The Big Island is one of my favorite Hawaiian Islands, because it feels so different than you would expect a tropical island in the Central Pacific to be like. Driving along Queen Kaahumanu Highway, the barren landscape of giant, jet black lava rocks with their white rock graffiti seemed like I could be on a different planet. Compared to other neighboring islands like Kauai and Maui, this is the island that feels the most mythical to me, with an active volcano and a variety of climates spread across its massive landscape.
One of my most memorable moments was once we left our resort in Waikaloa Village, and drove southeast towards Hawaii Volcano National Park, the climate changed drastically. The transition from the dry side to the wet side was quite distinct. As we started to drive through the rain clouds, we continued to climb in elevation and the sun was a distant, hazy shadow behind the mist. Once we had passed through the haze, we emerged into greenery and sunshine waiting for us on the other side.
Here are my favorite things to see, do, and eat around the Big Island.
What To See
Hawaii Volcano National Park
Hawaii National Park was worth braving the crowds for to learn more about the volcanoes at the Kilauea Visitor Center and seeing the steam rising from the Kilauea Caldera. The Thurston Lava Tube was a personal favorite, where we hiked to and through a darkened cave.
Akaka Falls State Park
Not all of the Big Island consists of lava, and this easy hike surrounded by lush greenery makes you feel as if you’ve been transported to a rainforest wonderland. The massive waterfall isn’t too bad on the eyes either.
Pu’uhoua o Honaunau National Historical Park (City of Refuge)
This park was a memorable day trip spent wandering among the ancient sacred sites. The drive down to this national park was stunning, driving along winding roads, passing overcast roadside towns, and then as we got down a few miles lower and closer to the beach, it was complete dry and sunny. Word to the wise: go early to beat both the crowds and the heat.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
This is a prime snorkeling spot to see Hawaiian sea turtles, which seem especially attracted to this area. It’s also a bit cooler here, since there always seems to be a southern breeze. The black sand is a unique highlight, but make sure to not take it home, since it’s illegal to do so.
On the last day we went beach hopping. We started out at the Hapuna Beach a few miles down from our resort. We got there at 10 am and it quickly filled up after that. It’s no secret that this white sand beach is the perfect place to bring a good book, boogie board on the mild surf or wave-jump, which consisted of my sister and I diving head-first into oncoming waves.
Anaeho’omalu Beach Park
Later on in the day we headed to neighborhing Anaeho’omalu Beach Park, which was more rocky, but less windy and perfect for sunbathing.
This spot next to the City of Refuge is one of the best spots for snorkeling on the island. The coast is made up of lava rock and offers a jumping off point into the waters below. This place is called Two Step because of the natural rock staircase where snorkelers can ease themselves slowly into the water. Make sure to wear protective foot gear like aquatic socks that protect your feet against the rocks. The water can often be rough, so take the proper precautions.
What To Eat
On the drive back, we stopped in Waimea at this cozy restaurant that is known for their friendly service and locally-sourced pizzas. Mine was delicious and took up most of the table.
Broke Da Mouth Grindz
For some solid Hawaiian Filipino food, this place doesn’t disappoint. Highlights include the oxtail adobo, garlic furikake chicken, and kalua pork with taro mash, laulau and two scoops of rice.
Da Poke Shack
This tiny spot serves up huge portions of delicious poke, where you can get poke in either a bowl, plate or by the pound. The price is a bit more than other spots on the island, but the freshness is worth the price. Try the kimche mussels if you want to sample something a bit different.
Scandinavian Shaved Ice
On our way to dinner we happen upon Scandinavian Shaved Ice and decided to stop in for a little pre-meal snack. Definitely worth the brain freeze. The ice was buttery smooth and there’s a dizzying array of flavors and flavor combos to try.
This Japanese restaurant is located in the back of an outdoor mall and can be hard to spot. Once you’re inside some of the freshest sushi awaits. It’s divine.
Where To Stay
The Kimos’ Ohanas B&B
Run by a couple who makes guests immediately feel like home. Includes free parking and a complementary continental breakfast.
A reasonably-priced hotel in a central location that allows an easy drive to either the north or south of the island.
A beautiful resort located right on the water, with an outdoor pool and full service spa.
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