Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

When I picture this part of Hawaii, what immediately comes to mind is black volcanic rock and craters, green farmland with ranch style homes, grazing cows and goats, coconut palm trees, tiki torches, a rainbow array of hibiscus flowers, bright sunsets, farmers markets, beautiful beaches and sea cliffs. The Big Island truly is a statement of its own and unlike any other Hawaiian island. You will have to experience this treasure for yourself. All of my favorites during my stay are listed below. Aloha!

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Sights:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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  • My number one must see. We started at the Keanakako’i Crater overlook outside the Jagger Museum (wow I was not expecting to see bright red lava like I did, what a treat–the ranger told us that this was not a normal occurrence and usually visitors only get to see the steam being released from this crater)
  • Drove Crater rim drive to the Kilauea overlook and Kilauea Iki Crater overlook, which were both neat to see; lots of black volcanic rock and craters

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  • The second highlight was the Thurston Lava Tube–this was pretty interesting (it was lit inside which made the cave less scary to walk through–no flashlights required, be prepared to get a little wet because it was a bit damp in there, short non-strenuous trail through the rainforest and cave)
  • We did not do any hiking trails, but if I had more time these looked pretty awesome especially the Devastation Trail; we did hear that they take some time to complete however, but were informed that the views are totally worth it
  • The Chain of Craters Road was closed during our stay due to the hurricane Madeline & Lester watch unfortunately
  • Skip the steam vents and sulphur banks if you are short on time–these were not as thrilling or exciting as the rest of the volcano festivities
  • Do not miss the Kilauea Visitor Center to learn about the history of the park from the rangers; pick up a trail map and do not forget to get your national parks stamp to show you were here

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  • [Notes]: there is an entry fee of $20 per vehicle when I went (it will allow you a 7 day entry pass), some areas of the park may be closed due to safety reasons so check the website for updates on closures beforehand, wear closed toed shoes and comfortable clothing, bring a wide angle lens if you have one for your camera to capture the best shots, the park is open 24 hours so catch the volcanic activity during the day and night for different experiences

Akaka Falls State Park

  • Arguably the best waterfall on the Big Island–quick easy less than a mile (.4 mile loop) hike to a huge streaming waterfall 422 feet high amidst a tropical rainforest
  • Circle loop trail is non-strenuous, short, paved and has hand rails; slight incline but nothing too difficult; more of a walk than hike
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Top – Zella; Shorts – Nike

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Hapuna Beach

  • Crystal clear blue waters, gorgeous white sandy beach, lush green palm trees; not very crowded either…perfect tropical paradise — also waves are pretty still (not the best spot for surfing, but good for skim boarding or snorkeling)

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Waipi’o Valley Lookout

  • Beautiful green valley; super windy lookout point of the side of a cliff (there’s also a black sand beach at the bottom if you walk down the trail) see if you can spot the waterfall in the distance as well

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Kealakekua Bay

  • Beautiful bright blue bay among lush green hills and a rocky beachfront
  • Historic park outlining the Hawaiian and Westerners past and arrival of Captain Cook in 1779
  • Can see a tiny glimpse of Captain Cook’s monument (white spire) from across the bay and also Hikiau Heiau, which is a religious site
  • This is a great place to see dolphins swimming and other wildlife viewing; also good for snorkeling and boat tours however the tide seemed rough and rocky when I went so be careful about the ocean currents and high surf
  • Driving down to this place is a little scary; reminds me of driving in the mountains as the road is very winding so be careful and turn with caution

Captain Cook’s Monument

  • An ominous site, but filled with rich history (major landmark on Kona coast)
  • Accessible only by hiking or by boat/kayak (can not drive down to the monument base) look into options if you are considering seeing it up close–I did not do this and chose to admire it from afar instead since it seemed too eerie to me

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Hulihe’e Palace

  • Located in historic Kailua village of Kailua-Kona; Historic vacation home for Hawaiian royalty across from the 1st church
  • Beautiful museum showcasing Victorian artifacts; museum was closed when I went but I was able to take in the amazing architecture from the outside
  • Great view of Kailua Bay and the pier from afar

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Moku’aikaua Church

  • In historic Kailua village of Kailua-Kona across from Hulihe’e Palace; Hawaii’s 1st Christian Church and the oldest on the Hawaiian islands
  • Open to public to view inside (it was a lot more spacious then I imagined)

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Quick little drive through Hilo…it was pouring rain in this town so we didn’t do much here

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49 Black Sand Beach Mauna Lani

  • Gorgeous private black sand beach; beautiful, black sand felt hotter to walk on than normal beach sand

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Hamakua Macadamia Nut Factory

  • Did the walking tour around the plant, ate a bunch of the samples of all the different flavors, cracked open a macadamia nut, saw the orchard trees (Their packaging though was just the cutest)

King’s Shops Maui Divers Jewelry Store

  • Picked our own oysters to get pearls….classic! Ended up with a twin set of beautiful pink pearls

Food:

Big Island Grill

  • Kailua Kona; had the best plate lunch I ate on the entire islands. Order the mixed plate with chicken katsu and teriyaki beef steak with rice and macaroni salad. The katsu was very lean and delicious. The teriyaki beef was thinly sliced, lean and the sauce was to die for. Also ordered the traditional mudpie for dessert…yum, love kona coffee ice cream. So good we ate here twice during our four day stay.

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One Aloha

  • Kailua Kona; amazing shaved ice because this place uses organic homemade syrups that taste very flavorful and juicy, but not artificial. Not the most visually appealing shaved ice because of the light coloring naturally from the fruits, but the taste is spot on. Sort of difficult to find this place off the street but use Google maps to guide you as it is in a strip mall. Get ice cream inside the shaved ice–their vanilla and kona are amazing (very rich and milky in flavor; some of the best ice cream I had on the island)

Anuenue Ice Cream & Shaved Ice

  • In the town of Waimea; got the POG, guava and lime and the ice was huge

Lodging:

I would highly recommend staying in Waikoloa. Overall, I felt like Waikoloa was one of the nicer areas on the whole island that was newly renovated and gave me the big paradise resort feel that I was looking for when booking my labor day vacation. Waikoloa was a great choice because it is centrally located where we could easily drive into Kona, Hilo and all the other major cities in a short amount of time. Waikoloa was also close to all the most beautiful beaches.

Marriott Resort Waikoloa Beach

Loved staying at this resort, could not recommend it enough. Hands down amazing!

Benefits:

  • Has private pathway access to Anaeho’omalu Bay, which is stunning and gorgeous at sunset but only open until 7pm nightly
  • Steps away from the King’s shops and Queen’s Marketplace shops (also has shuttle)
  • Offers fun cultural activities such as lei making, hula dancing, bamboo stamping and historical walking tours
  • 24-hour pool and fitness center usage/Tennis courts & table tennis areas
  • Luau dinner reservations
  • Continental breakfast at the daily island orientation (presentation by the in-house local expert Expedia team going over sights and things to do on the island, giving recommendations, assisting with dinner reservations/excursion activities, etc.)
  • Kona coffee shop in the lobby terrace
  • Resort restaurant and bar lounge overlooking the pools and bay (great drinks & smoothies)
  • Shell necklace greeting at check-in
  • Gift shop for convenience open until 11pm
  • Close to Waikoloa Beach Resort Golf Course (36 holes of fun)
  • Daily snorkel and stand up paddleboard rentals at Anaeho’omalu Bay; also morning yoga
  • See the ancient fishponds in front of the Anacho’omalu Bay

Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort

I didn’t stay here, but this would be my second choice on where to stay. It is absolutely beautiful and located right next door to the Marriott Resort, offering almost the same amenities. I had the opportunity to walk over to this resort during my stay and it was just as lovely.

  • Has unique Dolphin Quest program where you can experience a hands on encounter with dolphins and other marine animals (habitat seemed very tiny however so I felt a little bad for the dolphins)
  • Tram to take you into all the different areas of the resort; almost reminded me of Disneyland
  • Keep in mind that this place is massive; they have their own private beach access and it takes some time to get from place to place in the resort
  • The architecture of this place is very elaborate and almost too gaudy at times (lots of Grecian like pillars, white tall horse statues, Asian inspired fixtures and Indian Buddha monument)

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Flight:

I flew into Kona International Airport and it is absolutely beautiful. The airport is primarily outdoors however so if it is stormy or raining hard, this is probably not the best place to be. It happened to be a nice sunny day when I landed so I was able to take in the gorgeous nature that Hawaii offers. At first glance, you will see these cool tiki like thatched roof huts that act as the terminals for each of the airlines. The airport is rather tiny compared to what I am used to on the mainland. However, the beauty just left me awestruck. Everything from the palm tree lined surrounding streets to the bright blue hued ocean water to the thick black volcanic rock runway tarmacs was unreal.

I highly recommend flying Hawaiian Airlines since I had the best experience. They offer an inflight complimentary island inspired meal for domestic flights flying from the mainland to the islands and it was pretty decent in terms of airline food. We even got a Honolulu Cookie Company cookie, which are my favorite cookies on the island. They also served POG juice, which I love and is a Hawaiian local favorite. The staff was so adorable dressed up in their Hawaiian shirts and attire, which added to the whole Hawaiian ambiance and aloha spirit. The airplane was equipped with inflight entertainment and had mini television screens on the back of each chair. You techies are in luck; they even had a charging port on the right side of the back of the chairs. Plus on a side note, their safety instructional video was the best I have ever seen, the views of Hawaii in the background kept me attentively listening and interested even though usually I zone out when the flight attendants give the live demonstrations. Such a good marketing idea, I was super impressed. You can also purchase a lei greeting when you arrive at the islands, which I think is a pretty cool unique add-on and makes for a fun souvenir. They also pass out really helpful pocket maps during the flight, which can be instrumental when planning your vacation itinerary because it specifically highlights all the iconic landmarks of the island.

Honorable Mentions:

Things I did not have time to see, but will visit on my next trip since I have heard these were must see sights.

Pu’uhonua O Honauna “City of Refuge”
Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory
Rainbow Falls
Punalu’u Beach Park (Black Sand Beach)
Pu’u Mahana (Green Sand Beach)
Mauna Kea Beach

Thanks for reading friends. Stayed tuned for the next guide and my latest adventures. Mahalo!

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