SEE & DO
28. The beaches of the Big Island are definitely a must-do, but shouldn’t be considered the “only do.” They can indeed be spectacular (see our next tip), but they are also fewer and farther between than on the other islands. Plus, in the resort area, they can get awfully windy.
29. Hapuna Beach in Kohala is not only widely considered the best beach on the Big Island, but in the entire country. I’ve never liked going into the ocean. It’s usually choppy, cold and since I’m short, it usually doesn’t take long before I’m up to my neck. So you’d understand how happy I was to find Hapuna. It’s toasty warm, waist deep for seemingly forever and just as calm as our hotel’s pool. I wish we would’ve set aside more time there. It’s a must-see.
30. A completely different must-see beach is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. It’s an easy stop en route to Volcanoes National Park from Kona. See the photo in Stay.
31. There are countless places to explore underwater, but Kealakekua Bay near the Captain Cook Monument is your best bet for snorkeling according to “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed.”
32. Though migrating humpback whales can often be seen from the comfort of your hotel from December through April, we highly recommend booking a whale watching tour with Captain Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watch. Make sure to reserve ahead of time.
33. If can’t get to the Big Island during those months, there’s a good chance you can spot some pilot whales or pods of dolphins. There are several boat tours and catamaran cruises, including ones devoted specifically to dolphins watching. We actually spotted a large pod of dolphins during a deep sea fishing excursion (pictured), which is another fun way to spend a morning, afternoon or full day.
34. For a glimpse of the Big Island from above, we highly recommend Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours. However, beware that helicopter tours in the afternoon are more prone to excessive winds, especially those to the Kohala Coast. We know from personal experience that even those of hearty stomach may find themselves concentrating less on the incredible scenery and more on keeping their lunch down. Still, we know a couple who had a nice, easy flight and choppers heading down to see Volcanoes National Park usually don’t encounter the same type of turbulence. Plus, seeing the volcano from the sky is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tours leave from Hilo and Waikoloa.
35. Take a drive literally around the Big Island since you’ll be missing out on a lot if you don’t set out and explore this unique honeymoon spot. “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed” is the best resource for doing this, as it provides incredibly detailed maps and driving directions to fantastic sites you’d otherwise miss. Just remember, though, the Big Island does live up to its name, so give yourself some time. The sights described below go in an order that assumes you set out from Kona or Kohala going south.
36. Set aside more than one day if you plan on visiting Volcanoes National Park (and why wouldn’t you, you’re on the Big Island!). Not only is there a lot to see, but staying there can be a welcome change of pace and scenery from the resort you’ve most likely come from.
37. Get to the Volcano early, especially if you’re staying nearby. More tourists start showing up by the car- and bus-full as the day goes on, so the lava tubes, Devastation Trail (it’s nicer than it sounds) and other sites will be less crowded (or totally vacant) the earlier you get there. Just make sure to read up on the history and science of Volcanoes National Park before you go. The less time you take reading informative signs is more time you have to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
38. Bring a sweater! It gets chilly in Volcano at night, but the Big Island is also home to all but two of Earth’s 13 climate zones. Don’t assume it’s going to be shorts and flip-flops the whole time.
39. As you leave the Volcano and continue your drive around the island, it won’t take long before you’re in Hilo. It’s pleasant enough, but bypass downtown Hilo and take Waianuenue Ave a very short distance to Rainbow, Pe’epe’e or Waiale Falls.
40. After your lunch or snack at What’s Shakin’ (see No. 27), stay on the Old Mamalahoa Highway for a scenic four-mile detour that shouldn’t be missed and a stroll through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.
“Honestly, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about going to a botanical garden, but it turned out to be one of our favorite stops during our drive,” said my husband James Riswick of our honeymoon in March 2011. “We had a great walk through these lush paths past waterfalls, trees and great ocean views. There was also a parrot who had an eerie mastery of both English and Hawaiian. I thought it was a Disney animatronic for a second.”
41. Another quick detour that definitely should not be missed is Akaka Falls. The photo above should probably explain why you should stop by.
42. The northern part of the Big Island is the oldest and is consequently the only place to see the sort of luscious majestic canyons created by erosion you see on Kauai, Oahu and Maui. So, for a taste of the other Hawaiian islands, drive to the end of Highway 240 and behold spectacular Waipi’o Valley (see photo below). If you want to see more than just the view from above, shuttle or mule-driven wagon tours are available that bring you down into the valley. An alternative is Polulu Valley at the end of Highway 270 where even hikists like us can get down to its black sand beach.
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