Things to do on Big Island Hawaii: 50 unique Big Island activities

Are you looking to plan an adventurous Hawaiian vacation? You’ve come to the right place. Let us introduce you to some of the best things to do on Big Island Hawaii. Did you know that the Big Island of Hawaii is home to 3 active volcanoes (2 of which make up Hawaii Volcanoes National Park), features 8 different climate zones, and gets bigger every day?

This natural abundance makes the Big Island the perfect place for an action-packed vacation in Hawaii. Combine this with the many cultural sites that dot Hawaii’s Big Island, the delicious local produce, and the most unique accommodations and you know you’re in for an unforgettable trip. We truly consider it to be the best Hawaiian island for families with a love for outdoor travel.

Let’s have a look at the most mind-blowing things to do on Big Island Hawaii in 2023.

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Short on time? Here are the top Big Island tours in a nutshell:

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Table of Contents

Best things to do on Big Island Hawaii

From Hilo attractions to Kona experiences and everything in between, the order in which the activities on the Big Island are listed, is purely the result of our personal preference.

First up, the best things to do on Big Island Hawaii that we consider truly essential must-dos, then we continue with other awesome Big Island attractions and travel tips that are perfect for longer (or second) trips.

We’re over halfway through this Big Island bucket list ourselves and can’t wait to return to this amazing place to tackle the other essential activities on Big Island.

1. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an incredible experience. This magnificent Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site is home to two active volcanoes: the Mauna Loa and the infamous Kilauea.

We were lucky enough to visit this national park just 2 weeks before the 2018 Kilauea eruption and hiked the Kilauea Iki Trail. This loop trail is known to be one of the most spectacular hiking trails in Hawaii since it leads hikers all the way to a volcanic crater. This Kilauea Iki crater is not the main Kilauea caldera but a side crater, hence the name Kilauea Iki which translates as Little Kilauea.

We just had to list this experience in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park first in this list of best things to do on the Big Island because it was nothing short of sensational.

Other popular attractions in this national park are the Thurston Lava Tube, the Crater Rim Drive, and the Chain of Craters Road. You can drive all 18.8 miles (30.3 km) of the Chain of Craters road with a regular car. Do take into account that there is no gas station or food stand along the Chain of Craters Road.

And a special note to our fellow family travelers: “Travel is still the most intense mode of learning” by Kevin Kelly is one of our all-time favorite family travel quotes and certainly applies to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Ever since our visit, our kids have been obsessed with volcanoes and they take every opportunity to give a lecture about it in the classroom.

Make exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park a priority when deciding what to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

2. Hike to the unique green sand beach

Second on our list of best things to do in Big Island Hawaii 2023 is a rare find. Located inside the remains of an eroded volcanic crater, you’ll find Papakōlea Beach, one of four green sand beaches in the world. When the lava in this crater solidified, it formed a mineral called olivine which was fragmented into this unique shade of green.

Getting from the parking lot to Papakolea green sand beach involves a challenging hike. You could hitch a ride on the back of a truck, a service offered by locals, but this is in fact illegal because it damages the fragile ecosystem.

Visiting Papakolea green sand beach is one of the most unique things to do on Hawaii The Big Island

3. Discover majestic ‘Akaka Falls

The most impressive Hawaiian waterfall is ‘Akaka Falls. It’s also very accessible: all it takes is following a well-paved loop trail and some sets of stairs from the ‘Akaka Falls State Park parking area.

You’ll actually find two waterfalls in ‘Akaka Falls State Park. The first one, located in the northeastern corner of the park, is Kahuna Falls. The viewpoint is pretty narrow and can only catch a glimpse of Kahuna Falls.

The second one is ‘Akaka Falls. There’s a viewing platform right in front, the perfect place to behold the untamed beauty of this stunning waterfall.

Technically speaking, you could be in and out in 30 minutes but that would be a waste. There’s so much beauty to discover along the trail. The lush rainforest of ‘Akaka Falls State Park, with giant ferns and fragrant flowers, is just gorgeous and also provides plenty of shade.

Including a visit to Akaka Falls State Park is a must when deciding what to do Big Island Hawaii

4. Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay is the prime snorkeling site on the Big Island. Not only is this underwater marine sanctuary teeming with tropical fish, it’s also a favorite hang-out for spinner dolphins. The bay itself is quite deep and the parking area is located across the bay from the best snorkeling spot, which is why it’s recommended to join a kayaking tour to reach it.

Only a few tour operators have a licence to organize these snorkeling tours in the reef which is a Marine Life Conservation Site making this one of the most unique things to do in Kona, Hawaii.

Other amazing snorkeling sites on the Kona coast are Two Step (just north of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park) and Kahaluʻu Beach Park.

Don’t forget that only reef-safe sunscreen is allowed in Hawaii: Raw Elements, Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen, and Kokua Sun Care are all excellent reef-safe choices for your snorkeling tour.

Tour suggestions:

Snorkeling tour in Kealakekua Bay is a wonderful experience

5. Put your feet on a black sand beach

We conclude this top 5 best things to do in Big Island of Hawaii with the most famous black sand beach in all of Hawaii: Punalu’u Beach. The sand is essentially crushed lava from nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Because of their color, black sand beaches absorb more heat than white sand beaches.

Hawaiian green sea turtles (the Hawaiian word is honu) love the warmth of the sand and you can often spot them basking in the sun on Punalu’u black sand beach or one of the other black sand beaches on Big Island.

One of the top 10 things to do on the Big Island is visiting a black sand beach such as Punalu'u black sand beach

6. Dive or snorkel with manta rays

Another creature that calls the Hawaiian waters home are manta rays. These majestic animals are active after dark when they feed on plankton. There are two options to see manta rays up close: The first one is a manta ray snorkeling tour, during which snorkelers hold on to a lit-up flotation device and see the manta rays below the surface. The second option is a manta ray night diving tour for certified divers who can watch the manta rays from the ocean floor. These preferred operators guarantee a sustainable manta rays tour with attention to the well-being of these intriguing animals on Big Island Hawaii.

Sustainable tour suggestions:

Most manta ray tours leave from Keauhou Bay, a few miles south of Kailua-Kona. Just across from Manta Village, on the site of the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa, you’ll find the Kona Manta Rays Learning Center.

7. Go stargazing at Mauna Kea

With no less than 13 telescopes, the Mauna Kea volcano hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory and offers optimal visibility. No better location to watch the nightly skies than the Mauna Kea Onizuka Center Visitor Information Center at 9,200 ft or 2,800 m.

The Mauna Kea summit is located even higher, at 13,796 ft or 4,205 m, but the circumstances for seeing stars are less favorable at this high altitude. Health issues can occur but if you take the time to acclimatize at the VIS and you’re in optimal health, then the Mauna Kea summit is the place to be for the ultimate Hawaiian sunrise.

Note that children and pregnant women are not allowed at this altitude and can only experience the starry sky from the Mauna Kea Onizuka Center Visitor Information Center.

Tour suggestions:

A Maunakea summit and stargazing tour is one of the Big Island Hawaii things to do

8. Learn about Hawaiian culture at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

The Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is of significant cultural value to native Hawaiians. It’s located on the site of the former royal retreat of the Kona royals and their warriors and home to an ancient temple, a fishpond, and several thatched huts.

But Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau had another, more important function, being the place of refuge for Hawaiians who had been penalized for breaking the law or kapu. Reaching this sanctuary was their only chance to escape the death sentence.

You can visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and learn all about this place of refuge on a self-guided tour.

Visiting Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is one of the best things to do in Kona

9. Go whale-watching (seasonal activity: winter only)

Every year, from late November to early May, Pacific Humpback whales migrate to the warm and safe Hawaiian waters. This is where they breed, calve, and nurse their young. Join one of the whale-watching tours to see these friendly giants up close. If you’re lucky, you might spot a pod of local spinner dolphins too.

Tour suggestions:

Go whale-watching on your Big Island itinerary

10. Discover the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

A visit to the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden (formerly known as the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens) is one of the top activities on Big Island. A meandering trail leads visitors on a journey to explore over 2,000 species of tropical plants from all over the world. The vegetation is lush and abundant thanks to the fertile volcanic soil and bayside location of this nature preserve.

We’d recommend arriving early in order to avoid mosquitos or to bring mosquito repellent.

Exploring the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Hilo Hawaii

11. Explore Waipi’o Valley

Waipio Valley Road has been closed to the public due to a high risk of rockfalls and landslides. Only Waipio Valley residents and farmers are still allowed to access the valley. At this time, the only way for visitors to get a glimpse of the valley is from the lookout. Hiking down is strictly forbidden and therefore the Waipio Valley trailhead and the blak sand beach are longer accessible.

Next on our list of Hawaii Big Island things to do is the Valley of the Kings, the southernmost of seven verdant valleys tucked away in the Kohala mountains.

Waipi’o Valley is of significant importance to Hawaiians because it was once the home of King Kamehameha I. To reach Waipi’o Valley, you’ll need to make your way down a very steep and winding road. You’ll be treated to views of vast taro fields, free-roaming horses, Hi’ilawe Falls, and a black sand beach.

To hike down to Waipi’o Valley, make sure to wear water-resistant hiking shoes from a trusted brand such as Merrell or Keen. Also, pack an extra pair of clothes and shoes to change when you return to the car.

Tour suggestion: Small group Waipio Valley and waterfalls adventure by Wasabi Tours Hawaii.

Exploring Waipio Valley, Pololu Valley and the black sand beach in Kohala is an essential activity on Big Island Hawaii

12. Spend the night in your very own waterfall retreat

Feeling tempted to take a dip in a waterfall pool after seeing so many stunning ones on this island? On the Big Island, you can actually stay at a property that has its own private waterfall called Kapehu Falls.

The Kapehu Retreat House or the Creekside Cottage is separated by a creek and a ravine and the lush grounds give out to a eucalyptus forest. Pick your own fruit from the orchard and enjoy your secluded slice of paradise at Kapehu Falls.

Spending the night in a waterfall retreat is one of the best things to do on Big Island Hawaii
Image courtesy of VRBO – Kapehu Falls Creekside Cottage

Or how about this waterfall-perched Hawaiian bungalow? With unparalleled views of the Wailuku River and its surrounding rainforest, an exquisite wooden interior, a gorgeous riverfront yard, hot-and-cold soaking tubs, and front-row seats to a mesmerizing waterfall, this gorgeous three-bedroom Hawaiian vacation rental is a true show-stopper.

The best part is that you’re actually staying in the center of the Hilo action with plenty of restaurants and cafés within walking distance.

This rainforest cabin is a gorgeous place to stay during a Big Island itinerary
Image courtesy of VRBO – The Falls at Reed’s Island

13. Say hi to Captain Cook

Overlooking Kealakekua Bay is the Captain Cook Monument, a white obelisk dedicated to the first Westerner who set foot on the Hawaiian islands. British explorer Captain James Cook named the islands the Sandwich Islands after the Earl of Sandwich, who sponsored his voyage. In February 1779, about a month after his arrival in Kealakekua Bay, he was killed as a result of an altercation with a native Hawaiian.

The land that fringes the bay became a State Historical Park and the small patch of land on which the Monument is placed was deeded to the British government.

Reaching the Captain Cook Monument involves a rather strenuous hike from the Nāpō‘opo‘o Beach parking area. Alternatively, you could join one of the Kealakekua Bay kayak tours.

Tour suggestions:

14. Look for the rainbow at Rainbow Falls

Surrounded by the lush rainforest of Wailuku River State Park is the most accessible waterfall near Hilo: Rainbow Falls. There’s no need to hike because you can pretty much see this tropical waterfall from the parking lot.

The original name of this idyllic waterfall is Waiānuenue Falls but it was nicknamed Rainbow Falls because of the rainbow that forms on the spray on a clear morning, with the sun facing the waterfall.

When deciding on what to do in Hawaii Big Island then make sure to include a visit to Rainbow Falls

15. Go on a submarine adventure

Looking to find out more about the Kona coast’s underwater world but not keen on snorkeling? Then the Atlantis Kona Submarine Adventure is for you. As the submarine descends towards the colorful reef, peer through the portholes at the many tropical fish that swim by (or the occasional shark).

Tour suggestion: Atlantis Submarine Kona Hawaii Island by Atlantis Adventures Hawaii

16. See where the hot lava flows into the ocean

One of the most thrilling things to do on Big Island in Hawaii is to see the lava flowing into the ocean. There are two exciting ways to watch this epic phenomenon: boat or helicopter. You should know that lava flows are highly unpredictable which is why we’d advise against booking a tour too far ahead.

Tour suggestions:

  • The only boat tour operator we know of that’s allowed to get close to the lava flow is this one.
  • A helicopter tour that includes flying over the glowing lava flows is the Circle of Fire and Waterfalls helicopter tour from Hilo by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.
Seeing the lava flow in the ocean is one of the top things to do Big Island Hawaii

17. Swim with turtles at Carlsmith Beach Park or Richardson Ocean Park

Sandy beaches are scarce on the windward side of Big Island, especially in the Hilo area. Luckily, you can still swim and snorkel in the ocean. And in Carlsmith Beach Park and Richardson Beach Park, just south of town, chances are you won’t be swimming alone since these scenic lagoons are a favorite hang-out for Hawaiian green sea turtles or honu.

Don’t forget that only reef-safe sunscreens are allowed in Hawaii: Raw Elements, Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen, and Kokua Sun Care are all excellent reef-safe choices.

Meet the turtles at Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo

18. Visit a coffee plantation

Coffee lovers will love the Big Island, and especially the area just south of Kailua-Kona. The legendary Kona coffee beans are grown on the slopes of the Mauna Loa and Hualalai volcanoes. Thanks to the optimal climate, mineral-rich volcanic soil, and elevation, the beans are mild in taste.

One of the best things to do on Hawaii Island is to visit a coffee farm. While there’s no bad time to visit a Kona coffee farm, the most popular seasons are February to March, when the Mauna Loa and Hualalai coffee fields are in full bloom, and August to September, when the cherry-red beans are harvested.

To learn all about Kona’s coffee pioneers, head to the Kona Coffee Living History Farm where history is brought to life.

Complementary guided tours on modern-day farms are available at Greenwell Farms and Rooster Farms and typically take about 45 minutes. If you want to try roasting your own Kona coffee, then head to Kona Joe.

In case you just can’t wait that long to try this world-renowned coffee, then you can order it online here. Just make sure to buy 100% Kona Coffee and not the Kona Coffee Blends which only carry 10% Kona beans.

All harvesting is done by hand, which is why a cup of 100% Kona Coffee is rather expensive. Kona coffee also makes for a wonderful Hawaiian gift to buy for friends and family.

Coffee beans in Hawaii, visiting a coffee plantation is a must-do activity on Big Island Hawaii

19. Take a surf lesson

The best places to take a surf lesson on Big Island are the sheltered bays that escape the strongest currents. Two such surf spots with gentler breaks are Pine Trees Beach and Kahalu’u Beach on the Kona side. Do note that the breaks may to safer here most of the time but not always. Waves and swell vary immensely throughout the year and the day. So, make sure to book a lesson with an experienced instructor or at least check in with the lifeguards before hitting the water.

If you’re staying on the Hilo side of the island, then you can watch the surfers hit the waves at Honoliʻi Beach.

Surf lesson suggestions on Kahalu’u bBach:

Going surfing is one of the Big Island activities you just can't miss

20. Join a horse-riding tour at the historic Parker Ranch in Waimea

John Palmer Parker, who was a personal friend of King Kamehameha I, was asked to manage the royal cattle on the grasslands of Hawaii Island. He called in the help of Mexican vaqueros to train Hawaiian cowboys or paniolos and assist him in herding the domesticated cattle.

In the mid-19th century, Parker Ranch encompassed half of the Big Island of Hawaii. Over the years, less fertile grounds have been sold and Parker Ranch now covers 130,000 acres of land.

Learn more about this remarkable story of friendship between a Hawaiian royal and a Massachusetts-born immigrant during a self-guided tour of Parker Ranch‘s two historic homes: Mana Hale, with its warm koa-wood interior, and Puuopelu, which now houses the ranch’s headquarters. The views of the rolling Waimea hills are truly spectacular.

21. Watch the sunrise at Coconut Island

Located in the heart of Hilo Bay is Coconut Island. A pedestrian bridge connects this tiny island to Banyan Drive. There are a couple of small sandy beaches, tide pools, and a grassy area.

It makes for an epic picnic spot and offers a front-row sunrise seat. We were lucky enough to see the sun come up over Coconut Island from the comfort of our hotel room in The Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton.

Overlooking Coconut Island in Hilo Bay from our hotel room

22. Tour sacred grounds

One of the oldest and most sacred places of worship in Hawaii is Mo’okini Heiau. This impressive temple was used for human or animal sacrifice. It’s erected in stone and is believed to date back to the 5th century. Mo’okini Heiau is part of the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument and is located near Hawi town. King Kamehameha I was born in the Kapakai Royal Housing Complex which can be found right next to Mo’okini Heiau. Kohala Historical Sites State Monument is open daily from 9 am to 8 pm except on Wednesdays. There’s no admission fee.

Tour suggestion: Discover Kamehameha’s Birthplace & Plantation Village Tour by New Way Horizon Travel LLC

Mo'okini Heiau and Kohala Historical Sites State Monument on Big Island
Source: Audrey WhitmerCC BY-SA 4.0 – Wikimedia Commons

23. Visit a seahorse farm

The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kailua-Kona helps to reduce the number of seahorses being captured in the wild by raising these elegant little creatures in captivity and selling them to collectors. During a tour of the Ocean Rider Seahorse farm, you’ll learn more about the different species and you can even touch a seahorse in the interactive pool. This is one of the best Big Island activities for families with young kids.

24. Climb a banyan tree

Next on our list of best things to do in the Big Island of Hawaii is a little-known natural wonder, one that you won’t read about in most Hawaii travel guides. While visiting Rainbow Falls, we climbed the set of stairs on the left side to the upper viewing area. About halfway, we noticed an unmarked path leading deeper into Wailuku Rivier State Park.

We were intrigued. So, we decided to check it out, and just a few minutes later, we found ourselves face-to-face with this gigantic banyan tree. You’ll find more of these trees in Hawaii, the banyan tree on Maui being the most popular one, but his one was so spectacular that we were lost for words.

25. Go cliff-diving at South Point

When heading out to Papakolea green sand beach, you can take a small detour to Ka Lae or South Point, the southernmost point of the United States. This is said to be the place where the Polynesians first discovered the Hawaiian Islands from Tahiti. But nowadays, South Point is more about entertainment than anything else since it’s one of the most cliff-jumping spots on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Note that only strong swimmers should attempt jumping off the 40 ft cliff from the wooden platform. The currents are dangerous and getting back onto the cliff is not as straightforward.

26. Watch a luau performance

A luau is a Hawaiian feast that combines great food, entertaining performances, and live music. These usually take place in hotels or resorts, which is why you won’t find a luau on the windward side of the island. All of the Big Island’s resorts are located near Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa, after all.

Luau suggestions:

27. Go ziplining through the rainforest

One of the more unusual things to do on the Big Island is a ziplining adventure. Soar through the most scenic landscapes of the Big Island, over verdant valleys and past roaring waterfalls. Zipline your way from one viewing platform to another while taking in the unspoiled canopy views.

Tour suggestions:

28. Tour a chocolate farm

The Big Island’s relatively cool climate is just right for cacao to thrive. Visit one of the handful of cacao farms dot the island and learn how cacao is grown, harvested, and processed before treating your tastebuds to a delicious tasting.

Hawaiian Crown Chocolate and Mauna Kea Cacao are two chocolate plantations on the Hilo side that offer such tours.

29. Shop for souvenirs at Waikoloa Village

Head to the Queens’ Marketplace and The Kings’ Shops in Waikoloa Beach to shop for some Hawaiian souvenirs and gifts. Apart from the popular brands, you’ll find quite some local boutiques, restaurants, and even a charming movie theatre.

Mother and two kids in Waikoloa Village which is one of the best places to stay on Big Island with kids

30. Spend the night in a dreamy cabin in the woods

Hidden behind the Ohia trees, you’ll find the cozy retreat with a modern open-plan interior, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a glass door shower. The outdoor space is simply stunning, thanks to the private lanai with a fire pit and hot tub. Kuono truly is one of the most stunning Airbnb and VRBO rentals in Hawaii.

Spending the night in a cottage with fire pit near the lava fields is one of the best things to do near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Image courtesy of VRBO – Kuono

31. Visit a macadamia nut farm

There’s another Hawaiian signature snack you need to try during your trip. Contrary to malasada and shave ice, this one’s actually good for you too: macadamia nuts. The introduction of these Australian tree nuts in Hawaii was a success story, thanks to the fertile soil and tropical climate conditions near Hilo.

Visit the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory on a self-guided tour and learn how Mauna Loa macadamia nuts are grown, harvested, cracked, roasted, flavored, and canned before treating your tastebuds to a delicious feast. We love the chocolate-covered version. What’s your favorite Mauna Loa variation?

32. Get some freshly sliced coconut from a local food stall

Nothing beats a portion of freshly sliced coconut and pineapple on a hot tropical day. We were thrilled to find this one on our way to ‘Akaka Falls. It may have been a bit on the expensive site but we were charmed by the experience. To us, this is what the lush Hilo area is all about.

Sipping coconut juice in Hilo

33. Explore the rainforest an an ATV tour

The Kohala coast is wild, untamed and rugged. The best way to experience this challenging terrain is by joining an off-road ATV experience. Explore verdant valleys and discover remote waterfalls of this scenic, unspoiled landscape.

Tour suggestion: Kohala waterfalls small group adventure tour by Hawaii Forest and Trail.

34. Sink your teeth in a delicious malasada

We’re well over halfway this list of best things to do on the Big Island, so you’ve earned yourself a treat.

Hawaii’s most mouth-watering treat is a yeast Portuguese doughnut that’s fried golden brown on the outside, fluffy on the inside and with a filling of guava, haupia (coconut pudding) or custard. Sink your teeth in one of these heavenly pastries from one of the renowned Big Island bakeries: Tex Drive-in or Punalu’u Bake Shop.

35. Paddle along the coastline

See the gorgeous Hawaiian scenery from a different angle by navigating the clear blue waters of the coastline. Postcard views guaranteed. Maybe you’ll even see sea turtles or dolphins swim by. Whatever paddling style you choose – SUP or traditional canoe – it’s recommended to plan this Big Island activity in the morning, when the ocean is calm.

Exploring the coastline on a paddle board is one of the best things to do on an island vacation

36. Admire the original King Kamehameha statue

The popular statue of King Kamehameha in front of the Honolulu Supreme Court is not the original. It was sculpted and casted in Europe but got lost en route to Hawaii. Since the revelation was supposed to be the highlight of the festivities in commemoration of the 100-year arrival of Captain Cook to the Hawaiian islands, a second casting was rushed to the Hawaiian islands.

Eventually the first statue was retrieved and it can now be found in Kapaʻau along the Kohala coast, where King Kamehameha was born. A third replica stands in the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall ever since Hawaii became part of the USA and a fourth one in downtown Hilo. This last replica was supposed to shine at the Princeville Resort on Kauai but, since the king never managed to conquer that one Hawaiian island, residents objected and it was sent to the Big Island.

37. Discover the Painted Churches

Big Island is home to two painted churches, both of which are the work of Belgian missionaries, and both of which have been moved from their original location. The first is the the St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church which was built in Kapalelua but eventually moved to Hōnaunau after the native Hawaiians moved inland to the more fertile land on the Mauna Loa slopes.

Shortly after, Father John Berchmans Velghe of the Sacred Hearts Congregation, a self-taught artist, arrived in Hawaii and painted a series of richly colored murals on the interior wooden walls of the church. Depicting biblical scenes was his way of teaching the bible to the locals who hadn’t been taught to read.

After his return to Belgian, another Belgian missionary by the name of Evarist Matthias Gielen applied the same colorful teaching method in the Star of the Sea Painted Church in Kalapana. In 1990, this church was moved to its present location to escape an advancing lava flow. The same thing happened in 1996.

Painted church is a must-see on your Big Island itinerary
Source: Nnachappa64CC BY-SA 4.0 – Wikimedia Commons

38. Explore a lava tube

Lava tubes are essentially lava caves and are formed when hot lava solidifies at the surface and forms a thick crust under which oozing lava continues to flow until the channel is drained. Visiting a lava tube is one of the most exciting activities on the Big Island Hawaii.

The most famous lava tube is the Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (which is the one we visited).

Another popular one is the Kaumana Caves, a maze of lava tubes created after an eruption of Mauna Loa in the late 19th century. Part of the Kaumana caves can be visited for free, another part is located on private property.

Expect to find yourself in a pitch-black environment with slippery rocks on uneven soil, water dripping from the walls, and tree roots that enter from above.

When deciding on what to do in Big Island then make sure to include a visit to one of the lava tubes

39. Stay in a treehouse

The most out-of-this-world treehouse on the Big Island is a true stunner. It features a unique indoor–outdoor concept, solar-powered water supply, a full-size kitchen, mango wood cabinets throughout, and even an intimate hot tub. Perched in a Kukui nut tree and with tree trunks still growing through, this handmade treehouse is a piece of art.

Panoramic ocean views are guaranteed thanks to its 1,800 ft elevation. It comes as no surprise that this tropical Big Island getaway consistently gets glowing guest reviews and is often heralded the best Airbnb in Hawaii.

40. Enjoy a picnic at Liliuokalani Gardens

The stately Liliuokalani Gardens are located on Banyan Drive in downtown Hilo. This Japanese garden is the largest of its size outside Japan and features fish ponds, pagodas, and even a teahouse. The park was a gift from Queen Lili’uokalani to honor the Japanese immigrants who live on the Big Island. 

41. Explore the bay and ponds of the Kiholo State Park Reserve

Next on our list of best things to do on Big Island is a visit to the Kiholo State Park Reserve. This magnificent bay counts as one of the most unique beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii.

An azure lagoon, consisting of a mix of salt and fresh water, is fringed by dark lava rocks and a black sand beach topped with palms. In the heart of the lagoon lies a small lava island. Kiholo Bay’s black sand beach is a haven for Hawaiian green sea turtles.

Don’t forget to only pack reef-safe sunscreen for Hawaii: Raw Elements, Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen, and Kokua Sun Care are all excellent reef-safe choices.

The blue waters of Kiholo State Park Reserve on Hawaii Island contrasting with the black sand beach

42. Kona Clouds Forest Sanctuary

One of the lesser-known activities in Big Island is taking a botanical tour in the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary, which can be found in Kaloko Mauka, at 3,000 ft elevation. It’s home to an impressive display of native vegetation, such as Koa or Ojia, and a plethora of non-indigenous plants. It’s a paradise for many exotic bird species too.

43. Kayak the legendary Kohala Ditch

Dating back to the early 20th century, the Kohala Ditch Trail is a network of hand-wrought flumes and channels that were built to irrigate the surrounding former sugarcane plantations of Kohala. This kayak tour lets you meander through the scenic and pristine landscape of the Kohala Ditch Company’s private grounds.

44. Discover Pololu Valley

Pololū Valley is the northernmost of the Hamakua coast’s seven valleys. Pololū is Hawaiian for its long spear and refers to the centuries of erosion that carved out the valley. It’s a mesmerizing place where time stands still and nature has free play.

You can catch a glimpse of the beauty that awaits from the Pololū Valley Lookout or hike your way down the valley to the black sand beach. Depending on the amount of rainfall before your visit, the path can be slippery and muddy. Alternatively, you could fly over the trail, either by zipline as suggested in one of the earlier Big Island activities mentioned, or by helicopter.

Tour suggestions:

45. Take the Pepe’eko scenic drive to the Hamakua Coast

This 4-mile along the Hamakua Coast is insanely beautiful. Enjoy the most spectacular views from the old Mamalahoa highway as the curvy road, dotted with one-mane bridges, hugs the rugged Onomea Bay coastline. It’s one of the most scenic drives on the island, comparable to a short version of the Road to Hana.

By the way, don’t get spooked by the occasional mongoose crossing the road.

When looking what to do on Big Island, then why not include a visit to the lesser-known gem Onomea Bay

46. Check out the Hawaiian petroglyphs

Thousands of petroglyphs adorn Big Island Hawaii’s lava rocks. Carvings of births, canoes, sea turtles, feathered capes, and more tell the stories of bygone times and give some insight into the ancient Hawaiian culture.

You’ll find these petroglyphs at a handful of sites, such as the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve near the Mauna Lani Resort, the Puuloa Petroglyphs in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park and the Anaehoomalu Petroglyph Field on the grounds of the Waikoloa Resort.

47. Go boogie-boarding at Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach State Park is the most powdery white sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s located along the driest stretch of coastline so sunny weather is almost always guaranteed. Hapuna Beach State Park is the perfect place to go boogie-boarding – yep, that’s me in the photo – and I spotted several sea turtles while swimming here.

At the north end of the beach, you’ll find The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.

Boogie-boarding is one of the most fun Hawaii the Big Island things to do

48. Watch the waves crash at Laupahoehoe Point

Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park is not your classic beach. The bay almost rivals Kealakekua Bay in beauty but it’s not swimmable. It’s wild and untamed with waves crashing against the jagged lava rocks. If you’re an early riser looking to see a magical sunrise, then this is where you want to be. The scenic palm-fringed park is equipped with picnic tables for your convenience.

In 1946 a deadly tsunami destroyed the school located there resulting in the death of many students & teachers. There is a monument commemorating their lives. To learn more about this devastating natural event as well as the Tsunami Warning System that is now in place, head to the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo.

49. Smell the flowers at Nani Mau Gardens

In addition to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden that we’ve mentioned higher up in this list of things to do on Big Island, there’s a second botanical garden near Hilo town that you should visit. Nani Mau Gardens is the lifework of Japanese immigrant Makato Nitahara. He transformed a papaya patch into the most mesmerizing botanical paradise.

These gardens encompass an area of 20 acres and feature tropical flowers, plants, trees, palms, orchids, and fruit orchards. You’ll be pleased to learn that you can even enjoy a buffet lunch in this gorgeous setting. And be sure to pass by the gift shop for a lovely souvenir.

50. Enjoy a mai tai at the Lava Lava Beach Club

What better place to end this ultimate list of best things to do on the Big Island in Hawaii than the legendary Lava Lava Beach Club? The gorgeous beachfront setting, cozy atmosphere, and tasty menu make this the perfect place to unwind. Its prime location in Anaeho’omalu Bay, one of the most scenic beaches on Big Island Hawaii, guarantees an unrivaled sunset experience.

And if you have a hard time leaving this convivial place, then you’ll be pleased to learn that you can actually spend the night in a Lava Lava Beach Club cottage.

Map of these things to do on Big Island Hawaii

For your convenience, we’ve created this map mentioning all the unique things to do on the Big Island as listed in this article.

Where to stay on the Big Island

A good night’s sleep is essential when you plan an active Big Island vacation. We’ve dedicated an entire article on where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii to help you choose the best area. (If you’re looking for a sneak peak, then check out our web story on where to stay on the Big Island.)

Basically, if you plan on spending 5 days or less on Big Island Hawaii, we’d recommend staying on the windward side of the island, near Hilo, or in Volcano. That’s where you’ll find the most adventurous things to do on Big Island.

For longer Big Island itineraries, you could add in a few nights in Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa, as we did. This leeward side of the island is especially recommended if you plan on spending a day or two at the beach. The best white sand beaches can be found near Waikoloa.

  • Kailua-Kona: We wouldn’t recommend staying downtown but rather just south of the center. This little gem is one of the most delightful places to stay around the island.

We love this island so much that we’ve put together a wish list of the best places to stay on Big Island Hawaii in the future and we’d love to share it with you:

This cottage is located near some of the best things to do in Big Island Hawaii
Image courtesy of VRBO – Volcano Kahaualea Cottage
This gorgeous cabin is perfectly located for volcano adventures on Big Island
Image courtesy of VRBO – Kuono
Vacation rental near Kailua-Kona
Image courtesy of VRBO – Waterfall House
Rental house in Kona Hawaii
Image courtesy of VRBO – Stunning Kona home

Getting around on the Big Island of Hawaii

You’ll most definitely need a rental car to get around the island because some of the best things to do on the Big Island are pretty remote. We used this website to book our rental car and were very happy with the process and service.

On all Hawaiian islands you need a rental car to get around the island

What are your favorite things to do on the Big Island?

Now that you know what this amazing island is all about, we can’t wait to find out which of these best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii rank highest on your bucket list. Or maybe you’ve been to Big Island Hawaii before and have an experience to share? Perhaps an insider’s favorite or travel tips that can’t be found in your random travel guide? Either way, we can’t wait to hear all about your Big Island itinerary.


  1. Nola Wyse

    Loved your well done articles and suggestions.
    My family and l are planning a trip for later this year if all goes well Covid wise…

    My partner and his son are avid outdoorsmen and are also looking to pig hunt and spearfish with locals if possible. Any chance you may be able to help?

    My family is from the Islands all born and raised except for me. Born there but grew up in Southern California. Lol

    Thanks so much for your help.

    1. Sarah

      Hi Nola

      How wonderful that you have family in Hawaii. And I’m excited to learn that you find my articles helpful in planning your trip, that really means a lot.

      I’ve been doing some research and found following Big Island tours that might appeal to your partner and his sons:
      Parker ranch hunting
      Hawaii Safaris hunting
      Top Shot spearfishing
      Kona Freedivers spearfishing
      Blue Water Hunter Spearfishing Charters
      (Please note that I haven’t been on any of these tours myself so I can’t speak from experience.)

      Fingers crossed that you can make it to Hawaii this year as planned. And if you do go on one of the suggested tours, please let me know how it went. I’d love to hear all about your adventures.

      Have a wonderful day, Nola!

  2. Wes Perry-Fiske

    Well written article. As a Big Island native now living in Arizona, suggest another interesting overlooked site to visit: the Laupahoehoe Peninsula. On April 1, 1946 a deadly tsunami destroyed the school located there resulting in the death of many students & teachers. There is a monument commemorating their lives. The bay almost rivals Kealakekua Bay in beauty, but it’s not swimable.

    1. Sarah

      Hi Wes
      So glad to learn that you like the article, that means a lot. Thank you for your suggestion, I’ll definitely add the Laupahoehoe Peninsula to the article when I update this post. Also, I hope to visit this special place myself some day too to pay my respects to the victims and take in the bay’s beauty.
      Thanks again, Wes!

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