17 Best Things To Do in Big Island, Hawaii
Updated: Jul 12
One of the most popular destination for our clients this summer is Big Island, Hawaii.
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Here is the list of most popular activities on Big Island.
1. Volcano National Park.
It's one of the main attractions on the Big Island. You can do a few short hikes or drives through the area to see the volcano. The park is located approx. 1 hour 45 minute drive from Waikoloa. There is one area that is closed for visits Monday - Wednesday, and the visitor center exhibition is also closed due to COVID as of right now. We definitely highly recommend it as an activity. If there is a large eruption, they may have to close the park for safety reasons (unpredictable). You can drive to the park yourselves, or you can book a private tour with a guide if you wish (those tend to run approximately $800 and up for the day).
Experience Hawaiian culture and attend a traditional Hawaiian luau on the Big Island of Hawaii. A luau is a feast of life, companionship and great food! Try popular Hawaiian delicacies, such as lomi lomi salmon, kalua pig and island fish, or savor all-time American favorites. The luau feast also includes tropical cocktails and of course dessert, usually a variety of delicious cakes.
3. Snorkeling tour
These can be fun, some of the beaches (like Mauna Kea) have rocks surrounding them with a decent amount of fish, so you can just snorkel yourselves if you bring or rent your own equipment. Your hotel might offer equipment rental if you don't have your own.
4. Big Island Beaches
If you are looking to spend a day on the beach, the best beaches for that will be Hapuna and Mauna Kea . Hapuna is just like a regular beach state park, parking there is 5 dollars, and generally, you can always find parking. It's a nice white sandy beach, about a 15 minute drive from Waikoloa up north. Mauna Kea is a little bit north of Hapuna, and it's a very nice, fairly shallow beach with rocks around and a decent amount of fish. One issue with that beach is that public parking there is very limited, so don't expect to find parking (you might get lucky though). Unfortunately, the majority of the parking spots around belong to the hotel, which charges $45 for it (you can park for free if you eat at the hotel's restaurant though). But the beach is worth a trip or two.
Besides these two that are great for swimming, there are other beaches to visit. The Black Sand Beach (Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach) is not to be missed - the sand is jet black, and you can often find large black turtles right there. You can't really swim there though because of large rocks, but it's super interesting to visit. It is located on the opposite side of the Big Island from Waikoloa.
Green sand beach is very interesting, but very difficult to get to, especially with a small child. You are not allowed to drive up to it - have to take a fairly long hike, but there are enterprising locals willing to give you a ride for some cash (it's illegal though).
5. Snorkeling with manta rays. This activity usually takes place late evening/night. For some of my clients, this has been the highlight of their trip. I would also prebook if you think you want to do it.
6. Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure
Get a new perspective on Hawaii from the top of Mauna Kea, the world's tallest mountain and the most sacred location across the Hawaiian islands. Watch the sunset from 13,796 feet (4,205 m) above sea level, enjoy a picnic dinner, and scope out the stunning starry sky.
7. Submarine tour
This is kind of fun for the kids - you get on a real submarine, and take a submarine tour. It's not a long activity - you are there for maybe, 1 hour.
8. Coffee plantation tours and Macadamia nut factory
Big Island has a number of coffee plantations (and regular coffee there is pretty good!), so I would recommend a coffee plantation tour to see how it grows.
You can find many waterfalls on the north and east side of the Big Island thanks to lots of rain and a large gradient in elevation (volcanoes!). The size of these waterfalls and their location in the lush and tropical rainforest makes them a popular and spectacular attraction to visit. 'Akaka Falls I definitely recommend, it's fairly easy to get to, and is a nice activity for the whole family. Other waterfalls you can see if you do a day trip to Hilo, like Rainbow falls. You can also book tours to see waterfalls and swim in some (most private falls).
Hilo is a town on the other side of the island, and has several attractions nearby. I recommend that you go there on Saturday or on Wednesday because it's a big market day, so they have vendors come and sell all kinds of interesting fruits, vegetables, food, and other stuff. You will have to wear a mask there. I also recommend the Tsunami Museum there - it's not big, but quite interesting. Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Gardens is also nearby, as well as Akatsuka Orchid Gardens (if you like orchids). Rainbow Falls is also there.
11. Lava Tubes
There are several places where you can access lava tubes and hike them.
Please note hiking difficulty level and what you may need to bring to stay safe.
12. Hot Springs
There were several hot springs on the Island, but the 2018 volcano eruption basically destroyed them, as they were overrun with lava. Pohoiku Tide Pools, which are part of the Isaac Hale Beach Park (on the Hilo side of the island) may be worth a visit.
13. Horseback riding tours
Horseback tours into the Waipio Valley are popular. They are longish (2-3 hours). There are ranches near Hilo that offer horseback tours with a swim in the waterfalls.
14. Boat rides and cruises, ATV rides
There are glass bottom boat rides, sunset dinner cruise rides, dolphin watching tours (some combined with snorkeling), etc. Some of the ATV rides may not be suitable for a younger child - let me know if you would be interested and I can find out.
If you or one of your kids is interested in surfing, your hotel rents out equipment. You can go surfing right on Hapuna Beach or book a lesson.
16. Helicopter tours
These are not cheap to say the least. They are also highly weather dependent - your tours may get canceled without prior warning if the weather to where you are going or leaving from is not favorable. So if you want to do this tour, I would advise to book early in your stay and be ready to switch to another day at the moment's notice. Circle of Fire is one of the most popular ones. On the Circle of Fire helicopter tour, you’ll embark on a breathtaking adventure, seeking out the island’s unique rainforest, newly formed landscapes and black-sand beaches, and witnessing the results of Madame Pele’s incredible volcanic activity—scenes of nature’s raw power that you’ll never forget!
17. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Step back in time and into a piece of living Hawaiian history – Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. A tour of this park is one of the top things to do on the west (Kona) side of the Big Island and an excellent way to experience traditional Hawaiian culture.
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