While it would be impossible to choose just one favorite island of the Hawaiian Islands, I will say that each time I visit Big Island I state, at one point or another, “I can see myself living here.” Big Island offers the perfect blend of both relaxation and adventure. With vast open spaces and untouched natural wonders, the island is bound to provide you with what you’re looking for, whatever that may be.
Whether you’re actually planning or just dreaming of your next trip to Big Island, make sure you don’t miss these even bigger adventures while you’re there:
1. Manta Ray Night Dive/Snorkel
The Manta Ray dive/snorkel is one of the most famous dives in the World. Mantas congregate at the same time, in the same area, each night. These plankton feeders visit the area to feed off of the nutrient-rich upwellings that occur in the cove. On average, divers/snorkelers can expect to encounter six manta rays; however, up to as many as 32 have been recorded during one dive! We dove with Kona Honu Divers and happened to be on the only dive out of the whole year that encountered 0 mantas…yes you read that correctly. But hey, mantas deserve vacations too! We will definitely return.
Expect to pay upwards of $150 for the experience but trust me, if you’re lucky enough to spot one or several of these graceful giants during your dive, it will definitely be worth it.
2. Snorkeling Captain Cook Monument (Kealakekua Bay)
Kealakekua Bay can be explored via several different touring options (boat, snorkel day trip, kayak, etc.). However, if you’re looking to save some money by creating your own DIY adventure, the bay can be reached by foot. A 3.6 mile roundtrip trail will lead you to the bay where you can set up your own picnic spot and hop right in the water – trust me you won’t be able to get there quick enough!
Below the surface you’ll find healthy and bright corals, schools of fish and beckoning rock formations! I suggest you set out for this adventure early, the island heats up quickly and there is little shade on the trail.
3. South Point Cliff Dive
Cliff jumping is always on our itinerary no matter where we are visiting. Surprisingly, this cliff jumping spot still remains on our bucket list as well! As the name suggests, this spot is located on the southernmost tip of the island. (Fun Fact, this spot happens to also be the most southernmost tip of the entire United States!).
Here you can jump from the cliffs rumored to be anywhere between 30 – 60 feet, depending on tide. If this sounds like something you’re interested in make sure to check the currents and swell before jumping in. While the ocean floor is a good 20 feet deep, this area is notorious for a strong undertow. As always, you are jumping at your own risk.
4. Green Sands Beach
Another awesome spot located on the southern tip of the island is the famous Green Sands Beach (Papokolea). Being one of only four in the World, this beach is not one to be missed! You can reach the beach either by foot or 4WD vehicle. If opting to hike like we did, make sure to pack plenty of water, sunscreen and good spirits as this trek is not for the faint of heart! While long (roughly 5 miles roundtrip), the hike is primarily flat with unobstructed views of the coast.
Once you eventually reach the beach you’ll be convinced your eyes are playing tricks on you. The glittering greenish-gold sand starkly contrasts with the turquoise water creating a serene image like none you’ve ever seen. Again, if you choose to get in the water be aware of the strong currents in this area and always use your best judgment!
5. Pololu Valley
Somewhat overshadowed by the more famous Waipio valley, Pololu Valley offers the same breathtaking views with much easier access and less crowds. In fact, visiting Polulu Valley was my favorite thing we did on Big Island! Through a series of switchbacks, the trail leads you down .6 miles to a black sand beach. While the trail is short, it does descend over 400 feet in about 25 minutes. I promise the views at the bottom are worth it. And, as an added bonus, most of the trail is shaded!
We did see surfers in the water when we reached the bottom; however I would only suggest swimming if you are a strong and confident swimmer.
6. Sunset atop Mauna Kea
What better place to watch the sunset then on top of Hawaii’s highest peak?! Standing just under 14,000 ft, Mauna Kea offers a breathtaking platform to not only watch the sun’s farewell but also the stars’ debut. This jaw-dropping adventure remains on our bucket list as well!
The summit can be reached either via foot, personal 4WD car or organized tour group. Keep in mind if you’re planning to hike the six miles to the summit, the average trip takes around eight hours. Pack for cold weather and ensure you make it back by sunset! Always remember to be respectful of the trail, as this sight is sacred in Hawaiian culture.
7. Akaka Falls
Ranking up there as one of the most stunning waterfalls I’ve ever seen is Akaka Falls. Located just north of Hilo, this waterfall stands at 442 feet and is completely encompassed by lush, tropical greenery. The walk is paved and leads you only to a viewing deck across from the falls, making this attraction one for the whole family!
If waterfalls are your thing (they most definitely are my thing) Big Island is also home to the well-known Rainbow Falls and locally-known Narnia Falls.
8. Chain of Craters Drive, Volcanoes National Park
A visit to Big Island wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Volcanoes National Park. With Kilauea erupting only this time last year, 10% of the park still remains closed (as of June 2019). However, the famous Chain of Craters drive is still accessible and leads you through the park, past several eruption sites and large craters! With lava rock covering most of this drive, you’ll get to see firsthand the devastation and destruction caused by a volcanic eruption, as well as rebirth of the aina. It’s truly something that needs to be seen to be fully understood.
Make sure to drive the entire road until it ends at the sea. From this vantage point you can see where lava has poured down the mountains and funneled directly into the Pacific Ocean.
FYI, the park has a $25 entrance fee per car.
9. Waipio Valley
As mentioned above, Waipio Valley is the most popular spot on the island to take in views of the dramatic sea cliffs. The valley floor is accessible via 4WD (and extremely confident driver) or by foot. If hiking by foot, brace yourself for the 6.5 mile roundtrip trek ladened with steep verticals and possibly muddy footing. The perfect combination for a fun-filled hike and rewarding finish!
Still on our bucket list is camping at this beautiful spot. Once in the valley the Muliwai backcountry trail takes hikers from Waipio Valley to Waimanu Valley via an 8.5 mile trail and offers refreshing waterfalls and pools along the way.
As always, don’t forget your camping permit.
10. Road trip the Island
Looking for the ultimate adventure? String all these activities together into one epic Big Island road trip! The island is easy to drive and offers drastically changing terrain from lava-hardended fields to lush jungle flora. From Kona to Hilo and everything in between, you’re sure to find something on the road worth coming back for, time and time again.
Have you ever visited Big Island? What’s your favorite adventure? Share in the comments below!
As always, keep adventuring x
KEEP BELIEVING. KEEP EXPLORING. AND, KEEP RELENTLESSLY TELLING THE UNIVERSE ALL IT IS YOU PLAN TO DO.