The Big Island has become a favorite for many with its misty rainbows, plunging waterfalls, and active volcanoes. Volcano watching is a popular sport. It is possible to drive up Kilauea and see, firsthand, the spectacular molten lava spilling down the mountain side. This is the only island where it is also possible to snow ski in 12 ft. of powder. Mauna Kea’s 13,796 ft. slopes provide the backdrop. The Big Island was also known for its black beaches, formed by molten lava exploding when it hit the ocean waters, but the black beaches are no more. In the late eighties, an eruption by Kilauea caused thick, black ribbons of lava to form along the oceanside, obscuring the beaches. Two of the island’s volcanoes, Kilauea. and Mauna Loa, are still active although Mauna Loa has not erupted since the eighties.
A quiet lifestyle pervades the Big Island. Hilo, its largest city, has a population of only 45,000. The Big Island’s economy is presently undergoing a transformation. Long dependent on sugarcane ( the last plantation closed in 1996), the island is now refocusing on tourism and specialty crops such as macadamia nuts and coffee. It is still the most agricultural of the islands and leads the others in cattle, orchid and fresh vegetable production. Schools, health care and shopping too, are in the process of being upgraded. New facilities have been added and Hilo now has a Wal-Mart and a McDonalds. The Big Island is also fast becoming a new Mecca for health and wellness programs based on traditional Hawaiian remedies. Unemployment is low, but so are wages, with most jobs in the service category.
Volcanic eruptions can be a plus or minus for folks considering retiring here, depending on how you view volcanoes. The Big Island is also prone to fierce storms, but it does have a greater variety of scenery and weather conditions than the other islands and is also less expensive. Because its lack of beaches does not attract “beach bum” types, your neighbors are liable to be a more settled group with many in your own age bracket. So, if you love natural beauty, storms and volcanoes, and enjoy a quieter lifestyle, the Big Island might just be your own slice of Paradise.
Climate: The island, Hawaii, has a great range of micro-climates, from tropical rainforest to desert. Rainfall of 300 inches in the higher elevations is common with less than 10 inches in the deserts. Hilo, on the East, averages 40 inches per year. Mild temperatures of 60-85 prevail with 5-15 mph tradewinds, but the Big Island also suffers occasional fierce storms.
Cost-of-Living: The Big Island is higher than the national average, but less expensive than the other Hawaiian islands. Food and real estate are expensive, as on all the islands, but taxes, health care and transportation are all less than the national average.
Education: The Big Island, in recent years, has upgraded its educational system adding some high-quality private schools. But public schools are below the national average in quality and often entail long bus rides for students. A University of Hawaii campus is located at Hilo and waives tuition and student fees for seniors over 60. It also offers continuing education courses.
Health Care: A new senior care, 5-acre facility near the North Community Hospital offers skilled nursing for seniors, and the North Hawaii Community Hospital is a new, state-of-the-art facility. Hilo Medical Center and Kona Community Hospital also serve the island as do many Oahu-based medical organizations. However, special health care needs and many emergencies must be treated in Honolulu.
Housing: On the Big Island, the median price for a 3 bedroom home is $170,250. Some new condominiums are available from $129,000 in the Kailua/Kona area. Recently developed property in the Mauna Kea and Hualalai areas, though, run $1,000,000-$3,000,000. Rents start at $700 for an apartment and $1,000 for a 3bedroom house. Food is expensive, as on all the islands, but taxes, health care and transportation are all less than the national average.
Population/Location: The largest and most southern island in the Archipelago, the Big Island, Hawaii, encompasses 4,000 sq. mi. The county seat of Hilo is 208 air miles from Honolulu. The Big Island has had the largest population growth in the state in recent years and has 138,000 people.
Recreation: There is a tremendous variety of things to do here from hiking and camping to skiing and windsurfing. Spectator sports include the Ironman Triathlon in October and Sunday Polo matches at the Mauna Kea Polo Club from October to December. Guided tours range from helicopter sightseeing, to all-terrain vehicle excursions, coffee plantations, submarine rides, and even an astronomy tour to the top of Mauna Kea. 16 golf courses dot the Big Island and several are named each year by Golf Magazine as best in the nation. Costs are reasonable at the municipal courses.
The Panaewa Zoo at Hilo is located in a rainforest and features native Hawaiian species along with some monkeys and tigers. The Big Island has numerous botanical gardens and museums and, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is world famous. Hilo Community Players stage an occasional play, but at Waimea, the Kahilu Theatre Foundation hosts acclaimed live performances on a regular basis.
Shopping is good with several shopping centers around, but if you want Neiman-Marcus, you will need to make a trip to Honolulu.
Taxes: State sales tax in Hawaii is 4%. State income tax is based on federal income tax with 8 brackets. They range from 1.6% of the first $1,500 to 8.75% over $20,500. Social Security, private and public pensions are fully exempt.
Transportation: Two passenger liners, the S.S. Constitution and the S.S. Independence, make scheduled stops at Hilo, and international ships make periodic stops. The big Island has 2 commercial airports: Hilo International Airport is on the east side of the island, and Keahole Indernational is on the west. United Airlines and Canada 3000 provide flights from the mainland to Kona. Aloha Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Mahalo Airlines provide inter-island commuter service. There is public bus service available but not on a daily basis. Scheduled trips run Monday-Friday or Monday-Saturday. A car is a necessity but upkeep is dicey when contending with rust and salt spray. And roads are not the best, although the county is attempting to upgrade them. Taxi and car rentals are available.
Contact: The Big Island, Hawaii Chamber of Commerce