If you’ve never visited Hawai’i and you’re planning a trip, keep reading because we have the top ten attractions you must see and activities you must do on the Big Island. Full of diversity, adventure, and relaxation the Big Island should be on your to-visit list.
The Big Island is the largest island of Hawaii, and home to 14% of the entire population of the state of Hawaii. Kona on the west side of the island, and Hilo on the east side house the majority of the island’s inhabitants. The Big Island is also home to the biggest volcano in the world, the Kilauea volcano! The Kilauea volcano is one of the most active volcanos in the world today, and happens to be the #1 tourist attraction of the Big Island.
The state of Hawaii is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. Being able to find so many extreme climates in one place is only another reason why Hawai’i is so fascinating. Believe it or not, there are a total of 8 out of 13 climate zones in one state. It has 4 out of 5 major climate zones in the world, and 8 out of 13 sub-zones. Ranging from desert to monsoon to tundra- this state keeps it interesting and impressive! On the west you’ll find warm, sunny beaches and as you head up towards Maunakea you cool down in near freezing temperatures- all in the same day.
1. Captain Cook Hike & Kealakekua Bay
The first place you need to visit after you land on the Big Island is your hotel room.. to drop off your things and get ready for this incredible hike! The Captain Cook Monument Trail was one of our favorite memories from our trip to the Big Island. It is an important site in Hawaii’s history, as it was the first contact between Westerners and Hawaiians. The monument is named after the fallen British explorer who was killed in 1779, and the monument was built in 1874 to commemorate him. Rated as “moderate”, the Captain Cook Monument Trail is a 5.8 kilometer hike. The descent showcases stunning views and the jackpot is at the bottom at Kealakekua Bay.
Make sure you bring snorkel gear with you, because Kealakekua Bay is one of the hottest snorkel sites on the island. There are snorkel tour boats you can use to get to Kealakekua Bay, but you really wouldn’t want to miss this hike because the views will leave you breathless. You could pack a lunch depending on how much time you want to spend here, after all it’s easy to lose track of time there. But on your descent, you’ll find mangos, coffee beans, and a variety of fruits to snack on. A few tips: wear sunscreen and mosquito repellant in the summer.
2. Attend A Luau
Attending a luau is a must do activity when traveling to Hawaii. Many tourists know they want to attend a luau, but have questions about what exactly it is and what they can expect at one. A luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast that is accompanied by entertainment, and usually features Kalua pig, fresh seafood, traditional Hawaiian music, and hula. In ancient times, the Hawaiian people would gather together to celebrate different occasions. A great victory in war, a good harvest, or the birth of a child are some reasons for a luau celebration.
You can expect traditional Polynesian music and dancing, including modern Hawaiian hula, Tahitian hula, and a Samoan fire dancer! Of course there is an incredible feast that showcases traditional food, such as a Kalua pig that has been roasted all day, fresh from the sea poke, lomilomi salmon, chicken luau, and famous drinks such as Man Tai’s. Dress to impress in aloha wear such as Hawaiian shirts and floral dresses and have a blast!
3. Manta Ray Night Dive Or Snorkel
Part of the same family as sharks and other rays, manta rays are large cartilaginous fish. Several locations on the Big Island offer night dives or snorkeling with the manta rays. Big Island Divers provide manta ray night dives, twilight dives and snorkeling. The charter heads out on the ocean during sunset and briefs passengers on the dive procedures and manta ecology. The tours provide masks, fins, dive tanks, other equipment, snacks and manta ray education. It’s an experience you won’t forget!
4. Star Gazing At Mauna Kea Observatory
The first thing to understand about Mauna Kea when planning the ascent, is that there are certain safety precautions that need to be taken. Mauna Kea is one of the only places on Earth where you can drive from sea level to 14,000 feet in two hours. At 14,000 feet there is 40% less oxygen than there is at sea level; altitude sickness is a high probability. Due to this severe altitude change, we strongly recommend stopping at the Visitor Information Center at 9,200 feet to check weather updates and get a bit adjusted to the altitude change. Individuals with certain health conditions should check with their health provider before traveling to the top of Mauna Kea. Individuals with respiratory and heart problems are advised to avoid the summit.
Maunakea is a sacred place to Hawaiians. It is home to 13 international observatories, and has thousands of visitors each year. The clarity and darkness of the skies here make Maunakea an optimal location for astronomy. This is why it is home to 13 of the world’s most powerful telescopes. If you plan on stargazing, which we highly recommend doing, remember to dress warm as temperatures drop to near freezing.
5. Visit Rainbow Falls
Waianuenue, or Rainbow Falls, are located in Hilo on the Big Island. This waterfall on the Wailuku river is located within Hilo town, and cascades over a lava cave. Hawaiian legends say this lava cave is home to the ancient goddess of the moon- hina.
Where does the word rainbow fit in? The viewing area for Rainbow Falls is east of the falls, so visiting on a sunny morning is the optimal time to see the rainbows because the sun has to be on your back. There’s a nice trail leading to the top of the falls you can take, and it is fairly easy.
6. Relax At Hapuna Beach Park
Hapuna beach is a 1/2 mile long white sandy beach on the west side of the Big Island. It’s almost always sunny, and only sees 10 inches of rain annually. It is voted time and time again as one of the best beaches on the planet. The Three Frogs Cafe, located on the premises of the beach park offers yummy food selections as well as rentals. Rent a stand up paddle board, boogie board, or snorkeling gear and dive in!
7. Go On A Fishing Charter
Take the entire family out on the open water in a fishing charter boat and enjoy a day of fishing. Hooked Up is one of Kona’s sport fishing charters. They fish for blue marlin, spearfish, ahi tuna, mahi mahi and ono year round. Enjoy the scenery as you fish, you may spot dolphins and whales. At the end of the day, Hooked Up will fillet your fish for you at no extra charge! You can then take the fish to your hotel to grill, or to their family owned restaurant in Kona called Pancho and Lefty’s to cook up!
8. Have Breakfast On The Waterfront At Huggos
One of the most breathtaking views from a restaurant can be found at Huggo’s in Kona. Huggo’s sits right on the waterfront at Kona, and offers incredible food from breakfast to dinner, delicious Mai Tai’s and live entertainment! The sound of the waves crashing against the rocks and live music is the only thing you’ll want to hear while enjoying your meal.
9. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
There is plenty to do at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Extending from sea level to the peak of Mauna Loa, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park holds two of the world’s most active volcanoes- Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is easy to get around by car. The park has two main roads that visitors will travel on: The Chain of Craters Road and the Crater Rim Drive Tour.
Start your tour at the Kilauea visitor center. There you can begin planning your day at the park. You’ll receive the latest information on trails, road conditions and precautions, and activities. The next stop located .8 miles ahead are the steam vents, steaming bluff, and sulphur banks. As you continue along Crater Rim Drive, stop by the Kilauea Iki Overlook. A bit further ahead is Devastation Trail.
The Chain of Craters Road is a scenic drive that hits a lot of great destinations. Over the years, the Chain of Craters Road has been buried in lava, and reconstructed and reopened again. Along the drive, you can stop at 10 different places; a variety of craters, lava flows, and petroglyphs, with the scenic drive ending at the Holei Sea Arch. This beautiful sea arch was cut into the cliff of an ancient lava flow, and as it will eventually crumble, it has a limited life span.
10. Lava Boat Tour
One thing everybody wants to do when they visit the Big Island is to see the lava descend into the ocean. Well, sometimes hikes can be too dangerous, but there’s a lava boat tour available! It’s a super safe and exciting way to experience the molten hot lava entering the sea. Lava Ocean Tours offers volcano lava tours from Hilo. Cruise through newly created bays and beaches, see lava caves, volcanoes, past eruptions and wildlife, such as humpback whales.