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Big Island – An Epic Hawaii Road Trip | Jessie On A Journey


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Kit Niemeyer



Welcome to Big Island, the largest and most diverse island in the Hawaiian archipelago. With its stunning landscapes, volcanic wonders, and vibrant culture, Big Island offers the perfect setting for an epic road trip adventure. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or a beach lover, there’s something for everyone on this captivating island.


From the moment you step off the plane, you’ll be greeted by the warm Hawaiian breeze and a sense of excitement. Big Island is known for its aloha spirit, where locals welcome visitors with open arms. So buckle up, fasten your seatbelts, and get ready for an unforgettable journey through this tropical paradise.


Your road trip through Big Island will take you through picturesque coastal drives, lush rainforests, and otherworldly volcanic landscapes. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel in crystal-clear waters, hike to breathtaking waterfalls, and witness the raw power of an active volcano. Not only that, but you’ll also immerse yourself in the rich Hawaiian culture, sampling local cuisine, exploring ancient sacred sites, and experiencing traditional music and dance.


Before you hit the road, it’s essential to plan your itinerary and make the most of your time on the island. Take into account the different regions of Big Island and the unique attractions they offer. This will ensure that you don’t miss out on any must-see destinations along the way.


So, are you ready to embark on a road trip of a lifetime? Let’s dive into the details of each day’s adventure on Big Island.


Day 1: Arrival in Big Island

Welcome to Big Island! After landing at Kona International Airport, pick up your rental car and get ready to start your adventure. As you drive to your accommodation in Kailua-Kona, take in the breathtaking scenery of palm-fringed beaches and turquoise waters. Once you’ve settled in, spend the afternoon exploring Kailua-Kona, a charming seaside town known for its historic sites and vibrant atmosphere.


Start by strolling along Ali’i Drive, the main street that runs along the waterfront. Here, you’ll find an array of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Browse through the boutiques for unique souvenirs or stop by one of the local cafes for a refreshing cup of Kona coffee.


Head to the Hulihe‘e Palace, a former royal residence turned museum, to learn about the island’s rich history and the kingdom of Hawaii. Take a guided tour to delve deeper into the fascinating stories of Hawaii’s monarchy and admire the beautiful artifacts on display.


Make your way to the Mokuaikaua Church, the oldest Christian church in Hawaii, dating back to 1820. Step inside and marvel at the intricate stained glass windows and traditional Hawaiian interior. Take a moment to soak in the peaceful atmosphere and appreciate the cultural significance of this sacred place.


End your day with a visit to the famous Kailua Pier, where you can watch the sunset paint the sky with vibrant hues. Capture the breathtaking views with your camera or simply sit back and savor the moment. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider booking a sunset cruise or a snorkeling excursion to explore the colorful underwater world of the Kona coast.


After a day of exploration, indulge in a delicious meal at one of Kailua-Kona’s many waterfront restaurants. From fresh seafood to mouthwatering Hawaiian specialties, there’s something to satisfy every palate.


As night falls, take a leisurely walk along the shoreline, listening to the waves crash against the rocks. Then, head back to your accommodation for a well-deserved rest, knowing that tomorrow holds even more incredible adventures on Big Island.


Day 2: Exploring Kailua-Kona

On your second day in Big Island, continue your exploration of the vibrant town of Kailua-Kona. Today’s itinerary includes a mix of cultural experiences, outdoor adventures, and delicious food.


Start your day by visiting the fascinating Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, located just a short drive north of Kailua-Kona. This sacred site is home to ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, fishponds, and the Ai’opio Fishtrap, where you can learn about traditional Hawaiian fishing practices. Take a leisurely walk along the coastal trail to enjoy stunning ocean views and spot native wildlife such as honu (green sea turtles).


After immersing yourself in the island’s history, head back into town for a quick lunch at one of the local eateries. Try some fresh Hawaiian poke or indulge in a plate of loco moco, a local favorite consisting of rice, hamburger patty, topped with fried egg and brown gravy.


In the afternoon, make your way to the Kona Coffee Living History Farm and discover the fascinating story behind Hawaii’s famous coffee. Take a guided tour of this working coffee farm, learning about the cultivation and processing of coffee beans. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste some freshly brewed Kona coffee, known for its smooth and rich flavor.


As the day heats up, head to one of the nearby beaches for some relaxation and water activities. Magic Sands Beach Park and Kahalu’u Beach Park are both popular spots for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. Immerse yourself in the crystal-clear waters, and marvel at the vibrant marine life below.


In the evening, explore the town’s nightlife scene. Grab dinner at one of the oceanfront restaurants, where you can enjoy fresh seafood while taking in breathtaking sunset views. Afterward, wander through the local shops and art galleries, where you can find unique souvenirs and handcrafted treasures.


If you’re up for some excitement, you can also join a nighttime manta ray snorkel or dive. This unforgettable experience allows you to witness these majestic creatures gliding gracefully through the water under the moonlit sky.


After a day filled with exploration and adventure, return to your accommodation and get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow, you’ll be venturing out of Kailua-Kona to explore more of Big Island’s natural wonders.


Day 3: Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay

Get ready for an unforgettable day of snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay, one of the most pristine and captivating snorkeling spots in Big Island. Known for its crystal-clear turquoise waters and vibrant marine life, Kealakekua Bay offers a snorkeling experience like no other.


Start your day by driving to the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, located on the west coast of Big Island. If you prefer a more immersive experience, you can also rent kayaks and paddle across the bay. As you make your way to the snorkeling site, keep an eye out for playful dolphins that often accompany the kayakers.


Once you reach the snorkeling spot, you’ll be greeted by an underwater paradise teeming with colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, and other fascinating marine creatures. Slip into the water and let the magic unfold as you snorkel alongside schools of vibrant fish and observe the intricate coral formations.


One of the highlights of Kealakekua Bay is the famous Captain Cook Monument, standing tall on the coastline. This memorial honors the British explorer Captain James Cook, who arrived in Hawaii in the late 18th century. Take some time to swim over to the monument and learn about its historical significance.


After a couple of hours exploring the underwater world, take a break on the beach and enjoy a picnic lunch. Sit back, relax, and soak up the sun while admiring the breathtaking surroundings. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins or sea turtles swimming by.


Before leaving Kealakekua Bay, take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty of the area. The lush green cliffs and the calm, turquoise waters create a picturesque backdrop for a memorable day in paradise.


As the sun begins to set, make your way back to your accommodation. Reflect on the incredible snorkeling adventure you had and take some time to relax and rejuvenate. Tomorrow, get ready to explore the magnificent waterfalls of Big Island as you venture to Akaka Falls.


Day 4: Hiking to Akaka Falls

Embark on a scenic hike to Akaka Falls, a magnificent waterfall nestled in the lush rainforest of Honomu. This day will be filled with nature’s beauty and awe-inspiring sights.


Begin your day by driving to Akaka Falls State Park, where the trailhead for the hike is located. The short loop trail will lead you through a dense tropical forest, offering glimpses of exotic plants, colorful flowers, and the sweet scent of wild orchids.


As you venture deeper into the rainforest, you’ll hear the sound of rushing water growing louder. Follow the trail until you reach the main attraction: Akaka Falls. Standing at a staggering height of 442 feet, the waterfall cascades down into a lush gorge, creating a mesmerizing sight.


Take your time to soak in the beauty of the falls and capture some memorable photographs. The mist from the waterfall creates a refreshing ambiance, making the experience even more enchanting.


After admiring Akaka Falls, continue along the trail to explore the neighboring Kahuna Falls. Although not as tall as Akaka Falls, Kahuna Falls is equally impressive, with water gracefully flowing down rocky cliffs. Marvel at the power of nature and enjoy the serene atmosphere.


As you make your way back to the trailhead, keep an eye out for native birds like the ‘apapane and ‘i’iwi that often flutter through the treetops. The vibrant plumage and melodic songs of these unique Hawaiian birds are a delight to witness.


After completing the hike, head to the nearby town of Honomu for a relaxing lunch. Indulge in some local cuisine and savor the flavors of Big Island. Don’t forget to try some refreshing shaved ice or a tropical fruit smoothie to cool off after your hike.


In the afternoon, take the opportunity to explore the charming town of Hilo. Visit the colorful stalls of the Hilo Farmers Market, where you can find fresh produce, local crafts, and unique souvenirs. Take a stroll along historic Banyan Drive, known for its majestic banyan trees and picturesque views of Hilo Bay.


As the day comes to an end, make your way back to your accommodation. Reflect on the beauty of Akaka Falls and the surrounding rainforest, grateful for the opportunity to witness such natural wonders. Tomorrow, get ready to witness the volcanic wonders of Big Island as you venture into Volcanoes National Park.


Day 5: Volcanoes National Park Adventure

Today, prepare yourself for an awe-inspiring adventure as you explore the mesmerizing landscapes of Volcanoes National Park. This national park is a true gem of Big Island, offering a glimpse into the raw power and beauty of volcanic activity.


Start your day early and make your way to the entrance of Volcanoes National Park. Once inside, head to the Kilauea Visitor Center to gather information about current volcanic activity and pick up trail maps. Park rangers are available to provide valuable insights and answer any questions you may have.


Begin your exploration by taking the Crater Rim Drive, a scenic route that circles around the Kilauea Caldera. Along the way, you’ll have several opportunities to stop and appreciate the stunning vistas. Stop at the Jaggar Museum, where you can learn about the history of volcanic eruptions on the island and witness the mesmerizing glow of the Halema’uma’u Crater.


Continue your journey by trekking along one of the park’s many hiking trails. The popular Kilauea Iki Trail offers a thrilling adventure as you descend into the Kilauea Iki Crater. Walk across a hardened lava lake and marvel at the contrasting landscapes before ascending to the lush rainforest on the other side. The trail provides a unique opportunity to witness the dynamic nature of the volcanic landscape.


After completing the hike, venture towards the Chain of Craters Road, a breathtaking drive that showcases the volcanic features of the park. As you traverse the road, you’ll pass by various volcanic formations, including lava tubes and steam vents. Keep an eye out for the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs, ancient rock carvings that provide insight into the island’s historical and cultural heritage.


Before leaving the park, make sure to visit the coastal area where the lava flows into the ocean. Depending on volcanic activity, you might have the chance to witness the dramatic sight of lava meeting the sea. Note that these flows can be unpredictable, so it’s important to stay informed about the latest updates from the park rangers.


As the day comes to a close, bid farewell to the captivating landscapes of Volcanoes National Park. Reflect on the incredible experience of witnessing the power and beauty of nature’s volcanic forces. Tomorrow, get ready for an adventure to the enchanting Waipio Valley, a hidden gem on Big Island’s east coast.


Day 6: Road Trip to Waipio Valley

Set out on a memorable road trip to Waipio Valley, a hidden gem tucked away on Big Island’s stunning east coast. This day will take you through breathtaking coastal drives, lush valleys, and picturesque waterfalls.


Start your day by driving along the Hamakua Coast, a scenic route known for its dramatic cliffs, lush vegetation, and panoramic ocean views. As you make your way towards Waipio Valley, take your time to appreciate the stunning vistas and stop at lookout points to capture photographs of the mesmerizing coastline.


Upon reaching Waipio Valley Lookout, prepare to be amazed by the awe-inspiring view that awaits you. The valley is renowned for its steep cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush taro fields. Take a moment to soak in the natural beauty surrounding you before embarking on the descent into the valley.


Keep in mind that the road down to the valley is steep and rugged, suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles only. Alternatively, you can opt for a guided tour or a horseback ride to explore the valley. Whichever mode of transport you choose, be prepared for an adventure.


Once in the valley, immerse yourself in its tranquility and explore the scenic trails that wind through the lush tropical landscape. Wander along the black sand beach, feel the spray of the nearby waterfalls, and admire the picturesque beauty of the valley’s abundant flora and fauna.


For an extra touch of adventure, consider taking a guided tour to experience off-road excursions, indulge in traditional Hawaiian activities, or learn about the valley’s rich cultural and historical significance. Discover the legends and stories that make Waipio Valley a sacred place in Hawaiian culture.


After spending a few hours exploring Waipio Valley, make your way back up to the lookout and head towards the nearby town of Honokaa for a well-deserved lunch. Enjoy some local cuisine and savor the flavors of Big Island before continuing your road trip.


Before returning to your accommodation, consider stopping at one of the nearby waterfalls, such as Akaka Falls or Rainbow Falls, for a final glimpse of the island’s natural beauty. These stunning cascades offer a picturesque setting for a leisurely stroll and provide a refreshing mist on a warm day.


As you reflect on the day’s journey, bask in the memories of Waipio Valley’s enchanting beauty. Tomorrow, get ready to explore the captivating heights of Mauna Kea, the tallest volcano on Big Island.


Day 7: Discovering Mauna Kea

Today, prepare for a breathtaking adventure as you explore the majestic heights of Mauna Kea, the tallest volcano on Big Island. This day will take you to towering peaks, stunning vistas, and the opportunity to witness a mesmerizing sunset from above the clouds.


Begin your day by driving to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, located at an elevation of 9,200 feet. Take some time to acclimate to the altitude and gather information about the current conditions on the mountain. Keep in mind that the summit of Mauna Kea sits at an impressive 13,796 feet.


Embark on a guided tour or continue your journey in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to ascend to the summit. As you make your way up the mountain, you’ll pass through several distinct climate zones, from tropical rainforest to alpine desert. Marvel at the unique landscape and the change in vegetation as you gain elevation.


Once you reach the summit, prepare to be in awe of the panoramic views that stretch as far as the eye can see. On a clear day, you can see neighboring islands, snow-capped peaks, and the expansive Pacific Ocean. Take some time to wander around and soak in the grandeur of the volcanic landscape.


After exploring the summit, descend to a lower elevation to visit the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. Learn about the important research taking place on Mauna Kea and the significant contributions of the observatories located on the mountain. Gain insight into the night sky and the wonders of the universe.


In the evening, experience the true magic of Mauna Kea as you witness a breathtaking sunset from above the clouds. Find a comfortable spot to sit or stand and watch as the sky transforms into a vibrant palette of colors. The peacefulness and serenity of this experience are unlike anything you’ve ever encountered.


As darkness falls, the skies above Mauna Kea unveil a mesmerizing display of stars. The mountain’s high altitude and low light pollution make it an ideal location for stargazing. If you’re interested in astronomy, consider joining a stargazing tour or attending a stargazing program offered by the visitor center.


After an unforgettable day exploring the heights of Mauna Kea, make your way back to your accommodation. Reflect on the awe-inspiring beauty you witnessed and the wonders of the universe that unfolded before your eyes. Tomorrow, relax and unwind on the pristine beaches of Hapuna Beach.


Day 8: Relaxing at Hapuna Beach

Today is all about relaxation and unwinding as you spend a blissful day at Hapuna Beach, one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches on Big Island. This picturesque stretch of golden sand and turquoise waters offers the perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and simply enjoying the tropical paradise.


Start your day by packing up some beach essentials such as sunscreen, towels, and beach chairs. As you make your way to Hapuna Beach, take in the scenic coastal drive along the Kohala Coast. Admire the rugged lava fields, swaying palm trees, and panoramic ocean views that will leave you in awe.


Once you arrive at Hapuna Beach, find a comfortable spot on the soft sand and settle in for a day of relaxation. Spread out your towel or set up your beach chair, and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin as you take in the soothing sounds of crashing waves.


Dive into the crystal-clear waters and experience the refreshing embrace of the Pacific Ocean. The calm waves provide excellent swimming conditions, making it the perfect spot for leisurely dips or playful splashing in the water.


Grab a mask and snorkel to explore the underwater world just beyond the shore. Swim among vibrant coral reefs and encounter a variety of tropical fish and marine life. Keep an eye out for sea turtles gracefully gliding through the water, a common sight at Hapuna Beach.


When you’re ready for a break from the water, take a leisurely stroll along the beach and soak in the breathtaking views. The backdrop of the Kohala Mountains adds to the scenic beauty of the beach, creating a perfect photo opportunity.


For lunch, have a picnic on the beach or visit one of the nearby food trucks or restaurants. Indulge in some delicious local cuisine, such as poke bowls or fresh fish tacos, and savor the flavors of the island.


As the afternoon rolls in, find a shaded spot under a palm tree and indulge in a good book or simply unwind as you listen to the soothing rhythm of the waves. Let go of any stress and let the tranquil atmosphere of Hapuna Beach wash over you.


As the day winds down, take in the breathtaking sunset over the ocean. Watch as the sky transforms into a canvas of vibrant colors, casting a magical glow over the horizon.


After a day of pure relaxation, head back to your accommodation. Reflect on the beauty of Hapuna Beach and the calming energy it provided. Tomorrow, get ready to explore the stunning landscapes of the Hamakua Coast as you embark on a road trip to remember.


Day 9: Exploring the Hamakua Coast

Today, embark on a scenic road trip along the breathtaking Hamakua Coast, known for its lush landscapes, dramatic cliffs, and stunning waterfalls. Prepare to be amazed as you journey through the picturesque towns and natural wonders of this captivating region.


Start your day by driving along the Hamakua Heritage Corridor, a stretch of highway that winds along the beautiful coastline. Take your time to appreciate the panoramic views of the turquoise ocean, verdant valleys, and dramatic cliffs that drop into the crashing waves.


Make your first stop at the Waipi’o Valley Overlook. This vantage point offers a breathtaking view of the iconic Waipi’o Valley, often referred to as the “Valley of the Kings.” Gaze down into the lush, green valley with its pristine beach and cascading waterfalls, and marvel at its untouched beauty.


If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike or take a guided tour down into the valley to explore its hidden gems further. Discover ancient taro fields, swim in the refreshing river, and feel the spiritual energy that emanates from this sacred place.


Continue your drive along the coast, stopping at various scenic viewpoints along the way. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the power and beauty of the Akaka Falls. Take a short hike through a lush rainforest to reach this breathtaking waterfall, which cascades down a sheer cliff face into a tranquil pool.


As you drive further, explore the charming towns nestled along the coast. Stop in Honoka’a, a historic town with its charming storefronts and plantation-era architecture. Visit the local shops, art galleries, and cafes, and immerse yourself in the small-town vibe of this hidden gem.


For lunch, indulge in some local cuisine at one of the restaurants in the area. Sample traditional Hawaiian dishes like poi, laulau, or kalua pig, and savor the unique flavors of the island’s cuisine.


Continue your journey towards the town of Hilo, the largest city on the east side of Big Island. Discover the lush and tropical landscapes of the Hilo Botanical Gardens, visit the Lyman Museum to learn about the island’s rich history, or explore the vibrant Hilo Farmers Market to experience the local culture.


As the day comes to an end, take a leisurely drive back to your accommodation, reflecting on the beauty of the Hamakua Coast and the many natural wonders you encountered. Tomorrow, bid farewell to Big Island as you prepare to wrap up your road trip adventure.


Day 10: Farewell to Big Island

It’s time to say goodbye to the enchanting Big Island as your road trip adventure comes to an end. Spend your last day taking in the beauty of the island, reflecting on the incredible experiences you had, and making the most of your remaining time.


Start your day by revisiting one of your favorite spots on the island. Whether it’s watching the sunrise over the ocean, taking a final dip in the turquoise waters, or revisiting a stunning waterfall, make the most of this opportunity to soak in the beauty one last time.


Afterwards, take some time to pack up your belongings and check out of your accommodation. If you have a few hours before your departure, consider taking a leisurely drive along the coastline, stopping at any hidden spots or scenic viewpoints that you may have missed.


Before leaving the island, make a stop at a local cafe or bakery to pick up some Hawaiian treats to enjoy during your journey. Whether it’s a box of malasadas, a bag of macadamia nuts, or some freshly roasted Kona coffee, take a piece of Big Island’s flavors with you to savor later.


Take one last glance at the stunning landscapes, feel the warm breeze on your skin, and appreciate the natural wonders that have made your road trip so memorable. Bid farewell to Big Island, knowing that you have experienced the island’s beauty and immersed yourself in its rich culture.


As you make your way to the airport, reminisce about the incredible adventures, scenic drives, and unforgettable moments that you’ve had throughout your road trip. Reflect on the memories you’ve made, the new perspectives gained, and the connections with nature and the island’s welcoming spirit.


As you board your flight, carry the spirit of Big Island with you. Know that you’ve experienced a true Hawaiian road trip, exploring diverse landscapes, indulging in local cuisine, and connecting with the aloha spirit.


Although your journey on Big Island may be ending, the memories and experiences will stay with you forever. As you look out of the airplane window, let the island’s beauty and the spirit of aloha fill you with gratitude and a sense of wanderlust for future adventures.


Farewell, Big Island, until we meet again.



Your road trip adventure through Big Island has come to an end, but the memories and experiences will last a lifetime. From the moment you arrived, you were captivated by the island’s natural beauty, rich culture, and warm aloha spirit.


You embarked on an epic journey, exploring the vibrant town of Kailua-Kona, snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of Kealakekua Bay, hiking to breathtaking waterfalls, and witnessing the raw power of an active volcano in Volcanoes National Park. You ventured into the enchanting Waipio Valley, soared above the clouds on Mauna Kea, and relaxed on the pristine shores of Hapuna Beach.


You drove along scenic coastal roads, marveled at panoramic vistas, and immersed yourself in the diverse landscapes that Big Island has to offer. Each day brought new adventures and discoveries, creating a road trip experience that will forever hold a special place in your heart.


Throughout your journey, you were welcomed with the spirit of aloha by the friendly locals who shared their stories, traditions, and delicious cuisine. You embraced the island’s culture, learning about its history, visiting sacred sites, and connecting with the natural wonders that make Big Island so unique.


As you bid farewell to Big Island, you carry with you the beauty of its landscapes, the warmth of its people, and the serenity of its beaches. The memories of snorkeling with colorful fish, witnessing fiery sunsets, and exploring hidden gems will stay with you forever.


Remember the feeling of driving along the coast, feeling the wind in your hair, and witnessing the ever-changing beauty of the island. Reflect on the transformative moments, the sense of adventure, and the appreciation for the wonders of nature that you experienced during your road trip.


Big Island has awakened your wanderlust, leaving you yearning for more travel adventures and exploration. Let the spirit of this road trip inspire you to continue exploring new destinations, immersing yourself in different cultures, and nurturing your love for adventure.


As you look back on your journey through Big Island, may the memories bring a smile to your face and a sense of gratitude for the incredible experiences you had. Farewell, Big Island, until we meet again on another road trip adventure.