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Welcome to the Big Island of Hawai’i!
The island of Hawai’i really  has it all – volcanoes, jungles and beaches. And it really is BIG!

Hawai’i Fast Facts
• Area: 4,028 sq. miles
• Population density: 176,000/39 people per square mile (as of 2008)
• County: County of Hawai’i
• County Seat : Hilo
• Flower: ‘O hi a Lehua
• Color: ‘Ula ula (red)

Geological Facts

First, some geological history. As you hopefully read elsewhere on this site, the islands of Hawai’i have been formed as the plates of the earth’s crust moved over a volcanic hotspot that is fixed in the earth. On a consistent and recurring basis, this hot spot has been forming islands for millions of years, and the string of volcanic islands stretches all the way north to Alaska.

Because the tectonic plates are moving to the northwest and Hawai’i is the southeastern most island, that of course makes it the youngest island. Scientists think that Hawai’i broke the surface a “mere” 400,000 years ago, and it has been building pretty much ever since.

Hawai’i is larger than all the other islands combined and is about the same size as Connecticut. It is comprised of 5 different volcanoes, with a sixth still working its way to the surface to the southeast (more on that later.) These volcanoes are: Kohala, at the northwest tip of the island, Mauna Kea in the north central part of the island, Hualālai in the west central region, Mauna Loa in the island’s center, and Kīlauea in the east-central part of the island.

The largest volcano on the island is Mauna Loa, comprising almost half of the island. It is a huge mountain; from its own base to its summit it s 31,000 feet, almost four tenths of a mile higher than Mt. Everest, and it is almost 90 miles across. Mauna Loa has erupted almost 40 times since 1832, but seems past the stage of building its shield shape. Geologists believe that Mauna Loa is being “fed” by a different, and larger, magma chamber than is supplying Kīlauea.

Scientists also believe that Mauna Loa may well be the most dangerous volcano in the entire state. In its last 200 years of eruption some eruptions have lasted more than 18 months, sending lava flows upwards of 40 miles. On seven occasions lava flows have threatened Hilo, most recently in 1984. If the great eruption of 1881-1882 were to be repeated, the damage could be very extensive.

Mauna Loa’s smaller neighbor the south, Kīlauea, is even more active, and has been continuously active since 1983. It has erupted more than 60 times since 1832 and approximately 95 percent of its surface is less than 1,500 years old. K Kīlauea’s eruption n 1960 buried the village of Kapoho and did great damage to the town of Kalalpana in 1990 and 1991.

Large slices of Kīlauea south flank are slowly slumping into the ocean along a series of faults; occasional swarms of earthquakes confirm the on-going nature of this, and scientists are beginning to think it is increasingly likely that a catastrophic slide could occur to the mountain’s side, causing an enormous trunami.

The Big Island’s third big volcano is Hualālai, a mountain that rises to 8,300 feet on the central Kona coast. It is older than the other two mountains and is in its late stages of development. The extremely viscous nature of Hualālai’s lava explains its relatively step slopes, as thicker lava cannot flow down gentle slopes.

Mauna Kea, at 13, 796 feet, is the highest volcano in the state and dominates the landscape on the north side of the island. A most interesting fact relating to Mauna Kea is the evidence of glaciers on its summit! Never thought you’d read about glaciers in Hawai’i, did you?? In fact, scientists believe there have been no less than four advances and retreats of glaciers on the top of Mauna Kea over the past 200,000 years. During its most recent expansion, the ice cap covered roughly 30 square miles and was perhaps 200 feet thick. It finally melted for good “only” 11,000 years ago and to this day the ground beneath the summit is permanently frozen to a depth of 35 feet.

And lastly, a word about little Lō’ihi, 22 miles to Hawai’i's southeast. Scientists think Lō’ihi first began erupting about 400,000 years ago and they think it will break the ocean’s surface sometime between 10,000 and 100,000 years in the future. The mountain’s summit is now about 10,000 feet above the ocean floor (but 3,200 feet below the surface still), so you know it’s about being a real mountain some day!


Hawai’i is said to have been named for Hawai’iloa, the legendary Polynesian navigator who first discovered it. Other accounts attribute the name to the legendary realm of Hawaiki, a place from which the Polynesians originated (see also Manua), the place where they go in the afterlife, the realm of the gods.

Historians are pretty sure that greater “Hawai’i's” history began on the Big Island, for the island’s southern most point, “Ka Lae” (south point), is where the intrepid explorers from the Marquesas Islans are believed to have landed about 1,500 years ago (this career naval officer is still stunned by this; what would ever inspire people to get in to canoes and simply sail until they found other lands (or perish?) This represents some serious courage, in my opinion. (And don’t forget…they presumably would want to get back home, as well!!)

Captain James Cook, who called them the “Sandwich Islands”, was killed on the Big Island at Kealakekua Bay in 1779. At the “time of discovery,” the Big Island was divided into separate chiefdoms and war between the factions was common.

In the 1790-1791 timeframe, Kamehameha built the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site in north Kohala as a tribute to the war god Kukailimoku as part of his efforts to unite all the Hawaiian islands. Soon after finishing this site Kamahamaha went on to conquer the entire Big Island, a first step to unifying the entire chain of islands. The Big Island was the site for King Kamehameha’s court until he moved it to O’ahu in 1804. But he returned to the Big Island in 1812, where he died seven years later.

The first misionaries arrived in Kailua-Kona in 1820. They built Mokuaikaua Church on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona, that is still standing and still being used as a church today.

Throughout the 1800s ranching and sugar cultivation prospered on the island (the Parker Ranch became one of the largest ranched in the United States.)