The Big Island of Hawaii, a.k.a. the Orchid Island, a.k.a. the Fire Island, a.k.a. TBI or simply Hawaii is AMAZING! We have just returned from our 11-day (9 full days on the island) trip with tons of photos, and I am wrting this article while the memories are still fresh and vivid. If you are seeking information on the best things to do on the Big Island, keep reading!
This article presents our full itinerary, with each day briefly described. Each day will link to its own article where I post more photos and narrative. Stay tuned!
ARRIVAL – Sunday, December 24
After a few months of planning and anticipating, we are finally departing for the Big Island – my husband, our teenage son and I. How many times I typed into the google search box: things to do on the Big Island? I am the planner in our family, and I always try to make sure we see the most interesting there is to see. Most of the time, the research pays out. Now let the curtain rise! Here are the details of our Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo check-in and the walk along the Banyan Drive.
DAY 1 – Monday, December 25
Christmas. Every time we happen to travel on Christmas we forget that mostly everything is closed. Yesterday I called our hotel restaurant to book a table for tonight, and they were completely full. Luckily, we can still order a take out and eat in the room, on the oceanfront balcony in fact – not bad at all! But that’s later, and for the morning and afternoon we decided to visit the Hamakua coast and enjoy the lush tropical scenery. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is closed today and we also decided to not drive all the way to Honoka’a as the TEX Drive In Bakery famous for malasadas clearly stated on their website: “Closed Christmas”. Read on about our visit of Hawaii Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls, walk in Onomea Bay.
DAY 2 – Tuesday, December 26
We are checking out of our Hilo hotel, and driving up to Volcano. We decided to drive through Puna district, swim in hot ponds, and hike to active lava flows from Kalapana. We’ll stay only one night in Volcano, in Lava Lodge, and then spend the next 7 days in Puako.
DAY 3 – Wednesday, December 27
Today we are meeting with someone special for an early lunch in Kilauea Lodge. Our Lava Lodge, where we spent the night, offered us a makana (gift) – a tasty local papaya and a couple of pastries, so we had our morning coffee with those wonderful treats to start the day, and then needed to find what to do before lunch. After a quick online search we decided on Volcano Garden Arts Gallery. We love arts, and their website had almost a museum quality feel. Here is the account of our third day – Volcano Garden Arts Gallery, lunch at Kilauea Lodge, visit to Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and drive to our vacation rental cottage in Puako with stops at Punaluu Beach and St. Benedict’s Catholic Church (a.k.a. the Painted Church).
DAY 4 – Thursday, December 28
We are resting from planned activities today. In the morning, we decided to go to Hapuna Beach. It’s considered to be the best beach on the Big Island. It has even been named the best beach in the United States and we had rented a cottage in Puako to be close to Hapuna. We followed the signs on Puako Beach Road and turned into Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area parking, but it’s wasn’t the famous Hapuna Beach. We ended up on Waialea Beach, also known as Beach 69, and we were very grateful to the misleading signage that has brought us here.
DAY 5 – Friday, December 29
Today is the hump day of our trip, and the expectations run high. One of the best things to do on the Big Island is swimming with dolphins. We booked a Wild Dolphin Swim excursion with Roberta Goodman – a local dolphin guide. I found her website after a few hours of searching. The reviews were rave, but what’s in store for us? The reality exceeded all expectations! We swam with wild spinner dolphins, saw bottlenose dolphins and whales, and even swam with a whale shark – a very rare encounter in Hawaii!
DAY 6 – Saturday, December 30
For 11 years in a row, Merriman’s Restaurant in Waimea was voted The Best Big Island Restaurant, so it should be on the list of things to do on the Big Island. Looking to book a table for tomorrow, but nothing is available for the next few days, except 5 pm today, so we are taking it. We’ll embark on Kohala Waterfalls Adventure with Hawaii Forest & Trail, then drive to Waimea and dine at Merriman’s Restaurant.
DAY 7 – Sunday, December 31
There are two options for swimming with dolphins on the Big Island – swimming with wild dolphins and swimming with captive dolphins at Hilton Waikoloa Village (Dolphin Quest). We didn’t know how our swimming with wild dolphins trip would turn out, so we booked our son with Dolphin Quest to make sure he has the dolphin experience in any case. Dolphin Quest allows much closer encounter, but all the wait time and instructions made it not much fun – our son definitely liked swimming with wild dolphins. The rest of the New Year Eve included lunch at Lava Lava Beach Club, some time on Waikoloa Beach and a dinner at our Puako rental cottage. We planned a quiet family time, but our New Year dinner turned out to be really loud. They do celebrate the New Year in Hawaii, at least on the Big Island, and the fireworks in the neighborhood were abundant and colorful from 9 pm until well after midnight!
DAY 8 – Monday, January 1
Happy New Year! Since after Christmas, we constantly heard the Happy New Year greeting in shops and restaurants, unlike our home SF Bay Area, where the New Year doen’t seem to be much celebrated. The fireworks in the neighborhood yesterday were impressive, and today we saw the most illuminated house in our life, finally made it to the famous Hapuna Beach, and saw a beautiful sunset.
DAY 9 – Tuesday, January 2
Our list of best things to do on the Big Island is finished. I haven’t planned a surfing lesson for our son ahead of time, we just picked up a couple of flyers from an activity desk in Queens Marketplace, and randomly scheduled a surfing lesson at Kahalu’u beach park. It’s our last full day on the Big Island. The check-out time tomorrow is 10 am, and that’s early given our return flight is at 5:40 pm. I texted the manager, and fortunately we are are able to check out late tomorrow, yay!
DEPARTURE – Wednesday, January 3
The night was very windy and the wind didn’t completely cease in the morning. We went to Hapuna Beach again, and our son enjoyed some good waves on his boogie board. Back to the cottage, we packed, ate lunch and departed for Kona Airport. We are returning home with many wonderful memories! Thank you, Big Island! Mahalo and Aloha! Until we meet again!
For an alternative Big Island itinerary, check this article: Best Things to Do on the Big Island. A Sample Itinerary. It highlights some great things to do and to see, especially for the first-time visitors. And there is a map with those highlights at the end of the article.