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10 Amazing Things to do on Hawaii's Big Island

Things to do on the Big Island

Back in 2007 I accepted a job offer that took me to Hawaii's Big Island (the island of Hawai'i) for two amazing years. I consider myself to be fairly well-traveled and I can tell you with absolute certainty that this island is one of the most amazing places on earth! For a relatively small island there is a ton of things to do and see but for this post, we'll just focus on 10 of my favorites!

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

This massive park is home to one of the world's most active volcanoes and is an absolute must see if you are visiting Hawaii. The majority of travelers will stay on the leeward side of the island, either in Kona or along the Kohala Coast, which makes the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park about a 2 - 2.5 hour drive. It's worth every minute. You can very easily visit and explore on your own. We suggest starting at the Kilauea Visitors Center which is open daily from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM. Make sure you take the time to visit some of the lava tubes while you are there! If you prefer to visit with a tour guide we HIGHLY recommend this small group volcano experience with a picnic lunch and 3-course dinner at the Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant. With multiple pick-up points around the island you'll find one that's convenient for you. This tour also takes you to Greenwell Farms (a coffee farm), Punalu'u Bake Shop located at the real southernmost point in the United States, Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and the Kilauea Volcano where you will see the extraordinary eruption that began in 2020.

Visit Waipio Valley

Visis Waipio Valley

Waipi'o Valley is easily one of the most beautiful locations on the entire island with breathtaking views everywhere. This valley was home to King Kamehameha I and was also the residence of many Hawaiian Kings. The road leading into the valley is the steepest road of its length in the entire United States with a 25% grade for the entire descent. It's important to note that we are not aware of ANY rental car companies that allow you to take their vehicles into Waipi'o Valley & the road is closed to non-residents so if you want to go past the lookout your only option is to do so with a local tour guide.

Night Snorkel with Manta Rays

Swim with Manta Rays in Hawaii

One of the most enchanting and surreal experiences you can have on the Big Island of Hawaii is a night snorkel with manta rays. If you choose to book a night manta ray snorkel (which is the best way to see these amazing creatures) you will meet you guide at Keauhou Bay in Kailua-Kona where you'll embark on a short boat ride to the viewing location where you'll have the opportunity to spend about 45 minutes in the water with these incredible creatures as they feed.

Hike into Pololu Valley

Visit Pololu Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii

For most of the time I lived on the Big Island I lived in Hawi, close to Pololu Valley and this was one of my favorite places to visit. To get to the valley you'll head north on Highway 270 from Kona to the end of the road where you'll find the Pololu Valley lookout. The lookout is beautiful and a great place to watch the sun rise but the real treat is the hike into the valley and the black sand beach at the bottom. The hike is fairly steep but it isn't too long. I used to hike it with my 5 and 7 year old daughters so it's manageable for most without mobility issues. Spend some time at the valley floor enjoying the view and the black sand beach. If you are lucky enough to be on The Big Island from late November - March this is also a great place to watch humpback whales. You can read much more about this and other valleys on the Love Big Island website!

Go to a Hawaiian Luau

Enjoy a Hawaiian Luau

No trip to Hawaii is complete without a Hawaiian luau. No matter how many visitors I had (and there were a lot) we always went to one and most of my friends/family would say it was one of the highlights of their trip. This Luau at the Mauna Lani Resort is arguably one of the best but you can find them at many resorts around the island. The Mauna Lani grounds are breathtaking and are historically important as it is where King Kamehameha came to relax and work in the fishponds. You'll enjoy activities with the cast, dine on a spread of amazing food, drinks, story telling, music and plenty of hula!

Watch the Sunset & Stargaze from Mauna Kea

Watch the Sunset from Mauna Kea

For one of the most stunning sunsets you will every see you need to visit the summit of Mauna Kea. We made the drive ourselves when I lived on The Big Island and it was one of the scariest drives of my's treacherous and I'd never drive it myself again. What I'm saying is you'll be much happier visiting the Mauna Kea summit with a local tour guide that makes the drive every day! You'll enjoy a picnic dinner at at the visitor information center and then head on to the summit to view the sunset at more than 13,000 feet above sea level. You'll also get to see the observatory where astronomers from around the world perform research. After the sun has set your tour guide will take you back to a more comfortable elevation to stargaze. NOTE: Do not go scuba diving on the day you plan to visit the summit of Mauna Kea.

Whale Watching

Whale Watching on The Big Island

I think seeing the humpback whales in the winter months is probably the one thing I miss most about living on The Big Island. They are absolutely amazing and put on quite a show while they visit the islands every year. Every year, thousands of Humpback whales make the journey from Alaska to breed, birth and nurse their young. While in Hawaii the whales do not eat! If you are in Hawaii between about December - March you can see the Humpback whales from any coastline but a whale watching tour is the best way to see them up-close. This whale and dolphin watching tour with Hang Loose Boat Tours is one of the best-rated on the island. Your guides will take you out into the Kealakekua Bay from Kona where you'll enjoy lunch, snorkeling, dolphin watching and whale watching (during season).

Visit a Local Kona Coffee Farm

Visit a Coffee Farm in Kona

Kona is known for its coffee. If you've never tried it you are in for a treat when you visit! If you have the time, taking a tour of a local coffee from offered by the farmers themselves is a pretty amazing experience. You will take a tour of the farm with the owners, Steve and Joanie Wynn where they will take you behind the scenes walking tour of their farm that sits 2,200 feet above sea level. You'll enjoy coffee tastings, homemade snacks and a coffee sample to take home. You will also be able to spend time at their gift shop where you can purchase coffee, chocolate made with Kona cacao from the farm, and souvenirs all while supporting a local small business.

Visit a Black Sand Beach

Visit a Black Sand Beach In Hawaii

Hawai'i is known for its black sand beaches and no trip is complete without visiting at least one of them! The black sand is special because it's formed from the volcanoes. The sand is formed either by erosion or when the hot lava hits the cooler waters of the ocean where it shatters and breaks into pieces of all sizes, including the fine grains of black sand you'll find on the beach. Punaluʻu beach is easily the most famous black sand beach on the Big Island in part because it's very common to see turtles foraging in the water or sunning on the beach. You can read more about Punalu'u Beach and other black sand beaches here!

Take a Helicopter Tour of the Big Island

Helicoptor Tour of the Big Island

Possibly the only regret I have about my time on the Big Island is that I never got around to taking a helicopter tour. When I finally get back to visit it will absolutely be at the top of my list. While a Big Island helicopter tour isn't cheap, it is worth the price! You'll board a 6-passenger helicopter and be taken on an amazing tour of the island that will take you high over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, above waterfalls along the Kohala Coast and the Hamakua Coast. Possibly the most exciting portion of this tour is the trip over Kilauea, the active volcano on The Big Island!

The Big Island of Hawaii is a truly unique and beautiful place, with something to offer everyone. Whether you're interested in exploring the island's natural wonders, learning about its rich history and culture, or simply relaxing on one of its many stunning beaches, you're sure to have a memorable vacation. If you're ready to start planning your trip to the Big Island, get in touch with us by filling out this form to let us know a little bit about you. You can also email us or call/text us anytime at 800-368-3395. We'd love to help you book the perfect vacation for your needs and budget!

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