The largest of the Hawaiian islands, the Big Island - which is officially called Hawaii Island - is about 4,000 square miles, the size of all of the other islands in the state combined (though with a population of just 185,000, compared with nearly 1 million on Oahu. This is one of the most geographically diverse of the islands, too, with soaring mountains (including Mauna Kea, which at 33,000 feet from the base of the ocean floor to its peak is quite a bit taller than even Mt. Everest), active volcanoes, lava-sand beaches, lush rainforests, the largest city outside Oahu (historic Hilo), a significant swath of desert plains, and sunny beaches lined with plush resorts. It can take some time to get from place to place, so this is the one Hawaiian island where it can make sense to book stays on two or more different parts of the island (especially if you intend to visit both the dry Kohala Coast and the lush region around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hilo).
The Big Island has more... gay-owned inns and B&Bs than any of the other islands, with particularly large concentrations near Hawaii Volcanoes NP and the nearby Puna District. Elsewhere, you'll find a good mix of condos, mid-range hotels, historic inns, and luxury oceanfront resorts, mostly along the dry, leeward (Kona and Kohala) coast.
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There are plenty of regulars to Hawaii (myself included) who rate the Four Seasons Hualalai (72-100 Ka'upulehu Dr., Kailua-Kona, 808-325-8000) their very favorite resort in the state. You can read my detailed synopsis of this spectacular property here in the Big Island Gallery as well as photos of one of the resort's rooms, the on-site Jack Nicklaus golf course, the fabulous Hualalai Spa, and the resort's gorgeous beachfront.
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Just outside historic Pahoa Town in the lush Puna District, with easy access to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (along with the area down just down the coast where lava can sometimes be viewed entering the ocean), Absolute Paradise B&B (12 Kipuka St., Pahoa, 808-965-1828) is one of the few gay clothing-optional accommodations in the state. The pretty house contains three guest rooms, and there's also a separate guest cottage that functions as a full suite - it's a bit pricier, but rates here are very reasonable (starting at $99 for the least expensive room). This gets you a comfy accommodation in a nicely furnished B&B with a nice big pool and sundeck - the gorgeous grounds consist of lush flowering plants and bushes, and Puna's beautiful white-sand beach is within pleasant hiking distance.
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The airy and contemporary Bamboo Orchid Cottage (11-3903 10th St., Volcano) is a four-room gem designed in the Craftsman style and located in the lush and temperate village of Volcano - it's a great base for visiting the park or nearby Hilo. Rooms are decorated distinctively - the Wild Ginger Room has Asian art and elements, while the romantic Royal Orchid Suite has its own fireplace and a spacious bathroom with a deep Jacuzzi tub. Guests can mingle in a vaulted-ceiling "great room" with a lava-rock fireplace and polished pine floors. There are fragrant gardens and outdoor areas, and an impressive (all-you-care-to-eat) breakfast is included. The owners of this gay-friendly inn also operate the nearby Volcano Tree House, which has three large studios and cottages with kitchens/kitchenettes and lots of room to spread out - these are nice for extended stays, and one unit sleeps up to four.
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Hale Ohia Cottages
A lovely, intimate 1930s estate that's been transformed into an inviting inn, the gay-owned Hale Ohia Cottages (11-3968 Hale Ohia Road, Volcano) is just over a mile from the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This compound comprising a main house and a few guest cottages is surrounded by gardens and shade trees; these upscale but still affordable (compared with larger resort properties) units have plenty of enticing touches, such as the fireplace and Jacuzzi tub in Cottage 44, the attractive bay window and artful tile work in the Master Suite (in the main house), and the full kitchen and covered lanai in the former gardener's cottage, now the Hale Ohia Cottage. Guests enjoy plenty of privacy here, especially if you book one of the cottages. Note that there's a two-night minimum stay.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Located on the Big Island's northern tip - on a cliff-top along the mellow, leafy, and quite stunning North Kohala Coast - Hawaii Island Retreat (250 Lokahi Rd., Kapaau, 808-889-6336) occupies a 50-acre spread of gardens, lawns, and forest (several trails lace the property). For a peaceful getaway on the Big Island, it's a great find, and it's especially popular for yoga and other spiritual retreats (and would make a lovely venue for a gay wedding). There are just nine rooms in the main house, a contemporary, handsome house with open lanais and stairwells situated around a central courtyard (the building also has a theater-room and library); a couple of hundred feet away, there are five additional yurts, all with modern conveniences and furnishings - they're not as fancy as the rooms in the main house, which has antique plantation tables, beds, and dressers along with spacious bathrooms, but they're funky and reasonably priced (they have a private toilet and sink -... guests use the spa locker room and showers for bathing). The yurts are by this eco-conscious mini-resort's infinity-edge pool, exercise room/yoga studio, and full-service spa. Guests can also partake of excellent family-style meals for an additional fee, although a handful of terrific restaurants are a short drive away in Hawi town, and the big resorts and swanky shopping and dining of the Kohala Coast begin about a 45-minute drive south. Packages that include yoga, spa treatments, and massage are also available.
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Laid-back, historic, and verdant Hilo isn't for everyone - this unpretentious community doesn't pretend to be fancy, and it does receive a good bit of rain throughout the year. But travelers seeking a sense of "old Hawaii" really enjoy spending time in this small city known for its vintage architecture, easy pace, and affordable but excellent cafes and restaurants. You can easily walk among downtown businesses from Hilo Bay Hale (301 Ponahawai St., Hilo, 800-745-5049), a welcoming B&B in a dapper 1912 house. There are just three rooms, and with rates starting at under $150 nightly, this tastefully appointed inn is an economical choice - included is off-street parking, and a full-cooked breakfast on a cheerful lanai.
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Following a much-needed $4.1 modernization and renovation completed in fall 2013, the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (71 Banyan Dr., Hilo, 808-935-9361) is really living up to its promise - it's long been popular for its spectacular setting in historic Hilo, right on the lovely bay, and overlooking Coconut Island Park, and even following the renovation, it's still much more affordable then most of the resorts on the Big Island's dryer west side - it's a great deal as oceanfront accommodations go. Rooms have new and stylish bedding, carpets, counters, bath fixtures - the whole gamut (gone are the tired and loud bedspreads). If you're looking to save a little money, book a room on the island side of the hotel - the view is of parkland and golf courses. Amenities include free parking, a coin-op laundry, a pool and deck, and a lobby lounge and restaurant (nothing special, but with nice views and a handy location); and there's high-speed Internet in room and lobby, but for a... daily fee.
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It's all about the view at the contemporary, gay-owned Horizon Guest House (Mamalahoa Hwy. at mile 101, Captain Cook, 808-938-7822), which lies high on a slope above Highway 11 and - far below - Kapilo Bay, a bit south of Honaunau on the sunny Kona Coast and close to the island's famed coffee planatations (about 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona). This four-suite inn is surrounded by ranchland and sits on 40 acres, at 1,100 feet above sea level - from the rooms themselves (and their lanais) to the rectangular infinity-edge swimming pool, gorgeous views of the shoreline and ocean are apparent. Each room has a queen or king bed with tasteful furnishings, a private bath, plenty of space to spread out, and a fridge and coffeemaker. Rates at this upscale hideaway include a substantial breakfast buffet.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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The largest retreat center in the state, Kalani Oceanside Retreat (12-6860 Kapoho Kalapana Rd., Pahoa, 808-965-7828) hosts all sorts of workshops and self-improvement programs and has a very loyal following among lesbian and gay visitors, especially those with an interest in spirituality, New Age, holistic health, and environmentalism. With an incredibly lush, 120-acre on the Puna Coast - just across the street from the ocean and up the road from the famed Kehena Black Sand Beach. You'll want to consult Kalani's website to look at the menu of different retreats and workshops - everything from yoga to LGBT wellness to Hawaiian culture. You can also just come on your own for a relaxing getaway. Rates vary depending on the accommodations, which can be affordable and basic (there's even camping) to fairly upscale, and available packages are available covering transportation from the airport in nearby Hilo, meals at the on-site restaurant, and massages in Kalani's spa. The... ambience here is communal and mutually supportive - it's not every visitors idea of an ideal Hawaiian vacation, but if this sounds like the sort of experience you're yearning, you won't find a more inviting tropical setting or supportive environment. Amenities include a pool, Jacuzzi, spa, sauna, volleyball courts, several community workshop spaces, a gift-snack bar, and a restaurant.
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You'll be hard-pressed to find a more spectacular, relaxing, and perfectly located oceanfront hideaway than the gay-owned Lava Lava Beach Club (69-1081 Kuualii Pl., Waikoloa, 808-769-5282), which comprises just four smartly furnished bungalows nestled below shade trees on a private beach at the south edge of Waikoloa Village - convenient to, but happily removed, from the community's big Marriott, Outrigger, Hilton, and other resorts and shops. Opened in 2012 by the owners of the long-time favorite Kailua-Kona restaurant Huggo's, Eric von Platen Luder and Scott Dodd, this wonderful little hideaway sits on a wide sandy beach and is adjacent to the open-air Lava Lava Beach Club restaurant, a favorite spot for evening cocktails (including a terrific afternoon happy hour with great deals on pupu snacks), lunch with views of the sea, and sunset dinners with live music. The modern, air-conditioned bungalows are stocked with kitchenettes (included high-quality dishes and... glassware), large flat-screen TVs, iHomes, impressive wireless speaker systems, and plenty of other fun touches (there's even a koa-wood ukulele in each room to test your musical skills with). Bathrooms are lovely, but even better are the enclosed outdoor rock-wall showers). The cottages also have covered lanais overlooking the beach. Although each unit sleeps up to four, they're really designed for couples.