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The island of Hawaii is served by two international airports — Hilo International Airport (ITO) on the eastern side and Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA) in Kalaoa on the western side. If possible, fly into Hilo rather than Kona, as the trip from the Hilo terminal into town is a mere 10 minutes compared to the 90-minute drive from Kona. Another option is to fly into one and depart from the other, optimizing the time you have to enjoy the island. Like most of the Hawaiian Islands, renting a car is not an absolute necessity, but the Big Island lives up to its nickname — some of its most famous destinations require drives measured in hours rather than minutes. Major rental car agencies are located just outside the terminal roundabouts, with rideshares, taxis, and bus services marked nearby.
The lush eastern side of the island of Hawaii is temperate but characteristically wet, soaking in an annual average of 140 inches of rainfall. This wet climate means it’s advisable to layer or bring a light jacket in preparation for intermittent showers; if you plan to venture up to the higher elevations inland, especially near summits and volcanoes, come prepared for legitimately cold temperatures. Spring and fall generally offer visitors the best overlap of warm and dry days in Hilo, the latter months thinning out crowds as the tourist season comes to a close. Hurricane season spans June through November; while violent tropical storms are always a possibility, historically they’ve rarely made landfall across the Big Island.
Punalu‘u Beach is the most famous and accessible black sand beach on the island. Hawksbill and Hawaiian green turtles are known to amble up the volcanic-rock-tinted shoreline to sunbathe here. Just be sure to give these aquatic natives a wide berth onshore and in the water, as they’re protected under the Endangered Species Act.
While Rainbow Falls State Park unequivocally warrants a visit to take in its grand cascade of water, a more adventurous option awaits along this scenic serpentine 40-mile route tracing the North Shore of the island toward Waipi’o Valley. The road is dotted by a multitude of waterfalls and old sugar cane fields along the way.
While flora grows in abundance across Hilo, this botanical garden and nature preserve hosts a riot of tropical plants of unmatched color and beauty. There are more than 2,000 species collected and cultivated from across the globe, easily accessible to visitors by winding wooden pathways.