Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii - page 3
The world’s most massive volcano doesn’t tower over Hawaii Island like you might expect. Instead, its giant three-pronged fingers consume most of the southern half of the Island reaching the sea in spots both north and south of Kailua Kona, across the Saddle Road interior and sloping down behind Hilo. It’s possible to be on the slopes of Mauna Loa and not even realize it! To get a true sense of the volcano most visitors opt to drive along the central Saddle Road, etched into the barren lava rock foothills where Mauna Loa meets Mauna Kea. If you turn in near the 28 Mile Marker on Mauna Loa Observatory Road, you’ll be rewarded with a 17-mile (one way) scenic drive up its slopes from around 6,500 feet above sea level to 11, 150 feet, ending near the entrance to mountain’s observatories. Unlike the astronomical observatories atop neighboring Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa’s observatories mostly monitor weather. It is possible to visit the observatories but prior arrangement is required.
This popular stretch of Kohala Coast beach, commonly called A-Bay, offers beachgoers a little bit of everything needed for a fun day. Known for its fairly calm surf, the area offers rentals of an assortment of water toys ranging from kayaks to boogie boards. It’s also a popular spot to snorkel, so if you packed your gear, bring it along. The earlier you go, the smaller the crowds. Palms trees add to the picturesque setting, framing sunset views in the evening and providing shade in the heat of the day.
The beach has a bit of a wild side when it comes to creatures you’ll see. Turtles seem to like it here just as much as people so take plenty of pictures to show everyone back home, but keep a safe distance. They enjoy relaxing on the beach just like you. You can also see a collection of feral cats that are cared for by volunteers.
This rocky beach at Pohoiki Bay is a popular surf location and a favorite spot with locals. Weekends often mean crowds, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, think about a weekday visit. Shoreline views live up to the images that pop into your mind when you imagine Hawaii, just without soft sand in between your toes—it’s rough and rocky, so be sure to have good shoes.
Pohoiki Bay is known for strong currents and rough water, yet Isaac Hale Beach Park (pronounced HA-lay) is still a spot many visit to swim or snorkel. Challenging surf also makes it a popular area for surfers and admirers who make the trip just to watch the professionals tackle the waves. Along with a boat ramp, there are picnic tables, restrooms and parking. A quick walk along a shoreline trail near the boat ramp leads to a small natural hot spring ideal for soaking.
The town of Waikoloa Village is near the western shore of the Big Island of Hawaii, just south of the Kohala Peninsula.
Waikoloa Village is less than nine miles inland from the beach (following the road – not as the crow flies), but it's home to several hotels and resorts. There's also a popular golf resort at Waikoloa Village. There are even more resorts along the water, however, a short drive from the town. The town of Puako is the narrow strip of land that sits between Waikoloa Village and the ocean, where you'll find many of the resorts. Waikoloa is more residential, whereas Puako is more tourist-centric.
When Kilauea erupted in 1960, the entire town of Kapoho burned to the ground with the sole exception of a lighthouse. Nearly 100 homes were swallowed by the lava, and the entire community opted to move elsewhere as opposed to rebuild the town. Ironically, however, while nature may have destroyed this town, it’s also the reason that visitors to Hilo still flock here with masks, fins, and snorkels.
Along the coastline where Kapoho once stood, a series of tidepools offer the best snorkeling on the eastern shore of the Big Island. Unlike Hilo which can be rainy and wet, this eastern outpost is often sunny when Hilo is drenched in drizzle, and the protected tidepools offer clear waters that teem with colorful fish. Nearby, at the Champagne Pond, thermal vents help heat the water of this naturally spring fed pool, and it’s the perfect spot for unwinding in nature when the mists of a storm roll in.
More than anything else, the town of Kalapana is a town that was, not a town that is. It is a sad, black, graveyard of homes where dreams, memories and material possessions were incinerated by nature’s fury. Prior to the eruption of Kilauea volcano, Kalapana was a sleepy town along the Big Island’s eastern coastline. All of that changed in 1990 when Kilauea literally rolled through town. By the time the molten carnage was through, over 100 homes had been burned and swallowed by the shifting orange magma.
Today there are still about 35 homes remaining in Kalapana, although the main highlight is where visitors can hike to watch lava spill into the sea. Ever since Kilauea began erupting in 1983, over 500 acres of new land has been created along the coastline, and even though it isn't officially a part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kalapana is often the best place to watch the drama unfold.
Maybe not as well-known as nearby neighbor Akaka Falls, Kolekole Falls is hidden beneath a bridge along the Hamakua Coast, north of Hilo. Lush and almost jungle-like, the waterfall is part of Kolekole Beach Park.
There is a rocky beach where the Kolekole Stream meets the ocean that has a reputation for being rough. Kolekole Beach Park, like other coastal areas along Hawaii can experience seasonal high surf and strong currents, making the ocean unsafe for swimming. But the stream is usually calm and a favorite swimming spot complete with a rope swing tied to a banyan tree. The streamside park is also a popular place to fish and picnic. Along with picnic tables, there are barbecue pits, pavilions with electricity and restrooms.
Go big or go home on the Big Island of Hawaii. The largest and southernmost island in Hawaii is home to active volcanoes, secluded beaches, rainforests and island-grown coffee. Shore excursions include a Kona coffee tour, a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or ziplining over waterfalls. If you don’t want to take an organized tour, a rental car is the best way to get around, as the island’s most popular features lie outside the villages and there is little in the way of public transport.
Cruises dock in either Kailua-Kona, on the west side of the island, or Hilo, on the east side. If you pull into Kailua-Kona, ships anchor in Kailua Bay and you’ll be tendered to Kailua village. In Hilo, ships dock in the cargo port a couple of miles from downtown. Taxis, a bus and rental car shuttles pick up at the port for trips to downtown Hilo or the airport to pick up rental cars (reserve your rental car in advance – they book up fast).
For what it lacks in a sandy beach, Puako Bay more than makes up for with its pristine waters for snorkeling. Tucked away on the Kohala Coast at the end of a residential road, Puako Bay is a favorite spot of local snorkelers and divers. Mornings offer the best conditions before the wind comes up, and while the rocky entry might be a difficult for beginning snorkelers or children, the reward that competent snorkelers will find is a vertical wall in crystal water that’s covered in vibrant marine life. When conditions are calm in Puako Bay, visibility can often extend to 60 or 70 feet, and during the winter months on the Big Island, it’s possible to hear the distant song of migrating humpback whales. On shore, at the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve, visitors will find nearly 3,000 rock drawings that date to Ancient Hawaii—which is the largest collection of petroglyphs found anywhere in the state.
Before the golf courses, condos and luxurious resorts, sleepy little Keauhou Bay was the birthplace of a king. In 1814, when Queen Keopuolani gave birth here, it was first believed that her infant son had died a stillborn death. When a priest managed to revive the infant by placing him upon a stone, the child would live to be Kamehameha III—the longest ruling monarch of Hawaii.
Today the Kauikeaouli Stone is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the bay is also the launching point for snorkeling tours to Kealakekua Bay. At night, dozens of manta rays visit Keauhou to feed on schools of plankton, and twilight snorkeling tours and evening scuba dives have become some of the most popular activities on the Big Island. In addition to snorkeling and diving, standup paddle and kayak rentals are available at the oceanfront park.
More Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii
Hilo might be the Big Island’s largest settlement but it’s a laid back coastal place, with some classic old buildings and wooden storefronts. The town is on Hilo Bay, overlooked by the volcanoes Manua Loa and Mauna Kea.
In town, visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum to learn about the wild waves that have pounded this coast over the centuries. The town also boasts galleries, gardens, missionary churches, macadamia factories and the well-regarded Lyman Museum, providing insights into the Big Island’s natural history. Prismatic colors flash at Rainbow Falls, just outside town, and waterfalls pour into pools known as the Boiling Pots.
If you’re like most travelers, Hawi is a town that you didn’t plan on visiting but you end up not wanting to leave. A one-street thoroughfare of art galleries and charm, browsing and lingering are about the fastest pace you will ever manage to attain.
Stop to nibble on locally made fudge and poke your head into art galleries, and browse the local bulletin board to get a feel for the sense of community. Cool off with a guava juice in a funky mom and pop restaurant, and watch as fellow passersby become ensnared by the small-town charm. The wet climate in North Kohala is a welcome change from Kona, and the lush surroundings and fresh tradewinds almost come as a surprise. Inland from town on Kohala Mountain Road, the winding journey through the pastures toward Waimea is one of the most scenic drives in Hawaii, and in the other direction toward the north end of town, the verdant recess of Pololu Valley is only a short, eight-mile drive.
Best known for Rainbow Falls, Wailuku River State Park is a collection of waterfalls and eroded pools only 10 minutes from downtown Hilo. Make a stop at Rainbow Falls to watch colors dance in the mist, and then continue five minutes up the road to the area known as “Boiling Pots.” These deep, circular, roiling pools seem to boil during periods of high water, and Pe‘epe‘e Falls toward the back of the pools cascades 60 feet toward the rocks below.
The waterfalls and pools here are at their most dramatic after a period of heavy rain. Flash flooding is a common occurrence, so swimming in the pools is a high-stakes gamble no matter how enticing they might seem. Since the trails down to the pools can often be slippery, the pools and falls are best enjoyed from the easily accessible lookouts. Bring a picnic and linger in the grass with rushing water as your soundtrack, or simply kill an hour in Hilo with a quick jaunt up to the falls.
In ancient times, Honaunau Bay was a safe haven where Hawaiians could escape persecution. The adjoining National Historic Park tells the story of this City of Refuge, although visitors today flock down to the shoreline for some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. This turquoise cove is laden with sea turtles and hundreds of colorful reef fish, and the rocky shoreline is largely protected from wind and crashing surf.
The bay is known as “Two Step” to locals since that’s how you enter the water: Step down onto a flat rock that is at the same level of the water, and then launch off of the slippery rock into the marine wonderland below. This is a great spot for beginning snorkelers since it’s shallow, sandy, and calm, although advanced free divers can find steep drop offs of nearly 100 feet. Most visitors stay in the shallows, however, where lazy sea turtles nibble from the rocks and parrotfish fly above corals.
Before there was coffee, and before there were tourists, ranching and cattle dominated the slopes of the Big Island’s ancient volcanoes. Hawaiian cowboys (known as paniolo) were roping on these slopes before the American West was formed, and in the pastures of Kohala’s Kahua Ranch, visitors can harness the rugged romance of the Big Island’s paniolo past times.
Slip into the saddle and ride on horseback around the rolling green hills of Kohala, or rev up an iron horse ATV for a fast-paced tour of the terrain. By night, gather around the campfire and “talk story” with paniolo while enjoying an outdoor buffet, and gaze through telescopes at the blanket of stars that stretches over the ranch each night. Or, to get the feel for life as a ranch hand, test out the strength of your roping skills and toss some horseshoes in a grassy field with a drink to help keep you warm.
The Big Island’s main town in the interior is Waimea, perched at the foot of the mountains bordering the island’s north coast.
It may be in the foothills, but it’s high up here – 2,760 feet (828 meters) above sea level, to be exact. The area has some good restaurants, cultural events, ranches and activities. Go on a horseback riding adventure, visit a cattle ranch, tee off with a round of golf, or head to the coast for fishing or windsurfing.
Family owned and operated, Honopua Farm is an organic farm located in the South Kohala district of the Big Island. When the farm was first planted more than 30 years ago, Marie and Bill McDonald grew mostly flowers. Once they retired, their daughter Roen and her husband Ken Hufford took over tending the soil and added a variety of organic vegetables to mix. Today, the site is especially known for its vegetables, lavender and cut flowers.
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