Top 10 Things To Do On The Big Island Of Hawaii

A holiday on the Big Island of Hawaii can certainly fill a few action-packed days. The largest of the Hawaiian Islands is abundant with fine beaches, rewarding hikes, scenic drives, tourist attractions and culinary, cultural and adventurous highlights. I spent three months on the island, thoroughly exploring its myriad of microclimates. Here are the absolute best, the top 10 things to do on the Big Island.

Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches, and must-see highlights are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!

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10. See Magical Kona Sunsets

Blessed with fine weather and exceptional beaches, the sunny and dry Kona coast also happens to face the sunset. And boy, sunsets in Kona are perfect. So ‘man your sunset positions’ on one of the Kona coast’s best beaches or head to downtown Kailua-Kona to savor it with something refreshing in your hand. My favorite spots are Magic Sands Beach, the old Kona airport beach, and Kaloko-Honokohau (a.k.a ‘sea turtle beach’).

Kona Hawaii - sunset
Sunset with palm trees - Kona - Big Island

9. Hang Out With Sea Turtles

Undoubtedly, the Big Island’s VIP residents are the green sea turtles – a protected species awarded with a 20ft restraining order from humans by law. There’s a high chance of spotting them cruising up and down the Big Island’s coastline, wherever calm waters are present. However, for guaranteed sea turtle sightings, head to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park just outside downtown Kailua-Kona or slightly north to the magnificent black sand beach at Kiholo Bay.

green sea turtle beach - Kaloko-Honokohau - Big Island Hawaii

8. Admire Akaka Falls

Splashing from 442 ft (135m) into a perfect-looking hidden pool, a quick visit to Akaka Falls is simply a must. Not too far from the Big Island’s capital city – Hilo – and close to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, Akaka Falls is part of a memorable road trip along the Big Island’s tropical east coast. Akaka Falls is a popular spot, so get here by 1 pm to snap good photos.

Akaka Falls - Big Island Hawaii

7. Relax in Kekaha Kai State Park

Home to three of the Big Island’s best beaches, Kekaha Kai State Park, is close to Kailua-Kona and not far from the Waikoloa resort scene. At its southern entrance, dreamy Mahai’ula Beach and remote Makolea black sand beach are both reached via a rough unpaved road (accessible with 2WD). Over at the northern entrance, Kua Bay is easily accessed and is a top choice for locals, visitors, and bodysurfers. Easily spend half a day at any of these beaches or combine them with sightseeing on the Kona Coast.

Mahai’ula Beach Big Island Hawaii

6. Snorkel in Kealakekua Bay

In 1779, Captain James Cook landed on the Big Island shores at Kealakekua Bay, forever altering the archipelago’s history. This picturesque bay is also where Cook was killed by locals in what was likely a huge misunderstanding. The bay is the site of the best snorkeling on the Big Island. Join a snorkeling boat tour from Kailua or kayak from nearby, but the more rewarding option is hiking the Ka’awa Loa Trail. The beautiful overland views are topped by those witnessed underwater as you snorkel in the pristine coral garden just off the Captain Cook Monument.  

Kealakekua Bay- Big Island Hawaii

5. Hike to The Green Sand Beach

Black and white sand is the norm in Hawaii, but green? Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach) is one of the prettiest you’ll ever see due to soil erosion from nearby volcanic rocks. Located in the remote South Point peninsula, reaching the beach requires hiking along the coastline on flat paths for about an hour each way. As views of this gem come into view, take a break and admire the scenery before heading down. Swimming in the Green Sand Beach can be rough, but when I visited, the waters were oh so perfect!

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Green Sand Beach - Big Island Hawaii

4. Sunset & Stargazing on Mauna Kea

If the official height of mountains were measured from their base on the ocean floor, Mauna Kea would be the tallest mountain in the world, reaching a height of well over 30,000 ft. Often snowcapped, it is the highest peak in Hawaii (4,207m). It’s a sacred place for native Hawaiians and an excellent stargazing spot. It all starts with a short hike to ‘Sunset Hill’ about an hour before sunset. The desert-like views are incredible as the ball of fire slowly dips beneath the cloud line. Warm up at the friendly visitor information center, learn about your surroundings, and prepare for a memorable guided stargazing session

Mauna Loa and craters from Mauna Kea - Big Island Hawaii
Sunset on Mauna Kea - Woman watching sunset - Big Island Hawaii
Stargazing on Mauna Kea - big Island Hawaii

3. Explore the Kilauea Volcano

The Big Island is… really big. In fact, it is still growing as you’re reading these lines. Spending at least a full day inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must. Start at the Kilauea Iki hike and touch down on its ash-covered floor, surrounded by thick crater walls and active steam vents. On your way back, step inside the Thurston Lava Tube before completing the scenic Chain of Craters Road, which terminates at the Holei Sea Arch. To wrap up this perfect day, check with park rangers for open Halema’uma’u Crater viewpoints and marvel at lava tossed in the air by the fire goddess Pele

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island - Kilauea Iki Crater
Thurston Lava Tube view inside - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island
Lava eruption in Volcano National Park - Big Island Hawaii

2. Get Close to Nature at Waipio Valley

Of the seven majestic valleys that carve the lush Kohala and Hamakua coasts, none are as jaw-dropping as Waipio Valley, or as I like to call it, ‘the mother of all valleys’. You can admire it from the well-positioned overlook, but to truly experience one of the prettiest spots in Hawaii, you must head down to the valley’s floor via an incredibly steep 4WD-only road or by hiking down. Once on flat ground, explore the black sand beach, head up the ridge for even finer views on the first section of the Muliwai Trail, or walk to check out spectacular Hi’ilawe Falls from a distance.

Waipio Valley Overlook - Big Island Hawaii
View of Waipio Valley from the Muliwai Trail - Big Island Hawaii
Hike to Hi'ilawe Falls - Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii

1. Stare at a river of fresh lava

Proudly erupting without signs of fatigue since 1983, to truly witness the tremendous force of the Kilauea Volcano, you must venture to one of the most remote corners of the Big Island. The best way to experience the lava flow is by hiking when official trails are open to the public. If that’s not an option, take to the skies on a scenic helicopter tour or join a boat tour if available.

Fresh lava flow on the Big Island
The Kalapana lava flow area - Big Island
Lava flow from Kilauea - Big Island

What’s Next?

There you have it: the top things to do on the Big Island! There are, of course, plenty of other highlights on this diverse slice of paradise. Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and the must-see highlights await you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!

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