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Big Island of Hawaii: 15 Things to Do

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The Big Island of Hawaii not only lives up to its name in size but also in adventure. There are just so many places to see and adventures to be had, you can see why it makes for an epic road trip. A lot of the best things to do on the Big Island are free thanks to Mother Nature.

Hawaii is full of natural attractions in the form of waterfalls, parks, trails, volcanoes, and beaches. In addition to all of that beauty, some of the best things to see on Big Island Hawaii are marine animals like sea turtles and dolphins. Of course, there are some man-made attractions that you might want to check out too. Up next we’re going to tell you about 15 of the best things to do on Big Island Hawaii. 

Things to do in the Big Island

Get this map of Hawaii here to help navigate these Hawaii travel attractions.

The best way to get around the big island is to drive. You can check CarRentals.com for price comparisons and availibility.

Download this self guided driving tour of the Big Island Hawaii travel planner were you can take in all the top attractions like: Kilauea Visitor Center, Rainbow Falls, and a hike to the famous green sand beach.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii-Volcanoes-National-Park

If you’ve never seen an active volcano before, you’re in luck. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has two active volcanoes, Mount Loa and Kilauea. If there is one thing to check off the bucket list in Hawaii it is to see a volcano. The park sits south of Hilo on the map and is a must-see if you visit this island. Kilauea is considered to be the world’s most active volcano and Mount Loa is not too far behind.

This Hawaii park provides a wealth of information about how the Big Island of Hawai was formed and has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve. Some of the key things to check out at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park include the 1790 Footprints, Kilauea Crater, Volcano House, and the incredible Sea Arch.  Other activities include a visit to the Thurston Lava Tube and Jaggar Museum as well as backcountry hiking.

  • Our favorite way to see the Hawaiian Islands is by helicopter. Book this once in a lifetime tour where you’ll see the volcanoes, white and black sand beaches and lush rainforests from above.

Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea Summit Big Island

Whether you’re a stargazing buff or not, Mauna Kea Summit is a sight not to be missed. It is one of the best places in the world for astronomy and the views that come with it. That is thanks to the lack of light pollution among other unique factors in Hawaii.

Folks that have visited Mauna Kea Summit at sunset have said it is one of the most spectacular sights you will see in your life. After the sunsets, you’ll want to take a stargazing tour for more spectacular Hawaii views. This activity will give you a chance to see one of the beautiful sights from the island, and you don’t even need a telescope.

Please note that you can drive up to the Visitor Information Center (VIS) in any type of car but to go all the way up to the summit you need a 4WD. Alternatively, you can park your car in the parking lot of the VIS and do some star gazing from there. One of the things to note, however, is that the parking lot fills up quickly so you need to get there early.

Mauna Kea Stargazing

For something unique to do in Hawaii, book a night of stargazing on the slopes of Mauna Kea or Mauna Loa. The night skies are so good here, Nasa uses it for Mars studies.

Waipi’o Valley

Waipio valley on the Big Island of Hawaii

For a landscape like no other, visit Waipio Valley on the island. The lush green hills go as far as your eyes can see until they are interrupted by a beautiful black sand beach. That black sand beach is divided in two by a river that runs through it and right into the ocean. This valley on the island is a great place for a hike as well as to go waterfall-hopping as there are five different waterfalls at four points jutting out from the valley. 

Snorkel off Black Sand Beach

The waters of Hawaii are some of the best in the world to view sea turtles and the best activity to see them is to book a snorkeling trip. This tour of Sea Turtle Lagoon and Black Sand Beach gets you in the water to see the abundant sea turtle population and other marinelife.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

As far as beaches go, black sand beaches are about as exotic as you can get. There aren’t too many in the world that are accessible, let alone ones that welcome visitors. But here on the Hawaiian islands you find one that is accessible and waiting for visitors. There are a ton of activities you can do at Punalu’u.

You can take a snorkeling tour off the coast as well as take hikes nearby. If you want to spend the night there, you can, however, you will need to get a camping permit to be able to do so.  Besides the black sand, there is another attraction that keeps travelers coming back.

Once you’re out on this Hawaii beach, you can see quite a few species of green sea turtles living their best life. You’ll need to be careful around these green sea turtles as they are considered an endangered species. 

Snorkeling Tour

A favorite water activity in Hawaii is to go snorkeling. Book this highly rated snorkelling tour where you’ll set sail along the Kona Coast to Kealakekua Bay to snorkel at the Captain Cook Monument. Search for humpback whales and pods of dolphins before getting in the waters of this pristine marine sanctuary

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Big Island Hawaii

Most people’s beach sand experience pans white sand to brown sand, you won’t be like other people when you get the green sand experience. The green sand beach on this Hawaiian island is made from a cinder cone which makes it romantic in itself.

Cinder cones develop around volcano vents and the green sand beach cinder cone is almost 50,000 years old The green crystals that make the beach come from lava flows of olivine crystals.

Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls Big Island

For a true adventure, you want to check out the Akaka Falls Trail in Akaka State Park north of Hilo. You can check out the state park map to decide which way to go. To get the most out of your travel itinerary take the circle trail to get a taste of the park before getting to the falls. You’ll see green everywhere you look and then out of nowhere you’ll see Banyan trees.

The trail seems to disappear into the trees but when you get closer you realize it continues into the trees. Inside its dark and mysterious and makes the loop trail all the more interesting. Along the way you’ll get to see Kahuna Falls before you hit the main attraction of Akaka Falls at the end of the trail.

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Botanical Gardens

One of the best things to see on the Big Island of Hawaii are the botanical gardens. If you look at a map of the island’s There are many of them but one of our favorites on the Hawaiian islands is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens.

This botanical garden is home to more than 2000 kinds of tropical plants from around the world. You can take a hike to the gardens or take a vehicle. It’s a lot more fun, for travelers that are able to, to hike to the garden as the excitement just builds up with each step.  Other gardens include the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Botanical Gardens and the World Botanical Gardens in Hilo.

Kilauea Iki Trail 

kilauea iki crater on the Big Island of Hawaii

The best way to see and feel the Big Island of Hawaii is to explore the many trails on the island. These trails take you deep inside the lush forests that cover the island and give you a chance to see everything from waterfalls to rivers to volcanoes to craters.

The Kilauea Iki Trail is one of the most popular trails on the island and takes you inside a pit crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The trail is about 4 miles and you get to traipse across lava beds, which is one of the things many visitors look forward to. 

Crater Rim Trail

The Crater Rim Trail takes you along the Kilauea Volcano Caldera. It is the longest loop trail on the island and can take about 8 hours. But those 8 hours will pass by very quickly as it is not an experience you will ever forget.

You will see lave, cinders, lave tubes, steam vents, and evidence of lava flow and the impact those lava flows had on this part of the island. Kilauea Volcanoe had an eruption in 2020 that dried out a water lake and a massive lava lake that has since solidified but is quite an incredible sight.

One of the things you should be aware that there will be noxious fumes coming from eruptions. Additionally, the air can be quite dry and weather quite temperamental. 

  • Book this volcano tour where you’ll take a guided hike across the lava flow to the new black sand beach while learning of the Lava flows and history of the Big Island.

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Honaunau on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you broke one of the ancient laws in Hawaii, the land where Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park sits today would be your refuge according to legend. This national park is an archeological site with temples and other structures. It was believed to be protected by the God of Life and for some people that energy can still be felt today. 

Dolphin Spotting

You can see dolphins all around the islands of Hawaii and the Big Island is no different. Spinner dolphins seem to, in particular, favor the waters of the Big Island of Hawaii. You can see them daily in the bay of Kona, but one thing you should be careful about is your behavior around them. The dolphins are nocturnal and rest in the bay during the daytime so it is best not to disturb them until they’ve rested and swim up themselves. 

Dolphins in Hawaii

Spinner dolphins are amazing to watch as they do what their name suggests – they spin when they jump out of the water. They are extremely playful and jump out of the water to do these spins. You can even take dolphin swim tours, but be careful about going with an operator who is willing to swim into the bay while they are resting.

As travelers, being mindful of the impact our visits have on the local people, animals, plants and other things is of utmost importance. So you can spend your day relaxing on the beach and wait for the dolphins to come up out of the waters when their ready.

Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm

There are few people in their lives that will ever get to see a seahorse up close. There are even fewer people that will be able to touch a seahorse, but you could be one of the few on the list because the Big Island is the place to see them. The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm on this Hawaii island has two goals on its list. It aims at seahorse conservation via education and it is also a place for seahorse sales for personal and commercial use.

You get a chance to take a seahourse tour and see them up close. Trust me, we have seen sea horses up close and it is magical. The guides will also give you a chance to touch these gorgeous creatures if you are so inclined. One thing is for sure is that you’ll never forget what it was like seeing a seahorse in real life. They look like one of those things that could only come out of the mind of a fairytale illustrator.

Coral Reef of Big Island of Hawaii

Coral Reef Big Island

The islands of Hawaii have some of the most diverse coral reefs in the world. That is thanks to the fact that they are all the way out there in the Pacific Ocean in somewhat isolation. There are more than 1000 different kinds of marine life along the Hawaii coral reefs. If you want to get the coral reef experience on the Big Island, you’ll want to head to Kona. 

Kona has some of the most gorgeous reefs in the islands of Hawaii. There are quite a number of snorkeling tour operators in Kona. They will suit you up and provide you with guidance so you can experience the beauty of the reefs while also being mindful of marine life.

You should also add a visit to a beach while you’re there. Regardless of the beach you choose along the Kona coast, you’re going to find soft, silky and that you can relax in after your snorkelling tour.

Kailua Kona

If you’re a coffee lover, chances are you’ve heard of Kona Coffee. Kona Coffee is grown on the mountain plantations of Kailua Kona and it is well worth it to take a road trip to the region. You can do a coffee plantation tour and get a taste of the coffee from where it’s grown.

Kealakekua Bay

After you’ve had your coffee, take a drive down to Kealakekua Bay where you will find the Captain Cook Monument. Captain James Cook is believed to be the first western explorer to ever set eyes on Hawaii. A visit here is just the beginning of the activities that are available along the Kona coast.

Kona Coast

Kona coast activities include things like scuba diving and snorkelling in the blue waters. You can’t visit the Kona coast with visiting a beach. The list of beaches along the Kona coast is very long and includes Mahaiula Beach, Kukio Beach, Kua Bay Beach among many others.

Sunset Sail

If you are looking for romantic things to do in Hawaii book this Sunset Cruise on Kealakekua Bay where you’ll have live entertainment and a buffet dinner as you sail down the Kona Coast.

Hapuna Beach

If you want to enjoy a really good beach experience while on the Big Island of Hawaii then Hapuna Beach is where its at. It often tops the list when people rank the best white sand beaches of Hawaii. It is a great beach for sunbathing, bodyboarding and snorkeling.

When the evening approaches, you can wander down to the Mauna Kea Luau for dinner. Besides the decadent roast pig, you’ll find music, dancing and a fire show among other things at tjos fim luau.

Views on the Big Island of Hawaii

Where to Stay on the Big Island

The Big Island can be split into two sections, the beaches of Kona Coast to the West and the rainforest and volcanoes of Hilo to the East.

Kona and Kohala on the West Coast of Hawaii are the places with the best beaches, clear waters and home to the majority of Hawaii’s resorts.

Hilo is another great area to stay on the Big Island with rainforests, waterfalls and volcanoes.

  • In at Kulaniapia Falls – is set on 22 acres, surrounding Hawaii’s largest privately accessible waterfall jsut 15 minutes from town.
  • Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – You can’t go wrong with a Doubltree by Hilton and the newly renovated Grand Naniloa Hotel is located downtown Hilo.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should you not miss on the big island?

A visit to the island requires a visit to Mount Kea. Besides all of the star gazing you can do there is the waterfall watching. You will see waterfall after waterfall on the slopes of Mount Kea near Hilo. And trust us, waterfall watching never gets old regardless of how many you see.

How long does it take to drive around the Big Island Hawaii?

If you plan to drive around Big Island Hawaii without stopping for any activities, it will take about 8 hours in total. But if ou actually want to do things along the way than you should add the amount of time each activity will take to the 8 hours.

What is the best area to stay on the Big Island Hawaii?

The best area to stay in on the this island is going to depend on what you want. Hilo is quiet and close to the two big volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. If you want to tour each volcano extensively for most of your stay then Hilo would be a good place to stay. Kona, on the other hand has a lot more things to do. The Kona area has a lot of activities to do in the day time and it also has a night life.

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things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

And these are the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. What is your favourite of the Hawaiian Islands?