TOP THINGS TO DO ON BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Big Island really deserves the name it has because man, this island is BIG and FULL of diversity! I chose to come here instead of popular islands like Oahu and Maui because I wanted more of a local culture feel as well as more variety in nature which is exactly what I got! There is a lot more to do on Big Island than you would expect because when searching online, it can be hard to find attractions on the island but there are soooo many hidden gems when you start exploring!! I found that the 2 sides of the island are completely different from one another. Hilo is a lot more lush with waterfalls and stunning greenery, but not much white sand for beaches (more lava rocks or black sand). Kona / Waimea has more resorts and white sand beaches in the area.
Keep in mind that no drones are allowed in any of the state or national parks.
1. ‘AKAKA FALLS STATE PARK
Akaka Falls is a 442 feet tall waterfall that is surrounded by the most lush jungle! It is located in Hilo and super accessible by car. When you get there, you either pay $5 per car for parking or $1 per person for entrance. The parking fee will cover the entrance fee as well. There is a well-made trail that is easy for all levels and it takes you around in a circle through the lush jungle while seeing beautiful views of the waterfall. If it rains a lot the day before, the waterfall will be a lot stronger and you will also be able to see the other waterfall that is normally hidden by the trees here (Kahuna Falls). Unfortunately the trees were covering it when we went so we did not see this waterfall. There is no way down to the bottom of the falls.
2. rAINBOW FALLS STATE PARK
Rainbow falls is also located in Hilo and super accessible for all levels. It is called Rainbow Falls for a good reason… if you go early enough in the morning (around 9-10am) on a sunny day, you will actually be able to see a rainbow off of the falls. The main viewpoint of the falls is right next to the parking lot. After soaking it in, make your way up to the top of the stairs (this can be slippery if it recently rained so do be careful and wear proper shoes) to see a view of the waterfall from the top. Walk about 2 minutes into the trail up there to see some really cool shaped trees! There is no fee to view these falls
3. BOILING POTS & PEEPEE FALLS
You can find this beautiful spot just a few km up the road from Rainbow Falls. Many people don’t know about this spot, they just go to Rainbow Falls and leave… but it is so beautiful and worth a visit! Careful not to swim here… the water is very dangerous and can kill you. There is no fee to view this area.
4. HAWAII volcano national park
Did you really go to Hawaii if you didn’t visit a volcano?! The Volcano National Park on Big Island is HUGE! You drive your card through the volcano and park in different areas. The pamphlet guides given to you at the entrance are very helpful. There are tons of hikes to do in the area but I only recommend doing them early in the morning as it can get very hot in the afternoon. There is NO LAVA FLOW anywhere on Big Island as of August, 2019. So you will not be seeing and lava which sucks because lava is so cool to view but visiting the park is still amazing regardless. I suggest spending a whole day here because there is lots to do. Don’t forget to pack lots of water and a lunch! The fee is $25 per car and you can use this pass for 7 days. Do arrive EARLY in the morning because parking spots do fill up.
There are currently protests being held at Mauna Kea Volcano by the locals. You can’t get up the volcano but I do suggest visiting the protests and supporting the locals. Have some lunch with them and enjoy their company while you learn about their culture and why they are protesting. They are extremely friendly!
5. punalu’u black sand beach
If you are obsessed with sea turtles as I am, this is the place you need to be! It is also an epic beach just to go to see the sand because it truly is so black due to the volcanoes in the area. But the main reason I went was for the turtles! Multiple turtles will come up onto shore and lay themselves on the sand and sunbathe for houuuuurs! Make sure to not get too close to them and NEVER touch them. Sea turtles are protected by the state of Hawaii. It is a great place to go snorkeling because there are so many turtles in the water as well. Careful as the waves can get strong and take you away without you even realizing (almost happened to me because I was so excited that I was swimming with a bunch of turtles all around me). The best spot to snorkel with these turtles is on the far left of the beach near where the boat ramp is. There is lots of grass on the rocks here so this is where the turtles feed. There is no fee to be on this beach.
6. carlsmith beach park
This is another well known area to swim with sea turtles. It is crystal clear waters with beautiful fishies in it as well. Turtles often come up very close to you that you don’t even need to be in the water to see them. They are known to be super friendly here. Unfortunately I was unlucky and didn’t see any turtles on this day but if you visit, you will more likely than not see them. Try to go when the tide is high because that is when the turtles will come in to eat the grass. There is no fee to be at this park.
7. HAWAII TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDENS
If you love being surrounded in the jungle, you will love these gardens! It is definitely worth the $20 entrance fee. The drive through the road to get to these gardens is very scenic with stunning cliff side viewpoints on the way. Walking through the jungle is very easy and accessible by all levels. It is well maintained with beautiful lush greenery all around you. I highly recommend visiting these gardens.
8. THE ARCH
This gorgeous arch is located at the end of the road in the Volcano National Park. The drive is extremely scenic and well worth it (about 30-40 minutes from the entrance). If you can, I suggest watching sunset here, it would be very beautiful. However, the drive back up in the dark might not be so fun as there are no lights on the roads and it can be very dangerous because it is cliffside. There is no extra fee to visit this arch. It is included in your entrance to the park.
9. HILO FARMER’S MARKET
I highly suggest visiting a farmer’s market when you are in Hawaii and buying your produce here. You will be supporting local businesses and it is also a lot cheaper and fresher than in grocery stores.
10. Kaumana Caves
These caves are sort of a secret spot. It is found near Rainbow Falls and it is super beautiful and worth the visit. It is not very big and you can walk through it to get to the other end. It is very dark inside so bring a flashlight. There is no fee.
11. Drive along the coast - hawaii belt road
This drive is something that you MUST do! Whether you are trying to get across the island to Kona side or to just visit some beautiful spots, this way is a must! You will be driving along the coast with beautiful views of the ocean. You will often cross bridges that have gorgeous views on either side (one side being the ocean and the other side being thousands of palm trees!). Some of the bridges have viewpoints of waterfalls so I recommend pulling over and walking across the bridge.
12. LAUPAHOEHOE BEACH PARK
This park is right off of Hawaii Belt Road. I recommend stopping here for lunch. It is a park by the sea with waves crashing into beautiful lava rocks. The view here is unreal! You won’t regret taking a break here.
13. WAIPIO VALLEY
This valley is a MUST do. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to hike down to the bottom when we went but if you are physically capable, I highly recommend this as it truly is stunning. There is a stunning waterfall in the middle of the valley as well as a gorgeous beach at the bottom. You will also probably see some wild horses too. Please do NOT ride these horses. The hike is NOT easy because it is very steep. That being said, you can also go down by car but you need to have a 4WD. Cars that are all-wheel drive are NOT allowed down here. A lot of rental car companies don’t even allow you to take the 4WD here because the road is so steep it could damage the car. Make sure to carefully read your rental agreement before you decide to do this. An alternative is also having one of the locals drive you down which is about $20/person roundtrip. Otherwise, even if you do not go down, the view from the top is still amazing and it is a nice place to stop while you are driving along the coast. There is no fee to go to the view point or to hike down.
14. KIHOLO BAY
Kiholo Bay is on the road on the way from Waimea to Kona. We stopped here on the day we were leaving because our flight was at 10pm. It is another black-sand beach. The water is super blue and beautiful. The waves here can be surprisingly strong… they don’t look strong but they really can pull you out. Be careful swimming. There is no fee.
15. COFFEE FARMS
Kona is very well known for its coffee. You can either buy coffee beans basically in any grocery store or costco, or you can alternatively visit a coffee farm which is what we did. Normally, the coffee tours are free. Make sure to check the farm’s website to see if you have to make reservations or what time the tours run. The coffee is not cheap. We bought packages for about $50 each but they are fairly large. It rains up on these farms every day, you can’t avoid it.
16. Manta Ray night snorkel
Big Island is one of the only places in the world that holds tours for night snorkeling with Manta Rays. For this reason, I HIGHLY recommend that you book a tour for a night snorkel when you are here. I recommend booking online beforehand because spots do fill up. Most of the tours that you see online will be going from Kona. For that reason, there will be a lot of tour boats in one area. Fortunately, I got lucky and our hotel Westin Hapuna Beach Resort in Waimea booked me with the local tour last minute. This was an incredible experience because there was only 1 or 2 other tour boats around us so we had 3 Manta Rays basically all to ourselves. It felt a lot more intimate as we had more time with them. The mantas are BEAUTIFUL creatures. They come up right close to your face and do a little dance for you. They are filter feeders and do not have stingers (that is just a tail) and they are extremely harmless so you do not need to worry about your safety. The hotel booked me through Adventure X Boat Tours and I paid $110USD when booking through the hotel. On their website, they are $105USD per person. The boat took us to in front of Mauna Kea Beach Resort to snorkel with the mantas. This made me realize that you could probably also snorkel for free with them during the day if you swim right off the beach but to go at night you will need to book a tour.