The Best Things To Do on the Big Island of Hawaii
The island of Hawaiʻi, usually known to tourists by its nickname the Big Island of Hawaii, is the youngest and largest island in the Hawaiian chain. Nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, a visit to the island can include a trip through wet tropics, to massive volcanoes and lava fields, up to the snow-capped heights of Maunakea and down to jet-black sand beaches.
Being such a big island, the attractions are extremely spread out. I would recommend hiring car and also spending time on both sides of the island if time allows to see more what makes the Big island so special.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK DAY TRIP HIGHLIGHTS
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island, to walk through lava tubes, see ancient petroglyphs and walk around the rim of Kilauea volcano.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the five volcanoes on the Big Island – Kilauea and Mauna Loa – which are also among the most active volcanoes in the world.
Due to the nature of the unpredictable nature of volcanoes, you may or may not see lava flow or glow during your visit. Check the website before you plan your visit if this is the primary reason for going. No matter if you do or don’t see lava, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is absolutely worth visiting.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is so big that you could easily spend a few days exploring. If you are pressed for time however, it is possible to see highlights on a day trip to the park.
Read more about things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park here.
RAINBOW FALLS HILO
Rainbow Falls is located in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Named for the rainbows that are often spotted in its mist each morning, Rainbow Falls are 80 feet tall and almost 100 feet in diameter. Waianuenue Falls is its Hawaiian name and means “rainbow seen in water”.
Legends say that the cave beneath the waterfall was the home of Hina, mother of the demigod Maui.
Read more about visiting Rainbow Falls here.
ʻAKAKA FALLS STATE PARK
See majestic ʻAkaka Falls, 442 ft high & one of the most iconic waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii, & Kahuna Falls in the one short hike.
ʻAkaka Falls State Park is located at the end of End of ʻAkaka Falls Road (Hwy. 220), 3.6 miles SW of Honomū on the northeastern Hilo Coast.
Read more about visiting ‘Akaka Falls State Park here.
PUNALUU BLACK SAND BEACH
Punaluu black sand beach, on the Big Island of Hawaii, was once a white sand beach that was turned black by lava flowing over it and into the ocean. The black sand is formed by smooth fragments of lava that cools at it hits the ocean and splits into tiny pieces that, over time, build up to form the black sand beaches.
Punaluu is also a reliable place to see honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) in the water or on the beach.
Read more about visiting Punaluu black sand beach here.
MANTA RAY NIGHT SNORKEL
Watch giant mantas up close on a manta ray night snorkel in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The Mobula alfredi species of manta rays that live in the Hawaiian waters are the second largest species of manta rays. They can grow up to a wingspan of 5.5m (18 ft), with the rays around Kona around 12ft.
The Manta rays live in the waters off the Hawaiian islands their entire lives, filtering plankton out of the water with their giant mouths. With life spans of up to 50 years, each manta ray is well known and all of the Kona manta rays have been named.
There are several tour operators and locations where you can enjoy manta ray snorkelling. If you get seasick like I do, I suggest choosing a company that has a short distance to travel from where their boats launch and the manta ray site they visit.
Read more about manta ray night snorkelling here.
HAWAII BIG ISLAND HELICOPTER TOURS – BIG ISLAND SPECTACULAR WITH BLUE HAWAIIAN
The best way to see the Big Island’s majestic volcanoes, black sand beaches, lush rainforests and sparkling waterfalls is by air.
See the lava inside the Kilauea volcano, rainforests, beaches and an optional landing at a 1200-ft. waterfall on Hawaii Big Island helicopter tours by Blue Hawaiian.
Read more about the helicopter tour we chose, the Big Island Spectacular with Blue Hawaiian here.
OCEAN RIDER SEAHORSE FARM KONA HAWAII
Get up close to seahorses at Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona on The Big Island of Hawaii.
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm is a family-run aqua-farm. They breed and provide farm-reared seahorses to aquariums and hobbiests to protect wild seahorses facing the threat of extinction due to being taken from their homes in the wild.
Read more about visiting the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm here.
Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay Viewpoint, Kaelakekua State Historical Park
See ancient Hawaiian relics at the Kaelakekua State Historical Park and the 27-foot-high Captain James Cook monument marking his demise at Kealakekua Bay Viewpoint on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Read more about visiting Kaelakekua Bay and the Captain Cook monument here.
Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens Hilo
Visit Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens, the largest authentic ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan, located southeast of downtown Hilo.
The 24.14-acre park is situated on Banyan Drive, Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. The park’s site was donated by Queen Liliʻuokalani, and lies on the Waiakea Peninsula in Hilo Bay. The park is open 24 hours daily, admission is free.
Read more about visiting Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens here.
COCONUT ISLAND (MOKU OLA) IN HILO
Moku ola (Coconut Island) is an island in Hilo bay connected to the mainland by a 250 ft (75 meters) bridge. A beautiful spot to relax for a few hours with a picnic, Moku ola (Coconut Island) has two sandy beaches and tide pools for kids to explore.
Read more about visiting Moku ola (Coconut Island) here.
Spend a few days in Hilo
Hilo, Hawaii is the state’s third largest city. It has a laidback, charming “old Hawaii” vibe to it. Today, Hilo is the seat of government of the County of Hawai‘i. It’s also home to stunning waterfalls and a base to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The rainy, humid city of Hilo is a stunning place to visit and well worth spending a few days there for a true Hawaiian experience.
Read more about things to do in Hilo.
Where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii
I like to stay around the Kailua-Kona area because it’s a vibrant town with lots of local shops and amenities, as well as being centrally located. It feels a lot less touristy than other areas with large resorts, which is the vibe we prefer when we travel.
We really enjoyed the restaurants, shops and farmers market on the waterfront in Kailua-Kona.
Royal Sea Cliff Kona by Outrigger
On this trip, we stayed in two locations in the Kailua-Kona area. We spent a week at the Royal Sea Cliff Kona by Outrigger, which is vacation rental apartments rather than a traditional hotel. The pros were we were able to get a two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, two bathrooms and dining and living room for cheaper than a traditional hotel.
The cons however were the location (being slightly further out of town meant we had to drive to any shops and restaurants) and lack of facilities such as onsite restaurants and room service. We drove into town and did grocery shopping at the supermarkets and made out own meals some days in the apartment.
Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
We also spent one night at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. The reason was we wanted to spend our last night on the island somewhere central to the town and that had full resort facilities such as restaurants and a great pool, plus the sandy beach front.
The Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel was extremely pricey but the location is good and the hotel has a great holiday vibe. We stayed in a room with two queen beds that included breakfast in the waterfront restaurant.
Read more about things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
More things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii
Find the best things to do in Hilo, Hawaii
Visit Coconut Island, Hilo
Enjoy Liluokalani Gardens in Hilo
See the Captain Cook Monument and Kealakula Bay
Get a glimpse of the past at the Waikoloa Petroglyphs
Get the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii
See a volcano up close at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Visit Rainbow Falls, Hilo
See a majestic waterfall at Akaka State Park, Hilo Hawaii
See turtles on Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii
Swim with giants on a manta ray night snorkel, Hawaii
See lava and land at the foot of a waterfall on a helicopter tour
Hold a seahorse at Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm Kona Hawaii