Oahu Vs The Big Island: Which Island Is Better To Visit?

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Are you deciding between Oahu vs the Big Island? I can help you out.

I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to Oahu and the Big Island, and I can attest that they are both stunning in their unique way.

Oahu and the Big Island are beautiful islands with so much to offer, but each has unique features and locations that make them stand out.

In this blog post, I will discuss information about Oahu and the Big Island so you can help better choose which of the two islands will be your perfect destination.

Oahu vs The Big Island: Which Island Is Better To Visit?

Before diving straight into the specifics, it would be helpful to start by comparing the islands on a broader level.

Oahu

Oahu (or O’ahu), also known as “The Gathering Place,” is the third-largest island in Hawaii and is home to Honolulu, the state’s capital. It is one of the most famous islands among the Hawaiian Islands. It is home to many popular tourist destinations and is full of culture and history.

The island has two separate shield volcanos, Wai’anae and Ko’olau Ranges. When filming in Hawaii, the mountains are prominent on the island and recognizable in movies or TV shows, such as Jurassic Park, Lost, and Hawaii Five-0.

With 365 kilometres (227 miles) of shoreline, you will find many beaches all over the island. So, it is no wonder that some of the best beaches in Hawaii are found on Oahu.

Oahu is the most popular destinations out of all the Hawaiian Islands

Big Island

The Big Island, or the Island of Hawai’i, is the youngest and largest and twice the size of the Hawaiian archipelagos. It is known for its diverse landscape and climate, including beaches, rainforests, and snow-capped peaks.

Volcanic activity is something that the Big Island is also known for. Mauna Loa and Kīlauea bring many curious tourists from all over the world.

There are 428 kilometres (266 miles) of coastline, so you will be driving longer to find a beach. Moreover, snorkelling on the Big Island is a lot easier because of the calmer waters at specific beaches.

Pololū Valley Lookout is an easy hike to do on The Big Island

Oahu Vs The Big Island Key Differences Or Similarities

Here are the key differences or similarities between the two islands. I will talk about the weather, cost, and nightlife.

Weather

All Hawaiian Islands experience microclimates where weather conditions can change drastically over short distances due to varying elevation and terrain.

Oahu

Suppose you were to compare Oahu and the Big Island’s rainfall chart. In that case, Oahu tends to be drier on the Southern and Western shores, including Honolulu, with most rainfall occurring on the Eastern windward side. Oahu generally has more stable and moderate temperatures year-round. 

Big Island

The Big Island, on the other hand, experiences more varied rainfall patterns due to its larger size and diverse topography. The East (ex: Hilo and Keeau) receives the most rain on the island, while the West (ex: Kona and Puako) is much drier.

The western coast of the Big Island, especially Kona, is known for its consistently warm and dry climate. At the same time, the eastern side, around Hilo, can be more relaxed and humid.

Cost

Which island is cheaper, Oahu or the Big Island? A friend of mine, born and raised in Hawaii, said that the Big Island is cheaper because there is less to do other than hikes and beaches.

Oahu, you can find decent flight prices compared to the Big Island. However, flight prices will depend on the time of year and where you fly from worldwide.

When I visited both islands, I found that Oahu would be more expensive depending on what you are doing, for example, tours and excursions, because it is a more tourist-based location than the Big Island.

Nightlife

Oahu will have more nightlife than the Big Island because it is more developed and populated.

Many retail and grocery stores on both islands close at around 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM, sometimes on the Big Island, even 7:00 PM, depending on where you are.

Oahu Vs The Big Island For Families

Depending on what kind of excursions or activities your family loves doing, both of these islands offer many excellent options.

Oahu may be excellent for your family if…

✔ Want to do surfing
✔ Faster paced environment
✔ More touristy destinations
✔ Some of the best beaches in Hawaii
✔ Nightlife
✔ Okay with more traffic/people

The Big Island may be excellent for your family if…

✔ Your family can handle long car rides
✔ Like a calmer/relaxed environment
✔ Love hiking
✔ Volcanoes & beaches (including green and black sand)
✔ Snorkelling
✔ Less touristy destinations

Which Island Is Easier To Drive Around?

Both Oahu and the Big Island are relatively easy to drive around. However, traffic and other factors may impact the length of your drive time.

Oahu is much more populated than the Big Island. So, you are bound to run into congested areas and traffic before you hit more rural areas and towns on Oahu and on your way back.

You can only drive around part of the circumference of the island of Oahu. However, it will take you a long day to explore the part of the island you can drive without stops in between.

Meanwhile, you can drive around the whole island on the Big Island. Again, like Oahu, it will take up the entire day to drive around without stops. However, there is less traffic because the island is less populous than Oahu but growing.

How Far Apart Is Oahu From The Big Island?

Oahu from the Big Island is 262 kilometres (163 miles) apart from each other. Flights to and from Oahu to the Big Island are relatively short at 45 minutes nonstop.

Island hopping is popular if you have the time to hop between islands or want to extend your vacation to other islands, such as Maui or Kauai.

Is There A Ferry From Oahu To The Big Island?

No, there is no ferry between Oahu and the Big Island. However, flying is the best option for island hopping.

Oahu has two airports. The first is Kalaeloa Airport, mainly used for the U.S. Coast Guard, Hawaii Community College Flight Program, Hawaii National Guard and a general aviation reliever for their main airport.

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) is the main airport on Oahu and the airport you will use to fly into and out of Oahu and interisland flights. 

In addition, the Big Island has three airports; Waimea-Kohala is not a commercial airport. But, there are two commercial airports that the Big Island uses every day. 

Hilo International Airport (ITO) is located on the island’s East side and can be used for international or interisland flights. On the other hand, Kona International Airport (KOA) is the Big Islands’ main airport on the Island’s West side.

Best Things To Do On Oahu

If you choose to visit Oahu, there are many things to do and see while exploring the island and wondering if Oahu is worth visiting. Here are some top things to see while you are in Oahu if you decide to go.

Dole Plantation

One of the most popular tourist destinations on the island is the Dole Plantation. Dole is one of the most well-known pineapple-producing companies in the world.

Dole has a Pineapple Express Train ride that will take you through a tour filled with the history of the plantation as well as how to know when a pineapple is ready. There are also other activities, such as a maze and feeding Koi Fish.

Inside, you can find an array of pineapple theme gifts and nick-nacks to take home, food, and to try the famous Dole Whip.

Dole Plantation is a popular touristy thing to do on Oahu

Pearl Harbor

A significant part of Hawaii’s history is Pearl Harbor. A Naval base on Oahu that was, unfortunately, part of a surprise attack by Japan on December 7th, 1941. It was a devastating day that declared the Pacific War.

Now, Pearl Harbor serves as a museum and memorial site to all those thousands of Navy soldiers and civilians who lost their lives on that day on Ford Island and their Naval vessels, including eight battleships and over 300 airplanes.

It is an informational site, and I highly recommend visiting. There is an area that is free to visit across from Ford Island (there is a parking fee): The Pearl Harbor National Memorial. No large backpacks or purses were allowed in this area.

In addition, if you want to see Ford Island, you will have to purchase tickets in advance online.

Diamond Head

Diamond Head is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oahu. You can hike inside the extinct volcano crater until you reach the top. From there, you will see views of Honolulu and the ocean.

You will have to book online in advance and choose a time slot. There is an entrance fee and a parking fee. You can select the entrance fee of parking and entrance fee combined, but the combined timeslots do go fast.

I recommend going as early as possible to avoid massive crowds of people walking down and up the crater. Also, if it is raining or misting, please be careful on the metal stairs as they will be slippery.

Diamond Head is one of most touristy locations on Oahu

💡 Tip: There is a paid parking lot outside of the tunnel. You will be allowed to park there. However, you will have to come before they open to secure a spot and walk into the park.

Best Things To Do on The Big Island

If you choose the Big Island or are still wondering, is the Big Island worth visiting? Here are some top activities and things to see and do on the island.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

The park is home to some of the world’s most active volcanos – Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. It is an extraordinary location to see volcanoes as close and safely as you can and learn about the two active volcanoes.

Akaka Falls State Park

A 442-foot waterfall plunges into an eroded stream gorge at the bottom; Akaka State Falls is wonderful to see. You can walk around the looped paved path in the park surrounded by foliage.

You will have to pay an entrance fee of $5.00 USD and a parking fee of $10.00 USD.

Akaka Falls State Park is something to do when you are on The Island of Hawai'i

Pololū Valley Lookout

Pololū Valley Lookout is an easy hike to do. It is a popular location for tourists to explore and take pictures of the iconic landscape on the horizon.

At the bottom of the hike, you can explore a black sand beach. However, some areas may be slippery or steep if it has rained the day before.

Tips For First-Time Visitors

These are some first-timer tips that I learned when I travelled to Hawaii.

✔ Arrive Early 

Consider arriving well in advance to have a hassle-free experience at popular tourist spots. Some places may not offer reserved parking, so coming at least 30 minutes before opening is a good idea.

✔ Rent A Car

I suggest renting a car in Hawaii to explore the island at your own pace. While local buses are an option, they can be time-consuming, with infrequent schedules and long wait times.

✔ Make Reservations

Some locations may require booking for tours. For instance, Hanauma Bay requires reservations to be made two days before your visit. When planning your trips to tourist destinations, confirming and securing your reservations two to three days ahead is wise.

✔ Using Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Hawaii has abundant tropical marine life and coral reefs, especially in snorkelling areas. The state strongly encourages the use of reef-safe sunscreen for all water activities.

✔ Expect Traffic

Oahu, the most densely populated Hawaiian Island, is known for its traffic, particularly in Honolulu. Other islands also experience congestion as you travel from popular locations to major cities and towns.

Conclusion: Oahu Vs The Big Island

As you can see, both islands have so much to offer any traveller wanting to visit either island. Both islands have beautiful beaches, many hikes and tourist destinations to explore.

I hope this post helped you better decide which island you choose to visit. And no matter which Hawaiian island you choose, you will not be disappointed!

Have a good day 🙂