If I were to ask you to picture yourself in Hawaii, there are so many images that you may conjure – from lush jungles with chirping birds to white sandy beaches to luaus with attractive natives in thatched skirts on the beach. If you have ever seen a postcard from Hawaii, you may find yourself envisioning the idyllic image of Waikiki Beach with the iconic pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel nestled on the shoreline overlooking the island’s most famous mountaintop – Diamondhead. But alas, if you were to visit Waikiki, you may find more tourists than of the 1940s version that you have playing in your head – and that is okay. Personally, after having lived a few summers in Honolulu, I happen to love it there, even with the mobs of tourists everywhere. However, if you are looking to try something a bit more adventurous on your next holiday, you might want to check out the Big Island.
While Oahu – with it metropolis of Honolulu, and Maui – with its beaches, get most of the tourists’ attention, the Big Island boasts 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones and offers a different experience. You can find black craters like the moon, lava formations, black sandy beaches, active volcanoes, and snow-covered mountaintops with telescopes set to the stars. The Big Island indeed has more to see than most people realize. Below is a suggested itinerary for visiting the Big Island Hawaii.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
I think if there was thing that stood out to me a really unique experience and definitely something that should be on any suggested itinerary for visiting the Big Island Hawaii is checking out the Volcanoes National Park – Mauna Loa. It is a truly unique experience walking inside the Volcano crater and feels like you are walking inside Mordor from Lord of the Rings. Craggy rocks with random vegetation sticking out, a mist that goes in and out, and steam vents will greet you as you walk the crater of the volcano. There is a viewing area where you can actually see the magma pit from the visitor center, but for me, walking the crater felt like nothing else. There are also some jungle areas around the crater that stand in stark contrast.
The picture I have of this doesn’t really do Mauna Kea justice. It’s peak breaks through the clouds and if you arrive by sunset (I missed it by 20 minutes), you will be treated with an awesome photo of the sun breaking through the clouds. The National Parks service has a bunch of telescopes set up for you to view the stars. Many countries have their own telescopes set up here, making it a very rare and special spot in the world.
Waipio Valley & Overlook
I think Waipio Valley is the most beautiful spot on the island that I visited. I don’t know if it was the time of year, if it isn’t that popular to explore or if I just got lucky, but I saw no one on the beach in the photo. I traveled the whole valley for hours, observing butterflies and streams – true serenity and I saw few people. As with the rest of the Big Island, I used Air BnB and found amazing accommodation for around $100 a night. I even stayed in a bungalow where I took this very shot.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park (Kona Coast) and Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
Along the Kona Coast you can find a few different sites that offer some serious archaeological and historic importance for Hawaiians. Both of these are definitely worth a couple of hours each as you can learn about Hawaiian history and actually see structures that are still in existence. It is actually more interesting than you would imagine as you can’t find a lot of ancient structures from ancient civilizations across the USA.
Waikoloa Beach Resort and Petroglyph Park
Similar to satiating your inner dad educational experience on a relaxing trip, you can also force your kids to go see the Petroglyphs. This is also a pretty cool activity as it is kind of like a scavenger hunt finding them. Also, in the area is a nice beach area that you can cool off in after you have gone on your treasure hunt.
Akaka Falls State Park and Kahuna Falls
Riddled with exotic plants and large-ish water falls, Akaka Falls Park is well worth a few hours stop when visiting the Big Island in Hawaii.
South Point Cliff Drive
Honestly the drive here and in the surrounding areas is just as impressive as the cliffs themselves. You can find rolling fields that makes you feel like you are in Ireland to steep cliffs faces and green beaches.
Papakolea Beach (Green Beach)
Again, as above, the surrounding areas and path to the beach is just as amazing as the beach itself. You can walk here from Cliff drive in about 30 minutes and the scenery is incredible.
Punalu’u Black Sandy Beach with Turtles
If you were to be going off places to visit strictly off of Trip Advisor you would give this black sand beach a pass, however, the few reviews that I saw were mainly about camping there. I thought this was one of the more magical places that I visited as it has a lily pond nestled next to the black sandy beach. You can also find turtles in the a water and laying eggs nearby. So while it may not be the best beach to get a tan or go swimming in, it made for perfect stop on your way to the Kona Coast.
Ahalanhui County Park
Maybe not he most exciting of all the park, it did make for some decent snorkeling with some nice swimming areas.
I took a helicopter ride to see Mt. Kilauea from above. The ride was fun as we opted to take a helicopter with no doors so it felt more exciting, however, I would say if you are on a tight budget you can give this a pass. I saw a few specks of lava, but the reality is the amazing photos that are advertised happen like once every ten years.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
Maybe the best photo I have ever taken…but it if you have time, you can check out the gardens. It is a great way to see all the types of flowers that Hawaii has to offer. There are also some great views of the Big Island coastline as well.
Lava Viewing Area
Once again, I don’t know if I was in the wrong area or what, but I was expecting to see this massive lava flow into the ocean. While I do think that you can see some pretty epic lava flows, I am not so sure if happens all the time; you must check the conditions on government websites. Overall, still worth a trip to see the craters that have been formed with the lava flowing into the ocean.
Random Things to See and Do on the Big Island
Everyone’s suggested itinerary for visiting the Big Island Hawaii may be a bit different, but there are some essential Hawaiian things to do and try – trying the local delicacy of SPAM comes to mind…
Should you be interested in opting to check out the Big Island on your next Hawaiian adventure, I highly suggest using Air BnB for your accommodation as some of the best places are off the beaten track and they will offer you the best value.