Hawaii, Big Island, USA

Big Island, Big Rewards

Iyna Bort Caruso

Of the six major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, the Big Island is most comparable to the mainland’s cost of living but a far cry from a mainland style of living. After all, where in the Lower 48 can you find black sand beaches, active volcanoes and roads lined with coffee trees?

Hawaii, or the Big Island as it’s called to avoid confusion with the name of the state, is the largest island in the Hawaiian chain and a mini-continent in itself encompassing 11 of the Earth’s 13 climates. It’s even possible to ski on the dormant volcano of Mauna Kea. Skiing, Hawaiian style, is not for the novice. There are no groomed trails. Not even a lift. It takes a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach the 14,000-foot summit.

Of course, most locals, transplants, vacation homeowners and retirees are more drawn to sand than snow and prefer sandals to snow boots.

The Big Island has an international airport, built on an old lava flow, and offers direct flights into the Kona District from a number of West Coast cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Locals will tell you the island delivers an authentic old Hawaiian experience, with fewer tourists than Oahu and Maui, and an economy in which agricultural crops like coffee, cattle, macadamia nuts and flowers play significant roles.

Kona and Hilo are the two big population centers on the island and have distinct micro-climates. Kona, on the West Coast, is dry. Hilo, on the East Coast, is wet and green. While properties closer to the shoreline of Kona and Hilo are more expensive than their rural counterparts, working ranches and equestrian farms have their takers.

On Kona’s Gold Coast, the exclusive and extremely private enclaves of Hualalai and Kukio are home to multi-million dollar estates. Lush and tropical Hilo is about 90 miles away. Downtown Hilo features early 1900s architecture. Some structures are on the National Register of Historic Places. Buyers can find plantation-era residences, oceanfront estates and turnkey luxury condominiums situated among waterfalls and ancient banyan trees.

Midway between Kona and Hilo is the “ski mountain” of Mauna Kea, the highest point in the U.S. It serves as another of the island’s important industries: astronomy. The Mauna Kea Observatory leases land at the summit to 11 countries and hosts some of the world’s most powerful telescopes.