6-Day Adventure on The Big Island of Hawai'i
Road Trip Travel
The Big Island of Hawai'i showcases everything special about the state of Hawai'i. The beaches are impeccable with a dreamy shady of blue, hiking in Volcanoes National Park feels otherworldly and watching the sunset on Mauna Kea is a once-in-a lifetime experience.
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Where to stay
Hilton Waikoloa Village
On the Big Island’s Kona Coast, a sprawling beachfront playground with two distinctive towers and a mega watersports complex.
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Day 1: Settle in to the Hilton Waikoloa and explore Kua Bay
Catch up on some much needed sleep on your first day, then wake up overlooking the lagoons and beach at Hilton Waikoloa. If you're lucky enough to get a Lagoon/Ocean front room, you'll have the pleasure of watching the dolphins get fed and frolic around at the in-house Dolphin Quest.
Explore the sprawling property of Hilton Waikoloa and get acquainted with the various restaurants, coffee & smoothie shops and many pools.
Once you're ready to head out, I recommend starting at Kua Bay. This beach is beautiful and easily swimmable with crystal clear waters and cool lava rocks in the ocean. We were lucky enough to have a family of sea turtles swim up to us. But please respect the wildlife as they are a unique and protected species in Hawaii! The beach is nice and large, so you shouldn't have problems finding a place to spread out no matter what time of day you go! Parking can fill up kind of fast so consider arriving earlier in the morning!
For dinner head to downtown Kona and check out Umeke's. There may be a wait if you go during prime hours but the amazing fish tacos and fresh poke nachos are so worth it! If you're looking for desert, I highly recommend Gypsea Gelato!
Day 2: Beach 69 & Mauna Kea stargazing tour
The beaches on the Big Island are truly spectacular, especially compared to some of the other non-swimmable beaches on other Hawaiian Islands. We spent the morning at beach 69 which is famous for snorkeling. This beach has a totally different vibe than Kua Bay. There is more shade, it's smaller, but also less crowded. The shade trees provide an excellent way to relax on the beach if you got too sunburned at Kua Bay like we did! Parking is limited and $5, but so worth it! This was our favorite beach due to the laid back, relaxing vibe and the fact that there were only a handful of other people there!
For lunch, I recommend Pine Tree Cafe in downtown Kona. This is where all the locals go! Their plate lunches are so fresh and delicious, we actually ate there twice during our vacation. Also highly recommend the banana bread!
We spent our evening doing a Mauna Kea stargazing tour. There are many options out there for stargazing tours, and this is one thing you can't miss out on when you vacation to the Big Island. Mauna Kea is a revered site on the island, so having the opportunity to watch the sunset and stargaze here feels truly magical. Most tours start around 4-5 pm, so mid-afternoon is a good chance to nap by the pool to prepare for a night of stargazing. We met our tour operator in the evening, and headed to Mauna Kea. Time was spent at the visitor's center to allow for altitude acclimation prior to driving to the summit.
At the visitors center, take the opportunity to explore the Silverswords preservation area where you can see these one-of-a-kind plants. On arrival to the summit, you can marvel at all the observatories and watch them as they open for the evening. From this vantage point, you can also see the Haleakala Crater on the island of Maui. After watching the sunset our tour operator drove us back down to the prime spot for star gazing where they pulled out high grade telescopes and lasers to show us unique constellations that may only be visible in the Northern Hemisphere from Hawaii.
Pro Tip: When driving to the different locations and beaches look out for wild goats! You might miss them standing on the lava rocks on the side of the road!
Day 3: Hike to Honokane Nui Lookout and visit Pu'ukohola Heiau
After a couple of days relaxing on the beach I recommend exploring the Big Island via hiking! Head to Pololu Valley Lookout and hike down to the black sand beach. It is ~0.5 miles downhill, and from there, walk across the black sand beach and up the Awini Trail to the Honokane Nui Lookout. It is a little steep, muddy, and rocky, but the view at the top is worth the effort! If you complete this hike it will be ~3.5 miles. On your way out, we recommend stopping in one of the small towns leading into Polulu to cool off with a refreshing Lilikoi Frosty!
After hiking, be sure to stop at the Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic site. You can listen to an ~30 minute audio tour while walking the 0.5 mile loop exploring the temple that King Kamehameha built. This is the perfect pit stop for any history junkies! After this, I highly recommend tracking down the Hot Malasadas food truck! Malasadas are Portuguese fried doughnuts that are famous in Hawaii, and you cant miss the opportunity to try these out!
After a morning of hiking, I recommend taking the time to relax by the beautiful pools at Hilton Waikoloa. There are multiple family and adults only pools all equally beautiful. For dinner, take a short drive or walk to the Queens Marketplace where there are a variety of restaurants and stores for shopping!
Alternatively, spend the entire day at the pools of the hotel just simply relaxing, as that's probably what you came on vacation to do! We actually spent all of day four relaxing and enjoying all that this beautiful hotel has to offer. I also highly recommend dinner at the Kamuela Provision Company, the higher-end restaurant at the hotel. Our food was amazing!
Day 4: Waipi'o Valley Lookout & Akaka Falls
Now that you've spent a few days on the Kona side of the island it's time to head to the Hilo side, where you will experience a completely different environment. Stop at Hawaii Style Cafe in Waimea for breakfast, you won't regret it!
From there, head to Waipi'o Valley Lookout. Parking can be limited so the earlier start the better. For those looking for a physical challenge, start the trek down into the valley. You will see wild horses and beautiful scenery. Walk along the black sand beach and continue on the Muliwai trail across the valley. From there you can turn around and see the stunning Ipuu and Hiilawe Falls. Both of these are located on private property, so the best way to admire them is from afar! The return hike is no joke, so you will certainly work up an appetite just in time to stop at the Waipi'o Fruit Shack for a fresh plate of fruit and freshly cut coconut. If you're still in need of sustenance head into Honokaa for some shopping and more restaurant options.
Next stop: Akaka Falls State Park. These falls are surrounded by a half-mile paved loop to admire the falls and surrounding vegetation. After stopping at Akaka Falls, I recommend stopping the Hawai'i Island Goat Dairy! You can pet the baby goats, sample some goat milk caramel, various goat cheeses and meet the lovely owners. Afterwards, chase some more waterfalls by stopping at Rainbow Falls in Hilo. If you're lucky, you'll see a rainbow being formed in the mist coming off the waterfalls.
Depending on where you stay on the Hilo side of the island, consider getting dinner either in Hilo or Pahoa!
Day 5: Explore Volcanoes National Park
After exploring all the waterfalls yesterday, now is the time to explore the volcanoes at Volcanoes National Park! Start at the visitor's center and park there. I recommend starting at the Crater Rim Trail and go COUNTERCLOCKWISE to the Kilauea Iki Trail. Via this route, you can walk across the Kilauea Iki Crater, where lava has hardened from a prior eruption. You will be surrounded by giant lava rocks, and cave like structures created by this 1959 eruption.
Once done hiking this trail, walk up to the Thurston Laval Tube, which is where lava previously flowed and created a large tunnel. From there, you can continue on the Crater Rim Trail down to Halema'uma'u Trail as a connector and walk on a small portion of the Kiluea Caldera which erupted in 2018.
Other places to explore in the National Park include Sulphur Banks, the Steam Vents and the Kiluea Overlook. After a day of exploring volcanoes, hit up Hilo for a nice dinner!
Day 6: Visit Holei Sea Arch and Puna'lu'u Black Sand Beach
After heading out of Volcanoes, take the Chain of Craters Road down to the Holei Sea Arch and admire the view of the lava rocks in the sea. Take the opportunity to walk to the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs. This is ~1.4 mile walk across lava rocks, but the petroglyphs are truly special!
This day consists of a road trip around the south side of the island. After leaving Volcanoes, drive south to Puna'lu'u Black Sand Beach where you might get another glimpse of sea turtles. They love to sun bathes on the black sand beach! After leaving here, stop at the Puna'lu'u Bake Shop for lunch and one (or two, or three) of the lilikoi glazed doughnuts! If you have time, you can go to Green Sand Beach. This requires a 4WD vehicle, or you can pay the locals $20 to drive you down. It may only be worth it if you have a significant amount of time to spend at the beach!
If you're looking for some more history, head to Place of Refuge National Park aka Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. That is where the ancient Hawaiians would go to get forgiveness when they broke the "Kapu" or law. We had a nice self guided audio tour on the national park app, and it requires about ~1 hour time.
If you have a late flight like we did, stop and get dinner to go from Broke Da Mouth Grindz for a picnic on the beach prior to heading to the airport. You won't regret it!
Need to Know
For more tips for exploring the great outdoors while traveling, check out my guide to Arizona: Things to do Outdoors in Arizona: 4-Day Travel Itinerary!
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