Are you looking for the best activities on the Big Island of Hawaii? It’s no secret that outdoor adventure on the Big Island is not hard to come by. We are lucky to have a huge variety of beautiful outdoor opportunities right outside our back door. Whether you are traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii as a family, a couple, or with friends, let our guide help you plan your trip! There are so many things to see on our island home, but these are our favorites. Without further ado, here’s our list of what we consider to be the best of the Big Island. Enjoy!
1. Swimming, Snorkeling, Surfing
- Kona’s waters are absolutely spectacular – warm, clear, blue. They are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, sport fishing, and more.
- Kahalu’u Beach Park: Kahalu’u Beach is also famous for it’s Honu, or sea turtles. On any given day you’ll be able to see quite a few of them feeding on seaweed and sunning themselves on the warm rocks. If you are staying in Kona, its closeness makes the beach park an ideal place for last-minute snorkeling. Getting there and back plus an hour of leisure snorkeling will only cost you two hours!
- Kealakekua Bay: Kealakekua, also known as “Captain Cook”, is an underwater marine sanctuary with dolphins and sea turtles. To get to the best spot, you need to take a long hike or rent a kayak. If you are not into kayaking yourself, you can find many snorkeling boat tours in Kona to visit this secluded sanctuary. We love to kayak here and almost always see dolphins!
- Honaunau Bay — the City of Refuge or Two Step. This spot frequently has dolphins visits as well. The water is almost always calm and has exceptional visibility most of the year.
2. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
One of the most popular tourist destinations on the Big Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here you can hike over recently solidified lava fields. As of May 2020 there is no flowing lava right now. Many people don’t realize this and find themselves very disappointed, however there is still so much to see and explore.
3. Manta Ray Night Dives
We consider this activity a must when visiting the Big Island. This is the only Hawaiian island where you can do this. There are a few ways you can enjoy the mantas. The first is from the viewing deck at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. Located at their restaurant Rays on the Bay lights shine out onto the water that attracts the plankton manta rays eat. If you are patient and hang out on the viewing deck you’re sure to see at least one manta glide up and through the water. You can also book an excursion to snorkel or dive with the mantas. We have snorkeled with the Mantas many times out of Keauhou Bay (where the Sheraton is) and have always seen rays. We love to take visitors to do this awesome experience. Its a little strange getting into the ocean when it’s 10:00 at night. We encourage you to be brave and trust your guides. It’s an unforgettable experience!
4. Pepe’ekeo (Onomea) Scenic Drive (Hilo)
The Pepe’ekeo (also known as the Onomea bay) scenic drive is the most famous scenic route on the Big Island. It is a 4 mile stretch of the old Mamalahoa Highway that snakes from scenic spot to scenic spot through lush tropical forest and gives some stunning views of Onomea Bay.
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens halfway through the drive are a must-see if you like tropical plants and flowers, and are one of our favorite short hikes on the Big Island. They are often described as a “walk in paradise” and “stunningly beautiful”, and host a number of trails and over 2000 species of plants.
How to get there: follow Highway 19 north of Hilo. Between mile marker 7 and 8 take the right-hand turn that is marked ‘scenic drive’. Maybe you took Saddle Road to Hilo. If you are on your way back this is the time to take the scenic drive!
Please drive carefully. This road is a bit narrow and has many sharp curves and some one-lane bridges. Drive slowly and with aloha, you are not in a hurry!
- Hapuna – We love Hapuna Beach, located about 45 minutes north of Kona! First, the beach features a long stretch of soft sand that leads to clear ocean water. Swimming conditions are usually excellent here. Beautiful greenery surrounds the expansive beach, which becomes nearly 200 feet wide during the summer months, offering plenty of room to play. There are bathrooms, showers, and a snack shack. Parking if not a resident is $5.
- Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay)- about 20 minutes north of Kona. The crescent-shaped beach is one of the best places for swimming when the water is calm, usually during the morning hours. The surf here can get rough, however, during which time inexperienced swimmers should look for a calmer, more protected beach. Bodyboarders enjoy the waves here, if you find the water rough sit back and enjoy watching them. When the water is calm snorkelers look forward to seeing sea turtles and tropical fish in the underwater boulders and coral. There are bathrooms and showers. No food for sale. Parking is Free.
- Makalawena – Sometimes called Maks. This northern beach is just as picturesque and tranquil as the nearby Kua Bay, but because the only way to access Makalawena is a 20-minute hike across an unpaved lava path, the beach often is uncrowded. Makalawena is one of the Big Island’s most spectacular beaches, with soft sand and water so clear it shimmers in the sun. Makalawena is perfect for swimming and sunbathing, while shallow coral reefs just offshore provide a perfect destination for exploring colorful underwater caves, coral, and sea arches.
- Mauna Kea Beach – Located just north of Hapuna Beach on the island’s northern coast, Mauna Kea Beach is truly one of the Big Island’s most exceptional destinations. A natural rock reef provides some protection from the surf, making Mauna Kea Beach ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and boogie boarding. This is the beach at the Mauna Kea Resort so parking is limited. Arrive early before space fills up.
6. Coffee Farm Visits
There is a reason Kona Coffee is world-renowned. Kona’s unique soil and growing conditions lend to its signature flavor. Also consider its southern cousin Kaʻu Coffee — just as good and often overlooked. There are many, many coffee farms to visit and even a coffee festival if you’re visiting in the fall. Holualoa Kona Coffee Company is a fabulous place to visit. A gorgeous award-winning organic coffee farm, a quaint gift shop, and an amazing coffee sample. This tour is free!
7. Aloha Adventure Farms
Aloha Adventure Farms offers the only adventure of its kind in Hawaii! Here you get to immerse yourself in the culture of Hawaii and Polynesia! There are two Big Island adventure tours. Our Big Island ATV Tour (ages 5+) travels through the jungle with majestic ocean views visiting different villages that represent Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa. At each spot, you get to play games, taste local foods, and learn about the culture in a fun hands-on approach. The tours are small and crowd-free! The best part is probably the fire knife show at the end in the village of Samoa!
Our Polynesian Wood Carving Tour is next. You sit with a master carver from Tonga to make your very own Tiki souvenir to take home. Hawaii has some gorgeous wood to choose from. The wood is all locally sourced, usually from the farm. Not only do you get to carve a memorable souvenir but you get to talk, laugh, and learn with the carver. Everyone loves him!