Tourist Attractions and festivals in Hawaii's Big Island

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There are many attractions and festivals that draw visitors to Hawaii’s Big Island. Of all the islands of Hawaii, the Big Island actually gets the greatest visitor traffic. Here are some of the places and festivals that you shouldn’t miss while on the island.

I. The Hawaii Volcanoes Nation Park

One of the major reasons why tourists go to the Big Island is to see its volcanoes. The island proper actually sits on top of five shield volcanoes. The island still grows by several acres each year, owing to the continuous activity of the Kilauea volcano. The Mauna Loa is another one of the five volcanoes and it is the highest volcano in the world.

One of the best things to do when on the Big island is to witness how these volcanoes continuously change the Hawaiian landscape. Hearing or knowing about it is very different from actually seeing the change taking place right before your eyes. What is so awe-inspiring about that is that you get to have a front seat to witnessing creation.

The best place to do this is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park has been declared a national heritage site. Through more than three hundred acres of fiery land, you can see an enthralling mix of volcanic pools, flows and craters, rainforests and burned deserts, a daunting lava tube, as well as a museum and petroglyphs. You can also see the destructive paths of Mauna Loa’s last eruption in 1984 and that of Kilauea’s ongoing eruption that has began in 1983.

A great deal of the park’s attractions concentrates on the activity of the Kilauea. The trip starts at the Kilauea Visitor Center and ends majestically at the Chains of Craters Road, where you can view the Puu Oo Vent.

At the park, you will go through two important roads; the Crater Rim Drive and the Chain of Craters Road.

The Crater Rim Drive takes you through many of the park’s natural attractions, such as the Kilauea Iki Crater and Kilauea overlooks, the Devastation Trail, Halemaumau Crater, and the Thurston Lava Tube. You will also get to the Jaggar Museum through this road. The Halemaumau Crater and Thurston Lava Tube shouldn’t be missed. The crater is said to be the sacred home of the volcano goddess Pele. It used to be filled with lava that has since drained away. The lava tube, on the other hand, is a chamber of molten lava, where lava used to go through. There is a rainforest at one end of the tube.

The culmination of the journey is a ride through the Chain of Craters Road. The trip is ended here by lava flow that cuts through the path. You can see the Puu Ooo Vent from here. The vent is where lava flows out of the Kilauea and into the sea. This is an awe-inspiring sight you should see at least once in a lifetime.

II. The Mauna Kea

This is also one of the island’s five shield volcanoes. However, the Mauna Kea is dormant and has not erupted for more than forty centuries now. The volcano is a sea mountain and has more than thirty thousand feet below the ocean. If this is included in the measurement, it is actually taller than the Everest.

Mauna Kea literally means “white mountain.” From afar, you can see that the mountain’s peaks are covered in snow during winter season.

The Mauna Kea is home to several observatories. There is a general absence of light when up the mountain, making it ideal for the visual exploration of stars. Here, you’ll find the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy.

You will find the Twin Keck Telescopes in the W.M. Keck Observatory. This is the biggest optical and infrared telescope in the whole world. There are also other observatories within the Onizuka Center that are worth a visit.

Of course, if stargazing is a bit too sedate for you, you can also try to ski at Mauna Kea.

However, this activity is only limited during winter season, and is for advanced skiers only. The mountain slopes may be too steep for beginners. Likewise, the weather can get testy.

III. Waipio Valley

The Waipio Valley was where King Kamehameha I grew up. The king is considered to be Hawaii’s greatest king. Thus, this valley has a significant place in Hawaiian cultural and political history. In addition, the valley is set in a lush tropical surrounding that shouldn’t be missed.

The valley is marked with several waterfalls and rivers, as well as taro fields. Cliffs that are more than two thousand feet high surround it. And this is also where the island’s biggest waterfall, the Hiilawe Falls, is found. The falls is about one thousand three hundred feet high.

To get to the valley, you can hike or ride horses down its trail. Motorized vehicles aren’t recommended because of the steep terrain and the pollution that they may cause. There are guides who can take you through the different sights.

As sampler, you can view the valley from the Waipio Valle Overlook.

IV. Kolekole Beach Park

This is probably one of the most beautiful beach parks around. Aside from sandy shores and the blue ocean, the park is marked by a jungle that’s so close to the sea. Within the jungle, you’ll find a waterfall, a flowing stream and lava rocks.

V. Onekahakaha Beach Park

This beach park has a lot of local flavor, owing to the Hawaii natives who frequent it. The park has tidepools and inlets. The waters are low, and the ocean floor is sandy. It is generally safe to swim in; hence, you can find several families frequenting the place.

From there, you can head on to the snorkeling site opposite the Richardson Ocean Center. This side of the beach is also the favorite of body boarders and surfers. You should drop by the centerif only for its marine habitat display.

The Onekahakaha has all the amenities you need for a great time outdoors. There are picnic tables, clean public restrooms and showers.

VI. The Waters of North and South Kohala, and Hilo Bay

The ocean front of these areas is an attraction particularly for their yearly visitors, the humpback whales. Starting October of every year, humpbacks begin to migrate into the Hawaiian waters in droves. They peak during the first quarter of every year. Here, they mate and give birth to their young. Hence, you can expect to see pods of female humpbacks, with their hopeful suitors, as well as a throng of pregnant whales.

You can see them from the shore, or – better yet – a floor or two above it. These gentle giants have the tendency to show off, flipping their huge bodies up in the air, only to plop back into the water. This sight is just amazing. Plus, you may even see whales giving birth – now, that is just awesome.

There are opportunities to see these giant up close through several tour operators. Through them, you can choose a boat, catamaran, submarine or kayak tour. In any case, it is forbidden to approach and disturb the creatures. But, it is alright if they come to you.

VII. Lyman Mission House and Museum

The mission house is located in the district of Hilo (Haili Street). A trip down here is a trip down Hawaiian history. The house has an impressive collection of native artifacts and memorabilia. In fact, the house itself is an artifact. It used to be the home of missionaries David and Sarah Lyman. It was built in 1839 and is the oldest usable structure in Hawaii.

There are several sections in the museum. There is the Earth Heritage Gallery, which houses indigenous plants and animals of Hawaii. The gallery also has one of the best mineral and gem collections in the country. There is also the Interactive Museum, which showcases the natural history of the island.

Every now and then, the mission house also plays host to short-term exhibits and galleries.

VIII. The Hula Festivals

Nothing expresses Hawaii than a joyous hula festival. Hula is something you can experience all year round. However, there are certain occasions that give particular focus on the local dance.

Every January, the island celebrates the Na Mea Hawai’i Hula Kahiko. Here, there is a deluge of traditional hula dance and chant. This is done in the outdoors, near the Kilauea Crater (via the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park).

There is the Iolani Luahine Hula Festival and Hula Scholarship Competition every first weekend of February. Here, the island honors Iolai Luahine, considered a living treasure and Hula Master.

For April, there is the He Launa Aloha No Ka Mo’i Kalakaua, which reminisces the island’s period under monarchy. The festivities include hula, storytelling, chanting and ukelele playing.

The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival is the most important hula celebration on the island. This happens every Easter Sunday. Several hula programs and competitions happen during the celebration. Concerts are held, as well as several arts and crafts fairs.

Every June, there’s the George Naope Kane Hula Festival. This festival honors George Naope, a Hula Master and teacher. Competitions for best male hula dancers are held.

Every September, the island celebrates the Queen Lili‘uokalani Festival. This coincides with the birthday of the queen, the last monarch of the island. There are several hula shows during the festivities.

Other things to see