Visiting The Big Island: The Ultimate Guide
Forget tedious tours and predictable paths, visit Big Island to set your soul on fire, with just a compass, spontaneity and a strong sense of adventure. From city dust to wanderlust, the best of the Orchid Isle will leave you speechless yet satisfied.
Home to both Hawaiian goddesses of fire (Pele) and ice (Poli’ahu), Hawaii’s largest and youngest island welcomes you to diverse environments and different climate zones. Feel the wild wind as it lures you towards sacred valleys, thick overgrowths, rugged lava fields, snow caps, gushing rivers, arid deserts, spectacular stretches of coastline and miles upon miles of unpopulated landscapes that turn savage by the second. Take the backseat as Mother Nature guides you through the risky yet riveting Big Island.
Sitting on one of the Pacific Plate’s hot spot is the Hawaiian archipelago, born from the consecutive volcanic action spanning millions of years. The eastern part of the island chain (and the United States’ southern-most point) is Big Island, originally named “Hawai’iloa.” Ancient stories point out that Hawaiiloa is a Polynesian hero who discovered the islands and settled in it with his sons, namely Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. Despite being a widely-known legend, modern Hawaiians believe that there’s a grain of truth to this story as it clearly depicts how the islands came to be inhabited.
Another name that is used interchangeably with Big Island is “Orchid Isle.” and that shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the Hawaiians’ obsession with flower power. What is most intriguing, however, is the fact that the official flower of Big Island is the red ohia, a bloom sacred to Pele. More so, the island only has three (3) endemic orchid species blooming within its borders. Not really enough to make an impression, don’t you think?
The orchid fixation is justified by Big Island’s flourishing flora history, which includes the Hawaiian Monarchy’s hobby of orchid growing, the 1957 World Orchid Conference in Honolulu, active orchid societies and hundreds of orchid farms thriving around the state, most especially on Big Island. And let’s just say that the term “Ohia Isle” isn’t as catchy as Big Island’s current moniker.
Geography & Biodiversity
Aptly called Big Island, the youngest and still volcanically active of all the other Hawaiian Islands boasts an extraordinary 4,028 sq. mi. land mass –almost 63% of the total surface area of all islands combined –and still grows by the day. Despite Hawaii being ranked 43rd among North America’s 50 states in terms of land area, Big Island is nonetheless acknowledged as the country’s largest island.
Nothing gets more natural than Big Island, with 90% of its flora and fauna considered endemic. As compared to the older islands, its animal and plant diversity is on a roll, thanks to a million years of isolation and land expansion. The 266 miles of coastline, steep valleys, icy highlands, tropical (and sometimes, colored) beaches, rainforests, lava landscapes, plunging waterfalls and volcanic mountains also contribute to Big Island’s thriving biodiversity.
Not impressed yet? Big Island is also home to some record-breakers, including the Earth’s tallest mountain (Mauna Kea), most active volcano (Kilauea), America’s rainiest city (Hilo), largest collection of infrared, sub millimeter and optical astronomical equipment (Mauna Kea Observatory) and a few endangered species (including the anchihaline pool shrimp and Hawaii’s state bird, Nene goose).
Hawaii’s Big Island is indeed an isle born out of fire (volcanoes) and ice (Pacific Ocean). Based on the commonly-used Koppen Climate Classification System, you can experience all, but two (Arctic and the Saharan), climate zones within the borders of Big Island’s isolated land mass. Being home to the majority of global climate zones is beyond impressive, even by Hawaiian standards.
From chilly to steamy, the environmentally-diverse Big Island is indeed an intriguing location to explore. Not sure when to visit Big Island? Plan according to activities and/or festivities that suit your interests. This guide will make it easier for first-timers and returning visitors to maximize their stay on the Orchid Isle.
Big Island is split into six (6) regions, with Kailua-Kona and Hilo being the most popular. Distinguishing all of these make exploring the island a whole lot easier and faster. We have summarized each region for your convenience, including some of the attractions found in their distinctive areas:
Dubbed as Big Island’s resort area, expect numerous beachside resorts and restaurants bursting with activity! The sunny leeward side has its fair share of historical sites and natural wonders, including the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, Puuhonua o Honaunau, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Keauhou Bay (manta rays are naturally drawn to this area) and the picturesque Mahai’ula Beach among others.
Big Island’s largest (and wettest, even in the whole of North America) city features lush attractions all year round, including the Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, Liliu’okalani Garden, Banyan Drive, Panaewa Zoo and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm and Factory. This historical center is also home to Big Island’s Tsunami Museum and the host to one of the island’s biggest festivals, the Merrie Monarch Festival in April. Hilo is mostly famous for being the back door to the volcano area of the island, which encompasses the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The scenic Hamakua Coast lies north of Hilo and is considered a great location for serious hiking and camping. It features some of the island’s best valleys and waterfalls, including the Akaka Falls, Waimanu Valley, Waipio Beach, Onomea Falls, Hiilawe Falls, Laupahoehoe Point and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden along Onomea Bay.
Kohala (Northwest & Northeast)
The northwest tip is called the Kohala region, which is one of the island’s most diverse areas. It features both the leeward side (dry) and the windward (wet) side, making it a fitting location for agricultural abundance. In fact, North Kohala was home to sugarcane plantations, but nowadays, the region is famous for the privately-owned Parker Ranch, one of the largest ranches in North America.
King Kamehameha the Great was born in the region, so expect to see historical sites, including the Puukohola Heiau, King Kamehameha’s Statue and the Waikoloa Petroglyph Field.
A rugged coastline, lava landscapes, and lush forests dot the scenery of Puna; the district found south and east of Hilo. In 1990, the region was under Pele’s mercy when lava flow relentlessly buried its foundations. Puna has already recovered from this disaster, but traces of destruction are still visible with its many attractions, including the Kehena Black Sand Beach, Kapoho Tide Pools, Lava Tree State Park and the new Kaimu Beach.
If you crave for silence, no area is quieter than South Kau, the region that doesn’t have major landmarks freely flocked by tourists. However, the district is known for its agricultural bounty (say yes to Kau gold oranges) and two of the state’s extraordinary beaches: the Papakolea Green Sand Beach and the Punaluu Black Sand Beach. The sea cliffs and the Kau desert are also worth the visit.
Whether you choose to commute and mingle with locals or hire a car service to take you around the iconic landmarks, Big Island has transportation options to fit your style and budget.
Guided tours are popular on Big Island, Hawaii, given that there’s a long list of landmarks to see and experiences to enjoy. Comfort and convenience come with high costs, so make sure to compare prices before you are set to travel. Notably, guests who don’t have tour reservations beforehand tend to pay more.
Small groups may opt for a van, while solo adventurers choose cycling or hiking to get around. Helicopter tours are also popular among those who can afford to shell more money to have access to unimpeded views of volcanoes, lava, waterfalls, and cliffs –literally everything that is worth seeing –from the air.
Want something more exciting than the usual crater rim drive around the Kilauea volcano caldera? Why don’t you book a lava boat tour for the ultimate volcano experience? Witness Kilauea’s lava entering the Pacific Ocean up close and enjoy a 2-hour coastline commentary to enrich the natural encounter.
Too spontaneous to book a pre-determined tour? Car rentals may be the best option for solo adventurers and small groups. Groups with more than seven (7) members might want to skip getting non-commercial vehicles unless they don’t mind the big expenses. The flexibility and comfort are two reasons why rental cars should be a consideration when traveling around Big Island. If you plan to explore off the road, a 4×4 vehicle is your best bet.
You may opt to drive, or hire a chauffeur at your beck and call. The latter may also act as a tour guide, so you don’t waste the day getting lost or skipping major points of interest along the way.
Hawaii is an expensive place for vacation, but riding public transport will allow you to save a significant portion of the money you have worked hard for. If you got a lot of time in your hands, and absolutely don’t mind getting stuck within the confines of the city, then availing bus services can stretch your budget for a few more Mai Tais or possibly, a morning snorkel tour in Kona.
The island-wide accessibility of the Hele-On buses makes it the top transport choice of locals and foreigners alike. At the standard rate of $2.00 (with additional charges based on destination and luggage/s), this is a cost-effective option if you plan to stay longer on Big Island. However, its routes are quite limited to popular landmarks and are mostly scheduled early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when workers are traveling to and fro work. Visit its website to know more about schedules and routes.
Taxi services are available in airports, port terminals, and populated places. Riding one will put a dent in your wallet, especially when your destination is far away, but this may be your only chance to catch your tour or sightsee places at your own time and convenience. Ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft, have been introduced to Big Island recently, which adds to more transport options for visitors.
Staying in Hilo? If you plan on touring highly urbanized areas, the Hele-On Shared Taxi Program is your best bet to reach your destinations in comfort and class. You may avail taxi coupons in increments (1, 5 & 15), and these allow you to travel up to 9 miles from Hilo.
Motorcycle & Bicycle Rentals
Touring in two wheels is also possible. Riding a motorcycle or bike is your best shot at experiencing nature intimately without sacrificing speed. However, the thrilling ride shouldn’t keep you from ignoring safety precautions. Be mindful of your surroundings, and secure a map and contact numbers of your hotel in case of emergencies.
WHAT TO DO
If water soothes your soul, you’d never leave Big Island! Surrounded by some of the world’s best (and colored) beaches, and dotted with picturesque waterfall-fed lakes and rivers, be ready to open yourself to wet possibilities in the form of swimming, scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing, body boarding, white water rafting and sailing among others.
Afraid to venture beyond the shore? Landlubbers will not run out of things to do on Big Island, thanks to its varied terrain consisting of lava plains, rainforests, mountains, volcanoes, desert dunes, and underground tunnels. Take your pick among adrenaline-pumping and relatively dry activities, such as zip lining, ATV riding, horseback riding, golfing, trekking, camping (plus stargazing), mountain climbing and cycling. Mauna Kea’s remote ski slope is also a favorite place among skiers and snowboarders during the winter months. You can also look forward to the scenic drive along the notorious Saddle Road (Hawaii Route 200), which is the quickest driving route between Kailua-Kona and Hilo.
Big Island is home to Hawaii’s five (5) volcanoes, with a sixth one completely submerged (Mahukona), but still a part of the volcanic arc that forms the Orchid Isle. In fact, Mauna Loa forms 51% of the island’s land mass. In total, there are three active volcanoes (Kilauea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai), one sleeping giant (Mauna Kea) and one extinct volcano (Kohala) that you can explore by foot, boat, four-wheel drive (4WD) or helicopter.
Wellness & Rejuvenation
Some say Hawaii is synonymous to healing, and that is not hard to believe when you visit Big Island. Focus on the wellness and rejuvenation of the body, spirit, and mind as you get introduced to traditional methods of island healing, including laau lapaau (herbal healing), lomilomi massage, ho’oponopono (Hawaiian practice of forgiveness) and yoga retreats that channel the healing powers of nature and the Pacific Ocean.
The absence of the sun isn’t necessarily the end of tropical fun on Big Island. Start your night with a romantic sunset cruise off the Kohala Coast before enjoying the party scene in Kona. Take your pick from numerous outdoor bars, dance clubs, beer pubs, and oceanfront restaurants and lounges that serve until midnight!
The fact that the majority of Big Island is naturally-developed gives way to more wildlife encounters. Want to swim with the manta rays and dolphins? How about taking an afternoon off to feed sea turtles by the bay or watch whales in winter? Whether big or small, the Orchid Isle is where the wild (and sometimes, friendly) things are.
On a hunt for historical sites? Brush up on Hawaiian culture by dropping by these locations:
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Kona Coast)
At the South of Kona stands a national historical park that boasts 180 acres of sacred places that are dated a hundred years old at most. Home to Royal Grounds (Honaunau) of Kona Chiefs (ali’i) and considered the City of Refuge (Pu’uhonau) for ancient lawbreakers, the park exhibits highly-preserved Polynesian culture and history. Explore this tourist-friendly spot that houses the Hale o Keawe temple (royal mausoleum), Keoneele Cove (royal canoe landing bay), Keoua Stone (favorite resting place of ali’i) and a games surface that allows you to play the ancient game of papamu.
Waikoloa Petroglyph Field
Take the literal walk down memory lane by including a visit to Kailua-Kona’s preserved petroglyph field in your itinerary. Located inside Waikoloa’s beach resort, pursue an easy hike off the Kiholo Puako trail (also known as the Kings trail) until you see thousands of centuries-old kii pohaku (rock pictures in Hawaiian), more emphasized during early morning and late afternoon tours, thanks to the slanting shadows created by the sun. The rock graffiti present a glimpse into ancient Hawaii, as well as contemporary carvings left by modern visitors, including Romans.
King Kamehameha is a big believer of Polynesian mythology, and a proof of that is the Ahu’ena Heiau. The revered temple was erected in honor of Lono, the great deity of agriculture, fertility, and peace, and can be seen at a distance from the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Despite the forbidden access to the sacred grounds, tourists flock the area to view one of Hawaii’s most important cultural sites.
Another deity King Kamehameha the Great idolized was the Hawaiian war god, Kuka’ilimoku, but the construction of the fortress-like Pu’ukohola Heiau was more related to the prophecy of uniting the Hawaiian Islands than reverence. As foretold, King Kamehameha would unite the six (6) islands once he incurs the favor of Kuka’ilimoku, and he did it by dedicating the stone temple, Pu’ukohola Heiau, to him. Oral history suggests that a 25-mile human chain was formed to carry stones from the Pololu Valley and built the temple without any bonding agents.
It isn’t every day that you walk the footsteps of a king, which is why this historic site at Kawaihae Village, Waimea is a favorite for cultural geeks. The visitor center exhibits an amazing native art collection and offers informal hiking tours for groups. The nearby Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park is also accessible through a paved walkway.
Saddle up for an afternoon with Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) at the Parker Ranch in the Waimea-Kamuela District. While originally used by King Kamehameha’s friend and renowned herder of the royal cattle, Hawaii’s oldest ranch (and one of the biggest in the United States) has evolved from a boring grassy pasture to a venue of Big Island’s highly-anticipated event, the Parker Ranch Independence Day Rodeo.
Hawaii’s rich paniolo culture also abounds at the location, so take the time to do hunting excursions and self-guided tours among the Parker family’s heirlooms. Unfortunately, the much-loved horseback riding tours are no longer available. You may experience private horseback riding at Ulupalakua Ranch, Maui’s prized pastureland and only winery.
Imiloa Astronomy Center
Chase constellations at the Imiloa Astronomy Center, where the world’s first 3D stereo planetarium stands. The 120-seater full-dome planetarium isn’t the only highlight! Astronomy lovers can also marvel at the greatest collection of interactive space observatories, cultural programs, educational activities and even a tour of the Hawaii native landscape garden. The center is part of the University of Hawaii – Hilo Campus.
Mokupapapa Discovery Center
Discover one of the last natural sanctuaries on Earth without paddling a canoe or even leaving Big Island! Start by taking a trip to downtown Hilo, specifically at the Koehnen Building, where the modest Mokupapapa Discovery Center stands. With the world’s largest marine conservation area, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, on display, it would be hard to drag kids (and even adults) away from the visually-exciting exhibits.
Let tropical fish entertain you when you gaze at the 3,500-gallon seawater aquarium or know more about the remote and sacred Northwestern Hawaiian islands through interactive tours and media resources.
Feel like royalty when you venture into the Hulihee Palace set on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. Once a vacation house for Hawaiian monarchy, the Victorian-inspired setting is now one of the most popular museums in Hawaii. Marvel at marble statues, oriental rugs, Victorian-style furnishings and other significant artifacts indicate pre-Western contact during the era of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.
In fact, you’d never regret visiting this royal retreat since Hawaii’s earliest Christian Church, the Mokuaikaua Church, and King Kamehameha I’s last royal residence, the Ahuena Heiau Temple, are within the vicinity.
WANDER ON THE WILD SIDE
Leave the predictability of pavements and chase adventures amidst lush valleys, fiery volcanoes, lava-ridden landscapes, secluded waterfalls, pristine shores and thriving flora. On Big Island, every off-road corner is a natural treasure ready to be discovered.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (include Jagger Museum)
Volcanoes are a big part of Hawaii’s history and culture, which is why sailing to Big Island to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not an option –it’s a must! Pay homage to the volcano goddess, Pele, at Kilauea’s Halema’uma’u Crater and incur her favor as you venture throughout Big Island and the rest of the State. The goddess’ blessing is powerful, as native Hawaiians believed that it protects families and properties from being ravaged by lava flow.
Inside the growing 333-acre park lies two of the world most active volcanoes on Earth. The fiery duo of Mauna Loa and Kilauea transformed the geography of the park into a mix of windswept deserts, dense rainforests, rough lava trails, gaping pits, jagged cliffs and a steaming shoreline –courtesy of Kilauea’s continuous lava flow entering the ocean.
Trek through the Kiluaea’iki trail where a solidified lava lake has been in existence since 1959. The barren, and somewhat bizarre, the 4-mile landscape also showcases steam vents, cinder cones, and even a hardened 1900-ft lava fountain just below the Pu’u Pua’I cinder cone. Hikers can also be found lounging at the Kilauea Overlook –a favorite picnic spot.
The moderately challenging trail may be too much for first-time visitors and unprepared hikers, which is why the Thurston Lava Tube situated near the trailhead parking lot presents an easier alternative. This 500-yr old cave-like beauty is the result of the gradual buildup of lava over time. As new lava passes by, it forms a passageway through the solidified old lava and gives way to new geologic formations. The well-lit lava tube may not present a challenge, but it reveals a spectrum of lava swirls and minerals –all thanks to the magic that is known as lava tube geology.
If you prefer to focus more on the lore than the lava, the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum can keep you preoccupied with their lineup of geologic exhibits from morning to night (8:00 p.m.). Take a tour around the museum and let magma make a name for itself through videos of volcanic explosions, varied Hawaiian maps, visuals on ancient Hawaiian myths and samples of Pele’s destruction. For the best view of the steaming Kilauea crater, the Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook at the museum is the place to be.
Don’t forget to drop by the park’s visitor center to take advantage of weather forecasts, brochures, map guides and even ranger warnings. The park requires permits for camping and volcano hikes.
Brush up on your lessons of geology, marine biology, and history in Kealakekua Bay, a well-known spot drawing in thousands of tourists and locals yearly. In fact, the site is famous for two things: Captain James Cook and thriving marine life.
The westerner, Captain James Cook, was first to explore the Aloha State, but after a month of exploring Big Island, he died in 1779 during a skirmish with native Hawaiians at the bay. A white obelisk was erected by locals and fellow westerners to mark the achievement of the circumnavigator and is now considered a major landmark of the Kona Coast.
The crystal-clear waters and near-perfect ocean conditions make Kealakekua Bay a snorkeler’s paradise. Dance with the dolphins or let the vibrant schools of fish take you away from reality and into Hawaii’s version of Atlantis. A night swim with the manta rays is also a popular excursion for the family.
Not much of a swimmer? Row a canoe (after securing necessary landing permits of the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park) or ride your worries away in a sunset cruise. You might just spot a humpback whale breaching the waters during winter.
Boiling Pots of Wailuku & Rainbow Falls (Hilo)
The lush evergreens of Wailuku River State Park frame two of Big Island’s most natural masterpieces: the Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots. A strict viewing policy is in place, so make sure to stay on the paved walkway to avoid accidents.
The 80-ft Rainbow falls may not be as majestic as the Akaka Falls, which towers over 422 ft, but its magical quality and accessibility make it one of the best island falls worth visiting. True to its name, multiple rainbows are seen through the water mist of the cascading beauty, especially in the early morning. You’ll never regret the short climb to Waianuenue (Hawaiian term for “rainbow seen in water”) in the winter when upstream rains create a roaring waterfall, but a summer visit will also reward you with a better glimpse at the lava cave rumored to be the moon goddess Hina’s home.
Venture upland, and you will come across the deadly –yet, fascinating –Boiling Pots. Fed by the equally mesmerizing lava columns of Pe’epe’e Falls, the Wailuku River (which connects to Rainbow falls) features a deadly landscape made from the cooling of basalt lava coming from Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Two deep gorges create an impression of turbulent, boiling water, especially during flash floods when such spaces fill to the brim and become more dangerous than ever.
The creation of the Boiling Pots follows the story of the demigod Maui, who rescued his mother, Hina, from a giant lizard named Moo Kuna. The lizard’s attempt to drown the moon goddess didn’t end well when it hid in the river potholes. Maui threw hot stones given by the fire goddess, Pele, on water and the boiling that ensued drove the poor amphibian away.
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo
America’s first and only tropical zoo is set in the dense Panaewa Forest Reserve just south of Hilo. With various animals and plants, including the endangered Nene (Hawaiian goose), calling this 12-acre property home, it won’t be hard for tourists to fall in love with the visual abundance at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo! The Botanical Garden boasts an impressive collection of palm and bamboo varieties, prized orchids and lilies, and colorful rhododendrons among others. The unusual animals would keep families on their feet, especially at the Petting Zoo. The best part of visiting the zoo is that you can enjoy nature’s bounty for free!
BEST LOCATIONS FOR BEACH LOVERS
With miles of untouched coastlines from north to south, you’ll be surprised how varied the seaside landscapes on Big Island can be. Apart from the typical stretch of pristine white sand, there are also colored beaches that strike the curiosity of any adventurer.
Black Sand Beaches
Black crystal sand is in abundance at Punalu’u Beach, which is located just south of Hilo in between the Hawaii Volcano National Park and the rural town of Na’alehu (Hawaiian word for “volcanic ashes”). The location is a hot spot for sea turtle watchers and picnicking guests, but most people who visit the area just want to experience a unique scenery in the state.
See more of the fine volcanic sand in its natural state at the trek-worthy Pololu Beach Valley (Kohala), secluded Waipio Beach (Honokaa), clothing-optional Kehena Beach (Puna District) and the new Kaimu Black Sand Beach (Puna District). The last beach replaced the local favorite Kaimu Bay that got buried in Kilauea’s lava flow in 1990.
Green Sand Beach
If you think the foliage is the only green thing Mother Nature can offer, you might have missed the Papakolea Beach (also known as Mahana Beach) on Big Island. Regarded as one of the only four green sand beaches on Earth, the distinct and dense coastline is brimming with mineral olivine that gives off the unique sand color.
Tucked at the bottom of a cliff on Big Island’s South Point, visitors are required to survive a three-mile hike through lava fields before they witness such a rare sight. The beach is relatively dangerous due to treacherous currents and the absence of a lifeguard, so take caution in the water.
White Sand Beaches
Worshipped daily by locals and tourists, the powdery sand of Big Island beaches is finer than golden sand, so better bring your sandcastle goals elsewhere. However, the stretch of white is ideal for sunbathing, photo shoots and lazy walking by the shore.
The world-famous Hapuna Beach along the Kohala Coast offers a peek at one of Hawaii’s picturesque shorelines and a taste of idyllic ocean conditions. Aside from this spot, beachgoers, snorkelers, and body boarders also can’t resist a visit to Kona’s Maniniowali Beach, which is dubbed as “The Caribbean of Hawaii” for its crystal clear waters, thriving sea life, and challenging surf breaks that are a great deal for veteran boogie boarders.
Venture further north, and you will come across another beach beauty with a natural rock reef that limits big waves. The Mauna Kea Beach boasts a long expanse of white sand shaped into a crescent and offers a perfect view of cerulean waters of the Pacific and rolling hills on the side.
Up for some challenge? Accessing the pristine Makalawena Beach requires a hike across a rough lava path on the Kona side. In fact, the location is so remote that you won’t have a problem with crowds there. Snorkelers are also thrilled with the availability of sea arches, thriving corals and underwater caves offshore.
Along the Kohala Coast is another hidden gem that has captured the attention of beach-loving communities in and beyond Big Island. Waialea Bay is more rugged as compared to typical white sand beaches, with a mix of rock formations, tide pools, and vibrant underwater corals ripe for exploration.
TREKKING TOURS FOR EVERY LEVEL
The Hawaiian outdoors provide a great escape for explorers with varying levels of trekking experience and expectations.
Trekking Bets for Beginners
For a short hike that doesn’t require technical expertise or equipment, head down to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hilo. For a day fee (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) of $18 for adults and $6 for children ages 6 to 16, you get to explore a 40-acre valley with a total of 2,000 tropical plant species in every direction.
An easy yet slightly exhausting course is the 0.4 mile Akaka Falls Loop Trail, a newbie-friendly and scenic trail that leads to towering waterfalls, tropical flora, and some wildlife sightings if you are lucky. Located in Hilo, the 442-ft Akaka waterfall is the highlight of the Akaka Falls State Park, but the Kahuna Falls is just as dramatic.
Hiking enthusiasts with technical climbing gear can sweat it out at the Pololu Valley in the northern tip of Kohala Coast. Expect 2.92 miles of endless greenery and the best vantage point overlooking remote waterfalls and picturesque beaches, including the Pololu Black Sand Beach. Start exploring the rugged trail at the Pololu Valley Overlook and finish your course with sweeping vistas of the Honokane Nui Valley and a bit of the Honokane Iki Valley.
Interesting Hikes for Intermediate Backpackers
The Keauhou Trail is highly favored for its dizzying cliffs, grasslands with no shade and rocky trails –perfect for a physical excursion with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, the Ka’u Coast, and lava fields. At the end of the 9-mile trail is the gorgeous Halape Beach, with its sloping white sand, coconut groves, a hidden freshwater pond and moderate surf breaks.
Test your mountaineering skills at dizzying heights when you pursue the 11.5 trail miles leading to Mauna Kea Summit. Regarded as Hawaii’s highest peak, this dormant volcano features a steep profile and a wide expanse of desert dunes with no sign of foliage for miles. Sacred sites, red-tinted cinder cones, and Lake Waiau are seen from a distance, but make sure to stay on the recommended path and let the camera capture the details up close.
Some of the world’s best cosmic photos were also taken from Mauna Kea, thanks to Keck Observatory and its top-grade telescopes. Take time to go to the observatory or take advantage of stargazing opportunities while camping. The sunset (or sunrise, if you decide to camp) at the summit is also a magical moment highlighting the infinite horizon of Hawaiian paradise.
Arduous Choices for Advanced Hikers
Strap those sturdy boots and take your best hiking gear with you to Waimanu Valley, an untamed paradise that lures the persevered and physically-capable trekkers. If you wish to start the journey in the Waipio Valley, Honokaa before pursuing the breathtaking Muliwai Trail, prepare to cover at least 19 miles of verdant hills, river crossings, steep slopes and endless overgrowth. The multi-day hike is very rewarding since only a strong-minded few have beheld this secluded spot at the northwest side of Big Island.
Equipped and experienced enough for the ultimate climb on Big Island? Hiking Mauna Loa is both challenging and beyond humbling for all adrenaline junkies, so better put this in your bucket list if you want to take your Hawaiian vacation to a higher level –literally!
Aside from the 19 miles of alternating landscapes from the the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park trailhead (6 miles if you choose to start at the Mauna Loa Observatory, but would you really miss the pain and pleasure of a multi-day hike?), you’d get to deal with altitude sickness, dropping temperatures, sunburns, lack of water resources and lava-related cuts & bruises. Getting lost would be a nightmare, next to the possibility of Mauna Loa spewing lava while you’re on your way up.
The trail is made up of primitive `a`a, and pahoehoe lava flows with the occasional spatter cones and collapsed lava tubes in a spectrum of colors. You get the chance to observe the Moku’āweoweo caldera at a respectable distance before reaching the summit of the world’s largest sub aerial volcano.
SOUGHT-AFTER SURF BREAKS ON BIG ISLAND
Hawaii welcomes surfers of every level, especially on the islands of Oahu and Maui, where world-famous wave riders consistently indulge in challenging swells. Big Island, on the other hand, is not well-known for surfing, but it has a good number of locations with ideal ocean conditions for practice and even competitive board riding.
Surfing during the summer is particularly ideal when staying on Big Island, but the waves are typically above average throughout the year. Kailua-Kona’s famous snorkeling spot, Kahaluu Beach Park, is a great starting point for surfing but gets crowded during peak months. Larger waves are expected at the farthest reef, while the closest one of the three reef sections allows beginners to practice surfing without danger.
Witness the locals love for surfing by taking a trip to Kona’s Banyan’s Beach, an amazing spot with shallow reefs offering left and right breaks. The location is optimal for short board riding among experienced surfers, with fast waves and a big possibility of barrels to pump up one’s adrenaline. If long board riding is your thing, the Lyman’s Beach is just near Banyans. It has big-sized swells that create intermediate to advanced waves that break left.
Winter surfing is not unheard of, but if you wish to play safe and mingle with the local crowd, Kohanaiki Beach Park, also known as “Pine Trees” is your best bet. Renowned as a classic surf spot frequented by the surfing community of Big Island and beyond, expect consistent ground swells that work for all surfing levels throughout the year.
The Hilo side also has its fair share of surfing options. Among them is Honolii Beach Park, which has similar waves to the shores of the West side of Big Island. Expect to ride with the local surf crowd, especially during the winter when experienced and advanced surfers show off their tricks on short boards and body boards.
Surfing beginners and enthusiasts are advised to stay on the Kona side, where wave action is manageable throughout the year. On the other hand, the towering surf swells of Hilo will thrill expert wave riders.
ISLAND FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
Make good memories on Big Island by taking part in the island’s merrymaking during its annual festivals and events. Whether you take pride in cultural experiences or want to learn something new about the Orchid Isle, take advantage of our diverse list of activities below.
On Big Island, winter months are best spent on island fun. If your trip falls between the months of November and May, don’t miss the event highlights of the season.
Merrie Monarch Festival
The Merrie Monarch Festival is Hawaii’s biggest cultural commemoration dedicated to King David Kalākaua, the last king of the Hawaiian Monarchy and a proud patron of the arts, especially music and dance. Prestigious hula competitions are by invitation only, considering that this is the world’s biggest hula affair. The schedule of the annual festival in Hilo falls on the Easter Weekend, and also features free public events, including an arts and craft fair, an exhibit of local and international dance performances (first-come first-served basis) and a Royal parade.
Kona Brewers Festival
Channel your love for craft brewing during the Kona Brewers Festival, a sell-out event that puts the spotlight on craft breweries and their famous foaming creations. From ales to lagers, there are enough beer samples to go perfectly with Pacific Rim gourmet cuisines, remarkable open-air entertainment, and a fun crowd. If that’s not enough to get you racing to Kailua-Kona in March, there are other events to enjoy, such as a silent art auction, 5k run/walk and a golf tournament, set against a gorgeous tropical backdrop.
Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival
Big Island’s Waimea tantalizes locals and tourists alike with a taste of Japanese culture during the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival. With the bloom of cherry blossoms in February and various activities held around town, this multicultural event is truly a crowd-pleaser. Take part in Japanese traditions, such as mochi pounding, traditional tea ceremonies, a quilt show and hands-on demonstrations of origami and bonsai among others. This public event with food booths and a crafts fair is for free.
Moku O Keawe International Hula Festival
Open your heart (and soul) to hula and learn more about the art of movement in the Moku O Keawe International Hula Festival. This annual event is celebrated in March and emphasizes the significance of Hawaiian dance traditions through various educational platforms, such as lectures and workshops under influential hula masters (Kumu). Jewelry, fine arts, hula implements, soaps, lauhala and other handmade products of the best craftsmen on the Orchid Isle are also available in the Marketplace during the event.
Other well-attended events during winter:
- Waimea Ocean Film Festival – Various Locations (January)
- Kona Annual Surf Film Festival – Kailua-Kona (January)
- ‘Iolani Luahine Hula Festival – Keauhou, Kona (January)
- Panaewa Stampede Rodeo – Hilo (February)
- Big Island International Marathon – Hilo (March)
- Annual Avocado Festival – Kailua-Kona (March)
- Great Waikoloa Ukulele Festival – Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Kohala (March)
- Prince Kuhio Celebration – Various locations (March)
- Laupehoehoe Music Festival – Laupehoehoe Point Beach Park, Hamakua (April)
- Lavaman Triathlon Waikoloa – Waikoloa Beach Drive, Kohala (April)
- Big Island Chocolate Festival – Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Kohala (April)
- Kona Coffee Cultural Festival – Kona (November)
- Black and White Night – Hilo (November)
- Moku O Keawe Kapa Festival – (November)
- Hawaii Island Veterans Day Parade – Hilo (November)
- Holualoa Music and Light Festival – Kona (December)
- Annual Waikoloa Village Christmas Parade and Keiki Fest – Waikoloa Village, Kohala (December)
- Kailua-Kona Christmas Parade – Kailua-Kona (December)
- Big Island Craft & Gift Fair – Hilo (December)
- Wailea Village Annual Mochi Pounding – Wailea, Hakalau (December)
- National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – Various Locations (December)
If you are traveling to Hawaii’s Big Island between the months of May to October, better take notes of the best festivals and events to attend during the summer season.
May Day is Lei Day! Festival
Being a state-exclusive celebration and an official US holiday, Hawaiians enthusiastically celebrate Lei Day on the different islands with a mix of lei-making demonstrations, exhibits and competitions, hula performances, and arts and craft fairs among others. While the festivities center in Waikiki, Oahu, each island has its lei variety to honor and treasure. Head to Hilo’s old Town Square during May Day (May 1st) and dive into the rich Hawaiian lei culture.
Ford Ironman World Championship
Witness the triathlon most (if not all) world-famous athletes look forward to. The IRONMAN World Championship brings the best sportsmen together for the ultimate challenge of the mind, body, and spirit. Held annually in Kailua-Kona on Big Island, participants race through barren lava fields, swim across rough waters of the Kamakahonu Bay and cycle against “ho’omumuku” crosswinds that reach up to 45 mph under the sun’s burning presence. The long-distance endurance race set in October is by qualification only, so if you missed the opportunity to compete, you could observe the adrenaline-pumping battle of the bests as a spectator.
To commemorate the great and destined leader behind the unity of the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, the Kamehameha Festival was founded and celebrated throughout the Aloha State with the center of festivities happening in Hilo, Big Island in June. Every year, thousands of tourists join the locals in lei draping ceremonies, parades, free concerts with state’s top recording artists, hula performances, craft fairs, chant demonstrations, and various cultural activities. Most events are free and open to the public.
Parker Ranch Independence Day Rodeo
Hawaiians put a rowdy twist on Independence Day when they began holding the Parker Ranch Independence Day Rodeo on the same date. Fast-paced horse racing action is famous in the Aloha State and beyond, owing to the rich paniolo (cowboy) heritage on Big Island. Look forward to action-packed activities, including arena team roping, horse races, and ranch mugging, as well as family-friendly exhibits, local food trucks, a petting zoo, and Keiki games. Secure your tickets and head to Waimea’s Parker Ranch Rodeo Arena at 9:00 a.m. to catch the grand entry parade.
Hawaiian International Bill-fishing Tournament
Cheer on the best world anglers as they race towards the biggest catch of the summer season during the Hawaiian International Bill-fishing Tournament. The highly prestigious event set along the Kona Coast is most-anticipated among accomplished fishers hailing from the different U.S. States and countries. Look forward to free live entertainment, and food trucks and booths during the week-long fishing celebration. Weigh-ins and daily roundups are open to the public, but the bleachers are on first come, first seated basis.
Queen Liliuokalani Canoe Race
The world’s best paddlers come to the Big Island of Hawaii to participate in the Queen Liliuokalani Canoe Race. The five-day long distance race is set during the Labor Day weekend and culminates on the birthday of Hawaii’s last true monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. The 18-mile main race from the Kamakahonu Bay and the Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is truly an exciting spectacle a tourist shouldn’t miss during the summer.
Join significant tourist-friendly traditional activities in Kailua-Kona, including the Historic Kailua Village Cultural Walk, Torchlight Parade, Stand-Up Paddleboard Race, Native Artist Fair, Hulakai OC4 Sprint Relay Race and the Paddling Talk Story among others.
Other scheduled events in the summer:
- Ka’u Coffee Festival – Pahala Park and Community Center, Ka’u (May)
- Big Island Film Festival – Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Kohala (May)
- Annual Farm Festival – Honokaa (May)
- Aloha Keiki Run – Kailua-Kona (June)
- Big Island Jazz & Blues Festival – Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Kohala (June)
- Kona Marathon & Family Fun Runs – Waikoloa Beach Resort, Kohala (June)
- World Oceans Day – Hapuna Beach State Park, Kohala (June)
- Annual Mango Festival – Hale Halawai, Kailua-Kona (July)
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Cultural Festival – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (July)
- Volcano Rain Forest Runs – Volcano Village, Puna District (August)
- Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival – Kailua-Kona (August)
- Hawai’I Island Festival of Birds – Keauhou-Kona (September)
- Hawaiicon Convention – Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Kohala (September)
- Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival – Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa, Kailua-Kona (September)
- He Hali‘a Aloha No Ka Queen Lili‘uokalani Festival – Lili‘uokalani Park and Gardens, Hilo (September)
- Annual Parade and Festival for the United Nations International Day of Peace (Honokaa (September)
- Annual Hispanic Cultural Festival – Kona (September)
- Big Island Farm Fair – Kailua-Kona (September)
- Mealani’s Taste Of Hawaii Range – Hilton Waikoloa Village, Kohala (September)
- Hilo Wayfinding & Navigation Festival – Hilo (October)
- Big Island Lilikoi Festival – Pahoa, Puna (October)
- Annual Taste of Hilo – Hilo (October)
EAT & DRINK
Answer your stomach’s calling by visiting the best restaurants on Big Island and partaking in local dishes, desserts, and drinks that make any Hawaiian proud. With thriving agriculture and aquaculture on the island’s favor, prepare to feast on generous servings of flavorful cuisines and innovative blends developed through a rich cultural heritage.
ULU Ocean Grill & Sushi Lounge won’t be a disappointment if you are in for an ocean-to-table menu and laid back experience in a breathtaking open-air setting. Rated as one of Big Island’s upscale restaurants, don’t miss their full sushi menu and boutique wines that create appetizing magic as dusk sets in.
Another amazing choice for island-inspired cuisines is Brown’s Beach House at the luxurious Fairmont Orchid Hotel along the majestic Kohala Coast. Prepare for a scenic seaside fine dining experience with nightly entertainment, an extensive wine list and a versatile menu that caters to various taste buds. This award-winning AAA Four-Diamond restaurant is certainly a top-rated spot for romance and family bonding.
Ready for the five-star experience at The Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar along the oceanfront paradise of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection. Savor every bite and sip of regional cuisines as the symphony of waves and bird songs serenade you from morning to night. Expect to pay premium rates, but for a prestigious restaurant favored by the rich and famous, this location along the Kohala Coast presents a culinary and visual delight that exceeds expectations.
Not into formal sit-down setups? Make your way to Big Island’s mobile food zone called Kona Street Eatz, where a variety of food trucks are parked along Kuakini Highway to serve authentic dishes with a generous touch of Hawaiian flair. The location can accommodate up to sixteen (16) food trucks at the same time, resulting in an unpredictable menu and unique food truck fare both locals and tourists can’t get enough of.
Hawaii is a haven for those with a sweet tooth, but there are only a few notable locations on the Orchid Isle that can truly satisfy the dessert lover.
One of Hawaii’s best is the Scandinavian Shave Ice & Coffee Shop in Kailua-Kona, lovingly referred to as “Scandi’s.” Expect long lines when you try to satisfy your cold cravings with shave ice available in a wide assortment of flavors, from fruit favorites (strawberry, lemon, orange, etc.) to liquid refreshments (kola, coffee, root beer and Mai Tai).
Locals also love Holy Donuts, a discreet shop at the Kona Marketplace that serves gourmet confections that will please even the pickiest eaters. Indulge in the favored Crème Brulee and Bavarian crème, or go for the exotic maple bacon and berry potato variants. If you are into boring flavors, this donut joint is not for you.
Craving for more? Head to the Hilo Side of Big Island and grab a bite at the Moonstruck Patisserie. Their award-winning European-style pastries are the embodiment of culinary excellence. Take your pick from baked beauties, such as cheesecakes, macaroons, curry puffs and croissants among others.
While you are at it, why not give mochi a chance? Locals can’t get enough of the mocha products bought at Two Ladies Kitchen, which transport you to Japan in one or two bites. This hole-in-the-wall shop is also another Hilo favorite among dessert die-hards.
Fancy a heavy snack in between meals? You will love the gourmet burgers served at Village Burger in Waimea, north of Kailua-Kona. Feast on the fresh meat selection, including the local favorite Kahua Ranch Wagyu Beef and veal, and customize that perfect burger with the joint’s variety of burger toppings and satisfying sides.
The Tex Drive-In at Honokaa is also a great alternative for a quick bite on the go. The shop serves the famous Hawaiian version of Malasadas –the best one on Big Island –and assorted breakfast meals and side orders! Sugared or unsugared, these Portuguese donuts will make you come back for more.
Big Island is home to the world-famous Kona coffee and other high-quality caffeine variants, such as the Puna Coffee, Ka’u Coffee, and Hāmākua Coffee among others. Its rich volcanic soil and tropical weather have coaxed the growth of the best coffee beans that Hawaii is known for.
Learn to love local, and you’ll be surprised how the Kona Coffee & Tea Company will exceed your caffeine expectations! This little shop is known for authentic and fresh brews, lattes, iced drinks and quick breakfast bites –more flavorful than the overhyped chain coffee stores! Feel at home in Hawaii as you soak in the laid back ambiance and know more about coffee culture.
Get your caffeine fix in Hilo’s Kope Kope Espresso and Café, where the hassle of reality won’t be a bother for 30 minutes or so. Frequently regarded by local newspapers as one of the island’s best, this lovely spot offers maximum privacy that is perfect for intimate gatherings and solitary musings with freshly-made sandwiches or pastries on the side.
Want to pursue the plantation route? Big Island has acres upon acres of coffee farms left and right, most of which are offering free tours and sips of premium coffee. The easily accessible Greenwell Farms, Inc. in Kona offers guided walks that will take you to a picturesque orchard and coffee processing sites before you sit down to enjoy the distinctive Kona coffee in 10 varieties!
In Hilo, Hula Daddy’s Coffee Farm is worth the visit if you admire organic and family-owned businesses. Expect a short informative tour, eco-friendly coffee roasting, non-pricey products, and a lovely view of historical Hawaii.
If you wish to go higher up the mountains for the fresh air, rainforest views and a taste of Big Island’s first dually certified Kona coffee, the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation is certainly right up your alley. The largest and highest (3,200 ft. above sea level) organic coffee farm in the Aloha State has won numerous awards for its smooth-tasting and satisfying Kona brews.
WHERE TO STAY
With a lot of tours to catch and activities to experience, rest is definitely at the back of a tourist’s mind. Let us help you settle down on Big Island with a list of the best accommodations from economical to elegant.
East Hawaii (Puna, Hilo & Hamakua Coast)
Seeking affordable refuge in the Hilo side? The outlandish Volcano House is close to the hearts of backpackers and traveling families, as well as to the Kilauea volcano. The incandescence of the famous bubbling crater is visible from the 2-storey log cabin, making the place a hub for adventure seekers. Situated amidst tenacious ohi’a trees inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the property is the perfect setting for peaceful relaxation and comfort without a hefty price tag. Skip luxury; this accommodation is as basic as it gets, but its neatness, accessibility and staff hospitality will blow you away.
Grand Naniloa Hotel
Pamper yourself in privacy in one of Hilton’s pride in the Hawaiian Islands. Although Grand Naniloa Hotel has been standing for years, it is newly rebranded and renovated to compete with the upscale hotels in Kailua-Kona. Natural tide pools replace sandy shores, but a freeform pool overlooking Hilo Bay presents a nice alternative. The open-air lobby is laid back yet luxurious, while room furnishings got enhanced with a touch of Hawaiian.
Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel
If you wish to trade the stretch of white sand for amazing views of Hawaii’s highest peak or something entirely different from the postcard-perfect tropical paradise, a stay at Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel will surely ignite your love for Big Island. Large bay-front windows offer the right kind of aloha as you rise from the bed, while private lanais are perfect for that power-up breakfast or a romantic dinner for two. This landmark hotel retains the heart of Hawaii in its furnishings –modern meets classic island charm. Liliuokalani Gardens and other iconic sites are just a walking distance from the hotel, making it the ideal base along Hilo’s Banyan Drive.
West Hawaii (South and North Kona & Kohala)
Book a room at Courtyard By Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel if you think that the sound of waves is a great replacement for your noisy alarm clock. Considered as a mini resort, you can enjoy beachside access to the Kamakahonu Bay, well-maintained facilities, historical artifacts and great food in a location of cultural significance. This Kona beach hotel, widely known as “King Kam” is great for families, solo travelers, and groups staying at the west side of Big Island
Another beachside hotel that is placed a bit higher on the price range is the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. This high-end historical retreat sits on the Kohala Coast and affords a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean and easy access to one of Big Island’s busiest white sand beaches. Although dated in style, the resort features modern luxuries, courteous staff, top-rated restaurants and even sharing privileges with its 5-star sister property, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Along Kohala Coast is a renowned eco-friendly hotel favored by the upscale crowd. The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows is uniquely styled like an arrow with rooms that face out towards volcanoes, palm trees, and the Pacific Ocean, allowing guests to get pampered while enjoying a vista of greens and blues. The 30-acre oceanfront property boasts a free-form pool, ancient Kalahuipuaʻa fish ponds, luxurious villa-style bungalows, excellent cuisine choices, contemporary earth-toned interiors, and a three (3) mile white sand beach that defines perfection in the tropics.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is set to impress guests with incomparable services, first-class facilities, impeccable food and the authentic Hawaiian hospitality treatment in a secluded 32-acre oasis on the Kona-Kohala Coast. Merging relaxation and recreation amid lava beds of the Hualalai volcano, the resort’s take on luxury and island lifestyle lures in celebrities and royalties all year. If you already got sold on the fact that this accommodation is the only Big Island hotel to garner the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award, then prepare to pay a premium.
Want to stay in the local ‘hood? Consider booking accommodation through Airbnb and choose among thousands of vacation rentals around Big Island to suit your style and budget.
LIVE LIKE A LOCAL
Whether you’re on vacation for a few days or plan to extend your stay for a month or two, let us help you enjoy Big Island like a true blue local.
Soak up the sun and sea
Take the island life seriously. If you are in Hawaii for R&R, leave your hotel rooms and wander where there is no WiFi. Locals tend to go outside more often, lured by the bright sun and the sea breeze of the tropics. You should, too, if you want to be healthier and happier.
Colored beaches surround Big Island, so there’s no excuse not to hit the water. Witness the thriving marine life of Hawaiian waters, especially in Kealakekua Bay or Honaunau Bay. You should also keep an eye out for surfers trying to outdo each other on world-record waves or try the sport yourself.
Pay attention to Pacific Rim cuisines
What’s good in venturing away from home when you just eat comfort food and steer clear from local cuisines? Food is part of Hawaii’s culture and heritage, so better eat up if you want to maximize your immersion.
Dig into a plate of melt-in-your-mouth Kalua pig, Hawaii’s version of oven-roasted pork, and enhance the culinary bliss with appetizing side dishes and desserts, like ahi poke (raw fish salad), haupia (coconut milk-based dessert), strawberry mochi, and lomilomi salmon. Eat to your heart’s content during Marriott’s Island Breeze Luau –or any luau for that matter –where Pacific Rim cuisines get served with entertainment and a touch of aloha.
Love locally-made products
Stop dressing up with loud Hawaiian prints just to blend in! Locals would appreciate it more if you focus your energies on buying souvenirs that support communities and traditional livelihoods, like lauhala weaving and mocha pounding. Nothing else would justify your love for Big Island than hoarding locally-made products.
Head to Hilo Farmers Market or the Maku’u Farmers Market in Pahoa, Puna for a wide assortment of handbags, jewelry, home décor and other items at affordable prices. Take your pick from fresh produce if you’re planning to cook up a storm. There are also shops around Big Island selling upscale accessories and fashion, such as the Sig Zane Designs (SZD) in Hilo.
Catch cultural shows
Learn more about Hawaii and the Polynesian culture by catching cultural shows pulled together by the locality, expats and even tourists who want to enjoy performing on stage. Big Island has a few theaters that serve as a venue to render performances, such as live music shows and dances.
Reserve a night or two to visit The Aloha Theatre, a historic spot in the town of Kainaliu and home to the renowned non-profit Aloha Performing Arts Company. Watch as performers blend history and entertainment in one memorable night.
Camping takes local immersion to another level –a level where you wake up in a beautiful setting filled with green (or blue, if you decided to sleep by the beach) and feel the aloha spirit as you go by your chores for the day, which includes trekking, swimming, and mingling with the locals. There’s neither a TV to distract you from stargazing nor WiFi to keep you from getting in touch with nature. Luckily, Big Island boasts a long list of campsites where you can stay for days, given that you have acquired the necessary permits. Make sure to plan ahead to secure clearance for camping.
The Nāmakanipaio Campground will be the perfect place if you wish to explore volcanic action inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, while the campsites at Hapuna Beach and Hookena Beach Park are great options if you want campfires by the shore. These designated camping sites may not have a sight of blow holes and ocean arches like the one at Wainapanapa State Park on Maui, but they are relatively filled with happy campers ready to mingle.
Have you seen the best of Big Island? If you think we are missing something from the spectacular Orchid Isle, let us know in the comment section below!