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Top Five Must-Dos on the Big Island

Snow-capped Mauna Kea

Snow-capped Mauna Kea.

Not sure what to do when you visit the Big Island? If your trip is going to be brief, here are five of the best things to prioritize on your tropical vacation. Choose a handful of locations from each category on our list and you will be sure to leave Hawaii Island with a full camera, a huge smile and plans to return for more exciting adventures on the largest of the islands.

Notable Areas: The Big Island has many notable areas worth mentioning in this list. Waipi’o Valley can be viewed from the lookout area but it can also be explored either on horseback, by hiking challenging trails or reached by kayaked on calm weather days. The plateau-like heights and plummeting green valley below are inspiring for those bitten by the wanderlust bug. Certainly another one of the most spectacular activities of the Big Island is driving to the summit of Mauna Kea, which at 13,796 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the State of Hawaii. Here people can camp, hike, star-gaze, watch the glorious sunrise and learn about the history and geology of the area at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center.

National Parks: There are few places in the world where travelers can gaze safely upon an active volcano. At the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visitors can learn about the changing shape of the island caused by constant volcanic activity, wander through lava tunnels and above craters, drive along the Chain of Craters Road as well as see firsthand the effects of the raging wonders of Kilauea Volcano. If you’re interested in seeing it up-close, conditions permitting, be prepared to trek a fair distance, as the live lava flow may be a hike of several miles. Be sure to check in at the main visitor center to find out about the most recent activity, the air quality and tour guide information. An incomparable place of historical significance to learn about ancient Hawaiian history is the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. Be prepared to spend several hours here to explore the nearby trails, heiaus, villages, ceremonial sites and visitor center.

tourists taking picture of lava in Hawaii

Waterfalls: Mostly located on the northern or north eastern sides of the island, there are several breathtaking waterfalls that give the other islands a run for their money. Rainbow Falls tumbles down the Wailuku River near Hilo. When the sunlight hits the water at the right time every morning, visitors can witness an ethereal rainbow halo. Akaka Falls features a 400-foot waterfall surrounded by tropical plants, bird-of-paradise flowers, bamboo forests and idyllic rainforest landscapes. For some of the best close-up views of these majestic waterfalls, book a helicopter tour and soar like a bird above the crashing waters and green valleys.

Markets and Farms: Anyone with even a pinch of knowledge about agritourism will want to explore the numerous farms and markets on the Big Island. The Hilo Farmer’s Market is a favorite place for locals and tourists to savor Hawaiian produce and shop for crafts, art and hand-made wares from hundreds of vendors on site. Additionally travelers can sample fresh macadamia nuts, rambutan, star fruit, dragon fruit, ginger, papaya, mango and cacao. Whether you plan to try the honey fashioned from tropical flowers and Big Island bees or are set on finding out more about how the delicious Kona coffee is made, there are many farms offering tours, tasting and dining for visitors to savor the exotic tastes of Hawaii.

Colorful Beaches: One of the unique draws that the Big Island can boast of is its colorful beaches. From black and green sand beaches to secluded coves, if sunning on the beach or snorkeling with bright reef fish is your goal, then this is a beautiful island to indulge in those pastimes. Punalu’u Beach located on the south side of the island is a stark black-sand beach. At Papakolea Beach near remote South Point features a unique green sand beach but swimming is cautioned against as currents can be strong on windy days. Though not easy to get to, the olivine crystal grains of sand at Papakolea make this small cove a wondrously emerald sight to behold. While it might be tempting to bring sand samples back from your trip, please be warned that this is not only illegal, but also is said to bring bad luck. Hapuna Beach on the Kohala coast is a stunning white sand shore that has been called the best beach in the United States and can be found featured in tropical calendars, posters and popular images because of its perfect composition.

snorkler on beach with green sea turtle or honu


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