Great things are happening in Hawaii’s Big Island and boy, is it one exciting place. It would be a colossal mistake by not giving yourself enough time to explore Hawaii’s largest island that is boundless with stunning scenery and epic adventures. Trekking volcanoes, moonlit manta ray snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, traversing lava-strewn fields, and diving through lava arches, need we to say more?
Here we give you a tried and tested Big Island itinerary on how you can make the most of your time on Hawaii’s youngest island.
Night snorkelling with manta rays
The must-do activity on any Big Island itinerary!
Dive into your Hawaiian adventure by snorkelling with the Big Island’s famous coastal residents, manta rays. Swimming with manta rays may already sound like a great feat, but this experience is made even more exhilarating by being in the presence of these gracious ocean giants under a starry sky. (Mantas at moonlight sounds almost too romantic, doesn’t it?)
Locally owned and operated Anelakai Adventures organises eco-friendly outrigger canoe tours to have your epic meet and greet with the rays. Depart the main island hub Kona’s coast and slowly paddle a few hundred metres along moonlit waters to reach Hawaii’s manta ray mecca. The manta ray frenzy is visible from the seats of the canoe, thanks to the many lights from boats and avid swimmers with torches in tow wanting to their manta moment. (Fortunately, the canoes are equipped with blue lights to make the manta ray spotting easy on the eye.)
Once you have made your splash, hold tight onto the canoe rails and float above the water to let the manta rays flirt with your adventurous eyes. There is no such thing as personal space as these friendly mantas can get incredibly close with their gliding movements. (I had a close call with one almost hitting me in the face with its enormous two-metre wing while somersaulting!)
This mesmerising tour lasts for 45 minutes and is nothing short of magnificent.
Scuba diving off the Kona Coast
Now that you have become acclimatised to Hawaii’s delightfully warm waters, it is time to go into the depths of it.
Big Island Divers offers dive trips to explore the vivid marine life and surreal landscapes off Kona’s coast. Navigating Kona’s underwater wonderland is a fascinating affair with swimming through lava arches and touring shopping isle-like coral beds.
Marine life is abundant with little Yellow Tang Fish spotted in the masses. The dive site, Turtle Haven, is what the name suggests, a popular spot with turtles and there are plenty to be found in the area. If game, take on a night dive with the manta rays!
Related reads: Moonlit Mantas – Swimming With Manta Rays At Night In Hawaii
Big Island Deep-sea fishing
Cast your net further by testing your fishing skills with a round of deep-sea fishing. The Big Island is famous for its deep-sea fishing catches, and when in Kona, it is one to hook into.
Deep fishing can be an expensive sport; however, Fishingbooker makes it easier on the wallet offering half and full-day chartered boat-share tours. Group numbers are small, and rods are cast as soon as the boat bids adios to Honokohau Harbour. All fishing gear is supplied to ensure your focus is on reeling your dinner for the day.
Patience is the nature of the game as keen fish goers wait for a bite from ‘trophy fish’ local tuna and marlin varieties. Kona is the Pacific Blue Marlin capital of the world with the largest caught weighing at 1805 pounds! Luckily, you have sea mates on board ready to help reel one in for you if you did manage land yourself a catch of the day!
Even if not successful reeling in a massive fish to feed thousands, it is still a top day out on board the boat and taking in the beauty of the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea. Most of the volcano is underwater; however, its peak sits over 4200 metres above sea level, towering over the Big Island.
Checking out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Have a lava-ishing time by checking out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in the island’s south-east. The park is home to two volcanoes, Maunaloa and Kilauea – one of the most active volcanoes on earth.
A day trip here allows you to appreciate the full magnitude of earth’s processes of creation and destruction over 330,000 stretching from Maunaloa’s peak to the sea. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore this incredible park, taking you through volcanic craters, forested areas and into the active volcanoes.
The park’s Crater Rim Drive is one for the camera, as the 17 km drive visits viewpoints Puu Puai, Kilauea Iki Crater and the Devastation Trail. A scenic drive here is a must for any Big Island itinerary.
Staying in a yurt in a lava field
“I stayed in a yurt across in a lava field.”
To even utter that line sounds insanely adventurous but here in Hawaii, that type of surreal lodging is a thing. Located in the Ka’u Forest Reserve in the south, GlampingHub’s spacious ‘yurt in the sky’ is a convenient one hours’ drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
What you can expect from this unique accommodation setting is a peaceful, adventuresome setting with an astonishing horizon of rock-strewn lava fields and the mighty blues of the Pacific Ocean. For those who love a starry night, the yurt is the perfect spot to stargaze with its elevation and clear skies something to take advantage of.
The yurt itself is comfortable and fully equipped with a kitchen and bathroom. It would suit a small family, group of mates or couple who are keen to have a night that rocks.
Related reads: Where To Have An All-Star Glamping Experience In Texas
Discovering one of the world’s green sand beaches
Things don’t always have to be black or white, and the same applies to coastlines. The Big Island is home to one of only five green beaches in the world which can be visited less than an hour drive from the lavishing yurt in the sky is Papakōlea Beach, otherwise known as Green Sand Beach. I mean, this is one unique natural attraction for your Big Island itinerary!
The colourful beach gets its name from the heavy olivine crystals that form the sand. The green crystals come from the neighbouring cinder cone, which was formed during an eruption almost 50,000 years ago. The olivine-rich lava had become trapped in the bay, allowing it to accumulate on the beach and become the verdant spectacle that it is today.
It may be a cruisey drive to the coast however getting to the glittery verdant beach is a hike in itself with the coastal walk from the parking lot taking almost an hour. All is not lost as the coastal sea breeze provides some respite in the sun until you reach the green beach mecca. Once there, it is an easy walk down the rocks to get to a beach that shimmers. Otherwise, hitch an inexpensive jeep ride over to the beach from the parking lot if you want to conserve your energy levels for the splash times ahead.
Enjoying this Big Island itinerary? See more of what to do in Hawaii
Eating the best of Hawaiian cuisine from farm to table
You have seen the best of the Big Island sights; now you have to try the best of its cuisine.
Heading towards Waimea is one of the island’s finest food institutions, Merriman’s. It is a farm-to-table dining experience with its regional-fusion dishes using locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant’s grassed-feed beef is sourced from nearby Parker Ranch, the second biggest privately owned ranch in the United States.
This is the kind of place to have no shame when it comes to ordering multiple items on the menu as the food is that lip-smacking good. Even better when the waiter rattles off exactly where every ingredient comes from and is enthused about the restaurant’s ongoing sustainability practises. Its responsibly caught Kona Kampachi is a heavenly fish dish; macadamia crusted fillet served with Hamakua mushrooms, broccolini and a miso-sake reduction for that extra bit of richness.
Dessert comes in the form of vegan flavoured ice cream, made using local coconut milk. The cream of the crop (don’t mind the pun) is the pumpkin spice ice cream, served with chocolate made in Hilo, located on the island’s east.
Visiting America’s steepest road – Waipio Valley Road
A trip down America’s steepest road could be the most terrifying descent of your life. Its heavenly allure is worth the hellish, nerve-racking decent. The road winds around the Big Island’s north cliffside, and its steep climb is just shy of one kilometre. Access is restricted to foot and 4WD vehicles. Just imagine the workout the clutch would receive going down as the road ranges from 30% to 39% gradients.
Walking is also a scary feat too, with zigzagging the narrow road common practice. Just walk slowly and safely down the cliff face and approximately, 20 – 30 minutes later, onto Waipio Valley’s stunning black-sand beaches.
After all the nervous sweat of being bold and brazen down the road, you deservedly earned that dip in the ocean!
Magic Sands Beach sunset
Bid farewell to your Big Island adventure by grabbing a poke bowl from poke masters Da Poke Shack and by having borders catch waves at sundown as backdrop entertainment.
Magic Sands Beach (officially Laʻaloa Beach) gets its name from its disappearing act during high winter. This beach is a popular spot with bodysurfers and bodyboarders for its consistent and powerful waves. Its gorgeous interchanging, colourful sunsets are well and truly captivating, with the beach’s palm trees darkened silhouettes fulfilling that every bit of the stereotypical Hawaiian sunset – nothing short of spectacular and a must on any Big Island itinerary.
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Feature image: Julia D’Orazio
Julia was a guest of Hawai‘i Tourism Oceania and all thoughts and opinions are of her own.