Things to see and do in the Big Island of Hawaii
ESCAPING to the beautiful "Big Island" of Hawai'i can mean lots of things to lots of people.Just sit yourself down on the lana'i (porch) and take in the aloha spirit or relax by the pool.
But Hawaii has so many attractions and adventures, it would be hard to sit still and not explore the wonderful sightseeing and activities that abound, especially in Big Island.
Play Basketball or Tennis. Enjoy the salt water, lagoon Swimming Pool. Pick a pineapple or a bouquet of colorful flowers ... but don't be bored with the pleasantries ...Explore the eastern, and more lush, side of this special island. Rainforests, waterfalls, lava cliffs, black sand beaches, thermal hot ponds, whale watching, great hiking and more adventures await you.
Close by, there is:
On Maku’u Drive down to the ocean about a mile you will find the Lava Cliffs. You can watch for Whales (November to March) and Spinning Dolphins .. and you usually will see a Turtle or two bobbing in the sea. On Kaloli Drive (two streets over) down to the end and then left on Beach finds the trail head to Haena Beach, a private white sand cove at the old Shipman Estate… the birthplace of hula, now a nene goose (the state bird) preserve. The hike is a little over an hour through enormous guava, mango and banyan trees.
Four miles down the road in historic Pahoa Village you will find good restaurants as well as local art. The flavor of the "Hippie" is very dominant. The "Aloha Farmers Market" (open Sundays) is along Highway 130 going towards Pahoa... a very large social scene for the Puna District.
In Nearby Pahoa Town
Along the one street, boardwalk is basic shopping for groceries 'n a fish market 'n gas 'n plenty of good restaurants to choose from. There is a post office and 7-11 as well as an ACE hardware, a natural food store and several excellent gift boutiques.On Sunday's there is the "Pahoa Farmers Market" in the center of the shopping district.
Lava Tree Park
Continuing past Pahoa on the road to Kapoho is where you can also see ancient Albezia Trees towering over 50' high, forming a canopy over the roadway. The lava trees are a souvenir from a past eruption.
Moving further South you get to "4-Corners" ... if you go straight on the dirt road you come to the Lighthouse Tower. Notice the lava flow which stopped on the sidewalk…sparing the house and the light house keeper whose family’s guardian spirit was the famous Madame Pele, volcano goddess.
There is also an ancient burial grounds on this road that is mostly covered by a more recent lava flow which encircled many of the graves. Please respect these Hawai'ian memorials. To the left is "Hawaiian Beaches Homelands", a small community of private homes along a dirt road renowned for its ancient mango trees.
Right Turn from "4-Corners"
You will discover the Ahalanui Park Warm Pond, where fresh rainwater washed through the porous lava rock, heated by the magma below, mixes with the ocean tides to create Pele's fish nursery, which doubles as a very large hot-tub. All natural, the pool is 3'deep at low tide and 6'deep at high tide ... Local folk are there everyday to enjoy the safety and comfort of swimming with the fish 'n friends.
Pohoiki boat landing (Isaac Hale Park)
Swimming and surfing (at Lefts and Secrets), where the locals launch their commercial fishing boats. Tucked away in the trees at the head of the bay is a small hot pond…great for tired bodies.
Continuing along highway 137 you see McKenzie Park. Although the map shows petroglyphs, they are very difficult to find and not marked. If you stand in the right spot you can look right and left along the old King’s Highway, which circled the island in Kamehameha’s time. Take a short hike through the spongy ironwood forest to the left and you may discover a short section of a caved in lava tube.
Continuing on the picturesque drive along the southeastern shoreline lovingly referred to as the “Red Road” (Once upon a time the color was actually red, due to the red cinder used in the paving process.) you come to the clothes optional beach, "Kehena " ... not only people in and out of the buff, but swimming in the surf often means swimming with the dolphins! Bring your ($10's at Safeway or Longs Drugs Kodak or Fuji Film underwater) camera. There are no signs marking the beach. You will find several cars parked along the road and a walled pull off. The trail down is not hard to find.
Historical Painted Church
The Painted Church was originally in the center of the 1983 lava flow where the original site of Kalapana town. It was moved "saved" from Pélé to where it stands today. Again on Sunday's is the "Kalapana Farmers Market" at the Painted Church grounds.
Kaimu Kalapana Black Sands
At the end of the road (the turn off to Highway 130 is back up the road a bit) Verna’s Snackshop offers the perfect place for lunch. It is across the street from what used to be the most famous black sand beach.
Polynesian crafts are sometimes offered in the parking area…a short nature hike through the yard of Uncle Robert Ka’awaloa is a fun side trip.
The lava has filled in the bay completely. A short hike will take you to the world’s newest black sand beach..wading is okay, but only strong, brave swimmers should temp the surf.
Tradition calls for visitors to carry in coconuts or other offerings to plant. Thousands of young palm trees promise shade in the future.
Often the current eruption plume can be viewed towards the south.
Reverse direction to the turn off to Highway 130: To the left… a short drive takes you to where the lava covers the highway. Yes, there are still active flows that have been covering the Kalapana area of the Puna District since 1983! See where the road ends and the lava begins ... on both sides (the Puna District Kalapana side of the lava flow AND the Volcano National Park's side.)
To the right on Highway 130 … back to Pahoa. Along the way are steam vents and tropical rainforests. Pahoa sits off to the left. Maku’u Drive is a right off of the highway to find your way “home”.
Kea'au Village (left at the first stoplight on Highway 130 at the School) hosts a large supermarket, local restaurants and a McDonalds (if you really need to touch base with the ordinary) as well as their own Farmers’ Market (great place to buy papaya).
Kea'au is the perfect place to stop for gas (generally best prices in East Hawai'i) when venturing out to Hilo and parts North or up the mountain to the West.
Volcano National Park
The $5 cover charge well worth the visit ... in fact, you can spend very nearly a life-time walking the 150-miles of trails around the Kilauea Caldera.
Chain of Craters Road
is a 40-mile roundtrip drive that intersects with Crater Rim Drive (11-miles), descending 3,700-feet to the coast and dead ends at the lava flow across the road.
Points of interest include Lua Manu and Pauahi craters, Mauna Ulu Lava Shield, Kealakomo Overlook, Ka'u Desert Petroglyphs and Ho'lei Sea Arch.
Don’t miss the movie at the Volcano Visitor Center to familiarize yourself with volcanoes.
The rangers can give you the latest updates on the current eruption and where to find the best viewing.
Crater Rim Drive
An 11-mile round trip circling Kilauea's summit caldera and craters. It passes through rainforest and desert, and provides access to well-marked scenic stops and short walks.
Highlights include the Sulphur Banks, Steam Vents, Jaggar Museum, Halema'uma'u Crater, Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater and the Thurston Lava Tube.
Outside of the Volcano’s Park, up Mauna Loa Road is a quiet protected area. A short circular hike through native forests allows the observant hiker the chance to see native Hawaiian birds such as the I’iwi or the Apapane in their native habitat.
Wood Valley Temple
Continuing over the volcano, turn to go through the sleepy community of Pahala and plan to spend an hour absorbing the serenity of this lovely Buddhist temple. The peacocks will enjoy sharing your lunch.
Punalu’u Beach Park
This black sand beach, an hour’s drive across the volcano, is home and nesting area to the green sea turtle. Great photo opportunities abound, but please do not touch…it’s a federal offense.
Going North from Pahoa
Hilo, the big city, is only 20 minutes away. We are just a half hour’s drive from Hilo town with excellent shopping and restaurants.
On the way to Hilo you can find such attractions as the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Candy Factory Tour, Panaewa (Pawn-ah-eva) Rainforest Zoo.
In Hilo itself is Hilo Hattie's, Historic Downtown Hilo with the restored Palace Theatre, the Waialoa Art Center, Hilo Cultural Center and Gallery.
You can shop in the Prince Kuhio Shopping Mall or in Oldtown at Bayfront ... visit shops that are familiar and shops that are endemic to the Big Island of Hawai'i.
The Farmers’ Market (on Mamo Street) meets Wednesdays and Saturdays, offering exotic fruits and flowers as well as local crafts and great gift items.
The Lyman House Museum offers a glimpse into the past.
Great snorkeling, surfing, and whale watching can be found at a number of ocean parks, our favorite being Richardsons’ at the eastern end of Kalanianole Avenue.
Coconut Island and Liliuokalani Park are a favorite spot to enjoy the sunset over Hilo Bay.
North Hilo is home to many picturesque and very famous Water Falls (Akaka Falls seen in Jurassic Park, the famous Rainbow Falls and many others).
Swim the river and sit in the waterfall at KoleKole Park, under a long bridge, just north of Hilo.
The old road, which parallels the highway in many areas, offers a scenic drive well worth the extra time. Several botanical gardens offer those who love plants a tropical experience.
Laupahoehoe Point is not only a scenic lookout, wind down the old road to the park, a great place to stretch your legs and the site of a tidal wave memorial.
If you venture about 50-miles North from Hilo (we recommend exploring parts of the old highway) you will pass Akaka Water Falls Park and several other camping parks 'n water falls.
In Honoka'a you can find Haina Park a little known Banyan Tree forest. Don’t miss the waiwi filled malasadas, a local delicacy, at Tex’s Drive Inn.
The view from the top is exquisite even if you choose not to take a four wheel drive, or mule, tour into this Hawaiian valley known for its waterfalls and taro farming.
Up the Saddle Road, turning right at the hunters’ check in station, then wind upwards towards the summit of this large dormant volcano.
The summit is home to observatories from all around the world. Tours can be arranged to visit the top of the mountain…a four-wheel drive experience.
For the less brave, stargazing happens most evenings at the Onizuka Visitor Center at 10,00 feet (still paved road). The telescopes and resident astronomers enhance the best star gazing on the globe.
If you thought the trails in Volcano National Park were tame, then take the unforgettable backcountry trip. From the park hike the 19.6-mile trail (three or four days) to the summit of Mauna Loa (very nearly 14,000 feet).
But be forewarned: hikers must be in good physical condition and properly equipped for winter mountaineering.