Top Things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaii is a known paradise for beach lovers, adventure seekers, and foodies all around the world. While I had always wanted to visit Hawaii, when I began traveling internationally I sort of pushed it further down my list of places to go. It wasn’t until I came across cheap flights in 2018 that I decided to take a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii for my 28th birthday. I only visited the big island and I couldn’t have been happier with that decision as it was the perfect introduction to Hawaii for me. The big island isn’t as crowded as Maui or Oahu, but offers up just as many activities. Here are some of the top things to do on the Big Island.

Stay in hilo

If you’re flying into Kona, Hilo is about an hour and a half away from the airport. While it’s called the “Big Island”, it’s very easy to drive across the island during a short trip. Hilo is a great base for many different adventures. As you can imagine, the town is pretty small which just adds to the charm of the place. We stayed in Hilo for two nights and spent those nights at Pineapples Island restaurant that was located right across from our Airbnb as it was open late and the perfect spot for a beer. There are plenty of spots to eat around town though, such as Hawaiian Style Cafe, Cafe 100, and Hilo Lunch Stop. Be sure to stop at Big Island Candies as well to buy lots of shortbread cookies to bring home!

Indulge in Amazing Eats

Food in Hawaii is both delicious and filling. They do not skimp on the portion size! Every meal I had on the Big Island was satisfying even if it meant I couldn’t move for a few hours after. As you can see in the second picture above, I ordered quite the meal for breakfast one day. This consisted of rice, gravy, a meat patty, spam, eggs, and just because I’m greedy I also got a side of pancakes. The good thing is that you’re sure to burn off the calories during a hiking adventure.

Go on a helicopter ride

A helicopter ride on the Big Island is well worth the price. The views are amazing and just the overall experience is one to remember forever. This was my first time on a helicopter and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The island experienced a volcano eruption a few months prior to our visit and we were able to see the devastating impact that it had on the area.

We booked our ride with Deluxe Volcano Safari Helicopter which met at Hilo International Airport Commuter Terminal.

Visit the top of Mauna kea

This was by far my favorite experience in Hawaii and top experiences of all time. This tour takes you to the top of Mauna Kea, which is around 14,000 ft in elevation. We truly lucked out with this tour as it was gloomy as day with no visibility at the top. The tour began at the Mauna Kea visitor center, which is approximately 9,200 ft. We met at this spot and allowed ourselves to get acclimated to the elevation. As we waited at the center, the sky began to clear up and it was announced that we would have full visibility at the top and the first day in weeks that it was this perfect.

While you can complete the drive to the top on your own, you must have 4WD and be a brave driver. The road to the top isn’t paved, there are no guard rails, and the road is narrow. Of course we opted for a guided tour that also included a stargazing session afterwards. The sight was unbelievably beautiful and felt a bit surreal being above the clouds. We watched the sunset and then had to head down before it got too dark.

This tour was booked through Arnott’s Lodge and cost $160 per person at the time.

Go Stargazing

As mentioned in the previous item, stargazing was included in our tour of Mauna Kea. I didn’t really have the proper camera equipment to capture the night sky, so only got one picture (above) from the visitor center which there was external lights so didn’t capture the true essence of the sky. This experience was also amazing as the guide pointed out all the visible constellations and even planets. It truly was incredible and something I don’t witness often living in the busy, lit up Northern Virginia.

Walk around Akaka falls state park

Akaka Falls State Park is about a 25 min drive from Hilo and a gorgeous park to stroll through. Luscious greenery surrounds you as you walk towards the 442 feet tall Akaka waterfalls. This is a very easy, casual walk with no intense hiking required.

Visit Rainbow falls

Rainbow Falls is an easy to visit waterfall in Hilo. While the falls were nice to see, I was really impressed by the forest area surround the falls. The trees (pictured above) were so unique and made me feel like I was in some haunted forest with branches growing all over and potentially wrapping around me. You don’t need much time here, but it’s still a great place to stop at when in the area!

Hike Down to Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley is totally worth the intense hike required to reach the beach. It appears that many people don’t know that you can actually hike down to the beach as it’s a steep road that leads you down. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed down so many seem to skip it all together and only take in the views from the top. The hike is honestly one of the toughest I’ve done as I was constantly scared of slipping down, so just be sure to wear appropriate shoes. As you can imagine, going up was just as tough but was also extremely fulfilling.

Once you make it down the steep road, you’ll walk a bit further to reach the beach. It was nearly empty and had wild horses roaming around! It was absolutely incredible. The original plan was to hike up the other side of the valley, but the due to the rising water level we weren’t able to cross over (which worked out because my travel partner might have killed me if I made him hike again right after what we had just gone through). I’d recommend packing a lunch and enjoying it at the beach. The atmosphere was stunning.

If you walk in the opposite direction of the beach, you’ll find more beautiful views and a waterfall. I saw photos of a swimming area where the waterfall landed but wasn’t able to find it. There were homes and no trespassing signs when we got closer, but of course did not want to go onto private property and disturb residents so we just looked from afar before heading back up the incline.

Stay in Kailua-kona

When visiting the Big Island, it’s likely that you’ll fly into the Kailua-Kona airport. This area is definitely more geared towards tourists than Hilo, but is just as fun to stay at. We rented a beautiful Airbnb towards the mountainside with a great view. It was perfect to be able to watch the sunset.

Kailua-Kona has a cute little “downtown” area with plenty of shops and restaurants to stop in. Be sure to also visit Kona Brewing Co. for some beer tastings.

Try Hawaiin Shaved Ice

Hawaiian shaved ice is amazing. The ice is shaved so finely that it simply melts in your mouth and has more of a creamy feel to it than icy. There’s a ton of flavors to choose from and you can have custard on the inside and be sure to drizzle with some condensed milk as well. It’s the most refreshing item you can consume in Hawaii.

Take a dip at hapuna white sand beach

Hapuna white sand beach is about a 45 minute drive from Kailua-Kona, but is a beautiful beach with clear water and pristine sand. If you’re a beach lover then it’s definitely worth the visit. I’m not really a beach person…I’m not a fan of sand and just get way too antsy laying on the beach. I’m more of an active person, so laying on a beach doesn’t really appeal to me. I definitely appreciate the gorgeous views, but after about 30 minutes of sitting at the beach I headed to the Westin Resort for a drink.

There’s so much more that can be done on the Big Island, but these are the top activities that I was able to do during my stay. I truly loved this island that is often overlooked. My friend who wasn’t really that excited to go to Hawaii was proven wrong when he turned out loving the trip and all the activities that the island had to offer. So please do yourself a favor and do not skip the Big Island of Hawaii!

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