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Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii - page 2

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Chain of Craters Road
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8 Tours and Activities

For as overly dramatic as the name might sound, this road is literally a winding journey that weaves past volcanic craters—many of which still steam with life from magma within their core.

Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Chain of Craters Road drops 3,700 feet over 20 scorched Earth miles. It's the main conduit for exploring the park and accessing its numerous hikes, and it ends at the point where lava crossed the road in a 2003 eruption. There are numerous trailheads that start from the road, although hiking can be hazardous across the sharp lava rocks and there are no facilities or supplies. Even if you don’t venture out the trails, the views simply from driving the road are spectacular in their geologic beauty. Patches of rainforest over a thousand years old appear as islands amidst a sea of lava rock, and pit craters that formed from collapsing Earth lie pockmarked just off the road.

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Crater Rim Drive
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Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Crater Rim Drive is an 11-mile road that allows you to easily explore a portion of the summit caldera or large pit crater of Kilauea. There are numerous scenic lookouts and hiking possibilities, so be prepared to get in and out of your car for the best views and experiences.

How much you do really depends on how much time you have to spend. It takes approximately a half-hour to complete the stretch of Crater Rim Drive one-way, but the more you stop, the more you’ll see. Be flexible with your plans. It’s not uncommon for sights and sections to be closed due to volcanic activity. Start at the Kilauea Visitor Center to get the most up-to-date information, including ranger-guided hike schedules. Films are shown throughout the day to give visitors an introduction to the area and volcanology.

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Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
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At the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, terms like “lava lake” “vog” and “fissure eruption” are just part of the daily vocabulary. This informative center is one of the most popular stops while visiting the national park, as it precariously sits on the scorched rim of the Halema‘uma‘u Crater. Be careful of the noxious vog, however, as this sulphur dioxide emitted by the volcano can make it difficult to breathe. To take a break from the volcanic fumes, step inside the Jaggar Museum located next to the observatory. Watch as a seismograph traces the rumbles as they happen beneath your feet, and look at the clothes scientists wear while handling lava in the field. You can also gawk at old photos of fiery Kilauea explosions, with the current eruption running unabated since 1983.

As night falls around the park and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, a flickering, violent orange glow can be seen from the Kilauea overlook.

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Kaumana Caves State Park
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Created by lava flow from Mauna Loa in 1881, the Kaumana Caves are located near Hilo. Legend says Princess Ruth sat in front of the lava flow praying to the goddess Pele to save the city and the flow stopped just in the nick of time. Concrete stairs (that visitors say can be slippery) lead down through the skylight to the entrance. The caves’ exterior is full of thick and lush foliage, while the inside is loaded with lava rock. You can explore the area near the mouth of the caves in a fairly quick visit, but if you are the explorer type, you’ll need to come prepared and have some time. The lava rocks can be slippery and sharp, and the caves get dark quickly. You’ll need good sneakers or hiking shoes and a good flashlight. A headlamp is even better since it keeps your hands free. The rocks can be sharp; gloves will protect them from scrapes and cuts. Headroom can get tight at times, and some who have trekked through say a hardhat and knee pads are something to think about too.

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Kaʻu Coffee Mill
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Globally, Ka’u coffee may not have the same ring to it as Kona coffee does, but on Island many say the coffee produced in Kona’s southerly neighboring district is just as good. Ka’u Coffee Mill, perhaps the largest and most outward facing of the plantations in Ka’u, takes its beans from branch to brew onsite with regular scheduled tours of its volcanic-soil loving plants, drying mill and roastery. Should you miss the tour, the company offers a big glass window into its drying and roasting production facilities, visible anytime during business hours. Inside the small but bright and cheerful gift shop is the best part: Tastings of their estate brews and locally-produced macadamia nuts. Among the most popular varieties here include their Peaberry and the unique coconut caramel crunch or macadamia nut-flavored roasts. While you’re tasting, gaze up at the coffee-themed murals that line the upper walls, or read about noteworthy locals on the Ka’u Coffee Farmers’ Wall of Fame.

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Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
15 Tours and Activities

Up until 1819, ancient Hawaiians adhered to religious laws that were generally known as kapu. Everything in Hawaiian life—from which fish you could eat in which season to the clothes you were allowed to wear—was regulated by thousands of different kapu that carried stiff penalties if broken. Should your shadow ever have fallen on a chief, or if you failed to kneel while he was eating, it was a broken kapu punishable by death since you had disrespected the will of the gods.

Once a sacred kapu had been broken, the only way to redeem yourself was to find a pu‘uhonua—a city of refuge where an elder or priest could cleanse you of the offending sin. Should you be found before your arrival, however, the punishment was often death. As you can imagine, pu‘uhonua were popular places during the days of ancient Hawaii, but a few are popular visitor attractions in this modern era of tourism.

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Hilo Farmers Market
7 Tours and Activities

There are some wonderful farmers markets in Hawaii, but the Hilo Farmers Market is often cited as the best of the bunch. It's a great place to get an overview of the local bounty. The fruits and vegetables for sale are locally-grown, as are the herbs and nuts. There are also vendors selling jams and baked items made with local produce, as well as people selling excellent souvenirs – clothing, jewelry, and other handcrafted goods.

The market is open daily, but to get the full effect go on either Wednesday or Sunday when all the vendors are out. Even if you don't have a kitchen, a stroll through the Hilo Farmers Market is the perfect way to find out what's in season so you know what's fresh on menus.

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Onomea Bay
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On a grand section of the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, the best way to see Onomea Bay is with a scenic drive — granting views of the coastline, turquoise waters, and tropical forest. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located along the route, as is the Onomea Arch (which collapsed during an earthquake in 1956.) With many streams and waterfalls, it is a particularly lush area of the Big Island.

Historically the bay was a small fishing village for early Hawaiians, and became one of the Big Island’s biggest landing spots for large ships. There were once taro and sugarcane fields growing in the hills above, with both products being shipped out from the bay. The “Donkey Trail” is the path (now hike) from the remains of the old sugar mill that was used to take products down to the water for wider distribution. Now the bay is a much-loved scenic spot popular with snorkelers and those driving through.

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Liliuokalani Gardens
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19 Tours and Activities

Stone bridges stretch across shallow brackish moats that flow through well manicured gardens with red pagodas and rock gardens by the sea. The 30-acre Liluokalani Gardens, connected by a series of trails to Coconut Island in coastal Hilo, is a serene setting as popular with local walkers and joggers as it is with visitors staying the nearby hotels along Banyan Drive. Named for Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii prior to U.S annexation, and designed in the Japanese Edo style in 1917 to honor the many area Japanese sugar plantation workers, the gardens are a perfect blend of Hawaii and Japan. Look beyond the palm trees and across the bay and you’ll see the slopes of Mauna Kea along the Hamakua Coast, but look around you and you’ll see a traditional Japanese tea house—still used by the Urasenke Hilo Association to share the tradition of Japanese tea ceremonies—koi ponds and Eastern statues.

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More Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii

Parker Ranch

Parker Ranch

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It’s fair to say that when most visitors think about Hawaii, cattle ranching isn’t the first thought that comes to mind.

Believe it or not, however, ranches in Hawaii were operating long before those of the American West, and the Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii is not only the largest cattle ranch in Hawaii, but it’s actually one of the largest cattle ranches found anywhere in America. When the British explorer George Vancouver sailed to Hawaii in 1793 he left behind a couple of cattle for the ruling Hawaiian royalty. A kapu was placed on the cattle so that the population would flourish, and by 1830 there were so many cattle in the Hawaiian Islands that they had turned in to a legitimate nuisance. During this same time period, a 19 year-old sailor by the name of John Palmer Parker jumped ship in Hawaii in 1809, spent a few years living amongst the locals, and returned a few years later with an American musket which he would use to hunt wild cattle.

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Hiilawe Falls

Hiilawe Falls

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Hi‘ilawe Falls isn’t just high—it’s higher than the highest elevation in seven U.S. states. Located in the back of historic Waipi‘o Valley—a lush cleft in the Kohala mountainside where King Kamehameha was raised—Hi‘ilawe Falls is a thin ribbon of white that plunges 1,450 feet, thereby making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the entire state of Hawaii. For all of the superlatives about its height, however, rarely is the waterfall very wide, since the river above the falls is diverted. Only after a heavy rain—which is fairly common in Waipi‘o—will Hi‘ilawe Falls swell to life to become a rushing torrent of water.

Accessing the base of the falls, however, requires passing over private land that isn’t accessible to visitors, so the best view you can get of the falls is from the road through Waipi‘o Valley. Some travel publications encourage trespassing over the private land, but doing so has strained relations between valley residents and visitors.

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Imiloa Astronomy Center

Imiloa Astronomy Center

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One-part traditional science center and one-part cultural center, the Imiloa is a unique multidisciplinary museum that could only exist in Hawaii. Inside the campus’ conically-edged, volcano-inspired buildings, exhibits showcase scientific understanding of the origins of the universe alongside Hawaiian cultural exhibits. Exhibits are divided into two areas—origins and explorations—to help visitors appreciate the scientific understanding of the origins of the universe as well as Hawaiian cultural understanding of the cosmos and how the cosmos guide exploration, whether its into the stars themselves or using the stars to navigate over land and sea. A full-dome planetarium with daily, locally-relevant star (one show is included in admission cost) and free-to-explore native gardens are also highlights.

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Kilauea Iki Crater

Kilauea Iki Crater

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There was once a time in 1959 when fountains of lava from Kilauea Iki crater erupted nearly 2,000 ft. into the sulfur-filled air. As lava spouted from the small crater near the summit of Kilauea volcano, it formed a lava lake which measured ten feet deep and was a bubbling cauldron of freshly-formed Earth. To date, the area is home to some of the most intense activity volcanologists have experienced in the Hawaiian chain.

While that particular event may have been over 50 years ago, Kilauea Iki crater today is still one of the most visited spots in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and it’s reputed that even after five decades that parts of the Earth are still warm to the touch. Strangely enough, the most popular hike in the National Park actually cuts across the floor of the crater, and this strenuous two hour journey begins its descent from the edge of a tropical rainforest.

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Hamakua Coast

Hamakua Coast

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Curvy, cozy and impossibly green, the Hamakua Coast is a verdant time portal on the Big Island’s northeastern side. Often referred to as the “Hamakua Heritage Corridor,” this 50-mile stretch of two-lane road passes through small, historic towns and offers a sumptuous buffet of scenery around every hairpin turn. Sugar was once king along this coast, and though the last field was planted in 1994, vestiges of the plantation past lay scattered along the trail.

Leave the city of Hilo behind and venture north toward Akaka Falls, continuing past the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to the town of Laupahoehoe. Here you’ll find the Laupahoehoe Train Museum, a small building that showcases the history of the Hawaii Consolidated Railway. The train was vital for transporting sugar from the fields to the port of Hilo, although a devastating tsunami in 1946 obliterated the tracks.

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Banyan Drive

Banyan Drive

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Set back a block from Hilo’s coastline are scores of towering and sprawling banyan trees with their thick and unique trunks. Similar trees can be found throughout the state, but what makes these fifty specimens unique is their planters. Between 1933 and 1972, many famous celebrities, political figures, authors and Hawaiians personally planted or dedicated these banyan seedlings as a way to commemorate their visit or honor friends. In front of the Hilo Hawaiian hotel, a particularly large road-shading tree has a small sign indicating it was planted by George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and across Banyan Drive are trees planted by King George V, Queen Elizabeth and Richard Nixon. Other famous names visible on placards along the leafy corridor are Franklin Roosevelt, movie star Cecil B. DeMille and his wife Constance, Amelia Earhart, volcanologist Dr. Thomas Jaggar (whose name is given to the Jaggar Museum at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) and musician Louis Armstrong.

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Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

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The Big Islands Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is 17 acres of lush greenery, with pathways inviting visitors to explore. The garden began taking shape in 1977, when the land was purchased by a couple from San Francisco. Over eight years, they cleared paths through what was thick jungle, and in 1984 they opened the garden to the public. It's now run by a nonprofit.

The botanical garden and nature reserve includes waterfalls and streams among more than 2,000 species of plants. One side of the property is on Onomea Bay, where there's a boardwalk overlooking the ocean. The garden is home to some wildlife, too, including geckos, frogs, and several types of local birds.

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Naha Stone

Naha Stone

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Understanding the significance of the Naha Stone requires understanding a bit of Hawaii’s history and the legendary lore of tradition and strength that accompanies it.

The Naha Stone is a rock that reportedly weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 tons and is believed to have been brought to Hilo from the island of Kauai using a double canoe. According to legend, in ancient times it was used by those of Naha descent in a test of royalty. When a baby boy was born, he was placed on the stone—if he stayed calm and quiet, he was Naha, and if he cried, he was not. It was also believed that whoever could move the rock would rule Hawaii. Legend says King Kamehameha I proved his strength at the age of just 14, when he overturned the Naha Stone. Following years of conflict, it was King Kamehameha I who united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810.

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Original King Kamehameha Statue

Original King Kamehameha Statue

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A nine-foot-tall golden-helmeted and spear-wielding bronze depiction of King Kamehameha the Great stands on the North Kohala Civic Center lawn in the tiny town of Kapaau. Though there are similar statues honoring the King throughout the state—including notably in Hilo and fronting the State Supreme Court in Honolulu—this site is perhaps the most significant to the king’s own story: He was born not far from here in 1758, and lived his first few years in hiding deep within a nearby valley where he was safe from battling tribal factions. Kamehameha would later prove his strength, acquiring each of the Islands for the Kingdom of Hawaii by 1810. The statue, originally intended for a site in Honolulu and constructed in Europe, took several years to make. However, the ship transporting it to Hawaii wrecked in a storm near the Falkland Islands and the heavy sculpture sank to the bottom of the sea. Insurance money was used to quickly replace the missing statue with an even taller one.

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Akatsuka Orchid Gardens

Akatsuka Orchid Gardens

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Hawaii is known for its tropical flowers, but the orchid isn’t one of them. At the Big Island’s Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, however, over 1,000 of these symmetrical, blossoming beauties create a vibrant greenhouse of color.

The owner of the gardens, Moriyasu Akatsuka, has been skillfully cultivating orchids for centuries here in the mountainside enclave. Considered a master of hybridization, Akatsuka creates orchids that will bloom more frequently and are unlike any others in the world. One orchid, an exceptionally rare type of Paphiopedilum, was found in Thailand and nursed back to health before being displayed here at the garden. Due to its symmetry and singular characteristics, the orchid is valued at $20,000, and travelers who visit between May and September can see it in bloom. Like many of his other unique orchids, this famous plant was given its own name and is now known as the “Volcano Queen” due to its regal home on the mountain.

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Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory

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When it comes to the macadamia nut, never has a nut been so difficult to crack but so tremendously easy to eat. Whether eaten whole, covered in chocolate, or crushed into a succulent brittle, the macadamia is a culinary staple of Hawaiian treats and desserts. Luckily for travelers visiting Hilo, there is an entire factory and sprawling orchard devoted solely to the wonders of this nut. At the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, a self-guided tour explains the process of harvesting these off-white nuts, from the lengthy and protracted growing process right up through roasting and canning. More than just a look at the production process, there are also recipes on the dozens of ways to consume a macadamia. From standard methods of baking them in cookies to wasabi or onion flavoring, even the most accomplished gourmands and foodies will likely pick up some tips.

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