The Big Island, the southernmost island in the Hawaiian chain, is twice as big as all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. Rain brings lush vegetation and frequent rainbows to the shores and forests characteristic of the east coast. Rocky coves turn into steep crags and valleys at the north end of the road from Hilo, shot through with twenty shades of green and shimmering waterfalls.
The opposite coast, with a fraction of the rainfall, appears almost desert-like in comparison. Though the air is drier, the coastal waters in the west around Kona district are friendlier, the snorkeling and diving better and the greenery of North Kohala only a short drive away.
Stop for Kona coffee and a few days in Kailua-Kona, the island's second largest city, to soak up some culture before taking the road through the ranches to the north, coffee farms and beaches to the south or the Saddle Road through the interior. Ribbon on Saddle Road past Mauna Koa, often dusted with snow in winter, a flash of white from the dark and barren fields of lava. The air is clear and thin at the top of the high peaks here, the stars at night so bright, it's easy to forget that the Big Island is only an earthly paradise.
South of Hilo, steam vents wisp along the rift zone; recent volcanic activity has inundated large chunks of this region, permanently altering the face of the southeast coast. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a chance to see red glowing lava cascading into the sea and explore the truly unique forces that created the Hawaiian Islands. Clamber around on secluded beaches along the southwest coast when you're ready to flush out your Hawaiian experience with some solitude.
While this may be the Big Island, there are still plenty of places to get the small town feel with city-style culture and have plenty of time left for your towel. Before you agree to set foot on a plane leaving the island, make sure you've taken the time to sample the Big Island's smorgasbord—swim, snorkel, watch for rainbows while sipping your morning Kona coffee, scramble around inactive volcanoes, ride horses at sunrise, tee-off, shop, stargaze—the islands were thousands of years in the making, don't you rush your own Hawaiian experience.