My second visit to Hawaii and people kept asking me why are you going to Hawaii again. Well for starters each island in Hawaii has its own uniqueness , distinct flavor and reason of visiting. Maui has Hana and Haelekela , Oahu has waikiki beach , Kauai is the Garden Isle and well Big Island has Kilauea ,an active Volcano which has fascinated me for years. Attracted to volcano with an urge to see it up – close , I chose Big Island as an ultimate surprise to my husband for our 5th year anniversary celebration. Reason is simple – I wanted it to be a little more than just an average beach vacation. When I planned this trip all I knew was – I will have 4 days on the island, a car, a passion to explore the diversity and the sole mission of “I want to see it all.” While of-course I could not see everything , but for anyone who is looking for a Hawaiian vacation that is ‘not the normal beach vacation’, my blog post “Big Island Must See and Do – Hawaii Travel” will definitely come handy.
How to reach :
Yes this is an Island so you have to fly in . There are 2 international airports on the Island – Kona International airport (KOA) and Hilo international airport (ITO) . Generally flight tickets to KOA are a little cheaper than ITO but depending on where and which part of Island do you want to spend more time , pick the airport.
Note : We landed in KOA as tickets from Boston were a little cheaper to this airport. If you plan to rent a car, book it in advance as most of the car rentals have limited inventory. If you wait till the last moment , you might not get a car at all. Check out SC Minibus Hire for all the details.
Where to stay :
It will sound redundant but Big island is Biiiiiiigggggg. You cannot make one part of the island as your base and then roam around in day trips fashion. It will be too tiring and you will end up spending more time in car than actual destinations. I will suggest to divide your stay between Kona, Hilo and volcano village. Kona ( the west side) is full of resorts and 5 star hotels all inclusive kinds . Hilo has a little less selection when it comes to hotels and five star resorts , and lastly the Volcanic Village – this area is remote and the hotels/lodges/airBnBs have a very strict check- in policy.
Note : Where did we stay :
On Kona side – Four Seasons Resorts. Ooooh it made me feel like I was on honeymoon (You know its not easy to get that feel after 5 years 😉 ) . The resort is incredible.
On Hilo Side – Hilo Hawaiian Hotel . The hotel has everything basic but a very nice view from every room’s balcony.
Volcano Village – Hale Ohia Cottage. Tucked in forrest in middle of nowhere , this luxury cottage is incredible for those who want to unplug from everything. These are exactly like the ones in Isle of Wight holiday accommodations with cozy rooms.
Things to see :
Going ahead in no particular order , here are the things that you must not miss in Big Island.
Pololu Valley Lookout :
The Pololu Valley lookout is at the end of the Akoni Pule Hwy (270), East of the quaint town of Hawi on the North tip of the Big Island. I know you will ask – why drive so much for just a lookout point? Well for this particular point it is a lot more about the drive. From Kona to Pololu the drive is very scenic. You will find some amahhhzing fruit stands with delicious tropical fruits to stuff and well the finale – the lookout point which will remind you of being in a Jurassic Park movie ( atleast that is how I felt.). There is a short but steep 2.5 mile roundtrip hike at this lookout point that will take you to the black sand beach and up close to the cliffs. But since we had limited time , we enjoyed this place from a distance.
Mauna Kea :
Now you cannot visit Big Island and not see the volcanoes . At 13,803 ft the dormant volcano of Mount Mauna Kea is the highest point in Hawaii and a must see of Big Island. It is one of those rare places where you will see sunset in clouds by being on top of the clouds. There is no entry fees to this place however here are few pointers that will make your visit more enjoyable :
- A 4WD is a must to drive to the summit of Mount Mauna Kea. Most of the car rental companies do not include insurance to drive up to the summit. So confirm twice with the car rental company.
- If you plan to see the sunset , arrive at the visitor center latest by 4 pm. You are required to spend atleast 30 mins at visitor center to get acclimatized with the altitude.
- With such an altitude , needless to say that it is very cold at the top. You will need some good warm clothes , jacket , gloves , woolen cap – just come prepared.
- Right after the sunset , the summit is off-limit to the public and everyone must drive down immediately. If you plan to do star gazing or take pictures of galaxy , find a suitable spot near visitor center.
Akaka Waterfalls :
Located 25 mins north of Hilo , Akaka waterfalls is part of Akaka Falls state park. You can enjoy the waterfalls from a short half-mile trail that starts from the parking lot. The loop also offers view of some other small waterfalls. If you park in the parking lot the fees is 2 $ , if you park outside – the fees is 1 $ per car.
Hike up Kilauea volcano :
This hike was by far the highlight of our trip. Spewing lava , the slow-motion dripping of the molten lava – things I had only seen in national Geographic channel , I witnessed that all from couple of feet away. If you are going to Big Island this has to make to your itinerary. A lot of people plan to see this natural spectacle from sea by taking a boat tour or helicopter tour , but keep in mind that there is no guarantee that lava will be always overflowing in sea to catch that in action. When we visited Big Island , a lava tube had collapsed making it impossible for lava to reach to the sea. So there were more chances to see it oozing out on the surface rather than enjoying the sea side view of it. You can track the lava activity on this website and book your tours accordingly. If you plan to hike , here are few pointers to plan your trip to Volcano :
- There is no said or set time that will take to reach to the point where you will see the over flowing lava. At times it can be an hour hike , at times it can be more than 2 hours. So come prepared.
- I cannot stress it more but you need very good shoes for this kind of hike. You will be walking on silica ( which is more or less like glass flakes) for a long time and that can cut your shoes if not hard enough from the sole.
- To see the yellow orange glowing effect of lava , evening is the best time to go.
- Since evening is the best time to go , I will highly suggest to take a guided tour. It can be a little tricky and even dangerous at times to reach the parking lot at night if you do not have flashlights , proper guidance and maps. Tour companies provide all that and make sure you reach back safely.
Note : My recommendation for tour company = Kalapana tours
- Most of the tours leave around 3:30 pm for evening tours , in general companies are very strict about the time , so keep an entire evening aside to witness this spectacle.
- Bring good amount of water , it gets really hot and humid while hiking towards lava tubes.
Punalu’u Beach (Black Sand Beach) :
Imagine a wonderland where you can enjoy the sun by lying on the beach with green sea turtles. Wait – its not a wonderland , black sand beach of Big Island a.k.a Punalu’u beach will make your this wish come true. This is one of those beaches where Sea turtles often come on shore to rest and nest. They nest in this area and can often be seen laying about on the sand enjoying the warmth of the Hawaiian sun or bobbing their heads about in the surf as they make their way across the length of the beach. Just make sure that you keep safe distance from these turtles and leave them alone as there are dangers associated with the introduction of human contagion to the turtles that do not have the immunity to deal with the possible infections. They are one of the endangered species. There is no parking fee on the beach. Beach has amenities like shower , bathrooms, toilets and even a picnic area to enjoy a meal and spend a wonderful afternoon.
Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach) and Cliff Jump:
One of only four green sand beaches in the world , Papakolea Beach is a secluded sand beach located near the south point of Kau district of Big Island. Reaching this beach is not an easy task. It is a rugged 2 mile hike and the waters are very turbulent to be able to enjoy a swim. However the beauty of green sand and bowl shaped beach makes up for all the hardships it takes to reach to the beach. If you do not intend to hike up to the beach , South Point Cliffs are an amazing spot to spend an evening. The cliffs are around 40 feet high , and people often do cliff jumps from this point down in the ocean. The sunset views from this point are amazing too. We intended to make this as a pit stop on our way to volcano national park , but ended up spending an entire evening. This spot is too good to be missed.
Volcano National Park :
Even though you might think that if you have taken hike up to Kilauea volcano you don’t need to go to Volcano National Park , but believe me this national park is whole another chapter in your book of adventures in Big Island. The Park is open 24 hours a day, all year long. Admission costs $10 per car, but this is for seven consecutive days. For National Park pass holders , the entry is free. When you visit the Park, ensure that you bring warm clothing with you as the park is 10 to 12 degrees colder than the coastal area and is quite windy. One of the must sees of the park is Jaggar Museum. The lookout point near the museum serves as an excellent lookout point for the crater. The views are amazing specially in the evening when you can see the lava glow from the tip of crater. You can also take numerous hikes across the park like Kilauea Caldera Rim hike, Napau hike etc. There are numerous drivable roads in park too , to take you through the history and different landscapes of National Park.
Rainbow Waterfalls :
Located in Wailuku River State Park , Rainbow falls is a 80 foot water drop where you can see the rainbow forming around 10 am on sunny days due to the mist of the waterfall. Legends say that the cave beneath the waterfall was the home of Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess. The parking at this spot is free and you have access to public restrooms.
Big Island was bigger than my expectation and I felt we had to drive a lot. So my advice to you all will be to plan your itinerary , see the distance between the points and then book the hotels. On map some points might appear nearby but since there are no roads in most of the island, you might have to take longer route. If you’re planning your first trip to Hawaii I’m sure you’ll have sun, sea and relaxing – at the beach on your agenda ( I mean, who wouldn’t?) . But with Big Island you get rain forest , sand beaches , waterfalls and spewing volcanoes. A total Win ! Win!. Don’t you think? Hope this helps in planning your trip to Big Island. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Have you been to Big Island? What was your favorite spot ?