Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii - page 2
Much like the neighboring town of Hawi, Kapa‘au is a town in North Kohala that is experiencing an artistic resurgence. Eccentric artisans and shabby chic galleries now populate sugar-era storefronts, and the pocket-sized town has an intriguing allure that is impossible to pass without stopping.
More so than any other sight, however, Kapa‘au is known for the King Kamehameha statue that stands just off the highway. Constructed in 1880 in Florence, Italy, the statue was lost during a terrible shipwreck off the coast of the Falkland Islands. For 32 years it sat at the depths of the Atlantic sea floor before it was amazingly found and eventually delivered to its rightful home in Hawaii. The statue was placed in Kapa‘au since it’s considered the birthplace of the king, who was born in a field on Upolu Point only a few miles from town.
This popular stretch of Kohala Coast beach, commonly called A-Bay, offers beachgoers a little bit of everything needed for a fun day. Known for its fairly calm surf, the area offers rentals of an assortment of water toys ranging from kayaks to boogie boards. It’s also a popular spot to snorkel, so if you packed your gear, bring it along. The earlier you go, the smaller the crowds. Palms trees add to the picturesque setting, framing sunset views in the evening and providing shade in the heat of the day.
The beach has a bit of a wild side when it comes to creatures you’ll see. Turtles seem to like it here just as much as people so take plenty of pictures to show everyone back home, but keep a safe distance. They enjoy relaxing on the beach just like you. You can also see a collection of feral cats that are cared for by volunteers.
Up until 1819, ancient Hawaiians adhered to religious laws that were generally known as kapu. Everything in Hawaiian life—from which fish you could eat in which season to the clothes you were allowed to wear—was regulated by thousands of different kapu that carried stiff penalties if broken. Should your shadow ever have fallen on a chief, or if you failed to kneel while he was eating, it was a broken kapu punishable by death since you had disrespected the will of the gods.
Once a sacred kapu had been broken, the only way to redeem yourself was to find a pu‘uhonua—a city of refuge where an elder or priest could cleanse you of the offending sin. Should you be found before your arrival, however, the punishment was often death. As you can imagine, pu‘uhonua were popular places during the days of ancient Hawaii, but a few are popular visitor attractions in this modern era of tourism.
Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Crater Rim Drive is an 11-mile road that allows you to easily explore a portion of the summit caldera or large pit crater of Kilauea. There are numerous scenic lookouts and hiking possibilities, so be prepared to get in and out of your car for the best views and experiences.
How much you do really depends on how much time you have to spend. It takes approximately a half-hour to complete the stretch of Crater Rim Drive one-way, but the more you stop, the more you’ll see. Be flexible with your plans. It’s not uncommon for sights and sections to be closed due to volcanic activity. Start at the Kilauea Visitor Center to get the most up-to-date information, including ranger-guided hike schedules. Films are shown throughout the day to give visitors an introduction to the area and volcanology.
At the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, terms like “lava lake” “vog” and “fissure eruption” are just part of the daily vocabulary. This informative center is one of the most popular stops while visiting the national park, as it precariously sits on the scorched rim of the Halema‘uma‘u Crater. Be careful of the noxious vog, however, as this sulphur dioxide emitted by the volcano can make it difficult to breathe. To take a break from the volcanic fumes, step inside the Jaggar Museum located next to the observatory. Watch as a seismograph traces the rumbles as they happen beneath your feet, and look at the clothes scientists wear while handling lava in the field. You can also gawk at old photos of fiery Kilauea explosions, with the current eruption running unabated since 1983.
As night falls around the park and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, a flickering, violent orange glow can be seen from the Kilauea overlook.
Created by lava flow from Mauna Loa in 1881, the Kaumana Caves are located near Hilo. Legend says Princess Ruth sat in front of the lava flow praying to the goddess Pele to save the city and the flow stopped just in the nick of time. Concrete stairs (that visitors say can be slippery) lead down through the skylight to the entrance. The caves’ exterior is full of thick and lush foliage, while the inside is loaded with lava rock. You can explore the area near the mouth of the caves in a fairly quick visit, but if you are the explorer type, you’ll need to come prepared and have some time. The lava rocks can be slippery and sharp, and the caves get dark quickly. You’ll need good sneakers or hiking shoes and a good flashlight. A headlamp is even better since it keeps your hands free. The rocks can be sharp; gloves will protect them from scrapes and cuts. Headroom can get tight at times, and some who have trekked through say a hardhat and knee pads are something to think about too.
There was once a time in 1959 when fountains of lava from Kilauea Iki crater erupted nearly 2,000 ft. into the sulfur-filled air. As lava spouted from the small crater near the summit of Kilauea volcano, it formed a lava lake which measured ten feet deep and was a bubbling cauldron of freshly-formed Earth. To date, the area is home to some of the most intense activity volcanologists have experienced in the Hawaiian chain.
While that particular event may have been over 50 years ago, Kilauea Iki crater today is still one of the most visited spots in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and it’s reputed that even after five decades that parts of the Earth are still warm to the touch. Strangely enough, the most popular hike in the National Park actually cuts across the floor of the crater, and this strenuous two hour journey begins its descent from the edge of a tropical rainforest.
On a grand section of the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, the best way to see Onomea Bay is with a scenic drive — granting views of the coastline, turquoise waters, and tropical forest. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located along the route, as is the Onomea Arch (which collapsed during an earthquake in 1956.) With many streams and waterfalls, it is a particularly lush area of the Big Island.
Historically the bay was a small fishing village for early Hawaiians, and became one of the Big Island’s biggest landing spots for large ships. There were once taro and sugarcane fields growing in the hills above, with both products being shipped out from the bay. The “Donkey Trail” is the path (now hike) from the remains of the old sugar mill that was used to take products down to the water for wider distribution. Now the bay is a much-loved scenic spot popular with snorkelers and those driving through.
It’s fair to say that when most visitors think about Hawaii, cattle ranching isn’t the first thought that comes to mind.
Believe it or not, however, ranches in Hawaii were operating long before those of the American West, and the Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii is not only the largest cattle ranch in Hawaii, but it’s actually one of the largest cattle ranches found anywhere in America. When the British explorer George Vancouver sailed to Hawaii in 1793 he left behind a couple of cattle for the ruling Hawaiian royalty. A kapu was placed on the cattle so that the population would flourish, and by 1830 there were so many cattle in the Hawaiian Islands that they had turned in to a legitimate nuisance. During this same time period, a 19 year-old sailor by the name of John Palmer Parker jumped ship in Hawaii in 1809, spent a few years living amongst the locals, and returned a few years later with an American musket which he would use to hunt wild cattle.
Hi‘ilawe Falls isn’t just high—it’s higher than the highest elevation in seven U.S. states. Located in the back of historic Waipi‘o Valley—a lush cleft in the Kohala mountainside where King Kamehameha was raised—Hi‘ilawe Falls is a thin ribbon of white that plunges 1,450 feet, thereby making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the entire state of Hawaii. For all of the superlatives about its height, however, rarely is the waterfall very wide, since the river above the falls is diverted. Only after a heavy rain—which is fairly common in Waipi‘o—will Hi‘ilawe Falls swell to life to become a rushing torrent of water.
Accessing the base of the falls, however, requires passing over private land that isn’t accessible to visitors, so the best view you can get of the falls is from the road through Waipi‘o Valley. Some travel publications encourage trespassing over the private land, but doing so has strained relations between valley residents and visitors.
More Things to Do in Big Island of Hawaii
Hawaii is known for its tropical flowers, but the orchid isn’t one of them. At the Big Island’s Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, however, over 1,000 of these symmetrical, blossoming beauties create a vibrant greenhouse of color.
The owner of the gardens, Moriyasu Akatsuka, has been skillfully cultivating orchids for centuries here in the mountainside enclave. Considered a master of hybridization, Akatsuka creates orchids that will bloom more frequently and are unlike any others in the world. One orchid, an exceptionally rare type of Paphiopedilum, was found in Thailand and nursed back to health before being displayed here at the garden. Due to its symmetry and singular characteristics, the orchid is valued at $20,000, and travelers who visit between May and September can see it in bloom. Like many of his other unique orchids, this famous plant was given its own name and is now known as the “Volcano Queen” due to its regal home on the mountain.
Globally, Ka’u coffee may not have the same ring to it as Kona coffee does, but on Island many say the coffee produced in Kona’s southerly neighboring district is just as good. Ka’u Coffee Mill, perhaps the largest and most outward facing of the plantations in Ka’u, takes its beans from branch to brew onsite with regular scheduled tours of its volcanic-soil loving plants, drying mill and roastery. Should you miss the tour, the company offers a big glass window into its drying and roasting production facilities, visible anytime during business hours. Inside the small but bright and cheerful gift shop is the best part: Tastings of their estate brews and locally-produced macadamia nuts. Among the most popular varieties here include their Peaberry and the unique coconut caramel crunch or macadamia nut-flavored roasts. While you’re tasting, gaze up at the coffee-themed murals that line the upper walls, or read about noteworthy locals on the Ka’u Coffee Farmers’ Wall of Fame.
Set back a block from Hilo’s coastline are scores of towering and sprawling banyan trees with their thick and unique trunks. Similar trees can be found throughout the state, but what makes these fifty specimens unique is their planters. Between 1933 and 1972, many famous celebrities, political figures, authors and Hawaiians personally planted or dedicated these banyan seedlings as a way to commemorate their visit or honor friends. In front of the Hilo Hawaiian hotel, a particularly large road-shading tree has a small sign indicating it was planted by George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and across Banyan Drive are trees planted by King George V, Queen Elizabeth and Richard Nixon. Other famous names visible on placards along the leafy corridor are Franklin Roosevelt, movie star Cecil B. DeMille and his wife Constance, Amelia Earhart, volcanologist Dr. Thomas Jaggar (whose name is given to the Jaggar Museum at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) and musician Louis Armstrong.
One-part traditional science center and one-part cultural center, the Imiloa is a unique multidisciplinary museum that could only exist in Hawaii. Inside the campus’ conically-edged, volcano-inspired buildings, exhibits showcase scientific understanding of the origins of the universe alongside Hawaiian cultural exhibits. Exhibits are divided into two areas—origins and explorations—to help visitors appreciate the scientific understanding of the origins of the universe as well as Hawaiian cultural understanding of the cosmos and how the cosmos guide exploration, whether its into the stars themselves or using the stars to navigate over land and sea. A full-dome planetarium with daily, locally-relevant star (one show is included in admission cost) and free-to-explore native gardens are also highlights.
The Big Islands Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is 17 acres of lush greenery, with pathways inviting visitors to explore. The garden began taking shape in 1977, when the land was purchased by a couple from San Francisco. Over eight years, they cleared paths through what was thick jungle, and in 1984 they opened the garden to the public. It's now run by a nonprofit.
The botanical garden and nature reserve includes waterfalls and streams among more than 2,000 species of plants. One side of the property is on Onomea Bay, where there's a boardwalk overlooking the ocean. The garden is home to some wildlife, too, including geckos, frogs, and several types of local birds.
Understanding the significance of the Naha Stone requires understanding a bit of Hawaii’s history and the legendary lore of tradition and strength that accompanies it.
The Naha Stone is a rock that reportedly weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 tons and is believed to have been brought to Hilo from the island of Kauai using a double canoe. According to legend, in ancient times it was used by those of Naha descent in a test of royalty. When a baby boy was born, he was placed on the stone—if he stayed calm and quiet, he was Naha, and if he cried, he was not. It was also believed that whoever could move the rock would rule Hawaii. Legend says King Kamehameha I proved his strength at the age of just 14, when he overturned the Naha Stone. Following years of conflict, it was King Kamehameha I who united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810.
A nine-foot-tall golden-helmeted and spear-wielding bronze depiction of King Kamehameha the Great stands on the North Kohala Civic Center lawn in the tiny town of Kapaau. Though there are similar statues honoring the King throughout the state—including notably in Hilo and fronting the State Supreme Court in Honolulu—this site is perhaps the most significant to the king’s own story: He was born not far from here in 1758, and lived his first few years in hiding deep within a nearby valley where he was safe from battling tribal factions. Kamehameha would later prove his strength, acquiring each of the Islands for the Kingdom of Hawaii by 1810. The statue, originally intended for a site in Honolulu and constructed in Europe, took several years to make. However, the ship transporting it to Hawaii wrecked in a storm near the Falkland Islands and the heavy sculpture sank to the bottom of the sea. Insurance money was used to quickly replace the missing statue with an even taller one.
Stone bridges stretch across shallow brackish moats that flow through well manicured gardens with red pagodas and rock gardens by the sea. The 30-acre Liluokalani Gardens, connected by a series of trails to Coconut Island in coastal Hilo, is a serene setting as popular with local walkers and joggers as it is with visitors staying the nearby hotels along Banyan Drive. Named for Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii prior to U.S annexation, and designed in the Japanese Edo style in 1917 to honor the many area Japanese sugar plantation workers, the gardens are a perfect blend of Hawaii and Japan. Look beyond the palm trees and across the bay and you’ll see the slopes of Mauna Kea along the Hamakua Coast, but look around you and you’ll see a traditional Japanese tea house—still used by the Urasenke Hilo Association to share the tradition of Japanese tea ceremonies—koi ponds and Eastern statues.
The town of Waikoloa Village is near the western shore of the Big Island of Hawaii, just south of the Kohala Peninsula.
Waikoloa Village is less than nine miles inland from the beach (following the road – not as the crow flies), but it's home to several hotels and resorts. There's also a popular golf resort at Waikoloa Village. There are even more resorts along the water, however, a short drive from the town. The town of Puako is the narrow strip of land that sits between Waikoloa Village and the ocean, where you'll find many of the resorts. Waikoloa is more residential, whereas Puako is more tourist-centric.
When it comes to the macadamia nut, never has a nut been so difficult to crack but so tremendously easy to eat. Whether eaten whole, covered in chocolate, or crushed into a succulent brittle, the macadamia is a culinary staple of Hawaiian treats and desserts. Luckily for travelers visiting Hilo, there is an entire factory and sprawling orchard devoted solely to the wonders of this nut. At the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, a self-guided tour explains the process of harvesting these off-white nuts, from the lengthy and protracted growing process right up through roasting and canning. More than just a look at the production process, there are also recipes on the dozens of ways to consume a macadamia. From standard methods of baking them in cookies to wasabi or onion flavoring, even the most accomplished gourmands and foodies will likely pick up some tips.
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