Hawaii (Big Island)

The island of Hawaii, commonly called the Big Island, is perhaps best known for its active volcano, Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since 1983. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visitors can drive or hike through barren lava fields, see ancient petroglyphs, walk through a tunnel-like lava tube, and even watch molten lava flowing into the sea! The area’s volcanic activity has also created interesting places like the unique formations at Lava Trees State Park and the naturally-heated pool at Ahalanui, where swimmers can enjoy water that is always a balmy 90 degrees.

Due to the Big Island’s volcanic nature, you can find beaches with white, black, or even green sand!  Some popular ones are Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, where sea turtles are often spotted, the rugged Papakolea Green Sand Beach, and Hapuna Beach, whose calm waters are great for swimming and snorkeling. Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook landed in 1779, is an excellent spot to snorkel, swim, and kayak among the coral reefs. Perhaps the most unique aquatic adventure on the island is a nighttime boat tour where visitors can dive or snorkel with gentle manta rays.

Much of the island’s eastern side is covered with rainforest. Visitors can stroll through lush vegetation and discover over 2500 plants at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which also boasts tumbling waterfalls and ocean views. Even more stunning are the falls at Wailuku River State Park and 442-foot Akaka Falls. Hiking through the jungles, it is hard to imagine that Hawaii also has snow – at the summit of Mauna Kea, 13,796 feet above sea level. Home to one of the world’s largest observatories, this dormant volcano’s fantastic views of earth and sky make a sunset/stargazing expedition an incredible experience.

Far below in the city of Hilo, visitors can learn more about space at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, whose exhibits combine modern astronomy with traditional Hawaiian beliefs. Other museums in Hilo include the Pacific Tsunami Museum and the Lyman Museum, which holds exhibits on Hawaiian and Asian history, culture, and art. Hilo is home to a thriving downtown filled with local shops, galleries, and restaurants, as well as a bi-weekly farmer’s market with 200+ food and craft vendors. Visitors can tour the Big Island Candies and Mauna Loa nut factories, or pause for reflection at Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens.

On the Kona side of the island, there are many historical sites, including Kailua Village, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (once a place of refuge for lawbreakers), and the 1500-year-old temple at Mookini Heiau.  Visitors can ride horses in the northern paniolo (cowboy) country, sample the brew at one of the island’s many coffee plantations, or enjoy the art-filled village of Holualoa.

The Big Island’s volcanic action, natural beauty, and rich culture make this island a must-see on your Hawaiian adventure!