Top spots to visit and tips to make the most of your stay in Hawaii.
By Kendall Wood
I just returned from my first trip to the Big Island of Hawaii and I have to say it was one of the best vacations of my life! Whether or not you’ve been to The Big Island I encourage you to read the following tips for travel. I will highlight the top five places I visited as well as some tips on where to stay. After you read, I’d love to hear your stories from The Big Island because I’m already ready to go back and explore more!
I was in Hawaii for 7 nights and 8 days. For the first 4 nights, I stayed at the Keauhou-Kona Surf & Racquet Club. I highly recommend these accommodations. The condo complex is right on the water and has a pool and tennis courts. The location is 3 miles out of Kailua-Kona so you can get to town easily but also avoid the tourist traps if you want. Each condo has a fully stocked kitchen—mine even had herbs & spices & Tupperware! The best thing about the condos is that there is excellent snorkeling—sans tourists—just steps from the front door. All of the condos are privately owned but can be rented through Airbnb.
Find the condo I stayed at via this link:
During the second half of the trip I stayed with friends who grew up on the island and we road-tripped around the island’s perimeter.
On the Hilo side of the island, we found an incredible off-grid Airbnb that cost around $150/night for a three-bedroom place. It’s located one block from the ocean and one block from an amazing yoga retreat center that offered donation-based classes every day.
This Airbnb also had a porch with hammocks and a semi-outdoor shower. This is an excellent place to stay on the night that you want to go check out the lava flow. More about that experience later!
You can find the Airbnb here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/12931378
The yoga retreat center that was near it is called Kalani and you can find more info about them here: https://kalani.com/
This trip was non-stop! Every day we did some sort of hike or adventure.
Quick word of advice: Buy a snorkel before you go! Don’t bother to rent one. You can buy one for around $20 and use it the entire time at a moment’s notice without having to stop by a rental shop! Also, rent a car! Don’t go without one; there’s too much cool stuff you need to see that is difficult to access without a car!
Here are my favorite places and experiences from the trip in the order I saw them:
Green Sand Beach
There are only four green sand beaches in the entire world. One is in Guam, a second in the Galapagos Islands, a third in Norway and the fourth is in Hawaii! This rare sand comes from rock-forming mineral olivine, which is green in color and erodes faster than the lava rocks do.
To get to the beach you can either hike out (5 miles round trip) or get a ride in a local’s truck for around $10. I decided to hike out to the beach and then opted for a truck ride back because we were short on time. If you hike, I recommend going off-trail and walking along the water. It’s impossible to get lost if you stay on the coastline and there is more green sand to see along the way. This probably adds an extra half-mile to the hike, but it’s worth it.
The truck ride back was one of the sketchiest things I’ve ever experienced, but also added to the adventure! A local woman took about 12-15 people who stood up in the back of her truck and held onto a shaky metal frame. Miraculously, we didn’t tip over! It was like a roller coaster ride!
This beach is a must see if you are on The Big Island. It was hands down the best swim of my life thus far.
In old Hawaii, the only way to be forgiven for a crime and avoid the death penalty was to make your way to a place of refuge before you were caught. This is a sacred location where people went to be forgiven for their crimes. It is a beautiful site with a really interesting and unique history.
If the tide is right, you can walk out onto the lava bed and find a crevasse that makes for a perfect swimming hole. We snorkeled here and then went to the nearby national park for a picnic lunch.
You can read more about the park here: https://www.nps.gov/puho/planyourvisit/the-puuhonua.htm
The Big Island’s north-eastern shore is decorated with a chain of valleys and cliffs. I visited Pololū Valley and Waipio Valley on this trip but there are many more to see!
Pololū Valley is an easier hike. The hike down to the black sand beach is only about a quarter of a mile each way. From there you can relax by the beach or continue on to a longer hike that makes its way up to the next ridge and has a stunning viewpoint. I highly recommend taking the additional hike, which can be found at the south end of the black sand beach. There are no signs so just look for the only trail on that side of the beach that leads uphill and you’ll be good to go.
Waipio Valley is a little harder to get to. I was thankful that a friend of mine had 4-wheel drive and gave me a ride into the valley. The road into the valley is one of the steepest roads in the United States and ranges between a 25-45% grade on a one-lane road for ¾ of a mile in each direction. If the road is wet or you have any second guesses about the quality of your brakes, don’t risk it! You can also hike down if your legs are up for the challenge. Once in the valley there is a black sand beach and a variety of hiking trails. One of the most popular trails goes to the tallest waterfall in Hawaii, Hi’ilawe Falls, a 1,400 foot waterfall in the back of the valley.
This is the #1 thing I wanted to see while on The Big Island. There aren’t many places in the world where you can view molten lava flowing into the ocean and Hawaii is one of them!
There are many ways to get out to the lava flow—I chose a bike!
If you drive to Kalapana there are a ton of bike rental tents set up along the road. Rentals cost between $10-$50, I opted for a $20 bike and would recommend not going with the cheapest because a friend I was with did and hers got a flat tire and the gears didn’t work properly. The most expensive options are newer with more comfortable seats and they even offered electrical bikes for people who think pedaling takes too much work. Bike rentals also included a headlamp for riding back after dark and a bottle of water.
The bike ride (which can also be done as a hike) is about 9 miles round trip along a gravel emergency access road. My friends and I timed it so we’d make it to the lava viewpoint right around sunset and it was an absolutely spectacular site to see. We were there on the night of a full moon so on one side of us was the lava and sunset and behind us was a full moon rising. It was absolutely magical and by far my favorite experience of this trip. Photos can’t do it justice so just add this to your bucket list now and start counting the days till you can see it in person.
Uncle Robert’s Farmers Market
If you plan your trip to the lava viewpoint on a Wednesday you can stop by Uncle Robert’s Farmers Market on your way home. This night market pops up in the middle of a lava field every Wednesday night and hundreds of people gather to hear live music, eat local food, have drinks and browse the goods of local artisans. This is a great way to end the day like the locals do and a perfect place to pick up some unique souvenirs.
Here is a link to their yelp page: https://www.yelp.com/biz/uncle-roberts-farmers-market-pahoa-13
Thank you for reading about my Big Island experience. I hope this inspires you to make it out to The Big Island if you haven’t or to go back and explore more if you have! This trip was truly one of the best trips of my life and I look forward to seeing what else The Big Island has to offer next time I’m in Hawaii!
What did I miss? Comment below with your favorite Big Island memories and adventures!