Dear Hawaii Resident,
Two of us are visiting the Big Island for a week, would you please tell us what to see and where to stay.
I’d love to! and welcome, e komo mai (eh-komo-my) to our beautiful island. A good advice needs to take into account your interests and I will give you some options to choose from. So, this itinerary is flexible and can be easily adjusted.
You can fly to either Kona (the west side) or Hilo (the east side) airports, but I would start in Hilo where you will be dazzled with the lush tropical side of the island. When you step off the plane you will be amazed looking up at the majestic Mauna Kea (Mawna-Kay-ah) mountain. Green cane fields covering its slopes, rising up to a broad mountain topped with snow.
The Big Island is, well… very big. Its area is almost twice as large as all other Hawaiian islands combined. The best way to see it is by renting and driving a car. You could do a grand circle of the island, overnight at different accommodations along the way, and in a week return to Hilo to fly back home.
Another way is to fly into Hilo and out of Kona. You would pay a bit more for the flights and for the option to return the rental car to the different location, but this way your visit to Kona coast will be more relaxing at the end of your stay. So, your plane lands in Hilo, you rent a car and spend 2 days exploring this side of the island. Then you drive to Volcanoes National Park and maybe spend another night there. Stay the remaining 4 nights on the Kona side, visiting its beautiful beaches and enjoying the dryer side of the Big Island from your home base. You will return your rental car and fly back home from Kona airport.
As you are coming from the mainland, on your arrival day your inner clock is 2-6 hours ahead of the local time so when you land you may be at least that more tired. A good reason to head right to your accommodation to rest. Or if you can’t wait and are still full of energy, use this gift of time and start exploring!
Below is the itinerary for the grand circle of the island, starting and ending in Hilo. I hope that the information will be useful to you even if you plan to visit the places in any different order.
After checking in, take a stroll around Banyan Drive – an idyllic walk in Hilo, shaded by Banyan Trees. Across the street is a Japanese Garden, Liliuokalani Park, with fish ponds and charming red arch bridges.
The next morning you are raring to go, so, check out and go! Head north up the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii and prepare to see the best things on the Big Island.
It is dazzling beyond belief, thin white waterfalls drifting down like long silvery hair, glorious green valley walls rising to the sky. Graceful white birds gliding through the valleys. This is the Hamakua, (Ha-mah-koo-ah) once you see those emerald canyons they will stay with you forever.
With all your excitement keep driving the 50 miles to Waimea. From there turn right out of town and head down to the beaches of Kona. The sunshine gets brighter as you head west.
At this point you can view the entire Kona-Kohala Coast, blue inlets and bays stretching for 40 miles. Looking out to sea you’ll spy the island of Maui. At the bottom of the highway at Kawaihae turn left toward Kona and drive 5 miles to world-famous Hapuna (Hah-poona) beach.
The beach is wide and white and perfect, it’s an easy swim. After a dip you will head to Disneyland, which is where you will be staying for 2 days. Not really, but it looks like it. It is the Hilton in Waikoloa and it is jaw-dropping to behold.
Lagoons to swim in, dolphins leaping in front of the restaurant. Art museums, jungleland river boats winding on a canal through the grounds, exotic birds, and a monorail whooshing through the hotel. You will love it. Your room is waiting, hop on the riverboat, it will stop in front of your room.
The next morning it’s off to the shops, sunny malls close by filled with fountains and restaurants to write home about. They are called the Queen Shops and King Shops, named after Hawaiian Royalty.
For lunch, drive to Lava Lava Beach Club, an open-air restaurant with living room couches 20 feet from the water. There’s homey Hawaii for you.
Another day swimming the pools in your hotel, watching dolphins and maybe driving back to Hapuna Beach and you are ready for your adventure to Kona!
From the Hilton drive south to Kona, don’t be surprised at the black lava fields, it is not the moon, and be thrilled at the wild goats along the highway. In 40 minutes you’re in Kona town. Go straight to the Royal Kona Resort or the cheaper Kona Islander Inn and check in. From there you can easily walk through this paradise by the sea.
This is a good time to remind you that these hotels are only suggestions and you can have the same rich, full vacation staying in your own personal hotel called a vacation rental. It’s usually a better view, more space and privacy, and room service is better because you have your own full kitchen. All this for a third or half the price. You’ll have extra funds for extra fun.
If you want to know, you can visit “Disneyland” Hilton for a day, swim with dolphins, ride all the rides, boats, monorails and return to your vacation rental, just a thought.
So, I’d stay 2 days in Kona, enjoying the funky, open-air market, the fun shops and walking along the seawall, don’t get splashed! Visit the Palace of King Kalakaua (Kah-la-Kaw-wa) and the Hawaii’s first Christian church. There are beautiful beaches all through town and the Kona sunsets will melt you.
Soon it’s time to continue around the island. It gets greener as you drive south. There’s Kealakekua Bay, (kay-ala-kay-kua) you remember “the little grass shack”. You might head down the hill to the bay for great snorkeling and a journey through history, imagining Captain Cook in 1778 sailing into the bay in his tall masted ships.
Heading south from there, you can visit the historic painted church, with original murals on the walls. Further south you come to Punaluu Beach (poona loo-oo). with giant turtles flopped on the beach. To be local call them by their Hawaiian name, Honu (Hoe-new).
You will finally reach the volcano. Seeing its craters and crimson lava will leave you amazed for a lifetime. After a night in Volcano, glide back down to Hilo and check back into the Naniloa. Spend the last day around Hilo or head to Puna, a tree-filled district south of Hilo.
All over most all of the subdivisions in Puna, Hawaii 15 miles south of Hilo, wild bamboo orchids grow. They grow so thick that you can drive along in the car and reach out the window and grab handfulls of orchids.I do this when I visit friends and bring them orchids.
There are hundreds of acres of small purple orchids from Keaau at the edge of Puna for 20 miles south and many orchid growers. Orchids were brought to the island in the early 1900s. Many businesses in Hilo are named after orchids and there are orchid shows all the time.
On the south of Puna district you will find Kalapana (kah-la-pawna). You can walk across a lava field and see a burning crimson river of lava. This you will never forget.
The next day fly back home with wonderful memories in your heart. Be sure to come back soon.
If you do return to the Big Island and it just so happens to be around Halloween, you can celebrate by enjoying the CG-animated film The Legend of Hallowaiian which is set here. You can then go on to visit the film’s “haunts” (pun intended) if you turn out to be a fan.
Aloha, my friends.
Map of the Best Things to Do on the Big Island