Eco-Friendly Sights and Activities on The Big Island
Big Island Sustainable Tourism
You've just arrived on the Big Island, but you're not exactly there to sip on the frilly umbrella drinks. Hawaii is a land of exploration and the typical tourist jaunts are not even on your radar.
For many people, the traditional vacation has changed. They prefer to experience the local culture—educating themselves on the diverse Hawaiian ecosystems, rather than taking part in “standard” vacation activities. Many visitors want to give back to the land, rather than take away from it. These vacationers would rather get hot exploring the Kilauea Volcano, than cool off on a crowded beach.
Ecotourism is about really digging your hands into the earth. At 4,028 square miles, Hawaii is home to the highest amount of endangered wildlife on the planet. For eco-tourists that means there is a place of discovery around every corner. When it comes to the Big Island itself, however, five main spots can't be missed.
1. Papakolea Beach
The open bay is typically rough, the beach can be windy, there are no facilities or fresh water—so why would anyone want to visit this beach? Because the sand is literally green and you will never see anything like it again. In fact, Guam is the only other place that has a beach like this.
The 5-mile stretch of sand earned its distinction thanks to the nearby Pu'u Mahana cinder cone that spews volcanic fragments onto the earth. When they erode, the color of the sand changes to a deep olive green. Put aside half a day for this trip, because it takes about 2 hours to reach. You'll find it at a dead-end road in South Point off of Highway 11.
2. Hilo's Akaka Falls State Park
A short, low-intensity hike in the northeastern part of the island, Akaka Falls is known for its two glorious waterfalls, the cascading Kahuna and the free-falling Akaka. The Akaka waterfall is a short walk from the entrance and reaches a staggering 422 feet high.
With a flat, paved trail, this is more of a walk than a hike—so even kids can enjoy this eco-stop. The 4-mile loop through the park should take less than an hour and admission is $1 per pedestrian and $5 a car. If you are short on time, this is one spectacular place you can't pass up!
3. Mauna Kea Summit
The Big Island is one of the only locations in existence where you can observe a palm tree while standing in the snow. The Mauna Kea Summit is 4,200 meters high and sits 14,000 feet above sea level. The trip up is just two hours and is the only drive on the planet from the ocean to a mountain top in that time span. Careful with your ascent because there is 40% less oxygen up there.
Due to the altitude and location of the island, the summit has near perfect conditions for stargazing. The largest observatory in the world has chosen to make Mauna Kea its home and there are 12 others located at the peak. These are generally closed to the public, but the Visitor Station has free stargazing classes throughout the week.
4. Kona Coffee Tours
Home to some of the finest coffee beans in the world, Kona's coffee region is located in a narrow, scenic area on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes in the north and south Kona district. There are over 650 farms clustered in a 20 square mile radius where you can explore the local ecology and the gifts of the region. Farm tours like these are all about educating yourself on the island's sustainable sources of nutrition.
Each excursion lasts about 30 minutes and most are walking tours on a farm-by-farm basis. They start on the farm (which means you have to drive there yourself) and many need to be scheduled ahead of time so there is someone to guide you. Fortunately, the locals are an incredibly friendly bunch and the majority of tours are completely free of charge. Just don't leave without getting your precious cup of Kona Joe.
5. Waikoloa Petroglyph Field
Offering a glimpse into the culture and history of Hawaii, petroglyphs offered ways to communicating in ancient times, with some drawings dating as far back as the 16th century. They are referred to by Hawaiians as “k’i’i pohaku,“ or “images in stone.” A perfect field trip for an eco-tourist, many of the petroglyphs are clustered around historic landmarks and foot highways over lava fields.
The majority of these fields were destroyed by lava, but some have withstood the hands of time, allowing the public to study and enjoy them. One of the best-preserved petroglyph sites on the Big Island is the Waikoloa Petroglyph Field. These particular petros can be found along the King’s Trail, also known as the Mamalahoa Trail, that runs north to south of Waikoloa for miles
The Big Island of Hawaii is one of the only islands that experiences both volcanic and polar weather depending on where you are. That's pretty crazy considering the land mass itself is relatively small!
People that seek to maintain the ecology of the island will enjoy the five places on this list over anyone else. The more Hawaiian visitors work towards using their vacation for education, the longer we can preserve these beautiful places for our future generations to know.
About the Author
Andrea Griffith is passionate about Hawaii and enjoys sharing her love of the islands at Live Your Aloha.