Things to Do on Big Island

Best Big Island Sights

If you're looking for the best or top Big Island of Hawaii Vacation activities then you're in the right place. In this article, we've selected our top ten activities and attractions for visitors on their Big Island vacation trip.

Home to two of the world's greatest mountains, one of the world's most active volcanoes, the majority of the world's major climate zones, Hawai'i's greatest king, and the wettest city in the United States, the Big Island of Hawai'i is an island like no other. It is an island of such proportions that all of the other islands in the main Hawaiian chain could fit inside it twice. Our Big Island of Hawaii Must See and Do page already highlights the majority of "Must See" attractions on the island, but this list is meant to narrow that list even further. Let's take a look at our top ten picks.

First, making this list is purely subjective, it's our opinion and not a list everyone will agree with. That said, we feel pretty confident these are the top things to do and see on the Big Island of Hawaii. If you feel we've left something off, we hope you'll tell us in the comment section below.

Second, on most of the smaller islands driving to each attraction isn't an issue - every place is accessible easily within a few hours maximum. On the Big Island, that's not always the case - many of the attractions are a great distance from one another and a lot of driving (for an island) can be required. This is why it's best to organize your trip based on the island's geography, and in this case, its two sides: Kailua-Kona and Hilo. As we pointed out in our Where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii article, you'll probably want to spend 3-4 nights in Hilo and 2-4 nights in Kailua-Kona.

John Derrick
Published by: John C. Derrick
Editor / Founder

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses 333,000 acres of natural wonders and is situated at 4,000 feet above sea level. With its wealth of trails, drives, and activities you will need at least two days to fully experience all the park has to offer. Learn more about the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Akaka Falls State Park

The stroll to reach Akaka Falls is almost as beautiful as the falls itself. After taking a short set of stairs turn left and you will be led on a paved pathway through amazing greenery and small waterfalls flowing into babbling streams. Everywhere you look you are surrounded by giant Ti plants, bird of paradise, torch ginger, bamboo, and split leaf philodendron. Learn more about Akaka Falls.

Waipio Valley Overlook

Located along the Hamakua Coast on the northeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i, Waipi'o Valley is the largest and southernmost of the seven valleys on the windward side of the Kohala Mountains. Time and nature's elements have carved an unimaginably massive valley filled with deep green-encrusted cliffs cut by plunging waterfalls. Its floor is carpeted with forests and neatly formed taro patches interspersed with the homes of its few residents. At the mouth of the valley, the ocean licks the mile-long black sand beach which is sliced in half by the river that is partially fed by the 1,200 ft. free-falling Hi'ilawe Falls which resides deep in the valley. Learn more about Waipio Valley.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Inside the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, over 2,000 species of plants, including a large variety of orchids, heliconia, gingers, bromeliads, and palms, are spread throughout the garden mixed with several natural waterfalls and a view of Onomea Bay. With the aid of the map provided by the garden, you will easily spend several hours ambling through the various sections of the garden. Every twist and turn leads to a new plant or tree. Learn more about Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

Makalawena Beach

Like anything worthwhile, Makalawena Beach makes you work a little bit to enjoy it. This secluded white sand beach is a crescent broken up by rocky lumps of lava. Palms and other trees rim the dunes near the northern end where you are greeted with picnic tables and some wild chickens. Learn more about Makalawena Beach.

Pololu Valley Overlook

As you pass the 28-mile marker on Highway 270 past Hawi, the coast will open up and you will suddenly be treated to a breathtaking view of Pololu Valley. Here you will see the vibrant blue and green ocean crashing into the rugged sea cliffs and the deep green carpet of vegetation lining the sides of the valley. A short walk to the lookout reveals the many folds and creases of the inner part of the valley which drop into a rich, green floor. Lines of ironwood trees divide the lush valley from the grainy black sand beach that meets the ocean. Learn more about Pololu Valley.

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, formerly known as Place of Refuge at Honaunau, is an incredibly beautiful and educational experience that no trip to the Big Island should be without. On this scorched land of sand and lava rock, the ali'i (ruling class) of Hawaii made their home. You can explore how they worked and played underneath the shade of Honaunau?s stately palms. Learn more about Puuhonua o Honaunau.

Kilauea Iki Trail

Kilauea Iki Trail is a wonderful day hike for visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As you stand at the Kilauea Iki overlook you can see a lightly-etched trail stretching across the crater floor. From your 400 ft high vantage point you might be able to see little specks walking the path: those are people. Kilauea Iki is an approximately four-mile loop that takes 2-3 hours. It skirts the rim of the crater, dips down and across the floor and back up to the overlook. Learn more about the Kilauea Iki Trail.

Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube

Like veins leading from the heart of the volcano, lava tubes direct molten earth toward the ocean. As the lava flows, the outer crust begins to harden while the inner lava continues to flow. Once the flow stops, the tunnel formation remains. Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube could date back some 350-500 years. The tube is named for Lorrin Thurston, a newspaper publisher that played an instrumental role in creating the park. Learn more about Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube.

Pu'ukohola Heiau

Pu`ukohola Heiau, a sacred place of worship, has a particularly interesting history. Built between 1790-91, Pu`ukohola was the project of the great King Kamehameha. Legend says that King Kamehameha was unable to fully complete his mission to conquer and unite all the islands. In search of an answer, he sent his mother to speak with the prophet Kapoukahi who told her that Kamehameha would rule the islands if he built a large heiau in honor of his family god, Ku, on Pu`ukohola (Whale Hill). Taking these words to heart, Kamehameha enlisted the help of many "volunteer" workers to complete the 224 by the 100-foot structure that reaches 16-20 feet into the sky. Learn more about Puukohola Heiau.

Our Recommended Big Island Tours

Ride in comfort and style and spot the lava, watch the sky from atop Mauna Kea, watch some of the world's rarest birds, explore stunning waterfalls, or trek some of best hiking trails in Hawaii. Book your Big Island guided tour and explore Hawaii any way your heart desires! 

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