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  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

Uncovering the Hidden Marvels: A Guide to Great Adventures in Hawaii's Big Island

My husband's never been to the state of Hawaii, so I thought we'd enjoy an adventure there to explore and discover the Big Island together.

We started on the green, tropical Eastern side of Hilo. The jungle there was amazing! We visited Akaka Falls State Park and some local neighborhood waterfalls and beaches near our bed and breakfast at Orchid Tree as well. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens was like a scene out of the film Avatar with its unique, exotic tropical plants. Ziplining with Skyline Eco Tours high over a 250 foot waterfall was absolutely breathtaking! And our volcanoes helicopter ride with Safari Helicopters is the only safe way to get up close and personal with flowing lava. The view from high above wasn't bad either.

akaka state falls
Akaka State Falls
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
Skyline Eco Tours waterfall zipline
big island lava flow
Safari Helicopters tour

On our way to the Western Kona side of the island we visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Nahuku lava tube was cool, and the surrounding forest was beautiful. We were also able to witness the sheer size of the lava caldera at Kilauea volcano! Amazing! We also stopped by Punalu'u black sand beach, where we saw a huge green sea turtle resting along the black pebbled shoreline.

lava tube entry
Nahuku lava tube entry
black sand beach
Punalu'u black sand beach
green sea turtle
Resting green sea turtle

One the Kona side of the island we stayed at the Aloha Guest House in Captain Cook. The Kona area is made for ocean activities! Our favorite coral reef snorkeling spots were Honaunau and Kealakekua bays, the latter requiring either a 4 mile hike or a boat ride to reach. The trailhead is the Kaawaloa/Captain Cook Monument Trail, and it's a steep 1,200 feet with some lava rock near the end. Bring good hiking shoes and lots and lots of water if you intend on hiking this trail.

A tip when snorkeling: swim parallel to, not directly at, the fish. This prevents them from thinking you're a predator wanting to eat them. And just floating in place allows you to observe them doing their natural daily activities.

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is a good place to learn about some of the history of the native Polynesian people. It's adjacent to Honaunau Bay snorkeling spot mentioned above.

Kokua Kailua Village Stroll was a great opportunity to shop for local foods and crafts. We also really enjoyed the performance at the Island Breeze Luau, with great hula and other Polynesian dances. It's somewhat touristy, but the performers really do a great job and get you in that Aloha spirit!

butterfly fish
Honaunau Bay snorkeling
reef cleaning station
Kealakekua Bay snorkeling
luau dance team
Island Breeze Luau dancers
fire dance
Polynesian fire dancer at Island Breeze Luau

If you love chocolate, you should visit one of the only places in the United States that grows and produces it locally at the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory. The tour is super informative, and the chocolate in their gift shop is, of course, absolutely delicious!

cocoa bean pod
Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory tour
Our purchases from the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory

If you're up for it, you can learn how to surf near Kailua Bay from the land where surfing originated at Kona Mike's Surf Adventures!

An activity you absolutely must do is a snorkel at night with manta rays with Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures! It's an incredible experience to have giant manta rays brush up against you while they feed on plankton attracted by the lights. Their skin was surprisingly rough, like coarse sand paper. But don't reach out and touch them. Let them come to you (and they will).

manta ray at night
Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures manta ray night snorkel
manta ray at night
Manta rays brushed up against us!

Another cool place to visit is the Kanaloa Octopus Farm, where they breed and raise octopus to help preserve the species and prevent the use of wild ones.

Being the 50th state, Hawaii does not require a passport for U. S. citizens. But being there, if you flee the tourist crowds and areas, feels like a completely different country. We are so fortunate to have this most beautiful tropical archipelago in our country. Go enjoy it, and do all you can to respect and protect this majestic, peaceful Polynesian paradise.

hawaiian flower and ferns
hawaiian gecko

Hiking trails:

Ka'Awaloa/Captain Cook Monument Trail

(4 miles, 1,256 elevation gain, out & back)

The trailhead is the Kaawaloa/Captain Cook Monument Trail, and it's a steep 1,200 feet with some lava rock near the end. Bring good hiking shoes and lots and lots of water if you intend on hiking this trail. At the bottom is the Captain Cook monument and some of the best reef snorkeling on the island!

Akaka Falls

(0.4 miles, 100 feet elevation loss using stairs)

Pass tropical vegetation to view Kahuna Falls and Akaka Falls, which falls 442 feet into a gorge.

Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube)

(1.5 miles)

Walk through a lush tropical forest through the lava tube. Bring a flashlight.

Kupinai Pali (Waldron Ledge)

(1 mile, wheelchair accessible)

Scenic walk adjacent to the Kilauea Visitor Center. Panoramic views of Kaluapele (Kilauea Caldera) and Halemaumau crater.


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