Exploring the Big Island of Hawai’i with Bree Kessler

1. When is the best time to visit the Big Island to avoid the crowds?

September, October, March, and May tend to be less crowded times. If you want to stay away from crowds, definitely steer clear of the standard school break times.

2. What’s a must-do activity for first-time visitors?

It’s easy to go from winter to summer in one day on the Big Island. For those looking to cool off, a trip to Mauna Kea to observe the nighttime sky is a must-do. For those craving the classic warm temperatures of Hawaii, check out the view at Waipio Valley and if you feel motivated, walk down the near vertical road to the beach at the bottom.

3. Name of a few of the best beaches, in your opinion.

There is a beach on the Big Island to fit every personality. Some beaches offer much more shade than sun, some are completely desolate, while others make you feel like you’re right in the action. Manini’owali Beach in Kona is a beach that is easy to access and allows for great people watching. The Mauna Kea beach in Kohala is a public beach that offers visitors the same waterfront as guests staying at the resort at the same time (without the price). Punalu’u Black Sand Beach in Ka’u isn’t the best beach for swimming, but you can’t find a better spot for a picnic and to see turtles nesting in the sand.

4. What are the best gluten-free and vegetarian food options on the island?

Check out Island Naturals Grocery Store chain (in four locations throughout the Island) for all kinds of gluten-free, vegan, and sometimes raw goodies. Kalani Oceanside Resort in Pahoa has a daily lunch and dinner buffet with tons of gluten-free and/or vegan options. Check out my Moon guide for more recommendations on where to find gluten-free pizza, crepes, and traditional mochi treats made from sweet rice flour.

5. Is the weather actually beautiful year-round? Do you have a favorite season?

The weather is wonderful all year, but a Big Island fun fact is that it has 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. This means that you can go from the tropics to the desert to a snowy landscape all within a few hours—nearly all year round!

6. If a traveler is craving privacy and a secluded spot to relax, what’s your recommendation?

It’s surprisingly easy to find privacy and seclusion on the Big Island as long as you stay away from the bigger cities. The beaches dotting the very south coast of the island, like Manuka Bay near “South Point”, require four-wheel-drive to reach—but that’s how you know they are great places to seek solitude.

7. Where do you consider the best place to stay on a budget?

If you’re on a strict budget, the best place to stay is in a tent or cabin that you can reserve on the state park website. If you’re seeking a bed, there are some great hosteling choices in Hilo. If you’re looking for something more private, there are several bed and breakfast options on the Island that offer great deals and they include breakfast! For a large group of people, rent a condo in Puna or North Kohala for great views and lots of space for the whole family (or friends).

8. What’s the best drive to take to tour the island?

There is only one road that circumvents the island (note: the name of the road changes as you go around from Hwy-11 to Hwy-19). You can circle the island without stopping in just half a day or take a full day (or longer) and make some stops along the way.

9. Name a few of your favorite local dishes.

Spam musubi (from 7-11), mochi (from Two Ladies Kitchen), and poke (from KTA grocery store).

10. Where’s the best place for hiking and volcano sight-seeing?

The Big Island offers a range of hikes: those that are do-able for a novice hiker (or experienced sitter) as well as hikes that are extremely technically difficult. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, there are both types of hikes. Novices can walk around the Crater Rim or walk down into Mauna Iki (where lava once spewed forth). Experienced hikers should try the moonscape of Mauna Lau. The best place to view the lava glow at night is from the Jaggar Museum overlook.

11. Where can travelers visit to have a truly local experience?

Take the bus and ride with the locals! Or hang out on Coconut Island or Richardson’s Beach in Hilo during the weekend.

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