Hawaii - Big Island - AttractionGuide

Hawaii - Big Island

Welcome to MetroGuide Networks' overview of Hawaii - Big Island-area attractions. The Greater Hawaii - Big Island area is full of attractions for all ages. For more information and to reserve your Hawaii - Big Island tours, click here. To avoid confusion, Hawaii – the 50th state and also the name of the Aloha State's largest island – has been helpfully tagged by islanders as the Big Island. Three main towns on this volcanic patchwork of paradise are Hilo (with the closest airport to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park), Kailua-Kona (a popular resort area on the dry leeward side) and Waimea (near rolling ranch land). Kona coffee, macadamia nuts (plain or chocolate covered), and orchids are among the Big Island's famed exports. Yet, not surprisingly, tourism reigns as the mainstay for what is one of the world's most extreme natural playgrounds. During winter near Hilo, it is quite possible to bronze on the beach while gazing between palms at the snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea. At Volcanoes National Park, the terrain is so moon-like that it served as an astronaut training ground. Whether seeking quiet relaxation, unbridled stimulation or something in between, the Big Island of Hawaii is truly a big provider. Many activities are situated on and around spectacular beaches – an ideal launching point for adventure from ocean kayaking to surfing, from windsurfing to catamaran excursions, from fishing and sailing expeditions to underwater exploration, and for seasonal whale watching. Away from the shoreline, adventure seekers can hit trails across a glittering black lava field on a mountain biking tour, trek into a mystical rain forest, leap off a precipice and hang-glide over vibrant fields of taro, ride horseback through eucalyptus forests, or strap in for helicopter trips against a backdrop for Jurassic Park. Traditional sports also await, from tennis, to ice-skating, bowling, roller-blading, archery, and clay pigeon shooting.

Below is a list of some suggested things to do in the Hawaii - Big Island Area, with links to more details when available.

Anaehoomalu Beach
Called “A-Bay” by locals, windsurfers and sailboarders flock to this span of white sand, the first beach after nearly 30 miles of coastline mostly characterized by the jet black of Kohala's lava flows. A-Bay has a lagoon, freshwater springs, and stands of palm trees, along with restrooms and showers making it all the more welcoming.
Captain Cook Monument
Viewed from Pali (cliffs) along Highway 11, this monument salutes British Captain James Cook, landing in 1778 with his ships Resolution and Discovery, and considered the first European to arrive in Hawaii. The white monolith, along the shore of Kealakekua Bay, commemorates Cook's 1779 death when he and his crew got into a fracas with Polynesian islanders during their annual Makahiki (“Thanksgiving” festival). Initially, Cook and his officers were treated as gods and were deluged with gifts. But after the two ships left, a storm arose to break a mast on the Resolution. When the battered ships returned to the bay, islanders realized Cook and his crew were mere humans, not gods, and the reception was frosty. An attempt was made to steal a small boat from the Discovery, and British officers fired muskets to quell trouble while plotting to capture a chief as hostage. Fighting escalated and Cook was fatally stabbed on Feb. 14. Controversy continues over the fate of Cook's body, and reports that his remains were consumed by cannibals remain unconfirmed.
Along Kealakekua Bay, about 15 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Highway 11.
Dolphin Quest
The Hilton Waikoloa Village's special pool allows swimming with the dolphin. Guided by Dolphin Quest marine mammal experts, participants have the opportunity to come face to face with one of the ocean's most intelligent creatures, learning about dolphin abilities and gaining appreciation for preserving the world's oceans and its inhabitants.
Waikoloa. (808) 886-2875
Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center
Established to honor U.S. Air Force Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka, who perished along with six other astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28 1986, the Center is dedicated to furthering understanding of science and space.
1 Keahole Street. (808) 329-3441
Farmers Markets
A Big Island tradition, these markets offer the freshest fare from the island's rural communities.
Kailua Village across from Hale Halawai, Kailua-Kona.
Corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, Hilo.
Cooper Center, Volcano.
The Green Flash
On clear evenings, as the sun slips out of sight, a green flash sometimes seems to jump out of the water to light the horizon. Visibility occurs only with a clear line of sight to the sunset and an unbroken horizon. Prime viewing spots include the seawall on Ali'I Drive in downtown Kailua-Kona, Kona Coast State Park, the side of the road on Manalahoa Highway in upcountry Holualoa, or under the coconut trees at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park.
Green Sands of Papakolea Beach
Not easily accessible, the sand's green hue is from crushed ovaline, a semi-precious mineral found in volcanic rock. A 12-mile stretch of unpaved road and a hike down a steep slope leads to the beach.
Southern tip of the island.
Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area
Beach activities here include swimming during calm seas, bodysurfing, sunbathing and picnics. Lifeguards are stationed here and rip currents prevail during periods of high surf.
Highway 19, 2.3 miles south of Kawaihae.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, a spectacular garden in a valley along the ocean, is 8.5 miles north of Hilo on the four-mile Scenic Route at Onomea Bay. Nature trails meander through a tropical rainforest, crossing streams, passing several waterfalls and the ocean vistas along the rugged Pacific coast. Palms, heliconias, gingers, bromeliads, and hundreds of other rare and exotic plants from all parts of the tropical world are among an ever growing collection. This non-profit nature preserve provides a study center and a living seed bank to perpetuate the environment of Onomea Bay.
27-217 Old Mamalahoa Highway. (808) 964-5233
Hilo Tropical Gardens
Established in 1948 on land owned by the estate of one of Hawaii's last princesses, Hilo Tropical Gardens is one of the island's oldest visitor gardens and is within walking distance of beaches. Orchids, anthuriums, the giant hala tree and other exotics star here, along with Hilo Homemade Ice Cream, filled with native fruit.
477 Kalanianaole Avenue. (808) 969-9873
Honokohau Harbor
With white sand beaches and excellent snorkeling, this is part of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.
Hulihe'e Palace
One of three royal palaces in the state, the Victorian-style structure was used by Hawaiian monarchs until 1916. Memorabilia centers on items owned and used by the royal families. A gift shop, filled with items from local crafters, is a stroll from the Palace, overlooking the ocean on Kailua Bay.
Kailua-Kona Highway. (808) 329-1877
Humpback Whale Watching
Whale-watching tours are memorable, yet these gentle giants often can be seen at play from shore between December and April, even without binoculars.
Along the shore between Kona International Airport and Keahole National Energy Lab.
Kailua Bay Beach
This white sand beach is ideal for children and snorkelers.
Kailua Bay near the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.
Laupahoehoe Train Museum
Marked by rail crossing signs on the front lawn, the museum features photographs, railroad artifacts and memorabilia from when trains transported sugar from fields of the Hamakua Coast. Many museum volunteers are life-long community residents, and are delighted to "talk story" with visitors. Grounds are planted with ornamentals and tropical fruit trees, and are ideal for strolling or picnics.
Highway 19, near mile marker 25, Laupahoehoe. (808) 962-6300
Lava Tree State Monument
Lava Tree State Monument stands to preserve the site where a lava flow burned through an ohia forest in 1790. The lava, flowing quickly, surrounded the trees and cooled forming molds of burned tree trunks. Picnic facilities, restrooms and a hiking trail are at this site, although drinking water is not available.
Off Highway 132, 2.7 miles southeast of Pahoa.
Lyman Mission House Museum
Historic Hawaiian relics are at this missionary home dating to 1839. As one of only four accredited museums in the state, the Lyman Museum began as the Lyman Mission House, built for New England missionaries David and Sarah Lyman. In 1931, the Museum was established by their descendants. The Mission House has been fully restored, and is on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Daily guided tours start frequently. The Lyman Museum building next door to the Mission House houses artifacts, fine art, and natural history specimens, as well as archives and library, special exhibitions and a gift shop. Visitors can see life as it was 150 years ago, as well as new exhibits on Hawaiian natural history and culture.
276 Haili Street, Hilo. (808) 935-5021
Mauna Kea Summit & Visitors Center
Hawaii's tallest volcano (13,796 feet) hosts the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, University of Hawaii Observatory and an international astronomical observatory complex. Low temperatures, snow and severe weather occur in winter, and the summit is accessible only by four-wheel drive.
End of paved road, at 9,300 foot altitude. (808) 961-2180
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center
A really big nut awaits outside the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Plantation, inviting visitors to witness the growing, harvesting, and processing of Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts into assorted products. Apart from the giant welcoming nut, hundreds of rows of macadamia nut trees line Macadamia Road leading to the visitor center. Mauna Loa harvests some 35 million pounds of macadamias each year for cooking, confections, and for sale at the visitor center gift shop. Mature macadamia nut trees create wonderful shade with their dark green foliage and white blossoms in winter and spring. The main harvest is in summer and fall.
One Macadamia Road. (808) 982-6562
Na'alehu Town
Capitalizing on its status as the southernmost town in the U.S., this tiny town features shops, eateries and memorabilia. Ka Lae, the southernmost tip of Hawaii and the southernmost point in the U.S., is considered the first place Polynesian explorers set foot in the Hawaiian Islands.
Nani Mau Gardens
Nani Mau Gardens has evolved into a treasure of the Islands, with 20 acres of many-splendored tropical flowers and trees, pools and waterfalls along pathways. Orchids and anthuriums and native Hawaiian plants are plentiful. The Gardens are a focal point for community events, weddings, and other celebrations.
421 Makalika Street, Hilo. (808) 959-3501
Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area
This beach park with lifeguards features a lava rock-covered beach area with picnic facilities, showers and restrooms. The park is excellent for shore fishing and tide pool exploration. Tennis courts, a soccer field and ball field are also on the property. The park's northern portion has water access for snorkeling, scuba diving and surfing.
At the end of Kuakini Highway.
Pacific Tsunami Museum
The Pacific Basin has a long, dramatic history of devastation from hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes. Yet tsunamis have taken more lives in Hawaii than all other natural disasters combined. The Pacific Tsunami Museum serves as a living memorial, and a reminder for a generation yet to experience such fright. Tsunamis – Japanese for “harbor waves” -- are a fact of life in Hawaii, especially Hilo. On April 1, 1946, and May 23, 1960, Hilo suffered devastating tsunamis that reshaped its social and economic structure. The last major Pacific-wide tsunami was in 1964. Little tsunami activity has occurred since then, while Hawaii has undergone extensive development in potential inundation areas. A tsunami refers to a wave series crossing water with long wavelengths (up to hundreds of miles between crests). When nearing shore, speed decreases as waves start "feeling" the bottom. Then wave height drastically increases, and mass destruction can result as waves hit shore. Tsunami are often incorrectly referred to as tidal waves, which are simply periodic movements of water tied to the rise and fall of tides produced by sun/moon gravitation. Tsunamis have no connection with weather or tides. Oceanographers refer to tsunamis as seismic sea waves, often resulting from the sudden rise or fall of the earth's crust under or near the ocean. Seismic disturbances can displace water columns, creating rise or fall in the ocean level above. This starts formation of a tsunami wave, which also can be created by volcanic activity and landslides above or below the sea. Once generated, a tsunami wave can move faster than 500 m.p.h., crossing the Pacific in less than one day. Locally generated tsunamis can reach shore in minutes.
130 Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo. (808) 935-0926
Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo
No admission is charged at Pana'ewa Zoo, the only zoo in the U.S. situated in a tropical rainforest. This is a playground for exotic birds and animals including a white Bengal tiger and pygmy hippos.
Off Mamaki Street, Hilo. (808) 959-9233
Parker Ranch Visitors Center
Parker Ranch, Hawaii's largest private cattle ranch, highlights the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) and Parker family history, at two historic homes for touring, Puuopelu and Mana Hale. John Parker's home, Mana Hale ("house of the spirit"), was once the ranch nerve center, and later was known for the lavish hospitality of John Parker's grandson Sam and his wife Panana. On view are native koa wood interiors, handmade furniture and Hawaiian quilts. Also unfolding is the story of John Palmer Parker who befriended King Kamehameha, married a Hawaiian Princess and built Hawaii's cattle kingdom. The story of Parker Ranch, spreading over 200,000 acres, starts in 1809, a generation after Captain James Cook first arrived, when John Parker, 19, jumped ship and met King Kamehameha I, the monarch who fought to unite the islands in a single kingdom. John went back to sea for adventure in China during the War of 1812, but then returned for good. Having brought back a new American musket, John was privileged to be the first to shoot some of the maverick cattle roaming plains and valleys by the thousand. British Captain George Vancouver had presented Kamehameha with five head just 21 years earlier. Thanks to John, salt beef eventually replaced increasingly scarce sandalwood as the island's chief export. He married Kipikane, daughter of a chief, who took the name Rachel. Their Parker dynasty began with a daughter and two sons. Between 1942 and 1945, Parker Ranch played a key role assisting Camp Tarawa in sheltering 50,000 Marines from the 2nd and 5th Marine Divisions and the V Amphibious Corps as they prepared for the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. A monument to Marines training here stands along the highway near the Ranch Historic Homes attraction.
On Highway 190, outside of Waimea. (808) 885-7655
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park
Offering an in-depth look at ancient Hawaiian life and royalty, this restored site is a Helau (place of worship), and offers insight into ancient Hawaiian life and royalty.
Honaunau on Kona Coast. (808) 328-2288
Sportfishing Viewing
Waters off Honokohau Bay are some of the world's richest. Non-anglers can perch on bleachers to watch as 1,000-pound Pacific blue marlin, 200-pound yellowfin tuna and other prize catch are strung up and weighed. Prime fishing season is March through October.
Honokohau Harbor Fuel Dock, Kona Coast.
Volcanoes National Park
Because Hawaiian volcano eruptions are comparatively more gentle than those of most volcanoes elsewhere, edges of active vents often allow visitors access. To placate the wrath of Pele (goddess of fire), early Hawaiians made offerings. In 1823, missionaries William Ellis and Asa Thurston were the first westerners to visit Kilauea's boiling lake of lava. The fiery lake was described in magazines of the day, and adventurers came to ogle. Publisher Lorrin Thurston discovered a giant lava tube, formed when a river of hot lava cooled and crusted over, and the still-molten interior flowed on downhill. Eventually, the lava drained out, leaving a cave-like shell. The Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku) is a major attraction on the Crater Rim Drive. In 1906, Thurston started campaigning to make this area a public park. His efforts got a boost in 1912 when Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar came to serve as director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and joined his crusade. On Aug 1, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson made official the nation's 13th national park. At first, the park consisted of only the summits of Kilauea and Mauna Loa on Hawaii and Haleakala on Maui. In 1961, Haleakala was made a separate national park. Today, Volcanoes National Park protects 377 square miles of the island's volcanic wonders and is a refuge for surviving native plants and animals.
Waipi'o Valley
This cliff-enclosed valley, on the northeastern coast, beckons with taro farming and a black sand beach. Waip'o, a mile wide at the coast and almost six miles deep, is the largest and southernmost of the seven valleys on the windward side of the Kohala Mountains. On either side of the valley are cliffs reaching almost 2,000 feet with cascading waterfalls. In ancient Hawaii, taro (or kalo) was one of the favorite island foods, with more than 350 varieties. Now there are a dozen or so grown, including dry land taro (dark purplish in color with thick white roots) and wet land taro, which can be grown on wet or dry land.
Kohala region, north shore.
Wood Valley Temple
This Tibetan Buddhist temple was dedicated in 1980 by the Dalai Lama, who returned in 1994.
Pahala. (808) 928-8539
World Botanical Gardens
As the largest collection of botanical gardens in the state, with more than 5,000 species, World Botanical Gardens features the spectacular Umauma Falls and a splendid rainforest walk.
Hamakua Coast. (808) 963-5427
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