Is that sound you hear the helicopter or the beating of your heart? As you hover above Kilauea Volcano’s steaming Puu Oo vent it’s hard to tell.
With surroundings ranging from lava-strewn deserts to tropical plantations and gardens, you can engage in every imaginable outdoor activity here. Snorkel or scuba with manta rays off the Kona Coast. Horseback ride in the grassy plains of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country in Waimea. Discover the 442-foot Akaka Falls and the 80-foot Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park. Hike along the 150 miles of volcanic desert and tropical trails at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
With so much to do and see, Hawaii’s Big Island is known as “Hawaii’s Island of Adventure,” and it won’t take long for you to see just how appropriately named it is.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Located 30 miles southwest of Hilo, this is the home of Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. Taking a helicopter tour for a bird’s-eye view of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the rest of the island’s hidden waterfalls, lush valleys and balmy beaches is just the beginning of an exhilarating Big Island expedition.
- Swim with manta rays – One of the most memorable experiences you can have on Hawaii Island is a swim with manta rays. Book a sunset dive tour and head out to the Kona or Keauhou coast to either scuba dive or snorkel with these gentle mantas (mantas don’t have stingers like sting rays or eagle rays). You’ll marvel at how these otherworldly creatures glide within inches of you as they feed on microscopic plankton in the illuminated waters.
- Akaka Falls – At Akaka Falls State Park, located along the northeastern Hamakua Coast, you can see two gorgeous waterfalls on one short hike. The pleasant 0.4-mile uphill hike will take you through a lush rainforest filled with wild orchids, bamboo groves and draping ferns. As you follow the paved footpath, you’ll first see 100-foot Kahuna Falls. Continue to follow the loop around the bend, and you’ll discover towering Akaka Falls which plummets 442-feet into a stream-eroded gorge. Beautiful Akaka Falls is perhaps the Big Island’s most famous waterfall.
Arts & Culture Experiences
The Merrie Monarch Festival, the world’s premier hula event, is just one example of how the people of Hawaii’s Big Island live comfortably in the present but with great respect for the past. The mana (spiritual power) is still strong at important historical places like Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Puukohola Heiau Historic Site and Mookini Heiau State Monument. Hilo town is also home to an array of museums, galleries, and performance venues where you can admire the work of local painters, sculptors, musicians, storytellers, and crafts people. Today, with an active volcano still shaping the land at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the people of Hawaii���s Big Island continue to forge their own history.
- Merrie Monarch Festival – The Merrie Monarch Festival is the world’s premier hula event held in Hilo. This weeklong celebration of the native art of the hula happens every Easter with halau (hula schools) from every island and the mainland practicing year-round for the event. This moving expression of music, dance and storytelling is part of how the people of Hawaii’s Big Island continue to perpetuate and interpret the Hawaiian culture and its uniquely affirmative spirit of aloha.
- Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park – Located on the coast of Honaunau Bay in south Kona, Puuhonua o Honaunau immerses you in Hawaiian culture. This 180-acre national historic park was once the home of royal grounds and a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. Hundreds of years old yet beautifully restored, Puuhonua o Honaunau remains one of Hawaii’s most sacred historic places.
- Mookini Heiau State Monument – Over 1500 years old, Mookini Heiau State Monument is one of Hawaii’s oldest and most sacred historical sites. A heiau is an early Hawaiian religious temple, and Mookini Heiau was also a luakini heiau, or a temple of human sacrifice. This hallowed site located in North Kohala on the northernmost tip of Hawaii’s Big Island should be treated with great reverence. A short walk south and you’ll find another revered Hawaiian site. A sign that reads, “Kamehameha Akahi Aina Hanau,” in front of a thick stone wall marks the birthplace of King Kamehameha I, Hawaii’s greatest king.
As far as childhood memories go, this may be hard to beat. Watch as kids run over several Japanese bridges in Liliuokalani Gardens. See them discover ancient petroglyphs carved into the rocks at sites along the Kohala Coast. Let them stargaze through telescopes at the Ellison S. Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, 9,300 feet atop Maunakea (but note that the high altitude may not be suitable for younger children). Or join them and explore the planetarium and interactive exhibits in the amazing Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii.
Outdoor adventures abound at family friendly parks and beaches with lifeguards and full picnic and restroom facilities. Build a sandcastle, explore tide pools, or snorkel with kids to catch a glimpse of the Big Island’s rich marine life.
Back on land, learn about real-life paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) and take a wagon ride at the Kahua Ranch in Waimea. Exploring the volcano tubes and lava fields from an active volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an experience you’ll never forget. Whether it’s learning about astronomy, volcanology or oceanography, a child’s school excursions just won’t compare after this hands-on vacation.
- Kahua Ranch – Located on the western slope of the Kohala Mountains, 3000 feet above sea level, this 8 private ranch land provides a variety of landscapes. From grazing cattle, sheep and horses to vistas of ocean and coastal shoreline, visitors enjoy getting off the beaten path and embarking on a variety of exciting activities.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Watch the landscape change before your very eyes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Located 30 miles southwest of Hilo, this is the home of Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. The chance to witness the primal process of creation and destruction make this park one of the most popular visitor attraction in Hawaii and a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.
- Liliuokalani Gardens – Blink and you may think you’re in Japan as you stroll through peaceful Liliuokalani Gardens, named after Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. Located on Hilo’s Banyan Drive, this authentic, 30-acre Japanese garden was dedicated in 1917 as a tribute to Hawaii’s first Japanese immigrants who worked in the Big Island’s sugar cane fields. This beautifully landscaped park features arching red bridges over fishponds, rock gardens, pagodas, Japanese stone lanterns and a teahouse. Views of Hilo Bay and Moku Ola (Coconut Island) enhance this peaceful setting.
Because Hawaii’s Big Island is so big (it takes roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes to get from Kona Airport to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park), it’s best to plan your itineraries by location. Below you’ll find seven days of itinerary suggestions. Choose your itinerary depending on where you’re staying and the length of stay.
Day 1: Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) and Keauhou
Lively Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) is the heart of the Kona Coast featuring a variety of hotels, shops and restaurants lining Alii Drive. But Kailua Village is also an incredibly historic area, home to Hulihee Palace, Mokuaikaua Church and Ahuena Heiau, all within walking distance of each other. Look into the past just north of Kailua-Kona at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, a place to learn about early Hawaiian culture. Take a surfing lesson or go snorkeling at Kahaluu Beach and other beaches in the Kailua Village and Keauhou resort areas. After a beautiful Kona sunset, enjoy nightlife along Alii drive with great food and live music. For the more adventurous, go on an unforgettable night-dive with manta rays.
Day 2: South Kona and Beyond
Visit Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park to step back in time and learn about early Hawaiian culture. Kealakekua Bay is a Marine Life Conservation District popular with snorkelers and the site of Captain James Cook’s death. In fact, south Kona’s beaches are a great place for snorkelers because of its calm and clear waters. Tour a Kona coffee farm in south Kona or in the art village of Holualoa and get a sip of 100% Kona Coffee. Then get off the beaten path and take a road trip to Ka Lae (South Point), the southernmost point in the United States.
Day 3: Kohala Coast & North Kohala
See the amazing contrasts between the black lava lined Kohala Coast and lush North Kohala. Start your day in Kohala’s fantastic resorts playing golf or indulging in a spa treatment. Then explore historic sites like the Puukohola Heiau National Historical Park and the Lapakahi State Historical Park. Head to the green pastures of Waimea and go horseback riding with an authentic paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy). Then continue driving to lovely Hawi for delicious food and fantastic shopping. Along the way, be sure to visit sites like the Mookini Heiau State Monument, the King Kamehameha Statue in Kapaau and the breathtaking view from the Pololu Valley Overlook.
Day 4: Hamakua Coast
On the northeastern Hamakua Coast of the island, spend the day driving along the Hamakua Heritage Corridor to see amazing scenic views, waterfalls and botanical gardens. Spectacular waterfalls that are easily accessible include Akaka Falls and Rainbow Falls in the Wailuku River State Park. See rare and exotic plants at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens and the World Botanical Gardens. Stop in Honokaa Town to browse the shops and art galleries. Finally, end your trip with an unforgettable view at the Waipio Valley Lookout.
Day 5: Volcano and Kau
You can easily spend a day exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Take a day hike through its miles of trails, see sights like Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube), Halemaumau Crater and see lava meet the sea at lookout points at the end of Chain of Craters Road or in nearby Kalapana. Beyond the park, take a trip to Punaluu Black Sand Beach in Kau to feel black sand between your toes.
Day 6: Hilo Side
The lush Hilo side of Hawaii’s Big Island will be your home base for your visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Nearby you’ll find a variety of off-the-beaten-path discoveries. Visit the Puna area to find charming restaurants shops and amazing sights like Lava Trees State Park. You’ll also find even more interesting attractions like the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory and Akatsuka Orchid Gardens.
Day 7: Downtown Hilo
Relax and experience the local side of Hawaii’s Big Island in Downtown Hilo. Visit incredible museums like the Lyman Museum and Mission House, the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, the East Hawaii Cultural Center, Mokupapapa Discovery Center and the Pacific Tsunami Museum. Shop at the Hilo Farmers Market and other local favorites to discover off the beaten path treasures. Then unwind in amazing parks like Liliuokalani Gardens after your busy trip to Hawaii’s Big Island.
First Time Visitors
Home to Hawaiian cowboys, Ironmen and a volcano goddess, Hawaii’s Big Island offers experiences found in no other place on earth. A variety of climatic zones, from seasonal snowcapped mountains to black sand beaches, stretch across its vast topography creating rich pockets of adventure for first-time visitors to explore.
- The must-see for any first-time visitor is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. At this World Heritage Site you’ll see the unforgettable spectacle of simultaneous creation and destruction: Arid deserts, cavernous lava tubes and the unpredictable Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting since 1983.
- You’ll also find cattle ranches and paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) in the cool uplands of Waimea.
- Downtown Hilo offers a taste of local shopping, dining and culture with beautiful botanical gardens and waterfalls nearby.
- The eastern side of Hawaii’s Big Island, from Hilo to the Hamakua Coast, blooms with unique gardens and plantations. They include Hilo’s Liliuokalani Gardens, a Japanese garden complete with bonsai trees, rock gardens and canal bridges; Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden featuring over 2,500 species of tropical plants; the World Botanical Gardens with impressive Umauma Falls and Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, in the Volcano area, housing the largest orchid collection in Hawaii.
- And with pristine beaches and world-class golf courses, it’s no wonder the Kohala Coast is the Big Island’s premier resort area.
- Take a fun day trip and follow the route of the Ironman World Championships along the Kohala Coast from the heart of Kona in lively Kailua-Kona Village to charming Hawi Town in lush North Kohala.
- Spend a few hours browsing the peaceful haven of Hawi, North Kohala’s biggest little town,best known as the bicycle turnaround for the annual Ironman World Championship held every October. This historic town, set in the green northern tip of the island, was once the busy hub of North Kohala’s now defunct sugar industry.
With so much beauty to discover, so many historic sites to explore and so many adventures to experience, a return visit to Hawaii’s Big Island is inevitable.
- Whether it’s diving with manta rays, going on a whale watching tour, taking a sunset cruise or going on a snorkeling expedition, you’ll find some of the Big Island’s biggest surprises out at sea.
- You may have already seen lava meet the sea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, don’t forget to look towards the heavens atop Maunakea for unparalleled stargazing.
- Explore the small towns of the Big Island and discover treasures in the art and coffee village of Holualoa, Honokaa Town on the Hamakua Coast, and peaceful Hawi in North Kohala.
- On the northeastern side of Hawaii’s Big Island, just north of Hilo, lies the Hamakua Coast.
With 84 inches of rainfall a year, this area is known for the Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive, a
road trip along the coastline that passes by lush tropical rainforests, waterfalls and lovely
- The Pololu Valley Overlook just beyond Hawi and the Waipio Valley Overlook just past Honokaa are worth the trip alone.
- Go on a hike and discover amazing petroglyphs on the Kohala Coast.
- Along the Kohala Coast, Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve features hundreds of
petroglyphs and is a short walk from the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii and Holoholokai Beach.
- See a hula competition or celebrate with locals at a cultural event or festival.
On an island this size, there won’t be time to do it all. But with an active volcano still changing the landscape, all this and more will be waiting for you on your next trip back to the Big Island.
On an island this big, you’ll remember the small moments. A snapshot together by Akaka Falls along the flourishing Hamakua Coast. A sea of stars in the ink-black sky above Maunakea. A glass of wine and a taste of Hawaii Regional Cuisine during sunset on the Kohala Coast. You’ll discover romantic settings of every scope and size on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Whether you’re strolling hand in hand down Punaluu Black Sand Beach or enjoying a couples massage at a world-class resort; seeing the island’s amazing assortment of orchids in Hilo or taking a sunset cruise from Honokohau Harbor along the lava-lined coastline; you’ll find that on an island of such epic scale, it’s the little things that you’ll long to relive again and again.
- Stargazing atop Maunakea – Hawaii’s Big Island is home to one of the most renowned astronomical sites on the planet. Perched high atop Maunakea, rising 13,796 feet above sea level, 13 telescopes representing 11 countries are watching the heavens and making discoveries beyond our imaginations. Here, on the tallest sea mountain in the world, experts and visitors are treated to a show few have experienced. At this elevation, and because of the clear air and minimal light pollution, the stars can light the sky like glitter. The sunsets above the clouds can also be spectacular.
- Hamakua Heritage Corridor – Take a memorable day trip along the Hamakua Coast and drive along sea cliffs, through lush valleys and tropical rainforests. The beautiful Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive begins in Hilo and ends at the Waipio Valley Lookout. Along the way you’ll explore old plantation towns, see amazing waterfalls and discover scenic detours along the way.
- Punaluu Black Sand Beach – Have you ever seen a beach with black sand? Because of constant volcanic activity, you’ll find white sands, green sands and black sands on Hawaii’s Big Island. Located on the southeastern Kau coast, Punaluu Black Sand Beach is one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawaii. Its jet black shores are an unforgettable sight. Coconut palms fringe the upper edge of sand and you may also discover large honu, or Hawaiian Green Sea turtles, basking on the beach. Although swimming isn’t ideal, there is a picnic area and restroom facilities so you can have lunch while you experience the unique feeling of black sand between your toes.
Yes, it does snow in Hawaii. During winter months you may see the snow-capped peaks atop the 13,796-foot Maunakea, the tallest sea mountain in the world. Stargazing or taking a tour atop Maunakea is just one example of the many unexpected attractions and activities you’ll find on the Big Island.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers the most unexpected sights of all. From hundreds of miles of trails through steaming lava fields, arid deserts and tropical rainfalls to walking through lava tubes and even seeing lava enter the sea, the natural wonders of the Big Island will leave you speechless. Other amazing land adventures include discovering waterfalls along the Hamakua Heritage Corridor, seeing the stunning views from the Pololu Valley Lookout and the Waipio Valley Lookout, and exploring the beautiful oasis of Hawi Town and the charming art and coffee village of Holualoa.
And the Big Island’s coastlines offer even more surprises. Black, white and even green sand beaches encircle the island’s 266 miles of coastline, from Punaluu Black Sand Beach to Hapuna Beach. Scuba and snorkel in the clear waters of Kona and see honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles), humpback whales in the winter, and massive manta rays who harmlessly swim within inches of you, taking your breath away. With so much ground to cover on Hawaii’s Big Island, you’ll never know what you’ll find just around the corner.
- Pololu Valley Lookout – As you drive north on Highway 270 where the black lava landscapes of the Kohala Coast give way to the flourishing, green pastures of North Kohala, you’ll be rewarded at the end of your journey with an unforgettable view from the Pololu Valley Overlook. Park your car in the small parking lot that is literally at the end of the road and treat yourself to an inspiring view of the verdant cliffs of Pololu Valley and the dramatic northeastern coastlineYou can take a steep hike down to the valley floor and the black sand beach, although swimming is discouraged because of strong currents. Along with the Waipio Valley Overlook, this is one of the most spectacular panoramic views on Hawaii’s Big Island.
- Holualoa – Java is the juice that powers Holualoa, the little village and art enclave in the heart of Kona coffee country. This is a great place to taste the rich flavors of 100% pure Kona coffee, a rare commodity exclusively grown in north and south Kona. Visit Holualoa’s thriving coffee orchards and learn about the meticulous harvesting process. Then explore the coffee mill and see how the beans are processed. As you finish your tour, sip a freshly brewed cup for yourself and experience the rich aroma and flavor that makes 100% Kona coffee so highly valued.