Great Itineraries on the Big Island
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Great Itineraries on the Big Island
Yes, the Big Island is big, and yes, there's a lot to see. If you're short on time, consider flying into one airport and out of the other. That will give you the opportunity to see both sides of the island without ever having to go backwards. Decide what sort of note you'd rather end on to determine your route—if you'd prefer to spend your last few days sleeping on the beach, go from east to west; if hiking through rain forests and showering in waterfalls sounds like a better way to end the trip, move from west to east. If you're short on time, head straight for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and briefly visit Hilo before traveling the Hamakua Coast route and making your new base in Kailua-Kona.
From exploring the shores of its green- and black-sand beaches to stargazing atop Mauna Kea, there's no shortage of ways to spend the day immersed in nature on the Big Island. Choose a couple or several of our favorite one-day itineraries to suit your interest and length of stay on the island.
Take full advantage of Hawaii's living classroom. Visit one of the island's botanical gardens in the morning, then head to the Natural Energy Lab for a peek at its desalination plants, sustainable aqua farms, and various natural energy projects.
Finish your day with a farm tour in the afternoon, followed by an evening spent enjoying the delicious products of the Big Island at one of Waimea's top restaurants, such as the island favorite Merriman's Café or its nearby neighbor Daniel Thiebaut's Restaurant.
Black and Green Sand
Check out some of the unusual beaches you'll only find on the Big Island. Start with a hike into Green Sand beach and plan to spend some time sitting on the beach, dipping into the bay's turquoise waters, and marveling at the surreal beauty of this spot.
When you've had your fill, hop back in the car and head south about half an hour to Punaluu, the island's best-known black-sand beach and favorite resting place of the Hawaiian sea turtle. Although the surf is often too rough to go swimming with the turtles, there are typically at least two or three napping on the beach at any given time of the day.
Sun and Stars
Spend the day lounging on a Kohala Coast beach (Hapuna, Kaunaoa—also known as Mauna Kea—or Kua Bay), but throw jackets and boots in the car because you'll be catching the sunset from Mauna Kea's summit. Bundle up and stick around after darkness falls for some of the world's best stargazing.
Book a tour or head straight for the visitor center, join their free tour of the summit at 1 pm on Saturday or Sunday, and return to the center to use their telescopes for evening stargazing.
Devote a full day (at least) to Volcanoes National Park. Head out on the Kilauea Iki trail—a 4-mi loop at the summit—by late morning. You'll have to leave the park to grab some lunch at nearby restaurants in Volcano Village just a few minutes away, or you can plan ahead and pack your own picnic lunch before you start your morning hike.
After lunch, head down Chain of Craters Road to the coast and the active lava flows. Bring water, snacks, and a flashlight if you intend to hike out to the end of the road where the lava flows into the ocean.
Start your hike during the day (by 4 pm or earlier) to ensure that you're as close as you can safely be when night falls and to prepare yourself for a spectacular nighttime lava show.
Majestic Waterfalls and Kings' Valleys
Take a day to enjoy the splendors of the Hamakua Coast—any gorge you see on the road is an indication of a waterfall waiting to be explored. For a sure bet, head to beautiful Waipio Valley. Book a horseback, hiking, or 4WD tour or walk on in yourself (just keep in mind that it's an arduous hike back up—25% grade for a little over a mile).
Once in the valley, take your first right to get to the black-sand beach. Take a moment to sit here—the ancient Hawaiians believed this was where souls crossed over to the afterlife. Whether you believe it or not, there's something unmistakably special about this place.
Waterfalls abound in the valley, depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Your best bet is to follow the river from the beach to the back of the valley, where a waterfall and its lovely pool await.
Explore the colorful reefs populated with tropical fish off the Big Island's coast for one day, and we defy you to stop thinking about the world beneath the waves when you're back on land. Our favorite spots include Two Step (near the City of Refuge), Kealakekua Bay, and the Kapoho Tide Pools.
Early morning is the best time to see the Hawaiian spinner dolphins that frolic off this coast, but you're likely to see turtles any time of day, along with yellow and white angelfish, spotted moray eels, trumpet fish, and a myriad of other brightly colored varieties.
Volcano Hot Springs and Boiling Pots
Most tourists skip Puna. Venture into this remote area for a morning, and you'll be rewarded with lava tube hikes (Kilauea Caverns of Fire), volcanically heated pools (Ahalanui Beach Park), and tide pools brimming with colorful coral, fish, and the occasional turtle (Kapoho).
Head to Hilo in the afternoon to catch a glimpse of the Boiling Pots waterfalls, Banyan Drive, and Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, before dining at one of Hilo's great restaurants.
Pololu and Paniolo Country
North Kohala is a world away from the resorts of the coast. Visit the quaint artists' community of Hawi, then head to Pololu Valley for amazing views.
A steep-ish ½-mi hike leads to a fantastic black-sand beach surrounded by beautiful sheer green cliffs. Back on the road, head up Highway 250 to Waimea and the pastures of paniolo country. Indulge in a memorable meal at one of the fantastic restaurants (we recommend Merriman's, Daniel Thiebaut, or Pakini Grill).
Book an ATV tour or take your 4WD for a spin to check out some of the Big Island's isolated beaches. There are green beaches (in addition to the Green Sand Beach) waiting in the Kau region and ruggedly beautiful white beaches with perfect turquoise water along the Kohala Coast; deal with the tough, 4WD-only roads into these beaches and you're likely to be rewarded with a pristine tropical beach all to yourself.
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