Hawaii aka the Big Island certainly is a far cry from the snowy mountains & winter travels I’ve been posting about but there is plenty of adventure to be had there any time of year; plenty of history to experience, and sights to see beyond just sitting out at the beach with a Piña Colada. Over my life I’ve been lucky to make many journeys to the Islands, Hawaii in particular, touring around the 4,000 sqm and visiting as many sights as I’ve been able to get directions and now I’m going to share some of my favorites to hopefully inspire your trip.
See a billion stars and discover why they call it the “Milkyway” from Mauna Kea’s Visitor Center.
You don’t have to spend big money on a tour or get a 4×4 to drive to the top of Mauna Kea for an amazing, sunset & star experience (though that an absolute blast) Instead, head to the middle of the island and up the steep road stopping at the visitor center just before the off road warning signs. Here you’ll find telescopes, a handful of volunteers to point out the world, and a small gift shop with hot chocolate and star souvenirs plus one heck of a view!
Walk a black sand beach that’s hidden far away from regular crowds.
While I believe you can find this in the Big Island Revealed and on TripAdvisor, few tourist take advantage, to their loss! Located right by the Fairmont Hotel, 49 Black Sand Beach is a true sight to see though the rip-tide conditions prohibit most people from safely venturing in. To get there throw the name into your nav and head right on up to the gate. They’ll make you sign in to pass through the community and do be respectful of the neighborhood of course. The beach has a small parking lot, public restroom and is usually completely quiet — aside from the sound of big waves! Bring a decent pair of shoes and you can hike alongside the cliffs for a ways as well.
Snorkel or dive on the endless reefs of Puako Beach.
Forget the crowded beaches and small reefs of downtown Kona and Hilo and stay to the north turning off to the small town of Puako. Drive down the road towards the end, parking in the public access points and wade out between the rocks just a few dozen meters for spectacular ocean life. Divers can go just a bit further for a 30-60′ dropoff. Be sure to stop at the local market for a snack on the way out.
Tour the Macadamia Nut factory for a sweet treat!
After you finish your Puako snorkel, head a bit further north to Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co’s building in Kawaihae. The self-guided tour starts with a coffee and usually a treat, takes you through the harvesting and processing, well, process, before letting you crack your own mac nut. Good deals on all sorts of products from traditional chocolate covered to brittle before you head out.
Experience this guy’s favorite fish tacos.
After your tour is done,go into town where you’ll find Kohala Burger & Taco located in a strip mall. The shop may not look like much but it doesn’t take a fancy sign to make great food either. My favorite is their classic fish tacos but they have plenty of other options too and shave ice is next door for a hot afternoon finish.
Experience a ranch town in Hawaii on your way to the lush eastern side of the Island.
Hawaii is far more than just beaches. Heading further inland from Kawaihae is the town of Waimea where the stop signs say “Woah,” the farmer’s market is as fresh and local as it gets, and there’s ranches, horse rides and fields in every direction. This is the launch pad for the far north of the island so be sure to stop on your drive over.
Visit a 442′ waterfall in the middle of the rainforest just minutes from the stunning ocean drive.
The northeast portion of the Big Island (just keep heading east from Waimea) is lush and green with views at every turn. Swing by Akaka Falls State Park and for a $5 entrance fee, you can park and make the short hike down to the falls viewing point which is one of the most pronounced and stunning waterfalls out there!
Hike an ancient lava tube far from the crowds.
There are only a few obvious stops between Akaka Falls and the town of Hilo / Volcano National Park but everything that you do see, whether a small shop or beach turnout is usually worth your time around here. As you near Hilo, look on your left for the big Kaumana Caves sign in particular. With your waterbottle and headlamp, head on down the stairs to peer inside the now overgrown geological history and compare just how things look far off the beaten path with the caves of the park the next day!
Watch an active volcano as it erupts under the night stars.
Volcano National Park located on the southeast tip of the Big Island offers a one of a kind experience to see an active volcano in action either from the safety and relative ease of the Jaggar Museum & Overlook which is best experienced at night or, if you time it right, by hiking out to the lava its self. Hikes are long, exposed and may cross private lands so be sure to look for an approved tour company.
Watch the waves crash into the “end of the world” at the end of the road.
Hawaii was born out of a volcano so it’s no surprise that the island ends at the bottom of the Volcano National Park’s roads. While this road actually once went around the island, eruptions forever changed that many years back and hardened the lava now makes for a great sight to explore. But before you head to the parking lot however, stop along the road’s many turnouts to watch huge waves fight against the rocks, creating caves and arches unlike anywhere else. Just watch the cliff edge, it’s less than stable.
Learn how your favorite coffee is made (and get a free cup or five).
Scattered just above the tourist stops of Kona are the farms and processing plants for the many world famous Kona coffee companies. Almost all offer a free tour showing the process from tree to fruit, raw bean to processed, with samples along the way of course. Kona Blue Sky is one of my favorites but there’s many more to pick from just driving around!
Swim with turtles all on your own (as in don’t be paying for nature!)
Just like with tip #2, forget the popular guides and head up the western coast towards the Fairmont Resort. In fall (and many other parts of the year), you’ll regularly find turtles out wandering and swimming around. Be sure not to disturb / touch or otherwise get in their way however.
Enjoy a completely over the top Luau show & feast.
No visit to Hawaii would be complete without the most touristy tradition of all: the Luau. But seriously, they’re a ton of fun, a great way to enjoy your evening and you’ll almost certainly learn a lot about Hawaiian culture while being completely entertaining. The Hilton Waikoloa hosts a great event though there are far more local options if you’re willing to head away from the hotel for the night!
Catch the sunset with that Piña Colada.
After all those adventures, you do deserve a break, that’s why you came to Hawaii after all.
Back from your adventure? Been to the Big Island before yourself? This list is clearly just a taste of what the Big Island has to offer so chime in with where you went, what you did or your questions before you head out to the Islands!