Best Things to Do on The Big Island of Hawaii, USA
The isolated volcano archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is renowned for its rugged landscapes with cliffs, tropical foliage, waterfalls and beaches with gold, red, white, black and even green sands. Hawaii is the only U.S. state located in Oceania and outside of North America. Year-round sunshine, warm waters and stunning beaches, Hawaii is undoubtedly another name for paradise.
The Big Island is the largest of all Hawaiian Islands. Before going deep into the major attractions of the Big Island, let’s find out the easiest route to reach there.
How to Get to the Big Island of Hawaii?
Getting to the Big Island of Hawaii is now easier than ever with daily direct flights to the international airports of Hawaii. Travel to Hilo International Airport to the east or Kona International Airport to the west. There is another option to reach the Big Island is by flying into Honolulu International Airport on Oahu first. Spend a few days in the capital of Hawaii as there are a number of things to do in Honolulu. Take a flight from Honolulu and within 40 minutes reach the Big Island of Hawaii.
Officially known as Hawaii Island, and popularly known as the Big Island, this large skerry in central Pacific is always growing as the lava continues to pour out from Kilauea, the most active volcano in the World. The biggest towns on the Big Island include Hilo, Kailua-Kona and Hawaiian Paradise Park. There are so many things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii that it is almost impossible to cover them in just one visit. Here are the must-see attractions on the Big Island.
Witness the Active Volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in the Big Island protects some of the most unique biological, geological and cultural landscapes in the world. At its core are the Kilauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes. Located in 30 miles south of Hilo, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park stretches across 333,000 acres of land as it rises to the summit of world’s most massive volcano, Mauna Loa. Kilauea, which is the world’s most active volcano, has been in a constant state of eruption since 2008. It is also located in the same park.
You can explore the Kilauea Visitor centre and learn about current lava conditions of the Big Island volcanos. You can even see active lava flowing depending on its changing volcanic activity. Kīlauea hiking tours are frequently available here. From Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, take a drive and explore the steam vents, Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory, the Thurston Lava Tube and Jaggar Museum on the Big Island.
The jaguar museum on the Big Island is another viewpoint overlooking Halema’uma’u Crater. Here, you will find 13 world-class telescopes representing 9 countries and 30 years of their astronomical research. Then, drive further down to Crater road and don’t forget to stop by the Volcano Art Center. Grab a copy of the Hawaii Volcanoes National park map for a smoother journey.
Explore Hilo – the Capital of The Big Island, Hawaii
Hilo is one of the main attractions in Hawaii. There are a number of things to do in the Hilo town of the Big Island. The flower and antique shops and boutiques featuring the creations of local Aloha designers are the best places to shop in the Hilo town. There is a lively farmer’s market offering exotic fruits, vegetables and Hawaiian coffee as well as local crafts at the cheapest price.
Some of the most important attractions on the Big Island include the Pacific Tsunami Museum, Imiloa Astronomy Center and Mokupapapa Discovery Center. Hilo is the gateway to all of East Hawaii, an adventurer’s paradise that stretches from the isolated Ka Lae peninsula to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The diverse region on the Big Island is also home to Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo, which is the only rainforest in the U.S. and Volcano Winery, the only winery on Hawaii island. Take a trail through the East of the Big Island and enjoy lush botanical gardens, silvery waterfalls and old sugar plantation towns leading to beautiful Waipio Valley.
Discover Kohala Coast to the North of Kona International Airport, Hawaii
The North Kohala region is a lesser-known tourist destination on the Big Island. However, the mountain roads, having less traffic, will lead you to plenty of places where you can explore the beauty of old Hawaii on your own. The region is located approximately 20 miles north of Kona International Airport on the Big Island of Hawaii. From Kohala coast, it is easy to reach Mo’okini Heiau, which is a national landmark and the nearest to the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great.
About a mile down from the nearby Upolu Airport, there is a small town called Hawi. It is a picturesque town where you can taste the authentic local cuisine at the famous Bamboo restaurant and also buy Hawaiian Koa Woodcrafts from the local shops.
Explore the Historic Parker Ranch in Hawaii
The Big Island’s Parker Ranch is one of the oldest and most historic ranches in Hawaii. With around 250 horses and over 35,000 cattle, Parker ranch is considered one of the largest ranches in the United States.
The historic homes of the ranch are open to the public only on special occasions, but the ranch stores are always open for public shopping. Test your adrenalin by taking part in hunting adventures and riding horses with the Cowboys of Hawaii.
Hike to Mauna Kea- the Dormant Volcano on the Big Island
Mauna Kea hiking trail is a journey from the sea level to the nearly 14000 ft. high summits of Mauna Kea, which reveals the wonders and the world-class clarity of the Hawaiian night sky. Though there are several companies in the Big Island that offer trips to the summit of Mauna Kea for sunset, the most recommended one is the Hawaii Forest & Trail. ‘Hawaii Forest & Trail’ is the brainchild of the renowned naturalist Rob Pacheco and his wife Cindy.
Visit Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii
You must have heard about the renowned City of Refuge on the Big Island of Hawaii. Head to Kona island to explore Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park which is also known as the City of Refuge. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is located about 22 miles south of Kailua-Kona off Highway 160, and it stretches across 182 acres of land. It is a must-see attraction in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.
There are two sections- the palace grounds which was once the home of the ruling chiefs, and the other is Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, the place of refuge. There is a great wall separating the two sections. In ancient Hawaii, this place was considered a crucial place of refuge for people. Now, it is a vital refuge for culturally important plant species, bats, birds and aquatic life.
There are a number of additional archaeological sites in this park on the Big Island, including temple platforms, royal fishponds, and a coastal village site. Take time to see primitive canoes, board games and huts used by the ancient people and also walk around sacred burial temple of Hawaiian chiefs guarded by Carved Ki’i Gods.
Explore Hawaii Waterfalls at Waipi’o Valley
“Waipiʻo” means “curved water” in the Hawaiian language. Located in the Hamakua district of Hawaii’s Big Island, the Waipi’o Valley is the largest of the seven valleys on the windward side of the Kohala Mountains. The Waipio Valley is a mile wide at the coast. You can see a beautiful black sand beach along the coast.
On both sides of Waipio Valley, there are hundreds of waterfalls including Hi’ilawe, the most celebrated waterfall in Hawaii. If you love trekking, take a Waipio Valley Hike and travel through Taro fields, lush tropical vegetation, breadfruit, orange and lime trees. The best view of the valley is taken from the coastal Waipio Valley Outlook at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive. You can also opt for a guided tour to discover more about the hidden wonders of this place on the Big Island.
Take a Hike in the Pololu Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii
The Kohala Volcano has 7 valleys- Pololu valley, Honokane Nui, Honokane Ikl, Honokane’a, Honopue, Waimanu and Waipio Valley. While Waipio is the most visited among the seven valleys, Pololu is now getting slowly popular among travellers who prefer secluded destinations. It is located at the end of Highway 270 in North Kohala.
The distance between the Lookout and Pololu valley is 490ft (150m). The Pololu Valley lookout on the Big Island gives a spectacular view over the cliffs of the Kohala volcano. However, views of the black sand beach, the valley and the coast are mostly obstructed from the Lookout. Hence, the best way to enjoy the beauty of the Pololu Valley is by hiking down the four-mile trail to the valley that lies 1000 ft. below your feet. The Pololu trail runs through a section of the old Government road to Awini. That is why the Pololu trail is also known as the Awini Trail. The Pololu Valley hike takes you through the groves of hau and ironwood trees, across marshland and the valley stream. Lastly arrive at the black sand beach, the most favourite spot for family outings.
Visit the Pu’ukohala Heiau National Historic Site, The Big Island
One of the last major temples built in the Hawaiian islands is located at the district of Kawaihae. Puʻukoholā Heiau meaning “Temple on the Hill of the Whale” was built by Kamehameha the Great in the Year 1790. He dedicated the temple to his War of God, to appease Him and to unify all the Hawaiian islands. It is located in the North of Kohala near the port of Kawaihae on the Big Island. The park is open from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can grab a detailed map and information brochure at the visitor’s centre or take a guided tour to explore the historic site of Pu’ukohala Heiau.
Take a Road trip to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
If you are staying near the Kohala Coast of Hawaii, you must take a driving tour to the Kona Coast. You will get to see some amazing scenery along the way. As there is not much traffic, you can stop your car wherever you want and take pictures of nature’s beauty. End the drive around lovely Kailua-Kona town where there are plenty of options to shop, explore local sites, and dine at one of the excellent restaurants of the Big Island.
Explore Punalu’u – the Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii
Punalu’u is a famous black sand beach in Hawaii. As it is located near the 56-mile marker, just around 20 minutes drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it is also one of the most easily accessible beaches on the Big Island. Punaluu black sand beach is a sanctuary of green sea turtles. Take your kids to the beach and they will surely spot a cute green turtle lying on the beach. This black sand beach on the Big Island is the best place for snorkelling and swimming on the South coast.
Go Snorkelling in the Big Island of Hawaii – Anaeho’omalu Beach
Anaeho’omalu Beach is located on Anaeho’omalu Bay, the Big Island. The beach is quite close to The Waikoloa Beach Mariott Resort & Spa on the Kohala Coast. The beach area has beautifully landscaped walking paths coming out of the resort. The presence of an ancient Hawaiian fishpond on its side enhances the beauty of the path. Enjoy sunset at the nearby golden sand beach that is fringed by swaying palm trees.
Explore Hapuna Beach – One of the Largest White Sand Beaches in Hawaii
Located near the Kona International Airport of the Big Island, Hapuna Beach is a half-mile crescent-shaped beach having Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel on its border and Hapuna Golf Course to its North. Hapuna beach is the best place to go for swimming as well as bodysurfing in the Big Island. There is also a covered picnic pavilion for tourists to enjoy some great time with their family.
Indulge in Hawaiian food – Kona coffee and Shave Ice
When it comes to food and drink of the Big Island of Hawaii, the first thing that comes to the mind is the world famous Kona coffee and shave ice. But there are more to it. Let’s have a look at the Hawaiian cuisines of the Big Island.
For authentic Hawaiian food, you must visit Hawaiian Style Cafe. It is an island-style greasy spoon upland in Waimea. Try Loco Moco, Pancakes, Poi and Kale Pop Hash for a real Hawaiian food experience. Don’t miss the Hilo Farmer’s Market in the downtown Hilo area. It offers a great selection of locally grown tropical fruits and vegetables. Ratana’s Green Papaya Thai Salad is a favourite among the locals of the Hilo town.
Visit Uncle Kava Bar to sip the famous local drink made of Kava. Kava is a plant whose roots are used to make a soothing drink with sedative properties. This drink is quite popular in the Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures. It has an earthy taste. Since it has an acquired taste, you may skip it and just enjoy the ultra-relaxed atmosphere and excellent live music at the bar. The Big Island is known for its 100% homegrown Kona coffee. The Big island’s main coffee belt is in the south of Kona district, where visitors often go on a coffee farm tour. Try this Hawaiian speciality- one of Kona’s exclusive brews. Treat your children with Shave Ice- a type of ice cream which is another Hawaiian Speciality.
To Wrap Up!
The Big Island is the only Hawaiian island that is still growing because of the constant volcanic eruption. The big island of Hawaii is one of those few places on earth where you can actually see the lava flow. That is why Hawaii National Park is considered one of the topmost important places to visit in the Big Island of Hawaii. From the emerald green forests of Waipio valley to the snow-covered mountain Mauna Kea to the stretches of barren deserts to stunning beaches, the Big Island of Hawaii has a diversity that can be seen in very few countries in the world.