Today is a very special day for me, the year anniversary of me living the island life! A year ago today, I was here, embracing the unique beauty of Big Island. I wanted to give myself a week vacation before I moved to O’ahu, since I wanted to work right away in order to survive there, and not blow through my savings. So in celebration of today, I wanted to share my favorite places that I always recommend for travelers to check out on Big Island. And I am happy to share because Big Island has a very special place in my heart.
Rainbow Falls is an 80ft tall waterfall that is free to the public, and located at Wailuku River State Park, few minutes from downtown Hilo. Just take the right fork after the 1 mile marker to get there, and the best time to go is in the morning, because the rainbow can only be seen when the sun is behind you. I was completely blown away when I saw this, never thought I would ever see a waterfall with a rainbow! This was the first thing I saw on Big Island that mesmerized me, and made me realize how much I was going to enjoy living in Hawai’i. The cave below the falls is where King Kamehameha is said to have buried the bones of his father.
2. Kehena Beach
When I came to Big Island, I had no idea I was going to come across black sand beaches, and this beautiful beach was the first black sand beach I saw. Located on the east shore of the island, and where spinner dolphins frequent, but I unfortunately didn’t see any. It is also known as dolphin beach. and apparently it is a clothing optional beach as well! From what I’ve learned, impromptu drum circles are held here for hours, filled with dancing, relaxing, and enjoying the sites and surf.
3. Punalu’u Beach aka Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Beach is located on the southeastern Kau coast, one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawai’i. Black sand is made up of basalt that is created by lava flowing into the ocean which explodes as it reaches the ocean and cools. When you first pull up, you are surrounded by beautiful coconut filled palm trees along the upper edge of the sand, and if you are lucky, you may see a honu hanging out (Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle). Where you park is cool, because you will first hopefully get to see my friend, the Coconut King. If you do, take the time to chat stories with him, he’s a funny bad ass dude, that jumps up palm trees to catch coconuts. Share some jokes and some extra cash if you have any, and he will give you a coconut drink before you head off! There is also places to get food and drinks, amazing Acai bowls, and fruit stands, as well as restrooms.
Another thing I did not expect to see on Big Island was beaches covered with lava. It is something so unique and incredible to see. Once you cut across the lava, you will see the beautiful black sand beach which is nice to enjoy and sit, I wouldn’t recommend to swim. One thing I like to do when I travel to beaches, is to collect sea shells. So my first instinct was to collect lava, but thanks to my friend Dave who informed me immediately to leave the lava remains alone. According to the Hawaiian myth, known as Pele’s curse, Pele is the Fire Goddess of Hawai’i, for any visitor that takes rock or lava from the islands, will suffer extreme misfortune until the elements are returned. Apparently, post offices in Hawai’i get enormous amounts of packages each year, filled with rocks or lava, being returned by visitors around the world who seem to have suffered from this curse.
4. Hawai’i Volcano National Park
When I came to visit Big Island, I did not have any sort of clue that I would be kicking it on volcanos or lava. Which is what makes Big Island so unique and special, and the Hawai’i Volcano National Park is filled with so much information, beautiful trails, crater views, and museums. At its heart are the Kilauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes. So you want to come here for a sunset, and right when the sun sets, you will get to see lava flow! Watching the lava flow with colors that lit up the night sky is something I will never forget.
5. Kiholo Bay
Probably one of my favorite places on Big Island is Kiholo Bay which is on the Kona side of the island. Kailua-Kona is also where I recommend to stay, and then take a road trip around the island like to the Hilo side, since weather is better. Kona is a cool and quiet beach town that holds a special place in my heart. Thanks to my friend Dave who showed me all the cool spots to check out in Kona, this being my favorite. There is a beautiful spot at the end of this beach that is like a secluded paradise, and you walk along the black sand beach to get to it. This is where you can see cute honus laying out, and beautiful tall palm trees. Then you see a beautiful cove filled with fresh water you can jump in to cool off. Eventually you get to the paradise side, that looks like a bright blue lagoon with no sand but lava to hang out on. It is a walk to get there, but definitely worth it!
6. Old Kona Airport
In my opinion, the best place to watch a sunset on Big Island is on the Kona side, at the Old Kona Airport. This was a spot that local friends showed me, a cool hangout to watch a killer sunset and chill. The colors of these sunsets just gravitate you, and you really can see the true beauty of Big Island.
7. Two Steps Beach
This is a very popular beach to snorkel at! Covered with tall palm trees and all lava, there is no beach with sand anywhere here. You lay out right on the lava! And the best place to get into the water from the lava is where the two steps are, which is towards the left side of the lava filled beach. This is a popular place, so just in case it is hard to find, there should be someone there to help. A ton of sea life to see and also a great place for families to snorkel!
8. Kealakekua Bay
This is the spot locals say to swim with dolphins at sunrise! Unfortunately I missed the dolphins by the time I got there! But a great place for snorkeling anyways with lots of coral and fish, near Captain Cook on the Kona side.
9. Kailua-Kona Bay
If you are staying in Kona, this is the main bay that people like to snorkel in, which I enjoyed every morning I was there!
10. Mauna Kea Volcano
A definite must see is the Mauna Kea volcano, and you come here to watch a beautiful sunset. You need a 4-wheel drive to get up here, so if you are renting a car while you are here, definitely get a 4-wheel drive. For anyone that prefers to take tours, you can get a tour up here and at the Hawai’i Volcano National Park. You can also hike up here, it is about a 5 hour hike, but definitely do your research in order to be well prepared for this hike. High elevation standing 13,802 ft above sea level, its peak is the highest point in the state of Hawai’i. It is extremely cold at the top, when I went it was about 40 degrees with snow in Hawai’i! I of course was very unprepared for the cold weather! It was so hard to take pictures for very long, so definitely bring a beanie, GLOVES, warm pants and shoes. Freezing my butt off was worth the incredible majestic moon type of scenery, The Apollo astronauts did considerable training up here because it was deemed uniquely moon-like. The clouds were my favorite part, came across as a beautiful painting. Being on top of a volcano with that kind of scenery is definitely an experience I will never will forget.
Hawai’i-The Big Island Revealed, by Andrew Doughty 5th Edition. This book was very helpful with my insight and knowledge while exploring Big Island. My friend Dave had this book with us the whole time and it was our go to guide! Super cheap to purchase on Amazon!