The Big Island is one of the most unique and fascinating places in the world. With its abundance of historic, cultural, and natural beauty, this island offers something for everyone.
Approaching the Big Island, however, can be an incredibly overwhelming task. That’s why we’ve broken down the very large Big Island into four areas (North, South, East and West) and listed the highlights of each one.
Chances are you’ll want to explore the best of Big Island, we hope we can help you split you time and spend it wisely in each incredibly unique location.
The Best of Big Island: West
We start with the west side since the western coast of the Big Island is the most popular, home to the main city Kailua-Kona, it also offers a truly stunning coast and some of the most amazing chance to see the Hawaiian wildlife in its natural habitat. Some of Kona’s highlights include:
1. The manta ray dive experience -– snorkeling with manta rays at sunset is an experience second to none, get up close and personal with manta rays just off the Kona shore. Worth every penny, a truly once in a lifetime experience you will never forget. Travel Channel has even rated the manta ray snorkel as a one of the top ten things to do in your lifetime.
2. Alii Drive – sections of the main stretch of Kona are very walkable with little shops and restaurants on one side and the beautiful Kona coast on another. Also a great place to find a nice viewpoint and watch the sunset with a maitai in hand.
3. Magic Sands Beach – a very popular spot for boogie boarding, body boarding, or just frolicking in the surf. Currents can be strong so always check conditions before hopping in.
4. Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument – one of the very best snorkeling spots on the island. The underwater life is absolutely captivating. You might even catch a glimpse of the state fish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa. The hike is long and difficult, hop on a boat and use all their equipment for a stress free experience and a better shot at seeing dolphins.
Exploring Big Island: East
The East side of the island is made up largely by Hilo, where one of the two airports on the island resides. The surrounding areas of Puna and Pahoa were largely affected by the most recent eruptions, expanding the island and recreating the coastal line.
1. Rainbow Falls – eager to experience the best of Big Island? Look no further for your quintessential Hawaii waterfall. It’s just an easy meander from your car to the viewing area.
2. Uncle Roberts – a local market that becomes a true party on Wednesday nights. If you are in the area during this time then come check it out. There isn’t a whole lot going on in the area, and this brings locals and visitors alike. It’s loud with live music and tons of people crowded in. Tons of food and other vendors.
3. Hilo Burger Joint – we love this chill spot with board games, a comfortable atmosphere and truly delicious burgers.
4. Isaac Hale Beach Park – beach made anew by the recent eruptions, you can see where the new land was made because the boat dock now docks into sand. A black pebble beach and new surf breaks bring people from all over.
North Big Island
North Hawaii is one of the most rural sections of the island. Because of this, the natural beauty is impeccably preserved. Just driving through the area you’ll witness breathtaking views of the surrounding areas. Although it is quite a trek from most of the resorts and hotels, it is well worth the drive.
1. Pololu Valley – at the end of the road, literally. Come onto a picturesque viewpoint that scans down on a crescent of black sand beach. Take the relatively short hike down (some people do it in their slippers, although we don’t suggest it) to get a closer look.
2. Waipio – absolutely stunning valley with black sand beaches, emerald green jungles and enormous waterfalls. You need 4WD, its a steep, skinny, windy road down.
3. Hapuna Beach – the quintessential Hawaiian beach. It’s a long stretch of white sand with crystal clear crashing waves. It’s recognized as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
4. Hawi – an absolutely adorable and quaint little town, definitely worth the stop.
5. Mauna Kea – the tallest mountain in the world (counting from below sea level) and where NASA has their observatories. 4WD is strongly suggested. Stop at the visitor center for awhile to acclimate to the altitude before continuing all the way up. By the way, it gets cold and the oxygen deprivation is no joke.
Visiting the Big Island: South
The Big Island’s southern coast is slow-moving and sparse. It is also, interestingly, the southernmost point in the United States. Although there isn’t much on this side of the island, it is home to some true gems.
1. South Point cliff jump – An intimidating (approximately) 40-60 ft. jump with a ladder tethered to the side of the cliff. Not for the faint of heart, but a worthwhile excursion.
2. Green Sand Beach – A very unique and exquisite beach. You can chance your 4WD vehicle (it’s a tough drive), you can make the very long 2.5 mile hike or you can drop some cash and hitch a ride in the back of a truck.
3. Naalehu Bakery and their many flavored malasadas – not much else to say except yum. They also have packaged goods for you to take home (or eat on the plane).
4. Volcanoes Park – The site of actual live lava until recently, it’s still an interesting place to visit. You get to witness the devastation and beauty of the still active volcanoes on Hawaii.