The largest and tallest of the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island is true to its name. It’s a place of superlatives where you can watch red-hot lava flow, roam through tropical rainforests and discover deserted coves.

For views: Mauna Kea is the highest and holiest spot on the Big Island – sacred in Hawaiian mythology as a hangout of the Gods. There’s a six-mile hike to the summit. The Onizuka Visitor Information Station offers a nightly stargazing programme (stargazing 6pm-10pm; free).

For beaches: Kohala Coast’s white-sand Hapuna Beach has good surf in winter, while Kauna’oa Bay offers excellent swimming conditions most of the year. At Kohala Divers in Kawaihae, there’s coral-reef diving and whale-watching (00 1 808 882 7774; diving from £60).

For coffee: Kona Coast coffee has earned plaudits worldwide. The Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation is a family-owned, organic farm with tours and coffee tasting. There’s also a Kona Coffee Cultural Festival in November (Mountain Thunder closed Sun; free).

For volcanoes: Ki¯lauea is famous as the ‘drive-up volcano’ – you can drive round the crater, parking to take in steam vents and sulphur banks. Drop in at the Ki¯lauea Visitor Center to find out about the latest rumblings (00 1 808 985 6000; park entry £3).

For hiking: In the secluded Pololu Valley in North Kohala, walkers follow the trail down from the cliffs into a dense forest before hiking past waterfalls and black-sand beaches. Hawaii Forest and Trail offers guided walking tours (00 1 808 331 8505; from £80).

Eat and drink
Hilo’s Café 100 diner is the place to go for Hawaii’s favourite fast food, loco moco – rice topped with a hamburger, fried egg and gravy. The kitchen pumps out 25 varieties as well as Japanese bento boxes and teriyaki (00 1 808 935 8683; 969 Kilauea Avenue; closed Sun; loco moco £2-£3).

Miyo’s resembles a rustic Japanese teahouse with shoji screen doors opening towards Waiakea Pond in Hilo. Home-style dishes include the likes of grilled saba (mackerel) or deep-fried tonkatsu (pork cutlet), with green salads in support (00 1 808 935 2273; 400 Hualani St; £5-£8).

Hawaiian meets pan-Asian at Kaleo’s Bar & Grill in Pahoa, a neighbourhood stalwart with regular live music performances. Try the poke – sliced raw fish with sweet onion, tomato and avocado with sesame soy dressing (00 1 808 965 5600; 15-2969 Pahoa Village Rd; mains from £6).

Innovation is the watchword at Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Waikoloa, which serves a Hawaiian take on Japanese food – for instance, Dungeness crab ramen noodles in truffle broth and panko-crusted tuna sushi (00 1 808 886 6286; Queens Market Place; mains from £10).

Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill in Kailua-Kona offers a local twist on American classics. Try crab cakes in red coconut curry (00 1 808 327 0209; Sunset Shopping Plaza, 75-5995 Kuakini Hwy; mains from £14).

Slap-bang in the middle of a lava flow – albeit circa 1914 – Lova Lava Land is an eco-resort that’s completely off the grid, using its own solar power, catchment water and composting toilets. Guests stay in a yurt or vintage VW camper vans (Hawaiian Ranchos, Ocean View; from £25).

Over the road from Honoli’i Beach, Orchid Tree is a cosy b&b on the outskirts of Hilo. Spacious rooms have gleaming hardwood floors, and there’s a pool, whirlpool bath and a surfer shack facing out towards the eastern horizon. Ask the owner about surfing lessons (00 1 808 961 9678; 6 Makakai Pl; from £105).

Ka’awa Loa Plantation is an upmarket b&b on the Kona coast, with a long veranda and unparalleled sea views. Breakfasts come with Kona coffee and fruit grown on the adjoining plantation, and there’s an outdoor hot tub from which to admire the sunset (00 1 808 323 2686; Napo’opo’o Rd; from £90).

An upscale but relaxed b&b in South Point, Kalaekilohana has four spacious rooms with French windows and balconies. The friendly owners run regular lei-making classes and host free Hawaiian language and music nights (00 1 808 939 8052; South Point Rd, Na’alehu; from £160).

The luxurious Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows is surrounded by gardens and coconut palms. It prides itself on its green credentials, using solar power and rearing its own sea turtles before releasing them into the wild (00 1 808 885 6622; 68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr; from £250).

When to go
The island is hot and dry on the western side and somewhat rainier on the eastern side, but it’s cooler everywhere from mid-December to March. The Aloha Festivals are a two-month celebration of Hawaiian culture from late August.

Getting around
Almost all visitors to the Big Island hire a car at one of the two airports, Kona or Hilo. Try Avis (from £27 per day) and Budget (from £30 per day). Buses are irregular – public transport should be used only as a last resort.

Getting there
American Airlines flies from Heathrow to Honolulu airport via LAX (from £770). Delta flies from Heathrow to Kona on the Big Island, stopping at both New York JFK and LAX (from £630). Local flights from Hawaiian Air are available between islands (from £50).



The article 'Mini guide to Hawaii' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.