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Hidden Hot Spots on the Big Island

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Papakolea green sand beach.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Edward Hon.

The Big Island is an enormous expanse with too many hot spots to list them all. Among the most popular sites are places like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Waipio Valley, Pu’uhonua O Honauna National Historic Park, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls and the luxury hotels in Kona and Kohala to name a few. But there are many other attractions on the Big Island, perhaps not as well-known, that could still merit your visit as noted below.

Uniquely Colored Beaches: The Big Island is surrounded by inimitable coastlines. One of the unique beaches past the South Point area is the green sand beach called Papakolea. You can get there by hiking over exposed rocky terrain or pay for a jeep ride there provided by some enterprising locals. Though the path can be windy and dusty, seeing an olivine-crystal sand beach is a once in a lifetime experience. Another must-see are the famous black-sand beaches at Punalu’u Beach near the town of Na’alehu where black sand particles, resulting from explosive confluence when hot molten lava abruptly hits the cold of the Pacific Ocean, glitters along the shore.

Secluded Beaches: Many will not realize that the Big Island, as a fairly geologically young volcanic island, does not have too many white sand beaches as compared to the other, older Hawaiian Islands. But here at Makalawena Beach near the town of Kailua-Kona you can find powdery white sand with aqua waters teeming with tropical fish for those who bring masks and snorkeling gear. If you are an avid snorkeler, the Big Island is the perfect place to be. Visit the Kapoho Tide Pools where the geothermally heated fresh waters collide with fresh ocean salt water, making this unlike any other snorkeling experience. Hapuna Beach near the Waikaloa Resort and Ho’okena Beach south of Captain Cook are places where you can find quiet beaches for sunbathing and swimming.

Three Ring Ranch Exotic Sanctuary: Reaching across 5 acres just north of Kona, the exotic sanctuary is the perfect place to acquaint yourself with rare endemic animals on your trip to Hawaii. With animals like the Hawaiian hoary bat, Hawaiian nene goose and even a unique golden zebra named Zoe, this is bound to be an exciting and informative activity for the whole family.

Kalahuipua’a Fishponds: For guests staying or visiting grounds of the Mauna Lani Resort should make the effort to visit the Kalahuipua’a fishponds. These anchialine ponds, which are landlocked bodies of water with a subterranean connection to the ocean, were lovingly restored by the prominent local landowner and developer Francis H. I’i Brown. The most notable pond is the Love Pond, so-called in honor of Mr. Brown’s lady friend, Winona Love, is hidden away behind the primary fish ponds and is a serene place to enjoy an afternoon. The secluded pond is tricky to find, so we recommend talking to the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel concierge for directions on how to get there. One can swim there, so long as you are not wearing sunscreen, which is toxic for the type of rare Hawaii shrimp that lives in the pond.

Kona Coffee Tour: If you are lucky enough to be in Kona in the first few weeks of November, we recommend attending the Annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, which is the oldest food-related festival in the state. Here you can try coffee from over 30 farms as well as thousands of coffee-inspired recipes and treats. If you are visiting any other time of the year, try the Kona Coffee Living History Farm and explore the mill on a self-guided tour. Bottom line? When on the Big Island, make sure you try the world-famous Kona coffee.

Honu green sea turles resting on beach on Big Island of Hawaii

Big Island Bees: To try something different from the typical beach day or hiking excursion, learn a bit about bee-keeping and creating sculptures out of wax hives. Spend an afternoon with your family and friends at the Big Island Bee Company which produces locally raised organic honey. The owner was once celebrated for his beehive sculptures in galleries in New York city and Washington DC. Some of the sculptures can be seen at the free museum on the history of beekeeping on site. Once the museum tour is done, visitors can also partake in a honey tasting.

Lake Waiau: Lake Waiau, located within Pu’u Waiau cinder cone near the 13,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island, is the third highest lake in the US as well as the only glacial-fed lake in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The lake is one of five remaining natural lakes in the Aloha State. The lake level rises and falls depending upon the amount of precipitation in the area. Waiau means “swirling water” in Hawaiian and the lake and the surrounding summit area were considered to be sacred by the ancient Hawaiians. Scientists are unable to explain the why lake is able to support a body of water while everywhere else on the summit of Mauna Kea is unable to retain large amounts of water. Be sure to plan for at least 5 hours for the trip and bring a light jacket and a picnic along so you can make the most of this unique adventure on the Big Island.


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