Home to the most active volcano in the world, black sand beaches, lush rainforests & crystal clear snorkelling, the Big Island is an adventurer’s dream. Here, you can experience all four of the world’s different climate zones. Because of its diversity and abundance of activities, we’ve made a list of what to do and see within one week on the Big Island, so that you don’t miss out on its grandest adventures.
Fun fact: The youngest and largest island in Hawaii, it is officially known as Hawaii. Confused? Just know this: there are the Hawaiian Islands and there is also the island of Hawaii.
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see steaming, barren land
Hike during the day. Watch the lava by night. Highlights include the Kilauea and Mauna Loa (active volcanoes), steam vents, the Thurston lava tube guarded by ferns and driving over lava rock on the Chain of Craters Road. The Crater Rim Walk is a moderate 11 mile hike around the park, allowing you too see some of the highlights. Before heading out, check to see which parts are closed due to current volcanic activity.
Kilauea Iki Trail, a 4 mile round trip, is a fantastic opportunity to walk out onto the crater floor. It feels like you are walking on the moon with only random trees popping out through the hardened lava rock.
In the evening, visit the Jagger Museum to see the glow of the lava from the caldera. Inside the museum are history lessons, volcano facts and art detailing the Hawaiians’ connection to the god Pele, the God of Fire.
Take a helicopter ride over the Big Island to see the impact of the lava on the island
Flying overhead all of the volcanic activity is a dream come true. The opportunity allow you to see the Kilauea caldera from a bird’s eye view, witnessing the bright orange lava bubbling inside. Just flying overhead the volcanic wasteland is an eye opener in itself.
The helicopter also takes you over one of the wettest places in the world. The emerald green, lush mountains will you have awestruck. When you pass over Hilo, you will also get a bird’s eye view of some of the island’s inaccessible waterfalls. There are so many!
From this ride, you’ll get a feel of the sheer size of the Big Island, as well as the enormity of Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world. Helicopter tours go for around $300 US per person.
Spend a day at the pretty Magic Sands beach
Magic Sands beach is a picturesque beach that appears and disappears according to the tide. The sand feels like brown sugar, soft and white to the touch. The waves are gentle and flowing. Magic Sands is a great place to swim and play. Our only suggestion is to be cautious of submerged rocks in the water and on the beach. Because it’s a smaller beach, it’s not usually too busy either.
If you spend the day here, why not watch the sunset? We’ve enjoyed some magical moments here as the sun came down onto the water, lighting up the sky in oranges and reds.
Visit Mauna Kea to watch the sunset and stargaze
Mauna Kea is the largest mountain in the world, measured at 4200 metres from sea bottom to summit. It is also home to an advanced observatory (Institute for Astronomy) and research facility because of its proximity to the stars. The sunset on Mauna Kea is incredibly dramatic, with a pool of clouds at your feet. If you plan on watching the sunset up top, you need a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. We chose to go with a tour for this adventure; the ride up there in a heavy-duty van is something else and we didn’t have to worry about rental damages. Plus, after watching the sunset, you head back down to the Visitor’s Centre and learn about the night sky from a professional guide. The amount of stars lighting up the sky will astound you! Tours are about 7-8 hours long with total driving time. The tour includes a meal and heavy coats for the cold temperatures. Yes, there’s snow in Hawaii!! These tours book up fast, so don’t hesitate if you’re only on the island for a short time. The cost is around $215 US per person.
Be respectful as the summit of Mauna Kea is a special place for the Hawaiian culture. There have been extensive protests to try and prevent further development of the observatory.
Snorkel the crystal clear waters at Captain Cook’s Bay…and more!
Also known as Kealakekua, this snorkel spot has crystal clear water and undoubtedly the most colourful coral that we’ve experienced in the Hawaiian Islands. It is such a nice spot that it made our list of the Top 5 Places to Snorkel in Hawaii. In the morning, dolphins often visit the area. Back in 2009, we were able to rent a kayak and paddle out to the monument and snorkel area. This is no longer an option. We recently hit up this same location again on a zodiac tour and it was a blast! The zodiac tour is definitely the most interactive. Not only did we snorkel at Captain Cook’s Bay and other hot snorkel spots like Honaunau Bay along the coast, but the zodiac will take you right up close to the caves and rock formations along the coast. You’ll see sights you just can’t see from a boat, maybe even dolphins! We went with Sea Quest tours; it cost around $120 US per person.
Visit the Black Sand Beach and say hi to the local turtles
We love white sand beaches, but we have to say, there’s something so cool about the black sand beach named Punaluu on the Big Island. The basalt fragments (or black sand) are created by lava flowing into the ocean and exploding upon contact. Here you will also find endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles basking in the sun! It’s an experience that will make you feel like you’re on another planet.
Visit a coffee plantation for Kona’s world-famous coffee
Kona is well known for its delicious, gourmet coffee, so visiting a plantation to taste test is highly recommended. Grown on the slopes of two volcanoes on the Big Island, you’ll want to try it just for that reason. There are a number of coffee farms and plantations, some offering free or paid tours mostly in the morning. Depending on your location on the island and your interest, plan accordingly. For us, we decided after a few hours on the scenic road to stop in at Ka’u Coffee Mill. We quickly toured the farmland, then hit up the shop to try different roasts as well as yummy chocolate-covered coffee beans called buzz berries.
Chase waterfalls on the Big Island
Big Island has some of the wettest spots on earth, which makes for incredible waterfalls! Akaka Falls is a highlight on the Big Island. Standing at 422 feet high, the sight of it will astound you. There is an easy, 30 minute trail with spectacular greenery to take you to the lookout point. Rainbow Falls (Waianuenue) is the most famous waterfall on the Big Island because of its easy access. Located within the town of Hilo, there are many lovely vantage points to see the waterfall cascade over a lava cave with thick foliage surrounding it. Legend has it that the cave is actually home to the ancient Hawaiian goddess Hina, goddess of the moon.
Spend a day at the sunny Hapuna Beach
The Big Island is not well known for its white sand beaches (that is Oahu), but Hapuna is a sun-kissed, golden beach on the northwest coast that rivals all white sand beaches. The water is shallow and the waves are gentle and plentiful, making for the perfect spot to play in. Because of this, the beach is quite popular, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of space to make your own. There’s also a giant parking lot for visitors and locals alike.
Witness the incredible: lava pouring into the ocean
This unreal opportunity can’t be done in very many places around the world, so don’t miss this! Kalapana on the Big Island is actually the safest and easiest place to access. You can experience this by tour or on your own with a rental vehicle. Either way, a hike is involved. We highly recommend a tour guide or local to take you out for safety, and simply because the location of the lava changes daily. There is also an option to take a boat tour, though can be closed if too dangerous. When out on foot, be very cautious. The lava in Hawaii is not blockbuster-movie, exploding lava. It is slow and oozing. Regardless of its flow rate, the lava is hot so don’t get cocky! In fact, this experience is quite unpredictable and there really is no guarantee of seeing the lava. We actually missed the most recent activity by just 2 weeks! Hence why we have no picture….
Have you been to the Big Island? What do you love about it?
Peace and love,
Tim & Marcella
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