been continuously erupting since 1983!

This volcanic activity produces fascinating lava flows that gradually expand the island. The frequent eruptions also result in nutrient-rich volcanic soil that enables lush tropical vegetation across parts of the island.

Climate Conditions

The island’s climate varies considerably based on geographic location and elevation due to the mountainous terrain. The weather tends to be warm and tropical along the coastal regions. For example, Kona averages highs around 85°F being located on the leeward side in the rain shadow of the volcano’s central plateau.

Meanwhile, the island’s peaks are cool and alpine. At 13,796 feet, Mauna Kea often has winter storms with snow and temperatures below freezing! These drastic elevation changes over short distances contribute to an incredible diversity of microclimates on Hawaiʻi Island.

The tropical location also means Hawaii enjoys plenty of sun and moderate year-round temperatures. However, weather conditions can change unexpectedly here. While the leeward sides have generally dry and sunny weather, the windward east side receives over 100 inches of rainfall annually!

Moist breezes lifting over mountains produce clouds and frequent showers. But despite some wet and grey days, the colorful rainbows make it worth it!

Main Attractions and Activities

Volcanoes National Park

The crown jewel of the Big Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home of the active Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. This fascinating landscape features volcanic craters, lava fields, steam vents, and more.

Don’t miss the Jaggar Museum or the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year old lava tunnel you can walk through. Over 2 million visitors per year come to see the volcanic activity and striking natural beauty.

Hilo Town

The biggest population center on the island, Hilo Town, enjoys over 270 inches of rain per year, giving it a lush, tropical landscape. Top attractions include the Pacific Tsunami Museum, Lyman Museum, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, and Rainbow Falls.

The expansive Hilo Farmers Market has fresh island fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Downtown Hilo offers shopping, dining, and entertainment.

Kona Coast

The leeward, drier side of the island features the Kona Coast‘s resorts, coffee plantations, snorkeling, and incredible ocean views. Top spots include Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Kealakekua Bay, City of Refuge, and the cafes and galleries of Holualoa village.

The Ironman World Championship triathlon takes place here every year. Kona coffee from the plantations and macadamia nuts are popular souvenirs.


With over 260 miles of coastline, the Big Island spoils beachgoers with options. Favorites like Hapuna Beach, known for its soft white sand, Mauna Kea Beach with gentle surf, and the snorkeling haven of Kealakekua Bay offer family-friendly waters.

Meanwhile, rugged beaches like Papakōlea (Green Sand Beach) and Punaluʻu (Black Sand Beach) reveal the island’s singular volcanic personality through their mineral sands and rocky terrain.

Adventure Sports

The Big Island’s diverse natural landscapes provide the perfect playground for adventure. Zipline over forests and waterfalls at locations like Akaka Falls State Park. Test your mettle hiking trails to Mt. Kilauea’s summit or see flowing lava up close.

The underwater realm offers spectacular scuba diving and snorkeling at sites like Manta Ray Village or the coral reefs in Honaunau Bay. Take a refreshing stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking tour along the coastline for fun on the water suitable for all ages and skill levels.

Culture and Cuisine

Native Hawaiian Traditions

The Big Island of Hawaii, also known as Hawai’i Island, is home to many unique Native Hawaiian traditions that have been practiced for centuries. From hula dancing to Hawaiian music, many cultural practices showcase the island’s rich history.

One important tradition is the gathering and weaving of plants to create beautiful Hawaiian quilts, baskets, and mats. Skilled weavers use native plants like hala leaves, coconut fronds, and pandanus to craft intricate designs.

The cheerful, colorful patterns often depict nature, mythology, or daily life.

The Big Island is also known for hula, the iconic interpretive Hawaiian dance. Hula dancers use gestures, facial expressions, and rhythmic movements to convey stories, celebrate nature, and honor gods and ancestors.

The annual Merrie Monarch Festival on the island draws the world’s best halau (hula schools) to compete while perpetuating this vibrant art form.

Food and Restaurants

As a top agricultural region in Hawaii, the Big Island’s cuisine highlights fresh, locally grown produce as well as meat and fish. Food traditions reflect the diverse backgrounds of residents, including Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, and more.

Tropical fruits thrive in the island’s rich volcanic soil and sunny climate. Locals and visitors alike enjoy sweet papaya, guava, rambutan, lychee, and starfruit. Farmers also cultivate popular crops like Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, vanilla, and cacao.

Seafood stars prominently on local menus. Signature dishes incorporate fresh-caught ahi tuna, mahimahi, shrimp, lobster, crab, and shellfish. Meat-based plates feature grass-fed beef and free-range pork.

In addition, the Big Island serves innovative fusion cuisine blending global flavors. Menus may offer Loco Moco (hamburger steak over rice with gravy and fried egg), Japanese poke bowls, Filipino chicken adobo, Portuguese sweet bread, Vietnamese pho soup, Thai curry, Spanish paella, and more.


As you can see, Hawai’i Island offers immense natural beauty, rich culture, delicious cuisine, thrilling adventures, and so much more. We explored the island’s fascinating history, volcanic landscape, climate, top destinations, activities, culture, and food.

Whether you want to witness active volcanoes, relax on tropical beaches, explore rainforests, or immerse yourself in Hawaiian traditions, the magnificent Big Island has something for everyone.

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