13 Things to See and Do on Hawaii's Big Island

By: Lindsay MacNevin

The Big Island of Hawaii is exactly what it sounds like, the biggest island among all the islands of Hawaii. It is also the youngest, most diverse in landscapes and many argue is the most fascinating of all. Packed with volcanoes, beaches, reefs and fascinating cultural sites; a trip to the Big Island would not be complete without exploring at least some of our recommendations. From waterfalls to night scuba diving with manta rays, from local hot pools to red hot lava views; there is something for everyone to discover. Sit back, relax and read on to discover why you should be planning your next trip to the “Big Island”


1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

A visit to the Big Island isn’t complete with a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. First head to the Visitors Center where there are always helpful rangers to point out the numerous hiking trails, best vantage points and will tell you about any  trail closures. You will want to hike through the Indiana Jones like lava tube to the devastation trail; where the lava has incinerated everything as far as the eye can see. Watch steam vents explode into the air and be awed by the desolate beauty that surrounds you. Head to the Jagger Center Museum which is home to one of the best views of the volcano and houses interesting displays and information about the park. Head to The Rim restaurant in the Volcano House for an awe-inspiring view of the glowing caldera after dark and enjoy some excellent food.

Lava Tunnels Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

2. Kona Manta Ray Night Dive

The world famous Kona Manta Ray Night Dive is any diver’s dream come true. Hop aboard one of many tours and cruise out into the ocean after dark for some serious diving. If you aren’t scuba certified don’t worry; there are plenty of companies that offer the Manta Ray Night Dive for snorkelers as well. Hang onto a surfboard, pool noodle or small boat and watch as the manta rays come right up and summersault in front of you. For the scuba divers you will dive down to the bottom and stand on the sandy bottom while manta rays playfully summersault above and around you. There are many excursions to choose from including options such as dolphin swimming by day, twilight scuba diving or dinner on the boat. We highly suggest taking this once in a lifetime opportunity to see these incredible marine creatures up close and personal.

manta ray at night

3. Ahalanui Park

Not your hotel swimming pool, you will find that the locals often outnumber the tourists here. The feature of Ahalanui Park is the spring fed volcanic heated pool that sits around a balmy 90 degrees. The perfect place to soak your muscles after a hike, the view of the crashing ocean beyond the sea wall and the surrounding coconut trees makes this a hidden oasis. A perfect outing for the family; there are lots of ladders to climb down in the water and snorkels are allowed and encouraged as there are plenty of little fish swimming about. A few words to the wise; the water depth varies so for any little non swimmers you will want to bring a lifejacket or floaties. Also in keeping up with the natural ambiance there is no change room. Ahalanui Park is a great stop along the way when exploring the Puna Region and one of our hidden gems for The Big Island.

Ahalanui Park

4. Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach)

Off the beaten path lies one of only four green sand beaches in the world. If there’s a beach to visit on The Big Island that is unlike any other; Papakolea is the one. Getting there can be an adventure but we assure you it’s worth it. Choose to drive your 4X4 rental, hike the 2miles or catch a ride down to the beach with locals for a small price. The beached is carved into the side of a cinder cone that erupted over 50,000 years ago. The result is a breathtaking cove with sparkling soft green sand. The current is strong at this beach and we suggest never venturing out of the cove when you are in the water, and weaker swimmers should be very careful. Often uncrowded with plenty of sunshine, Green Sand Beach is a must stop. Please be aware of the natural setting and take all garbage with you, leave all sand and respect this beautiful hidden oasis.

Papakolea Beach


5. Mauna Kea star party

There is no better way to end a day on The Big Island than staring up at stars, planets and the galaxy through one of many telescopes atop Mauna Kea. Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station (VIS) offers a stargazing program every evening that offers access to state of the art telescopes. For stargazing and a summit adventure hook up with Hawaii Forest and Trail. Offering a guided tour for ages 16 and up; Forest and Trail will take you up the mountain and serve you a hot picnic dinner. At the top of the summit a gorgeous sunset like no other awaits you. Descending back down to 9000 feet you will gaze at the stars with a provided telescope. There are no clearer skies than the skies above Mauna Kea; and this is one view you will never forget.

Mauna Kea

6. Waipio Valley

Arguably one of the most beautiful places on the Island, Waipio Valley is a must visit on any trip to The Big Island. We recommend parking your car at the lookout and walking down to explore the Valley. It can be a steep walk so be sure to wear sturdy shoes and tread carefully. Reaching the beach is like walking onto the set of Jurassic Park, a long black sand beach separated with a river and a waterfall in the distance. Cross the river to the other side of the beach where it’s less crowded and enjoy the beauty of the natural surroundings.  A short hike will bring you in views of the majestical waterfall. If you are looking for a longer hike it’s possible to hike to the bottom of the falls but be prepared for multiple stream crossings. Waipio Valley is beautiful from the lookout point but once you trek down and discover all that it offers, you will be lost in the magic of it.

Waipio Valley

7. Akaka Falls State Park

Located just outside of Hilo Town; we recommend taking the scenic drive along the coast from Hilo to reach Akaka Falls State Park. Giant bamboo trees, lush green foliage, bright fauna and a 442ft waterfall that cascades into a stream eroded gorge awaits you in this natural paradise. Choose from a short or long trail that is clearly marked and hike through the towering trees, vines and giant philodendrons. The marked paths are perfect for children but we suggest leaving your strollers in the car as there are stairs. Rails line each path for further safety measures. Akaka Falls is most impressive during rainy season when the water crashes violently over the cliffs.

Akaka Falls

8. Puuhonua o Honaunau Historical Park

This 180-acre national historic park is considered sacred royal grounds that provided refuge for defeated warriors and law breaking civilians in times of battle. Immerse yourself in Hawaiian history and learn about the ancient kapu system that governed Hawaii. Follow the map and take a self-guided walking tour through the grounds exploring ancient temples and hangouts that teeth-barring idols watch over. Discover the resting places of many historic Hawaiian warriors. After a trip through history and the grounds, head two blocks over for some amazing snorkelling at Two Step Lava Beach. You will find an underwater garden oasis littered with extraordinary coral and tropical fish. Shallow, clear and calm waters make this the perfect snorkel destination.

Puuhonua o Honaunau Park

9. Punalu’u Beach

One of few black sand beaches on The Big Island, Punalu’u Beach is a favourite of ours. Typically less crowded than other beaches on the Island paired with one of the best places to see sea turtles in their natural habitat; this beach is a must visit. The fine black sand, the coconut trees swaying in the distance and the huge lily pond boasting white and purple flowers makes for a picture perfect setting. Between sunbathers you will more often than not spot the giant green sea turtles catching some rays. If the surf allows for it; make sure to snorkel into the water for some amazing underwater marine life where brilliantly colored reef fish dart in and out of sight. If you are fortunate you may see some sea turtles that come close to shore. Offering restrooms, change rooms and more than a fair share of waves; Punalu’u Beach is worth the visit.

Punalu’u Beach


10. Hawaii Botanical Gardens

This “garden in a valley on the ocean” flourishes under the golden sunshine and makes Hawaii Botanical Gardens number ten on our list of things to see and do. Take a self-guided tour through the beautiful lush oasis that house over 2500 species of tropical plants. The owners have done an outstanding job labelling plants and flowers to ensure visitors always know what they are looking at. The paths through the gardens end at a spectacular ocean view with plenty of good photo opportunities. Take time to admire the wood carvings as you walk through and look up to admire the many birds that pass through. Make sure to visit the souvenir shop for many unique treasures. This is truly a garden paradise that begs to be visited.

Hawaiian Flowers

11. Kealakekua Bay

For any snorkelling enthusiast, Kealakekua Bay is one of the most sought out places on the island. From technicolour glistening fish to spinner dolphins to green sea turtles; this is a paradise for marine life. To get her there are only two options. The first is a challenging strenuous hike down to the Bay. If you are in good shape and bring plenty of water this is an amazing hike that will lead you past an ancient temple and right to the Captain Cook Monument. Here you will find incredible snorkelling. If hard hiking is not your thing there are plenty of boat tours you can join. Another option is to rent a kayak from a licensed outfitter and paddle your way through the Bay. We suggest going early in the day or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.

Kealakekua Bay

12. Hapuna Beach

The Big Island is more famous for its technicolour lava beaches rather than its white sandy beaches but if white sand is what you are looking for; Hapuna Beach is the place to visit. With calmer waters than most other beaches on the island and silky white sand stretching a 1/2 mile long; Hapuna is a great family beach to visit. Kids and adults will find frolicking in the waves hard to resist and there is great snorkelling at the South end of the beach. With excellent facilities, easy access to the water and some of the best swimming conditions on the island, Hapuna Beach has been voted one of the best beaches in The United States. Pack a picnic or buy your lunch and spend the day relaxing in the sun, swimming in the crystal clear water and taking in the scenery.

Hapuna Beach

13. Helicopter Tour

There is no better way to experience the vast landscapes of Hawaii’s biggest island than by air. Whether you are after hidden cascading waterfalls or unprecedented views of Mount Kilauea’s lava flows; a helicopter tour is the best way to see The Big Island. Few other places can you experience the molten red lava being pushed out of the earth while flying just feet above it, snapping photos and creating memories that will last forever. Most heli tours conclude with a trip past some incredible waterfalls that are more breathtaking from the sky than the earth. There are many different choices for helicopter tours so we suggest doing your research before hand and choosing the option that best suits your needs. If there was anything to splurge on when you are on The Big Island, this is it.

Hawaii Aerial