Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation spots in all of the world. Millions of people visit this tiny island chain every year, and some even return each and every year, our repeat tourists.
Most of the visitors choose to visit the island of Oahu. But if Oahu is the only island you visit, you will be missing out on a whole other world of adventure, beauty, and unique experiences.
The Big Island of Hawaii, as it is known to locals, is the largest yet least populous island. It is also the newest island and because of that you get loads of volcanic activity and interesting landscapes.
There are two international airports on the island: Kona and Hilo. They are located on opposite sides of the island, but since it only takes two hours to drive between them both, it doesn't really matter which one you fly in or out of.
Starting on the Kona side, you will want to stay in Kona center or Keahou; these locations will be the most central to exploring the area and also put you right in the thick of all the best restaurants and shopping centers.
There is public transport, but renting a car will be greatly preferred. Even though it is an island, it really is quite large and having your own transport will help reduce travel time and give more opportunity to explore.
Not to be missed on the Kona side of the island is Makalewena Beach, slightly challenging to hike into but well worth the effort, as it may just be the most stunning beach in all of Hawaii. Also be sure to snorkel in Kahaluu Bay, where you can also learn to surf and almost always have a chance to swim with sea turtles. If you have time, check out Kua Bay, Place of Refuge (a cultural gem), and hike or kayak out to Kealakekua Bay, where our resident spinner dolphins reside.
Transit to the Hilo Side
There are three ways to get from the Kona side to Hilo side. On the way to Hilo, it is best to leave nice and early as there is a lot to see along the way. Head toward South Point (the most southern point of the entire United States), where locals often jump into the ocean from the boat docks, which are about 30 feet above. Only try this is you are a strong swimmer and never if the waves are crashing.
After that you can head over to the Green Sand Beach, one of the most unique beaches in the world. You will need a pretty heavy-duty car to make the three-mile journey. You can also walk in or have a local drive you down and back for a small fee. It is remote and beautiful, but there are no services, so bring in what you need and be sure to pack it out as well.
After a little time spent there, head back out toward Volcano, being sure to stop at Punalu'u Beach on the way. Punalu'u is a lovely and large black sand beach, well worth the time to stop, and perhaps a good place for a picnic lunch and a quick cool-down in the naturally cool spring-infused water.
After a break there, head to Kiluaea Volcano, where you can stay one night to maximize your time. Eat and stay at Volcano House so after dinner you can listen and see with your own eyes one of the most active and accessible volcanic craters in the world. The next day take your time exploring the craters new and old, driving Chain of Craters Road, exploring Thurston Lava Tube, and checking out ancient petroglyphs before heading to Hilo.
Hilo is the largest of the two "cities" on the island, neither being very large at all by city standards. Here, be sure not to miss Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls, Pe'epe'ee Falls, Pahoa town, where you can enjoy lunch and view the lava flow that recently threatened the town, and take the loop drive of the Red Road to discover the charms of lower Puna.
Transit Back to Kona
On the way back to the Kona side, there are a few great stops along the way. Take Saddle Road, where you will think you have jumped the planet with the landscape changes. Stop off at Kaumana Cave along the way, especially if you didn't get to explore Thurston Lava Tube. As a final stop, drive up the largest mountain in the world, Mauna Kea, where it actually snows in the winter. At nearly 14,000 feet at the summit, but well over 35,000 feet from its base in the ocean, this mountain is one of the most thrilling and mind-blowing spots on the planet. Be safe; the altitude change is rapid, so stop at the visitor center for a bit to acclimate and if you feel ill at the summit, come back down.
There are loads and loads of other spots to explore, beaches to frolic on, and adventures to be had on this lesser visited Hawaiian island, but if you only have a week, you can't go wrong with these great spots to visit!
Mary Hickcox wrote this post on behalf of Sharon Mostyn. Mary is mom of three and a world traveler. She and her family have lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for well over a year, where they continue to write about their adventures on www.bohemiantravelers.com.