Perched atop the island’s north point just an hour’s drive from Kailua-Kona, this upcountry boutique town is sure to enchant. Breathe crisp mountain air, and dive into several fun shops and eateries. Hawi is where Ironman
triathletes – having accomplished half the competition’s cycling leg – turn around to race back down the highway. It’s okay with us if you’d rather watch than ride!
Visit today’s Big Island cattle ranches and cowboys in Waimea, 40 minutes south of Hawi, and mauka
(toward the mountains) from the east and west coasts. Discover the paniolo
culture of Hawaii, and select local produce and other goods at the Wednesday Farmers’ Market. As the sun sets, head to Merriman’s Restaurant
for dinner, and take in a show at the Kahilu Theater.
A steep road accessible only on foot descends into the vast Waipio Valley, where lush forests and taro patches meet a mile-long black sand beach on Hawaii’s eastern shore. Walk through wild horse habitat and alongside sacred burial grounds to reach the sand. Additional hiking along the coast will lead you to two lovely waterfalls. Keep an eye on the rough ocean waves while walking, and do not attempt to swim here.
Quaint Honoka’a is rooted in sugarcane plantation
days. Their famous Western Week festivities and rodeos are held in springtime, but if you can’t make it, rest easy. The Heritage Center – built inside a local branch of UH Hilo – also highlights the ranching and cowboy history of the Hamakua Coast, albeit in quieter fashion. Plus, the town’s historic People’s Theater
presents movies, concerts, and even space for hula practice!
One of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island, Mauna Kea is top-notch for amateur star gazing and professional star science. Its summit – almost 14,000 feet above sea level – is home to 11 observatories run by scientists from seven different countries! Just so you know, there is 40% less oxygen up there than at sea level. This volcano has been dormant for the last 3,600 years.
You can visit two stunning waterfalls in this state park: Akaka and Kahuna. Hike a short loop trail to see both of them, the highest of which falls 442 feet! The paved trail changes elevation quite a bit. You’ll be surrounded by tropical rainforest, so expect to be delightfully immersed in tropical rain. Just $1.00 per person is a fine trade for this experience.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
Hawaii’s rainy east side is perfectly suited for plant growth. 60 extraordinary acres showcase and preserve hundreds of tropical plants from Hawaii and around the world. The park runs alongside the sea – a setting no other botanical garden can match. A raised boardwalk and other trails wind through the grounds, where a triple-tiered waterfall flows. This attraction opened in 1984: the gorgeous realization of constant tending by four nurturing men.
This verdant “City of Rainbows” is aptly named, as it receives about 130 inches of rain per year. (FYI, all islands’ windward sides are wetter than their leeward ones.) The friendly residential town gives you a sense of Old Hawaii, as it is populated mainly by descendants of plantation workers. The four-year University of Hawaii was established here in 1970. Every spring, Hilo hosts the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival.
Home to Kilauea, part of Volcanoes National Park, and an increasing number of adventurous new residents willing to risk their properties to the whims of the goddess Pele, Puna is the island’s easternmost district. It encompasses Pahoa, Chain of Craters Road, and beaches for miles! Ahalanui Beach boasts spring-fed pools heated from below by geothermal vents. Hot tub, anyone?
Step outside societal norms in Pahoa – the Big Island’s little hippie town! Fun old architecture, unique boutiques, tattoo parlors, outdoor murals, and a variety of restaurants line the main street’s famous wooden sidewalk. It is easy to spend a day browsing, shopping, and exploring. If you find you’re pau (finished) by afternoon, check out the Lava Tree State Monument a few miles makai (toward the sea).
Currently an 18.8 mile stretch of road along the southeast coast, this cornucopia of touring sites is often altered by flowing lava. Witness the aftermath of Mauna Ulu’s 1969 eruption, the one-of-a-kind Holei Sea Arch, and ancient petroglyphs at Pu’u Loa. At the End of the Road, lava often pours into the sea! Wear sunscreen, bring a lot of drinking water, and mind all posted signs regarding safety and respect.
Visit the highest volcano in the world – Mauna Loa, and watch Kilauea erupt from afar! This park is always open, though the Visitor Center, Jaggar Museum, Volcano Art Center Gallery, and bookstores keep daytime hours. Pay attention to posted safety signs, watch your step, and do not take or stack rocks. Your best and kindest course of action is to respect Pele, the ‘aina (land), and the cultural values of your gracious hosts. Mahalo nui!
Nahuku/Thurston Lava Tube
Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or an armchair volcanologist, you’ve got to see Nahuku! The 600-foot-long cave was created by the forward motion of ancient lava flows. This entire passage – most of which is dimly lit – sparkles with glittering minerals. Nahuku’s far end, however, remains in total darkness. If you have 1) excellent balance, and 2) a powerful flashlight, explore deeper for a unique experience. Nahuku opens into rainforest.
Behold the awe-inspiring, ongoing, and actual creation of earth. Lava from Kilauea is currently flowing into the ocean, and beneath the surface a new island is taking shape. Don’t hold your breath, however; it is not expected to break the surface for another 1.2 million years. Today, the slopes of Kilauea are a perfect place to hear Big Island birds singing at dawn.
This small, off-the-grid neighborhood rests quietly among the crumbling lava fields of the southern Ka’u District, halfway between Kona and Hilo. Main visitor attractions include the lookout point near Mile Marker 75 on Mamaloha Highway, and the 13-mile warren of tunnels at nearby Kula Kai Caverns. On your visit, you are likely to discover more beautiful sights of your own.
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau State Park
Incredible marine life and cultural sites make up this state park, on the Big Island’s southwest coast. Its name means “Place of Refuge.” If lawbreakers in ancient Hawaii could reach this place before receiving punishment, they were declared safe from retribution. Nowadays, the fishes are safe from being caught, and the snorkeling in the area – known as “Two-Step,” is clearly magnificent!
Hawaii has only been inhabited by humans for about 1500 years. In this short time, the archipelago has witnessed some tumultuous history. Captain Cook first anchored off Hawaii Island in 1778, becoming the first verifiable contact between Hawaiians and Europeans. These days, a monument to the British navigator is adjacent to a marine preserve – one of the west side’s top snorkeling sites for water clarity and density of life.
Kailua-Kona Town is the social hub of Hawaii’s dry west side. Hotels both large and small have shaped much of the lava-scape, and shopping, dining, and nightlife are in full swing along the strip. Some of the area’s best beaches are just outside of town, including Kahalu’u and Honokohau. When renting beach and snorkel gear, visit the island’s single Boss Frog’s
– it’s in Kona Town!
Most of the Big Island’s Kona-side tour boats depart from this small harbor, just south of the airport. Board your favorite vessel for any number of ocean activities
including snorkeling, scuba diving, sport fishing, and whale watching! The evening hours bring manta ray encounters and sunset sails. Once you’ve had some fun and you’re back on land, enjoy more food and drink at the Harbor House Restaurant.
No matter how long you’ll be in Hawaii, it’s likely that you and Costco will become great friends. The airport is less than ten minutes away, so it’s easy to stock up on money-saving staples for the whole family. Costco in Hawaii offers ono island favorites like poke, spam, and pineapples, too. Remember, whatever you don’t eat will be graciously and gratefully accepted by your hardworking hotel or condo staff. Everybody wins!
Once you drive down the crazy dirt road into Kekaha Kai State Park, you’ll expect to stay awhile! Whorls of frozen lava to either side escort you silently to a beautiful jagged shore. Hike to Makalawena Beach
for some sunbathing, throw some shrimp on the barbies near the parking lot, and watch the clear blue sky above while listening to the crashing waves. Don’t plan to swim here; it’s not safe.
This Hilton resort
is one of the most recognized places to stay on the Big Island. As the name suggests, these 62 acres are essentially a village in themselves, so you needn’t leave the property if you don’t care to. Their swimming pools, water slides, lazy river, tennis court, and relaxing spa (not to mention gorgeous views from every room) make staying here the vacation of a lifetime!
Consistently rated one of the most beautiful places anyone has ever
been, Hapuna Beach takes the Kona coffee
cake! This state recreation area, which offers shelters for camping, sits pretty on Hawaii’s northwest coast. Waves and weather dictate whether Hapuna’s waters are suitable for swimming or
expert body boarding. Talk to the lifeguards, and if the waves are over three feet, stay safe on shore. $5.00 parks a vehicle. Enjoy, and aloha!