When I was torn between which Hawaiian island to visit first, the national park geek in me was slightly biased towards the Big Island because of the Volcanoes National Park. A little internet search led me to pictures of all the gorgeous and unique colored sand beaches on the island (think black, green(?) and white!) and I was convinced! We spent one week on the island and felt it was a good amount of time to both chill as well as explore the island at our own pace. There are so many unique things to do in the island, like swimming with Manta Rays and dolphins and hiking through endless lava fields and isolated beaches where there’s just you and an endless stretch of sand and I’ll get into the details in this post 🙂
We flew into Kona International airport and stayed on the Kona side for 4 days and on the Hilo side for 3 days. Here are some of the things to do:
It is known for it’s abundant marine life and hosts some of the best white sand beaches and breathtaking valleys on the Kohala coast. I would highly recommend staying in the town of Captain Cook atleast for a few days. It is the quintessential Hawaiian town with hugeee Monsteras and banana and mango trees lining the streets like it’s nobody’s business. I was so enchanted seeing all the indoor tropical plants that I own take a giant form in their wilderness in this part of the island! Here’s are some things you shouldn’t miss –
Swimming with the dolphins –
This was one of the highlights of our trip. It was so magical to swim with a pod of around 20 dolphins in the wild! I was completely enamored by the way these gorgeous creatures swim and some of them even put up a spin show for us! We booked a tour through this company – Dolphin Discoveries and would highly recommend them!
Swimming with Manta Rays –
Another unique thing you can do on this island is swim with giant manta rays (They have a 10 foot wingspan on an average!) at night when they feed on the planktons on the surface of water! Our tour’s highlight was that a manta ray decided to shat right in front of our faces as we were floating over it 😀 It was hilarious and disgusting at the same time, but something we’ll never forget haha! Seeing these gentle giants in their natural habitat was an amazing experience! We booked this through Kona Style which is one of the very few companies still run by native Hawaiians!
Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay –
This is a must do if you are in Big island! We saw soo many fishes and some colorful corals underwater that we actually did this on two days coz one day wasn’t enough! The water is crystal clear and is so beautifully turquoise near the reefs. We actually kayaked across the bay, snorkeled there and then kayaked back, which is also an option. We booked this through Kona Boys. We also had about 3 pods of dolphins visit us again on this day so that was a bonus! 🙂
Snorkeling at Two steps –
This is another excellent spot for snorkeling where you can literally walk into the ocean and see soo many colorful fishes in shallow waters. The most prominent one is the yellow tang which you can spot from anywhere owing to their bright yellow color (which I first mistook for some kind of underwater plant coz that’s how abundant they were!) You can also visit the Puʻuhonua national historic monument right next to it, which was a place of refuge for the Native Hawaiians.
Makalawena beach –
This one was highly recommended by the locals and I’m soo glad we made it there! It is one of the most beautiful white sand beaches that I have ever been to. And we were literally the only ones at the beach, which made it even more special! Getting to this beach is a little tricky, you need to first get to Kekaha hai state park and park there. On the right side of the parking lot, there’s a small gate leading to a path on the lava rocks, follow that until you reach a crescent shaped Mahaiula beach until you get to the far right side. Here you will see a grouping of palm trees and a path going over lava rocks. Follow the lava lined path north towards the sand dunes in the distance. It is about a 20 minute walk in completely open lava fields so it might get REALLY HOT so prepare accordingly. But once you reach the beach, you’ll see that it is all so worth it! It was so refreshing to take a dip at the beach after the walk and you can easily spend a day here just lounging by the palm trees!
We drove from Kona to Hilo through the Saddle road and the drive itself is so beautiful and scenic. There’s a detour you can take on this road and visit Mouna Kea, the highest summit in Hawaii if you’re in time for sunset. It has quite the view!
We stayed in the town of Pahoa which is about 30 mins south of Hilo and closer to Volcanoes national park. Pahoa had one of the best local eats on the whole island (Pele’s kitchen, Kaleo’s Bar and Grill) We also spent some time tropical fruit shopping in the Farmer’s market in Hilo and scored some of the sweetest mangoes and discovered Longan which quickly became one of my favorite tropical fruit find! Here are some of the things to do on the east side –
We spent a day driving uptown the Waipio valley and checking out the string of waterfalls on the way. Here are some of the notable ones –
You could also hike down the Waipio Valley and further north, Polulu valley if you have the time!
Black and Green Sand beaches:
The south-eastern part of the island is known for it’s unique beaches and we checked out the Kehena black sand beach, Punaluu Black sand beach and Papakolea green sand beaches. Kehena beach literally looked like a slice of paradise out of a fantasy book! Palm tress and tropical plants lining the blackest sand you can find with turquoise blue waters, man it was a sight to behold! If you have time for just one beach, I would suggest you do this one! It is a small hike down the cliff and not a well known beach so you’ll mostly have it for yourself if you’re lucky 🙂
The Punaluu black sand beach is a good one if you want to spot some sea turtles hanging out and basking in the sun! It is more commercial so expect lots of families there.
The green sand beach was another one which took my breath away! I actually didn’t believe that the sand could really be green until I saw it in person! It is really true you guys, it was such a what-on-earth??! moment when I held that sand in my palm and actually saw the green crystals! Getting to the beach isn’t easy though, you’ll either have to hike along the coast on uneven mud/lava rock for about 6 miles out and back or you could get a ride from a local on a 4×4. We took the ride which was $20 per person and is an adventure by itself owing to the super bumpy roads 😀 Make sure to arrive before 3-4 PM in the afternoon since the locals leave early, if you need a ride.
Volcanoes National Park:
We were a little too late to visit this one. Up until 2018, you could hike and see actual lava flowing. However, now you can only see the lava glow at night from the Halema’uma’u crater since it is the only place where there is active lava as of Dec 2020. We did do some small hikes in the park and also drove till the end of the chain of craters road which looked like we were on a different planet altogether! I highly recommend spending atleast a day at this park and learning the history of the different eruptions that have shaped this island till this day.
Big island is so diverse and has something for everyone and I hope to go back there again someday 🙂 Thanks for stopping by ❤
Until next time,