The perfect Big Island itinerary features quintessential Big Island experiences, including visiting green and black sand beaches, seeing active volcanoes, and snorkeling with an array of marine life. The most interesting Big Island beaches are Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and Papakolea Green Sand Beach, and visiting these scenic locations is also one of the most unique things to do in Hawaii Big Island.
However, when it comes to the best beaches on the Big Island, Hawaii, nothing compares to Hapuna Beach, which is one of the most beautiful places on the Big Island of Hawaii. If you’re interested in things to do in Kona, Hawaii for free, head to the beach! Here are more fun things to do in Hawaii Big Island.
1. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Visited by millions of people annually, Kīlauea is both Hawaii’s most visited attraction and the world’s most visited volcano. Besides seeing this spectacle, other things to do include going on a day hike to places like Nāhuku (the 500-year-old Thurston Lava Tube) and driving along the scenic Crater Rim Drive Tour.
2. Akaka Falls State Park
Akaka Falls State Park is primarily known for its two waterfalls: Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. Fortunately, it’s only a quarter-of-a-mile uphill hike along a paved trail and through lush rainforest vegetation to reach the 100-ft Kahuna Falls and the 442-ft Akaka Falls – a free-falling waterfall that spectacularly plunges into a gorge. Hawaii’s most famous waterfall, visiting Akaka Falls State Park is definitely one of the top things to do in Hawaii Big Island.
3. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
A visit to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is a great way to immerse yourself in traditional Hawaiian culture, as it was historically royal grounds and a place of refuge/forgiveness for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. To learn more, pick up a self-guided map from the onsite visitor center or attend a daily park ranger talk. Another great thing to do is to walk the 1871 Trail, a 2.5-mile round trip to Ki’ilae Village.
4. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Easily accessible from the aforementioned Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the black sand at Punalu’u Beach is made of basalt that’s created when lava from the national park’s volcanoes flows into the ocean. Although it’s unfortunately not an ideal swimming location, the juxtaposition of the beach’s black shores, blue ocean, and fringing palm trees make for great photos instead. Hawaii green sea turtles are also known to bask on the shores of Punalu’u Beach on occasion.
5. Kayak Kealakekua Bay
A Marine Life Conservation District, Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park is also home to the Captain Cook monument, which is only reachable by hiking or taking a guided kayak tour with one of three permitted vendors. Kona Boys offers combined kayaking and snorkeling adventures in Kealakekua Bay, so you can see both attractions and get up close to 200 tropical reef fish species, vibrant coral, Hawaiian spinner dolphins, green sea turtles and humpback whales (seasonally).
6. Mauna Kea Volcano
Mauna Kea is the state of Hawaii’s highest point and a dormant volcano, as its last eruption was some 4000 years ago. Predominantly underwater, the volcano measures 5.6 miles from the seafloor to its summit, making it the world’s tallest mountain. Only accessed by 4WD vehicle, the summit’s home to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory – the world’s largest astronomy research facility. Meanwhile, the Maunakea Visitor Information Station is located at the halfway point.
7. Holualoa Town
Located on the slopes of Hualalai Volcano, Holualoa is an artist community located in the heart of Kona coffee country. Naturally, the charming town’s streets are lined with art galleries and coffee shops. Top things to do in Holualoa include checking out Holualoa Gallery, attending the annual Holualoa Village Coffee and Art Stroll, enjoying a farm-to-table lunch experience at Holuakoa Gardens and Cafe, and going on a tour at Mauka Meadows, a working coffee farm.
8. Papakolea Green Sand Beach
Papakolea Beach is one of only two green sand beaches in the United States. The beach is carved into a nearly 50,000 years old bowl-like cinder cone belonging to Mauna Loa volcano, which is where the fragmented olivine crystals originated. To reach this unique attraction, visitors must first drive to the country’s southernmost tip and then hike 2.5 miles (one way). But the Papakolea Beach’s crystal green sand is worth the extra effort.
9. Manta Snorkel
Join the local company, Kona Style on their Manta Tour, which they proclaim offers Hawaii’s number one marine encounter. Guests get to take in an iconic Hawaiian sunset from the catamaran, before enjoying a nighttime snorkeling adventure alongside manta rays. Hawaii is one of the only places in the world where people can partake in this kind of encounter. So if you’re looking for adventurous things to do in Hawaii Big Island, go manta snorkeling.
10. Rainbow Falls
Only a five-minute drive from Hilo, Rainbow Falls (Waiānuenue) is one of the island’s most easily accessible waterfalls. Close to 100-ft in diameter, the 80-ft fall plunges over a natural lava cave into the Wailuku River below. Its name comes from the rainbow that appears in the mist and arches across the waterfall on sunny days, particularly in the early morning. Surrounded by dense jungle, it’s an easy walk to reach Rainbow Falls’ viewing platform. We think that a visit to Rainbow Falls is one of the top things to do in Hawaii Big Island.
11. Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area
Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is home to one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches. The largest of the island’s white-sand beaches, Hapuna Beach is a great spot for swimming, bodyboarding, and snorkeling. You can also sometimes spot migrating whales off the shoreline at the beginning of the year. As for other things to do within Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, go hiking on the Ala Kahakai Trail, a 15.4-mile loop and scenic coastal trail.
12. Akatsuka Orchid Gardens
Housing the island’s largest collection of orchids, Akatsuka Orchid Gardens is both a retailer and orchid nursery. Visitors are welcome to purchase their own orchid or tropical flower arrangement. Alternatively, you can go on a self-guided walk through the Orchid Maze with 500 blooming orchids on display. Akatsuka Orchid Garden also organizes a behind-the-scenes Orchid Farm Tour and Tasting, which includes sampling the estate-grown Poha ice cream. Don’t miss stopping into the gift shop either.
13. Greenwell Farms
Established in 1850, Greenwell Farms is a coffee farming and processing company that produces the finest 100% Kona coffee. The family-owned and operated business is operated by fourth-generation Tom Greenwell. Greenwell Farms is primarily known for its free farm tours, which operate continuously every day from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. Attendees get the opportunity to go on a personal walking tour of the coffee fields and facilities, before enjoying award-winning coffee samples.
14. Panaewa Rainforest Zoo
The Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is indeed located in a rainforest approximately four miles from Hilo. As the only tropical zoo in the United States, it’s home to over 80 different rainforest and endangered native animal species, including snapping turtles, spider monkeys, green iguanas, and nene geese – Hawaii’s state bird. With free admission, the small 12-acre zoo also features a lush botanical garden filled with orchids, bamboo, multiple palm plant varieties, and a water garden.
15. Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm
One of Hawaii’s most popular attractions, the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm organizes seahorse tours, which are available on weekdays. Lead by certified naturalists specializing in ocean conservation, the one to 1.5-hour tour includes the chance to hold a seahorse. Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm also has an interactive tide pool, a fish-feeding station, and an aquarium that houses over half of the world’s 36 seahorse species. Next door you’ll coincidentally find the Kanaloa Octopus farm.
16. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Said to be one of the Big Island’s most beautiful areas, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden features more than 2500 tropical plant species from around the world. The 40-acre valley is basically a natural greenhouse carved between two streams, where visitors are welcome to walk along the multiple interpretive trails surrounded by lush vegetation. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden also has an orchid garden, an oceanfront path with panoramic vistas, a palm jungle, and a macaw aviary.