The Big Island of Hawaii, also known as Hawaii, may be the largest of the Hawaiian islands, but it is very sparsely populated. Tourism on this island is not as big as it is on the others, but rest assured, that does not mean that there is nothing to see! There is plenty to see on the Big Island, despite the majority of the island being covered in volcanic rock. Here’s a comprehensive guide to Hawaii’s big island!
There are two airports on the Big Island, one on the Kona side and the other on the Hilo side. While there are many things to see no matter what side you’re on, I’d recommend staying on the Kona side.
If you want to see everything (or as close to everything as you can get) on the Big Island, I’d highly recommend renting a car. Due to the nature of this island (sparsely populated, etc.) getting around without a car is nearly impossible, and without a car you’re pretty limited to one of two small cities on the island. Much of the island is undeveloped due to volcanic rock, so a car is a must. However, cars can be very sparse during the holiday season (we almost didn’t even get a car) so it is probably a good idea to book one before hand.
Volcano National Park
Everyone knows you can’t come to Hawaii without seeing the main attraction: volcanoes. This, however, is a trip I’d take at night. As you can see, all I see here is a smoking crater. A bit anticlimactic. But if you come at night, you will be able to better see the fact that the smoke is actually red.
It takes a very short 15-20 minute hike to get here, and well, you can decide if the short hike is worth it or not from the picture. (hint: it is!)
Chain of Craters Road
This is a gorgeous scenic drive near Volcano National Park, that actually ends at a dead end where lava flow overtakes the road. Stop to admire the lava flow, take pictures near a nearby sea arch, have a picnic, or just take photos. It’s a great way to spend the day.
South Point (Green Sand Beach)
There are many things notable about this point – first of all, it’s the southernmost point of the entire United States; second, this place contains one of the four green sand beaches in the world; third, it’s beautiful. It takes perhaps a 45 minute to an hour “hike” to get here (it’s not so much a hike as it is just walking across the Hawaiian countryside) and lemme tell you, it is well worth the hike. But if a hike isn’t for you, you can now ride in the back of a 4 wheel drive pick up, as locals have begun a business of shuttling people down to the beach for $15 a person.
Read more about my adventures at Green Sand Beach here.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (City of Refuge)
They say that back in the olden days, ancient Hawaiians would go to this City of Refuge to be absolved from crimes of kapu, which was basically a commoner getting too close to the chief. If they did not go to the City of Refuge, the punishment for this crime was death, but if they went and a priest absolved them in a purification ceremony, then they could return home safely. Today there are still many historical remnants of Hawaiian culture there that you can see.
The combined lack of light pollution and the fact that the peak of this mountain is above the clouds makes for some of the best stargazing views in the entire world. In fact, stargazing conditions are so good at Mauna Kea that eleven different countries have telescopes planted here. So while you can see the stars from anywhere on the Big Island, coming to Mauna Kea for the night is definitely a must. But remember, despite being on Hawaii, it is so high up here that it is freezing. Be sure to learn from my mistakes and bring a winter jacket and long pants.
The road down to Waipio is one of the steepest in the world, gaining 800ft in 0.6 miles! You can either hike or drive down (but only drive if you have a four wheel drive and are very confident in your driving abilities) OR you can opt for a horseback tour of the valley in which case the tour company will drive you down. Down at the bottom, there’s a gorgeous black sand beach, a winding river, and cascading waterfalls to entertain you all day.
Hapuna State Beach
The only thing to say about this beach is: it’s gorgeous. Of course, that means it’s also very touristy, but you win some, you lose some.
Want more Hawaii guides? Check out A Quick Guide to Oahu.
There are many great places to snorkel on the Big Island, including:
- Two Steps (Honaunau Bay)
- Kealakekua Bay
- Kahaluu Beach Park
- Kapoho Tide Pools
You can also night snorkel with manta rays! It’s best to do this with a diving/snorkeling company so you know what to do. One such company you can do this with is Jack’s Diving Locker.
Surf (or learn to!)
Although the Big Island is the least popular of the Hawaii islands for surfing, there is still plenty of surfing, because, well, it’s Hawaii. Surfing lessons are found all around the island for beginners and intermediates alike! If you’re already an experienced surfer, pull up to some beaches and hit the waves.
With so much water around Hawaii to explore, what better way to see it than kayak? It’s a fun arm workout, a way to explore, and a chance to see dolphins. What more could you want?
(For a chance to see dolphins, kayak at Kealakekua Bay!)
You can’t go to Hawaii without hiking! Because Hawaii is, by nature, a mountainous island, the entire island is full of different hiking trails. Here are just some of Hawaii’s best hikes:
- Polulu Valley
- Onomea trail
- The hike to Green Sand Beach
- Kilauea’iki Trail (at Volcano National Park)
More difficult/longer hikes:
- Waipio Valley
- Halini Pali (at Volcano National Park)
- Mauna Loa Peak
Be careful on all hikes, and if you can, hike with a partner! It’s more fun, and safer.
Koa Wood Hale (Kona) – A laid back hostel with a relaxing atmosphere, Koa Wood Hale offers free parking, wi-fi, kitchen, laundry services, and a computer and printer!
Kona Seaside Hotel (Kona) –I thought this was the budget section Claire, why are you including a hotel? I hear you ask. Well this hotel offers the best of a resort without the steep price! The Kona Seaside hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, views of the famous Kailua Bay & Pier, but with an affordable price.
Hilo Bay Hostel (Hilo) – This hostel may not have brand new buildings or the high-tech furnishings we may want, but it is the epitome of the Aloha spirit and their staff make up for any shortcomings that the hostel may otherwise have.
Hedonisia Hawaii Eco Hostel (Hilo) – As you may be able to tell from the name, this hostel is totally eco-friendly! The showers are solar powered and guests are free to keep the produce they pick from the many gardens! Additionally, all the beds are separated in little huts so there’s privacy!
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (Kona) – Given that this is a Four Seasons Resort I bet you can imagine how nice it is (if you don’t know, it’s really nice). In fact, the website says that the mere sight of the resort exudes luxury. Now does that sound fancy or what?
Hilton Waikoloa Village (Kona) – This resort is so massively big that it has a tram to take you around it. Yes, a tram! It also boasts 14 restaurants and bars, a world-class spa, three pools all featuring waterfalls, a luau, in-resort shopping, and the chance to swim with dolphins. When they put Village in their name they really weren’t kidding.
Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (Hilo) – Voted the best hotel on the Hilo side of Hawaii, the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel has an ocean front view and the perfect location for exploring Hawaii’s Volcano National Park and Mauna Kea.
For a sense of the relative locations of all of the above locations I’ve mentioned, I’ve created a map:
Pin this for later!
Have you ever been to the Big Island? Where did you go? What did you do?