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A Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii

Many people go to Hawaii and just go to Oahu. They might venture out to Kauai or Maui, but the Big Island of Hawaii is often bypassed. That is a shame because there is so much to see and do on Hawaii's largest island. My first trip to the Big Island of Hawaii was on a cruise ship. We docked for a day on each side of the island and I rented a car to explore. The island is big and has its unique beauty, food, and culture. Here is a guide to help you make the most of your visit to this paradise.

The Big Island for adventurers: hikes, volcanoes & manta rays

Adrenaline-seekers, I see you. The Big Island is a natural playground filled with epic hikes and adventures that award breathtaking views. Start in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and hike to the Kīlauea Iki Crater, where you’ll find a solidified lava bed. Watching the hot lava flow into the sea is truly awe-inspiring. You can see the island grow as new land is created. The scenic six-mile loop can include a stop at Nāhuku, an ancient cave where a 2000℉ river of lava once flowed. Speaking of volcanoes: don't miss the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary, where you'll be guided through the lush, biodiverse forest on the slopes of Mt. Hualālai.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

For an especially rewarding adventure, reserve a day for hiking in Waimanu Valley. The journey is strenuous, but the secluded valley is filled with breathtaking waterfalls. (Note: depending on weather conditions, the trail may be closed. Be sure to confirm ahead of time.) For an unforgettable water-based adventure, snorkel with manta rays — at night.

The Big Island for families: snorkel, stargaze & sight-see

The Big Island provides unparalleled learning experiences, where kids can consume its geological and cultural histories in fun, immersive ways.

Families can explore Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, stargaze from ’Imiloa Astronomy Center, or interact with endangered plant and animal species at the Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden. History lovers should check out the remains of ancient Hawaiʻian settlements at the Lapakahi State and Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Parks.

For world-class snorkeling (a kid favorite), head to Kealakekua Bay.

The Big Island for couples: beaches, lookouts & helicopters

The Big Island is a romantic paradise. Lovebirds can spot green sea turtles at Punalu’u, the island’s stunning black-sand beach, or venture off the beaten path to the secluded Kekaha Kai State Park for the perfect beach day. Hike across a lava path to the idyllic (and blissfully uncrowded) Makalawena Beach. Or, take in the black-lava landscapes at Pololū Valley Lookout.

I also love the charming towns of Holualoa and Hawi for a boutique shopping, art gallery-hopping moment. And for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, take a helicopter ride to marvel at the island’s beauty from above.

Where to eat on the Big Island, a mecca for locally sourced gastronomy

Thanks to a varied climate and the glistening Pacific, the Big Island’s food scene is a farm-to-table dream.

Hilo Farmers’ Market is a must-stop. Here you’ll find produce, crafts, clothing, coffee — even beauty products (I especially love Aila Niu). Café Ono is lovely for organic vegetarian and vegan (and utterly delicious) food. The restaurant is housed in a 20th-century estate and features a lush garden (home to Noble, the café’s rescued rabbit) and an art gallery.

Locals and visitors alike flock to CanoeHouse, Mauna Lani's exquisite oceanfront restaurant. The breathtaking setting and Japanese-inspired cuisine (freshly caught fish with scallion and blistered tomatoes, farm greens in yuzu-truffle dressing, tender tatsoi, and garlicky oyster mushrooms paired with dashi and sake) make for an especially memorable meal.

At Merriman’s, Hawai‘i's first carbon-neutral restaurant, enjoy delicious, farm-to-table food in a welcoming setting. The no-frills Da Poke Shack offers fresher-than-fresh seafood. Hidden gem, Moon and Turtle, is a casual neighborhood spot championing local ingredients.

For a satisfying sweet treat, try handmade mochi at Two Ladies’ Kitchen, grab a sugar-coated malasada at Punalu’u Bake Shop, or stop by Kula Shave Ice for its eponymous treat drizzled with house-made organic syrup and topped with local fruit. 

Now that you have a better idea of the delights that await you on the Big Island, contact me so we can begin planning your visit.


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