Hawaii Island: Eastside vs. Westside

The Big Island of Hawaii is the youngest and largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. It may be small compared to the vast expanses of the American mainland, but it boasts the most diverse climate of any similar size of land anywhere else on earth. Ocean currents, the prevailing “trade winds,” and the island’s unique geography create an incredible array of natural wonders that vary depending on which side of the island you’re on. Although only a 2.5 hour drive apart, Hawaii Island’s eastside and westside can seem like two different worlds.

Climate and Weather

The eastside is the “windward” side. It gets the moist air blowing in from the north-east, which gets collected at the case of the massive Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa mountains and falls down as rain on a nearly-daily basis. The largest town, Hilo, is the wettest city in the US, receiving more than 100 inches of rain every year. Waterfalls, rivers and lush rain forests abound on this side of the island.

The westside is the “leeward” side. The moist trade winds, caught on the other side of the mountains, don’t reach here, so the climate is much drier. Kailua-Kona, the largest town, gets only 13 inches of rain per year. Weather on this side of the island is warm and sunny, and the landscape is dotted with black lava deserts near the coast, and coffee plantations on the wetter mountain slopes. There are no waterfalls or permanent rivers on the westside.

[bctt tweet=”Fact: There are no waterfalls or permanent rivers on Hawaii Island’s westside.” username=”LailanBento1″]


Hawaii Island’s eastside and westside also have different amenities available. The eastside is home to the town of Hilo, which is the county seat of Hawaii, as well as the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus. The town culture is here is very diverse — on a short walk downtown or at the local farmer’s market, you may here several different languages spoken. Because of the smaller beaches and rainy weather, the eastside has few hotels, and lacks the “touristy vibe” found elsewhere.

Hawaii’s westside boasts the glorious sunny weather, big beaches and calm, clear ocean waters, making it a hotspot for tourism. As a result, the western town of Kailua-Kona and the Waikoloa resort area feature dozens of hotels, condos, resorts and golf courses. Overall, the westside can seem like a much livelier place that caters more to tourists.

Whether you’re planning your vacation here, or planning on buying your first Hawaii Island home, remember that Hawaii is much bigger than you may expect, and that Hawaii Island’s eastside and westside offer their own unique culture, climate and experience.