What to Do in Hawaii's Big Island
Being a big island is a great thing. For one, Hawaii’s Big Island is surrounded by ocean water. Another is that its lush mountainous regions are home to some of the most interesting fresh water bodies around. Anyone with the hunger for water adventure will be satisfied with the adventure choices in the Big Island.
Snorkeling in the Big Island can be done from shore or through boat tours. Tropical fish is abundant in several snorkeling and dive sites in the island. If lucky, you might even see dolphins, turtles, and (gasp!) whales!
The marine animals of the Big Island are protected and cannot be approached. This has resulted in seas that are alive and teeming with life.
One of the best snorkeling sites are in the island’s west side. Here, there are many fish that explore the rocky reefs. However, snorkeling activities here are limited by the sea’s condition. Breaking waves can get too harsh and drag snorkeling into the shore’s jutting rocks. It is best to ask locals about the water’s condition first before dipping into it. It is best to go during summer season when seas are calmer.
Some of the top west side snorkeling spots include:
Kealakekua Bay: This site is in the town of Kona and is located near the monument marking the place where Captain Cook died. The spot boasts of clear visibility during calm seas.
Kahaluu: Also in the town of Kona, the waters here are usually calm and shallow enough for beginners. Visibility’s good most of the time.
Puuhonua o Haunaunau National Historical Park: The national park is in the town of Kona and boasts of abundant corals and fish. The waters have an average depth of 20 to 30 feet, making this snorkeling site better for intermediate to advanced snorkelers. The snorkeling site is near the entrance of the park.
Hookena Beach Park: Also in the town of Kona, this snorkeling site is abundant in marine life but can get tricky for beginner snorkelers. The best view is close to shore.
Mahukona: This is at North Kohala and is best for intermediate to advanced snorkelers. Waters can get turbulent at times.
Anaehoomalu Beach: The beach is at South Kohala. Fish here is easily viewable, even from the shore.
There are also notable snorkeling sites on the Big Island’s east side:
Kapoho Tidepools: These are very shallow tidepools located in the town of Puna. You can see fish just by submerging your face in the water.
Leleiwi and Richardson Beach Park: This site in the town of Hilo is great for beginners. Abundant marine life can be seen immediately from the shore and at a shallow level.
A Big Island visitor won’t lack something to do. The diversity within the island is so immense that anyone can find something to interest him or her. Here are just some of the popular options.
Scuba diving is also a popular water adventure when in the Big Island. An amazing coral belt envelopes the island, making it perfect for underwater exploration. The island offers great visibility for most times of the year. There are several dive centers that offer offshore diving, boat tours, as well as introductory and certification courses.
As with snorkeling, the best dive spots are on the Big Island’s west side. There are also some spots on the east side. In the west, the good spots are along or close to Kahaluu, Puuhonua o Haunaunau National Historical Park, and Kealakekua Bay, all in the town of Kona. In the east, the Leleiwi and Richardson Beach Parks has good diving spots. However, you need to navigate through the rocky shores first before reaching deeper waters.
Dolphin and whale watching
The great humpback whale migrates to the waters of the Big Island every winter to mate and give birth to their young. This usually happens between November and April each year. Not only that, the waters of the Big Island are also the home of several species of dolphins, orcas, false killers, and other types of whales. Thus, any time of the year, you can venture out into the sea, on a whale and dolphin watching tour, to see these wonderful giants. This is done through catamarans and submarines, depending on your choice.
Going about in solo, duo, or six-person canoes is also a great way to take in the sights of the Big Island. You can explore on your own, or join a guided tour through the island’s best seascape sights.
The Big Island is also big for surfing enthusiasts. The island is visited by waves suitable for beginner to advanced surfers. It is best to check out the water’s conditions before heading out, especially for beginners.
There are more surfing spots on the west end of Big Island. In the town of Kona, the popular sites are the Kahaluu and Pine Trees. Children can have a grand time learning to surf the gentler waters of Pine Trees. Kahaluu, on the other hand, is very popular and can be a lot of fun.
In between the towns of Kailua and Kona, there are the Banyans and Lymans. These sites are more popular among longboard riders. The Lynmans used to be where the Hawaiian royals surfed, back during the time when the activity was only for them.
Over at South Kohala, Hapuna is quite popular among bodyboarders. Hapuna Point also offers a great left break. This is suitable only for advanced surfer.
The east side of the Big Island also offers a couple of good surfing sites. These are in Honolii over at Hilo and Pohoiki in the town of Puna. Both are popular, although you need to check conditions in Pohoiki first before heading there to surf.
The Big Island has also made strides in putting sustainable tourism in the forefront of possible experiences in the island. Those interested in this sort of travel has several activities to choose from.
Eating and shopping in the Big Island need not be extravagant. There are choice restaurants and markets, where you can get the prime picks in organic food products. Farmer’s markets are put up almost every day. Most of these offer organic and homegrown specialties. Several restaurants likewise offer local and organic products.
The Waimea Nature Park
The Waimea Nature Park is home to some of the indigenous plants and trees of the Big Island and the rest of Hawaii. An example is the rare white hibiscus plant that’s native to the state. The park sits on ten acres of land, and houses about 36 native plants.
The Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden
This Ethnobotanical Garden is along Highway 11, south of Kailua-Kona. The focus here is to showcase the plants (and their uses) of native Hawaiians. It houses more than 225 species on a 15-acre plot. More than ten percent of the plants here are endangered.
The Manuka State Wayside Park
The park is home to a 13-acre arboretum, which contains indigenous and foreign plants of the Big Island. It is within the South Kona Forest Reserve, accessible via Route 11, southwards of Kona.
Kalopa State Park
This park is perfect for those who want easy hikes through lush and unique forests. The Kalopa State Park is at Honokaa’s south side. The main section is within an indigenous Ohia forest. Along the trail, you can spot native plants and trees.
The Mokupapapa Discovery Center for Hawaii’s Remote Coral Reefs
The center showcases an exhibit about 1,200 mile-long chain of islets and atolls that surrounds the northern part of Kauai. Conservation efforts are being made to save and renew this chain of islets and atolls. This is visualized through the multimedia presentations and life-size fish models of the discovery center. This is a great place to take kids.
At present, the Kilauea volcano is the Big Island’s most active volcano. As such, consistent steam and lava activities are awe-inspiring sights that everyone should witness at least once in this lifetime.
The best place to go to for this is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. To get to the ideal viewing spot, visitors need to drive down to the Chain of Craters Road. At the end of the road is the jump-off point, where hiking begins. The hike will lead through glowing lava flows and remnants from Kilauea’s last eruption. At the end of the trip, you can lounge around in the Volcano Art Center to view works inspired by the volcano’s majesty.
Festivals, museums, and arts
Of course, the Big Island’s unique culture and heritage also make up part of the "musts" when in the island to explore. There are celebrations and festivals throughout the year. Likewise, there are several museums and galleries to go to for an idea about the island’s history and culture. You can join Hula festivals, eat in luaus, immerse yourself in cowboy culture, and practically everything else under the tropical sun.