The Big Island of Hawaii Activities and Things to Do

Our favorite island of all the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island (called Hawai’i) also has the most variety of things to do than any other island.

From Scuba diving, black and green sand beaches, volcanoes, mountains, and tropical waterfalls, there is no shortage of things to do.

Let’s cover where to go, where to stay, and what to do in this tropical paradise.

Where to Stay?

There are two main cities on the island, Kailua Kona (where most flights enter) and Hilo on the eastern part of the island.

Kona is more dry and warm whereas Hilo is more wet. There are many more options for luxury accommodations on the Kailua-Kona side with the real only “chain” option in Hilo being the Doubletree by Hilton Hilo.

Nearly every major hotel chain has a property or two near the town of Kailua, so finding a place to stay should be easy.

Mauna Kea – Bring your Sweatshirt

One of the most unique experiences on the big island is Mauna Kea. Heading from the coast to the peak of the mountain will bring you more than 10,000 feet in under 90 minutes. Bring a sweatshirt, plenty of water, and choose your rental car wisely.

You’ll need a car with AWD or 4×4 capabilities or they will not let you ascend to the top. That’s because the pavement stops halfway up the island and the unpaved rocks can throw even the most seasoned driver for a loop.

Once you make the way to the top, however, the view is one-of-a-kind. There are multiple observatories on top of the mountain because up here, you’re above the clouds. It’s one of the clearest places on the planet, with cloud cover protecting the cities below and virtualy zero manmade light sources to interfere with the stargazing. The best time to go, in our opinion, is at sunset (typically close to 7pm) which means you’ll need to leave Kailua Kona or Hilo around 5 to get up there in time.

The colors of the sunset on the clouds is breathtaking.

There’s a visitor center with a small giftshop and bathroom facilitlies halfway up but if you’re looking for something more substanstial to eat, bring it with you. There are zero facilities at the top other than perhaps a portable toilet, so be prepared.

Akaka Falls State Park

Nestled on the northeast part of the island is Akaka Falls State Park. I love this tucked away waterfall for the gorgeous nature walk that you can experience around the falls. It’s not terribly challenging, but it gives you a true feel for the tropical nature that is the eastern part of the island.

Volcanoes National Park

Located on the southeast part of the Island, Volcanoes National Park is truly unique. You can hike around the caldera of the volcano, see and smell sulfur bellowing out from inside the bowels of the earth, and even hike through the Thurston Lava Tubes.

The lava tubes are pretty interesting. Think of lava flowing through these tunnels, carving them out over time. Now, you can walk from one end to the other. Park your car on one side and you’ll have a short hike back to the parking lot afterwards. It’s quick and will take about 5 minutes, but it’s a fun detour.

Coffee Tasting

Kona coffee is some of the most exclusive you’ll find in the United States. Starbucks even sells their own Kona coffee variety ONLY in Hawaii. You’ll be hard pressed to find it outside of eBay on the mainland.

With that said, there are plenty of small independent coffee brewers on the island that will let you try their coffee free of charge, and many give you a plantation tour as well.

One that we like to visit is Greenwell Farms just north of Captain Cook. They’ve got a free coffee tasting, free plantation tours, and even resident chameleons that you can check out. They’re very knowledgeable about their coffee and have been around since the 1850’s.

Black Sand Beaches

Formed from the crushed lava rock over the centuries, the black sand beaches on the southern part of the island give a glimpse into the more destructive past of the island’s history. A favorite with the locals, you’ll often see large families gathering together. On our last trip, we were approached by one of the families and asked if we wanted to join them in their cookout. It’s truly a great experience to feel like you’re one of the locals.

Green Sand Beaches

You won’t find many green sand beaches in the world, but the Big Island of Hawaii is home to one. The problem? It’s hard to get to. With that said, if you’re willing to make the trek, it’s an unforgettable experience.

You can get to the beach by either hiking the 3 or so miles OR you could pay a local $20 to take you in the pack of a rickety pickup truck.

Our suggestion? Take the pickup truck. It’s worth the $20 and the ride itself is pretty memorable. Just make sure to stretch … it’s a bumpy ride.

Farmers Markets

The Big Island of Hawaii some truly outstanding produce, and no matter if you’re showing up on a weekend to an official farmers market or just picking up some goodies on the side of the road, don’t skip on the produce.

Fresh vegetables, mangoes, coconuts, pineapples, durian, jackfruit, apple bananas, mangosteen, lychees and more can all be found at very reasonable prices.

Food Trucks

The food truck scene on the big island rivals those on other islands as well. On this most recent two day trip we only at food trucks, picking up Molokai Bread, fresh caught Ahi, loco moco, fish tacos, and fresh caught ahi poke.

While you could sit down at a restaurant, consider the food truck option and try the local flair.

Other Suggestions?

Some fun stop offs include the Laupahoehoe Harbor, Punalu’u beach for Sea Turtles, Waipi’o Valley for scenic views and hikes and more. There is no shortage of places to go. Tell us, what are some of the things that you like to do on the Big Island of Hawaii?


Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. The Hawaii Botanical Garden is not to be massed while on the big island. Not far fromHilo.Acres of exotic plants,flowers, and waterfalls. Spectacular!

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    • Forgot to add this – good call out!

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