We loved the black sand beaches, amazing sunsets, watching turtles, learning to hula dance and all the fun activities around town in the Big Island of Hawaii. The Kona (west) side of the island which is known for its sunny weather, world-class golf courses, manta ray night dives, and whale watching. The Hilo (east) side that boasts lush rainforest hikes, cascading waterfalls like the Rainbow falls and the ‘Akaka falls, hot springs and easily accessible red-hot flowing lava. We did two road trips while we were in the Big Island of Hawaii – one to Akaka Falls State Park to see the Akaka Falls, a spectacular 420 ft waterfall which is certainly one of the most attractive of the accessible waterfalls on the Big Island and to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A visit to the Big Island won’t be complete without a trip to Puʻuhonua o Honaunau, which gives a glimpse into Hawaiʻi’s ancient culture.
Need to find something? Use the Table of Contents
- 1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Crater Rim Drive
- Thomas A. Jaggar Museum
- Halemaumau Crater
- Thurston Lava Tube
- Puu Oo Vent
- Chain of Craters Road
- 2. Akaka falls state park
- 3. Puʻuhonua o Honaunau
- Souvenirs and Shopping
- Where to stay
- Don’t forget to make time for picnics on the beach, watching sunsets and learning to hula dance!
1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers stunning and ever changing landscapes for stargazers, hikers, and children. Located 30 miles southwest of Hilo, this is the home of Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on earth also dubbed “the world’s only drive-in volcano.” This prolific volcano currently produces 250,000-650,000 cubic yards of lava per day, enough to resurface a 20-mile-long, two-lane road daily. As of January 1994, 491 acres of new land have been created on Hawaii Island. The current eruption may last another 100 years or stop tomorrow. Pele, the volcano goddess who lives here, is very unpredictable. But the chance to watch Kilauea’s blistering lava flows meet the sea is one of a kind experience. We stopped at some sites en-route and the kids enjoyed learning about the Volcano and the driving through the changing landscape of Hawaii. Here are a few site we stopped at.
Crater Rim Drive
Crater Rim Drive is the 10.6-mile drive that circles Kilauea Caldera. Driving around this loop will take you to the park’s main attractions: the Kilauea overlook, Jaggar Museum, Halemaumau Crater, Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook and the Thurston Lava Tube.
Thomas A. Jaggar Museum
Thomas A. Jaggar pioneered the study of volcanology here at Kilauea. Here you can find geologic displays, maps and videos about the study of volcanoes.
Steam vents plume from this massive crater, known as the home of Pele, the volcano goddess. In 1967, this crater was filled with a lake of lava that eventually drained away. Great respect should be paid at this sacred site.
Thurston Lava Tube
Walk through a 500-year old lava cave formed when an underground channel of molten lava drained from its cooled walls forming a massive, hollow chamber. A tropical rainforest awaits you at the end of the tube.
Puu Oo Vent
Currently Kilauea’s lava activity isn’t centered in its caldera (the large depression at the top of the volcano) but at the Puu Oo vent in the East Rift Zone. Puu Oo’s lava flood underground tubes that empty dramatically into the sea. You can watch this spectacle at the end of Chain of Craters Road or get a closer look from the new Kalapana viewing site outside the park.
Chain of Craters Road
Veering south of Crater Rim Drive is Chain of Craters Road. This 3,700-foot drive eventually ends where a lava flow has literally overtaken the road.
The road trip to the Volcano National park was a long day, but we got to walk in a lava tube, see geysers, walk on lava rock, try some sugar cane, see the lava flow into the sea and learn about Volcanoes at the Thomas A. Jaggar museum. We love the verdant landscape of the Big Island.
2. Akaka falls state park
The Akaka falls state park is about 11 miles north of Hilo on the end of Akaka Falls Road (Highway 220). The Akaka falls is a massive 422 ft tall waterfall and one of the highlight of our drive to the Akaka falls state park. This park is located close to Hilo, you can get to see the falls after a d short 0.4 mile hike from the parking lot. This trail is called the Akaka Falls Loop Trail which takes you through a lush rainforest filled with wild orchids, bamboo groves and beautiful draping ferns. There are more waterfalls in the state park and can be found at the northern seaside cliffs and valleys of the Kohala coast but these falls are more difficult to get to. The Rainbow Falls in Hilo is another waterfalls that is pretty easy to visit on the Big Island. This big and broad waterfall in the Wailuku river is conveniently located within Hilo town.
3. Puʻuhonua o Honaunau
Puʻuhonua is one of the best places in the islands to get in touch with Hawaiʻi’s ancient culture. A major feature of the complex is a reconstructed temple. This oft photographed temple called Hale o Keawe, is guarded by fierce wood-carved statutes called kiʻi. The original temple, built around 1650 and long ago destroyed, housed the bones of at least 23 chiefs. It was believed that the mana (spiritual power) in the bones of the dead chiefs gave additional protection to those who came to the place of refuge. Refuges like Puʻuhonua o Honaunau ceased functioning in the early 19th century when the kapu system was abolished, but this 182-acre site remains sufficiently in tact to provide a convincing glimpse into a time when people could be sentenced to death merely for eating with their husband or wife or walking in the shadow of a chief. Now a national historical park, Puʻuhonua, has been reconstructed by local artisans using traditional tools. If you are visiting the Park from Sunday through Thursday, you may have an opportunity to witness the hana nō’eau (traditional skills) of nā kanaka maoli (native Hawaiians) or listen to the fascinating tales of the wā kahiko (times past). This ancient place of refuge was the destination of people running for their lives, seeking asylum from severe penalties imposed on all who broke the imposing kapu (sacred) laws. Once inside the compound’s 10-foot walls, sanctuary was guaranteed. The resident kahuna, or priests, were obligated, under the pain of death, to offer absolution to all fugitives no matter how great or small the infraction.
While exploring the Royal Grounds we found a stone playing surface called the papamū and challenged the kids to kōnane. This game was enjoyed in ancient Hawaii by both the Ali`i (royalty) and the commoners. It was said that King Kamehameha the Great was an excellent player, sometimes beating his opponent in one move. You can ask for the rules at the visitor center.
Souvenirs and Shopping
We stopped a farmers market for some shopping mainly to get some papayas, pineapple and other goodies for breakfast. Since we had a suite and a small kitchen we ate breakfast at the hotel out on our balcony before heading out to the beach or our road trip. The pineapple and papaya were divine. We didn’t get to visit a pineapple plantation, but heard they make popsicle out of an entire pineapple. D would have loved it, since he is a big pineapple fan! As far as souvenirs we brought home a few tiki statues. Each tiki represents a beloved and reverent God. According to Hawaiian history there was a time when Gods walked the earth as men and tiki images reminded people just how close the realm of the gods was! There was Ku – Ancient Tiki God of War, Lono – Ancient Tiki God of Fertility and Peace. We found some Tikis marked God of Money, God of Love, God of Luck etc – not sure if they were authentic or not we fell in love with the stocky headed Gods of Hawaii and let the kids pick their favorite to bring home!
Where to stay
We stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, which was set among lush palm trees and tropical gardens on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii of Big Island. It was a quick 20 minutes from drive from Kona International Airport (KOA). The resort was a peaceful sanctuary shrouded in natural splendor with a variety of tropical fish, exotic birds and wildlife. Kids loved taking the trams and cruising the canals of the resort in their mahogany canal boats. There was always activities planned like hula dancing lessons and nightly luau with hula and fire dancers and a lavish island-style buffet. Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows and Fairmont Orchid are two other beautiful family friendly properties in Hawaii.
There is a new gorgeous Four Seasons property set on Hawaii Island’s exclusive Kona-Kohala Coast, this showpiece oceanfront luxury resort in Hualalai is said to capture the essence of Hawaiian design, culture and tradition. We have this on our wishlist to check out on the next trip.
Don’t forget to make time for picnics on the beach, watching sunsets and learning to hula dance!
We love the beach, playing in the sand and the beautiful sunsets. The kids enjoyed looking for the Hawaii Green Sea turtles. The green turtle is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In 1978. Green turtles were a source of food, tools, and ornamentation for early Hawaiians but not anymore. We even saw a couple sunning on the beach.
Have you been to Hawaii? Which is you favorite island??