By Lydia Schrandt for USA TODAY 10Best

Explore the stunning Big Island of Hawaii

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The island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island, is indeed the largest (and the youngest) island in the archipelago.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park protects a landscape in flux, where active volcanic activity continues to sculpt the coast of the Big Island.

When you imagine Hawaii, you probably don’t picture snow. But that’s what you’ll find on Mauna Kea. This dormant volcano rises nearly 14,000 feet — it’s the highest point in the entire Pacific basin.

The summit Mauna Kea, the highest point on the island of Hawaii, offers some of the best conditions for stargazing in the United States. Over a dozen giant telescopes dot the peak.

Hawaii is known as the Rainbow State. Spend some time here and you’re likely to see one at some point, thanks to the archipelago’s rapid weather fluctuations and topography.

Kona coffee is grown exclusively in the high elevation cloud forests of Hawaii’s Kona region. Hundreds of coffee farms dot the area, where visitors can see how beans are processed.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, located along the scenic Hamakua Coast, displays more than 2,000 species of plants from around the globe, growing within a 40-acre valley.

500,000 years ago, some Canada geese migrated to the Hawaiian archipelago and never left. Those birds were the ancestors of the nene, the state bird of Hawaii and the world’s rarest species of goose.

Hawaii’s sacred Waipio Valley was the childhood home of King Kamehameha I, lending it the nickname "The Valley of the Kings."

While not as famous as the Waipio Valley Overlook, the Pololu Valley Lookout offers equally spectacular views of the dramatic North Kohala Coast. A 25-minute hike leads to the valley floor.

Visitors from around the globe come to Hilo on the northeastern coast of the Big Island for a taste of Old Hawaii. The town was a major commercial center during the sugar boom in the 1800s.

Japanese immigrants came to Hilo during the 1800s to work on the island’s sugar cane plantations, and they brought their culture and traditions with them, including mochi.

Visit a poke counter here and you’ll have your choice of spicy ahi, kim chee shrimp, salmon, miso octopus or even bacalao poke.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park protects a former sacred place of refuge. Those who violated kapu (sacred laws) could be punished by death, so they’d come to a puuhonua for sanctuary.

Move over, Texas. The Big Island has its own cowboy country. Waimea, inland from the Kohala Coast, comprises rolling green hills and sprawling cattle ranches.
Captain Cook became the first European to visit Hawaii when he landed on Kealakekua Bay in the late 1700s. The park is also known for its clear waters and stellar snorkeling and diving conditions.

There’s a beach for just about every preference on the Big Island, but the white sands of Mauna Kea Beach rank among the prettiest.

The island’s volcanic geology has blessed it with some of the world’s most spectacular black sand beaches. Pohoiki Beach was formed as a result of volcanic activity in 2018.

The Big Island is one of the only places in the world with a green sand beach. Papakolea Beach on Mahana Bay has olive-tinted sand, thanks to a buildup of olivine crystals from frequent volcanic eruptions.

Hawaii’s mountainous terrain and heavy rainfall have given it a captivating collection of waterfalls, way more than an average visitor could explore in a single trip.

Two of the most famous waterfalls on the Big Island are inside Akaka Falls State Park on the Hilo Coast. A short hike takes visitors past both: the 100-foot Kahuna Falls and the 442-foot Akaka Falls.

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