With its eight ecosystems, you’re guaranteed to find a time — and place — to visit Hawaii Island for the best possible experience. It’s not just about avoiding the crowds or finding the best deals, though. It’s about seeing the brightest stars, the most whale flippers, the clearest waters… Here’s some advice on finding what you’re looking for on Hawaii Island — and when to find it.
Best time to visit the Volcano
While it could change at any time, lava season is over. As of 2018, there’s no lava flowing anywhere on the island. This does not mean there’s nothing to see at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — and it’s thrilling to stand at the age of the newly expanded crater and ponder what’s happening below the earth’s crust. Visiting the park is all about what you intend to do there. Strong hikers will find the weather kindest in winter when the days aren’t too hot, the volcano can be cool and misty year round. Clear skies for stargazers are more likely to occur in winter months and because the park is open 24 hours, it’s an excellent place from which to view the heavens.
Best time to visit the Waipi’o Valley
You can reach this village one of two ways — by four wheel drive (either on tour or in your rental car, though the road is not for novices) or on foot. The steep part of the road is less a little under a mile, but the 45% grade is where the challenge comes in. Remember, what goes down, from the end of the road just outside Honoka’a, must come up. Do not, do not, do NOT take your two wheel drive rental car down to the Waipi’o Valley. Just don’t. Book a tour or walk. If the Waipi’o Valley is on your must see list, book your trip between May to September, the island’s drier months.
If you’re going on your own, get local insight on the river. 2018 found all of the islands receiving a great deal of rain and flooding. If you’re walking, head out as early in the day as you can and bring plenty of water. Hang out on the beach mid-day and avoid the road then, it gets hot and did we mention the 45% grade climb?
Best time to experience authentic Hawaiian hula
The Merrie Monarch Festival takes place in Hilo every April. It’s the cornerstone of Hawaiian hula festivals and while yes, of course you can see hula throughout the islands, this festival elevates this Hawaiian art to Olympic competition levels. Book your tickets and accomodation well in advance.
Best time to get hopped up on caffeine
Kona coffee is internationally known as some of the finest in the world, and every November the island is a fairgrounds of events devoted to the bean. The Kona Coffee Festival includes a pageant, farm tours, art exhibits, live music, and tastings, tastings, tasting. The crop is available year round, of course but if you live for the bean, visit in November when coffee is in the forefront.
Best time to stalk the farmer’s markets
The Hilo Farmer’s Market is at its liveliest on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You’ll always find something delicious here, something new to try. But for many visitors to Hawaii, farmer’s markets are about two things, avocados and mangos. Peak mango season is from July to October, while avocados appear from August to November. Go in August if you want them both. And while the Hilo Farmer’s Market might be the most famous on the island, don’t miss out on smaller local markets like the one in Honoka’a, or the Waimea Farmer’s Markets. They’re less touristy and the odds are higher you’ll get truly local produce. If you’re seriously going to shop, try to get to the markets before 10am. You’ll find more variety.
Best time to visit Mauna Kea
There are a few operators who will take visitors pass the Onizuka Center about halfway up Mauna Kea. Take a moment to consider if you must visit the summit and maybe… don’t. Mauna Kea is a sacred place to Native Hawaiians and there are many who would rather we did not turn treat it as though it’s just another tourist attractions. Visitors are very welcome at the Space Center and on clear nights, astronomers from the University of Hawaii lead viewing events and provide telescopes. The clearest skies for stargazing tend to be in the dry season, November ot May.
Best time to visit ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center
It’s always good planning to have a rainy day activity in your back pocket and ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is one of those activities. The center has hands on science and nature exhibits, and a planetarium will mutli-media shows. Any rainy day is a good day to go here — but they’re closed on Mondays.
Best time to visit the City of Refuge
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is a must see site on the Big Island. This historic park is part nature reserve, part cultural center, and it’s also one of the most beautiful places on the island. The park is open from 7:00 am until just after sunset, year round, rain or shine. It can get quite hot on the exposed grounds; visit early in the morning or towards the end of the day if you want to avoid the heat.
Best time for family beach time
The ocean is at its warmest and the surf at its lowest during summer, when kids are out of school. Introduce your little ones to the ocean from June to August. Be aware, though — hurricane season starts in June, also, and extreme weather events do happen.
Best time to go for a serious workout
October brings the world famous Ironman World Championship to the Big Island, so if you’d like to go for a very long run (and swim and bike ride) with 2500 or so of your best workout buddies, October is the best time to do so. The famous race does impact availability so if you’re planning to travel to Hawaii in October, check this year’s race dates and book well in advance.
Best time for cowboys
Ranching is a big part of the Big Island’s culture and horseback riding is a popular activity here. There are a dozen or so places that offer organized rides through a variety of terrain — chose from beaches, waterfalls, and Waimea’s grasslands. If you’re comfortable riding, consider a sunset ride for remarkable views down the Island’s windward side. For a look at the showy traditional wear Hawaiian women adopted so they could ride just like the men, plan to be on the island on June 11th for King Kamehameha Day to see the Pa’u Riders parade.
Best time to spot Manta Rays
The hotel on the rocky outcropping at Keauhou has long been a popular viewing spot for manta rays — the hotel turns spotlights onto the water every evening and off shore dive boats do the same. Spring, summer, and fall have the best viewing conditions, in winter, high surf can make seeing mantas less likely.
Best time to visit Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
With its lush overhead canopy, visiting these gorgeous gardens can be a rainy day activity in all but the most persistent of downpours. The garden tends to be muggy — and buggy — all day long, you’ll want mosquito repellant, water, and sturdy shoes no matter what time of day you go. The Garden is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day, except Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day; admissions close at 4:00 pm. It rains here year round, with the least rainfall in June, July, and August; you might want to pack an umbrella.
Best time to take a helicopter flight over the Big Island
Now that the volcano is sleeping, there’s not as much of a crush to get those helicopter flights to see lava. That’s okay, there’s still lots to appreciate from the air. Head out as early in the morning as you can — that gives you the best visibility. Clouds tend to obscure the view later in the day.
Best time to vacation on the Kona side of Hawaii Island
The leeward side of the island — including the Kona and Kohala Coasts has some of the nicest swimming beaches and resorts, and it’s drier year round than the opposite side. But the weather at its best here from November to May, making it an ideal winter vacation destination.
Best time to go whale watching
Whale watching seasons runs from November to March, but the best time to spot these marine giants is from January until March. From Kona heading north, up the Kohala Coast, during peak whale season, you don’t even need to leave the short to spot humpbacks, you can often see them when you’re standing on the beach. Taking a whale watching trip gives you a lot more flexibility and gets you much closer to the whales, but it’s remarkable all the same to see whales breaching, punching out of the water and into the sky, from the shore.
Best time to see Hawaii’s big sea turtles
It’s such a thrill to come upon these great green(ish) giants, either sunning themselves on the beach or chomping on sea greens in the water. First things first, these gorgeous creatures are protected — give them plenty of space and don’t feed or touch them. You’ll find them up and down the Kona and Kohala Coast and at the windswept black sand beach, Punulu’u, on the south end of the island. The turtles take live on their own time, but there’s a slightly higher chance of encountering them mid-day, apparently they like to siesta on the sand. Low tide — check your chart — tends to be good, too. Summer is peak nesting season, you might get lucky and see hatchlings making their way to the water from June to August.
Big Island weather by month
Big Island Weather in January and February
Big Island Weather in January and February: Winter months on Big Island are can be rainy, but good news: most of that rain falls at night, so it shouldn’t affect your plans much, if at all. Highs can reach 81°F. while lows at night can drop to 68°F; lower if you’re inland or on the windward side. Pack rain gear and some extra layers for early morning and evening outings, or if you’re heading to Volcano National Park or up Mauna Kea. The island can be cloudy during these winter months, but don’t’ forget the sunscreen. The surf’s up at this time of year and perhaps best of all, it’s peak whale watching season. Whales don’t care if it’s raining, you shouldn’t either. (Average Max Temperature: 81°F. Average Precipitation: 2.4 inches)
Big Island Weather in March and April
Big Island Weather in March and April: The tradewinds pick up come March, and the rain can increase too. Come April, Big Island’s leeward side is quite sunny and warm, hitting 79°F at this time of year – there’s a reason so many resorts are located on the Kona and Kohala Coasts. You’ll still need an extra layer in the evenings, lows drop to 70°F, but the winds can make it feel quite a bit colder. Always pack for wet and cold if you’re going to the Volcano. (Average Max Temperature: 83°F, Average Precipitation 1.6 inches)
Big Island Weather in May
Big Island in May: Summer starts in May on the Big Island; temperatures can reach 85°F. The tradewinds start to blow regularly, but the sky holds fewer clouds and less rain. Nightime lows rarely drop below 68°F come May, but if you’re staying on the windward side, especially down south, the winds can add a chill at night. The Pacific Ocean begins to warm up in May, averaging a refreshing 71°F. You’ll always more rain on the Hamakua Coast and heading south, but at this time of year, odds of sunny skies increase. (Average Max Temperature: 83°F, Average Precipitation 2.0 inches)
Big Island Weather in June and July
Summer is peak travel time to the Big Island. The trade winds blow pretty consistently at this time of year, which this an excellent time of year for stargazers. The breezes can take the edge of the heat, too, which is nice because it can get quite hot, topping out around 87°F. The nights stay warm too, hovering around 73°F. (Average Max Temperature: 86°F, Average Precipitation .80 inches)
Big Island Weather in August and September
August and September the hottest months of the year on the island, reaching 89°F, while ocean temperatures can get up to 80°F. Crowds on Big Island wind down at the end of August and in early September, temperatures start to drop on the windward side of the island. The humidity can get quite heavy at this time of year; you might want to confirm that you’ve got a vacation stay equipped with air conditioning. Nights are warm, dropping to a still balmy 75°F after dark. Hurricane season shouldn’t affect your travels, but it’s good to keep an extra eye on the forecast, especially on days you’re traveling. (Average Max Temperature: 87°F, Average Precipitation 1.2 inches)
Big Island Weather in October and November
Big Island Weather in October and November: Save for an increase around Thanksgiving, Fall is considered shoulder season with better deals and fewer crowds. The island slowly welcomes winter, with temperatures migrating downward, though the days can still hit 87°F on the leeward side of the island. Evenings begin to cool, though they’re still very mild with the lows rarely dropping below 73°F. The rains return, though they continue to be polite and fall primarily at night. (Average Max Temperature: 85°F, Average Precipitation 1.3 inches)
Big Island Weather in December
Big Island Weather in December: Winter returns in earnest in December, but in Hawaii, it’s all relative, and you can still be very lucky and find the weather is on your side. There are fewer windy days to blow the clouds away, and a higher chance of rain, but it’s also not as hot or humid as in the late fall months. The lows are still only 70°F at night but pack extra layers for evening and early morning outings. (Average Max Temperature: 83°F, Average Precipitation 2.8 inches)
Big Island Events and Festivals
Farmer’s Markets: Hilo might have the most famous famer’s market on the island and it’s a popular visit with cruise ship visitors. But there are dozens more, and they all have a different vibe. Waimea has two, one is more produce, the other more food festival, there’s a small town market in Honoka’a that’s very local, and the Kona market offers a fair number of touristy souvenirs. They’re all fun, and there’s one happening nearly every day on the island.
Big Island in January
New Year’s Day: It’s a National holiday, so get your basic services like banking and shopping done on the 31st before the shops close.
Waimea Ocean Film Festival: Movies, exhibits, speakers, culture, and more, all focused on the ocean. Across multiple venues on the Kohala Coast.
Big Island in February
Valentine’s Day: Valentine’s Day, February 14, is a hugely popular day for getting engaged among Hawaii vacationers. If you want to pop the question in a particularly special venue, make reservations well in advance, though who can argue with a sunset on the beach proposal?
SOKO Open Studios: The artists of South Kona open their studios and their homes to curious art lovers. Meet the artists and see what they’re making, where they’re making i
Big Island in April
Ka’u Coffee Festival: A week of festivities running from the end of April into early May, all centered on the coffee of the south island. Tastings, craft booths, live music, and plenty of coffee.
Big Island Chocolate Festival : Hang out with coffee’s friend, chocolate, meet Hawaii’s cacao growers, and feast on chocolate inspired and infused everything.
Merrie Monarch Festival: The pinnacle of hula events. Dancers come from around the world to compete at this remarkable event. Hilo is packed for the festival, you can’t book too far in advance.
Big Island in May
Lei Day in Hilo: Drop in to appreciate the fine art of lei making. Watch hula performances, learn the history of the art, and learn how to make your own flower lei.
Hawaii Kuauli Pacific & Asia Cultural Festival: Food, fashion, and culture all meet at this festival celebrating the Asian and Pacific cultures that make Hawaii such a diverse and interesting place.
Big Island in June
King Kamehameha Day Celebration Parade and Hoolaulea: This celebration of King Kamehameha’s role in unifying the island includes women riders wearing elaborate costumes and flower adornments. There’s music and art at Hulihe’e Palace after the parade. An iconic Hawaiian experience.
Big Island in July
July 4, Independence Day: There’s a parade in Kona-Kailua with music, floats, and color guards, then fireworks over Kona Bay starting at about 8:00pm. It’s got all the feel of a small town July 4th, but with a lot more aloha.
Big Island in August
Obon Festivals: Four different Buddhist temples on the island take turn hosting Obon during each weekend of August. This traditional Japanese event pays respect to family ancestors with music and dance. The costumes are spectacular.
Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Races: Named after Hawaii’s last queen, this race showcases the strength and teamwork of a wide range of paddlers. It takes place over Labor Day weekend and includes a parade and an awards luau.
Big Island in September
Big Island Ukulele Festival: World renowned ukulele musician and teacher Roy Sakuma is the host of this annual event highlighting this most Hawaiian instrument and its artists.
Big Island in October
Ironman Triathlon World Championship: The famous race takes place in Hawaii every year. If you’re participating, you probably already have your reservations. If not, you’d best make them if you want to visit during race time. It’s a busy moment during this quieter part of the year, bringing thousands of people to the Island.
Hawaii Island Festival of Birds: Hawaii is a temporary home to migratory birds and a permanent home to birds seen nowhere else. Join guided bird walks, attend educational talks, and mark some avian finds off your bird list.
Big Island in November
Kona Coffee Cultural Festival: The Kona coast is full of events and activities during the coffee festival, a celebration of Hawaii’s most famous bean. There are farm tours, demonstrations, tastings, arts and crafts, entertainment, and more.
Big Island in December
New Year’s Eve: December 31st, New Year’s Eve. There are fireworks, but they’re typically tied to hotel events and parties. There’s a show over Hilo Bay now, that one’s easily accessible by the public.